“Real friendship with Christ is only possible with the Eucharist. It was at the Last Supper, at the institution of the Eucharist, that Jesus said, “I no longer call you servants… but I call you friends” (Jn 15:15). In the Eucharist, therefore, the gift of Christ’s friendship is given, and His friendship is concentrated in it. All who befriend the Eucharist, befriend Christ; all who would wish to advance from servanthood to friendship with Christ must befriend the Eucharist, and all friendship involves ‘time spent with’. Quantity of time is important, and ought not to be neglected, but quality time is what matters most.
Find a friend of the Eucharist and you will find a true friend of Jesus.
What about those Protestant brothers and sisters of ours who’ve never received the Eucharist? We must remember that they are baptized like us into the one life of Christ. But for one, they have not been brought ordinarily into a certain depth of communion with Christ, which is alone possible through reception of this Sacrament. This distinction between the ‘field’ of communion entered into through Baptism and entered uniquely, more deeply through the Eucharist, is brought out by Pope St. John Paul II in Ecclesia de Eucharistia. He writes, “Incorporation into Christ, which is brought about by Baptism, is constantly renewed and consolidated by sharing in the Eucharistic Sacrifice, especially by that full sharing which takes place in sacramental communion” (22).
Secondly, for those Protestants who have a relationship with Christ this relationship is indeed real, but it is only possible because of the gift of the Eucharist, and their relationship with Him, unbeknownst to them, flows from the Body of Christ, both mystically as visibly manifest in the Catholic Church, and sacramentally in the Eucharist. Any genuine relationship with Christ must necessarily flow from the Church and the Eucharist, even if only in a hidden and invisible way due to a lack of full communion with Christ’s Body. Catholics are privileged to be in full communion, direct touch, with Christ’s Mystic, and Sacramental Body.
As for the nature of the Protestant relationship with Christ, no doubt some Protestants are closer to Christ than many Catholics who frequent Holy Communion, but at the same time, keeping in mind the “full sharing” of communion in Christ uniquely accessed and partaken in the Eucharist, there is a certain character to the depth of this communion with Christ objectively lacking, and this is made manifest in the comparison of the caliber of those who would quality as “saints,” post-reformation, from a protestant point of view, and those who are Catholic Saints. The difference is startling. The Catholic Saints exemplify, and are living fruits, of good and perfect Holy Communion with Christ in the Eucharist. In the Saints, we see friends of Christ par excellence, and if we dig deep into their lives the Eucharist is always the bedrock of their life. An encouragement to make it the bedrock of our own.
To make our First Holy Communion is to be initiated into closer friendship with Christ. It is to be brought into the holy of holies of communion with Christ, the inner sanctuary of divine intimacy with Him, and in Him with the Father, in the Holy Spirit.
Those who receive their first and/or subsequent Holy Communion without basic awareness of this mystery into which they’ve been brought into, and without communing in reciprocity with He who is communing with their soul, are like senseless men stumbling around in a room, not knowing where they’ve been brought to, or who they’re with, and anything that is going on, just like drunkards in a holding cell, stumbling about. For the fact is, those who’ve received Communion have been brought into the inner sanctuary by virtue of their Holy Communion, since the Sacrament is efficacious, the Communion on the part of Christ is efficacious, but without the proper dispositions the reciprocal communing on the part of the soul is absent, and thus the gift of the friendship of Christ cannot open, cannot blossom in the soul. The friendship becomes one-sided on the part of Christ who calls such a soul “friend” who acts the part of a Judas.
It is quite the opposite for those aware of who they are receiving, and who open their hearts to Him. These receive the gift of Christ’s friendship in the Eucharist, and it is allowed to unfurl within their hearts, involving communion with the Trinity. This communion with the Trinity is experienced as friendship in Christ, in whom, and through whom communion with the Father expands, and the friendship and communion is itself the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit who draws souls to Christ, to the Eucharist, and in and through Christ, in and through the Eucharist, to the Father.
To taste the Eucharist is to taste the friendship of Christ. It is to be nourished in communion with Him. To sit with Jesus in the Eucharist, in adoration, is to sit with Christ and spend time with Him. This is the time when friendship with Christ, received in the Eucharist, and nourished by its reception, is brought to maturation.
“I am the resurrection and the life” (Jn 11:25). To spend time before Jesus in the Eucharist is to enter the presence of “the Resurrection and the Life,” and here one is brought to life, one is raised spiritually into heights and depths of communion with Jesus. In Eucharistic adoration friendship with Christ matures, and really, it is here that such friendship is really discovered on the part of the soul. This should not surprise us because the friendship of Christ as gift, is concentrated in the Eucharist, and remains in the consecrated species of bread reposed in the tabernacle and exposed in the monstrance.
It is true, this friendship is alive in us, and so too is Christ who dwells within our hearts, but friendships only deepen by means of the ‘going-out’ of oneself to meet and encounter the other. Friendships deepen by means of renewed and continued selfless processions of person to person. In coming before Jesus in the Eucharist, in the places wherein he is reposed and exposed, we sacramentally—tangibly, as signifying our interior movement toward Christ— ‘go out’ of ourselves, and show ourselves as wanting Christ. This is why there is no substitute for time spent before Jesus in the Eucharist, because although Jesus is forever ‘going out’ to be with us, being ever present with us, expressing His desire and love for us, we struggle to do so, and nothing helps us to do so better than when we must really ‘go out’ of ourselves, by visiting Jesus to simply be with Him as a friend.
Those who become friends with Christ, become friends of the Eucharist. Those who become friends of the Eucharist, become friends with Christ; and those who become better friends of the Eucharist, become better friends with Christ.”
On Wednesday, 17 November , at the General Audience in St Peter’s Square, the Holy Father commented on St Juliana of Cornillon, better known as Juliana of Liege, who lived in the 12th century. The following is a translation of the Pope’s Catechesis, which was given in Italian.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
This morning too I would like to introduce a female figure to you. She is little known but the Church is deeply indebted to her, not only because of the holiness of her life but also because, with her great fervour, she contributed to the institution of one of the most important solemn Liturgies of the year: Corpus Christi.
She is St Juliana de Cornillon, also known as St Juliana of Liège. We know several facts about her life, mainly from a Biography that was probably written by a contemporary cleric; it is a collection of various testimonies of people who were directly acquainted with the Saint.
Juliana was born near Liège, Belgium between 1191 and 1192. It is important to emphasize this place because at that time the Diocese of Liège was, so to speak, a true “Eucharistic Upper Room”. Before Juliana, eminent theologians had illustrated the supreme value of the Sacrament of the Eucharist and, again in Liège, there were groups of women generously dedicated to Eucharistic worship and to fervent communion. Guided by exemplary priests, they lived together, devoting themselves to prayer and to charitable works.
Orphaned at the age of five, Juliana, together with her sister Agnes, was entrusted to the care of the Augustinian nuns at the convent and leprosarium of Mont-Cornillon.
She was taught mainly by a sister called “Sapienza” [wisdom], who was in charge of her spiritual development to the time Juliana received the religious habit and thus became an Augustinian nun.
She became so learned that she could read the words of the Church Fathers, of St Augustine and St Bernard in particular, in Latin. In addition to a keen intelligence, Juliana showed a special propensity for contemplation from the outset. She had a profound sense of Christ’s presence, which she experienced by living the Sacrament of the Eucharist especially intensely and by pausing frequently to meditate upon Jesus’ words: “And lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age” (Mt 28:20).
When Juliana was 16 she had her first vision which recurred subsequently several times during her Eucharistic adoration. Her vision presented the moon in its full splendour, crossed diametrically by a dark stripe. The Lord made her understand the meaning of what had appeared to her. The moon symbolized the life of the Church on earth, the opaque line, on the other hand, represented the absence of a liturgical feast for whose institution Juliana was asked to plead effectively: namely, a feast in which believers would be able to adore the Eucharist so as to increase in faith, to advance in the practice of the virtues and to make reparation for offences to the Most Holy Sacrament.
Juliana, who in the meantime had become Prioress of the convent, kept this revelation that had filled her heart with joy a secret for about 20 years. She then confided it to two other fervent adorers of the Eucharist, Blessed Eva, who lived as a hermit, and Isabella, who had joined her at the Monastery of Mont-Cornillon. The three women established a sort of “spiritual alliance” for the purpose of glorifying the Most Holy Sacrament.
They also chose to involve a highly regarded Priest, John of Lausanne, who was a canon of the Church of St Martin in Liège. They asked him to consult theologians and clerics on what was important to them. Their affirmative response was encouraging.
What happened to Juliana of Cornillon occurs frequently in the lives of Saints. To have confirmation that an inspiration comes from God it is always necessary to be immersed in prayer to wait patiently, to seek friendship and exchanges with other good souls and to submit all things to the judgement of the Pastors of the Church.
It was in fact Bishop Robert Torote, Liège who, after initial hesitation, accepted the proposal of Juliana and her companions and first introduced the Solemnity of Corpus Christi in his diocese. Later other Bishops following his example instituted this Feast in the territories entrusted to their pastoral care.
However, to increase their faith the Lord often asks Saints to sustain trials. This also happened to Juliana who had to bear the harsh opposition of certain members of the clergy and even of the superior on whom her monastery depended.
Of her own free will, therefore, Juliana left the Convent of Mont-Cornillon with several companions. For 10 years — from 1248 to 1258 —she stayed as a guest at various monasteries of Cistercian sisters.
She edified all with her humility, she had no words of criticism or reproach for her adversaries and continued zealously to spread Eucharistic worship.
