WHAT DO CATHOLICS BELIEVE ABOUT ... THE EUCHARIST
The Catechism of the Catholic Church: "The Eucharist is the memorial of Christ's Passover, the making present and the sacramental offering of his unique sacrifice, in the liturgy of the Church, which is his Body.... In the sense of sacred Scripture the memorialis not merely the recollection of past events, but the proclamation of the mighty works wrought by God for men. (Cf Ex 13:3). In the liturgical celebration of these events, they become in a certain way present and real. This is how Israel understands its liberation from Egypt: every time the Passover is celebrated, the Exodus events are made present to the memory of believers so that they may conform their lives to them....When the Church celebrates the Eucharist, she commemorates Christ's Passover, and it is made present: the sacrifice Christ offered once for all on the cross (Heb 7:25-27) remains forever present. "As often as the sacrifice of the Cross by which 'Christ our Pasch has been sacrificed (1 Cor 5:7)' is celebrated on the altar, the work of our redemption is carried out" (Lumen Gentium 3). ... The Eucharist is thus a sacrifice because it re-presents(makes present) the sacrifice of the cross, because it is its memorial and because it applies its fruit." (#1362-1366)
Now this beautiful explanation from the CCC gives us the pure Catholic teaching, but how does this understanding come about? Relying on Sacred Scripture and the early Church Fathers we shall dig deeply into this great mystery, Gods' greatest gift to His Church, Himself.
1.) THE PROMISE :
Any discussion on the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist will at some point center on John chapter 6, and what we refer to as the "Promise of the Eucharist". Note that this is only the promise, the fulfillment will come later.
Chapter 6 begins with Jesus performing two miracles. The first was the feeding of the five thousand. Realize the symbolism here of Jesus using the fish and the loaves of bread. Any serious student of Christian history will tell you that the "fish" was a symbol for Christ. In the Greek, the word for fish, ICHTHYS, was an acronym. It meant "Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior" So here we note how John portrays this miracle using "fish", an obvious reference to Christ Himself, and bread (the loaves) which Christ used at the last supper.
The second miracle has Jesus walking on the water. This, along with the first miracle, shows forth Christ's' power over the elements of nature. Jesus is showing forth His divinity. This is all designed to prepare the hearts of his hearers for the real test the next day.
2.) THE TYPOLOGY, PART I:
After being asked; "Rabbi, when didst thou come here?", Jesus proceeds to explain to the Jews how He is going to fulfill one of the Old Testament "types". A "type" is a person, place , or thing in the Old Testament that prefigures or images the person and work of Christ in the New. Hebrews 10:1 says; "For the law, having but a shadow of the good things to come, and not the exact image of the objects, is never able by the sacrifices they offer continually, year after year the same, to perfect those who draw near;" Note that the Old Testament 'law' is but a shadowof the good things to come! Now we know that a shadow is far inferior to what it represents. Jesus uses this 'typology' in John 3:14: "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that those who believe in him may not perish, but may have life everlasting." Our Lord here compares the lifting of the serpent' ( see Num 21:9) with his own Crucifixion. I ask you which of the two is superior? Obviously the Crucifixion.
Now let's get back to John 6. After the Jews ask Jesus for a 'sign' to prove he is from God, as did the prophet Moses by "giving our ancestors Manna in the desert", Jesus says: "Amen, Amen, I say to you, Moses did not give you the bread from from heaven, but my father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world." Verse 34, the Jews said "Lord, give us this bread always." Verse 35, Jesus replied "I am the bread of life. He who comes to me shall not hunger and he who believes in me shall never thirst" Jesus is comparing himself to the Manna in the desert, a food that the Israelites physically ate, and "died nonetheless (verse 49)." Up unto this point, you could argue that Jesus is speaking metaphorically, spiritually, but what he says next changes all that. Verses 51-52 "I am the living bread that has come down from heaven. If anyone eat this bread he shall live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world."
Now understand that the Jews themselves, took Jesus literally. They exclaimed "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?" Elsewhere in scripture when Jesus was misunderstood, either Jesus corrected the misunderstanding, or the evangelist did. John 19-22, Jesus said "Destroy this temple, and in three days raise it up", the evangelist corrects the misunderstanding in verse 21 "He was speaking of the temple of his body". You can see this elsewhere in scripture too. In Matt 16:6-12, the disciples clearly misunderstood our Lord, and our Lord patiently corrected them.
