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Love’s Greatest Mystery
The Real Presence
(Internet Image from Eucharist (4))
With the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi) this year, the Catholic Church in the U.S. entered its second year of the US Council of Catholic Bishops- led Eucharistic Revival. The revival is intended to reawaken within the faithful a living relationship with the Real Presence of our Lord Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist. This “reawakening” is primarily accomplished in perceiving, receiving, and adoring God fully present in the Eucharist. For we need to live in, and with, Jesus in the Eucharist. Still many ask; “What is the “Real Presence” and how do we perceive our Lord in the Eucharist?” The Real Presence is the living Jesus in the Eucharist as He told us in Sacred Scripture and as it has always been believed by the Church. God incarnates us that we may incarnate Him. God enters us so that we may receive His life and bear His life into the world. This is the “Mystery of Faith”.
The Mystery of Faith
To “perceive” Christ Jesus truly, really present in the Eucharist means to become fully aware or fully conscious of someone who is really there but, in a way, hidden from our natural senses. We only truly love a person, not a thing. The same is true for adoration. We only truly adore another who draws forth from our deepest soul the adoring response.
The word perceive comes from the Latin, per, the prefix meaning, thoroughly, and the Latin, capere, meaning, to grasp. To perceive, or to fully grasp God present in the Eucharist is a lifelong quest that only ends when Christ Jesus, Himself, greets us in heaven with a perfect, eternal, and intimate embrace. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) quotes the Council of Trent in explaining the “real Presence” of Jesus, stating that,
“In the most blessed sacrament of the Eucharist the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ and, therefore, the whole Christ is truly, really, and substantially contained.” (CCC 1371)
So, the Holy Eucharist really is a “Who” and not a “what.”
How this miracle happens is first and foremost a mind-boggling mystery. This makes sense insomuch as God, our Creator, is naturally beyond the comprehension of any of us who are His own creation. For us to fully perceive Christ in the Eucharist would be as if the pot at the wheel could fully know the potter. Of course, this simply is impossible. One is beyond the grasp of the other. So, we can never “thoroughly” understand Christ’s Real Presence in the Holy Eucharist. But this does not mean that we are devoid of the understanding of the One True God, “Really Present.” The tremendous gift of faith both ignites our recognition of and love for Christ Jesus in the Holy Eucharist, and at the same time, delivers to us an understanding which is sufficient though incomplete so long as we live in these finite bodies.
Typically, we think of a mystery as something that is hidden but can be known. This is not the case when we speak of a theological mystery. In Greek, the word for Sacrament is, “mysterion”. The Church has always understood the Sacraments as true “mystery,” not fully knowable; yet, understandable. Why? Each Sacrament entails God actually pouring His Divine Self into us. Given that all Sacraments have their origin in God, are God-given and God-filling, then only the gift from God can open them up for our understanding, due to our own limited ability to perceive, unaided by grace. God Incarnate, Christ Jesus Himself, communicates the reality of His physical (Real) Presence in the Holy Eucharist directly, convincingly, and without apology in Sacred Scripture using very graphic, concrete, terms. He is also very clear; we need to receive Him in the Eucharist to be fully alive as God’s own image, He in us and we in Him. There are many “mysteries” in Sacred Scripture such as the incarnation, the miracles of Christ, how Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross meant salvation for the world, and Jesus’ resurrection. Why do many Christians struggle or even deny the mystery of the Real Presence? That is a mystery!
Jesus Reveals His Real Presence in the Sacred Scripture
Jesus plainly tells us who the Eucharist really is and why this holy reality is important in the Gospels. First, He tells us that,
Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. (John 6:54–56 NABRE)
Then at the “Last Supper”, Jesus,
… took the bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which will be given for you; do this in memory of me.” And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which will be shed for you. (Luke 22:19–20 NABRE)
First, Jesus informs us that we must eat His very flesh and drink His very blood in order to receive eternal life in John 6:27–69. The resurrected Jesus, fully alive (body, blood, soul, and divinity) must be somehow poured into us. Only in this, the resurrected Jesus, fully alive, remains in us and we in Him.
Secondly, in three out of the four Gospels Jesus, at the Last Supper, reveals to us that the bread will become His body and the wine His blood. He tells His disciples to, “do this.” It is the “how” we eat of the Lord’s flesh and drink His blood. In this way, the Lord institutes Holy Mass and the Eucharist, its summit. The Holy Catholic Church has always believed that Christ’s Command to, “do this,” was passed from the Apostles to their successors, the Bishops, and then to Priests through the Sacrament of Holy Orders, until our Lord’s return in glory. The Church fulfills this mandate by our Lord at Holy Mass. St Paul affirms this within twenty years of Jesus’ resurrection. He writes to the Corinthians,
I am speaking as to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I am saying. The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because the loaf of bread is one, we, though many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf. (1 Corinthians 10:15–17)
St Justin Martyr reaffirmed this belief in His first defense of the faith to the pagan Roman Emperor Antonius Pius when he wrote,
“so, we have been taught, the food which has been made the Eucharist by the prayer of His word, and which nourishes our flesh and blood by assimilation, is both the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh.” (Justin, 1 Apology 66)
Jesus announces the reality of the Eucharist is He in us and we in Him. How does this happen outside of the “Real Presence?” It cannot! This is clear in Sacred Scripture. The Church has boldly proclaimed this from the beginning! Perceive, receive, and adore Christ in the Eucharist.
The Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist is a mystery which we can never fully fathom. Despite the mystery, Sacred Scripture attests to the singular truth; the Bread and Wine received at Mass as gift is changed substantially into the Body and Blood of the Resurrected Christ each containing the full living Jesus. God’s grace enables this miracle to happen and also gifts the loving soul with the ability to respond. After the words of consecration prayed at Holy Mass, we profess this reality by affirming that we bear the “body” and “blood” of Christ. It is wrong to call the Eucharist “Bread” and “Wine” after consecration. Please do not! For they are no longer “bread” and “wine” but “body” and “blood”. We need to speak the language of our faith in the Real Presence. In kneeling or bowing profoundly before this blessed Sacrament, we acknowledge who the Eucharist is, Christ Jesus, Himself. The Father sent His Son into our flesh and the Holy Spirit makes Christ present in the Blessed Virgin Mary, then in the Holy Eucharist, and through the Holy Eucharist, present in us. We need to reawaken not just our minds but our language and body to the God fully present before us who longs to fill us.
“… for it is written: “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bend before me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.” (Romans 14:11)
And we proclaim, Amen!
“Eucharist (4): The Real Presence.” FSSPX.Actualités / FSSPX.News, 23 Apr. 2020, fsspx.news/en/news-events/news/eucharist-4-real-presence-47000.
Justin Martyr. The First Apology, The Second Apology, Dialogue with Trypho, Exhortation to the Greeks, Discourse to the Greeks, The Monarchy or The Rule of God. Vol. 6. Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 1948. Print. The Fathers of the Church.
New American Bible Revised Edition (NABRE). Washington, DC: The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2011. Print.