The Body and Blood of Christ

When I first began attending Mass, I noticed Catholics always genuflected (bending one knee to the ground while crossing oneself) before entering a pew.  It was over a year before I understood the significance of that gesture.

Every week at Mass, as one united Catholic family, we receive Christ through the Sacrament of the Eucharist.  This is, without a doubt, the most crucial part of our worship. Unlike most Protestant services, which builds to the sermon, the Eucharist is the final focal point of the Mass.

Now, before I go any further, let me say that there is enough theology about the Eucharist to fill a library. Obviously, I can’t cover everything here, but for those looking to read deeper into this Sacrament, I’ll provide some links at the end.

The Eucharist is also known by other names:  The Lords Supper and Communion being among the most popular. Every Christian sect and denomination has their own variation of how to celebrate it. The Catholic Church stands apart from the rest, however, because we believe when the Priest consecrates the bread and wine it literally becomes the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.

And yes, I mean literally. There’s nothing symbolic about it.  It is called Real Presence and it is why we Catholics show a sign of deep reverence before receiving Communion — bowing or genuflecting — to show respect to the Body of Christ.  Real Presence is also why some Catholics receive on the tongue, for they feel unworthy to touch the Body of Christ with their hands.

For those of us who completed RCIA consuming the Body and Blood of Christ became the sum of our faith, and it fulfilled the scriptures.

Jesus said: “I am the bread of life… 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 life within him, 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.”

It’s often debated whether or not Jesus was speaking literally, but we have plenty of evidence to believe he was.  In the 6th Chapter of the Gospel of John, Christ repeats THREE TIMES that we must consume His Body and Blood.  His followers understood him literally.  We know this because it actually scared some of them away.  If Jesus was talking about something so crucial to salvation — and only meant it symbolically — why did he not call after them to come back so he could clear up the confusion?  Instead, he let them leave.

It was hardly a new concept, though.  The Jewish faithful always ate the sacrificial lamb at Passover in order to atone for their sins.  In fact, if they didn’t consume the lamb, the sacrifice wasn’t complete.  And we Catholics believe Jesus is the Lamb of God, the final sacrifice.

Real Presence is also not a new concept.  It has been taught in the Catholic Church since its infancy. The early Church Father’s interpreted the scriptures that way, and since the first century Catholics have celebrated in the literal consumption of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.

The apostle Paul also verified Christ’s words in his letters to the Corinthians.

“The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?”

It’s widely known that we do not allow Christians from other denominations to receive the Eucharist at Mass.  And no, it isn’t because we think we’re better than other Christians.  It’s because other Christians who don’t understand or embrace the theology of Real Presence should not receive.  Paul counseled on the matter in the 11th Chapter of 1st Corinthians:  For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself.  Communion means “community in union” — but unless all believe the same, we are not in union and should not pretend otherwise.

Transubstantiation is the process by which ordinary bread and wine becomes the Body and Blood of Christ, and this happens during the consecration at Mass.  The authority to conduct this consecration is endowed only to priests who receive Holy Orders, thereby maintaining the lineage of the apostles of the Roman Catholic Church.  That is why we Catholics are forbidden from receiving communion in other churches — because it is a break from that lineage.

When the consecration begins, everyone either stands or kneels.  It is the proper show of respect for acknowledging the Real Presence of the Body and Blood of Jesus.  We stay on our knees until Communion is over.   Any leftover consecrated hosts are placed inside the Tabernacle near the Altar for consumption at a later date.  And it is the hosts, inside the Tabernacle, to which we genuflect as we enter the pews — to show our respect for the Body of Christ that is present among us.

Following Communion, the priest will purify the elements.  He will consume every crumb of the hosts and drink every drop of the Precious Blood.  He will then clean the cups and patens with special cloths called Purificators.  Those Purificators are then washed in a special sink that drains to the outside ground.  (It is unthinkable that any remnant from the Body and Blood of Christ would make its way to a sewer.)