She died at Fosses-La-Ville, Belgium, in 1258. In the cell where she lay the Blessed Sacrament was exposed and, according to her biographer’s account, Juliana died contemplating with a last effusion to love Jesus in the Eucharist whom she had always loved, honoured and adored. Jacques Pantaléon of Troyes was also won over to the good cause of the Feast of Corpus Christi during his ministry as Archdeacon in Lièges. It was he who, having become Pope with the name of Urban IV in 1264, instituted the Solemnity of Corpus Christi on the Thursday after Pentecost as a feast of precept for the universal Church.
In the Bull of its institution, entitled Transiturus de hoc mundo, (11 Aug. 1264), Pope Urban even referred discreetly to Juliana’s mystical experiences, corroborating their authenticity. He wrote: “Although the Eucharist is celebrated solemnly every day, we deem it fitting that at least once a year it be celebrated with greater honour and a solemn commemoration.
“Indeed we grasp the other things we commemorate with our spirit and our mind, but this does not mean that we obtain their real presence. On the contrary, in this sacramental commemoration of Christ, even though in a different form, Jesus Christ is present with us in his own substance. While he was about to ascend into Heaven he said ‘And lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age’ (Matthew 28:20) “.
The Pontiff made a point of setting an example by celebrating the solemnity of Corpus Christi in Orvieto, the town where he was then residing. Indeed, he ordered that the famous Corporal with the traces of the Eucharistic miracle which had occurred in Bolsena the previous year, 1263 , be kept in Orvieto Cathedral — where it still is today.
While a priest was consecrating the bread and the wine he was overcome by strong doubts about the Real Presence of the Body and Blood of Christ in the sacrament of the Eucharist. A few drops of blood began miraculously to ooze from the consecrated Host, thereby confirming what our faith professes.
Urban IV asked one of the greatest theologians of history, St Thomas Aquinas — who at that time was accompanying the Pope and was in Orvieto — to compose the texts of the Liturgical Office for this great feast. They are masterpieces, still in use in the Church today, in which theology and poetry are fuse. These texts pluck at the heartstrings in an expression of praise and gratitude to the Most Holy Sacrament, while the mind, penetrating the mystery with wonder, recognizes in the Eucharist the Living and Real Presence of Jesus, of his Sacrifice of love that reconciles us with the Father, and gives us salvation.
Although after the death of Urban IV the celebration of the Feast of Corpus Christi was limited to certain regions of France, Germany, Hungary and Northern Italy, it was another Pontiff, John XXII, who in 1317 reestablished it for the universal Church. Since then the Feast experienced a wonderful development and is still deeply appreciated by the Christian people.
I would like to affirm with joy that today there is a “Eucharistic springtime” in the Church: How many people pause in silence before the Tabernacle to engage in a loving conversation with Jesus! It is comforting to know that many groups of young people have rediscovered the beauty of praying in adoration before the Most Blessed Sacrament.
I am thinking, for example, of our Eucharistic adoration in Hyde Park, London. I pray that this Eucharistic “springtime” may spread increasingly in every parish and in particular in Belgium, St Juliana’s homeland.
Venerable John Paul II said in his Encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia: “In many places, adoration of the Blessed Sacrament is also an important daily practice and becomes an inexhaustible source of holiness. The devout participation of the faithful in the Eucharistic procession on the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ is a grace from the Lord which yearly brings joy to those who take part in it. Other positive signs of Eucharistic faith and love might also be mentioned” (n. 10).
In remembering St Juliana of Cornillon let us also renew our faith in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. As we are taught by the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “Jesus Christ is present in the Eucharist in a unique and incomparable way. He is present in a true, real and substantial way, with his Body and his Blood, with his Soul and his Divinity. In the Eucharist, therefore, there is present in a sacramental way, that is, under the Eucharistic Species of bread and wine, Christ whole and entire, God and Man” (n. 282).
Dear friends, fidelity to the encounter with the Christ in the Eucharist in Holy Mass on Sunday is essential for the journey of faith, but let us also seek to pay frequent visits to the Lord present in the Tabernacle! In gazing in adoration at the consecrated Host, we discover the gift of God’s love, we discover Jesus’ Passion and Cross and likewise his Resurrection. It is precisely through our gazing in adoration that the Lord draws us towards him into his mystery in order to transform us as he transforms the bread and the wine.
The Saints never failed to find strength, consolation and joy in the Eucharistic encounter. Let us repeat before the Lord present in the Most Blessed Sacrament the words of the Eucharistic hymn “Adoro te devote”: [Devoutly I adore Thee]: Make me believe ever more in you, “Draw me deeply into faith, / Into Your hope, into Your love”.
Pope Benedict XVI
Weekly Edition in English
24 November 2010, page 18
(Opusculum 57, in festo Corporis Christi, lect. 1-4)
“O precious and wonderful banquet!
Since it was the will of God’s only-begotten Son that men should share in his divinity, he assumed our nature in order that by becoming man he might make men gods. Moreover, when he took our flesh he dedicated the whole of its substance to our salvation. He offered his body to God the Father on the altar of the cross as a sacrifice for our reconciliation. He shed his blood for our ransom and purification, so that we might be redeemed from our wretched state of bondage and cleansed from all sin. But to ensure that the memory of so great a gift would abide with us for ever, he left his body as food and his blood as drink for the faithful to consume in the form of bread and wine.
O precious and wonderful banquet, that brings us salvation and contains all sweetness! Could anything be of more intrinsic value? Under the old law it was the flesh of calves and goats that was offered, but here Christ himself, the true God, is set before us as our food. What could be more wonderful than this? No other sacrament has greater healing power; through it sins are purged away, virtues are increased, and the soul is enriched with an abundance of every spiritual gift. It is offered in the Church for the living and the dead, so that what was instituted for the salvation of all may be for the benefit of all. Yet, in the end, no one can fully express the sweetness of this sacrament, in which spiritual delight is tasted at its very source, and in which we renew the memory of that surpassing love for us which Christ revealed in his passion.
It was to impress the vastness of this love more firmly upon the hearts of the faithful that our Lord instituted this sacrament at the Last Supper. As he was on the point of leaving the world to go to the Father, after celebrating the Passover with his disciples, he left it as a perpetual memorial of his passion. It was the fulfilment of ancient figures and the greatest of all his miracles, while for those who were to experience the sorrow of his departure, it was destined to be a unique and abiding consolation.”
-Beethoven, Symphony 7, Allegretto
iuncta sint gaudia,
et ex praecordiis
nova sint omnia,
corda, voces, et opera.
qua Christus creditur
agnum et azyma
priscis indulta patribus.
Post agnum typicum,
sic totum omnibus,
quod totum singulis,
eius fatemur manibus.
dedit et tristibus
quod trado vasculum;
omnes ex eo bibite.
quibus sic congruit,
ut sumant, et dent ceteris.
fit panis hominum;
dat panis caelicus
O res mirabilis:
pauper, servus et humilis.
Te, trina Deitas
sic nos tu visita,
sicut te colimus;
per tuas semitas
duc nos quo tendimus,
ad lucem quam inhabitas.
At this our solemn feast
let holy joys abound,
and from the inmost breast
let songs of praise resound;
let ancient rites depart,
and all be new around,
in every act, and voice, and heart.
Remember we that eve,
when, the Last Supper spread,
Christ, as we all believe,
the Lamb, with leavenless bread,
among His brethren shared,
and thus the Law obeyed,
of all unto their sire declared.
The typic Lamb consumed,
the legal Feast complete,
the Lord unto the Twelve
His Body gave to eat;
the whole to all, no less
the whole to each did mete
with His own hands, as we confess.
He gave them, weak and frail,
His Flesh, their Food to be;
on them, downcast and sad,
His Blood bestowed He:
and thus to them He spake,
“Receive this Cup from Me,
and all of you of this partake.”
So He this Sacrifice
to institute did will,
and charged His priests alone
that office to fulfill:
to them He did confide:
to whom it pertains still
to take, and the rest divide.
Thus Angels’ Bread is made
the Bread of man today:
the Living Bread from heaven
with figures dost away:
O wondrous gift indeed!
the poor and lowly may
upon their Lord and Master feed.
Thee, therefore, we implore,
O Godhead, One in Three,
so may Thou visit us
as we now worship Thee;
and lead us on Thy way,
That we at last may see
the light wherein Thou dwellest aye.
Adóro te devóte, látens Déitas,
Quæ sub his figúris, vere látitas:
Tibi se cor meum totum súbjicit,
Quia, te contémplans, totum déficit.
Visus, tactus, gustus, in te fállitur,
Sed audítu solo tuto créditur:
Credo quidquid díxit Dei Fílius;
Nil hoc verbo veritátis vérius.
In cruce latébat sola Déitas,
At hic látet simul et humánitas:
Ambo támen crédens átque cónfitens,
Peto quod petívit latro pœnitens.
Plagas, sicut Thomas, non intúeor,
Deum támen meum te confíteor.
Fac me tibi sémper mágis crédere,
In te spem habére, te dilígere.
O memoriále mortis Dómini,
Panis vivus, vitam præstans hómini,
Præsta meæ menti de te vívere,
Et te illi semper dulce sápere.
Pie pellicáne, Jesu Dómine,
Me immúndum munda tuo sánguine,
Cujus una stilla salvum fácere,
Totum mundum quit ab ómni scélere.
Jesu, quem velátum nunc aspício,
Oro fíat illud, quod tam sítio:
Ut, te reveláta cernens fácie,
Visu sim beátus tuæ glóriæ. Amen.
I devoutly adore you, O hidden Deity,
Truly hidden beneath these appearances.
