Q: My brother does not believe that a
priest can change bread and wine
into Our Lord's body and blood. My
brother argues that when Christ said, "This
is my body" and "This is my blood," he as
God could make those changes.
My brother also points out that Jesus
never said, "I give you apostles the power
to do the same." Jesus simply said, "Do this
in memory of me," meaning the apostles
should reenact the Last Supper like a stage
play so that people would remember Jesus.
I cited the Gospel of John (6:22-71) and
said that this passage has real meaning
only if Jesus meant that the apostles and
priests after them had the power to give us
Christ's body and blood.
My brother, however, wants more. He
asks, "When did Christ give this power?
A: Your brother seeks an explicit
command that the apostles
could turn bread and wine into Christ's
body and blood in the Eucharist. The
Church has understood "Do this in
memory of me" (Luke 22:19b) as precisely
that command. Your brother
chooses to interpret memory in a way
different from how the Church has
understood it over the centuries.
If your brother were correct about
the Eucharist as a stage-play reenactment,
why did St. Paul become so upset
with the Christians in Corinth who
brought their social and economic divisions
into the celebration of the Eucharist,
discriminating against poorer
Christians (1 Corinthians 11:17-22)?
Paul then goes on to provide the
New Testament's oldest description of
the Eucharist (11:23-34), including the
warning, "Therefore whoever eats the
bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily
will have to answer for the
body and blood of the Lord" (v. 27).
How could Corinthian Christians participate
unworthily in a reenactment?
The people who heard Jesus speaking
about the bread of life in the passage
from the Gospel of John that you cited
realized that Jesus was not speaking
about ordinary bread. We know this
from their reaction and the decision of
many disciples to leave Jesus (v. 66).
Why would Jesus teach about the
Eucharist if only he could celebrate it?
The entire Church believed in the
Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist
for almost 1,200 years before the Western
Church accepted the term transubstantiation to describe its belief about
the changing of bread and wine into
the body and blood of Jesus during the
celebration of the Eucharist.
The four Gospels were given to a
faith community, which remains their
best interpreter. Your brother is able to
quote the Gospels only because the
Church has cherished them and passed
them on to each generation.
If your brother were correct in his
interpretation, then there is no significant
difference between the Eucharist
celebrated in your local Catholic parish
and the reenactment of the Last Supper
as seen in movies or in stage plays.
Catholic actors who have portrayed
Jesus in the world-famous Passion play
in Oberammergau, Germany—or in
similar contexts—know the difference
between what they are doing and what
a priest does at Mass on Sundays or
weekdays. The priest acts in Christ's
name and on behalf of the Church.
According to the Catechism of the
Catholic Church (#611), "The Eucharist
that Christ institutes at that moment
[Last Supper] will be the memorial of
his sacrifice. Jesus includes the apostles
in his own offering and bids them perpetuate
it. By doing so, the Lord institutes
his apostles as priests of the New
Covenant: ‘For their sakes I sanctify
myself, so that they also may be sanctified
in truth' [John 17:19]."
The Eucharist is the "source and
summit" of the Christian life, as Vatican
II's Dogmatic Constitution on the
Church teaches (#11). That is far more
than a reenactment.
Perhaps a prayer composed by St.
Thomas Aquinas may say it best: "O
sacred banquet, in which Christ is
received, the memory of his passion is
renewed, the mind is filled with grace,
and a pledge of future glory is given to
Q: What is the Church's teaching about
spiritual communion? I haven't
heard about this in many years and wonder
if it is still practiced.
A: Spiritual communion is a way of
uniting oneself with Christ
when the person is unable to participate
in Mass because of great distance,
poor health, imprisonment or some
No specific prayer is required for this,
but people often begin with Scripture
readings, devotional prayers or prayers
from the liturgy. This reaffirms the individual's
desire to live as a follower of
Q: Several weeks ago was First Communion
Sunday at our parish. Seeing
the children having their pictures taken
with their parents, grandparents and others
evoked our own First Communions.
I asked my wife when these children
would be invested with the brown scapular.
She said that is no longer done. Do local
bishops decide this sort of thing? Do pastors?
Did Vatican II eliminate the scapular?
A: Let's begin with a bit of background
for anyone unfamiliar
with this voluntary practice. A modern
scapular consists of two decorated
pieces of cloth connected by two cords
or ribbons and worn over a person's
shoulder (scapula in Latin). Some people
choose to wear a scapular medal.
Some religious communities such as
Benedictine monks and nuns, the Cistercians,
Dominicans and Trappists
have a full-length scapular (approximately
calf to calf) as part of their habit.
According to The Essential Mary
Handbook: A Summary of Beliefs, Devotions
and Prayers (Liguori), the Church
has approved eight Marian scapulars.
The brown scapular, the oldest and the
most popular, is linked to St. Simon
Stock, an English Carmelite. Mary reportedly
appeared to him in 1251 and
recommended the wearing of a scapular,
a visible sign of a person's commitment
to Christ after the example
of Mary, the first disciple.
I am not aware that any parishes
now have automatic scapular enrollment
for First Communicants. Parents
are free to promote this devotion
among their children. The brown
scapular is also linked to the Marian
devotion of the Five First Saturdays.
An Internet search for "brown scapular
enrollment" produces numerous
links. People can also write the National
Shrine of Our Lady of Mount Carmel,
P.O. Box 2162, Middletown, NY 10940-
2162, or the Society of Mt. Carmel, 1317
Frontage Road, Darien, IL 60561.
Q: Jesus said, "Call no one on earth
your father; you have but one
Father in heaven" (Matthew 23:9). Why do
Catholics continue to call priests Father?
A: When Jesus said this, he was
emphasizing the need for a religion
that is at least as interior as it is
exterior, for religious integrity and for
a sense of service.
The passage you cited also says not
to call anyone rabbi (teacher) or master (verses eight and 10, respectively).
Do you call your male parent Father?
Don't most Christians do that? If so, are
they violating Jesus' command? Christians
have not understood Jesus' command
as preventing them from calling
someone teacher. In our society, the
term master is used rarely.
This is not to dismiss Jesus' teaching
on the subject of titles. Chapter 23 of
the Gospel of Matthew opens with 36
verses on the scribes and Pharisees and
ends with three verses of lament over
If all of us strive for what Jesus
requested, using the terms father, teacher or master in any context will cause
St. Paul described himself as a father
to the Christians in Thessalonika (1
Thessalonians 2:11) and in Corinth (1
Corinthians 4:15). Applying the term
father to priests is a custom and not an
Q: On the Sixth Sunday of Easter, the second reading was Revelation
21:10-14, 22-23. This describes the author's vision of the New
Jerusalem with 12 courses of stones as its foundation, inscribed with
the names of the apostles. How can there be 12 stones to represent
the 12 apostles when Judas betrayed Jesus?
One Scripture passage often answers a question arising from
another Scripture passage. That is the case here. Acts 1:15-26
describes the selection of Matthias to replace Judas. This happened
between Jesus' ascension into heaven and the gift of the Holy Spirit at
Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4). The 12 apostles emphasize the continuity of
God's revelation in the Bible: 12 tribes, 12 apostles.
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