Take and eat, this is my body.
During another post called “Eucharist,” I showed proof that Jesus was speaking literally in scripture about the Eucharist. The following will show you how Christ’ sacrifice is made sacramentally present in bread and wine.
On the night before he suffered and died on the cross, Jesus shared one last meal with his friends. While reclined at table, our Savior instituted the sacrament of his Body and Blood. He did this in order to perpetuate the sacrifice of the Cross forever and to entrust to the Church a memorial of his death and resurrection. The Gospel of Matthew tells us:
While they were eating, Jesus took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and giving it to his disciples said, “Take and eat; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed on behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Mt 26:26-28; cf. Mk 14:22-24, Lk 22:17-20, 1 Cor 11:23-25)
Recalling these words of Jesus, the Catholic Church professes that, in the celebration of the Eucharist, bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit and the instrumentality of the priest. Jesus said: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world. . . . For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.” The whole Christ is really and truly present, body, blood, soul, and divinity, under the appearances of bread and wine–the glorified Christ who rose from the dead after dying for our sins. This is what is meant when the Church speaks of the “Real Presence” of Christ in the Eucharist. The risen Christ is present to his Church in many ways, but most especially through the sacrament of his Body and Blood.
What does it mean that Jesus Christ is present in the Eucharist under the appearances of bread and wine? The presence of the risen Christ in the Eucharist is an inexhaustible mystery that the Church cannot fully explain. We must remember that the triune God is the creator of all that exists and has the power to do more than we can possibly imagine. God created the world in order to share his life with persons who are not God. This great plan of salvation reveals a wisdom that surpasses our understanding. But we are not left in ignorance: for out of his love for us, God reveals his truth to us in ways that we can only understand through the gift of faith and the grace of the Holy Spirit dwelling in us. We are thus enabled to understand at least in some measure what would otherwise remain unknown to us, though we can never completely comprehend the mystery of God.
While our sins would have made it impossible for us to share in the life of God, Jesus Christ was sent to remove this obstacle. His death was a sacrifice for our sins. Christ is “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” Through his death and resurrection, he conquered sin and death and reconciled us to God. The Eucharist is the memorial of this sacrifice. The Catholic Church gathers to remember and to re-present the sacrifice of Christ in which we share through the priest and the power of the Holy Spirit. Through the celebration of the Eucharist, we are joined to Christ’s sacrifice and receive its many benefits.
As the Letter to the Hebrews explains, Jesus is the one eternal high priest who always lives to make intercession for the people before the Father. In this way, he surpasses the many high priests who over centuries used to offer sacrifices for sin in the Jerusalem temple. The eternal high priest Jesus offers the perfect sacrifice which is literally his very self, not something else symbolical. “He entered once for all into the sanctuary, not with the blood of goats and calves but with his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption.”
Jesus has entered into human history for he is truly human. At the same time, however, Jesus Christ is the Second Person of the Holy Trinity; he is the eternal Son, who is not confined within time or history. His actions transcend time, which is part of creation. “Passing through the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made by hands, that is, not belonging to this creation,” Jesus the eternal Son of God made his act of sacrifice in the presence of his Father, who does live in eternity. Jesus’ one perfect sacrifice is thus eternally present before the Father, who eternally accepts it. This means that in the Eucharist, Jesus does not sacrifice himself again and again. Rather, by the power of the Holy Spirit his one eternal sacrifice is made present once again, re-presented, so that we may share in it.
Christ does not have to leave where he is in heaven to be with us. We partake of the heavenly liturgy where Christ eternally intercedes for us and presents his sacrifice to the Father and where the angels and saints constantly glorify God and give thanks for all his gifts: “To the one who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor, glory and might, forever and ever.” As the Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “By the Eucharistic celebration we already unite ourselves with the heavenly liturgy and anticipate eternal life, when God will be all in all” (no. 1326). The Sanctus proclamation, “Holy, Holy, Holy Lord . . . ,” is the song of the angels who are in the presence of God. When in the Eucharist we proclaim the Sanctus we echo on earth the song of angels as they worship God in heaven. In the eucharistic celebration we do not simply remember an event in history. Rather, through the mysterious action of the Holy Spirit in the eucharistic celebration the Lord’s Paschal Mystery is made present and contemporaneous to his Spouse the Catholic Church.
Furthermore, in the Eucharistic re-presentation of Christ’s eternal sacrifice before the Father, we are not simply spectators. The priest and the worshiping community are in different ways active in the eucharistic sacrifice. The ordained priest standing at the altar represents Christ as head of the Church. All the baptized, as members of Christ’s Body, share in his priesthood, as both priest and victim. The Eucharist is also the sacrifice of the Church. The Church, which is the Body and Bride of Christ, participates in the sacrificial offering of her Head and Spouse. In the Eucharist, the sacrifice of Christ becomes the sacrifice of the members of his Body who united to Christ form one sacrificial offering (cf. Catechism, no. 1368). As Christ’s sacrifice is made sacramentally present, united with Christ, we offer ourselves as a sacrifice to the Father. “The whole Church exercises the role of priest and victim along with Christ, offering the Sacrifice of the Mass and itself completely offered in it” (Mysterium Fidei, no. 31; cf. Lumen Gentium, no. 11).
What are your thoughts on the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist?