Behold the Lamb of God: Christ’s Real Presence in the Eucharist
One of my favorite things to do when Jehovah’s Witnesses come to my door and offer to share the Bible with me is to ask them to tell me about the Gospel of John, chapter 6:22-69. These verses form the Bread of Life discourse in which Christ says “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat of the flesh of the Son of Man and drink of his blood, you do not have life within you…For my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink.” (New American Bible, John 6:53, 55 emphasis added) The good-hearted missionaries on my porch look up the verses and then tell me they will come back later.
St. John the Evangelist’s Bread of Life discourse is a stumbling block for many non-Catholics and even many Catholics today. Jesus’ words here are very strong, in fact he uses the emphatic phrase “Amen, amen” four times in this discourse. Yet, for many, to take these words literally seems scandalous. The pagan Romans in the first few centuries after Christ thought the Christians were cannibals because of this idea. It is much easier to tone Jesus’ words down with talk of symbolism and parables. Even many who heard these very words from Christ could not accept them. “Then many of his disciples who were listening said ‘This saying is hard; who can accept it?’” (John 6:60) But Christ does not back down from his claims, saying “The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life.” (John 6:63) Many of his disciples left Jesus after this, but Peter and the other eleven chose to stay. Why? “Simon Peter answered him, ‘Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.’” (John 6:68)
But how do we eat of Christ’s flesh and drink of his blood? In Matthew chapter 26:26-30 we read of what is called “The Lord’s Supper.” Christ takes bread and wine, blesses them and says “Take and eat; this is my body…Drink from it all of you, for this is my blood.” (Matthew 26:26-28) St. Mark’s gospel adds the command “Do this in memory of me.” (Mark 22:19) This is the first Mass, indeed it is the only Mass because there is only one sacrifice. Every Mass celebrated is not only a memorial, but a real, actual participation in the Lord’s Supper. Thus, when the priest says the words of consecration, “This is my body…this is my blood” the bread and wine truly do become Christ present, body, blood, soul and divinity. How else could we fulfill his command? How else could he give us himself as “true food and true drink”?
Taking this teaching of Christ literally is perilous because such a truth requires a response; the response cannot be lukewarm and to turn away from it is death for the soul. If Christ really does give us his very self, then the only proper response is for us to give him our very selves. Such love must be requited. Yet, how often is it not? How many of us choose to see the Eucharist through the mist of apathy, allowing the cares of this world to blur the vision of God made Man reaching out to us in a real, tangible way?
There are only two possibilities: either the Eucharist is truly Christ or it is not. It simply cannot be that the Eucharist is truly Christ for one person, but only a symbol for another. As British apologist Frank Sheed says “The universe the Church sees is the real universe, because she is the Church of God. Seeing what she sees is seeing what is there.” (Theology and Sanity, 22, emphasis added) What the Church sees when she looks at the Eucharist is Christ. “To receive communion is to receive Christ himself who has offered himself for us.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church #1382) To believe with our whole heart, mind and soul that Christ is truly present in the Eucharist is not just a matter of religion, it is in fact a question of our own sanity. “And just as loving what is good is sanctity, or health of the will, so seeing what is there is sanity, or health of the intellect.” (Sheed, Theology and Sanity 22)
So it is to be truly sane; we must accept the truth of Christ’s presence in the Eucharist and we must allow it to transform our lives. We must behold the Lamb of God and adore him. Ironically, the world will declare us insane for this. It may seek to take our lives from us for this, as it has before. The blood of the martyrs cries out in testimony to this truth: the Eucharist is Christ! God has humbled himself, not only to become man, but to be disguised in simple bread and wine so that only those with eyes and hearts to see may know him. He waits patiently in every adoration chapel, every tabernacle with only a glowing red lamp to announce his presence. There is no scientific proof that he is there. We must have faith and let the truth speak to our hearts and form our minds to recognize him. Without the recognition of this truth, we have no hope for sanity; either for ourselves or for the world.
There is nothing we need as much as we need Jesus Christ, our Lord and our God. We were made for him, in his image and likeness. (Genesis 1:27) “In the beginning was the Word…and the Word was God. And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” (John 1:1, 14) He makes his dwelling among us to bring us back to him. He brings heaven to us now to strengthen us on the journey. He gave us the Eucharist so that he could keep his promise: “And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)
- New American Bible, St. Joseph Edition. New York: Catholic Publishing Corp, 1992.
- Catechism of the Catholic Church, Second Edition. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1994. print
- Sheed, Frank. Theology and Sanity. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1993.