Is you is? Or is you ain’t?
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The Church honors the Eucharist as one of her most exalted mysteries. Volumes have been written over two millennia. Many deep thinkers have weighed in on this vital and pivotal practice. But clarity of understanding has not grown. Amidst rhetorical cathedrals, one loses a sense of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Many deep thinkers lose sight of He who informs their thoughts.
‘Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven’ Matthew 18:1.
Heaven help the child who must explain these scholarly works.
I hope to shed light on the Eucharist from which lay Catholics can gain understanding. I am not a theologian. If anyone thinks I miss a vital point, or am in error, please share your thoughts. I have no illusions of perfection and do not entertain the sin of presumption.
A Little History
Catholics hold Holy Communion as the centerpiece of the Mass. How did it get there?
The ancient ritual of breaking bread and sharing wine was initiated on behalf of God, by Melchisedech with Abram. Through their actions, God created a covenant to bless all mankind.
And Melchizedek king of Salem brought forth bread and wine: and he was the priest of the Most High God. And he blessed him, and said, Blessed be Abram of the Most High God, possessor of heaven and earth. Genesis 14:18–19
Later, the sharing of bread and wine also became an integral part of the Passover celebration. This again represented a new covenant between God and the Israelites. Breaking the bread promoted healing. When the Israelites left their bondage in Egypt none among them were sick or feeble.
The wine represented the binding agreement of a new covenant with God. The covenant ritual has bound tribes, families and God together for millennia.
Jesus’ Last Supper took place at Passover. He is known as the ‘Lamb of God,’ specifically referencing the original Passover. His sacrifice allows us to slough off spiritual bondage.
Jesus’ breaking of bread and passing a chalice of wine at the Last Supper became what we know as the Eucharist. This Holy Communion is celebrated at every Catholic Mass. Jesus is known as:
‘…a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek.’ Ps. 110:4
Jesus put his words into practice at the Last Supper when He declared the bread and wine to be His body and blood.
“Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” Mark 11:24
The unleavened bread He divided among the Apostles was pierced and striped, as He would be the following day.
‘He was pierced for our transgressions … by His stripes we are healed.’ Isaiah 53:5
Time and place offer no obstacle to God’s miracles. He was present after His resurrection, on the road to Emmaus. He presents Himself in our Eucharist. And, offering Himself, He presided over the Last Supper. For Christ exists from the beginning. He is the Word.
In the words of Mother Miriam, the host of a Catholic apologetics show on Catholic radio, “Jesus speaks and the bread obeys.”
The Protestant View
Catholics treat the Eucharistic host with great reverence, as something precious. Being the glorified body of Jesus, that only makes sense.
Not merely a cracker, this is no mere snack. Yet it is a humble food. In the appearance of bread and wine, we receive the glorified and living Christ, body, blood, soul and divinity, who died for our sins and rose from the dead. While united in the humanity of Christ, we likewise unite to his divinity.
Some Protestants believe the communion bread and wine must be purely symbolic. They celebrate communion rarely. I’ve seen the bread in Protestant churches treated as a snack for children to play with.
Yet Paul wrote,
“Therefore whoever eats the bread and drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord […] For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself” - 1 Corinthians 11:27, 29
Bringing ‘Judgement’ on oneself for eating and drinking unworthily, and without discernment? Of mere bread and wine? How can this be?
Protestants say the God we worship, the Alpha and Omega, created the universe with a command — ‘Light be.’ He created life from dust, changed water into fine wine, walked on water, fed the multitude, rose from the dead, and sits at the right hand of God. But they say our Lord, who did all that, is incapable of imbuing bread and wine with His glorified body and blood?
They insist Jesus, the Lord of Creation, cannot do that?
Is it possible their stand on the Eucharist stems more from their dispute with Catholic authority, than with Jesus’ abilities?
As St. Ignatius of Antioch wrote, “They who deny the gift of God are perishing in their disputes.” (Letter to the Smyrnaeans 6:2–7:1 [A.D. 110]
Critics of treating communion as more than symbolic, recoil at such reverential treatment. They think Catholics are idolators.
But, being the actual body of Christ, how is it idolatry?
They insist it is impossible that the bread becomes Jesus’ body. The idea of eating Jesus’ flesh is repulsive.
But it is obviously not Jesus’ human flesh. No one is promoting cannibalism. Consuming His human flesh could not be accomplished daily, by millions around the world.
We do not injure Jesus through this sacrament. Jesus offers himself to us. We receive spiritual nourishment to become the one we receive. This is Jesus’ infinite, spiritual body that we revere, worship and share. And through this Communion, our mortal, corruptible nature is transformed by joining with the Source of life.
Many of Jesus’ followers balked when He said they must eat his flesh and drink His blood. Jesus could have clarified His meaning by announcing He spoke in symbolic terms.
Instead, He said:
‘The Spirit gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life.’ Jn 6:63.
I’ve never heard a satisfactory Protestant answer to Jesus’ words.
However, Protestants would be among the first to declare God’s omnipresence.
Consider that Creation is but a reflection of God’s thought. His being omnipresent, the greater miracle would be God’s removing His presence from the bread and wine.
A Materialists’ View
Materialists disbelieve in the spirit. They believe matter is the sum total of existence. Therefore, life springs spontaneously from inert matter, which self-generated in the Big Bang. That is a neat trick. But that’s not all. As with life, so also came intelligence and consciousness.
They believe no Creator called any of this into being. Materialists have tremendous faith. They believe self-generated matter has the power to randomly organize and regulate itself. The word ‘magical’ comes to mind.
I once read of an experiment where a group of scientists chemically analyzed consecrated communion hosts. They sought to discover any sign of Jesus’ glorified body. They found only bread. No evidence of spirit was found. They announced with authority their results were conclusive and final.
How did the scientists expect to recognize spirit in the bread, had they found it? With what instruments did they expect to measure a spiritual presence? Its mass? Its volume?
Did they expect Jesus to pop out and say, ‘Boo?’
‘None so blind…’ Matthew 9:26–27
It is a truism that our physical bodies, the substance of our cells and bones, are completely replaced roughly every seven years.
What? How can this be?
Shakespeare alluded to it, “And one man in his time plays many parts, His acts being seven ages…” (As You Like It, Act II sc. vii). A popular concept since the twelfth century, Shakespeare’s poem illustrates the many stages of human life.
A continuity exists in human life, which tells a person of seven, forty-nine, or seventy years, that he is the same individual, with a single identity, regardless his age.
“I did it my way…”
If matter were the beginning and the end, that would be impossible. Matter has no intelligence which can speak of the past, present, or future. What could a lump of clay, shaped like a fifty-year-old, say about a clod which occupied a similar space, forty-two years before? Besides nothing?
Our mind, and memories provide the continuity. The body is our servant which carries out the mind’s instructions. But the mind, not housed in any single part of the body, and perhaps not limited to the body, is the master.
Some would call this life-long continuity of identity, the soul.
Two people locked within a large, room, without a door or windows.
They appear to have all they need for material sustenance. One lives content with the belief he experiences the sum total of existence. His origins and purpose are meaningless questions. Why look further?
The other can’t help but wonder what might lay outside those walls.
Who is more foolish? The one whose speculations may be wrong? Or the one who will not consider evidence of more beyond those confining walls?
Jesus’ life provides a window to a life more abundant. The Eucharist provides a door to experience it. Each must choose to cross that threshold, or not.
Those wanting to read further may wish to access these online sites: Catholic strength.com
© John K. Adams 2022. All rights reserved.