May 31, 2013

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Year of Faith: The Body and Blood of Christ

John F. FinkThis Sunday, the Church observes the feast of the Body and Blood of Christ, also known by its Latin name, Corpus Christi.

In this age of ecumenism, some Protestants sometimes think it’s strange that the Catholic Church does not permit them to receive Communion when they attend Mass at a Catholic wedding, funeral or just worshiping with a Catholic friend. It doesn’t seem very hospitable.

Both Catholics and Protestants sometimes wonder why the Catholic Church has this policy. The answer is that there is a basic difference between what Catholics believe about Communion—also called the Eucharist—and what most Protestants believe.

Catholics believe that, when bread and wine are consecrated by a validly ordained Catholic priest, they really and truly become the body and blood of Jesus Christ. Although they continue to look and taste like bread and wine, the Council of Trent taught, “the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ and, therefore, the whole Christ is truly, really, and substantially contained.”

Admittedly, it takes faith to believe that. The great 13th century theologian St. Thomas Aquinas said, “That in this sacrament are the true body of Christ and his true blood is something that cannot be comprehended by the senses, but only by faith, which relies on divine authority.”

The “divine authority” he spoke of includes the statements of Jesus, found mainly in the sixth chapter of John’s Gospel, verses 32 to 69. This is where he taught, “I am the bread of life” (Jn 6:35) and, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life” (Jn 6:54). He repeated similar statements several times in this passage.

When some of his disciples decided that “this saying is hard; who can accept it?” (Jn 6:60) and, “as a result of this, many of them returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him,” (Jn 6:66) Jesus did not back off. He meant what he said.

The Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke and St. Paul in his First Letter to the Corinthians all tell us that Jesus fulfilled his promise of giving us his body and blood at the Last Supper when he took bread and wine and said, “This is my body,” and, “This is my blood.” The Catholic Church believes that he meant what he said here, too. He didn’t say, “This is a symbol of my body.”

When Catholics receive Communion, they are affirming publicly all that the Catholic Church believes, teaches and does. The Eucharist is a sign of the unity—a communion—of those who believe in what the Catholic Church teaches.

St. Paul wrote, “Because the loaf of bread is one, we, though many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf” (1 Cor 10:17).

Because Communion is a sign of unity, those who do not believe in all that the Catholic Church teaches would usually not wish to receive Communion during Mass in a Catholic church.

The unity of all Christians is something for which we should all pray, but until that is achieved the Catholic Church does not believe that it can offer the Eucharist to those who are not in the full communion of the Church. †

Local site Links:

Like this story? Then share it!