When I first started attending Mass, the idea of Real Presence was not only foreign to me, it was difficult to accept.  It even sounded a bit ridiculous at first.  But as I continued to attend Mass, read the scripture, hear the words, and watch Father consecrate the bread and wine every week, I went from confusion and skepticism to complete understanding — and that led to an almost unbearable longing to receive. The day I was confirmed, the first time I truly received Christ, was one of the most fulfilling moments of my spiritual journey.  Today when I stand in the Communion line, waiting to receive Our Lord, I know I am joined by millions of Catholics around the globe who are, at that very moment, also standing in line to receive our Savior.

The Eucharist is the heart and the summit of the Church’s life, for in it Christ associates his Church and all her members with his sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving offered once for all on the cross to his Father; by this sacrifice he pours out the graces of salvation on his Body which is the Church. –The Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 1398

For more readings on the Eucharist, just click on any of the following links:

http://www.catholic.com/tracts/christ-in-the-eucharist

http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p2s2c1a3.htm

http://www.ewtn.com/faith/teachings/euchc2.htm

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Till Death Do Us Part

On August 6, 2011, I stood at the front of my parish and watched as my future father-in-law escorted my beautiful bride down the aisle.  Outside of the birth of our son—a year and some months later—the day I married Lindsay was the happiest of my life.

At the time I was not yet Catholic, but marriage was something I had always considered to be sacred and holy. As I came into the Church, I learned about marriage as a sacrament, and I began to understand the union between man and woman on a profoundly deeper level.

In the Catholic Church marriage is more than just a human institution or a legally binding contract between two adults. We believe God authored marriage, and that it is written into our very nature. The love between husband and wife stems from God’s perfect will, and through matrimony it becomes an image of His unconditional love for mankind.

Our Holy Scripture tells us the Lord created man and woman specifically for one another.

“It is not good for man to be alone, I will make a suitable partner for him”

The sacrament of marriage not only creates a sacred bond between two people, but it also creates a new union between those two and God.  In his ministry, Christ himself reaffirmed the holiness of the union.

He said to them in reply, ‘Have you not read that from the beginning, the Creator made them male and female’, and said, ‘For this reason, am an shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh . . . Therefore, what God has joined together, no human being must separate.’

Because of its sacred nature, the Catholic Church will not allow a couple to enter into marriage lightly. A significant amount of counseling is required, including an investigation of the couple’s intent. This is to make sure that both parties are getting married for the right reasons, as well as insuring that they are baptized, are coming into the marriage on their own free will, and are open to children.

Marriage is a gift. To find a mate is an absolute blessing. It allows us someone to cling to, someone to whom we can unconditionally surrender ourselves. It helps us to reject sin, to overcome selfishness, and survive in a fallen world.

Most importantly, perhaps, is how the love that man and woman share in matrimony can physically manifest it self in procreation. Through the marriage act, one of unconditional love and self-giving, God bestows on us the miraculous ability to create new life.

We treat the sacrament of marriage with the upmost reverence and sanctity. Because of this, the separation of husband and wife can be a very grave matter. For us, it takes more than filing papers at the courthouse for a marriage to end.  If — for whatever reason — a Catholic couple makes the decision to end their marriage, the Church must annul it before they can move on with their lives.

An annulment, in short, is when the marriage is declared to be not a sacrament and despite what you may have heard, it is a long and involved process.  It can take years to complete and involves a full investigation of the relationship.  The Church must find sound reason that the two should never have been married in the first place.  Those who have been through the annulment process report it to be one of the most emotionally draining experiences they’ve ever encountered.  But it is necessary if a divorced Catholic should ever want to remarry.  Until an annulment is granted, the Church considers a marriage to still be valid no matter how many lawyers or judges say otherwise.  This matter is taken so seriously that a divorced Catholic may not receive the Eucharist if he or she were to remarry without first obtaining an annulment.  Otherwise, they are committing adultery.

Marriage is a constantly debated subject in our society, but as Catholics we must remember that it is a holy and blessed union that supersedes any social or secular definition. While not every member of God’s family is called to celebrate the sacrament, we are all called to recognize its sacred nature, and uphold it as God made it to be.

The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life, is by its nature ordered toward the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring; this covenant between baptized persons has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament.—The Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 1602