We believe that the host and wine when consecrated at Mass only appear to be bread and wine. In reality they are the Body and Blood of Jesus. Sometimes other Christians think Catholics are being cannibalistic in saying we “eat the Body and Blood of Jesus.” We are in fact not, though we read in John’s Gospel, Chapter 6, that Jesus himself said exactly that: "Whoever eats my body and drinks my blood has eternal life" (Jn 6:54). What we are receiving within our bodies is the resurrected and glorified Jesus who is with the Father and the Spirit in heaven. But since the triune God is everywhere, we are always in the presence of Jesus and the Trinity.
In receiving the Eucharist, we are not receiving pieces of Jesus (a hand or foot, for example) but the whole Jesus which is, of course, a mystery for us. It is really the body and blood, soul and divinity of Jesus, and always in the resurrected and glorified state. But that is why when the congregation all receives the Eucharist, every person is brother and sister to each other. They are for that moment and in a very special way the Body of Christ. How can there be a more dramatic demonstration than that?
Jesus in the Tabernacle: The Real Presence
Because of our belief in the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, we know when we enter any Catholic Church, we have the Blessed Sacrament in our tabernacles. The little red or white sanctuary lamp signifies the presence of our Divine Lord and Savior. What a marvelous thing that you and I can come and sit and actually be in his presence!
I remember the story about an old man, a wanderer who came to a downtown church frequently and sat for a good long while in the front pew. After spotting him a number of times, the church sacristan, who would dust the sanctuary each day, couldn’t contain herself anymore. She approached the man, curious as to what he prayed about. His response was beautiful. “Oh,” he said, I don’t say anything. I’m not even sure I’m praying. I just sit here and look at Jesus and Jesus looks back at me.” Yes, this man was indeed praying in quiet and silence.
Eucharist Makes Us Together the Body of Christ
As wonderful as that is, to have Jesus right before our eyes, it cannot compare to what Jesus gave us in the Eucharist. We don’t just sit with him. We don’t just look at him, as great as that grace is. We take him into ourselves.
Some people think that Jesus just sits inside us until the species of bread and wine dissolve in our stomachs, then Jesus is no longer present within us. But what actually happens in those few minutes of his Real Presence with us is something almost beyond belief—except it is not.
First of all, it is a most intimate union we have at that moment at Communion time. Actually it is even more intimate than the marriage embrace. A husband and wife love each other; a mother lovingly embraces her infant. Have you ever heard the expression at a moment like that, “I love you so much I could eat you.” We know what a person means. “I want to get as close possible to you as I can.” And we know when we eat food, we absorb the nutrients and they foster our life. But in human relationship we embrace one another lovingly; that is as close as we can get with another.
But who is Jesus? He is the Word of God, the Son of God made flesh, now resurrected and glorified in heaven and everywhere. It is God that we receive. But we must never think that Jesus lies dormant within us. The relationship we have with him, and he with us, is a dynamic, most powerful one. We may be at rest with Jesus within us. But he is not at rest.
In fact, Jesus fills our whole person—body, soul, mind and will—with his divine presence. Who is this Jesus? The same Jesus who preached and taught, who drove out demons, who healed lepers and the lame and the sick, who raised the dead to life, who gathered sinners around him and forgave them with joy and happiness in his heart. It is the very same Jesus who died for you and me that we might live forever.
The Power of The Eucharist Within Us
I was diagnosed with cancer of the prostate several years ago and had seven weeks of radiation treatment. As we know, radiation is powerful, and too much of it can cause death. But when applied properly, it does what is supposed to do. It rids the body of cancer and restores health.
The “graced-radiation” we receive when Jesus comes into us in Eucharist fills our whole body with his presence, his grace, his goodness. What a perfect moment to ask for healing, for help, for forgiveness, for strength.
Even as I write this, I stand back in awe to think of how blessed we are who believe in Jesus’ clear and deliberate words to us: “This is my body, this is my blood.” No matter how hard people try to explain this away by saying Jesus didn’t mean what he said, we know for a fact that he did! And we have two thousand years of history and tradition that says Jesus spoke the truth.
When we receive Eucharist and say quietly, “Amen,” the word means, “I believe.” When people in the RCIA program each year come to the moment when they receive their first holy Communion, at the Holy Saturday Vigil, their eyes are often filled with tears of joy. We, too, know the same love. If we watch them, our eyes will also tear up.