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His Flesh Is True Food

last supper3

“Take and eat; this is my body… Drink from [the cup], all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant…” (Matthew 26:26-27).

These are Jesus’ words at the Last Supper, on the first “Holy Thursday,” as he offered to his apostles what appeared to be bread and wine. As Catholics, we believe that Jesus meant these words quite literally, just like when he said “my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink” (John 6:55). Thus, we remember the Last Supper not just as Jesus’ last meal with his apostles before his betrayal, but as the event at which he instituted the Eucharist and established the priesthood.

The mystery of Jesus’ true presence in the Eucharist is central to our faith; yet so many Catholics do not believe it. I admit it’s intellectually difficult to grasp (which is why it’s a mystery), but that’s why Jesus told us that we must have the faith of children in order to enter Heaven. In my experience, children readily accept the mystery of the Eucharist even though they do not fully understand it. They are awed, rather than disturbed, by the idea that Jesus offers his true body and blood for us to consume.

When I was a little girl, my mother told me that the beautiful white marble “box” at the front of our church held Jesus. I remember wondering how Jesus’ body could fit into such a small space, and thinking maybe all the marble stretching out on either side was also part of his tomb. Or maybe it was just his bones stacked up in that small compartment, rather than his whole body. Either way, I believed that what my mom said was true. Jesus was present there.

I don’t remember when I realized what my mother had meant – that what was inside the tabernacle was Jesus’ body, blood, eucharist-640x494soul, and divinity disguised by the appearance of bread. But I know I believed that as much as I believed my mother when I thought she was talking about Jesus’ corpse or his bones. I don’t remember questioning it until I was about 19 or 20 years old. When I was 16, I tried to convince my non-Catholic friend that the Eucharist was really Jesus just by reading from John 6. In my simple faith, I assumed he didn’t believe it only because he had never read that part of the Bible. Needless to say, he was not convinced.

I was a freshman in college when influences in my life caused me to doubt the truth of the Catholic faith. I didn’t reject or cease to practice it. I simply went about my normal life, but with the nagging thought that maybe what I had always believed was not true. Sometimes accompanying that thought was a suffocating anxiety and a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. I was scared of the prospect of abandoning the faith I grew up with. I realized I had to counteract those voices speaking against my faith, so I started researching online to understand more of the “whys” behind the “whats.” I wanted to know the Capital-T-Truth, even if it hurt me, and hurt my family, and made my world come crashing down. I didn’t want just to do and believe what was comfortable.

I don’t know how long I spent researching, or all the different subjects I read about, but I do remember the flashing neon sign indicating that I had found the Truth I sought. That sign was a website about Eucharistic miracles. I read about an 8th century monk who was doubting Transubstantiation. One day when he said the words of the Consecration, the bread and wine changed visibly into flesh and blood in his hands. Those in attendance at the Mass also saw it, and spread news of the occurrence far and wide. The piece of flesh and the coagulated drops of blood remain uncorrupted, and are on display in the town of Lanciano, Italy, where this miracle occurred. The flesh and blood have undergone many investigations of their authenticity, including in the 20th century with modern research tools and methods. Each investigation has confirmed that this is indeed true human flesh and blood, inexplicably preserved. Among other amazing findings, scientists have identified the flesh as heart tissue, and the blood as type AB.

LangianoThe miracle at Lanciano is one of the most famous and earliest of recorded Eucharistic miracles, but countless others have occurred over the centuries, often to strengthen the faith of doubting priests. When I studied abroad in 2005, I had the privilege of seeing a blood-stained cloth from a Eucharistic miracle that occurred in another Italian city, Bolsena (the cloth is displayed in nearby Orvieto). There are also accounts of saints who subsisted for years on the Eucharist, consuming nothing else. Then there are the personal stories of the faithful, which remain hidden in their hearts – not stories of bread and wine visibly becoming flesh and blood, but stories of physical, mental, and spiritual restoration after receiving the Eucharist; stories of an overwhelming sense of peace when praying in front of the Host in adoration; stories of an inexplicable longing for that “bread and wine.”

Truthfully, Eucharistic miracles and the doctrine of Transubstantiation defy all human logic. How is it possible for what looks like bread and wine to be the flesh and blood of Jesus? How can He be present in every tabernacle and at every Mass world-wide at once? How can a piece of bread visibly transform into human flesh in the hands of a doubting priest? How is it possible that the piece of flesh along with the drops of blood remain uncorrupted hundreds of years later? Scripture says, all things are possible with God. These things are not any less possible than God becoming man, dying on a cross, and rising again.