My whole heart submits to you,
And in contemplating you, It surrenders itself completely.
Sight, touch, taste are all deceived in their judgment of you,
But hearing suffices firmly to believe.
I believe all that the Son of God has spoken;
There is nothing truer than this word of truth.
On the cross only the divinity was hidden,
But here the humanity is also hidden.
Yet believing and confessing both,
I ask for what the repentant thief asked.
I do not see the wounds as Thomas did,
But I confess that you are my God.
Make me believe more and more in you,
Hope in you, and love you.
O memorial of our Lord’s death!
Living bread that gives life to man,
Grant my soul to live on you,
And always to savor your sweetness.
Lord Jesus, Good Pelican,
wash my filthiness and clean me with your blood,
One drop of which can free
the entire world of all its sins.
Jesus, whom now I see hidden,
I ask you to fulfill what I so desire:
That the sight of your face being unveiled
I may have the happiness of seeing your glory. Amen.
Pange, lingua, gloriósi
Quem in mundi prétium
Fructus ventris generósi
Rex effúdit géntium.
Nobis datus, nobis natus
Ex intácta Vírgine,
Et in mundo conversátus,
Sparso verbi sémine,
Sui moras incolátus
Miro clausit órdine.
In suprémæ nocte coenæ
Recúmbens cum frátribus
Observáta lege plene
Cibis in legálibus,
Cibum turbæ duodénæ
Se dat suis mánibus.
Verbum caro, panem verum
Verbo carnem éfficit:
Fitque sanguis Christi merum,
Et si sensus déficit,
Ad firmándum cor sincérum
Sola fides súfficit.
Tantum ergo sacraméntum
Et antíquum documéntum
Novo cedat rítui:
Præstet fides suppleméntum
Laus et jubilátio,
Salus, honor, virtus quoque
Sit et benedíctio:
Procedénti ab utróque
Compar sit laudátio.
Sing, my tongue, the Saviour’s glory,
Of His Flesh, the mystery sing;
Of the Blood, all price exceeding,
Shed by our Immortal King,
Destined, for the world’s redemption,
From a noble Womb to spring.
Of a pure and spotless Virgin
Born for us on earth below,
He, as Man, with man conversing,
Stayed, the seeds of truth to sow;
Then He closed in solemn order
Wondrously His Life of woe.
On the night of that Last Supper,
Seated with His chosen band,
He, the Paschal Victim eating,
First fulfils the Law’s command;
Then as Food to all his brethren
Gives Himself with His own Hand.
Word-made-Flesh, the bread of nature
By His Word to Flesh He turns;
Wine into His Blood He changes:
What though sense no change discerns.
Only be the heart in earnest,
Faith her lesson quickly learns.
Down in adoration falling,
Lo, the sacred Host we hail,
Lo, o’er ancient forms departing
Newer rites of grace prevail:
Faith for all defects supplying,
When the feeble senses fail.
To the Everlasting Father
And the Son who comes on high
With the Holy Ghost proceeding
Forth from each eternally,
Be salvation, honor, blessing,
Might and endless majesty.
Verbum supernum prodiens,
Nec Patris linquens dexteram,
Ad opus suum exiens,
Venit ad vitæ vesperam.
In mortem a discipulo
Suis tradendus æmulis,
Prius in vitæ ferculo
Se tradidit discipulis.
Quibus sub bina specie
Carnem dedit et sanguinem;
Ut duplicis substantiæ
Totum cibaret hominem.
Se nascens dedit socium,
Convescens in edulium,
Se moriens in pretium,
Se regnans dat in præmium.
O salutaris hostia,
Quæ cæli pandis ostium,
Bella premunt hostilia;
Da robur, fer auxilium.
Uni trinoque Domino
Sit sempiterna gloria:
Qui vitam sine termino
Nobis donet in patria.
The heavenly Word proceeding forth,
Yet leaving not his Father’s side,
And going to His work on Earth,
Has reached at length life’s eventide.
By false disciple to be given
To foemen for His blood athirst,
Himself, the living bread from heaven,
He gave to his disciples first.
In twofold form of sacrament,
He gave His flesh, He gave His blood,
That man, of soul and body blent,
Might wholly feed on mystic food.
In birth man’s fellow-man was He,
His meat while sitting at the board;
He died, our ransomer to be,
He reigns to be our great reward.
O saving Victim, opening wide
The gate of heaven to man below;
Our foes press hard on every side,
Thine aid supply, Thy strength bestow.
All praise and thanks to thee ascend
For evermore, blessed One in Three;
O grant us life that shall not end,
In our true native land with Thee.
“Time for Mass rolls around, and I am usually entangled in things like catching up on emails, writing an article, planning a pilgrimage trip, playing with the grandkids, or reading. It is hard to break away, hard to step out into the heat or cold to get the car started and hard to shift gears in my mind and heart.
But once I step into the sacred space of a Catholic church, the world melts away, and I am swept up into reality of heaven. The presence of God fills the church, while heaven comes down to earth on the altar. I am swept away to another world, one more real than the one where my feet are planted.
Why was I fortunate enough to discover this euphoria? How did this great joy become a reality for humans bound to a planet spinning around a star in one of billions of galaxies?
Sundays as a Baptist
Before explaining my profound discovery of the liturgy and sacraments of the Catholic Church, I must first to take a step back in time to my delightful Baptist childhood.
Before I ever read the Bible for myself, I was well aware of my Baptist tradition, which permeated every aspect of my childhood and teen years. I was reminded constantly that Baptists reject many of the teachings of the Catholic Church. We rejected infant baptism and taught that anyone baptized as an infant had to be baptized again, or re-baptized as an adult—and this by full immersion.
We also rejected the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist and that there was any sacrifice involved. This was Catholic heresy that originated in the “traditions of men.” We did not use the words Mass or Eucharist. For us, the correct terminology was the Lord’s Supper or communion. Since Jesus was crucified once and for all on the cross, there is no way that the Lord’s Supper could have anything to do with the sacrifice of Christ. It actually did nothing, and changed nothing. It was simply a meal we shared to commune spiritually with our Lord and to remember what he did for us on the cross.
The door of our Baptist church opened, and the early arrivers stepped in with well-worn Bibles under their arms. (I still have my dad’s marked up and notated King James Schofield Reference Bible on my desk. The date in the cover reminds me of his conversion from pagan to Christian in 1954, the year I was born.) Boys with cute bow ties and girls in frilly dresses were dropped off at Sunday school. Women adjusted their hats and smiled at their friends.
It was always the same: We entered the church with chattering friendliness accompanied by the organ or piano. Everyone took their place in the padded pews. The pastor stepped up to the front and welcomed everyone, especially any visitors. Then we all stood as he opened with a solemn and often lengthy prayer. A number was called out, and we all grabbed our hymnal and proved we were real Christians by belting out the hymn—and not just the first verse, but every verse.
Then came announcements, the doxology, and the collection while a soloist sang. I remember at one church they even passed a credit card machine up and down the pews.
Then we were enriched by nearly an hour of preaching with the exercise of flipping from one end of the Bible to the other. I don’t recall us ever reading any lengthy selection of Scripture in context. It was usually a thematic study, using verses out of context from one passage then another.
It usually concluded with an altar call—a passionate, heartfelt appeal to come forward to receive Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior. I always wondered about this, since I assumed everyone there had already done that at least once, if not many times. No one ever came forward except in the yearly revivals, when flocks came forward just to make sure. Then came the closing prayer and another complete hymn followed by a reminder of the Sunday service at 7:00 p.m.
It never dawned on me (and probably not on any other person sitting in the pews) to ask what the very first Christians did on Sunday mornings. After all, Christians have been gathering on Sundays for more than 2,000 years. Jesus and the apostles set something in motion, and their immediate disciples followed them in their manner of worship on Sundays.
They certainly had a structure to their “worship service,” as is clear from the New Testament and the writings from the first and second century. The apostles certainly taught them what to do and how to do it, if only by their example.
The Lord’s Supper
In my Baptist congregation (and later in other churches we attended, such as Reformed, non-denominational, Methodist, Calvary Chapel, Presbyterian, New Testament Assembly, Plymouth Brethren, etc.) we had the “Lord’s Supper.” Once every three months or so it was tacked on to the end of a regular church service.
Broken crackers were distributed on a silver tray, followed by the grape juice in individual mini-glasses (like shot glasses used for whiskey). We were clear that nothing happened to the crackers and grape juice during the ceremony. Only the heretic Catholics believed that unseen magic took place. The crackers and grape juice were mere symbols to remind us of the body of Jesus that was nailed to the cross and the blood that resulted from the nails.
Jesus had ordered us to do this, so we obeyed, calling it not a sacrament but an ordinance. The ceremony did nothing but remind us of the crucifixion. It was simply a “meal”—meager as it was—to remind us of our Lord’s death. We were always anxious to get out of church and to our real meal at the diner on the way home.
Jesus said, “As often as you do this”—but in our Baptist church, this was interpreted as, “As infrequently as you do this.” No one seemed concerned that the apostles and the early Christians celebrated this ceremony often and that it was more than just sharing crackers and grape juice. St. Luke informed us that the very first Christians “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42).
The apostles and their disciples met frequently to “break bread,” which was the earliest term for the Eucharist or the Lord’s Supper. This was shared no less than weekly (cf. Luke 24:30; Acts 2:46, 20:7). The daily bread of the Israelites in the wilderness of Sinai was called manna. The manna prefigured the Eucharist, and we are taught likewise to pray for the Father to provide us with our “daily bread,” which certainly refers to the Eucharist as well as our daily provisions.
