Testimony To The Real Presence — Corpus Christi—Year A

Jesus Christ is truly present Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity, in the Most Blessed Sacrament. This is called the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. It is true that Jesus is present whenever the scriptures are read, or wherever two or three are gathered in his name, but the Holy Eucharist is His presence in the fullest sense, for this is Jesus Christ Himself. Some people accuse the Catholic Church of making up this idea during the Middle Ages or something, but Catholics have always believed in the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in Eucharist, unceasingly, in every age of the Church. For example, around 110 A.D., St. Ignatius of Antioch, a bishop and a prisoner in chains, wrote this on the way to his martyrdom in Rome:

“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…; and for drink I desire his blood, which is love incorruptible”

Based upon rumors, the Romans despised and persecuted the early Christians and accused them of many things without understanding. The Christians were accused of atheism, because they refused to worship the pagan gods. The Christians were accused of incest, perhaps because others misunderstood the Christians’ love for each other as “brothers and sisters.” And, most interestingly, the Christians were falsely accused of cannibalistic feasts, of eating the flesh and blood of their offspring. Around 150 A.D., to help dispel rumors and to quell Roman hated, St. Justin Martyr wrote an open letter to the emperor explaining the actual beliefs of Christians. One of the things Justin touches upon is the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. He writes:

“Not as common bread nor common drink do we receive [this Eucharist]; 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, …is both the flesh and the blood of that incarnated Jesus”

Where did the early Christians get this idea? The Real Presence was taught them by the apostles and through the Holy Scriptures. For example, in today’s second reading, the Apostle St. Paul mentions the Real Presence to the Corinthian Christians as a given, as a settled matter. Paul says:  “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?” Is Paul only speaking symbolically? Well, a little later, He warns them, “…Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord.” Both the apostles and Scripture agree that Jesus Christ was the source of this belief. St. Paul writes the Corinthians:

“I received from the Lord what I also handed on 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.’”

The first three Gospels relate these words from the Last Supper as well, but the Gospel of John presents the subject differently. Jesus’ words of institution do not appear in John’s Gospel. (Perhaps St. John, writing His Gospel last, thought it wasn’t necessary to repeat them.) Yet John gives the words of Jesus where He emphatically teaches the truth of the Real Presence. In today’s gospel reading from the sixth chapter of John, Jesus tells followers that they will need to eat the bread which is His flesh six times. And the word used several times in this passage is not the normal Greek word for eating, but a more literal Greek verb, which means “to munch” or “to gnaw.” He says, “…My flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.” John’s gospel tells us that “many of his disciples who were listening said, ‘This saying is hard; who can accept it?’” and, “as a result of this, many of his disciples … no longer accompanied him.” And Jesus let them go because they had heard Him right. As hard as it was to believe, they were called to eat His flesh and drink His blood. Curiously, there are Christian groups who take a very literal approach to everything in the Book of Genesis, yet who switch to a symbolic interpretation to what Jesus says six times in today’s Gospel.

Did you know that there have been Eucharistic miracles affirming the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist throughout the centuries? For instance, consecrated hosts forming drops of blood, hosts transforming into human heart muscle, or hosts which remain perfectly preserved after hundreds of years. In fact, this feast of Corpus Christ was established by Pope Urban IV after one such Eucharistic miracle in 1263. Some Christian groups have beliefs about communion which bear some resemblances to the Catholic belief in the Real Presence; but Eucharistic miracles are not heard of within Anglican, Episcopalian, and Lutheran communions.

Did you know that Satanic worshipers affirm the truth of the Real Presence? When they seek out hosts to abuse and misuse in profoundly depraved ways, it is the Holy Communion of the Catholic Church that they seek to steal for use in “Black Masses.” Andrew, a friend of mine from seminary, used to spend his summers at a parish in Paris, France. There he met a former satanic worshiper who had returned to the Lord and the Catholic Church. Andrew asked him whether it was true that Satanists could sense the difference between a consecrated and unconsecrated Host. His Parisian friend informed Andrew this was true, that he and others used to identify consecrated hosts out of a line up as something of a test. How did he know which one was consecrated? Andrew’s friend answered, “You could tell which one was the Lord because that was the one you felt hatred towards.” If Satanists can believe in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, then why can’t every Catholic?

When I was a boy I had good teachers in the faith. When they taught us about the Real Presence I asked, “Do we really, really believe that?” I mean I could understand a symbolic understanding. Thinking of the Eucharist as a symbol like the American flag, which reminds us of our blessings and of sacrifices made for our freedom, that came easily to me. However, my catechists challenged me when they assured me, “We really do believe that the bread and wine really, really becomes Him.” I researched whether the whole Church taught this, and found that it did. I studied whether the Church had always taught this, and discovered they had through the ages. I explored whether Scripture supported the belief in the Real Presence, and indeed, it did. Yet there was still an important piece missing.

When I was a boy, I would look around at the faces of other people at Mass and, though looks can be deceiving, they didn’t look as if they were kneeling before God Almighty. But then our parish got a new pastor, Fr. Paul Gitter. When he celebrated the Mass you could tell that he believed that he was holding Jesus in his hands. Because I knew that he believed, I could too. For the sake of our families and our neighbors, it is important that we give witness to our belief in the Real Presence, too.

[From here, I encouraged everyone to attend Marshfield’s Corpus Christi procession, June 26, 2011 with our bishop. More than 200 people processed on that beautiful Sunday, from Sacred Heart to Our Lady of Peace, witnessing to their belief in Jesus Christ as truly present in the Holy Eucharist.]

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