I recently had the pleasure of visiting a local private college campus. While there, I stopped in the campus chapel. It was a stately, beautiful New England style church, and I found it peaceful and quiet, a lovely place to rest a minute. No doubt through the many years of the building’s existence, many prayers and worship services had been offered there, but at that moment I was all alone in the building. There was not another living soul present.
In contrast, when one is in a Catholic Church, one is never alone. Jesus Christ, in the Eucharist, is always present in the tabernacle. There is a palpable difference as soon as one walks in the door. It is the reason why, as Catholics, we always genuflect to the tabernacle as soon as we enter. We acknowledge the presence of God in our midst.
To be sure, it is not always easy to believe that Jesus is truly in the bread and wine. After all, with our physical senses, bread and wine is all we can see and feel. As a result, many Protestant faiths view the Eucharist as a mere symbol of Jesus. While that may be easier for the human intellect to accept, our Christian brothers and sisters are missing such an amazing gift, one that can only be experienced with the eyes of faith.
Yet, our faith should be based on reason. How can we Catholics proclaim with confidence that the bread and wine consecrated on the altar during Mass is indeed the real presence of Jesus? As with all matters of faith, we should begin with the revealed Word of God in Scripture.
In the Gospel of John, Jesus states, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.” (John 6:53-56 NAB)
Then, at the Last Supper, Jesus gave us the precious gift of the Eucharist itself. “Jesus took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and giving it to his disciples said, ‘Take and eat; this is my body.’ Then he took the cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you for this is the blood of the covenant, which will be shed on behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Matthew 26:26-28 NAB)
These are the same words that the priest says at every Mass every day throughout the world. Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would guide his Church and two thousand years of tradition teach us that the bread and wine turns into the true body and blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The Catechism of the Catholic Church instructs that “the Eucharist is ‘the source and summit of the Christian life.’” (CCC 1324) We cannot believe in Jesus and Scripture and the Church, yet negate this most important gift from Him. Jesus left us the very gift of Himself, as both physical food for our bodies and spiritual food for our souls. The old adage states that we are what we eat. In the gift of the Eucharist, Jesus enters into an intimate communion with us. He becomes part of us.
In The Real Presence of Jesus in the Holy Eucharist, Fr. Robert DeGrandis, S.S.J. compares the host to the single cell that begins the life of a human person. “The entire person to be born is contained in that tiny cell, but you cannot see that person, just as the consecrated host contains Jesus in His entirety: body, blood, soul and divinity. The first cell of the baby contains the complete DNA chain and the entire genetic map of that baby. So, too, all of Jesus is contained in that small piece of consecrated, unleavened bread. In this case, don’t believe in your eyes alone, or you will be deceived. . . only faith can help you to believe that Jesus is truly present in the Eucharist.” (14) In order to help those eyes of faith, Fr. DeGrandis suggests that when we receive communion, we “form an image of Jesus giving you Himself.” (9)
If one still has difficulty believing and desires more physical proof, throughout history there have been many examples of Eucharistic miracles. The Vatican even has an exhibition highlighting 153 of them. (http://www.therealpresence.org/eucharst/mir/engl_mir.htm) Perhaps one of the most impressive took place in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 1996 when our current Pope Francis was Archbishop of that region. Some pieces of consecrated host were placed in water to dissolve and then placed in the tabernacle. When the tabernacle was opened over a week later, the host had turned into blood and flesh. Several years later, the sample, which under any normal circumstances would have disintegrated long before, was determined to contain myocardial tissue from a heart. (http://www.therealpresence.org/eucharst/mir/english_pdf/BuenosAires3.pdf)
The gifts of Jesus in the Eucharist are many. It increases our union with Christ in a way nothing else can. It “preserves, increases, and renews the life of grace received at Baptism.” It helps cleanse us from past sin and increases our resistance to future sin. It also increases the charity within us. “By giving himself to us Christ revives our love and enables us to break our disordered attachments to creatures and root ourselves in him.” (CCC 1391-1394)
We are so blessed to have this gift of the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. May we always approach this sacrament with the eyes of faith and a spirit of thanksgiving, reverence, and praise.