Fr. Dwight P. Campbell, S.T.D.
It all comes down to faith. As Catholics, we believe that the Holy Eucharist is truly the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ; that in the Eucharist we have present Christ’s full humanity – His human body, blood and soul, as well as the fullness of His sacred divinity as the eternal Son of God.
We believe that after the words of consecration by the priest, when he repeats the words of Jesus at the Last Supper – “This is my body . . . This is my blood” – that by the divine power of God the bread and wine undergo a miraculous change of substance, which we call transubstantiation: that the substance of the bread and wine changes into the Body and Blood of Jesus, while the appearances of the bread and wine remain – the Eucharist still looks like bread, tastes like bread, feels like bread, smells like bread, but that it is no longer bread; now it is the Body and Blood of Christ.
Why do we, in faith, believe this? Because we hear Jesus say it. As St. Thomas Aquinas, in His great Eucharistic hymn of adoration to Jesus in the Eucharist, Adoro Te Devote, writes:
“Visus, tactus, gustus, in te fallitur” (“Seeing, touching, tasting, all these senses fail”).
“Sed auditu solo, tuto creditor” (“But only in hearing is the mystery believed”).
And why do we believe Jesus? Because He is worthy of belief. He is the very Word made flesh, the Eternal Son of God who became man for our salvation. And He tells us, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life; no one comes to the Father except through me.” Jesus is Truth Incarnate, and He tells us, “My word is truth” (Jn. 17:17).
In chapter 6 of St. John’s Gospel which we read today, we hear what is known as the “the Bread of Life” discourse. Chapter 6 opens with Jesus performing the miracle of feeding 5000 on a few loaves and fish. The next day the people come to Him asking for more bread, and He tells them, “I am the living bread that has come down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever, and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”
Jesus goes on to say, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”
With these words Jesus makes clear that eating His Flesh and drinking His Blood is the key for sharing eternal life in the Kingdom of Heaven, and also the key for us to be raised up on the last day with bodies glorified, when Jesus comes again and the resurrection of the dead takes place.
These words of Jesus in today’s Gospel are really a prophecy which He fulfilled at the Last Supper when He took bread and wine and said, “Take and eat, this is my body which will be given up for you. Take and drink, for this is the chalice of my blood, the blood of the new and eternal covenant, which will be poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.”
But it is helpful to keep reading from chapter 6 of John’s Gospel, because it reveals to us something critically important. It says that after hearing Jesus’ words, many of His disciples said, “This saying is hard, who can accept it?” Jesus then said to them, “there are some of you who do not believe.” St. John goes on to tell us, “As a result of this, many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him. Jesus then said to the Twelve, ‘Do you also want to leave?’ Simon Peter answered him, ‘Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the holy one of God.’”
What happened here? Only the Twelve Apostles remained with Jesus! All the other disciples of Our Lord, who had been with Him for about three years, walked away and would no longer follow Him as a result of His teaching. “Eat your flesh and drink your blood? We can’t believe this!”
Here we see that faith in Jesus’ words, belief in His teaching about the Eucharist – that we must eat His Flesh and drink His Blood – is the real test of who are truly His disciples.
Protestants believe that the Eucharist is only a symbol of Christ’s Body and Blood, and that Jesus was only speaking symbolically about eating His Flesh and drinking His Blood. Well, if Jesus were only speaking symbolically, He would have said to those disciples who walked away, “Wait, I don’t really mean that you have to eat my flesh and drink my blood.” But in fact, Jesus did mean it, and this is why he allowed those who did not believe in His words to walk away.
Having faith in the great mystery of the Eucharist is not easy. In order to believe this mystery, we must have more faith than the Wise men, the Kings, who brought gifts to the Baby Jesus:
They saw the humanity of the Infant Christ, but were unable to see his divinity, yet they believ-ed that He was the King of kings and Lord of lords, as their gifts of gold and incense attest.
But in the mystery of the Eucharist, we see neither the humanity nor the divinity of Christ; rather, all that we see is what looks like ordinary bread and wine. But we believe that after the words of consecration at Mass, is no longer bread and wine but Christ’s very Body and Blood.
Faith in Christ’s Real Presence in the Eucharist can be strengthened through prayer and worship; but that faith can also weaken, or even be lost, through indifference and neglect. Sadly, statistics show that in the U.S., on average only 25 percent of Catholics regularly practice their faith and attend Mass on Sunday; that means about 75 percent do not.
Why do so many Catholics not actively practice their faith? One of the main reasons has to be lack of faith in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. If they really believed, they would come!
About a dozen years ago there was a famous survey taken among practicing Catholics. Two thirds of those surveyed said they did not believe that the Eucharist was the true Body and Blood of Jesus; they said that they believed the Eucharist was only a symbol. Mind you, the survey was among practicing Catholics! This reveals a true crisis of faith among Catholics regarding the Eucharist!
