The Eucharist and the Mass

Why does the Catholic Church believe Christ is really present in the Eucharist?Answer

The Catholic doctrine of the Real Presence is the belief that Jesus Christ is literally, not symbolically, present in the Holy Eucharist—body, blood, soul and divinity. Catholics believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist because Jesus tells us this is true in the Bible:

“I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that a man may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh. The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’ So 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. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him” (John 6:48-56).

Furthermore, the early Church Fathers either imply or directly state that the bread and wine offered in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper is really the body and blood of Jesus Christ. In other words, the doctrine of the Real Presence that Catholics believe today was believed by the earliest Christians 2,000 years ago!

This miracle of God’s physical presence to us at every Mass is the truest testament to Christ’s love for us and His desire for each of us to have a personal relationship with Him.

More Scripture about the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist
“Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood”

• (John 6:53-56 RSV) So 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; {54} he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. {55} For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. {56} He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.

• In the Aramaic language that Our Lord spoke, to symbolically “eat the flesh” or “drink the blood” of someone meant to persecute or assault them. See the following… (Psa 27:2 KJV) When the wicked, even mine enemies and my foes, came upon me to eat up my flesh, they stumbled and fell.

• (Isa 9:18-20 RSV) For wickedness burns like a fire, it consumes briers and thorns; it kindles the thickets of the forest, and they roll upward in a column of smoke. {19} Through the wrath of the LORD of hosts the land is burned, and the people are like fuel for the fire; no man spares his brother. {20} They snatch on the right, but are still hungry, and they devour on the left, but are not satisfied; each devours his neighbor’s flesh,

• (Isa 49:26 RSV) I will make your oppressors eat their own flesh, and they shall be drunk with their own blood as with wine. Then all flesh shall know that I am the LORD your Savior, and your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob.”

• (Micah 3:3 RSV) who eat the flesh of my people, and flay their skin from off them, and break their bones in pieces, and chop them up like meat in a kettle, like flesh in a caldron.

• (2 Sam 23:17 RSV) “Far be it from me, O LORD, that I should do this. Shall I drink the blood of the men who went at the risk of their lives?” Therefore he would not drink it. These things did the three mighty men.

• (Rev 17:6 RSV) And I saw the woman, drunk with the blood of the saints and the blood of the martyrs of Jesus. When I saw her I marveled greatly.

• (Rev 17:16 NIV) The beast and the ten horns you saw will hate the prostitute. They will bring her to ruin and leave her naked; they will eat her flesh and burn her with fire.

Thus, if Jesus were only speaking symbolically about eating His flesh and drinking His blood, as the Protestants say, then what He really meant was “whoever persecutes and assaults me will have eternal life” — which, of course, makes nonsense of the passage!

Bread and wine are not normal or natural symbols of flesh and blood. To call a man a “fox” is an understandable symbol for cleverness. To call a man “bread” is not an understandable symbol, without some explanation. Either the symbols would have been clearly explained (which is not the case) or Jesus spoke literally (which is the case!).

Taken from Beginning Apologetics, How to Explain and Defend the Catholic Faith, by San Juan Catholic Seminars, P.O. Box 5253, Farmington, NM 87499-52539889

Why can’t non-Catholics receive Holy Communion in the Catholic Church?Answer

Catholics believe in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, meaning that what appears to be bread and wine is really Jesus’ body and blood—not just a symbol of his body and blood. When Catholics receive Holy Communion, it is an expression of the unity among all those in communion with the Catholic Church throughout the world, who maintain the belief in the Real Eucharistic Presence of Christ. Therefore, only those who believe in the True Presence may participate in this sacrament of oneness with Christ and his Church. “… [T]he celebration of the Eucharistic sacrifice is wholly directed toward the intimate union of the faithful with Christ through communion” (CCC 1382).

Ultimately, Catholics believe that we cannot celebrate this unifying sacrament with other Christians while there are disagreements about the Eucharist itself. However, Catholics pray for the day when we can reconcile with other Christians and share in the unity of God’s people through the Holy Eucharist.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops expresses this desire for unity:

“We pray that our common baptism and the action of the Holy Spirit in this Eucharist will draw us closer to one another and begin to dispel the sad divisions which separate us. We pray that these will lessen and finally disappear, in keeping with Christ’s prayer for us ‘that they may all be one’” (John 17:21).

AnswerWhy do Protestants not believe John 6 when it says that Jesus’ flesh is real food and that His blood is real drink?

In Matthew 26, Mark 14, and Luke 22, Jesus says of the bread, “This is my body.” He says of the wine, “This is my blood.” Rather than saying, “this is symbolic of,” or “this represents,” He says, “this IS.” In John 6, He repeats Himself, like He does nowhere else in Scripture, to emphasize the fact that He expects us to eat His flesh and drink His blood and that His flesh is real food and that His blood is real drink.

