I wish you all the grace and peace of Christmas and a Happy New Year.
When our Catechesis students were recently asked if they believed in the real presence of Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist, only about 10 in an audience of 80 raised their hands. If this question was asked to the parents, how many in good conscience would answer in the affirmative?
“How do we know Jesus Christ is really present – flesh and blood – in the Holy Eucharist?” “Through faith”, is our most common answer. Yes, much of God is in the supernatural realm, and it’s only with the assistance of faith that we can know Him.
But is our faith blind? For a Catholic, it need not be. The first century Christians willingly courted torture and death for partaking in the body and blood of Christ, which was central to their faith handed down first hand by the apostles. No, the apostles’ adoration of Jesus had vanished the moment they realized he was caught. They were a scared lot, hiding away in the “upper room”. It was their encounter with the risen Christ, touching him, and walking and eating with him, which lit the intense fire in their belly, even to the point of sacrificing their lives for eating the flesh and drinking the blood of Christ, as He asked them to do.
Have you heard of the catacombs, those dingy, dark cave-like things in the Roman era, in which the very early Christians used to congregate and hide, out of fear for the Romans, and to celebrate breaking of the bread? Roman historians of the first century have recorded about Christians as a nasty secretive sect, engaging in despicable cannibalistic (eating human flesh) rituals. This was also one of the main reasons why Christians were despised, hated and persecuted. You know what this “cannibalistic” ritual was? The very early version of the Holy Eucharist! Their faith in the Eucharist as body and blood of Christ was so unshakable that they willingly courted persecution and death for this cause. This was not a ritual that the Church invented somewhere along the way. Real Presence is Jesus Christ keeping his promise to abide in us, to give us eternal life. “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.” Jn 6:54-56.
Christ is truly and fully present, flesh and blood, in the Holy Eucharist. The sole essence of my life as a priest is in this belief. My life, just as that of scores of other Catholic priests, would be empty and meaningless if I didn’t have the clear inner knowledge that I am touching and holding the throbbing body and blood of my Lord, each time I say the mass. For lay faithful too, the grace to see Christ’s holy body and blood in the consecrated bread and wine is integral to our Catholic existence. We don’t need anybody to prove this out to us. We need only Jesus Christ’s own words. Mark 14: 22-24 & John 6: 51-56.
As St Paul said, Christ’s resurrection is what gives credence to our entire faith. If Christ did not resurrect, our faith is empty. If Christ’s resurrection is a historical fact, to which the apostles were eye witnesses and in testimony of which they sacrificed their own lives, all that the Church teaches as doctrine are also facts. The entire essence of Catholic faith is in the Real Presence of Christ, flesh and blood, in the Holy Eucharist. At the very moment of consecration, the entire substance of wheat and wine transforms into the flesh and blood of our Lord. Without belief in the Real Presence, there is no Catholic faith. Period.