Beyond the book of Acts and St. Paul’s epistles, do we have any idea what the apostles did on Sunday mornings when they gathered together? Did the early Christians leave a record of what they did on Sunday? Was it similar to the typical Baptist church service?
A historical record
We are fortunate. The early Christians did leave us a record of what they did, as taught by the apostles. It would serve us well to read their testimonies.
Why? Well, who can provide us with the best and most accurate idea of what the apostles taught, practiced, and expected the Church to do on Sundays than those who actually learned it from the apostles?
There is an old axiom that tells us the water is always cooler and clearer the closer you get to the source.
Justin Martyr (c. A.D. 100-165) was a pagan philosopher who converted to Christianity. He became a celebrated defender of the Christian faith and was beheaded as a martyr in Rome in A.D. 165. This was only 65 years after the death of the Apostle St. John in Ephesus.
St. Justin wrote to Emperor Marcus Aurelius, who was a persecutor of the Christians. He tried to explain to the emperor what the Christians believed and practiced. Maybe, he reasoned, if the Emperor understood Christianity he would stop killing the Christians.
It would do well for modern Protestants to look beyond their own relatively recent traditions to see what the first Christians did on Sunday morning.
Justin Martyr’s voice can still be heard ringing clearly down through the centuries, for our ears:
“And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things.
Then we all rise together and pray, and, as we before said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people assent, saying Amen; and there is a distribution to each, and a participation of that over which thanks have been given, and to those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons (quoted in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 1; Roberts, Donaldson, and Coxe, eds., p. 186).”
This is the earliest description we have of the Sunday morning worship service, as Protestants usually refer to it. Catholics refer to it as the Mass, or the Eucharistic liturgy.
Notice first of all that Christians gathered on Sunday mornings. This was something that was expected and even required. They gathered! Second, they all gathered in one place. Today, in Anytown, USA, Sunday morning is the most segregated time of the week. Christians do not gather in one place but in multiple, sometimes competing, locations—Baptists, Lutherans, Pentecostals, Nazarenes, Methodists, Presbyterians, so-called non-denominational denominations, and a host of others.
An ancient form
In the early centuries Sunday morning began with reading lengthy selections of Scripture, including the Old Testament and the developing New Testament (though the final collection was not codified for another two hundred years or so). They read the Gospels—the words of our Lord.
The readings were extensive and in context. Afterward, the presider or the priest would exhort the Christians to follow and imitate what Scripture taught. Then they stood together and prayed, usually ending with “Lord, hear our prayer,” just as we offer our petitions to God in the Catholic Church today.
After the homily and prayers of the faithful, “bread and wine and water [were] brought” to the front of the church. The priest then “offer[ed] prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people assent[ed], saying, ‘Amen.’”
This is exactly what happens in every Catholic Church in the world today, 2,000 years later. After the Eucharistic prayers the people say “Amen” and arise to receive the Body and Blood of Christ. Then the deacons take the Eucharist to those who were absent. A collection is taken to help the poor and to help support the Christian community.
Is this the Catholic liturgy or the Baptist service? St. Justin Martyr’s voice pierced the noise of modern religious confusion and reached my ears with a clear and clarion call: “Steve, wake up—open your eyes, abandon sectarian novelties and man-made traditions and listen to us who followed the actual teachings and practices of the apostles. We are still living and teaching and preserving what we learned from the apostolic Fathers. Their words are still ringing in our ears, their liturgy still vivid before our eyes.”
Justin Martyr again:
“And this food is called among us Εὐχαριστία [the Eucharist], of which no one is allowed to partake but the man who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins [water baptism], and unto regeneration, and who is so living as Christ has enjoined.
For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Savior, having been made flesh by the word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh. For the apostles, in the memoirs composed by them, which are called Gospels, have thus delivered unto us what was enjoined upon them; that Jesus took bread, and when He had given thanks, said, “This do ye in remembrance of Me, this is My body” (quoted in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 1, p. 185).”
So, what did the earliest Christians do on Sunday morning? The same thing Catholics do today.
Time machine experiment
I’ve always wanted to perform an experiment. I want to invent a time machine and drop a first-century Christian into a modern Baptist church on Sunday morning. Would he know where he was, or what is going on?
No, he would not. It would be foreign to him.
Next, I would like to take that same apostolic Christian and set him down in a modern-day Catholic Church. Then would he know where he is and what is going on?
Yes, because it is precisely what he was doing in the first or second century—every Sunday for his whole life since his conversion from paganism.
Except for the cultural differences—language, style of dress, type of instruments accompanying the songs, architecture—the “blueprint” and structure of the liturgy, as well as the teaching and belief in the Eucharistic mystery, are the same.
Where did my former Baptist tradition come from? Not from the Bible or the early Church. It came from man-made traditions begun by Martin Luther and a host of other schismatics. The Baptist tradition is usually traced to English Separatist John Smyth in 1609 who in Amsterdam, after his own novel interpretation of the New Testament, decided that infant baptism was invalid and that only believing adults could be baptized. After baptizing himself, he baptized others of his new sect.
But back to this past Sunday. I again sat at church with tears in my eyes. It has been seventeen years since my family and I converted to the Catholic Church. Yet I still am amazed, enchanted, overjoyed, overwhelmed, and profoundly grateful.
We are proud of the Catholic Church for keeping the blueprint and living in obedience to our Lord and his apostles. I sat and listened to more Scripture read, sung, and prayed than I had ever experienced in any hour in a Baptist church. I ate the Body and drank the Blood of our Lord. I am still transported.
My wife, Janet, and I sat in Mass this weekend again swept away by the beauty of the liturgy—not because the music was soaring or the homily profound but because it was the same Sunday morning worship that was given to the Church by Jesus and his apostles, and it has been celebrated uninterrupted for the last 2,000 years. It was the same liturgy loved by Justin Martyr, Ignatius of Antioch, Clement of Rome, Peter and Paul, Andrew, James . . .
The Catholic Church is ancient, yet ever young. We partake of the same Body and Blood of Jesus as did the first Christians. We are one body in Christ not only across the surface of the earth but throughout all of time. The Mass is timeless, vital, essential. It is life and light for those who have eyes to see and ears to hear.
As St. Ignatius of Antioch, another first century Christian wrote—not of himself but as a disciple of the apostles, with their words still ringing in his ears—“Obey the bishop and the presbytery with an undivided mind, breaking one and the same bread, which is the medicine of immortality, and the antidote to prevent us from dying, but [which causes] that we should live forever in Jesus Christ” (quoted in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 1, p. 57).
The first Christians lovingly reached through two millennia and gave me the sign of peace saying, “Welcome home!”
I am proud and happy to be a Catholic.”
Me, too. Although, the sinners, full of them, like me, drive me nuts. But, He is there. And, that is all that is needed, desired, possibly hoped for. Praise Him, Church!!!!! Praise Him!!!!
“If the Eucharist is “the source and summit of the Christian life” (CCC 1324), then it matters how we think and pray about it. Repeated prayers, such as the Our Father, teach us how to pray (cf. Luke 11:1) through the repetition of familiar words and postures. And so, several times a day, the friars recite the above antiphon, kneeling before the Blessed Sacrament. How might these words of Saint Thomas Aquinas teach us?
O Sacred Banquet. The banquet is a common image, ideally calling to mind the Wedding Feast in Revelation 19. In the Mass itself, the priest says, “Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb.” Still, given present circumstances, we might balk at this opening. It seems too much talk of a meal among friends could reduce the altar of sacrifice to a table, the Sacrament to a symbol, and the supernatural reality to a self-enclosed communion of attendees. Since last year’s poll projected that only a third of U.S. Catholics believe in transubstantiation, we urgently need clear Eucharistic teaching. Haven’t we heard enough about banquets and tables?
First, the O Sacred Banquet seems designed to teach; it’s a mini-creed of Eucharistic faith. In four steps, it clarifies what (or Who) this Sacred Banquet is:
Christ becomes our food. Aquinas writes: “The effect of this sacrament [here, grace] ought to be considered, first of all and principally, from what is contained in this sacrament, which is Christ” (ST III q.79 a.1). Only the doctrine of transubstantiation accounts for Christ’s sermon at Capernaum (John 6:22-59) and his unqualified words: “Take, eat; this is my body” (Matt 26:26). The memory of his Passion is celebrated. The Mass is a re-presentation, in an unbloody mode, of the One Sacrifice on Calvary, when the same “blood of the covenant” was “poured out” for our sins (Matt 26:27-28). The soul is filled with grace. Through the sacraments the Holy Spirit makes us “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Pet 1:3-4), even in this life. But the pledge of future glory is given to us: while we await “the glory that is to be revealed” (Rom 8:18), we possess here a foretaste of Heaven.
Notably, the O Sacred Banquet puts all four of its verbs in the present tense: through the unique efficacious signs instituted by Christ, past, present, and future are signified, now, for our sanctification (ST III q. 60 a. 3). Again, there’s a whole theology in this one prayer.
Lastly, the “sacred banquet” language is not just a cliché. Aristotle famously wrote that human friendship takes a certain amount of “eating salt together,” that is, of time and familiarity around a shared table (Nicomachean Ethics VIII.3). But when the Church speaks of the supper of the Lamb, she means primarily our communion with God, which is the basis for (and inseparable from) our communion as believers.
This idea, divine friendship, seemed foolish to the Philosopher. He thought there was such inequality between gods and men that they cannot be friends, and “do not even expect to be so” (Ethics VIII.7). True: God and human beings are not equals. But Jesus has revealed a new vocation for us: “No longer do I call you servants … but I have called you friends” (John 15:15). This charity which He offers, this “friendship of man for God” (ST II-II q.23 a.1), fulfills all true communion in the one Body of Christ.