So here was a clear opportunity for Jesus to correct a supposed misunderstanding. I say 'supposed' for that is what our non-Catholic friends say, this is "a misunderstanding". But what does Jesus do? Does he correct this literal understanding? not only does he not correct them, but he magnifies this teaching by saying, "Amen, Amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink his blood, you shall not have life within you." (emphasis mine) Only now does Jesus add that we must also drink his blood. Six times in this paragraph Jesus reasserts the necessity to "eat my flesh and drink my blood", six times! Do you think he was trying to tell us something?
Non-Catholics are fond of quoting John 3:3 "Unless you be born again.." Why is it that that 'unless' is so important, and this 'unless'isn't. You can't have it both ways, we must be consistent when interpreting Gods' word.
The non-Catholic will be quick to point out verse 64 "It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh profits nothing." See, they will say, Jesus was speaking figuratively, or spiritually, that is why he said "the spirit gives life". Are we to believe that Jesus just said "eat my flesh and drink my blood, but it will profit nothing?" This is what happens when one only interprets scripture to disprove anothers position. Verses get wrenched out of context and given new meanings not intended by the writers.
First note that Jesus said "the flesh", not "my flesh". Jesus' flesh profits much, for it was that flesh which suffered and died for us, opening the gates of heaven to us. But "the flesh", which our Lord spoke of, profits nothing. Meaning that looking at things carnally cannot understand the things of the spirit. See 1 Cor 15:50 "flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of heaven", or Gal 5:17 "For the flesh lusts against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh..", among others (2 Pet 2:10; 1 Cor 10:2; Eph 2:3, 6:5 etc.) That is why Jesus said "No one can come to me unless he is enabled to do so by my Father (verse 64)". It is only by walking in the spirit that we can come to accept this doctrine.
Besides, in the Hebrew culture, to "each ones flesh, and to drink ones blood', was to revile, or persecute that one. We can see this understanding in Rev 17:6 "And I saw the woman drunk with the blood of the saints..." She persecuted them. Isaiah 49:25-26 "But I will judge those that have judged thee, and thy children I will save. And I will feed thy enemies with their own flesh: and they shall be made drunk with their own blood, as with new wine: and all flesh shall know, that I am the Lord that save thee." Knowing this, is it possible to understand our Lords words figuratively? That would mean he said "If you persecute and revile me, you shall live forever." This is why no one misunderstood what our Lord said!
Look at verse 67; "From this time on, many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him." Did you read that, his disciples left him because they understood him literally. If they had misunderstood him, this was Jesus' last chance to correct them and call them back. But he didn't, he left them go.. If, indeed they did misunderstand him, and Jesus let them go anyway, then Jesus was not the greatest teacher of all time, because he would have let himself be misunderstood, giving no evidence that he wished to correct this misunderstanding. No, they understood him all right, it was their faith that was lacking.
3.) EX. 12 ... THE PASSOVER LAMB
In John 1:29, we read that John the Baptist, pointing to Jesus, proclaims "Behold, the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world". It is kind of an obscure passage. What did he mean by "lamb of God"? We've already discussed typology, and the image John uses here refers us back to 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. Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male a year old; you shall take it from the sheep or from the goats; and you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month, when the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill their lambs in the evening. 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 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. (Ex 12:1-11)
This is what John was referring to, the Passover Lamb. Some things of note in this passage: "they shall take every man a lamb according to their fathers' houses, a lamb for a household",we are the household of God (Eph 2:19). They shall eat the flesh that night, We too must eat the flesh of this Lamb (of God) (1 Cor 11:26). And you shall let none of it remain until the morning, We receive the whole Christ at the table of the Lord. It is the Lord's passover. "For Christ, our paschal lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us, therefore, celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth." (1 Cor 5:8) What 'festival' is Paul here referring to, but the festival of the New Testament passover meal, the Holy Mass! How do we know that? Because Paul goes on to explain the Mass in chapters 10 &11.
In Malachi 1:11 we read: "For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name is great among the nations, and in every place incense is offered to my name, and a pure offering; for my name is great among the nations, says the LORD of hosts." This verse has been used by early Church Fathers as the prophecy of the Mass. We find it in the "Didache" (circa 100a.d.), Justin Martyrs' "Dialogue with Trypho the Jew" (140 a.d.), Iranaeus' "Against Heresies" (180 a.d.), and in the writings of St. Augustine. What other Christian religion claims to offer a continual sacrifice from the rising of the sun to its setting thereof but the Catholic faith? If there is no New Testament sacrifice, as non-Catholics claim, then this prophecy remains unfulfilled, and Malachi is a false prophet and doesn't belong in the Bible! But, Malachi is in the Bible, thus he is a true prophet of the Most High, therefore the Catholic Religion is the only faith fulfilling this prophecy (along with the other Apostolic Faiths).
