The Bread of
Life - The Real Presence |
Sacrifice of the Mass
The Work of God - Catholic Apologetics
1. THE REAL PRESENCE
Objection: "As for the Eucharist, no one believed that the bread and wine changed into the real body and blood of Christ until Paschasius Radbertus, a Benedictine monk in the early 9th century!"
The Sacrament of the Blessed Eucharist is the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ under the appearances, or accidents, of bread and wine. Unlike the other Sacraments, it not only bestows grace but contains the Author of Grace Himself. Hence, by giving us His Body and Blood to drink Christ has left us the legacy of His very self: "He has gained renown by his wonderful deeds; the Lord is gracious and merciful. He provides food for those who fear him" (Ps. 111 , 4-5).
Christ fulfilled His promise to give us His Flesh and Blood at the Last Supper:
"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" (St. Matt. 26, 26-28; note also St. Mark 14, 22-24; St. Luke 22, 19-20; 1 Cor. 10, 4-21).
The Church calls this mysterious change of the bread and wine into Christs Body and Blood Transubstantiation (Lateran IV 1215). The substances of the bread and the wine are changed respectively into the substances of Christs Body and Blood, while the accidents (i.e., color, shape, taste, etc.) of the bread and the wine remain unchanged.1
In the Gospel of St. John chapter 6 we find the great discourse of Our Lord concerning the future promise of the Eucharist. For our purposes it is best to outline the principle verses in full:
"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 For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me; and this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up at the last day The Jews then murmured at him, because he said, I am the bread which came down from heaven. They said, Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does he now say, I have come down from heaven? Jesus answered them, Do not murmur among yourselves. No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day I am the bread of life. 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. 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. The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, How can this man give us his flesh to eat? So Jesus said to them, Truly, truly, I say to you, 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. This he said in the synagogue, as he taught at Caper'na-um. Many of his disciples, when they heard it, said, This is a hard saying; who can listen to it? But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples murmured at it, said to them, Do you take offense at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of man ascending where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh is of no avail; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you that do not believe. For Jesus knew from the first who those were that did not believe, and who it was that would betray him. And he said, This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father. After this many of his disciples drew back and no longer went about with him. Jesus said 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. Jesus answered them, Did I not choose you, the twelve, and one of you is a devil? He spoke of Judas the son of Simon Iscariot, for he, one of the twelve, was to betray him" (vv. 35-71).
Our Lord was wont to use words either literally or figuratively. The issue with verses 35-71 is how to determine what meaning He intended to give.
Our Lord Himself gives us two basic rules to resolve this dilemma.
Rule number one: When Our Lord spoke figuratively but was taken literally He always corrected the mistake of His listeners immediately.
Example (a): "Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees" (St. Matt. 16, 5).
The Apostles understood these words literally and began to argue among themselves about the fact that they had no bread. Then Our Lord said, "How is it that you fail to perceive that I did not speak about bread Then they understood that he did not tell them to be aware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees" (vv. 11-12).
Example (b): "Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awake him out of sleep" (St. John 11, 11).
The Apostles again took Our Lord literally and said, "Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover" (v. 12). Immediately came the correction, "Lazarus is dead" (v. 14).
Example (c): " unless one is born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God" (St. John 3, 3).
Nicodemus automatically took these words literally and replied, "How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mothers womb and be born?" (3, 4). Our Lords answer immediately dispelled Nicodemus error, showing that He meant a spiritual, not physical, rebirth: "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God" (3, 5).
Rule number two: When Our Lord spoke literally, and those who heard Him understood Him correctly but refused to accept what He said, He reasserted the literal meaning again more forcibly.
Example (a): "Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven" (St. Matt. 9, 2).
The Scribes at hearing these words were greatly disturbed and said among themselves, "This man is blaspheming" (9, 3). However, Christ did not try to water down or explain away His words but reasserted His claim to forgive sins by miraculously healing the paralytic before all.
Example (b): "Your father Abraham rejoiced that he was to see my day" (St. John 8, 56).
The Jews correctly understood Our Lord literally but rejected Him asserting, "You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?" (8, 57). Our Lords solemn reply, which brought forth the immediate wrath of the Jews, was, "Truly, truly I say to you, before Abraham was, I am" (8, 58). Christ not only reiterated His literal meaning but also did so at the risk of being stoned to death (8, 59).
Keeping in mind these two rules let us example Our Lords discourse in St. John 6.
Our Lord proclaims that "I am the bread of life. 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. 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" (vv. 48-51). The Jews present understood Christ literally but could not accept what He said: "The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, How can this man give us his flesh to eat?" (v. 52). But Christ reinforced His literal meaning saying, "Truly, truly, I say to you, 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" (vv. 53-56).
