Bread of Life

 this is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die. (john 6: 50)
The miracle of God’s physical presence to us at every Mass is the truest testament to Christ’s love for us and His desire for each of us to have a personal relationship with Him. Jesus Christ celebrated the first Mass with His disciples at the Last Supper, the night before He died. He commanded His disciples, “Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19). The celebration of the Mass then became the main form of worship in the early Church, as a reenactment of the Last Supper, as Christ had commanded. Each and every Mass since commemorates Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross through the Holy Eucharist. Because the Mass “re-presents” (makes present) the sacrifice on Calvary, Catholics all around the world join together to be made present in Christ’s timeless sacrifice for our sins. There is something fascinating about continuing to celebrate the same Mass—instituted by Christ and practiced by the early Church—with the whole community of Catholics around the world…and in heaven.


Why does the Catholic Church believe Christ is really present in the Eucharist?
The Catholic doctrine of the Real Presence is the belief that Jesus Christ is literally, not symbolically, present in the Holy Eucharist—body, blood, soul and divinity. Catholics believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist because Jesus tells us this is true in the Bible:

“I am the bread of life. 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. I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh." The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’ 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” - John 6:48-56
Furthermore, the early Church Fathers either imply or directly state that the bread and wine offered in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper is really the body and blood of Jesus Christ. In other words, the doctrine of the Real Presence that Catholics believe today was believed by the earliest Christians 2,000 years ago!

This miracle of God’s physical presence to us at every Mass is the truest testament to Christ’s love for us and His desire for each of us to have a personal relationship with Him.

Saturday, May 1, 2010


When Jesus said, "This is my body..." and "this is my blood," the early followers of Christ believed that Jesus was truly present with them when they took Eucharist, that they were consuming Christ himself in some way. Ignatius of Antioch, Irenaeus of Lyons, Ambrose of Milan, and many others speak of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. When we receive communion, we truly encounter Christ, partaking of his body and blood. The Catholic Catechism states it like this:

By the consecration the transubstantiation of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ is brought about. Under the consecrated species of bread and wine Christ himself, living and glorious, is present in a true, real, and substantial manner: his Body and his Blood, with his soul and his divinity (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1413)

This may sound a little confusing to modern ears because the official Catholic definition has been shaped by a medieval understanding of Aristotelianism. Essentially, the Church teaches that the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ in substance, while the incidentals (or accidents), the physical characteristics of bread and wine, remain. This means that what you see, feel, and touch will seem to be bread and wine, while in reality, they are actually the body and blood of Christ. St. Cyril of Jerusalem (AD 350) describes this mystery similarly:
Do not, therefore, regard the bread and wine as simply that, for they are, according to the Master's declaration, the Body and Blood of Christ. Even though the senses suggest to you the other, let faith make you firm (Catechetical Lectures 22:6, 9).
Once the bread and wine are properly consecrated, by a validly ordained priest, we receive the certainty of Christ's presence. In other words, the presence of Christ is not dependent on subjective belief on our part, or the moral worthiness of the priest (God does the action, not a man).
While Catholics use the term transubstantiation to describe the conversion of the elements into the body and blood, Eastern Orthodox Christians use other terms, including transformation, although they too affirm nothing less than a conversion of the elements into the body and blood of Christ. How this happens is ultimately a mystery, but a mystery based on the promises of Christ, to be experienced by faith.

While the terms describing the change are technical, recently some Catholic leaders have asserted that transubstantiation is the Catholic way of describing the mystical and Real change using limited human language, as opposed to being a term narrowly scientifically and philosophically describing the change. So while transubstantiation still correctly describes the change, the term does not exclude the Eastern definitions (1).

Some might wonder why some of the early Christians called the bread and wine "symbols" or "figures" of Christ's body and blood. Some modern readers have used this in support of their view that the Eucharist is simply a memorial meal, a mental recollection of the death of Jesus. However, context is important when analyzing the early Church Fathers' use of the words "symbol" and "figure."

In the ancient world, in part due to the influence of Platonism, a symbol was seen as substantially and inextricably connected to the reality that it symbolized. The Greek word for symbol literally means "thrown together," signifying the overlapping of a symbol with the universal reality it symbolizes.

Thus, in calling the bread and wine symbols (or in Latin, "figures"), the Church Fathers believed in the true sacramental presence of Christ in the bread and wine, as opposed to a simple psychological recollection. In modern western society, because of the influence of Nominalism and the Enlightenment, we often say, "that's just a symbol" implying a disconnectedness between symbol and reality. Such was not the ancient mindset.

1. See the Anglican/Roman Catholic Joint Declaration on the Eucharist, footnote two, which explains transubstantiation in this manner.


Tortoise said...

Jesus said, "Do this in remembrance of me." The Greek word for remembrance, anamnesis, does not imply simple psychological recollection.

Enlightenment rationalistic assumptions have clouded many an interpretation of Jesus' words here. The word anamnesis, as it was often used in ancient times, means to bring the past into the present and the present into the past.

In the Eucharist, we truly experience Christ's life, death, and resurrection, and Christ is made present to us, and we are made present to Him.

This is far more dynamic than merely remembering something.

daveg4g said...

Transformation and Sanctification

The early Christians often called the Eucharist the medicine of immortality, the food and drink by which one was rendered immortal.

Some Eastern Orthodox theologians refer to the Eucharist as a "divine blood transfusion." By truly encountering Christ in the Eucharist, we sacramentally become transformed into his image.

In ancient and modern Eastern Eucharistic liturgies, the sanctifying aspect of the Eucharist is expressed clearly when the priest says, "Holy Things for Holy People!"

In one of his homilies, St. Ephraim the Syrian (d. AD 373) writes, "one particle from [the Eucharistic host's] crumbs is able to sanctify thousands and thousands, and is sufficient to afford life to those who eat of it" (Homilies 4:4).

Such is the transforming power of the Eucharist!

a39greenway said...


The early Christians used "Eucharist" as the primary word to describe their most important rite.

Thus, at the heart of Christian experience is being thankful. During the Eucharist, we express our gratitude for what God has done for us.

We offer gifts, created within space and time (bread and wine), and ourselves, up to God as signs of our gratitude for his redemption of mankind.

If we take this seriously, it naturally leads us to become more thankful for all the blessings in our lives: family, friends, food, etc.

So, at the end of the Mass, when we go forth, "to love and serve the Lord," we are truly equipped to better love our neighbors.

At the end of the Mass when we say "thanks be to God," we should mean it with all of our hearts, for we have just given thanks to God for his perfect love for us, and for all the little blessings he has given us.

Additionally, we are called to ponder and share this gratitude throughout the week.