There are several facts that point to the literal meaning that Christ meant to convey here. Fact #1: The Jews took him literally in verse 52. Fact #2: His disciples took him literally in verse 60. Fact #3: the Apostles took him literally in verses 67-69. If everyone who heard him speak at the time took Him literally, then all of us today, 2000 years after the fact, are also called to take Him literally, in accordance with the Scriptures.

Also, in verse 51, Jesus says that the bread which He will give for the life of the world is His flesh. When did He give His flesh for the life of the world? On the Cross. We know that Jesus was not speaking symbolically here. Since we conclude that Jesus was speaking literally of dying on the Cross, we should also conclude that He meant what He said about eating His flesh and drinking His blood.

When we believe that Jesus is talking symbolically here in John 6, we come across a real problem when it comes to John 6:51. Did Jesus give His real flesh and blood for the life of the world, or was it only His symbolic flesh and blood?

AnswerIs the Catholic Mass really the same all around the world every time it is celebrated?

Yes! No matter where or when you go to Mass, you will always know what you’re going to get!

Jesus Christ celebrated the first Mass with His disciples at the Last Supper, the night before He died. He commanded His disciples, “Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19). The celebration of the Mass then became the main form of worship in the early Church, as a reenactment of the Last Supper, as Christ had commanded.

Each and every Mass since commemorates Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross through the Holy Eucharist. Because the Mass “re-presents” (makes present) the sacrifice on Calvary, Catholics all around the world join together to be made present in Christ’s timeless sacrifice for our sins. There is something fascinating about continuing to celebrate the same Mass—instituted by Christ and practiced by the early Church—with the whole community of Catholics around the world…and in heaven.

I feel like Mass is really boring. How can I fix that?Answer

First of all, a lot of things seem boring to us if we haven’t taken the time to really learn about them. Perhaps you can think of a sport that seemed really dull and confusing to you until you learned the rules of the game. Then, everything became much more exciting. Why? Because you were “in the know,” and that made participating so much better.

The more we learn about the Mass, the more we fall in love with it and can get more out of our experience at Mass. If you learn about the biblical roots of the Mass parts, why we do what we do (sit, stand, kneel, cross ourselves, use holy water, etc.), and how important the Eucharist is in our lives, you will begin looking forward to participating in all of these things when you go to Mass because you’ll know what’s going on!

Also, practicing your faith is like practicing a sport. Sometimes, practicing can be difficult, but we have to remember that practice points toward a goal—the game. At each and every Mass, we practice what it will be like to worship God in heaven, which will bring us supreme joy and no boredom. Start using Mass as an opportunity to practice prayer, practice talking to God, practice learning the story of the Bible through the readings, and so on. Use the resources we have provided below to help you learn more about the Mass so you will no longer feel bored or confused!

Catechism of the Catholic Church
Suggested Books

The How-To Book of the Mass: Everything You Need to Know but No One Ever Taught You
By Michael Dubruiel
Maybe you are a recent convert, or perhaps you’ve attended Mass your whole life, but there are still things that puzzle you, like: when you should genuflect and when you should bow; what the different books used at Mass are and what they contain; the meaning of words like “Amen,” “Alleluia,” or “Hosanna”; what to do during the sign of peace.

A Pocket Guide to the Mass
By Michael Dubruiel
Think you know all there is to know about the Mass? Michael Dubruiel, author of the best-selling The How-to Book of the Mass, walks you through the Mass, explaining the biblical basis of prayers, the meaning behind gestures, and a brief overview of the theology that brings Catholics together for Eucharist each week. Re-energize your time at Mass or help those who are new or returning to the Church with this quick and insightful overview. Re-discover the fullness of the Mass today!

The Mass of the Early Christians

By Mike Aquilina
What did the first Christians believe about the Eucharist? How did they follow Jesus’ command, “Do this in remembrance of me”? How did they celebrate the Lord’s Day? What would they recognize in today’s Mass? The answers may surprise you.

The Hidden Manna: A Theology of the Eucharist
By James T. O’Connor
The Hidden Manna has become a classic on Eucharistic teaching. Now in a new second edition, accompanied by a new introduction by Fr. Kenneth Baker, a new preface from the author, new material from John Paul II, and the original foreword by Cardinal John O’Connor, this in-depth study lets the breadth and richness of the Church’s Tradition speak for itself.

Mass Confusion
By Jimmy Akin
No Catholic can be unaware of the crisis in Catholic liturgy. Even priests are often bewildered by the contradictory information put out by liturgical “experts.” This one-of-a-kind book cuts through the confusion because it makes liturgical issues understandable for the laity. “Mass Confusion” empowers priests and laity alike to deal with the “liturgical elite.” It explains what the Church does and doesn’t allow in the liturgy. It gives you answers to your questions on hundreds of liturgical issues, distilled from a mountain of liturgical documents. It silences personal “interpretation” of the Church’s liturgical law. And it documents your right to have Mass celebrated as the Church intended. Best of all, it provides this information in a clear and concise way.

