This is a republication of one of my first apologetical writings on the Eucharist.
One of the different beliefs between Catholics and many non Catholics is the Catholic belief in The Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. First off, some of you might be inclined to ask, “What is the Eucharist?” Well, to be blunt, to say there has been tons of ink spilled over this topic would be a gross understatement. Far too often though, the people writing and explaining these explanations (whether in books, tracts, blogs, or other internet posts) are often highly educated individuals whose writings can be somewhat difficult to understand. My hope in this writing is to be different from the other guys, to break it down in a way that everyone could understand.
So by this point you are saying enough, tell me what it is please! The Catholic Church defines the Eucharist as, “…the very sacrifice of the Body and Blood of the Lord Jesus which he instituted to perpetuate the sacrifice of the cross throughout the ages until his return in glory. Thus he entrusted to His Church this memorial of his death and Resurrection. It is a sign of unity, a bond of charity, a paschal banquet, in which Christ is consumed, the mind is filled with grace, and a pledge of future glory is given to us.” (paragraph 1409,Cathechism of the Catholic Church) Which means what? In plain English, The Eucharist is the consecrated Bread and Wine offered at Mass by a Priest. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, simple bread and wine is becomes the Body and Blood of Jesus just as it was at the Last Supper. As Catholics, we confess that while it may look, feel, and taste like bread and wine, the substance of it though, is truly the Body and Blood of Jesus. The technical term for this is, Transubstantiation.
Now at this point some of you reading this are no doubt going to say, “ha ha ha, there is no way that little piece of cracker bread could really be Jesus.” Well that’s the whole point of me writing this, is to show you were the Catholic belief of this comes from.
Since Catholics believe that the Eucharist is Christ, we should look to see what Holy Scripture has to say about this. St. Jerome once said, “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ”. How true!
So let’s go back to a year before the Crucifixion of Christ, John 6:4 states “Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was at hand.” This couldn’t be the same Passover described at the time of the Last Supper, so it has to be earlier, most likely a year before.
In verse 10, “Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” Now there was much grass in the place; so the men sat down, in number about five thousand.” Notice how it only mentions men? This was common for the time, as Jews of the day weren’t really big on mentioning women in their writings. Almost always, women of this era were treated as second class citizens, that’s why it was such a huge deal when Jesus stopped to speak with the woman at the well, (John 4:7-26) and among other passages. I am going to go out on a branch here, way out, and say that most likely there were more like eight to ten thousand people present that day counting women and children along with the men. That’s just a logical hunch on my part and there are many scholarly people out there that would agree with this.
So the stage is set, Jesus has his Apostles and 10,000 people following him around listening to him teach and witnessing His miracles are now hungry. All they have to eat are five loaves of barley bread and two fish, provided by a little boy (God bless him because none of the grown-ups thought to pack a lunch that day.) In verse 11, “Jesus then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted.” Verse 12 reads, “And when they had eaten their fill, he told his disciples, “Gather up the fragments left over, that nothing may be lost.” Finally in verse 13, “So they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten.” Notice how they kept any and all fragments that were left over? John says, “that nothing may be lost.” Remember that for later.
Now let’s skip ahead a little, to paraphrase, Jesus was a little concerned that his followers who witnessed the multiplication of the loaves and fish were going to make him their King, and he knew that now just wasn’t the time yet so he decided to send the Disciples in their boat across the Sea of Galilee over to Capernum. Kind of like a head start to get away, and Jesus caught up to them later that night, not by boat, but by walking on the water. (That is a whole other story). Anyhow, the next morning, the followers all caught up to Him and the Disciples wondering how they got over to the other side. Jesus tells them in Verse 26, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.” Notice how he doesn’t even mention the fish? It’s about the bread, and here is where things really get interesting.
