What the fuss over the Eucharist is all about
By Kristine Franklin
When I started my tentative exploration of the Catholic Church in 1993, I began to stumble across a phrase that was new to me: "the Real Presence." I knew it had to do with Communion, and I knew Communion was a big deal to Catholics, but despite my Bible-college education, I was quite foggy as to why all the fuss. Communion, for us evangelicals, was no big deal - a short, purely symbolic event tacked on to the end of the Sunday service once a month. It was just a way of "remembering" Christ sacrifice. What made Catholic Communion different?

Like many potential converts, I didn't want to read any Catholic books, and I didn't want to listen to tapes. Not at first. I was afraid of propaganda. I wanted the scoop from the Catholic in the pew, so I asked around. "What does the 'Real Presence' mean?" Here are some actual answers I got from practicing Catholics:

"The Communion bread becomes Christ for the people who believe it."

"Christ is present in the community. That's the reality of Communion."

"The bread is just a symbol that Christ is really with us."

"For me, Communion is a reminder that God is real."

I suspected that I wasn't getting the whole story, so I broke down and bought a catechism so I could get it from the horse's mouth. As I studied, I discovered two important things. First, my Catholic friends were badly mistaken in their notions about the teachings of their Church. And second, the truth about the Eucharist was infinitely bigger and better than anything I'd ever imagined - for at the words of the consecration by a validly ordained priest, mere bread and mere wine become the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ. The whole Christ, the real Christ, the same Jesus who died on the cross for our sins and rose from the dead, becomes present to us. As we feast on Him, we become one with Him, not only spiritually, but in actual, physical, flesh-and-blood union.

This is what the Catholic Church has taught about the eucharist for 2,000 years. It has never altered or shifted its position. I don't know where my Catholic friends got their information. The Eucharist is not simply a symbol or a reminder that God is real, or present in the community. It is insufficient to say, "We believe in the Real Presence," because the phrase can mean a lot of things, many of which are erroneous. What the Church proclaims is that Jesus Christ is really and wholly present under the appearance of bread and wine. What looks, tastes, feels and smells like bread and wine is the Body and Blood of Jesus. That is what today's solemnity (June 6, the Feast of Body and Blood of our Lord) is all about.

In the first reading (Dt 8:2-3, 14-16), Moses reminds the Israelites of God's constant provision. Twice, when speaking of the manna, he says that this food was "unknown to your fathers." Manna, the miraculous bread in the desert, was something the Hebrews could not have anticipated. It never entered their minds that God would feed them in this way.

So it is with the Eucharist. In the Gospel (Jn 6:51-58), Jesus claims to be the living bread from heaven. He makes perfectly clear what He means: "The bread I will give is my flesh for the life of the world." When the Jews quarreled about what this meant, Jesus explained, "My flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. " Once again, God was providing for His people in a way they had never envisioned. Some turned away because they couldn't accept it. Today, many turn away for the same reason.

The Church takes Jesus absolutely at His words. The Son of God feeds us with His own self and gives us a share in the blessed life of the Trinity. The Eucharist is bigger and better than manna. It is the source of eternal life because Jesus is the means to eternal life: "Unlike your ancestors who ate and died, whoever eats this bread will live forever."

There's an old phrase that was popular with Bible preachers when I was a child. It helped me see the truth of Catholic teaching when I was an adult. It goes like this: "Jesus said it, I believe it, and that settles it." Amen, brother.

(Reprint from  Our Sunday Visitor: Catholic weekly newspaper, magazines, books&more  )

(Before being confirmed as a Catholic, I used to belong to two churches at the same time, a local Pentecostal and Roman Catholic church. One day our priest invited me and my wife to stay for a cup of coffee after a morning Mass. During our conversation I confined to him that I thought about being a Pentecostal as I felt good about being with the congregation and fellowship. Needless to say, our priest was surprised and sad, he said: "Do you know that they don't have the Eucharist?" That was new to me because I always thought the monthly communion with bread and wine was the same but it was not. Shortly after that, our family sadly said good-bye to all our friends.

Whenever I see the Sacred Host or the Body of Christ elevated, I always cry out: "My Lord and my God!" and I bow down with a deepest reverence, repentance, and most of all a tremendous love from the bottom of my heart to the Lord  because I have seen God Himself.)

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