Because the Eucharistic gift of divine friendship is the source of our human friendship in religious life, we friars need to turn to our Lord with these words throughout the day. But, in today’s world, a more widespread use of this devotion could “teach us how to pray.” It would be a constant reminder of the con-vivium, the life shared between God and man, given to us in this Sacred Banquet.”
“Catholics argue that when Jesus said at the Last Supper, “This is my body . . . This is my blood” (Matt. 26:26, 28), He literally meant for bread to become His Body and wine His Blood.
But a Protestant might object: “Wait a minute. If we take the bread and wine to be really Jesus’ body and blood because He says, ‘This is My body . . . This is My blood,’ then we’re gonna have to say Paul meant the rock that followed the Israelites in the wilderness to be really Jesus, since he says, ‘the Rock was Christ’ (1 Cor. 10:4). But most Christians don’t believe the rock really was Jesus, like Catholics believe the consecrated host really is Jesus’ Body. Therefore, we shouldn’t take Jesus to mean that the bread and wine really became His Body and Blood because He says, ‘This is my body . . . This is my blood.’”
What should we make of this objection?
First, the appeal to 1 Corinthians 10:4 doesn’t show that Jesus’ use of “is” must be taken figuratively. It only shows that the verb “is” can be taken figuratively. As such, this argument only gets as far as saying a figurative interpretation, like in 1 Corinthians 10:4, is possible.
But this is a moot point, because Catholics could agree that Jesus’ words “This is my body . . . This is my blood” taken by themselves can be interpreted literally or figuratively. There’s nothing in the words themselves that determines one interpretation over the other. So, Catholics need have no qualms with saying these words could be taken figuratively when they’re considered in isolation from other evidence.
Second, the objection demands that a Catholic should interpret Jesus’ use of the verb “to be” at the Last Supper like it’s used in 1 Corinthians 10:4—figuratively, the reason being that it’s supposedly obvious that bread and wine can’t be Jesus’ body and blood. However, such a demand would be common only on the supposition that Jesus is not performing a miracle.
For example, I might hold up a picture of my father and say, “This is my father,” and you know that the picture is not literally my father but a figure of him. But—and here’s the key—your conclusion would be based on the assumption, and a true one at that, that I’m not performing the miracle of making my father substantially present under the form of ink and paper.
Similarly, to interpret Jesus’ use of “is” at the Last Supper figuratively would be natural if we already knew he’s not performing a miracle. But if there is evidence that what Jesus is doing at the Last Supper is miraculous, then a literal interpretation would be a viable option, and even a more probable one.
And there is an abundance of such evidence. Due to the limited space here, however, we’re only going to consider some of the evidence.
When Jesus first made the promise to give His Flesh to eat in John 6:51-52, He did so against the backdrop of the manna of old: “Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that a man may eat of it and not die . . . the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is My Flesh.”
This bread that God gave in the wilderness was not ordinary bread. It was miraculous bread:
It was bread that rained from heaven (Exod. 16:4).
It appeared every day with the coming of the “dew” (Exod. 16:13)
It never lasted more than a day, except on the Sabbath. When the Israelites didn’t obey the instruction to leave none until the next day, it “bred worms and became foul” (Exod. 16:19-20).
It didn’t appear on the Sabbath. And the amount they gathered on the sixth day did not breed worms and become foul (Exod. 16:22-26).
It appeared every day for forty years, and only stopped upon the Israelites entering the promised land (Exod. 16:35; Joshua 5:10-12).
A jar with an omer’s worth was kept in the Israelite’s sanctuary “throughout the generations” (Exod. 16:31-34)
As bible scholar Brant Pitre argues in his book Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist, to say the Eucharist at the Last Supper, the New Manna, is merely a symbol, we’d have to conclude that the Old Manna in the wilderness was superior to the New, since miraculous bread is clearly greater than ordinary bread. But that’s a no-go in biblical theology. The New Testament fulfillment is always greater than the Old Testament type.
Therefore, the Eucharist at the Last Supper couldn’t have been ordinary bread, which is what it would have to have been on the view that Jesus was speaking metaphorically. Rather, there’s something supernatural to it. And that supernatural quality allows for us to interpret literally the words of institution (“This is my body . . . this is my blood”), meaning that the bread and wine became his body and blood.
That the Eucharist is supernatural is further confirmed by Jesus’ teaching that faith is required to accept His command to eat His Flesh and drink His Blood. Jesus prefaces His revelation that His Flesh is the bread of life by saying, “No one can come to Me unless the Father Who sent Me draws him” (v.44). Then, after giving His discourse about eating His flesh and drinking His blood, He says, “There are some of you that do not believe . . . This is why I told you that no one can come to Me unless it is granted Him by my Father” (v.64-65). If Jesus begins and concludes His remarks about eating His Flesh and drinking His Blood with faith, a gift that only the Father can give, then Jesus is revealing that faith is required to accept His teaching.
There’s something else that Jesus says which reveals the requirement of faith: “It is the Spirit that gives life, the flesh is of no avail; the words that I have spoken to you are Spirit and Life” (v.63).
“The flesh” is a New Testament phrase that is often used to describe human nature apart from God’s grace (Mark 14:38, Rom. 8:1-14, 1 Cor. 2:14-3:1). What Jesus means is that without God’s grace, and in particular the grace of faith, acceptance of Jesus’ command to eat his flesh and drink his blood is impossible. If his disciples are to believe his teaching, they must avail themselves of that grace.
Jesus’ statement about his words being “spirit and life” mean that his teaching is of the Spirit and therefore can be accepted only by the power of the Spirit. This makes sense of why Jesus’ command to eat his flesh and drink his blood is bookended by his teachings about faith (v.44, 65).
Since what Jesus says in John 6 is a promise of what will be fulfilled at the Last Supper, and he teaches that faith is required to accept what he says, it follows that faith would also be required when confronted with the words at the Last Supper: “This is my body . . . This is my blood.”
Now, what need would there be for faith if the bread and wine at the Last Supper were intended by Christ to merely represent or signify his body and blood? Faith would not be needed to believe that bread and wine serve as a symbol of Jesus’ body and blood. But faith would be needed if the bread and wine became his body and blood, which, of course, would be miraculous.
Since Jesus teaches that faith is required to accept what He says about the bread and wine being His body and blood, it follows that there is a supernatural dimension to the Eucharist. And if the Eucharist is supernatural, then we have good reason to not automatically take Jesus’ words to be metaphorical. The supernatural nature of the Eucharist makes the literal interpretation a viable option.
Given the supernatural nature of the Eucharist, there’s no need for a Catholic to give up his literal interpretation of Jesus’ use of the verb “is” in favor of a figurative interpretation as we see in 1 Corinthians 10:4. The two cases are disanalogous, and thus cannot be read in light of each other. Catholics, therefore, don’t have to settle for the ridiculous claim that Jesus became a rock in the wilderness in order to keep our literal interpretation of the words of institution: “This is My Body . . . this is My Blood.”
-“Última_Cena”, by Leonardo DaVinci, 1490, tempera, gesso, 460 cm (180 in) × 880 cm (350 in), Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan, please click on the image for greater detail
-by Joseph Heschmeyer, is a seminarian in the Catholic Archdiocese of Kansas City. A former lawyer, he blogs at Shameless Popery.
“There are a great many intelligent Protestant Christians, well-versed in Scripture, faithfully seeking to know and follow the will of God, who have concluded that Jesus’ words about the bread and wine of the Last Supper becoming his body and blood are merely symbolic.
What if they’re right?
At first, it seems like such a revelation would be a tragedy. Receiving the Eucharist is the most intimate encounter with Jesus Christ possible this side of eternity. Suddenly to discover that this intimacy was a sham, and that what we thought was God was actually just bread, would be disheartening, to put the matter mildly. Worse, it would mean that those hours spent in adoration were something approaching idolatry rather than proper worship of God.
But the true tragedy would be greater still—it would mean that the Church has been wrong about the Eucharist from the beginning. For the earliest Christians universally believed in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. The well-respected early Church historian J.N.D. Kelly, a Protestant, has acknowledged that “Eucharistic teaching, it should be understood at the outset, was in general unquestioningly realist, i.e., the consecrated bread and wine were taken to be, and were treated and designated as, the Savior’s body and blood” (Early Christian Doctrines, 440).
Take, for example, the church at Smyrna, in modern-day Turkey. In the latter half of the first century, the apostle John had delivered a message directly from Jesus Christ to the Smyrnaeans, encouraging them in their faithfulness amidst their sufferings (Rev. 2:8-11). Shortly thereafter, a student of John’s, St. Ignatius of Antioch, wrote to this same local church on his way to be martyred in Rome early in the second century.
In his letter, Ignatius warns the Smyrnaeans to “keep aloof from” the heretical Gnostics “because they confess not the Eucharist to be the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ” (Epistle to the Smyrnaeans 7). Notice that Ignatius doesn’t feel the need to convince his readers of the truth of the Real Presence. For him, it’s enough to say that since the Gnostics reject the Real Presence we should not even “speak of them either in private or in public.”
And this is the way that Christians approached the Eucharist throughout the first few centuries of the Church. It was not just that a theologian here or there taught the Real Presence, but that it was the Christian position on the topic. In a series of lessons given to catechumens about to enter the Church, St. Cyril of Jerusalem reminded them that “you have been taught and you are firmly convinced that what looks and tastes like bread and wine is not bread and wine but the Body and the Blood of Christ” (Catechetical Lecture 22). Cyril is comfortable assuming that even those not yet baptized know enough about Christianity to realize that Christians believe in the Real Presence.
Even more telling than the many Church Fathers teaching and preaching on the Real Presence of the Eucharist is the absence of Christian leaders either rejecting this Catholic position or teaching a contrary position.
If a Baptist pastor got up on Sunday and declared that the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ, you could expect that there would be angry letters denouncing him as a heretic, or at least seeking to correct him. That’s because Baptists don’t believe in the Real Presence.
The fact that we don’t see this sort of outcry in the early Church is compelling evidence that the early Christians didn’t believe what modern Baptists do about the Eucharist. Rather, they were united in belief about the Real Presence in the Eucharist at a time when Christians weren’t afraid to squabble with one another over relatively smaller matters.
So why is this important? Because it means that these Protestants aren’t just saying, “I think Jesus’ words at the Last Supper are meant to be merely symbolic,” but “I think that the entire Church misunderstood one of the most basic aspects of Christianity for centuries.” Call this the “everybody got the gospel wrong” position.
At the Last Supper, Jesus said, “I will not leave you desolate” (John 14:18), a promise not to abandon the Church or to leave us as orphans. Specifically, Christ promised to preserve his Church by sending “the Spirit of Truth,” the Holy Spirit, to “teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:17, 26). How is belief in this promise compatible with the idea that the whole Church lost the true meaning of the Last Supper, and that no Christians successfully followed his instructions to “do this in remembrance of me” (1 Cor. 11:24)?
To be sure, left to our own devices, you and I would get some aspects of the gospel wrong. That’s why there are so many competing Protestant denominations. But the solution to that is to turn to the Church and to have the humility to be guided, rather than trusting that our own reading of Scripture is superior to everyone else’s. This is the model laid out in Scripture itself. When the apostle Philip found an Ethiopian official reading the book of Isaiah, he asked him, “Do you understand what you are reading?” to which the man replied “How can I, unless someone guides me?” (Acts 8:30-31). But the Protestant view undermines all of this by suggesting that the visible Church, and indeed all Christians everywhere, might be the ones in the wrong.
This isn’t just about rejecting the Church’s teaching authority, but about rejecting all of Christianity prior to a certain point in history. If you can simply throw out all of (say) pre-1517 history as heretical and off-the-mark, why not throw out all pre-2018 Christianity? What appears on the surface to be a question simply about the Eucharist or the Perpetual Virginity of Mary is really a question about whether we can trust Christ’s promise not to abandon us, leaving us to our own private theological interpretations.
What’s more, if everybody got the gospel wrong then, what makes us think that anybody has the gospel right now? If we could all be wrong on the literality of the Eucharist for centuries, why couldn’t we be wrong about the literality of the Resurrection or of any other aspect of Christian teaching? If all of Christianity can get the core message of Christianity wrong, then it seems that we simply can’t be trusted to get the basics of Christianity right. But holding that, of course, undermines our ability to trust Christianity itself.”
If you are not familiar with philosophy, as I am not, some things said, some “arguments”, in the pleasant, logical sense, can be difficult to understand, since we do not possess the basic premise, language, or vocabulary from whence the final definition we are handed comes from. It may be difficulty to understand:
if we have not been trained from the beginning of mathematical training. In the same way with philosophical and theological “arguments”, it is likely the novice, especially literal ones :), will be lost very quickly in what is meant.
Ancient, at least Greek, philosophers were trying to understanding the world. They sought immutable truths, even in an ever mutable reality. One of the ways they described this knowledge to which they obtained was Plato’s “Theory of Forms”. A tree has “treeness”. A rock has “rockness”. Even though there are a myriad of different things by which we call “tree” or “rock” there is an immutable reality known as “tree” or “rock” which exists outside of these ever changing realities, by which we know their particular instantiations. This area of philosophy is called “ontology”, or the study of being. What does it mean to “be”? It’s quite logical and makes much sense if you follow the bouncing ball in its “ballness”. [Couldn’t help myself! 🙂]
Aristotle was a student of Plato, and a friend. But, famously said he was more a friend of the truth, and so disagreed that the nature of a thing is abstracted from the thing. A rock has “rockness”, a tree has “treeness”, says Aristotle. There is not an abstracted sense of being, but of being itself. The nature of the thing cannot exist without the thing itself. Whereas Plato believed the concept of “treeness” or “blueness” existed outside human beings as an abstract reality, Aristotle believed the abstract reality existed in the human mind and not independent of physical reality, or the human mind. Plato said forms are extrinsic to things. Aristotle said forms are intrinsic to things. Aristotle said you cannot have the form without the thing. Plato said you could have the form without the thing.
Substance & Accident – Aristotelian Logic
Aristotle made the distinction between thing and quality of a thing. For instance, a dog is a dog, its substance. A dog may be black or brown, its accidents. Substance is the thing. Accidents are the qualities of things.
Substance and Accidents
Accidents are the modifications that substance undergoes, but that do not change the kind of thing that each substance is. Accidents only exist when they are the accidents of some substance. Examples are colors, weight, motion. For Aristotle there are 10 categories into which things naturally fall. They are
Disposition (the arrangement of parts), and
Rainment (whether a thing is dressed or armed, etc.)
As Fr Dwight Longnecker, a convert from Anglicanism, explains in a a helpful manner, the consecrated Eucharist for Catholics is neither a symbol nor literal flesh and blood, and neither has ever been the teaching of the Catholic Church, although to explain the distinction, less than articulate explanations have been given when you don’t know calculus.
–Rev Dwight Longenecker, Fr. Dwight Longenecker is an American who has spent most of his life living and working in England.
Fr Longenecker was brought up in an Evangelical Protestant home in Pennsylvania. After graduating from the Fundamentalist Protestant Bob Jones University with a degree in Speech and English, he went to study theology at Oxford University. He was eventually ordained as an Anglican priest and served as a curate, a school chaplain in Cambridge and a country parson on the Isle of Wight. Realizing that he and the Anglican Church were on divergent paths, in 1995 Fr. Dwight and his family were received into the Catholic Church. In December 2006 he was ordained as a Catholic priest under the special pastoral provision for married former Anglican clergy. He now serves as parish priest of Our Lady of the Rosary parish in Greenville, SC.
“Neither position (symbolism nor literality) is the teaching of the Catholic Church. We believe in transubstantiation. The substance of the bread and wine really are transformed into the Body, Blood Soul and Divinity of Our Lord Jesus Christ. However, the transformation is not physical in a literal way. If you took the consecrated host to a laboratory it would be chemically shown to be bread, not human flesh.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) teaches:
1375 It is by the conversion of the bread and wine into Christ’s body and blood that Christ becomes present in this sacrament.
1376 The Council of Trent summarizes the Catholic faith by declaring: “Because Christ our Redeemer said that it was truly His body that He was offering under the species of bread, it has always been the conviction of the Church of God, and this holy Council now declares again, that by the consecration of the bread and wine there takes place a change of the whole substance of the bread into the substance of the body of Christ our Lord and of the whole substance of the wine into the substance of His blood. This change the holy Catholic Church has fittingly and properly called transubstantiation.
It is therefore not possible for a Catholic to believe that the transaction at Mass is merely a symbolic memorial. But many people who believe in the Eucharistic transformation do not understand transubstantiation.
The word “transubstantiation” means “substance across” and to understand what this means we must first understand what the medieval philosophers like St Thomas Aquinas meant by the word “substance”. They meant by this word almost exactly the opposite of what we mean by it. When we say something is “substantial” we mean it is solid, real, physical and concrete. The medieval philosophers however, used the word “substance” to indicate the invisible and eternal quality of a thing. The physical aspect of a chair, for example, is temporary and mutable. It changes. Eventually, given enough time, the wood of the chair will break, rot and decay into dust. The “chair-ness” of the chair is the eternal, invisible part and this is what is referred to as the “substance.”
With bread and wine the “breadness” of the bread and the “wine-ness” of the wine is the substance and it is this “substance” which is transformed. The physical part of the bread and wine is called the “accident” and the accident of bread and wine remain although the substance of the bread and wine have become the Body and Blood of Christ.
We can think of it like this: I have in a room at my home pictures of myself at the age of two being held in my father’s arms. Then there is a picture of me as a high school student and one of me in my thirties and now in my fifties. Each one is totally different because the “accident” of my physical body has changed. However, there is a “substance” of Dwight that is the eternal part of me that has not changed. It is present in each of the pictures even though my body is very different.
So with the bread and wine at the Eucharist, it is the invisible, eternal “substance” which becomes the Body and Blood of Christ while the “accident” of bread and wine still exist.
However, this philosophical explanation, like all philosophical explanations can only take us so far. In fact, the invisible part of a thing and and the physical part cannot necessarily be separated in this way. The invisible part of me and the physical part seen in the photographs is a unity. The objection to this explanation of transubstantiation that I have just given is that it sounds like the Lord is only “spiritually present” in the Eucharist. If the physical aspect is not transformed in some way, then some Catholics argue, the transformation is just an ethereal or spiritual presence sort of floating about and around the bread and wine. This is to misunderstand the fact that the invisible substance is the most real part of the bread and wine, not the least real. Not only is it the most real, but it is not separate from the physical aspect, nor can it exist separately from the physical aspect. Therefore, inasmuch as the substance is changed there is also some sort of change in the physical aspect.