What, we might ask, has caused this lack of faith in the Eucharist? Here I’ll give my own thoughts, which are shared by many bishops and priests who have considered this issue. It has to do with a concept in the Church called Lex orandi, lex credendi – which translates loosely as “How people pray and worship affects how they believe.” And how people receive Holy Communion affects their faith, or lack thereof, in the true, substantial Presence of Our Lord in the Eucharist.
I can remember about 40 years ago in my home parish, St. Denis on the south side of Chicago, one Sunday we went to Mass and the priest announced that we would no longer receive Holy Communion on our knees and on the tongue at the communion rail, but rather we would receive the Eucharist in line, standing upright; and, to go along with this practice, he encouraged us to receive Communion in the hand rather than on the tongue.
I was only 16 years old, and I remember thinking to myself, “This is not right; I want to receive Communion on my knees at the communion rail, because this is God that I am receiving, and I prefer to kneel down before God; if we kneel down at the consecration at Mass when the bread and wine is being changed into Christ’s Body and Blood, isn’t it right and proper to kneel down to receive Him in Holy Communion?” We stand to greet a friend, but we kneel before God. Kneeling is a reverential posture, expressing an interior attitude of worship and adoration.
Well, I took Holy Communion standing in line because I had to, but I still received on the tongue, because I had been taught by my second grade teacher, Sr. Veronica Marie, in preparation for my first Holy Communion, that only the priest should touch the consecrated Host because the priest’s hands were consecrated.
Lex orandi, lex credendi. Protestant so-called “reformers” who rejected belief in the Real Presence of Christ’s Body and Blood in the Eucharist understood this. In 16th-century England, the ex-Dominican Martin Bucer objected to communion being placed on the tongue of the communicant, because this gave the impression that the bread one receives is not just ordinary bread, and also that the man who distributes communion is not the same as an ordinary man – that he has some special powers, like priestly ordination, which is precisely what we Catholics believe. Also, the rubric in the 1552 Anglican communion service prescribed that the minister should take home any bread left over after the liturgy to eat at the family meal.
I’ve been told by parishioners here that some years back, one Sunday they walked into church and the communion rail was gone. How sad. You can read through all the documents of the Second Vatican Council and those issued by the Church in the years that followed, and none of them speak of taking out the communion rails.
Lex orandi, lex credendi. How people worship affects how they believe. This is precisely why we have placed kneelers in the front of the church, to give people the option of kneeling before Our Lord and Our God when they receive His Most Precious Body and Blood in Holy Communion.
If people really believe that at every Mass the greatest miracle and earth takes place, that ordinary bread and wine is changed into the Body and Blood of our Savior, Jesus Christ, and that they receive his Body and Blood in Holy Communion, how could anyone miss Mass?
The great peacemaker from India, Mahatma Gandhi, once agreed to meet with a group of Catholics who explained to him our belief about Jesus in the Eucharist. Gandhi sat and listened patiently as they set forth for him what we believe. At the end of their presentation, Gandhi said: “I would like to believe what you Catholics believe about Jesus in the Eucharist. But I am unable to do so, because I don’t think you Catholics really believe what you say you believe; because if I really believed that my Lord and my God were truly present in the tabernacle as you say He is, I would crawl on my belly to church every day to worship and adore Him.”
Ghandi was a pagan; but his words reveal the truth about how we, as faithful Catholics, should express our faith in the Holy Eucharist – if we really believe that the Eucharist is the Body and Blood of our King, our God and our Savior, Jesus Christ.
As Catholics, we believe not only that the Son of God became man to save us from our sins, but that He remains with us, always, in the Eucharist. Like our Protestant brothers and sisters, we believe that Jesus is present in spirit whenever two or three are gathered in His name; but as Catholics we also believe that Our Lord is really Present in the substance of His Body and Blood in the Holy Eucharist. Jesus wants all to believe in Him and to receive His Body & Blood.
Jesus is Present with us in the Eucharist chiefly for two reasons: First, to nourish the life of God in our souls through reception of His Body and Blood in Holy Communion, in order that we may love God and love others as Jesus did; and second, to worship and adore His living and active Presence – in the tabernacle where our Lord resides, and at special times when He is exposed on our altars or carried in procession, as we will do at the end of Mass today.
On this wonderful feast of the Body and Blood of Our Lord, let us turn to the Blessed Virgin Mary. The saints tell us that Jesus left His Blessed Mother on earth after He ascended to Heaven so that she could teach the Apostles and early Christians how to worship and adore her Son, our Lord, in the Eucharist. Let us beg her to teach us how to adore, and how to act with true reverence toward our Eucharistic Lord; and let us join with the angels at this Mass, and at every Mass, and say: “O come let us adore Him!”