THE REAL PRESENCE OF JESUS IN EUCHARIST
Prov 9:1-6; Eph 5:15-20; John 6:51-58
The eight verses that constitute today’s gospel reading (Jn 6:51-58) represent the climax of the lengthy “Bread of Life Discourse” in chapter six of John’s gospel. In the climactic verse 51, we find the first mention of the Eucharist itself: “the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.” This verse represents John’s version of the institution of the Eucharist. The synoptic gospels place this institution at the Last Supper. This radical change gives John ample opportunity to insist, in the previous fifty verses, on the importance of a believing, rather than a merely routine reception of the Eucharist. Here, Jesus makes it clear that the nourishment he gives is available only to those who believe in him, that is, to those who accept and adopt in their lives his teaching about unselfish love.
- THE JEW MURMUR ONCE MORE
When Jesus taught the crowd that his very flesh is the true bread that has come down from heaven, the “Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, ‘how can this man give us his flesh to eat?'” There are many who murmur today in protest, who quarrel amongst themselves and who dispute against Christ and the truth which he teaches for our salvation. Today, Christ’s present in his Church is attacked by the murmuring of those who have declared themselves their own magisterium, reserving to themselves the authority to decide what is true and false. Today, many murmur in protest against the Holy Father, chosen by Christ and given the particular assistance of the Holy Spirit to lead us “into all the truth.” And today, just as we read in the account of almost 2021 years ago, people murmur all the same in rebellion against Christ’s teaching, “the bread that I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.” Many live in ignorance of this greatest gift of God to mankind, the fruit of the sacrifice of Calvary. Many Christian churches also follow suit and reject the catholic teaching on the Eucharist.
- THE MEANING OF THE REAL PRESENCE
The controversy centres essentially around the question of the REAL PRESENCE of Jesus in the Holy Eucharist. Most Protestant Churches believe in what they term: “TRANSIGNIFICATION” while the Catholic Church believes in “TRANSUBSTANTIATION”. Whereas Catholicism has always insisted on the real presence, certain dissident Catholics in the Middle Ages and Protestant reformers from the 16th Century have denied it, arguing that the Holy Eucharist IS A MERE SIGN of the absent reality (Jesus) – (TRANSIGNIFICATION). Jesus is not really present in it.
The Catholic Church has based her position on biblical texts like the one we have as our Gospel passage today. Jesus had been saying some quite shocking things about people having to eat his body and drink his blood. Understandably, some of his listeners—many, in fact—objected: “How can this give man give us his flesh to eat?” One would have expected that Jesus would offer an explanation. Maybe he would have said that he did not mean to be taken literally, that he had been misunderstood, that he did not mean what he said, or that he was only joking. But Jesus did no such thing! Instead, he insisted that, “If you do not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you will not have life in you. Anyone who does eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I shall raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink” (Jn 6:53-55). As it were, Jesus was saying: “I MEAN EXACTLY WHAT I SAID. TAKE IT OR LEAVE IT. I AM NOT TAKING ANY OF IT BACK!” He further nails it all with the statement: “…the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world” (Jn 6:51).
When, at the Last Supper, Jesus took bread and said, “Take it; eat it. This is my body”, and then wine, and said, “This is the cup of my blood, the blood of the new and eternal covenant”, his disciples realized that he was giving them what he had promised on the earlier occasion, recorded in today’s Gospel passage. They realized that the bread had become his true body and the wine had become his true blood. It is instructive that Jesus did not say, “This is a SIGN of my body” or “This is a SIGN of my blood.” Rather, what he said was “This IS my body”, “This IS the cup of my blood.” He did not stop there. He went on to add, “Do this in memory of me.” That is, “what I have done, you continue to do in remembrance of me.” With these words, he empowered his Apostles to make his body and blood present through a spiritual transformation of bread and wine during the Eucharistic celebration (TRANSUBSTANTIATION). The successors of the Apostles in the priestly ministry, down through the ages, have been similarly empowered by Christ. This means that the whole substance of the bread and wine changes into the substance of the body and blood of Christ during consecration at Holy Mass.
God is “with us”, Immanuel, in Christ Jesus our Lord who promises, “I will be with you always, even until the end of the world” (Matt 28:20). He keeps this promise in the Eucharist. In view of all the foregoing, we can understand why the CATECHISM of the Catholic Church says that, “the Holy Eucharist is the Sacrament of the true Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, together with his Soul and Divinity, under the appearances of bread and wine.” Thus, if anyone is not reading scripture correctly, it most certainly is not the Catholic Church or her priests, but those who are too eager to accuse the Church of inventing the doctrine on the Eucharist.