In John 6:27: Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of man will give to you; for on him has God the Father set his seal.” 28: Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” 29: Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” 30: So they said to him, “Then what sign do you do, that we may see, and believe you? What work do you perform? (The Jews have a lot of nerve asking this question after Jesus just made five loaves and two fish feed all of them.) 31: Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, `He gave them bread from heaven to eat.'”
Huh? Alright, so let’s go back in time to the time of Moses. In Exodus 16:3, the Israelite who were fleeing Egypt and on their way to the Promised Land were trekking across the desert, they left with only what they could carry and at this point were getting pretty hungry. They had begun to complain to Moses about their hunger and how they had it better in Egypt, In verse 4 it reads,” Then the LORD said to Moses, “Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you; and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day, that I may prove them, whether they will walk in my law or not.
In Exodus 16:15 “When the people of Israel saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was. And Moses said to them, “It is the bread which the LORD has given you to eat.”
Even before Christ walked on the Earth, God was providing a ‘Daily Bread’ to his people. This is a type of the Eucharist, a proto-type really.
Now, back to John’s Gospel. In John 6:34 the people said to Jesus, “Lord, give us this bread always.” In verse 35-49 Jesus says, 35: 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. 36: But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. 37: All that the Father gives me will come to me; and him who comes to me I will not cast out. 38: For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me; 39: 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. 40: For this is the will of my Father, that every one who sees the Son and believes in him should have eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day.” We can read and see in these passages that Jesus is not speaking symbolically or metaphorically. These are all central dogmas of Christianity.
Up to this point Jesus had everyone’s full attention. However, when he stated that “I have come down from Heaven…” people’s jaws hit the ground and their eyes popped out of their head’s. If I was one of the Jew’s there, I would have said, “STOP!, say that again, you said WHAT?” And that’s exactly what happened; because in verses 41-44, “41: The Jews then murmured at him, because he said, “I am the bread which came down from heaven.” 42: 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’?” 43: Jesus answered them, “Do not murmur among yourselves. 44: No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day.” Again, no metaphor’s here right? In verses 45 and 46 Jesus pretty much answers the Jews question about his origin, “It is written in the prophets, `And they shall all be taught by God.’ Every one who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me. 46: Not that any one has seen the Father except him who is from God; he has seen the Father.” Someone there had to have said, “He didn’t just say that, did he?” And his buddy next to him most likely responded with, “oh yes he did”.
In verse 47 Jesus says again, “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life.” (There is no metaphor or symbolism here either is there? No, no I didn’t think so.)
Now come’s the showstopper folks. If the Jew’s jaws didn’t hit the ground and their eyes popped out of their head’s before, it’s about to, even after the loaves and fish miracle that had happened the day before. There may even be a few of them fainting when they hear what Jesus is about to say next! In John 6:48, “I am the bread of life. 49: Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50: This is the bread which comes down from Heaven, that a man may eat of it and not die. 51: 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.” 52: The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” 53: So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, (not figuratively, figuratively,) I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; 54: he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.” (Insert proverbial fainting woman here). Now comes the metaphor argument, well Jesus was clearly speaking symbolically here right? No! Read verse 54 again: “he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.” If the first part of the sentence was a metaphor so the second half of the sentence would have to be a metaphor too right? After all a sentence is a complete thought, right?
Is Jesus being symbolic about ‘raising us up on the last day‘? I sure hope not! After all, he had already established in verse 47 “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life.” Truly, Truly? He’s not saying it’s true not once, but twice. Jesus always prefaced really important things with either, amen or truly (which really mean the same thing and our interchanged in different translations). He would preface REALLY IMPORTANT THINGS by saying it twice! So obviously he’s being very serious here in his words and one would have to conclude he’s not being symbolic but literal.
In verse 55 Jesus reinforces what he just said with, “For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed.” He certainly sounds serious to me. The New International Version Bible, (a mainline protestant Bible) actually says it better, in my opinion, with their translation. “For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink.” I really like how their translators used the word, real here before food and drink. Again, it certainly sounds like Jesus is pretty serious here.