Furthermore, there is a physicality to the Lord. He is not just a spirit floating around in the air. We say the Eucharist is His body, and that implies some kind of physicality. Therefore we must go a bit further than the medieval philosophical explanation and posit that the real presence of the Lord’s Body Blood Soul and Divinity in the sacrament is also, in some way, physical. We could say the inner quality of the physical Christ is present, but not extended in space. In other words, the reality of Christ’s presence is not just spiritual in an ethereal sense. Through the transubstantiation Christ is also present physically within the substance.
This does not mean that the bread and wine become human flesh and blood, and it is this misapprehension that we need to be careful to correct.
The exception to this would be the unusual examples of Eucharistic miracles, where the Lord, for the encouragement of our faith, allows at certain times for the bread and wine to be transformed not only in their substance but also in their accident.
Finally, transubstantiation is a philosophical explanation for what we believe happens in the mystery of the sacrament of the altar. What happens on the altar is far greater than a philosophical definition just as what happens in a marriage is far greater than a psychological definition of “love”. Instead of trying to explain the mystery of “love” we simply say to the beloved, “I love you.” Likewise, although we attempt to understand and explain the mystery of the Eucharist it is best to hear the Lord say, “This is my Body” and to hear the priest say as we receive the Lord, “The Body of Christ.””
“O my soul, when you receive Holy Communion, try to reanimate your faith, do all you can to detach yourself from exterior things and retire with the Lord into the interior of your being where you know He is abiding. Collect your senses and make them understand the great good they are enjoying, or rather, try to recollect them so that they may not hinder you from understanding it. Imagine yourself at Our Lord’s feet, and weep with Magdalen exactly as if you were seeing Him with your bodily eyes in the house of the Pharisee. These moments are very precious; the Master is teaching you now; listen to Him, kiss His feet in gratitude for all He has condescended to do for you, and beg Him to remain always with you. Even should you be deprived of sensible devotion, faith will not fail to assure you that Our Lord is truly within you.
If I do not want to act like a senseless person who shuts his eyes to the light, I can have no doubt on this point. O my Jesus, this is not a work of the imagination, as when I imagine You on the Cross or in some other mystery of Your Passion, where I picture the scene as it took place. Here, it concerns Your real presence; it is an undeniable truth. O Lord, when I receive Holy Communion, I do not have to go far to find You; as long as the accidents of bread are not consumed, You are within me! And if, during Your mortal life, You healed the sick by a mere touch of Your garments, how, if I have faith, can I doubt that You will work miracles, when You are really present within me? Oh, yes! when You are in my house You will listen to all my requests, for it is not Your custom to pay badly for the lodging given You, if I offer you good hospitality!
O Lord, if a soul receives Communion with good dispositions, and if, wishing to drive out all coldness, it remains for some time with You, great love for You will burn within it and it will retain its warmth for many hours.” (-Teresa of Jesus, Way of Perfection 34-35).
“Sometimes we take our Catholic lingo for granted, forgetting that like any other group, we have jargon. It takes time to get acclimated to it. If we are not attentive, sometimes the meaning of our own jargon eludes us. Maybe we grew up hearing a word and everyone seemed to know what it meant (except us, of course) and we were too ashamed to ask about it. As a result, when we listen to our pastor’s homily, faithfully looking for that spiritual nugget he delivers each week, we frown in confusion. “Let your love be eucharistic,” he says. We know what he says is true, and our whole heart affirms it in faith, but we puzzle over its meaning. What does it mean for love to be eucharistic? We believe in the Eucharist, and the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, but what does it mean for my love to be eucharistic?
I would like to suggest four ways to understand this.
First, eucharistic love is gratuitous. From its Greek roots, ευχαριστία, “eucharist” means thanksgiving or good grace/favor. God’s love for us is gratuitous because He loves us prior to anything good we do or become that could earn any love. Saint Paul said that’s how God proved His love, that He died while we were yet sinners (Rom 5:8). For our love to be eucharistic, then, means that we also offer gifts to others without first sizing up whether they are worthy. Instead of asking ourselves if the person in need deserves our help, and understanding they would accept our help while we maintain their dignity, let’s give them what they lack, regardless of any judgment.
Second, eucharistic love is empowered by God. Because every good gift has its origin in God, we cannot hope to love eucharistically if we expect the power to do so comes from ourselves. Jesus told us, “Apart from me, you can do nothing” (John 15:5). To love eucharistically is to love with utter reliance on God’s divine power loving through us. Instead of white-knuckling our way through the day, whether at work, school, or home, let’s pray for God’s help and recognize that He delights in granting us the help we need, our loving Father.
Third, eucharistic love demands totality. When Christ approached His Passion, he “loved his disciples to the end” (John 13:1). He held nothing back when He offered His very self on the Cross for us. Eucharistic love knows no limit or measure. Empowered by God and not waiting for others to deserve it, we can love eucharistically when we give everything. It costs us to take time from our day, to break our routine in order to make someone else’s concerns our own. Instead of seeing these as distractions or delays to our own plans, let’s pray for the grace to expand our love so that they become opportunities to give our whole heart to them. As St. Paul put it, “Whatever you do, work with your whole heart, as for the Lord and not for men.” (Col 3:23).
Fourth, eucharistic loves is ordered toward Christ. In the Eucharist, Jesus makes Himself present substantially, though under sacramental forms of bread and wine. To love eucharistically can simply mean to love Jesus by adoring his presence in the Blessed Sacrament. Find out where and when Eucharistic Adoration takes place near you and spend an extra ten minutes, or more if you can, with Jesus. By getting to know Him, by growing in close friendship with our Lord, your love can become ever more eucharistic.”
“To wrap up this short series, I hope to describe as simply and clearly as I can the essential line thought that led me, as a Baptist minister, to embrace the Catholic teaching of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.
Step One: The Witness of the Fathers
As I explained in Part I, the first step was reading the early Church Fathers and finding myself faced with descriptions of the Eucharist that were totally different than I was familiar with and that I would have ever thought to use.
Jesus had said, “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life” (John 6:54) and the early Church seemed to take this literally.
For Christians living in the earliest centuries of Christian history, the Eucharist was a meal of remembrance of Christ’s death, as I would have said as a Baptist, but it was more than that. It was supernatural food, a miraculous meal in which simple bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ. It was, to quote St. Ignatius of Antioch, an early bishop and disciple of St. John, the “medicine of immortality.”
The following quotation from St. Justin Martyr is fairly typical of what one finds in the writings of the early Church Fathers.
For not as common bread or common drink do we receive these; 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 that has been made into the Eucharist by the Eucharistic prayer set down by him, and by the change of which our blood and flesh is nurtured, is both the flesh and blood of that incarnated Jesus (First Apology 66).
During the past week, I’ve pulled four of five important historians of Christian doctrine off the shelf and looked again at what they have to say on this subject, only to have my own impressions confirmed.
According to one of the most prominent, J.N.D. Kelly:
Eucharistic teaching, it should be said at the outset, was in general unquestioningly realist, i.e. the consecrated bread and wine were taken to be, and were treated and designated as, the Savior’s body and blood (Early Christian Doctrines, p. 440).
Even those historians who personally reject the doctrine of Christ’s Real Presence in the Eucharist tend to admit that this indeed was the view of the Church from as far back as we can tell. Of course they take this as an illustration of how quickly the Church departed from what they perceive to be the “clear teaching” of the New Testament.
Step Two: The Examination of Scripture
The next step for me was to leave the writings of the early Church to re-examine the writings of the Apostles themselves. After all, the writings of the Fathers are not inspired. Only Scripture is inspired.
Now, I’d read the New Testament passages that touch on the Lord’s Supper many times. What I was eager to do now was read them again in the light of what I had seen in the early Church.
I wondered, would the Apostles contradict the early Church’s view of the Eucharist? Would the things they say about the Lord’s Supper support the teaching of the early Church, and possibly even be illuminated by it? Would I see things in Scripture I hadn’t noticed before?
What I found was that this was indeed the case.
First, there was nothing whatsoever in the New Testament that was not entirely consistent with the faith and teaching of the early Church, nothing that excluded or contradicted it.
But beyond this, there certain Old and New Testament biblical themes and passages that seemed positively illuminated when read in the light of the early Church’s faith and teaching (see Parts II, III and IV of this series).
I did not come away thinking I could, from the New Testament alone, somehow “prove” the doctrine of the Real Presence, or demonstrate its truth “beyond a shadow of doubt.” There simply is no passage where a “doctrine” of the Eucharist is spelled out in so many words.
But this only served to confirm something I had been coming to think for some time: that the New Testament was not written to function alone.
After all, Christian doctrine was something the Apostles taught the churches they founded, over a period of time, by word of mouth and face-to-face. St. Paul speaks, for instance, of having spent a year and six months in Corinth and three years in Ephesus teaching the believers there “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 18:11 and 20:27).
When the Apostles later wrote letters to those churches, the letters that comprise a good part of our New Testaments, with rare exceptions they were writing to those who already knew the doctrines of the faith and needed specific encouragement or correction or some issue resolved. When the churches read those letters, they read them, and understood them, in the light of what they had already been taught and already knew.
It wasn’t entirely surprising to me, then, to find that the passages in the New Testament that talk about the Lord’s Supper might need to be read and understood in the light of the early Church’s teaching.
Step Three: Relating Scripture and Tradition
All of this led to me thinking more deeply about the relationship of Scripture (the teaching of the Apostles as it was written down) to what Catholics refer to as “Tradition” (the teaching of the Apostles as it was known and preserved in the churches they founded).
As a general principle, it seemed reasonable to me to think that the teaching of the Apostles would be reflected in the faith and practice of the early Church, more than reasonable to think that when one found unanimous consent among the early Church Fathers on a particular issue, what the early Church believed would be a very good indicator of what the Apostles had taught. This made sense to me.