Using your intellect alone to try to make sense of these mysteries is not going to get you anywhere. It will not suddenly lead to belief in the heart of a persistently disbelieving person. You easily could write off the miracles as hoaxes or works of satan. It wasn’t my intellect that told me “this is the Truth” when I read about these miracles. The neon sign that I spoke of was illuminated by the light of faith. I just KNEW in my heart and soul that these were real. And knowing that the Catholic Church got this truth right helped me to know that she really is who she claims to be.

I have read many arguments for a literal interpretation of John 6 (see herehere, and here for examples). I want to “be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks.” These arguments satisfied my intellect in a manner that was complementary to the faith that I had been granted by God as a gift. When John 6 is read without that supernatural faith, the concept of eating Jesus’ flesh and drinking his blood is easily dismissed as ridiculous and untenable, even by those who call themselves Catholic. But when God gives you the “ears to hear” and “eyes to see,” it becomes so clear that it’s impossible to read Scripture otherwise.

Utmost reverence shown toward the Eucharist greatly aids the nourishment of that gift of faith. I long for the days when the tabernacle was a focal point of every church, when people kneeled to receive our Lord, didn’t make idle conversation inside the nave of the church, genuflected with awareness of what they were doing, sang sacred hymns during Mass, and dressed up for church like they were going to meet a King. Those things clearly communicated the belief that Jesus really meant what he said. Without them, it’s much easier to lose that child-like faith that Jesus is really there inside that marble box and those golden vessels.

 

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Adrienne Communion Ink Slingers Mass Sacraments Sacred Scripture

Thanksgiving in the Eucharist: The New Testament

Última Cena, Leonard Da Vinci

Last year at Thanksgiving, I shared with Catholic Sistas my love for the Scripture of John 6, and how clearly the Holy Spirit teaches us about Christ’s Real Presence in the Eucharist.  As I am always learning, this year has brought me even closer to the Eucharist, in ways I didn’t see coming.  Today, I wish to share something that has revolutionized my faith.

I live in the Bible Belt of Texas, and thus I have become greatly influenced by our Sola-Scriptura brothers and sisters in Christ that the Bible is to be paramount in the life of a follower of Christ.  After all, reading Sacred Scripture is reading the very words of the Holy Spirit Himself, so a Christian seeking clarity naturally turns the pages of the Bible.

When focusing on the issue of Authority in my Catholic Apologetics hobby, I’ve often ruminated on the fact that Christ never penned any Sacred Scripture.  He could have, He was fully human, and He knew there would be Scriptures of the New Testament, so why not contribute?  During the Gospel reading at each mass, we could be reading from the Gospel of Jesus in addition to ( or even instead of) Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, and that would be pretty awesome.  But, no, God saw it fit, in His perfect plan for our Salvation, that the Holy Spirit work only through ordinary men to leave us His Written Word, and this is as it should be.  I have also ruminated much on Christ’s Ascension, and how not only did He not pen us any Sacred Scripture, but that He left some men behind to start His Church.  Until recently, my ruminations on the subject ended there.  Christ left us leaders of His Church.

But… this conclusion was very short sided.

Christ did leave us a New Testament.

Christ left us the Eucharist.

In 1 Corinthians 11 the Holy Spirit records for us one of several accounts of the Last Supper.  The night before He was sacrificed, Christ presided over the Passover feast (a ritual that is long, very structured and very, very well known by the Jews), and He changed it up part way through, to introduce us to a new ritual.  Of the blessed and broken bread, He says, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me” and of the blessed cup He says, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”  Then at the hand of St. Paul, the Holy Spirit goes on to tell us, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.”

In the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) we hear Jesus more explicitly say that the cup is actually the blood of the New Covenant, that He was to shed on the Cross.

Christ left us the Eucharist as our Testament to the New Covenant.

Wow.

Christ left us the Eucharist as our Testament to the New Covenant.

