At the Consecration of the Mass, the bread and wine are changed into the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ. This is the Sacrament that Jesus instituted at the Last Supper. In the Blessed Eucharist is the same Person who was born in Bethlehem, crucified on Calvary, and rose gloriously from the dead on the first Easter morning.
The Holy Eucharist is a sacrament and a sacrifice in which Our Saviour Jesus Christ, body and blood, soul and divinity, is contained, offered, and received under the appearances of bread and wine.
Christ instituted the Holy Eucharist at the Last Supper, the night before He died. The Apostles were present.
Eucharist in Greek means "thanksgiving." The sacrament is so called because when Christ instituted it, He gave thanks. Today, it is the chief means by which we give thanks to God.
The Holy Eucharist is also called the Blessed Sacrament, because it is the most excellent of all sacraments. It gives us Christ Himself. "My delight is to be with the children of men" (Proverbs 8:31).
It is called the Sacrament of the Altar, because it is consecrated and reserved upon an altar. It is offered up on the altar in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
The Holy Eucharist is called Holy Communion when it is received, usually in church. It is called Holy Viaticum when it is received during a serious illness, or at the hour of death.
The Holy Eucharist is also called the Bread of Heaven, and the Bread of angels,--this because in it God Himself comes down from Heaven to be our food, thus making us like unto the angels.
Christ instituted the Holy Eucharist in this way: He took bread, blessed and broke it, and giving it to His Apostles, said: "Take and eat; this is My body"; then He took a cp of wine, blessed it, and giving it to them, said: "All of you drink this; for this is My blood of the new covenant which is being shed for many unto the forgiveness of sins"; finally He gave His Apostles the commission: "Do this in remembrance of Me."
When Our Lord said, "This is My body," the entire substance of the bread was changed into His body; and when He said, "This is My blood," the entire substance of the wine was changed into His blood.
In the Holy Eucharist, we find the three essentials of a sacrament. The institution was at the Last Supper. The matter is bread and wine; the form consists of Our Lord's words. The grace is a nourishing grace coming from the very body and blood of Christ, helping us to be more closely united to God and our fellowmen in supernatural charity.
After the substance of the bread and wine had been changed, only the appearances of bread and wine remained. By the appearances of bread and wine we mean their color, taste, weight, shape, and whatever else appears to the senses.
We believe that Christ changed bread and wine into His own Body and Blood, because:
His words clearly say so. At the Last Supper He said: "This is My Body," not "This is a symbol of My Body," or "This represents My Body."
"And while they were at supper, Jesus took bread, and blessed and broke, and gave it to his disciples, and said, 'Take and eat: this is My body.' And taking a cup, He gave thanks and gave it to them, saying, 'All of you drink of this; for this is My blood of the new covenant, which is being shed for many unto the forgiveness of sins'" (Matthew 26: 26-28).
Previously, on the day after the first multiplication of the loaves and fishes, Our Lord had promised to give His Flesh to eat and His Blood to drink. On this occasion, it is clear that the Jews took Our Lord's words literally. Many of the disciples left Jesus and "walked no more with Him," because they could not believe such a thing as He promised. But Jesus, although very sad at their leaving, did not take back His words or explain them differently.
"I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the desert, and have died. This is the bread that comes down from Heaven, so that if anyone eat of it he will not die. I am the living bread that has come down from Heaven. If anyone eat of this bread he shall live forever; and the bread that I will give is My flesh for the life of the world."
"The Jews on that account argued with one another, saying, 'How can this man give us his flesh to eat?'"
"Jesus therefore said to them, 'Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink His blood, you shall not have life in you. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has life everlasting and I will raise him up on 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 has sent Me, and as I life because of the Father, so he who eats Me, he also shall live because of Me" (John 6: 48-57).
The Apostles understood that Christ meant His words at the Last Supper to be literal. St. Paul writes:
"The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not the sharing of the blood of Christ? And the bread that we break, is it not the partaking of the body of the Lord?… Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily, will be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. But let a man prove himself, and so let him eat of that bread and drink of the cup; for he who eats and drinks unworthily, without distinguishing the body, eats and drinks judgment to himself" (1 Corinthians 10:16, 11:27-29).
It has been the continuous belief of Christians from the beginning of Christianity. Saint Augustine said, "Our Lord held Himself in His own hands, when He gave His Body to the disciples." The churches which separated in the early centuries from the Catholic Church all believe in the doctrine of the Holy Eucharist as being the very Body and Blood of Christ. It was only in the sixteenth century that Protestants, breaking away from the True Church, denied it and introduced a different doctrine. Sadly that doctrine has crept into the conciliar Church today.
One of the grave problems today is the way the Most Blessed Sacrament of the Altar is treated by so many Catholics who have lost the reverence for this august sacrament and the true essence of Who they are receiving by traipsing up in rote to receive the 'wafer' in their hands as if someone is handing them a cookie. We dare say if a parish returns to the reverence of kneeling for Holy Communion and receiving on the tongue, vocations would increase and great respect for the Holy Eucharist would result. We have lost the mystery of the Holy Eucharist as so many regard it only as the symbol of Christ - something we can partake of as if we were at a meal and we deserve to eat. We do not deserve nor can we eat of His body and blood unless we are in the state of Sanctifying Grace. This is lost on so many today for the Sacrament of Penance is also diminished.
Our Lord was able to change bread and wine into His body and blood by His almighty power.
If God made the universe out of nothing, He certainly could change bread and wine into His Body and Blood. Christ Himself changed water into wine at the marriage feast of Cana, by a mere act of His Divine Will. Every day we can see the results of God's power in the miracle of growth: people grow, the trees grow; inanimate or dead matter is assimilated as food and continues as living beings or vegetation,--all by the power of God. He, the uncreated One, can do anything He wills. Can we doubt that He worked the change in the bread and wine, if He Himself told us so?
August 6-8, 2001
volume 12, no. 140
APPRECIATING THE PRECIOUS GIFT OF THE FAITH