Reflection: Body and Blood of Christ
by Father Don Thomas
Among millions of Christians whose views differ on a number of theological issues, there can be no doubt that the principal source of division is the presence of Jesus Christ in the bread and wine that are used at religious services.
The Catholic position is that Jesus Christ is really present in the Eucharist, as a result of the miracle of transubstantiation that takes place at every Mass, all due to the power of God, using the priest simply as His instrument. The Bread and Wine become the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, made available by God for the spiritual nourishment of His People in Holy Communion. The remaining or left-over gifts of consecrated Bread and Wine are believed to be the Blessed Sacrament, a sign of Christ's Real Presence in the Eucharist.
The Blessed Sacrament is reserved in a beautiful tabernacle in the Catholic Church, again available for the devotional life of Catholics. Millions of followers of Christ deny all of this and believe that through their Memorial Services the bread and wine simply represent or symbolize the Body and Blood of Christ in the same way that the American Flag is not really our country, but rather represents or reminds us of our country. When their communion services are ended, there is no belief in the real presence of Christ in the bread and wine. This is all about a central truth for Christians and we are dealing with a most important and serious question of faith. We want to insist at this point that we are not questioning the sincerity of anyone in this consideration.
We do, however, want to point out that we are dealing with contradictory positions in this matter, as Catholics believe in the real presence, that Christ is really present, Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity, in the consecrated bread and wine. Others say "no",.it is not a real presence — it is a memorial or a symbolical or representative presence. Can a coin be round and square at the same time? Can something be the real presence and not the real presence at the same time and both be right? Before turning to Jesus Christ Himself to see what He said about this matter, let me pose a few scenarios that might clarify and simplify the question we are considering.
First scenario: your little baby has been kidnapped and missing for a month. After a week, a neighbor comes over to your house and gives you a photo of your baby, thinking it might give you some consolation. Keeping in mind that the photo is not really the baby but simply reminds you of the baby or represents the baby, I now ask you as the parents of the baby if you would feel any different if the next day a policeman knocked on your door and handed you your baby whom they had found. Would you rather hold the picture in your hands or the baby in your arms? That is not even hard to answer. You want the real thing!
Second scenario: If your son or husband has been in Iraq for almost a year, would you rather get a picture from him or would you rather have him secretly and surprisingly knock on your back door on Christmas Day and throw himself in your arms? Naturally, you would prefer the real thing. The picture simply reminds you of the person. Relating this approach to the Body and Blood of Christ, what choice are we going to make? Believing it is really the Body and Blood of Jesus, or it is just a symbol or a reminder of the Body and Blood of Jesus?
I do not think that anyone is more qualified to help us with the answer than Jesus Christ Himself, in the Sixth Chapter of John's Gospel. Jesus called Himself the Bread of Life, the Bread that has come down from heaven, and He said that the bread that He would give us would be His flesh for the life of the world. He went on to say that whoever would eat His flesh and drink His blood would be raised up on the last day, for "my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink". We must note in that passage that some of the people began to rebel and disagree, saying in effect that "this guy is whacky, let's get out of here — how can anyone give us his flesh to eat and his blood to drink? This is too much". And they turned and walked away because they did not have the faith to believe what Jesus said. (as a personal note, I have often wondered why those people walked away, if Jesus was only talking about a symbol or a reminder. No, I think they realized that He meant something more.) Now, what happened next? Jesus turned to those who remained and He asked them if they were going to leave also. They told Jesus that they were not going to leave because He had the words of eternal life. They were in a position to say that if you, Jesus, say it is really your body and blood, we will believe you.
We do not understand how you do it, but after watching you for the past couple of years, "we have learned to believe that when you say you are going to do something, it always happens — like bringing the little girl back to life — and Lazarus too — and walking on the water, and changing the water into wine — all of those things we wondered about because we did not understand how you could do all those things. Now we see that you are not asking us to understand anything, but rather you are asking us to believe. And yes, Jesus, we have come to believe that you are the Son of God, and that is why at the Last Supper, when Jesus took bread and wine into His hands and said "This is my Body" and "This is my Blood", He did not say "This represents my Body and Blood". He used the word "is" and nobody understood it, but they surely did believe it. It is all about faith.
It has nothing to do with knowledge or understanding. Even in those days, they believed that if God could make the whole world out of nothing, it would be a lot easier for Him to start with something and change it into something else. When He did this at the Last Supper, He then gave the Apostles the power to do the same thing — to change the bread and wine into His body and blood. "Do this in memory of Me" Every time you do this, think of Me . And that is why the Sacrifice of the Mass is called a Memorial Sacrifice where we have Christ, the One True Priest, the altar, the Victim, Christ, the immolation of the Victim when God changes the bread and wine into His Body and Blood, and finally the Eucharistic Meal that we call Holy Communion. Truly this is a mystery of our Faith. In another Reflection, we can deal with the Mystery of Transubstantiation, by which Jesus gives us the Bread of Life for our spiritual nourishment.
By studying what Transubstantiation is all about, no one solves the mystery, but steps can be taken to show that there are no contradictions involved. Things hard to believe, Yes — but contradictions, none at all.
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