The Real Presence

The Real Presence

In the Church the Eucharist occupies a unique place as the “Sacrament of sacraments.” The other sacraments are ordered to it as their end. The word Eucharist is derived from the Greek word which means “thanksgiving.” Jesus himself gave thanks at the Last Supper. The term Mass is derived from the Latin word Missa which meant “dismissal” which was the closing blessing.

The Significance of Meals

In ancient Israel meals were for more than satisfying hunger. Persons who ate together were bound to each other by friendship and mutual obligation. There was a special meal eaten during a covenant rite made between persons (Genesis 26:28-30; 31:43-54). The solemn ratification at Sinai between Moses/Israel and God was sealed by a meal (Exodus 24:7-11).

There is a more profound thought found in Levitical law that when bringing offerings and sacrifices to a sanctuary one was “eating before the Lord” (Deuteronomy 12:4-7). This reflects an old tradition that through a sacred meal it was possible to commune with the deity.

The most important ritual meal was the Passover which remembered the Israelites’ liberation from the yoke of Egyptian bondage by reading the Scripture account (Exodus 11-13). The emphasis is upon the Pascal lamb which was an offering of thanksgiving and that the blood on the doorposts saved those inside from death. In slaughtering the lamb they were warned “you shall not break any of its bones” (Exodus 12:46b; cf. John 19:36). It does not only look to the past, but also to the future. More than any other Jewish feast, the Passover has left its strong imprint in the New Testament and the rituals of the Church.

The Last Supper

One of the themes of Luke’s Gospel emphasizes Jesus eating meals under a number of different circumstances during his ministry (cf. Luke , the Gospel of Social Justice). One of the most notable occasions was the feeding of the five thousand which is one of the few miracles recorded in all the four Gospels (Matthew 14:13-21; Mark 6:34-44; Luke 9:10-17; John 6:1-15). It is significant that the “blessed, broke, and gave” as a formula points forward to the last supper (Matthew 26:26).

The Church celebrates the Eucharist by virtue of the authority and the commission given to it by Jesus. Paul, in the earliest account of the Lord’s Supper (1 Corinthians 11:23ff, about 55 AD), specifically traces his account back to a received tradition “from the Lord.” The mystery and other-worldliness of this meal is accentuated by Jesus’ words: “I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the day that I drink of it new in the reign of God” (Matthew 26:29; Mark 14:25; Luke 22:18).

In the synoptics it is the Passover stressing the meal as a covenant ceremony with Luke calling it the “new covenant in my blood (22:20)” recalling the words of Jeremiah: “the day is coming when I will make a new covenant …” (31:31). The sacrificial element of this meal is stressed by the upcoming death of Jesus which takes place for “many.” He is Isaiah’s suffering servant (53:10). Phillip brings out this theme to the Ethiopian (Acts 8:26ff).

John the Baptist greets Jesus with the words: “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29b). The Petrine tradition promises: “You were delivered...by Christ’s blood beyond all price: the blood of a spot-less unblemished lamb” (1 Peter 1:18-19).

Is Jesus Really Present?

Ironically this issue which surfaced during the Reformation, was not something new!  Jesus was attached by his critics for teaching that “I am the bread of life” (John 6:25ff). He went so far as to say “If you do not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you! Those who feed on my flesh and drink my blood have life eternal, and I will raise them up on the last day” (John 6: 53-54).

The author of John’s Gospel writes: “Many of his disciples remarked ‘this sort of talk is hard to endure! How can one take it seriously?’” (John 6: 60b). “From this time on many of his disciples broke away and would not remain in his company any longer” (John 6: 66).

Calvin and Zwingli did this very thing. They denied the real presence completely.  Luther held that the bread and wine became the body and blood of Christ, but remained bread and wine (consubstantiation as opposed to the Doctrine of transubstantiation).

The Church Fathers

Ignatius (110 AD) stressing unity writes: ‘there is one flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ and one cup in the union of His Blood.” St. Justin (150 AD) gives an explanation of the rite and writes: “the Eucharist is both the flesh and blood of the incarnated Jesus.” Irenaeus (180 AD) defends the real presence. Cyril (350 AD) writes “the Master said the bread and wine is the body and blood of Christ.” Augustine (412 AD) writes that Paul received the doctrine of the body and blood of the Lord.”

The Teachings of Vatican II

“Truly partaking of the body of the Lord in the breaking of the Eucharistic bread, we are taken into communion with Him and with one another, ‘because the bread is one, we though many, are one body, all of us who partake of one bread” (1 Corinthians 10:17). In this way all of us are made members of His body (1 Corinthians 12:27), “but severally members of one another (Romans 12:5).”

Jesus is not only present in the Eucharist, but in the proclaimed Word, in the celebrating minister, and in the people gathered in worship. Paul VI’s Mysterium Fidei (1965) reiterated this traditional teaching.

The belief in the real presence was central to the faith because it fulfilled Jesus’ promise—”know I am with you always” (Matthew 28:20b). Today in faith we accept this mystery for the same reason.

The real presence comes about through the ordained priest who in the Eucharistic prayer repeats the words of Jesus at the last supper. It is important to understand that the power of the priest to consecrate the bread and wine is not dependent on his personal holiness.

Eucharistic Devotions

The Church teaches that the real presence continues on in the Eucharistic elements after the mass by virtue of transubstantiation. Thus certain devotions as Eucharistic processions, forty hours and benediction of the Blessed Sacrament are encouraged in the spiritual life of the faithful. The consecrated elements are reserved in the tabernacle in each Church and it is from here that communion is brought to the sick
and disabled.

However, these devotions are not to be a substitute for assisting at mass and receiving Jesus in Holy Communion.

"The Real Presence" is one of the pamphlets on the biblical foundations of the Catholic Church written May 2008 to Nov 2010 by Deacon Paul Carlson of Minneapolis, Minnesota's St Lawrence Catholic Church / Newman Center, a Paulist Foundation. (St Lawrence is the Catholic Church of Southeast Minneapolis and is right in the heart of "Dinkytown USA".)

This blog post is a memorial serialization of those pamphlets written by Deacon Paul Carlson at the request of than Pastor/Director Fr John J. Behnke, who asked Deacon Paul to write brief answers to questions University students often encountered as Catholics.

At couple of weeks before Deacon Paul's death, he said: "If there are any financial gains made from the blog serialization of my pamphlets, please have the money given to St. Lawrence Parish and Newman Center or Paulist Fathers, because what they do is so important." If you can, send memorials to St. Lawrence Parish and Newman Center or Paulist Fathers at 1203 Fifth Street, S.E., Minneapolis, MN 55414. 

Remember Deacon Paul Carlson in your prayers, as well as all the other souls of the faithful departed, who have died in the grace of Jesus Christ.

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