The Church has always taught that the Eucharist is the actual body and blood of Jesus Christ. This is difficult for some to accept. However, belief in the Real Presence rests upon the words of Christ Himself. In John 6:48-57 we read:
I am the the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die. 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. The Jews quarreled among themselves saying, "How can this man give us His flesh to eat?" Jesus said to them, "Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink His blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me."
Opponents of the Real Presence contend that this is all symbolic. But read what happens in verses 60 and 66, – "Then many of His disciples who were listening said, 'This saying is hard, who can accept it?'...As a result of this, many [of] His disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied Him."
Why was it hard for Jesus' disciples to accept something that was supposedly symbolic? Why would they abandon Him over it? Apparently they took Him literally. If they were wrong, why didn't He correct them? When Jesus taught something and it wasn't understood, He would explain it as He did with the parables. If His message was understood but rejected, He just repeated it with more force, as He did with the Pharisees. Which category do you suppose John 6 is in?
At the Last Supper, Jesus fulfilled His promise: "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'" (Matthew 26:26-28). This could hardly be seen as symbolic, as Jesus held bread and the cup of wine in His hands and said "This is my body" and "This is my blood." He was obviously referring to what He was holding. Luke records that Jesus also said to do this in memory of Him (22:19). For the Jews, to do something "in memory" meant to make it actually present.
Paul affirms the Real Presence in 1 Corinthians 10:16 and 11:27-29. "The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?... 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...For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself." If the Lords body and blood are not present, how can a wrong be committed against them?
Jesus is the sacrificial lamb of the New Covenant. The Old Covenant sacrifice prefigured the New Covenant sacrifice. Both include a partaking of the sacrifice to signify participation in its effects.
Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch from the year 69 to 110, writes in his Letter to the Smyrnaeans, "But look at the men who have those perverted notions about the grace of Jesus Christ They will not admit the Eucharist is the self same body of our Savior Jesus Christ which suffered for our sins, and which the Father in His goodness afterwards raised up again" (7:1).
A few decades later, around the year 150, Justin martyr wrote: "Not as common bread or common drink do we receive these, but since Jesus Christ our savior was made incarnate by the word of God and had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so too as we have been taught, the food which has been made into the Eucharist by the eucharistic prayer set down by Him, and by the change of which our blood and flesh is nourished, is both the flesh and the blood of that incarnated Jesus" (First Apology 66).
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For Further Study
The Early Church Fathers on The Real
CD - Proving the Real Presence by Fr. Frank Chacon
DVD - Footprints of God: Jesus, the Word Became Flesh with Steve Ray and I Am the Living Bread
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