This article is the first in a series on the Mass which focuses on the scriptural basis of the Catholic Celebration of the Eucharist, the Breaking of the Bread. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us, quoting the Vatican II document, Lumen Gentium:
The Eucharist is “the source and summit of the Christian life.” “The other sacraments, and indeed all ecclesiastical ministries and works of the apostolate, are bound up with the Eucharist and are oriented toward it. For in the blessed Eucharist is contained the whole spiritual good of the Church, namely Christ himself, our Pasch.” (CCC 1324)
Given the importance of this sacrament, it is worth studying the Eucharist in depth so that we can fully understand its importance and benefit in our lives.
The Real Presence: The Humanity and Divinity of Christ in the Eucharist
There is sufficient evidence, for this dogmatic Catholic belief, in Scripture and elsewhere to convince those of goodwill that Jesus Christ is truly present in the Eucharist. The Eucharistic discourse John 6:26-70) is a good place to start.
In that discourse, Jesus told His disciples not to labour for food which perishes, but “for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of man will give to you” (John 6:27). This statement triggered a question which in turn led the Jews to demand a sign so that they might believe. They wanted more proof than just the one miracle of the feeding of the five thousand, a description of which opened this chapter of St. John’s Gospel. They were likely looking for an on-going miracle such as the one their fathers were given; to daily eat manna in the desert over a prolonged period of time.
Jesus then said to them,
“Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven; my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven, and gives life to the world.” They said to him, “Lord, give us this bread always.” Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst”. (John 6: 32-36)
This response of Jesus disturbed the Jews who murmured against him because He claimed to have come from heaven. Jesus ignored their concern and continued to try to teach them about the Eucharist He would institute:
I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.” (v.51)
This caused a further dispute among the Jews who wondered how this man could give his flesh to eat. Rather than back off, Jesus went on to re-emphasize and expand on His instruction with even more precision. This is an instruction which only the Catholic Church still follows:
unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me. This is the bread which came down from heaven, not such as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live for ever. (v.53-58)
This statement was so offensive to the Jews many drew back and left. Again, Jesus did not withdraw anything He had said and remarked to the twelve:
“Do you also wish to go away?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life; and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God. (v. 67-69)
From this, it should be very clear that Jesus meant every word He had said, with no equivocation. He could have said, “Wait a moment, you have misunderstood.” But He did not, did He?
To modify the meaning of Jesus’ clear statement is a dangerous path to take. We should remain with the Church as Peter confirmed for all of the twelve. Especially since Jesus re-stated what He intended during the Last Supper, as each of the three synoptic Gospels assure us:
Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. (Matthew 26:26-28)
And as they were eating, he took bread, and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, and they all drank of it. And he said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. (Mark 14:22-24)
And he took bread, and when he had given thanks he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And likewise, the cup after supper, saying, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. (Luke 22:19-20)
Even St. Paul makes clear what Jesus intended, not once but twice:
The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. (1 Corinthians 10:16-17)
St. Paul even states that he received it directly from Jesus, which ends with a very stern warning:
For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. (1 Corinthians 11:23-27)
Finally, we can see, from the statements of the Early Church Fathers, that the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist was sincerely held from the earliest times in the Church.
St. Ignatius of Antioch, circa 110 AD. St. Ignatius succeeded St. Peter as bishop of Antioch. He would know St. Peter personally.:
“I desire the Bread of god which is the flesh of Jesus Christ, who was the seed of David, and for drink I desire His Blood, which is love incorruptible.
St. Ignatius of Antioch was a disciple of St. John the Evangelist, so it is more than reasonable that St. Ignatius would have this correct.
St. Justin Martyr 100/110 – circa 165:
For not as common bread nor common drink do we receive these; but since Jesus Christ our Saviour was made incarnate by the word of God and had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so too, as we have been taught, the food which has been made into the Eucharist by the Eucharistic prayer set down by Him and by the change of which our blood and flesh is nourished, is both the flesh and blood of that incarnated Jesus.
St. Irenaeus circa 140 – 202 AD:
He took from among creation that which is bread , and gave thanks, saying, “This is My Body.” The cup likewise, which is from creation to which we belong, He confessed to be His Blood.
The evidence for the Real Presence in Holy Scripture is overwhelming. This should comfort Catholics that their belief in the Real Present is built on a very solid foundation. It is regrettable that those who rely on “Sola Scriptura”, only Scripture, do not believe what is actually written in the Bible?