Given that we know all about the debates that took place in the early Church over issues both great and small (e.g. the correct day for celebrating Easter), it did not seem reasonable to me to imagine that when it came to the Eucharist, the very center of Christian worship, the Apostles would teach one thing and Church turn around and immediately teach another and there be no record of a debate on the issue.
This did not make sense.
And yet, here I was staring at quotations spread over the first three centuries of Christian history, quotations from the most prominent bishops, apologists and theologians of the Church at that time. I’m looking at quotations from every corner of the Roman Empire: from Syria (Ignatius), from Rome (Justin Martyr), from the south of France (Irenaeus), from Egypt (Clement and Origin), from Carthage and Hippo in North Africa (Tertullian and Augustine), from Milan (Ambrose).
Three centuries of witness from every corner of the Christian world supporting the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, and no record of any dispute? Not even one priest or bishop rising up to say, “this is not what we received from the Apostles!”?
Having been an evangelical Protestant for many years, there was the ingrained tendency in me to think:
Listen, Ken, everything God wants us to know is recorded in the New Testament and laid out clearly enough to be understood. You need to look again at the passages, examine the exegetical arguments and decide on the basis of Scripture alone which view you think best reflects the data. That’s how these things are determined. It doesn’t really matter what the early Church thought.
At the same time, thoughts that were new to this evangelical Protestant were beginning to insinuate themselves:
But Ken, Luther examined the data and came out in one place, Calvin examined the data and came out in another. And then there were the Baptists who examined the data and hold a view of the Lord’s Supper that differs from both Luther and Calvin. What if the New Testament wasn’t meant to function “alone”?
What if the very reason sincere and prayerful students of Scripture can “examine the data” for years, decades and centuries and not agree on the nature of the Eucharist is that the writings of the Apostles need to be read and understood in the light of that teaching preserved and handed down within the Church?
Step Four: Tradition in the Early Church
The final step for me was coming to see that this is exactly the view the early Church had of the correct relationship between the inspired Scripture and the faith and teaching of the Church.
In his book Against Heresies, the first serious work of biblical theology that we possess, St. Irenaeus describes the Apostles as having deposited their teaching in the Church as a rich man deposits his money in a bank. Because of this, when there are disputes about the correct teaching, Christians, he says, can come to the Church to draw from her the truth.
As I said before, the Church, having received this preaching and this faith [from the apostles], although she is disseminated throughout the whole world, yet guarded it, as if she occupied but one house. She likewise believes these things just as if she had but one soul and one and the same heart; and harmoniously she proclaims them and teaches them and hands them down, as if she possessed but one mouth…. When, therefore, we have such proofs, it is not necessary to seek among others the truth, which is easily obtained from the Church. For the Apostles, like a rich man in a bank, deposited with her most copiously everything which pertains to the truth; and everyone whoever wishes draws from her the drink of life (Against Heresies I:10:2 and 3:4:1, c. 189 A.D.)
What can I say but that this was a way of looking at things that was beginning to make more and more sense to this Evangelical.
I had treated the New Testament as though it were a stand-alone manual of Christian doctrine. The early Christians did not think of the New Testament in this way.
I had treated the faith and practice of the early Church as though it were essentially worthless when it comes to deciding what to believe as a Christian or how to understand the New Testament. None of the early Church Fathers thought in this way. None of them.
I was beginning now to think that my understanding of the nature of both the New Testament and Tradition, and how the two should be related to one another, was simply incorrect. I was beginning to think that the Catholic Church’s view of these matters was not only more historical, but more biblical.
Sacred Scripture is the speech of God as it is put down in writing under the breath of the Holy Spirit. And sacred Tradition transmits in its entirety the Word of God, which has been entrusted to the apostles by Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit. It transmits it to the successors of the apostles so that, enlightened by the Spirit of truth, they may faithfully preserve, expound, and spread it abroad by their preaching.
Although this sounds like another quotation from the early Church Fathers, it’s actually from Vatican Council II, Dei Verbum, the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation.”
Well, so far Jesus has revealed himself to be the bread of life sent down from the Father in heaven. Those who “come” to him and “believe” in him will never hunger or thirst but will have eternal life, because Jesus will raise them up on the last day.
Beginning around verse 48, however, Jesus begins to use language he hasn’t to this point. He identifies the living bread with his “flesh” and says that one must “eat” this bread to live forever.
I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread which I will give for the life of the world is my flesh (vs. 51).
Now, those listening pick up on this shift in expression and immediately begin to dispute among themselves: “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” (vs. 52).
And what’s our Lord’s response? Does he explain that what he means by this is that they must “come to him” and “believe in him”? No. Instead, Jesus intensifies his language. He begins to insist—in the most literalistic and graphic of terms—that his listeners must “eat his flesh” and “drink his blood” if they would have life.
So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him . . . He who eats me will live because of me . . . He who eats this bread will live for ever” (vs. 53-58).
Jesus even switches from the more usual Greek verb for “eating” to use a word that means “to chew” or “to gnaw.” He repeats this particular verb four times in verses 54 through 58.
The repetition of this idea that his followers must eat, chew, gnaw upon his flesh and drink his blood is striking. It turns that not only are the Jews in general offended and scandalized, so are his disciples. It sounds to them as though Jesus is commanding some form of cannibalism and the exact reverse of the Mosaic laws forbidding the eating of flesh with the blood.
“Many of his disciples when they heard it, said, ‘This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?’” (vs. 60). “After this,” we read, “many of his disciples drew back and no longer went about with him” (vs. 66).
And what does Jesus do? Again, does he explain that he has only been speaking “figuratively”? No. He lets them leave.
He even asks the twelve, “Will you also go away?” To which Peter famously responds, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life; and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God” (vs. 67-69).
I had to admit it: This does not make sense—if all that Jesus meant was that his disciples must “come” to him and “believe” in him.
After all, Jesus’ disciples had already “come” to him and “believed” in him. And yet he allows “many” of them to draw back and “no longer” walk with him. He lets them go. In other words, this was the end of the road for a good number of his disciples.
Even the twelve, those who would become his Apostles, are on the verge of leaving, and it appears as though Jesus would have let them go as well!
It appears as though Jesus would have let everyone go! And all he had to do was say, “Hey, I’m only speaking figuratively”?
Didn’t make sense. Whatever Jesus is saying here, he must be saying something more than that to receive eternal life we need to come to him and believe in him. He must be saying something more than this.
Baptists, Presbyterians and other Evangelicals all say that the figurative interpretation explains the passage.
Catholics say that in John chapter 6 Jesus is pointing forward to when, after suffering on the cross and ascending to heaven, he will give his body and blood as supernatural food and drink in the Eucharist; that this passage is pointing forward to the greatest miraculous meal of all, the feeding of the multitudes par excellence.
What other options are there? Assuming Jesus wasn’t teaching cannibalism, what options are there beyond his words being purely figurative and them indicating some means by which his disciples will have his glorified flesh and blood to eat and drink, some version of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist?
At this point, there were several lines of thought converging in my head and moving me in direction of the Real Presence.”
Summa Catechetica, "Neque enim quaero intelligere ut credam, sed credo ut intelligam." – St Anselm, "Let your religion be less of a theory, and more of a love affair." -G.K. Chesterton, "I want a laity, not arrogant, not rash in speech, not disputatious, but men and women who know their religion, who enter into it, who know just where they stand, who know what they hold and what they do not, and who know their creed so well that they can give an account of it."- Bl John Henry Newman, Cong. Orat., "Encounter, not confrontation; attraction, not promotion; dialogue, not debate." -cf Pope Francis, “You will not see anyone who is really striving after his advancement who is not given to spiritual reading. And as to him who neglects it, the fact will soon be observed by his progress.” -St Athanasius, "To convert someone, go and take them by the hand and guide them." -St Thomas Aquinas, OP. 1 saint ruins ALL the cynicism in Hell & on Earth. “When we pray we talk to God; when we read God talks to us…All spiritual growth comes from reading and reflection.” -St Isidore of Seville, “Also in some meditations today I earnestly asked our Lord to watch over my compositions that they might do me no harm through the enmity or imprudence of any man or my own; that He would have them as His own and employ or not employ them as He should see fit. And this I believe is heard.” -GM Hopkins, SJ, "Only God knows the good that can come about by reading one good Catholic book." — St. John Bosco, "Why don't you try explaining it to them?" – cf St Peter Canisius, SJ, Doctor of the Church, Doctor of the Catechism, "Already I was coming to appreciate that often apologetics consists of offering theological eye glasses of varying prescriptions to an inquirer. Only one prescription will give him clear sight; all the others will give him at best indistinct sight. What you want him to see—some particular truth of the Faith—will remain fuzzy to him until you come across theological eye glasses that precisely compensate for his particular defect of vision." -Karl Keating, "The more perfectly we know God, the more perfectly we love Him." -St Thomas Aquinas, OP, ST, I-II,67,6 ad 3, “But always when I was without a book, my soul would at once become disturbed, and my thoughts wandered." —St. Teresa of Avila, "Let those who think I have said too little and those who think I have said too much, forgive me; and let those who think I have said just enough thank God with me." –St. Augustine, "Without good books and spiritual reading, it will be morally impossible to save our souls." —St. Alphonsus Liguori "Never read books you aren't sure about. . . even supposing that these bad books are very well written from a literary point of view. Let me ask you this: Would you drink something you knew was poisoned just because it was offered to you in a golden cup?" -St. John Bosco " To teach in order to lead others to faith is the task of every preacher and of each believer." —St. Thomas Aquinas, OP