Catholic Classroom: The Real Presence
Question: What is meant by the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist?
Yesterday, we celebrated the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ, also known as the Solemnity of Corpus Christi. This solemnity draws our attention in a special way to the Eucharist. As Catholics, we believe that the Eucharist is the true Body and Blood of Christ. The entirety of His body, blood, soul, and divinity is contained in the sacrament of the Eucharist. Although the Eucharistic elements appear to be bread and wine, they are actually the Body and Blood of Jesus. This mystery is called the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.
This mystery can be a difficult one to accept, as it defies what our senses tell us. When we receive communion, we see and taste bread and wine. But despite these this, we believe by faith that the bread and wine have become, in substance, Jesus’ Body and Blood, and are no longer bread and wine. This happens through the actions of the priest during the Mass and the work of the Holy Spirit in a process called transubstantiation.
Some Protestants believe that the Eucharist is a symbol of Jesus, but is not really Him. According to this belief, the celebration of the Eucharist is a memorial of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. Catholics, however, believe that the Eucharist is not a symbol at all. The strongest evidence for this is comes from Jesus in the Gospels. At the Last Supper, He says, “Take, eat; this is my body” and “Drink from it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:26-28). As Catholics, we take Jesus’ words here literally. Thus, when we celebrate the Eucharist, we believe that we are not only memorializing Jesus’ sacrifice, but that we are also participating in the eternal sacrifice of Jesus, who exists in His divinity outside of time, by re-presenting it at the Mass.
It is important to note that some Protestants do believe that Christ is truly present in the Eucharist. They believe that this occurs through consubstantiation as opposed to transubstantiation. People who adhere to the idea of consubstantiation believe that the Body and Blood of Jesus coexist with the bread and wine that are the Eucharistic elements. That is, they believe that the host is both bread and Body, and that the chalice contains both wine and Blood. Transubstantiation, on the other hand, is the idea that the full substance of the elements becomes the Body and Blood of Christ, meaning that they are no longer bread and wine.
We cannot fully understand the mystery of transubstantiation. Nevertheless, Catholics have faith in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist and believe that through the reception of Holy Communion, we are joined to Jesus and to the members of His Body, the Church. By receiving the Eucharist, we believe that we will receive eternal life (John 6:54).