One day, a Protestant friend and I were discussing something pertaining to Christianity when my friend made a comment akin to “Jesus said it, and I believe it.” I replied that, in that case, I was glad he had come around to the belief that unless Christ’s followers ate His body and drank His blood, they would have no life in them.
From there I explained that, as Catholics, we know that when Christ was at the Last Supper, He told His disciples there that the bread He had distributed was His body being offered for the forgiveness of sin. This is recounted in Matthew 26, Mark 14, and Luke 22. My friend indicated that his church had that too, but they only had it once a month or so as a simple remembrance of the Last Supper. He reminded me that Christ had said, “Do this in remembrance of me.”
“O.K., let’s pause here for a moment and look a bit further back.” I said that if he would look in the Gospel of John to Chapter 6, he would see that Christ’s audience had not taken this statement in stride, as they always did His allegories.
In John 6:49-50, He tells the people gathered, “Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that a man may eat of it and not die.” He then went on to tell them that He was the real bread from Heaven, and if people ate His flesh and drank his blood, they would have eternal life. To this, the crowd protested that He could not possibly give them His flesh to eat. After all, Moses had not taught them to be cannibals, and there was only one of Him and many, many thousands of them. They found His words a “hard saying,” an insane idea. So a number of them left and went back to whatever they had been doing.
Christ must have known how the crowd would take His words, but He made no attempt to correct their impression. Nor did He offer a different explanation even to His disciples, to whom He always explained His parables and analogies (Mark 4:34), even His simple remark about the “leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees” (Matthew 16:5-12). Nowhere in this episode does He indicate that His meaning is figurative. Instead, He confirms and repeats His “hard saying.”
My friend’s response was that Christ had said to do this in His memory, so whenever they had a communion service, they were doing what he had said. At this point I reminded him that Christ was a Jew, and the meal they were having was the Passover, which saved Israel from the plague that killed the first-born. He agreed.
I then reminded him that through narratives, meditations, prayers, etc., the Jews were remembering the Passover in such a way as to make it real, present, and current. In much the same way, when Christ said to “do this in remembrance of me,” He was telling His apostles and disciples that whenever they gathered to reflect on this night, break the bread and drink the cup, Christ would be present, and as He told people in John 6, His blood is real drink and His body is real food.
My friend countered that when Catholics go to Communion, they are only having a piece of bread and a bit of wine, the same as his church does. I asked him to pause for a moment and not let appearances confuse reality, and he looked at me as if I had really gone around the bend on that one.
The argument that followed does not, by itself, prove my position, but may show its rationality to those for whom that position might still seem a “hard saying.” I mentioned that for tens of thousands of years, man “knew” that the sun revolved around the earth. As far as they could tell, the sun rose in the East, traveled through the sky and set in the West. Then, a mere few hundred years ago, knowledge was turned on its head: science proved that the sun only appeared to circle the Earth, but in reality, the Earth turned on its axis and slowly revolved around the sun.
The appearance was that the Earth was the center of the universe and everything else moved around it. Likewise, the appearance at Communion is that the host is only unleavened bread and the contents of the cup are only wine. The reality, on the other hand, is that the sun and stars only appear to move around the Earth, due to its rotation, and that the host and wine are the Body and Blood of Christ. Things of all kinds can be dramatically different from how they seem.
Most of us have no direct, perceptible experience of the earth’s movement, but we believe it because we trust the scientists who know. Similarly, we have no sensory experience of Christ’s presence in the Eucharist, but we are confident of it because He told us several times, and as Christians, we have chosen to believe what He tells us.
As a final note, the logic of the Eucharist can also be demonstrated from God’s modus operandi throughout His works. What God says immediately comes to be. Go back to the Book of Genesis, to the very beginning, when all was darkness and void. God said, “Let there be light,” and so there was. All of His creation proceeded in the same way, with a simple word from Him bringing things into being. Christ worked His miracles in the same way; He spoke, and it was done: “I will; be clean” (Matthew 8:11); “The demon has left your daughter” (Mark 7:29); “Woman, you are freed from your infirmity” (Luke 13:12).
The transformation of bread and wine into Christ’s body and blood comes about by the same principle. As soon as He said, “This is my body,” the bread in His hands became His sacred body. When the priest at Mass says those words, the same thing happens by the power of Christ, that power which He gave to His apostles and they passed on to their successors.
“He said it, and I believe it.” Faith makes this a firm assurance. By His words, we can know what is true.