by Kathryn Marcellino, OCDS
The feast of Corpus Christi, also called the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, is celebrated this year on Sunday June 23rd or in some places on June 20th. Our Catholic faith teaches that we receive the actual body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist, also called Holy Communion. In fact the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) #1324 states, “The Eucharist is ‘the source and summit of the Christian life.’”
The Mass and the Eucharist are central to our worship of God.
In Holy Communion we receive the actual body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ under the appearance of bread and wine. This teaching is not unreasonable, because it is the teaching of Christ, the Son of God, who knows all things and is all powerful and can do all things. This teaching, along with many others, has been handed down from Jesus to the apostles and down through the ages in their successors.
“Therefore, brethren, stand fast; and hold the traditions which you have learned, whether by word, or by our epistle,” 2 Thessalonians 2:14.
This miracle called transubstantiation happens during the consecration at Mass when said by a validly ordained priest. To be validly ordained, a priest must have received valid ordination (the sacrament of Holy Orders) from a bishop in a direct line from Christ, to the apostles, who then also commissioned and ordained others down to the present day through laying on of hands throughout the centuries. This is called Apostolic Succession. All Catholic bishops are part of a lineage that goes back to the time of the apostles.
Holy Scripture on the Eucharist
“The Church has always and everywhere held and continues to hold, that the four Gospels are of apostolic origin… whose historical character the Church unhesitatingly asserts, faithfully hand on what Jesus Christ, while living among men, really did and taught for their eternal salvation…” (Sections 18 and 19 of Dei Verbum, a Vatican II document.)
Below are some passages from the New Testament regarding the Eucharist, which we Catholics believe are literally true because this understanding has been handed down to us through the centuries from the apostles as part of the deposit of the faith.
Jesus said in John 6:48-65, “‘I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died; this is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.’ The Jews quarreled among themselves, saying, ‘How can this man give us (his) flesh to eat?’ Jesus said to them, ‘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. Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever.’ These things he said while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum. Then many of his disciples who were listening said, ‘This saying is hard; who can accept it?’ Since Jesus knew that his disciples were murmuring about this, he said to them, ‘Does this shock you? What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life, while the flesh is of no avail. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe.’ Jesus knew from the beginning the ones who would not believe and the one who would betray him. And he said, ‘For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by my Father.’ ”
Matt. 26:26-28, “Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, ‘Take, eat; this is my body.’ And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink of it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.’ ”
1 Cor. 10:16-17, “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.”
1 Cor. 11:23-29, “For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, ‘This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself.”
The Saints on the Eucharist
“…In this world I cannot see the Most High Son of God with my own eyes, except for His Most Holy Body and Blood.” ~ St. Francis of Assisi
“Receive Communion often, very often…there you have the sole remedy, if you want to be cured. Jesus has not put this attraction in your heart for nothing…” ~ St. Therese of Lisieux
“[At the Last Supper] Jesus effects the consecration. By virtue of His words, the bread – while keeping the external appearance of bread – becomes His Body, and the wine – while maintaining the external appearance of wine – becomes His Blood. THIS IS THE GREAT MYSTERY OF FAITH! THIS IS THE LIVING BREAD WHICH CAME DOWN FROM HEAVEN!” ~ St. John Paul II
“We should never again use the expression, ‘When Jesus was on earth’ or think of Him as being only in heaven, Jesus is still on earth.” “While all the sacraments confer grace, the Eucharist contains the author of grace, Jesus Christ Himself.” ~ Fr. John Hardon, S.J.
“We adore Thee most holy Lord Jesus Christ, here in all Thy Churches, which are in the whole world, because by Thy holy cross, Thou hast redeemed the world,” ~ St. Francis of Assisi
“The devotion to the Eucharist is the most noble because it has God as its object; it is the most profitable for salvation, because It gives us the Author of Grace; it is the sweetest, because the Lord is Sweetness Itself,” ~ St. Pius X
“When you look at the Crucifix, you understand how much Jesus loved you then. When you look at the Sacred Host you understand how much Jesus loves you now,” ~ St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta
“It would be easier for the world to survive without the sun than to do without Holy Mass.” ~ St. Padre Pio
“Without doubt, the Lord grants all favors which are asked of Him in Mass, provided they be fitting for us; and, which is a matter of great wonder, ofttimes He also grants that also which is not demanded of Him, if we, on our part, put no obstacle in the way.” ~ St. Jerome
“If we really understood the Mass, we would die of joy.” “There is nothing so great as the Eucharist. If God had something more precious, He would have given it to us.” ~ St. John Vianney
The Catechism on the Eucharist
The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) has important teachings about the Mass and the Eucharist. Here are a few highlights. (Click here to read the entire section and for the footnotes.)
