understanding of the Sacrament of the Eucharist

From pastor’s desk on the 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time, year B


On the Real Presence of Christ – Part 1

Recently I have noticed a significant lack of understanding of the Sacrament of the Eucharist among many Catholics. This phenomenon occurs even among regular mass attendees, but it is especially observable in the younger cohort of the churchgoers. So in this letter I would like to use an opportunity to do a short catechesis on the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist.

First, we must remember that the Eucharist is NOT a cookie! Our Lord Jesus Christ is truly present in the species of bread and wine at Holy Mass. The Eucharist, also known as the Holy Sacrifice of Mass, is not a merely human action, nor it is a nice “fellowship,” but a truly sacred action, during which the faithful become united with God in the most intimate way. It especially expressed in the reception of the Body and Blood of Christ, which we call Holy Communion, that is, “a-union-with.”

Hence, we, Catholics, believe that when we go to Holy Mass it is Jesus Christ Himself, whom we receive and are united with through the species of bread and wine. The  Eucharist is not a mere symbol! It is an awesome reality of God’s presence. The Eucharist is the central sacrament by which the whole Church lives.

Many people today have problems with accepting this doctrine of the Real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. I think it is due to our shallow understanding of the mysteries of faith. In order to understand that the Eucharist is primarily God’s action and another “incarnation,” we must activate our faith. Then we will begin to see that it is the same sacrifice made present again in a bodily form of bread and wine that has been transformed (by word of consecration) into real Body and Blood of Christ. Each time we celebrate mass the Son of God becomes mysteriously present in the sacramental signs of bread and wine in such a way as He became truly present in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Let us read three crucial paragraphs from the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC, 1374-1375):

The mode of Christ's presence under the Eucharistic species is unique. It raises the Eucharist above all the sacraments as "the perfection of the spiritual life and the end to which all the sacraments tend." In the most blessed sacrament of the Eucharist "the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ and, therefore, the whole Christ is truly, really, and substantially contained." "This presence is called 'real' - by which is not intended to exclude the other types of presence as if they could not be 'real' too, but because it is presence in the fullest sense: that is to say, it is a substantial presence by which Christ, God and man, makes himself wholly and entirely present."

It is by the conversion of the bread and wine into Christ's body and blood that Christ becomes present in this sacrament. the Church Fathers strongly affirmed the faith of the Church in the efficacy of the Word of Christ and of the action of the Holy Spirit to bring about this conversion. Thus St. John Chrysostom declares:

It is not man that causes the things offered to become the Body and Blood of Christ, but he who was crucified for us, Christ himself. the priest, in the role of Christ, pronounces these words, but their power and grace are God's. This is my body, he says. This word transforms the things offered.

and St. Ambrose says about this conversion:

Be convinced that this is not what nature has formed, but what the blessing has consecrated. the power of the blessing prevails over that of nature, because by the blessing nature itself is changed.... Could not Christ's word, which can make from nothing what did not exist, change existing things into what they were not before? It is no less a feat to give things their original nature than to change their nature.

So let us not forget that Christ is truly and substantially present in the Eucharist, but He is also humbly hidden so that all who believe might have an easy office“access” to God; we come to Him without fear. He is present “more” in the consecrated bread and wine than in the nature, the trees, the animals or even people. Hence the Eucharist deserves more reverence and respect.

Each Catholic Christian should read the Catechism of the Catholic Church on this matter, remembering that studying the mysteries of our faith is not just an optional prospect. Rather, it is an obligation of a responsible believer who should know his faith. Besides, reading the Catechism one not only will study the Catholic creed but also will encounter a great resource for spiritual meditations. For more on this subject you can find the Catechism online; the paragraphs on Holy Mass and the Eucharist are 1322-1405.

Have a blessed week. Fr. Janusz Mocarski, pastor