June 4, 2021

Christ the Cornerstone

Eucharist is both true bread and true body of Christ

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson

A survey conducted by The Pew Research Center (“What Americans Know about Religion,” Pew Research Study, July 2019) concluded that many Catholics do not fully understand the fundamental teaching of the Church concerning the real presence of our Lord in the Eucharist.

According to this research, nearly seven in 10 Catholics (69%) believe that the bread and wine we receive during holy Communion are merely symbols of the body and blood of Christ. Therefore, this study concludes, just under one-third of U.S. Catholics (31%) believe that during Mass the bread and wine actually become the body and blood of Jesus and that the sacrament we receive truly is Christ’s actual gift of himself to us.

There are those who question these survey findings because of the way the questions were asked. Ordinary Catholics should not be expected to know the technical terms used by the Church to describe this great mystery. But most pastors and religious educators agree that we have much work to do to help Catholics better understand and appreciate the transformation of bread and wine into Christ’s body and blood which is freely given to us in the holy Eucharist.

The Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi), which we celebrate this Sunday, is an opportunity for all of us to rejoice in Christ’s miraculous presence among us.

During Mass, when the priest invokes the power of the Holy Spirit, ordinary bread and wine are changed into the body and blood of Christ. The Eucharist is not simply a symbolic remembrance of past events. It is an actual manifestation (an epiphany) of God’s communion with us here and now.

When we receive the Eucharist, Jesus himself comes into our minds, our hearts and our bodies. He lives within us, providing spiritual nourishment and filling us with the power of his grace. The fact that this happens each time we receive the Eucharist is a miracle of God’s amazing love and goodness that we should never take for granted.

Our reception of holy Communion should be a grateful, loving encounter with Jesus. When we receive our Lord in the Eucharist, he becomes one with us, and we become one with him in the same “holy moment” (sacra-mentum). This is not merely a symbolic unity, since a sacrament is what it signifies.

The Eucharist is genuine communion with God, the actual coming-together-as-one of Jesus and each one of us. If we are in a state of sanctifying grace, this amazing gift of Jesus’ body and blood nourishes, renews and fully prepares us, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to love God and to love our neighbor. Together with the sacraments of baptism, confirmation and penance, the Eucharist makes it possible for us to receive our Lord with a clean heart and to accept his invitation to be missionary disciples in service to others.

The Gospel reading for Corpus Christi Sunday (Mk 14:12-16, 22-26) affirms that Jesus himself performed this transformation of ordinary bread and wine into his own flesh and blood:

“While they were eating,
he took bread, said the blessing,
broke it, gave it to them, and said,
‘Take it; this is my body.’
Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them,
and they all drank from it.
He said to them,
‘This is my blood of the covenant,
which will be shed for many.
Amen, I say to you, I shall not drink again the fruit of the vine until the day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God ’ ” (Mk 14:22-25).

Jesus took the gift of his body and blood seriously, and so should we.

The Eucharist is a mystery that none of us will ever fully comprehend, but we Catholics are invited (and challenged) to accept that Christ is really present in this great sacrament.

Our reception of the body and blood of Christ should never be passive or indifferent. The more we appreciate the magnificent gift that we receive each time we go to Communion, the more we ourselves truly become the body and blood of Christ called to share his love and goodness with others.

As we prepare to celebrate the solemn feast of Christ’s body and blood this weekend, let’s reflect prayerfully on its meaning for us and for our world. Christ is present to us in the most intimate way possible. He becomes one with us so that we can become one with our sisters and brothers everywhere.

“I am the living bread that came down from heaven, says the Lord; whoever eats this bread will live forever” (Jn 6:51). May we never take this great gift—and this awesome responsibility—for granted. †

Local site Links: