The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? (1 Cor 10:16)
Today the Church celebrates the feast of Corpus Christi (or, the Body and Blood of Christ). Today, in a special way, we remember the wonderful gift Christ has given us in enabling us to eat His flesh and drink His blood, to draw sustenance from Him and be spiritually strengthened through our participation in His suffering and death.
Now, the skeptic would point that what we’re eating looks and tastes like ordinary bread and wine. And they’d be right. What happens in the consecration is not a complete transformation, but rather the innate substance, the parts that are invisible to the senses, are changed. The Church uses the term transubstantiation. Although the term was first recorded in 1079, it was not a new teaching of the Church, but rather a term developed to describe what she had always believed and taught: that the Eucharist is a participation in the true Body and Blood of Christ. (You can see in the excerpt from Saint Paul above how far back belief in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist goes.)
Think of it this way: Michael Jackson used to be dark-skinned, average build, with a fairly prominent nose and big Afro. Now, he can pass for white, is very slender, has almost no nose and his hair is straighter than mine. But those outward physical changes do not change the substance of who Michael Jackson is. He’s still the same person at the levels we cannot see. Aristotle would group Michael Jackson’s skin color and nose size as “accidental properties” of who he is; they can be changed without truly changing the man. His “substantial properties,” which truly make him who he is, are left unchanged. Conversely, at the moment of consecration, the parts of the bread and wine we cannot see are changed into the Body and Blood of Christ, while the external, visible properties are unmodified. In this case, the accidental properties are left alone while the substantial properties are changed, and so at the invisible, but more important level, the bread and wine and truly changed into the Body and Blood of Christ.
There have been many miracles related to the Eucharist over the years. These miracles are not the basis of our faith in Christ’s presence in the Eucharist, but do serve to greatly reaffirm it. Our belief extends back to the writing of the Bible, and even before.
As noted above, Paul believed the connection between the Eucharist and Christ’s Body and Blood, and early Christians took Jesus seriously when He said, “This is my Body…This is my Blood.” Just as God said “Let there be light,” and there was light, so too, Christ saying “This is my Body” makes that bread His Body. The Didache, an early Christian writing, which predates much of the New Testament speaks of the Eucharist, and in a point that may upset some people in the Church today, even speaks of excluding some people from receiving it.
The main thrust of John 6 is a defense of the Real Presence. This belief is so important to Jesus that He was willing to lose disciples over it. See verse 66: “As a result of this, many (of) his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.” Note that Jesus doesn’t run after them, saying, “You misunderstand. I’m not speaking literally; it’s a metaphor.” Rather, He lets them leave, because they understood Him correctly and, much like Lt. Kaffee, they couldn’t handle the truth. After losing those disciples over his teaching that “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you (verse 53),” Jesus approaches his Apostles and lays it on the line with them, essentially saying, “Accept this or go on your way.” It’s difficult to imagine Him doing this over a parable or metaphor. He must really want us to believe it.
So, Jesus is really present in the Eucharist and it’s a wonderful, amazing gift that we celebrate each time we attend Mass and receive Him Body and Soul into us at the moment of Communion. Let’s take some time on this feast especially devoted to this mystery to thank Him and praise Him for this wonderful gift of Himself.