Verse 56 says, “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.” Verse 57 and 58 continues with,“As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me. 58: 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.” Jesus is repeating what he said in verse 50! Verse 59 states that this whole exchange is taking place within the walls of the synagogue in Caper’na-um. It would be as if Jesus was explaining this during a sermon in church on Sunday.
In John 6:60: John writes, “Many of his disciples, when they heard it, said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?”(Interestingly enough, non-Catholics and even some Catholics say the same thing today!) 61: But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples murmured at it, said to them, “Do you take offense at this? (Oh yeah they did, after all cannibalism and eating of blood was forbidden by Mosaic law (Leviticus 17:12)) 62: Then what if you were to see the Son of man ascending where he was before? 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. 64: 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. (That would be Judas) 65: And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.”
This is the point where we can say that Jesus was being as serious as he could be. 66: After this, many of his disciples drew back and no longer went about with him. The NIV (New International Version) words it as, “From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed Him.”
The obvious question is why? The obvious answer is self-evident, the followers of Jesus didn’t get it, it was too much for them, and they thought he was crazy! Non-Catholics love John chapter three just as much as Catholics love John chapter six, and they should,. The conversation that Jesus has with Nicodemus in chapter 3 is powerful stuff. Jesus teaches something in John 3 to Nicodemus that sounds almost as absurd as the Bread of Life discourse in Chapter 6. Jesus tells Nicodemus in verse 3 that we must be born anew (or again) in order to see the Kingdom of God. Now Nicodemus who was a very educated man, questioned Jesus asking him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Of course we can’t. This is one of those times where Jesus IS speaking figuratively because he doesn’t affirm Nicodemus’ question either by repeating himself, or saying to him Amen, or Amen Amen, (Truly, or Truly Truly). No Jesus corrects Nicodemus misinterpretation with an explanation! Jesus says to him, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, `You must be born anew.” We’re getting a little off topic here, but you can see an example of Jesus correcting a misinterpretation of His teaching. Something clearly missing in John 6. Rather than correct them (which he didn’t need to because he was being serious, he let them walk away from him) We know of at least twelve people (eleven of them believing, one not) that didn’t walk …
67: Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?” 68: Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go?” (I am sure they would have wanted to go back to being fishermen, when they made more money doing that than following Jesus around) “You have the words of eternal life; 69: and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” 70: Jesus answered them, “Did I not choose you, the twelve, and one of you is a devil?” 71: He spoke of Judas the son of Simon Iscariot, for he, one of the twelve, was to betray him.
That is a lot to chew on
Other New Testament support for the Real Presence…
John’s Bread of Life discourse, (John chapter 6) took place within the context of the Passover. We know from the Gospel’s that Jesus’ final Passover meal took place the night before he was crucified. A year after the Bread of Life discourse, after all, Passover was an annual event.
Matthew’s Gospel reads like this: Matthew 26:26: 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.” 27: And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you; 28: for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29: I tell you I shall not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” 30: And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.
Mark’s Gospel put’s it this way, Mark 14:22: 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.” 23: And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, and they all drank of it. 24: And he said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. 25: Truly, I say to you, I shall not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.” 26: And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.
Finally Luke’s Gospel reads like this: Luke 22:15: And he said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; 16: for I tell you I shall not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” 17: And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said, “Take this, and divide it among yourselves; 18: for I tell you that from now on I shall not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” 19: 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.” 20: And likewise the cup after supper, saying, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. 21: But behold the hand of him who betrays me is with me on the table.
All three of the Synoptic Gospel’s spell it out in a similar way. This is not however the only reference to this event.
In 1st Corinthians, Paul tells the people of Corinth, (located in modern day Greece) 1 Corinthians 11:23: 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, 24: and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. (Not a symbol of) Do this in remembrance of me.” 25: 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.”(Again, no mention of symbol here either) 26: For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. (Now comes Paul’s answer to the, “it’s symbolic” argument before there was even one!) 27: 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. Strong words for something symbolic. It sounds as if Paul is pretty serious here. 28: Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29: For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself.