- THE CHURCH TEACHES THE SAME TODAY AS CHRIST DID
Jesus’ words are unmistakable. The people who heard his preaching at the beginning could not mistake his meaning. He meant in no uncertain terms, that if they were to receive his life eternally in the kingdom, then they must begin now to receive the Body and Blood which he poured out unto death at Calvary in the Eucharist, first instituted upon the Apostles on Holy Thursday and faithfully handed down in the Church. And when some of his own beloved people rejected him, Christ did not change his teaching or water it down. He watched them leave with sadness (We shall hear more of this in next Sunday’s gospel text). Jesus made them free out of love, and out of love he preserved their freedom to reject him and lose their salvation.
The Church teaches the same today as Christ did, without change or dilution. “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood you have no life in you.” Some walk away. But the Church must remain faithful to her Lord. She cannot change the truth. In the power of the Holy Spirit she remains firm in this truth. St. Justin of the second century, testifies to the ancient faith of the Church: “Because this bread and wine have been made Eucharist” (‘eucharisted‘ according to an ancient expression), “we call this food EUCHARIST, and no one may take part in it unless he/she believes that what we teach is true, has received baptism for the forgiveness of sins and new birth, and lives in keeping with what Christ taught.” (CCC 1355) This explains why in the Catholic Church, during Eucharistic celebrations where non-Catholics may be present, there is always a reminder that “Holy Communion it meant only for Catholics who have prepared themselves to receive it.” No offense is intended here!
- THE BENEFITS OF THE EUCHARIST
When the audience of Jesus resisted his statement about his “flesh for the life of the world,” he repeated and reinforced his original words: “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you” (v. 53). This forceful statement does not only insist on the importance of receiving the Eucharist but it also means, as we see everywhere in this gospel, that the meaning of the Eucharist must be reflected in the lives of those who receive the sacrament. For this is Body-broken and Blood-poured-out for others. Accordingly, we will participate fully in the benefits of the Eucharist only to the extent that we imitate, in all aspects of our lives, the generosity and unselfishness that we see in the life of Jesus himself. The Eucharist will certainly help us to be more thoughtful and compassionate and forgiving, but this cannot happen without our own serious commitment to love and service of others.
John, the evangelist, goes beyond the other gospels in spelling out the practical implications of conforming our lives to the demands of the Eucharist. The most significant consequence is presented in v. 57: “Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me.” This is a truly daring and wonderful assurance that we, fragile human beings, can hope to share in the very life of God. We can actually enter into that flow of life that flows between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And to the extent that this happens, through our commitment to God’s unselfish way of loving, our eternal life will be assured.
- JESUS SATISFIES OUR DEEPEST HUNGER
Looking at the approach of many Catholic Christians to the Eucharist, today, one cannot fail to notice that there is something missing in our lives. Our bodies are often well-fed, or even overfed and overweight, but our hearts are starving, and our souls are hungry. We say that many things are “awesome,” but we lack the capacity for wonder. We are over-busied and over-extended but we feel we have accomplished very little. We are distracted by sports, festivities, electronic gadgets, internet, and name it all, yet we feel bored. We are continually entertained but we learn little. The more we develop timesaving devices and gadgets, the less time we seem to have. We are obsessed with celebrities and yet we have few true heroes. We fill our lives with greed for things, and indulge ourselves with every pleasure, but we are not at all happy. We are compulsive problem solvers and so cannot live with any form of mystery.
There is a strong feeling that God has abandoned our world to human devices. We may ask: Where is love in all of this? Where is God? Why does God not take care of us and take care of our world? Today and in the four Sundays that have preceded, our Church has been giving us spiritual food and spiritual vision. The gospel texts have all presented us with the Eucharist, the Living Bread that God our Father gives us in his risen Christ. We have been presented the heart and core of our Catholic Faith. God, himself, is always present in our midst. “Come to me all you who labour and are overburdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light” (Matt 11:28-30).
We would do well to receive Jesus in the Eucharist with all veneration and devotion. Where we have failed in receiving him for one reason or the other, let us seek to take away the blockage and the obstacle that stands between us and this source of eternal life for us.