We also read in Exodus 12:24, that the Passover was to be a perpetual ordinance, "forever". This Jewish Passover meal was just the type, of which the New Testament passover is the fulfillment. For this fits in perfectly with the Malachi prophecy. This sacrifice will be offered not only in Jerusalem, but "in every place", and at all times.
4.) THE FULFILLMENT : 1 COR 10:24-25 (see also MATT 26:26-27; MARK 14:22-24; LUKE 22:19-20)" 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, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, "This is my body which 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." For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes."
This, now, is the fulfillment of that great promise of our Lord in John 6. In the setting of the Passover liturgy, Jesus changes the words of the 'Cup of Blessing' that were used for 1500 years. Yes, folks, the Passover liturgy was just a type of "The Mass". It pointed forward to this supreme moment of God condescending to man to become our food! Still not convinced? Then listen to these words of St. Paul: " The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?" (1 Cor 10:16) You cannot get much plainer language than that, my friends. But just in case his listeners did not understand that, Paul goes on to say " 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. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself." (1 Cor 11:27-29) And as Fr. Ken Roberts likes to say, "That's St. Paul, not Pope Paul!" I ask you, how can you be "guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord" if you are only eating a symbol? Or a memorial?
Notice also what Paul says in this same epistle. He compares the Eucharist with pagan sacrifices " You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons."(1 Cor 10:21) By doing this, Paul puts the Mass in the same context as the sacrifices offered by the pagans. Why is that important? Because our separated brethren will have us believe there is no sacrifice in the New Testament, yet Paul here clearly shows the mass to be a sacrifice. Look, also at what the writer to the Hebrews proclaims "We have an altar from which those who serve the tent have no right to eat."( Heb 13:10) What is an altar? Is it not a place where 'sacrifice is offered? That is its definition. Therefore, if "We have an altar", then we must have something to offer on that altar, and that means there is indeed, a New Testament sacrifice.
The following excerpt from Scott Hahn "Eucharist, Holy Meal"
5.) EARLY CHRISTIAN WRITINGS : St. Ignatius of Antioch, disciple of the beloved disciple John, spoke of the heretics who were plaguing the Church in his day. "They abstained from the Eucharist because they do not confess that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior, Jesus Christ."
Then St. Justin Martyr in the 2nd Century, one of the great apologists, defenders of the faith, stated, "This food is known among us as the Eucharist. We do not receive these things as common bread
and common drink but as Jesus Christ, our Savior, being made flesh by the word of God."
Then in the 4th Century, St. Cyril of Jerusalem, another venerable Church Father, wrote, "Since then he has declared instead of the bread, 'This is my body,' who after that will venture to doubt. And seeing that he has affirmed and said, 'This is my blood,' who will raise a question and say it is not his blood?"
So we have testimony throughout all of the first centuries of the Church to this effect. You are hard-pressed, I would say it is practically impossible to find a single statement by anybody in the
first eight centuries of the Church where you have a denial of the Real Presence of Jesus Christ, flesh and blood, body, soul and divinity there in the Eucharist. I remember when I first discovered that, I was still anti-Catholic, but boy, did that bother me; because I wondered how could John's disciple get it so wrong? How could St. Ignatius say something so patently false and superstitious after spending all this time at the feet of the beloved disciple, St. John?
8.) THE EMMAUS EXPERIENCE : LUKE 24:30-31
" While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. But their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, "What is this conversation which you are holding with each other as you walk?" And they stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, named Cle'opas, answered him, "Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?" And he said to them, "What things?" And they said to him, "Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since this happened. Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning and did not find his body; and they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb, and found it just as the women had said; but him they did not see." And he said to them, "O foolish men, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?" And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself. So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He appeared to be going further, but they constrained him, saying, "Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent." So he went in to stay with them. When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened and they recognized him; and he vanished out of their sight.( Luke 24:15-31)
Boy, there is so much to learn from this great passage of Scripture. But let's concentrate on just a couple of them. The most obvious lesson is to note how the disciples came to notice him in the breaking of the bread, as is explicated for us in verse 35.
Second, notice the first thing that Jesus does with his disciples on His appearance to them is have the Mass. What?, you may say! Look at the text! First Jesus explains the Scriptures to them, just as we do at mass in the Liturgy of the Word. Then He goes on to the Liturgy of the Eucharist by making Himself present to them in the "Breaking of the Bread"
Yes, there can be no doubt about it. The real presence of our Lord in the Eucharist is one of the most clearest doctrines in all of Scripture. Only those who have closed their eyes to the beauty and wonder of Catholic teaching can overlook this plain teaching. Let us all pray that Almighty God will bless us all with a deeper and clearer understanding of this our greatest treasure, THE HOLY EUCHARIST, Amen