Not satisfied with this Our Lord went further and solemnly invoked His Fathers Name to confirm His meaning: "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" (vv. 57-58). Nevertheless, the Jews continued in their disbelief, seeing in Christs words a literal meaning that contradicted the Mosaic prohibition against the eating of human flesh: "Many of his disciples, when they heard it, said, This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?" (v. 60). But knowing their murmuring Christ again did not retreat or explain away His words, rather He implicitly asserted His own divine authority: "Do you take offense at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of man ascending where he was before?" (v. 62).
By now this was all too much for the Jews who "drew back and no longer went about with him" (v. 66). Christ had now lost most of His long-time and closest followers but allowed them to go even though He had earlier declared "that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me" (v. 39). Is it reasonable to believe that He would have allowed such a catastrophe over a simple misunderstanding, particularly in light of His established habit of correcting past misunderstandings? He even went further still and challenged the Apostles themselves: "Do you also wish to go away?" (v. 67). Christ was prepared to lose all human support rather than deny the literal truth of His words.
This was the first apostasy from the Body of Christ recorded in history, an apostasy which even claimed one of the Apostles: "For Jesus knew from the first who those were that did not believe, and who it was that would betray him" (v. 64). This apostasy continues in the denials of Protestantism which since the sixteenth century has repeatedly said of Catholic belief in the Real Presence, "This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?" Catholics, on the other hand, profess the faith of Simon Peter who, though not having full understanding himself, answered "Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life" (v. 68).
Most Fundamentalist authors claim that they can prove that Christ was speaking only metaphorically by comparing His words in St. John 6, 35 ("I am the bread of life") to verses such as St. John 10, 9 ("I am the door") and St. John 15, 1 ("I am the true vine"). The problem of such an argument, however, is that there is no connection between St. John 6, 35 and these latter verses. Further, St. John 10, 9 and 15, 1 make sense as metaphors while as we shall see St. John 6, 35 does not. In addition, Our Lord Himself takes St. John 6, 35 beyond symbolism by repeating four times the injunction "to eat my flesh and drink my blood" and saying "for my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed" (v. 55).
Another Protestant objection revolves around the claim that Christs phrase "to eat his flesh and drink his blood" was a figurative way of saying to believe and have faith in Him. There is some truth in the assertion that such a phrase had a figurative meaning, however, in the cultures of the Middle East it rather meant to calumniate, revile, attack or insult someone unjustly. It is therefore nonsense to argue that Christ would have used this phrase in the popular figurative sense, for that would have been tantamount to Christ asking His followers to sin against Him in order to inherit eternal life! It should also be noted that the Greek word used for "eat" in St. John literally means "to gnaw." This is not the language of figure.
A final Protestant appeal is also made to St. John 6, 63: "It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh is of no avail; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life." We are told that these words mean that the eating of flesh is of no spiritual value, only faith can profit one unto eternal life. That being the case, Christ could not have meant to eat His flesh in order to have life. The Catholic response is that Christ was in reality making an appeal to His listeners to trust Him on faith rather than try and rationalize His words in order to find their true meaning. In the previous verse (v. 62) Christ infers that His listeners would have had no problem accepting His words if they had seen Him as He was before He came down from heaven, that is, as the Son of God equal to the Father, for then His words would obviously be the words of God rather than the words of man - words of "spirit and life."
To conclude it is also necessary to examine the words of St. Paul in chapters 10 and 11 of his first epistle to the Corinthians. In these chapters he sternly chastises the Corinthians for their idolatry and their poor attitude towards reception of the Eucharist. His language is remarkably literal and his warnings blunt:
"I want you to know, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same supernatural food and all drank the same supernatural drink. For they drank from the supernatural Rock which followed them, and the Rock was Christ (10, 1-4) Therefore, my beloved, shun the worship of idols 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 (10, 14-17) You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons (10, 21-22) "
In verses 1-4 St. Paul is regarding the manna, the water and the rock as types of things to come. This ties in with the words of Christ in St. John outlined earlier, "I am the bread of life. 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" (vv. 48-50). The early Christians undoubtedly saw the Eucharist as a fulfillment of the promised manna, but unlike the manna he who eats the bread of the Eucharist will "live forever" (v. 51).
The language of verses 14-17 again is the type that excludes all sense of the figurative or symbolic. St. Paul speaks directly of "participation in the blood and body of Christ." If one is still prepared to argue the matter, St. Paul uses even more striking language in chapter 11:
" 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. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died" (vv. 23-31).
According to most scholars this is the first written account of the institution of the Eucharist, predating even the Gospel accounts.2 One ex-Protestant convert to Catholicism comments on vv. 23-31 as follows:
"Being guilty of someones body and blood was to be guilty of murder. How could one be guilty of murder if the body (bread) was only a symbol? The Real Presence of Christs Body is necessary for an offense to be committed against it. How could one be guilty of the Body and Blood of Christ by simply eating a little bread and drinking a little wine? St. Pauls words are meaningless without the dogma of the Real Presence." 3
Contents | Next
Catholic Apologetics - The Work of God
Work of God - index
Catholic Apologetics - Holy Eucharist, The Bread of Life