Ok…go get your Bible. You don’t have one? Then go buy one. No! Don’t blow me off. Go get a Bible right now and turn to John chapter 6.
Now…turn to verse 35.
“Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst.’ ”
Now… verse 51.
“I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
“And Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.’ ”
“He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.”
And now the last part of verse 58.
“…he who eats this bread will live forever.”
Before I was Catholic, one of the cornerstone verses of my faith was John 3:16. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” I was taught that I had to believe in Jesus and he would save my soul from hell. I was taught that “to believe” was all I needed to do to have this salvation. Among the other lessons I encountered was that I could literally believe what the Bible said. When I was about ten years old, I decided that I did believe in Jesus and would follow his teachings. I felt I was saved from damnation for eternity.
Years rocked on and I continued to believe. If you had asked me, I would have said that I was saved even though I had done some things that I was ashamed of and really didn’t attend church as I should have in college. Then I got married and encountered the Catholic Church. It became much more important to be in church on Sunday because to miss Mass is a sin. See IV of the Ten Commandments. And it is at Mass that we encounter Christ in the Eucharist. Catholics believe we receive the body and blood of our Lord in the Eucharist through the power of the Holy Spirit. During communion, Jesus is present in the bread and wine through the power of the Holy Spirit called down from heaven. As Catholics, we believe that what Jesus said to do is what we are supposed to do. We partake of the body and blood of Christ present in the Eucharist. As it says in verse 53, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. It is only by faith that we can believe it. We can’t see it or taste it but we should believe the consecrated bread is his flesh because Jesus said it.
Now go to I Corinthians 11: 23-26 and read what Paul tells the Corinthians.
“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 chalice, after supper, saying, ‘This chalice 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 chalice, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”
Jesus death happened in sacrifice for our sins. That one holy sacrifice is made present every time the Eucharist is observed.
Does all of this seem a bit far-fetched? Too much to believe? Many of Jesus’s disciples thought it did. In verse 60 they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” Jesus knew they were murmuring among themselves and asked them in verse 61, “Do you take offense at this?” In verse 66 we read that after this encounter many of his disciples drew back and no longer walked with him. Jesus then asked the Twelve, “Will you also go away?” Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life; and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”
Now continue in Corinthians, verses 27-29.
“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 judgement upon himself.”
Before we partake of the Eucharist, we are to examine ourselves and our lives and consider if sin is separating us from God. If it is, we must ask forgiveness for this sin before going to communion. We should not put the Eucharist into a filthy vessel. We must be cleansed before we take communion. We must discern or recognize that we are encountering the body of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. The same Jesus who was born of the Virgin Mary in Bethlehem. The same Jesus who raised Lazarus from the dead. The same Jesus who hung on the cross and died for my sins and for your sins. The same Jesus who is a controversial historical figure and celebrity of his time. The same Jesus who is the son of God and became a man and prayed in agony in the Garden. He is in the same room with us. We draw near to him and we consume him in the Eucharist. Think of it…we actually touch him and take him into ourselves, and by it, we are changed. It is not a symbol. Jesus is there.
If you have never attended a Catholic mass, I would suggest that you do so. You will see firsthand how reverently this event is celebrated. People kneel in worship in the presence of our Lord. Even the vessels that touch the consecrated bread and wine are handled with respect. It is nothing like the Lord’s Suppers of my youth where the church youth drank the leftover grape juice and the leftover bread was thrown away in the kitchen. Think about it. Would you actually throw the Lord’s body away in the trash if you really believed it was his body?
The Eucharist is the centerpiece of Catholic worship. The sacrifice of the Eucharist has always been observed in the Catholic Church. Through it I experience the grace of God. I am so thankful that I finally understand what it means to believe as Jesus taught us to believe.
Now for those of you who didn’t go and get your Bibles, I assure you that these verses are there. You just might not have ever seen them before. I’m not sure I had ever had a lesson on these verses before I was Catholic. They were verses I never saw. I am moved to write these things because the Eucharist brings such fullness to my faith. I only wish that everyone would experience it the same way…the way that Jesus wants us to experience it. This is worship as Jesus would have us worship.
If you’re still not convinced, Google “Ignatius teaching on the Eucharist.” Ignatius was an early church bishop and student of John the Apostle. He died a martyr’s death in Rome in 110 AD. He taught that early Christians should only receive the Eucharist if they discerned it to be the true body and blood of Christ. I believe he learned this from the apostle John who walked with Jesus himself. This belief in the True Presence has always been taught in the Catholic Church. This is what Jesus taught his disciples and they taught their disciples through the centuries even until today. I respectfully ask you to prayerfully consider what this could mean for you. In the words of Jesus, “Will you also go away?”