Why would Paul make such a strong statement if the Eucharist was a symbol? He is telling us that we should be examining ourselves so that we don’t profane the Body of Christ by partaking of it unworthily. If Paul is being serious, which I believe he is, and if the Eucharist is merely a symbol, then it would therefore be ordinary bread; And if it’s ordinary bread, we should all be discerning and examining ourselves every time we make our way into the kitchen to make a piece of toast. Paul was being serious, and he was speaking in the context that the bread, really was Jesus.
In the Acts of the Apostles chapter 2:42 “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” Here we see Luke describing the events of Pentecost. The day where the Holy Spirit descended on the Apostles, the day where Peter stepped up to the plate, took the bull by the horns, manned up, and any other euphemism you want to use, and preached his famous sermon to the Jews. The day that as Luke writes in Acts 2:38-44, 38 And Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39* For the promise is to you and to your children and to all that are far off, every one whom the Lord our God calls to him.” 40 And he testified with many other words and exhorted them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” 41 So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. 42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 And fear came upon every soul; and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. 44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common;” The believers devoted themselves to the Apostles teaching, why? Because they were given the authority to teach by Christ. The believers devoted themselves to the breaking of bread and the prayers? What bread and what prayers? I suppose there could be some bread on a table with a room full of people praying, and holding all beliefs in common, or, in communion. That does sound vaguely familiar doesn’t it?
Acts 20:7, “On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the morrow; and he prolonged his speech until midnight.” This is yet another New Testament reference about gathering together to break bread and here the teaching of an Apostle. By now we are already starting to see a trend here, where the devotion of breaking of the bread, goes hand in hand with the teaching of the Apostles. Just as it was then, with the Apostles, it is today in the Catholic Church with the Apostles successors, the Bishops.
Outside the Bible, we have other historical references to the Real Presence of Jesus within the Eucharist. Saint Justin Martyr, writes, “For not as common bread nor common drink do we receive these; but since Jesus Christ our Savior 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 nurtured, is both the flesh and the blood of that incarnated Jesus” (First Apology 66 [A.D. 151]).
Saint Ignatius of Antioch (who was a student of the Apostle John) wrote in the year 110: “I have no taste for corruptible food nor for the pleasures of this life. I desire the bread of God, which is the flesh of Jesus Christ, who was of the seed of David; and for drink I desire his blood, which is love incorruptible” (Letter to the Romans 7:3 [A.D. 110]).
Saint Irenaeus of Lyons (who was a student of Saint Polycarp, whom which was a student of the Apostle John) wrote of the Eucharist in A.D. 189: “If the Lord were from other than the Father, how could he rightly take bread, which is of the same creation as our own, and confess it to be his body and affirm that the mixture in the cup is his blood?” (Against Heresies 4:33–32 [A.D. 189])
These early Christians all are saying the same thing, that the Eucharist really is the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ! These Christians believed then, what the Catholic Church still teaches to this day. That the simple bread and wine offered at Mass, is really and substantially made into the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.
The Passover Connection
We know from reading earlier in John 6, that Jesus spoke of the Bread of Life in the synagogue at Capernaum during Passover. At the Last Supper, (the following year) Jesus instituted the Mass and the Priesthood. Remember within the course of the Passover meal He broke the Bread and told the Apostles to take and eat, this is my body…? Hold that thought! What is Passover exactly? Passover is a Jewish festival. It commemorates the story of the Exodus, in which the ancient Israelite were freed from slavery in Egypt.
In the narrative of Exodus, the Bible tells that God helped the Children of Israel escape slavery in Egypt by inflicting ten plagues upon the Egyptians before Pharaoh would release his Israelite slaves; the tenth and worst of the plagues was the death of the Egyptian first-born. Unlike some festivals and commemorations that Judeo-Christians celebrate, Passover is pretty well defined and spelled out in the Bible. Just read
Exodus 12: The LORD said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, “This month shall be for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you.
