Fr Rodney Kissinger, S.J
Table of Contents
Sunday Mass is the heart of the Lord’s Day. And the Eucharist is the heart of the Sunday Mass. Down through the centuries the Eucharist, like a pure underground stream, has been nourishing both the Church and its members. It is the greatest gift the Lord has given us and is the greatest treasure of the Church, “the gift of the Giver.” The Second Vatican Council calls the Eucharist the “summit and the source” of all holiness. Jesus is the center and the heart of the Christian religion and the Eucharist is the center and heart of Christian worship because the Eucharist IS Jesus Christ.
The Eucharist, like love of which it is the personification, is a many-splendored-thing. There are many aspects of the same reality. All of them however, can be reduced to three: the REAL PRESENCE, the SACRIFICE and the MEAL. All three are represented in the sanctuary: the crucifix represents the sacrifice, the tabernacle represents the real presence and the altar represents the meal. These three aspects are united in an indissoluble bond. The sacrifice and the meal stand or fall with the real presence. So let us begin by considering the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.
Faith in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist is FUNDAMENTALLY AND ULTIMATELY FAITH IN JESUS. In the First Holy Communion class the teacher asks Johnny, “What is the Eucharist?” Johnny answers, “The Eucharist is the Body and Blood of Jesus.” The teacher continues, “Johnny, how do you know that the Eucharist is the Body and Blood of Jesus?” Johnny, brimming with confidence, answers, “Jesus Christ said so and He ought to know.” We may smile at this but the most learned theologian cannot give a better answer. In fact, they cannot give any other answer, “Jesus Christ said so and He ought to know.”
So the question for us now is, “Did Jesus Christ really say so?” Not only did He say so, He promised to say so before He said so and He said so as His Last Will and Testament.
The sixth chapter of John’s Gospel begins with the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves. The people were so awed at this miracle that they wanted to make Jesus their king. But Jesus did not come to be this kind of a king; his kingdom is not of this world. So he withdrew from them. The next day the crowd set out to look for him and found him in Capernaum. When Jesus saw them coming, he rebuked them saying, “You are looking for me not because you have seen signs, but because you have eaten of the bread and were filled. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you…I am the living bread that came 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.”
The Jews found this hard to take and quarreled among themselves saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” Jesus said, “Amen, amen I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the son of man and drink his blood, you do not have life in you.” Realizing that he meant exactly what he said, many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him. THE IMPORTANT POINT HERE IS THAT THE DISCIPLES UNDERSTOOD THE WORDS OF JESUS LITERALLY. And Jesus did not correct them, he let them go away. And he turned to his apostles and asked them, “Do you also want to leave?” Simon Peter stepped forward and said, “Lord, 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 from God.” (John 6:68-69)
That clear unequivocal promise Jesus made that day was fulfilled on the most solemn occasion of his life as his Last Will and Testament. The account is given in Matthew, Mark and Luke. “While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and said the blessing, broke it, and giving it to his disciples said, “Take and eat, this is my body. Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them saying, “Drink from it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed on behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Matt.26:26)
To the apostles the bread and the wine tasted just as it had before. But somehow they knew that this was the Body and the Blood of Jesus. How could it possibly be? They didn’t know. They didn’t know either how Jesus had changed the water into wine, how he had multiplied the loaves and fish, how he had walked on water, healed the sick and raised the dead to life. Their faith in the Eucharist was purely and simply an act of faith in Jesus. “Jesus said so, and he ought to know.”
The Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist was also the understanding and the practice of the first Christians as we read in the first Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians, “For I received from the Lord, what I handed over to you, that the Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over, took bread, and after he had given thanks broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me. 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.’” (1 Cor. 11:23-25)
Luke tells us also that it was in the “breaking of the bread” that the two disciples on the road to Emmaus recognized Jesus. (Luke 24:13-35) In the Acts of the Apostles we read, “The first Christians devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life, to the “breaking of bread,” and the prayers…” (Acts 2:42) The Greek and the Latin Fathers of the Church tell us that faith in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist was the basis of a vigorous mystical life that flourished in the early Christian communities.
IN FACT, TWO THIRDS OF ALL THE CHRISTIANS IN THE WORLD, (Roman Catholic, and Greek and Russian Orthodox) BELIEVE IN THE REAL PRESENCE. And a growing number of Episcopalians and Lutherans do so also. How strange that the Fundamentalists, who hold the literal interpretation of the Bible, make an exception for these clear, unequivocal words of Jesus. They say that this is a figure of speech. Some even substitute grape juice for wine. And at the same time they pride themselves on their faith, by which they are saved. It doesn’t take much faith to believe that bread is bread and wine is wine. But it takes a lot of faith to believe that what looks like bread, smells like bread and tastes like bread is really the Body and Blood of Jesus.
The Real Presence of Jesus comes into being at the consecration of the Mass when Jesus, through the instrumentality of the human priest, says, “This is my body. This is my blood.” The Council of Trent (1551) said that this change is “fittingly and properly” called Transubstantiation. The word “transubstantiation” is not meant to be a rational explanation of the mystery of the Eucharist which can be grasped only by faith. It is meant to protect the literal meaning in Jesus’ words of institution against other interpretations.
the Consecration the Real Presence remains until the consecrated host
is disintegrated. This makes it possible for us to reserve the Eucharist
in the Tabernacle.
Instead of coming late for Sunday Mass many come a few minutes early to get out of the “rat race,” have a personal visit with our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament and thus prepare themselves for the celebration of the Sacrifice of the Mass. Outside, the world goes on its feverish way, anxious and worried about many things, but here in the Home of our Lord it is peaceful and quiet with the peace that the world cannot give.
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