CCC #1324: “The Eucharist is “the source and summit of the Christian life.” “The other sacraments, and indeed all ecclesiastical ministries and works of the apostolate, are bound up with the Eucharist and are oriented toward it. For in the blessed Eucharist is contained the whole spiritual good of the Church, namely Christ himself, our Pasch.”CCC #1326: “Finally, by the Eucharistic celebration we already unite ourselves with the heavenly liturgy and anticipate eternal life, when God will be all in all.”
CCC #1391: “Holy Communion augments our union with Christ. The principal fruit of receiving the Eucharist in Holy Communion is an intimate union with Christ Jesus. Indeed, the Lord said: ‘He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.’…”
CCC #1392: “What material food produces in our bodily life, Holy Communion wonderfully achieves in our spiritual life.…”
CCC #1394: “As bodily nourishment restores lost strength, so the Eucharist strengthens our charity, which tends to be weakened in daily life; and this living charity wipes away venial sins. By giving himself to us Christ revives our love and enables us to break our disordered attachments to creatures and root ourselves in him….”
Catholic teaching on the Eucharist has also been supported by many miracles throughout the centuries including scientifically verified ones. One such miracle verified by modern science happened in Lanciano, Italy during the 8th century and continues to this day. A consecrated host, which usually retains the appearances of bread and wine, visibly changed appearance to human flesh and blood and is still miraculously preserved. (To see the scientific tests and discoveries on this miracle go to www.therealpresence.org/
Early Church Fathers on the EucharistWe can look at the writings of the Early Church Fathers to see what the Church of the first few centuries believed regarding the Eucharist. For more quotes go to www.catholic.com/tract/the-
St. Augustine: “What you see is the bread and the chalice; that is what your own eyes report to you. But what your faith obliges you to accept is that the bread is the body of Christ and the chalice is the blood of Christ. This has been said very briefly, which may perhaps be sufficient for faith; yet faith does not desire instruction” (Sermons 411).
Justin Martyr: “We call this food Eucharist, and no one else is permitted to partake of it, except one who believes our teaching to be true and who has been washed in the washing which is for the remission of sins and for regeneration [i.e., has received baptism] and is thereby living as Christ enjoined. For not as common bread nor common drink do we receive these; but since Jesus Christ our Savior was made incarnate by the word of God and had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so too, as we have been taught, the food which has been made into the Eucharist by the Eucharistic prayer set down by him, and by the change of which our blood and flesh is nurtured, is both the flesh and the blood of that incarnated Jesus” (First Apology 66 [A.D. 151]).
Irenaeus: “If the Lord were from other than the Father, how could he rightly take bread, which is of the same creation as our own, and confess it to be his body and affirm that the mixture in the cup is his blood?” (Against Heresies 4:33–32 [A.D. 189]).
Clement of Alexandria: “’Eat my flesh,’ [Jesus] says, ‘and drink my blood.’ The Lord supplies us with these intimate nutrients, he delivers over his flesh and pours out his blood, and nothing is lacking for the growth of his children” (The Instructor of Children 1:6:43:3 [A.D. 191]).
CCC #1416: “Communion with the Body and Blood of Christ increases the communicant’s union with the Lord, forgives his venial sins, and preserves him from grave sins. Since receiving this sacrament strengthens the bonds of charity between the communicant and Christ, it also reinforces the unity of the Church as the Mystical Body of Christ.”
CCC #1419: “Having passed from this world to the Father, Christ gives us in the Eucharist the pledge of glory with him. Participation in the Holy Sacrifice identifies us with his Heart, sustains our strength along the pilgrimage of this life, makes us long for eternal life, and unites us even now to the Church in heaven, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and all the saints.”