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A Reflection for Corpus Christi

June 12, 2020

The Center for Applied Research at Georgetown University conducts surveys for the US bishops. Regarding Sacramental Beliefs among US Catholics, they found that 9 in 10 weekly Mass attendees say they believe that Jesus Christ is really present in the Eucharist. This compares to 2/3rds of those who attend Mass once a month, and only 40% of those attending Mass a couple of times a year believe in the Eucharist.

If we were to look at the history of The True Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, I suppose we would need to look first at It’s beginning - the Last Supper. Maybe we could even look back a little bit further - to the Annunciation, when the young Virgin Mary said Yes - and through the power the Holy Spirit - The Word became Flesh - and Jesus became Truly Present in the world.

And on the night before He was to suffer for us on the Cross, our Lord Jesus shared one last meal with his disciples. And it has been the belief of billions of Catholics over the last 2000 yrs., that during this meal, Our Savior instituted the Sacrament of his Body and Blood. He did this in order to perpetuate the Sacrifice of the Cross throughout the ages, and to entrust to the Church, his Spouse, a memorial of his Death and Resurrection.

The Gospel of Mark shares with us:

“While they were eating,
he took bread, said the blessing,
broke it, gave it to them, and said,
"Take it; this is my body."
Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them,
and they all drank from it.
He said to them,
"This is my blood of the covenant,
which will be shed for many.”

We know these words. We hear them at every Mass. They are The Mystery of Faith.                                                                

The Church, for all these years, professes that in the Celebration of the Eucharist: bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit and the instrumentality of the priest. Jesus said: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world…For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.”

The Whole Christ is truly present, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity, under the appearances of bread and wine, “The Glorified Christ” who rose from the dead after dying for our sins. This is what the Church means when she speaks of “The Real Presence” of Christ in the Eucharist.

From the Church’s earliest days, the Father's referred to Christ's Presence in the Eucharist. St. Ignatius of Antioch, Hippolytus, Tertullian, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Cyprian of Carthage…The Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D. and The Council of Ephesus in 431, where our 2 Creeds were formulated.

St. Augustine, around the year 400 saying: "I promised you new Christians, who have now been baptized, a sermon in which I would explain the sacrament of the Lord’s Table.  That bread which you see on the altar, having been sanctified by the Word of God, is the Body of Christ. That chalice, or rather, what’s in that chalice, is the Blood of Christ.”

I studied a lot of this history in the beginning of my seminary years - hoping that it was behind me. I was never much of a history buff. And yet it keeps coming back.  History repeats itself. One of the greatest hindrances to humanities belief in The True Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist came about during the Reformation - around 500 years ago. The newly formed Christian churches that broke away from the Roman Catholic Church interpreted the words of Christ at the Last Supper to represent more of the ‘symbolic meal.’ Not true presence.

Even in our own Church, over the last 50 to 65 years - the term “Real Presence” has faded for many in regards to its True Significance, that, at the moment of Consecration -  the bread and wine really becomes “ Jesus ” for our sake.

St. Ambrose said something along the lines of: "If the Word of the Lord Jesus is so powerful as to bring into existence things which were not, then it's easier to understand that God can take things which already exist, like bread and wine, and change them into something else, like - Himself.”

Thinking about this, it came to my mind, that: “Don't we eat bread and water” and it becomes our flesh. Look at our hands. Living flesh. Maybe this can help us better understand how easy it is for God to make bread and wine - become His Living Flesh – for us ?

I had the fortunate privilege of having one of the greatest Catholic apologists and theologians of our day, Peter Kreeft, teach me at the seminary. Dr. Kreeft grew up as a Calvinist. He was studying to become a Protestant minister. And while he was conducting his doctoral research, he discovered that it was the Catholic Church, the Apostles & disciples, that wrote and formed the Bible. But what really got him to become a Catholic, to convert, and believe that the Catholic Church is The True Church, The True Faith, The One Church he had to become a member of, was the fact; that for the first 1000 years of Christianity – no one ever doubted The True Presence of our Lord Jesus Christ - in the Eucharist !

Oh sure, there's been a lot of different thinking since. Even today, within our own Church, many consider The Real Presence to be merely symbolism, like my beginning statistics revealed. Perhaps even some priests - having suggested that Communion is just a ‘symbol of our union with one another.’

But for 2000 years - Our Church, our Saints, our Popes - billions of Roman Catholics - have assented in Faith - to the teachings of Jesus Christ's words at the Last Supper, that “ This is My Body - and This is My Blood’ -  The Real, True, Living Jesus Christ - Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity - that we anxiously await to receive in Holy Communion as our Churches are about to re-open !!!                                                                     

Jesus promised us in his final words “that He will always be with us - until the end of age.” For this we can never thank you enough Lord, for Your Gift of the Eucharist, Our Gift - of Eternal Life !

fr. brian

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