Crossing the Tiber
By Steve Ray
An exhilarating conversion story of a devout Baptist who relates how he overcame his hostility to the Catholic Church by a combination of serious Bible study and vast research of the writings of the early Church Fathers. In addition to a moving account of their conversion that caused Ray and his wife to “cross the Tiber” to Rome, he offers an in-depth treatment of Baptism and the Eucharist in Scripture and the ancient Church. Thoroughly documented with hundreds of footnotes, this contains perhaps the most complete compilation of biblical and patristic quotations and commentary available on Baptism and the Eucharist, as well as a detailed analysis of Sola Scriptura and Tradition.

The Lamb’s Supper: The Mass as Heaven on Earth
By Scott Hahn
Of all things Catholic, there is nothing that is so familiar us the Mass. With its unchanging prayers, the Mass fits Catholics like their favorite clothes. Yet most Catholics sitting in the pews on Sundays fail to see the powerful supernatural drama that enfolds them. Pope John Paul II described the Mass as “heaven on Earth,” explaining that what “we celebrate on Earth is a mysterious participation in the heavenly liturgy.”

Handbook of Catholic Apologetics: Reasoned Answers to Questions of Faith
By Peter Kreeft, Ronald Tracelli
Unbelievers, doubters and skeptics continue to attack the truths of Christianity. Handbook of Catholic Apologetics is the only book that categorizes and summarizes all the major arguments in support of the main Christian beliefs. Also included is a Protestant-friendly treatment of Catholic- Protestant issues. The Catholic answers to Protestant questions show how Catholicism is the fullness of the Christian faith. Handbook of Catholic Apologetics is full of the wisdom and wit, clarity and insight of philosophers Peter Kreeft and Ronald Tacelli. This is an informative and valuable guidebook for anyone looking for answers to questions of faith and reason. Whether you are asking the questions yourself or want to respond to others who are, here is the resource you have been waiting for. Topics include: faith and reason, the existence of God, God’s nature, creation and evolution, providence and free will, miracles, problem of evil, Bible’s historical reliability, divinity of Chris, Christ’s resurrection, life after death, salvation, the Eucharist, Catholic hierarchy and more.

The Eucharist: Our Sanctification
By Raniero Cantalamessa

I’m Not Being Fed
By Jeff Cavins
In I’m Not Being Fed: Discovering the Food that Satisfies the Soul, Jeff Cavins explores the reasons why many Catholics have left the Church for evangelical Christianity. He responds to the most commonly-heard complaint of these former Catholics — that they simply were not being “fed” by their Church and that they longed for a more personal, “spiritually nourishing” relationship with Jesus. Chapters include: • I Left the King’s Table • Options in the Desert • Who Do You Say Jesus Is? • The Body that Feeds the Body • True Food for Malnourished Faith After presenting the story of his own return to the Church, Cavins builds a case for the unique character of the Catholic Church as the true Church of Christ. Using the sixth chapter of John’s gospel as a foundation, Jeff eloquently shows the biblical basis of the Catholic belief in the Eucharist.

Celebrating the Holy Eucharist
By Francis Cardinal Arinze
Cardinal Arinze, the greatly esteemed African churchman and head of the Vatican congregation for worship and sacraments, elucidates the Church’s faith in the Eucharist as the high point of her public worship and the source and summit of Christian life. In Celebrating the Holy Eucharist, Cardinal Arinze emphasizes that the priest is ordained, first and foremost, to celebrate the Sacrifice of the Mass and other liturgical rites. The priest “finds himself at the highest moment of his vocation when ‘in persona Christi’ he celebrates the Eucharistic Sacrifice.” The laity also finds in the Mass “the fount and apex of their entire Christian lives.” The Eucharist gives “life, meaning and direction” to all of their works and actions. Cardinal Arinze shows how the Eucharistic celebration sends the lay faithful out into the world to spread the gospel, giving special mention to the role of the family in the work of evangelization. The Cardinal also discusses in this book the changes in the Mass and other liturgical rites that have taken place during the last forty years. The responsibilities of the diocesan Bishop, the celebrating priest, and the assisting assembly are examined in depth.

This Is My Body: An Evangelical Discovers The Real Presence
By Mark P. Shea
This is My Body is a popular apologetic written in terms engaging and accessible to Evangelical Protestants. Shea treats standard misconceptions and objections to the teaching on the real presence of Jesus in the sacrament of the Eucharist, showing most to be simple errors in logic or ironic oversights in scriptural exegesis.