In His Lecture, “The Fourth Cup”, Scott Hahn points out that during the Last Supper, Christ up and leaves after the third cup of the Passover meal, not having completed the fourth and final cup of the meal, instead saying He will not drink again of the vine until the Kingdom of God is at hand.  He goes to pray, is arrested, and crucified.  In the Gospel of John, chapter 19, it is recorded for us that Christ called out, “I thirst.” And He is offered a sponge soaked with wine.  After He partakes of the wine, His Fourth Cup, He proclaims, “It is finished.”  He transforms His Crucifixion into His Sacrifice, into the New Covenant.  He is the Perfect Passover Lamb sacrificed for our Salvation.  As the Passover sacrifice and meal saved the Israelites from the Angel of Death, Christ’s Sacrifice and His Meal, the Eucharist, save us from death.  Because the Eucharist is truly Christ’s Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity, our souls receive the Eternal Life of Christ’s blood shed on the Cross.

As my appreciation for the Real Presence of the Eucharist has evolved, so has my appreciation for the Mass.  The Catholic Church has uniquely persisted in offering the Eucharist at every Mass, not only every Sunday, but every single day of the week (except Good Friday, of course).  This requires the men Christ left behind at His Ascension, who He later filled with the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.  And I am so thankful that the Holy Spirit provided us Sacred Scripture to explain the Eucharist, and to be read in the Liturgy of the Word every day in preparation for the New Testament at Holy Mass.

It is unusually fitting that in America we understand Thanksgiving to be a celebration of a meal shared between the Pilgrims and Native Indians, while similarly as Catholics we understand the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist (means “Thanksgiving”), to be a meal shared between Christ (dying on the Cross for our sins) and us poor sinners.

Thank you, Lord, for our Daily Bread, and may God Bless America!

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Splendid Sundays

Splendid Sundays – Fourth Sunday of Easter

Fourth Sunday of Easter

You can find today’s readings here.

Jesus is our good Shepherd, the one who will unite us, protect us, heal us, and save us.  I love how He says, in referencing His sheep, “I know mine and mine know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father.”  For us to know Christ as He knows the Father, is so profound!  Christ and the Father are one with the Holy Spirit, they cannot know each other any more or any less, they are in perfect union.  And here Jesus says that we, his sheep, can know him with this sort of union.  Just how can we know Christ in this same manner?

During the Annunciation, when the Blessed Virgin Mary was approached by St. Gabriel and told she would bear a son, her response is often translated to, “How can this be, since I have known not man?” (Lk 1)  Here “known” speaks of a physical intimacy (hopefully coupled with an intellectual intimacy).

In the passage following today’s selection from the Gospel of John, Jesus says that He gives his sheep “eternal life”.  The last time Jesus spoke of giving his followers eternal life is back in John 6, during the Bread of Life Discourse, preparing the way for the Eucharist, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day.” (Jn 6:54)

I can’t help but see the Eucharist being spoken of here, as the primary way we are to know Christ as Christ knows the Father, and as the primary way Christ unites us such that there is “one flock, one shepherd.”  Likely Christ was referencing bringing the Gentiles into the fold with the Jews.  However in light of the Eucharist I think of how at each mass, each day, around the world all of Christ’s flock on Earth is united in time and space to His Sacrifice on the cross in Calvary when, as Jesus foretold he would do in the gospel “I lay down my life in order to take it up again” At the mass we are a united flock, the entire Church, Militant, Suffering and Triumphant, to our one Shepherd!  Hallelujah!

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Advent Liturgical Year Splendid Sundays

Splendid Sundays: The Arks of the Covenants

4th Sunday of Advent

Lectionary 1

First Reading ~ 2 Samuel 7:1-5, 8b-12, 14a, 16
Responsorial Psalm ~ Psalm 89:2-3, 4-5, 27, 29
Second Reading ~ Romans 16:25-27
Gospel Reading ~ Luke 1:26-38

Open Readings in another window.

Reflection:

Theologians through out Church history have held fast to the tradition of the Virgin Mary as the Ark of the New Covenant, and today’s passages overlay nicely to show us the divinely designed parallels, such exciting Scriptures!

The Ark of the Covenant is found in the Old Testament Scriptures.  It contained manna, (bread God rained down from Heaven to feed the Isrealites in the desert for 40 years), the Word of God on stone tablets, and the rod of Aaron (proof of the true priesthood).  Upon Moses’s completion of the Ark “the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle” (Ex 40) .  When King David was to accept the Ark in his custody he learned that the previous person to touch it died.  Thoughtfully, King David asked, “How can the ark of the LORD come to me?”  Later, as we learn in today’s reading, while the Ark is still under his protection, King David learns that the Savior is to come through his bloodline, and the prophet says, “The Lord is with you.

