Last week, I gave some examples of when Jesus “instituted” (started or began) the celebration of the Eucharist in the Scriptures. I mentioned that the Gospel of John does not show Jesus doing this at the last Supper, but the entirely of John Chapter 6 is devoted to Jesus’ extensive teaching on and explanation of the Eucharist. This was something that was hard for many of his followers to accept; so hard, in fact, that many of Jesus’ disciples no longer followed him and went back to their former way of life. These disciples who left Jesus seem to ask a legitimate question: “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” (John 6:52). Jesus had not yet revealed exactly what he would do at the Last Supper, although he hinted strongly when he said, “I am the Bread of Life” (John 6:35).
These people who heard Jesus at Capernaum must have wrongly thought that Jesus was encouraging some sort of cannibalism in which Jesus’ body would be destroyed. However, the Eucharist is the furthest thing from cannibalism because the Eucharist is the living and glorious body of Jesus. After his Resurrection, Jesus’ body was not just the same as it was before the Crucifixion. Afterwards, Jesus could walk through walls, and now his body is seated at the right hand of the Father in heaven. At the same time, Jesus is present in the Eucharist at every Mass and in every Catholic tabernacle around the world.
The Church has always firmly believed that the consecrated Bread and Wine at Mass are truly the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. There have been those who have doubted this truth from the time of Jesus until today, and it is true that many have walked away and returned to their former way of life, just as some of Jesus’ disciples did in John 6. This is a great tragedy, but one that happens frequently, sometimes because no one has ever fully explained this teaching to many Catholics!
Last year, a widely-publicized Pew research study announced that only one out of three Catholics in the United States believe the Church’s teaching that the bread and wine are changed into the Body and Blood of Jesus. While I’m skeptical of Pew’s questioning methods (it’s hard for a non-believer to make an accurate survey about a technical religious question), I was honestly not surprised at this statistic. In the United States, only 10-20% of Catholics attend Mass on Sundays. In some other parts of the world, it’s below 5%. If 95% of a population never or rarely attends Mass, it only makes sense that they have no idea what is going on at Mass. Why would somebody want to sit through an hour-long ceremony every week if they think nothing meaningful is happening during it? On the other hand, if somebody understands that Jesus Christ, the Creator of the Universe and Eternal Source of all Existence and Life, is physically present at every Mass around the world, how could they stay away?
This belief that Jesus is physically present under the appearance of bread and wine is called the Real Presence. Our belief in the Real Presence is why we can say that we worship the Eucharist, because the Eucharist is God Himself. This is why we are so careful and respectful of the Eucharist at Mass after the Consecration. When a consecrated host falls to the ground (which happens not infrequently by accident), we must do all we can to ensure that any particles that may have broken off are cleaned up, because that is Jesus physically present in those particles.
We have a lot of work to do to spread the Good News of the Eucharist to the world. We can start with ourselves! Let’s commit to occasionally visiting Jesus in the tabernacle whenever we pass by a church. One of the best ways we can share our belief in the Eucharist is by living a Eucharistic life: centering our lives of faith around Sunday Mass and prayer before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.