This weekend is the solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, previously called Corpus Christi. This great feast celebrates the importance of the Eucharist, a precious gift given to us by Jesus.
Jesus is present in many ways, “but especially under the eucharistic species” (“Sacrosanctum Concilium,” The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, No. 7).
This annual feast was established to foster greater devotion to the Eucharist, as well as to provide an opportunity every year to reinforce and strengthen church teaching about this most revered sacrament, especially our belief in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.
It is important because the doctrine of the Real Presence has been attacked, mocked and ridiculed by various non-believers so often over the centuries, and these criticisms have caused some Catholics to question their own faith.
Even in times of relative calm, some Catholics have wavered or grown lax with regard to this core belief. A number of opinion polls have reported various percentages of those who claim to be Catholic who doubt or reject belief in the Real Presence.
Some say that the consecrated bread and wine are only reminders of Jesus; while others claim that they symbolize or signify Jesus; while still others claim it is impossible for the bread and wine to be transformed.
Church must defend teaching
In the face of recurring criticism, doubt and laxity, it is imperative that the church defend and bolster this foundational teaching regularly. The doctrine of the Real Presence is based upon the words of Jesus when he instituted the Eucharist at the Last Supper.
When Jesus took the bread, he said, “This is my body” (Matthew 26:26), and when he took a cup filled with wine, he said, “This is my blood” (Matthew 26:28). Jesus did not say that this looks like my body, or that it is a reminder of my body, or that it is a symbol of my body. He said, “This is my body.”
If we accept Jesus’ words, the Eucharist truly is his body and he is really present. This cannot be explained factually or scientifically. There are no proofs, no evidence. It is a profound mystery and a matter of faith.
St. Cyril of Alexandria wrote, “Do not doubt whether this is true . . . receive the words of the Savior in faith, for since he is truth, he cannot lie” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 1381).
What Jesus declared at the Last Supper, the church has repeated, retaught, re-emphasized and reinforced again and again, particularly at the 13th session of the Council of Trent on Oct. 11, 1551.
The council declared: “By the consecration of the bread and wine there takes place a change of the whole substance of the bread into the substance of the body of Christ our Lord and of the whole substance of the wine into the substance of his blood. This change the holy Catholic Church has fittingly and properly called transubstantiation” (CCC, No. 1376). “In the most blessed sacrament of the Eucharist . . . the whole Christ is truly, really and substantially contained” (CCC, No. 1374).
Father Van Sloun is pastor of St. Stephen in Anoka.