#1
The Bread of Life

1. THE REAL PRESENCE

Objection: "As for the Eucharist, no one believed that the bread and wine changed into the real body and blood of Christ until Paschasius Radbertus, a Benedictine monk in the early 9th century!"
The Sacrament of the Blessed Eucharist is the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ under the appearances, or accidents, of bread and wine. Unlike the other Sacraments, it not only bestows grace but contains the Author of Grace Himself. Hence, by giving us His Body and Blood to drink Christ has left us the legacy of His very self: "He has gained renown by his wonderful deeds; the Lord is gracious and merciful. He provides food for those who fear him" (Ps. 111 [110], 4-5).
Christ fulfilled His promise to give us His Flesh and Blood at the Last Supper:
"Jesus took bread, and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, Take, eat; this is my body. And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, Drink of it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins"(St. Matt. 26, 26-28; note also St. Mark 14, 22-24; St. Luke 22, 19-20; 1 Cor. 10, 4-21).
The Church calls this mysterious change of the bread and wine into Christ’s Body and Blood Transubstantiation (Lateran IV 1215). The substances of the bread and the wine are changed respectively into the substances of Christ’s Body and Blood, while the accidents (i.e., color, shape, taste, etc.) of the bread and the wine remain unchanged.1
In the Gospel of St. John chapter 6 we find the great discourse of Our Lord concerning the future promise of the Eucharist. For our purposes it is best to outline the principle verses in full:
"Jesus said to them, I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst…For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me; and this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up at the last day…The Jews then murmured at him, because he said, I am the bread which came down from heaven. They said, Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does he now say, I have come down from heaven? Jesus answered them, Do not murmur among yourselves. No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day…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. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me. This is the bread which came down from heaven, not such as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live for ever. This he said in the synagogue, as he taught at Caper'na-um. Many of his disciples, when they heard it, said, This is a hard saying; who can listen to it? But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples murmured at it, said to them, Do you take offense at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of man ascending where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh is of no avail; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you that do not believe. For Jesus knew from the first who those were that did not believe, and who it was that would betray him. And he said, This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father. After this many of his disciples drew back and no longer went about with him. Jesus said to the twelve, Do you also wish to go away? Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life; and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God. Jesus answered them, Did I not choose you, the twelve, and one of you is a devil? He spoke of Judas the son of Simon Iscariot, for he, one of the twelve, was to betray him" (vv. 35-71).
Our Lord was wont to use words either literally or figuratively. The issue with verses 35-71 is how to determine what meaning He intended to give.
Our Lord Himself gives us two basic rules to resolve this dilemma.
Rule number one: When Our Lord spoke figuratively but was taken literally He always corrected the mistake of His listeners immediately.
Example (a): "Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees"(St. Matt. 16, 5).
The Apostles understood these words literally and began to argue among themselves about the fact that they had no bread. Then Our Lord said, "How is it that you fail to perceive that I did not speak about bread…Then they understood that he did not tell them to be aware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees" (vv. 11-12).
Example (b): "Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awake him out of sleep" (St. John 11, 11).
The Apostles again took Our Lord literally and said, "Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover" (v. 12). Immediately came the correction, "Lazarus is dead" (v. 14).
Example (c): "…unless one is born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God" (St. John 3, 3).
Nicodemus automatically took these words literally and replied, "How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?" (3, 4). Our Lord’s answer immediately dispelled Nicodemus’ error, showing that He meant a spiritual, not physical, rebirth: "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God" (3, 5).
Rule number two: When Our Lord spoke literally, and those who heard Him understood Him correctly but refused to accept what He said, He reasserted the literal meaning again more forcibly.
Example (a): "Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven" (St. Matt. 9, 2).
The Scribes at hearing these words were greatly disturbed and said among themselves, "This man is blaspheming" (9, 3). However, Christ did not try to water down or explain away His words but reasserted His claim to forgive sins by miraculously healing the paralytic before all.
Example (b): "Your father Abraham rejoiced that he was to see my day" (St. John 8, 56).
The Jews correctly understood Our Lord literally but rejected Him asserting, "You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?" (8, 57). Our Lord’s solemn reply, which brought forth the immediate wrath of the Jews, was, "Truly, truly I say to you, before Abraham was, I am" (8, 5. Christ not only reiterated His literal meaning but also did so at the risk of being stoned to death (8, 59).
Keeping in mind these two rules let us example Our Lord’s discourse in St. John 6.
Our Lord proclaims that "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" (vv. 48-51). The Jews present understood Christ literally but could not accept what He said:"The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, How can this man give us his flesh to eat?" (v. 52). But Christ reinforced His literal meaning saying, "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" (vv. 53-56).
Not satisfied with this Our Lord went further and solemnly invoked His Father’s Name to confirm His meaning: "As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me. This is the bread which came down from heaven, not such as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live for ever" (vv. 57-5. Nevertheless, the Jews continued in their disbelief, seeing in Christ’s words a literal meaning that contradicted the Mosaic prohibition against the eating of human flesh: "Many of his disciples, when they heard it, said, This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?" (v. 60). But knowing their murmuring Christ again did not retreat or explain away His words, rather He implicitly asserted His own divine authority: "Do you take offense at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of man ascending where he was before?" (v. 62).
By now this was all too much for the Jews who "drew back and no longer went about with him" (v. 66). Christ had now lost most of His long-time and closest followers but allowed them to go even though He had earlier declared "that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me" (v. 39). Is it reasonable to believe that He would have allowed such a catastrophe over a simple misunderstanding, particularly in light of His established habit of correcting past misunderstandings? He even went further still and challenged the Apostles themselves: "Do you also wish to go away?" (v. 67). Christ was prepared to lose all human support rather than deny the literal truth of His words.
This was the first apostasy from the Body of Christ recorded in history, an apostasy which even claimed one of the Apostles: "For Jesus knew from the first who those were that did not believe, and who it was that would betray him" (v. 64). This apostasy continues in the denials of Protestantism which since the sixteenth century has repeatedly said of Catholic belief in the Real Presence, "This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?" Catholics, on the other hand, profess the faith of Simon Peter who, though not having full understanding himself, answered "Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life" (v. 6.