This blog is to begin a series dedicated to dealing with what is called The Sacrament by Roman Catholics. It will begin to spell out over the course of the next few months the teaching of the Church, and answering questions posed by non-Catholics. The first will answer questions relating to exactly what the Eucharist is, and what it is not, namely the Myth that Catholics “re-crucify” Christ during the celebration of the Mass. Following this we will cover the names given to this sacrifice-feast, with a discussion on its place within the Christian Church. In the next blog we will cover the institution of this sacrament by Jesus himself, and its place in the context of the Passover. Lastly, pursuing a deeper understanding of this mystery we will examine the precise meaning of the command given by the Lord, and its place in the liturgical setting.
Here we will begin to unpack the “source and summit of the Christian life” in the hopes that many questions may be answered, and to invoke deeper discussion of this blessed mystery. We will start with a letter of apology, that is not to say a letter excusing the Catholic Doctrine, but a letter of defense of the practice as it is part of the One True Church started by Jesus Christ himself, namely the Catholic Church. To begin with what is merely a cursory view of the texts used is aimed at beginning a deeper study, and having the goal of producing efficacious theological catechesis. Of important note, for the Protestant reader, and even some of the Catholic readers, reliance in the Scriptures alone, translated in whatever bias preferred by the audience, is not a teaching of early Christianity, and indeed are not self-sufficient in themselves to understanding the Faith. It should be understood that using the Bible as held in the modern fashion bound in leather, and bought at any store today, is by no means the available teaching of the first century Christian, and indeed of anyone until this age. Therefore it remains a challenge of the Bible-alone adherent: read these verses in this Blog as they are presented, and not as whatever self-interpretive aspect the reader might have. For the Eucharist is simply presented in the Gospels, in the Letters, and is even alluded to in the Old Testament. It began as a Tradition, and remains thus even today.
There is a common myth held by non-Catholics about the Faith and its argument states, “every time Catholics offer the Mass, they re-crucify Jesus Christ.” In this myth the Catholic Priest is killing Jesus again, by putting him back up on the cross. This myth further states that the whole focus of the Eucharist is misplaced, and that the host is merely a symbol. That there is no proof or desire of Christ to actually keep the Eucharist in perpetuity, and that the whole affair from start to finish is an affront to God, and to Christ. The aim and focus of this particular myth is the twisted interpretive use of scripture in an attempt to disprove the entire notion of this belief. Since this myth is false, and that the Eucharist is the same unbloodied sacrifice offered by Jesus on the night he was to be betrayed, Catholics make this Last Supper present on the altar every time they celebrate the Mass.
There is ample historical evidence that the Catholic Church back to the times of the beginning offered this Banquet much as we see it today in modern churches. Since there are many texts of the early followers declaring exactly what transpired we will forgo the use of historical data and focus instead on the parts of truth as it is revealed in Scripture and common sense. Once we step away from the use of historical data the reality becomes muddled in the area that begs people to make their own interpretation. For the sake of truth we can state quite plainly that the offering of the Eucharist has never been viewed as anything other than the re-presentation of the Supper offered by Christ, that the Gnostics first argued against this, and that Jesus has never been re-crucified by any follower of the Church established by our Lord.
Before the Scriptures where consolidated only the Apostolic Tradition was the teaching authority, Traditions that have never been considered void once Scripture came along in the Bible, because from out of these traditions the Bible rose. This means before the Bible was put together, the Church practiced exactly what is found in the Words. First we start with an important part of the Gospel of John in the 6th chapter. First Jesus feeds five thousand with only a couple of fish and a few loaves of bread. Jesus kept breaking the bread and it was not diminished, but it multiplied enough to feed all there, and have twelve baskets full of left overs. The second law of thermodynamics states that when something is torn, it is destroyed along the torn edge and it cannot repair, or multiply itself on its own. However, Jesus was able to transcend the laws of the Universe, being God, and not just tear bread that never diminished but was able to keep tearing as more appeared. After this multiplication of the loaves, Jesus walks on the water. The disciples see him walking on water and call out to him, in Matthew’s account of this story Peter is even invited to walk on the water also. This is not simply a metaphor for life, Jesus really walked on the water according to the language of the text. Christ who is fully man, and fully God, showing his power over even the elements of Nature. He can, by who he is, subvert exactly the laws of nature also, and walk upon a surface that anyone else would have fallen through.
Therefore, the Apostle John is leading us up to his very next point, while saying that Jesus is God, and he is above the laws of Creation, what follows needs to be observed in the very same light. Starting at verse 22 of John Chapter 6 we read a sermon leading up to verse 55-56, “for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.” When we unpack these verses, it is important to have read up to this point. This section begins at verse 22 and proceeds to the end of the chapter. Jesus says that if we eat his flesh and drink his blood he will abide in us, and we will have eternal life. Perhaps it would be important to note that there is no use of any parable language, he is not speaking of eat, and believe, as the same kind of situation. Here John is using the word that literally means “to eat with intent to consume,” we call it to gnaw. When we have a bit of steak in our mouths that is just taking a long time to be chewed to swallow, we stop focusing on eating more food, but are really paying attention to the meat in our mouths and are now chewing and chewing. That is the same with Johns’ intent of the word ‘eat’ in this whole sermon.
It would be necessary here to make a side note. When we read the rest of John 6 we will find verse 63, “it is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.” A doubter of the argument would say, “ah ha! Look right here, Jesus says that the flesh is useless, so why do we need to eat the flesh of Jesus?” This is a great question to ask, and it really shows the level of character of the one who asks it. The inquirer either, does not believe Jesus died in the Flesh, which was key to our salvation, or does not realize that unless Jesus died in the flesh that we could not have achieved salvation. The Bible clearly teaches this, and in First John 4:3 it says that we must accept that Jesus came in the flesh. If the flesh was useless, then why did Jesus have to come in the flesh? To be useless? No to die for our sins. Therefore the flesh is useless according to this verse to show that without the intervention of God “spirit” then man can do nothing ‘flesh’ to save himself, but must live according to the spirit, which is life, and to nourish our spirit we need the flesh of Jesus.
Now that we know that we must eat Jesus, how are we to consume him? The Apostles are all there at the end of this sermon about eating his flesh, and there is no indication about it being a parable. They acknowledge that only the Son of God had the answers to life. Therefore it was not symbolic but literal, so literal in fact that many of his disciples left, but not the twelve. The reason why, was they had faith that this teaching too would come to be explained by Christ. Indeed he would teach them what it was to be at the Last Supper. This feast of his flesh and his blood would become sacramental there at the table and commanded to be continued in perpetuity until he came again.
This continuance of the meal is given in Scripture when Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19). This use of the verb language of ‘do this’ is precise and conveys an action that took place before the words. This means that when Jesus gave the bread and the wine, and said to do something, that something was the breaking of the bread, and the sharing of the wine. It is quite simple that there is no need to pull any kind of extra biblical interpretation, but to use common understandable use of language. When we do something, and then ask for it to be remembered, the audience can easily guess the thing needing to be recalled is the action made prior to the request. However, it is to be a keen note, that there is no qualifications on this request, no plea to do it only once a month, or whenever there arises a need to call to mind the memory of Christ. Some simply consider this to be a symbol of Christ and we are being asked to remember him in it, and we only do it once a month. Then logic would by extension, tell us that the only time we need to think of Jesus is once a month. This cannot work, not for a Christian, but we must live daily keeping our Lord ever in our thoughts, of importance is Sunday, for this is the day he rose from the dead.
We have established that Jesus Christ, being God transcends the laws of nature and those of physics. This means that when he says we must eat his flesh and drink his blood it is not cannibalism. For even as his disciples left him that day, and his twelve remained, so to we must choose how to understand our Lord. There are thousands of Churches who walk away at this point, and have established for themselves congregations built on the notion that this is not literal, as if the Disciples who left him built these churches and had not to do with Jesus or the Apostles after this point. If we take it at face value, then we must examine what it means to consume him. Firstly for it to be cannibalism the host and wine at Mass must be parts of Jesus. Each of the drinks of wine, each of the wafers is some specific part of Jesus. However, the Church teaches that each of the wafers and each drop of wine is the whole Jesus that is his body, blood, soul and divinity. As we consume it, so too does he consume us. Secondly for it to be cannibalism it has to be bloody. The offering at the Last Supper was intentionally an unbloodied sacrifice. Lastly for it to be cannibalism Jesus could only have been a human, and he was both God and Man, in that consumption of a human body eliminates the body. However, the consumption of the Eucharist does not in any way diminish Christ at all.
We have also established that this is not merely symbolic language, for it to be so, the gospel writer would have included some type of commentary explaining this as a parable. Since it is not hyperbole, it can only be one thing: truth. This would mean that the host and wine is really the body and blood, and that Scripture itself would testify to it. Which means we turn to Paul, and we see that in his First letter to the Corinthians in his sermon explicitly teaching about the Eucharist. We read, “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be answerable for the body and blood of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 11:27) Here Saint Paul is saying that when someone is not in a state of grace, that is in right fellowship with God, eating the bread or drinking the wine, is a grave sin against Jesus. Now if it was merely a symbol, and only to be taken as a symbol the question is how can we eat something that can actually cause us to sin against something? There is no way a symbol can hold us accountable, for it is only a thing, but the truth of this actually being Jesus, then we can do violence against the Lord.
At last when we read all that is in Scripture about the Holy Eucharist, and examine the words, we can clearly learn that there is an actual belief in the Bible that it is exactly what Jesus intended it to be: his body and his blood. That we are to consume it as often as we come together in worship of him. That in the time of Corinth people were actually getting sick and dying from eating it unworthily (1 Corinthians 11:30). It is then established that Jesus taught exactly what the Catholic Church has taught all along, and is very biblical. However, if anyone believes it is only a symbol participates in the doctrines of man. Instead with the teaching authority of the Church we can come to understand the fullness of a doctrine and understand its entire truth revealed in Scripture and practiced from the start of the Christian community. Once we even introduce history back into the fold, we can only see two thousand years of teaching that this is exactly what the Bible has revealed, that the Apostles have handed on precisely what was taught by Jesus Christ during his Meal recorded in the Holy Bible.