The recent Pew Forum’s study on America’s Changing Religious Landscape has sparked a flurry of statements from good people on why they remain Catholic, and Elizabeth Scalia at The Anchoress has asked for contributions from committed Catholics everywhere. We are not American, but Australia suffers from the same problem as America, with the number of Christians expected to drop from 67.3% in 2010 to 47.0% in 2050.
Today’s solemnity gives us an opportunity to talk about one of the chief reasons I remain Catholic: in the Catholic church we still remain faithful and obedient to a particular instruction from the Lord about what we need to do to inherit eternal life. Of course, there are many things that are required: following his commandments, accepting him as our Lord and Saviour, but we can’t ignore this one: eating his body and blood, which is what today’s solemnity is all about.
- And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. (Luke 22:19-20)
- For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, ‘This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. (1 Cor. 11:23-27)
- I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” (John 6:51-58)
When Jesus says, “οὐκ ἔχετε ζωὴν ἐν ἑαυτοῖς” (you have no life in you), the word ζωὴν or “Zoe” refers not to physical life, but to spiritual life – the eternal life of the soul.
The early church certainly understood the Sacrament as literally Christ’s Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity.
St Justin Martyr, First Apology 66, A.D. 151:
“We call this food Eucharist, and no one else is permitted to partake of it, except one who believes our teaching to be true and who has been washed in the washing which is for the remission of sins and for regeneration [i.e., has received baptism] and is thereby living as Christ enjoined. For not as common bread nor 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 nurtured, is both the flesh and the blood of that incarnated Jesus”
Ignatius of Antioch, Letter to the Smyrnaeans 6:2-7:1, A.D. 110
“Take note of those who hold heterodox opinions on the grace of Jesus Christ which has come to us, and see how contrary their opinions are to the mind of God. . . . They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer because they do not confess that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, flesh which suffered for our sins and which that Father, in his goodness, raised up again. They who deny the gift of God are perishing in their disputes”
Ignatius of Antioch, Epistle to the Philadelphians, 3:2-4:1, 110 A.D.
Take care, then who belong to God and to Jesus Christ – they are with the bishop. And those who repent and come to the unity of the Church – they too shall be of God, and will be living according to Jesus Christ. Do not err, my brethren: if anyone follow a schismatic, he will not inherit the Kingdom of God. If any man walk about with strange doctrine, he cannot lie down with the passion. Take care, then, to use one Eucharist, so that whatever you do, you do according to God: for there is one Flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ, and one cup in the union of His Blood; one altar, as there is one bishop with the presbytery and my fellow servants, the deacons.
Irenaeus, Against Heresies 5:2, A.D. 189
“He has declared the cup, a part of creation, to be his own blood, from which he causes our blood to flow; and the bread, a part of creation, he has established as his own body, from which he gives increase unto our bodies. When, therefore, the mixed cup [wine and water] and the baked bread receives the Word of God and becomes the Eucharist, the body of Christ, and from these the substance of our flesh is increased and supported, how can they say that the flesh is not capable of receiving the gift of God, which is eternal life—flesh which is nourished by the body and blood of the Lord, and is in fact a member of him?”
Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor of Children 1:6:43:3, A.D. 191
“’Eat my flesh,’ [Jesus] says, ‘and drink my blood.’ The Lord supplies us with these intimate nutrients, he delivers over his flesh and pours out his blood, and nothing is lacking for the growth of his children”.
… and these are just a few references from the 2nd century. Many more are found among the Church Fathers.
Anyway, I do recommend you go and read these beautiful testimonies.
Watch Fr Barron explain about eating Jesus’ flesh:
Today’s readings for Australia:
Word format: Year B Body and Blood of Christ
Pdf format: Year B Body and Blood of Christ