 Tell all the congregation of Israel that on the tenth day of this month they shall take every man a lamb according to their fathers’ houses, a lamb for a household;
 and if the household is too small for a lamb, then a man and his neighbor next to his house shall take according to the number of persons; according to what each can eat you shall make your count for the lamb. (The lamb mentioned here was the sacrificial lamb, a proto-type to Jesus.)
 Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male a year old; you shall take it from the sheep or from the goats; (There is in fact symbolism here, the sheep represent the believers and the goats, the non-believers. Furthermore, this paschal lamb, whose sacrifice spared each Israelite family from God’s wrath, was a male, perfect, and in the prime of its life. Does this sound familiar?)
 and you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month, when the whole assembly of the congregation of Israelshall kill their lambs in the evening. (Passover was one of the festivals where the Jewish people would all travel toJerusalem to celebrate the Passover. We know from the Gospels that Jesus was crucified in the afternoon, and died about the time the Jewish faithful were slaughtering their lambs for Passover.)
 Then they shall take some of the blood, and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat them.
 They shall eat the flesh(sound familiar?) that night, roasted; with unleavened bread and bitter herbs they shall eat it.
 Do not eat any of it raw or boiled with water, but roasted, its head with its legs and its inner parts.
 And you shall let none of it remain until the morning, anything that remains until the morning you shall burn.
 In this manner you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it in haste. It is the Lord’s Passover.
 For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will smite all the first-born in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the LORD.
 The blood shall be a sign for you, upon the houses where you are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall fall upon you to destroy you, when I smite the land of Egypt. “
From the text, the lamb was to be an unblemished, male lamb, a year old. A year old lamb would be at the beginning of the prime of its life. The lamb was to be sacrificed for the salvation of the family which sacrificed it. The blood of this lamb would deliver the Israelites from the bonds of slavery in Egypt. This sacrifice of redemption, foreshadows the once and for all sacrifice of Christ’s sacrifice for all mankind on the Cross. It wasn’t enough however, for the Israelites to shed the blood of the lamb; they also had to follow the Lord’s instruction of eating the lamb.
Jews continue today to celebrate Passover not because of any redemptive action, but to commemorate its origins. They in fact, re-present the Passover every year. The Passover meal consists of 15 parts. These 15 parts parallel the 15 steps in the Temple in Jerusalem on which the Levites stood during Temple services, and which were memorialized in the 15 Psalms (#120-134) known as Shir HaMa’alot (Hebrew: שיר המעלות, “Songs of Ascent”).
Again let’s look at John’s Gospel, John is baptizing in the Jordan River and Jesus approaches him from a distance and John looks up and says…”Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). Likewise in John 1:36 John exclaims, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” Why is John calling Jesus the “Lamb of God” and why is this significant? Because Jesus was the one to be sacrificed for the sins of the world, Jesus was the sacrificial Lamb. How do we know this?
Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 5:7: “Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our paschal lamb has been sacrificed.” John establishes in Revelation 17:14 that the lamb he is speaking of throughout Revelation is Christ. “they will make war on the Lamb, and the Lamb will conquer them, for he is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those with him are called and chosen and faithful.” John speaks of Jesus this way, as the Lamb 28 times throughout Revelation.
Catholics believe that the Eucharist was instituted during the Last Supper, which was of course the Passover meal. The Catholic Church believes that the Jesus’ celebration of Passover began in the Upper Room and wasn’t completed until Christ was crucified and died. The perfect, innocent, unblemished Lamb of God, in the prime of his life, was sacrificed on the Cross to save the world. The flesh of the Lamb ate at the table of the Last Supper, His Precious Blood drank at the Passover table, both just as Christ commanded in John 6. Christ Sacrifice for all was a real sacrifice, not a symbol. Just as His Presence in the Eucharist is Real, and not a symbol.