In honor of today's feast, Corpus Christi, let's take some time to review the basics of the Eucharist, which John Paul II, quoting Vatican II, calls “the source and summit of Christian life.”
1. Jesus instituted the Eucharist. We read versions of the institution narrative in Matthew 26:26-30; Mark 14:22-25; Luke 22:14-23; and 1 Corinthians 11:23-26. In these passages, Jesus very clearly tells His disciples, “This is My Body” and “This is My Blood.” He also instructs them “Do this in remembrance of Me.” Catholics take Jesus at His word; we believe that the Eucharist truly is His Body and Blood.
2. In John 6, Jesus gives His “Bread of Life” discourse about the Eucharist. Only the day before, He had fed five thousand people with only five loaves and two fish. Now He wants the crowds to know about the “true bread from heaven.” He says, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to Me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in Me will never be thirsty.” The Jews become irritated with Jesus because of His claims. So He continues, not softening His language or telling His audience that He is merely speaking symbolically. No, He intensifies His discourse. “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is My flesh.” Now the Jews are really wondering what Jesus is talking about. “How can this Man give us His flesh to eat?” they ask each other. Jesus doesn't back down. He intensifies again. “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat My flesh and drink My blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for My flesh is true food and My blood is true drink. Those who eat My flesh and drink My blood abide in Me, and I in them.” This is too much for Jesus' audience. The Jews are offended and many of Jesus' disciples with them. In fact, many of His disciples turn away from Him and leave. Jesus does not go running after them. He does not call them back for more explanation. He does not water down His words or claim for them a merely symbolic meaning. No, He means what He says. His Body is true food, and His Blood is true drink.
3. Indeed, Jesus is really present, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity, in the Eucharist. When a bishop or priest says the words of consecration, Jesus' very words of institution, “This is My Body” and “This is My Blood”, those words bring about the very reality about which they speak. Jesus is really present.
4. The theological word describing the change from bread and wine into Jesus' Body and Blood is transubstantiation. Philosophy speaks of the substance and the accidents of things. The accidents of a thing are its outward characteristics, what can be seen, smelled, touched, tasted, or heard. The substance is a thing's inner reality apart from its outward characteristics. During consecration, the substance of the bread and wine transforms into Jesus' Body and Blood while the accidents remain the same. The bread and wine is now completely Jesus. The inner reality has been totally changed. The Eucharist may look and taste like bread and wine, but it no longer is.
5. This miracle happens at every Mass, every day, all over the world. Jesus becomes really present, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity, on the altar. He comes to us as our food. God as our food... What could be more intimate than that? Could Jesus do any more for us than to surrender Himself completely to us like this? He joins Himself to us in our bodies as well as in our hearts and souls.
6. Once consecrated, the Eucharist remains Jesus Christ, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. He is present in every tabernacle, waiting for us to come and adore Him. This is why we genuflect before the tabernacle and behave with dignity and respect in Church. The living God is present in a very special way.
7. Our behavior at Mass should reflect our belief in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.
8. We fast an hour beforehand that we may cultivate a proper hunger for our Lord and Savior in the Eucharist. We deny ourselves lesser goods that we might properly receive the greatest Good of all.
9. We dress appropriately for Mass because we are meeting our King. This doesn't mean that we must dress fancy, but we shouldn't look like we've just cleaned the garage or like we're going to the beach either. Modesty is key here.
10. We pay attention at Mass. Yes, everyone's mind wanders, but we should get in the habit of bringing it back. We must be especially attentive during consecration when Jesus becomes present.
11. We prepare our hearts to receive Jesus through prayer before Holy Communion. We get ready to welcome Him. Also, we never receive Jesus in the Eucharist unless we are in a state of grace. A person who has committed a mortal sin must receive the sacrament of Reconciliation before receiving the Eucharist.
12. Receiving the Eucharist is the most important thing we will do all week, for we are receiving Jesus Christ, Who is coming to make His home in us, to heal us, to pour His grace into us, and to lift us up to Him. Therefore, we must be sure to receive Him properly. Our walk up toward the altar should be focused and meditative. We are about to meet Jesus in a most intimate way. We bow before Jesus in the Host and in the Cup to show that we recognize the living God. We pray a firm “Amen” when we hear the words “The Body of Christ” and “The Blood of Christ” to give our consent to the truth of these words. We receive the Host reverently either in the hand (making a throne for Him) or on the tongue, being extremely careful. We also receive the Cup with great care and reverence.
13. When we return to our pews, we offer our sincere thanksgiving, for Jesus Christ is truly within us! There are numerous prayers to help us express our feelings, or we can simply speak spontaneously from our hearts. This is the perfect time to bring all of our cares and concerns, our joys and our sorrows, our whole lives before Jesus, Who is so very close to us.
14. Over the centuries, Jesus has blessed His people with numerous Eucharistic miracles, designed to confirm and strengthen our faith in the Eucharist. Take some time to read about them at the Real Presence Eucharistic Education and Adoration Association website.
15. To learn more about the Eucharist, check out the following: a) the Catechism; b) American Catholic website; c) United States Conference of Catholic Bishops; d) Dr. Scott Hahn on the Eucharist; e) the Real Presence Eucharistic Education and Adoration Association.