The Virgin Mary, as the Ark of the New Covenant, has a similar story!  As we learn in today’s passage in the Gospel of Luke, the angel greeted the Virgin with “The Lord is with you” before she is told that she will miraculously bear a son.  Where the cloud overshadowed the Ark of the Old Covenant, Mary was overshadowed by the Holy Spirit with the dawn of the New Covenant.  It was then her womb contained Jesus who later described himself as “the bread that came down from heaven” (John 6:41).  John also described Jesus as “the Word made flesh” (John 1:14), and we can find in the book of Hebrews Jesus described as the  “great high priest who has passed through the heavens” (Heb 4:14).  The Virgin Mary became the Ark of the New Covenant when she held Jesus in her womb.  Later, when Mary visited her pregnant cousin, Elizabeth, she is greeted by words echoing King David’s, “And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (Lk 1:43)

Just a couple of weeks ago we celebrated the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.  It is in the theology of Mary as the Ark of the New Covenant that we find amazing support for this doctrine.  God commanded the construction of the Ark in meticulous detail.  It was created with the finest materials, only the purest gold was to be used.  Perhaps a plain gold box could have sufficed, but instead God directed the construction of a masterpiece complete with meaningful artistic work; it was extraordinarily beautiful.   The Ark of the Old Covenant held symbols of the God’s divinity and power.  Meanwhile, the Virgin Mary held God Himself in the second person of the Trinity in her womb.  God knitted His son in her flesh.  The dwelling place of the Word made Incarnate, God’s only Son,  could only be held in an Ark of similar, if not even exceeding standards to that of the Old Covenant.  Furthermore, thinking back to the man who died when touching the Ark of the Old Covenant, and also to God’s warning to Moses, “But you cannot see my face, for no one can see me and live” (Ex 33)  it seems that sinful man perishes when in too close a proximity to God.  Meanwhile, we know that in Heaven we reside intimately with God, yet since nothing impure can reach heaven (Rev 21), we will have been washed of our sins and made perfect in order to be able to reside with Him.   This makes one wonder, could Mary,  as a sinful human, have even survived God Incarnate dwelling her womb?

As I have argued before (Mary’s Sinlessness and our Salvation), God’s plan for our salvation was and is perfect through and through.  I feel like today’s responsorial psalm “Forever I will sing the goodness of the Lord“, because He so loved me as to give His only begotten Son, that I might have eternal life with Him.  I am thoroughly grateful that the Lord found my salvation important enough as to have created for Himself, and for us, his perfect Mother, Immaculate Mary!

For further reading on Mary as the Ark of the New Covenant, check out this fantastic article.


St. Ambrose (339-397)
“The prophet David danced before the Ark.  Now what else should we say the Ark was but holy Mary?  The Ark bore within it the tables of the Testament, but Mary bore the Heir of the same Testament itself.  The former contained in it the Law, the latter the Gospel.  The one had the voice of God, the other His Word.  The Ark, indeed, was radiant within and without with the glitter of gold, but holy Mary shone within and without with the splendor of virginity.  The one was adorned with earthly gold, the other with heavenly” Source

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Adrienne Apologetics Communion Doctrine Faith Formation Ink Slingers Sacraments Sacred Scripture

Thanksgiving in the Eucharist: Reflections on the Gospel of John 6

Pope Benedict XVI celebrates the mass

The word Eucharist literally means “thanksgiving” and since tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day in the United States I couldn’t help but use this time to write reflect the Eucharist! There are several places in the Bible to turn to for proper catechesis on the the Blessed Sacrament, and for today I will be sharing my thoughts on and love for the Gospel of John, chapter six.  This chapter of John is simply amazing.  It is a treasure trove of support for the Real Presence in the Eucharist, and I certainly haven’t uncovered it all so I look forward to learning more!

Open John 6 in another tab to reference and read along!

This chapter of John is not actually at the Last Supper, that comes later along the time line.  For the most profound things Jesus did in His Earthly ministry He prepared His disciples ahead of time and told them what to expect.  For instance, Jesus forewarns His disciples that He must die but that He will rise again (Matt 16:21), and He also forewarns that the Holy Spirit will be sent to teach and guide the Church (Jn 14:26) , which is later sent at Pentecost.  In this similar pattern we see Jesus prepare His disciples for the profound miraculous nature of the institution of the Eucharist.

John 6 first contains descriptions of two of Jesus’ miracles, a multiplication of loaves and His walking on water.  So Jesus is opening the disciples’ eyes to the miracles He’ll be performing in the institution of the Eucharist by demonstrating first that He can do miraculous things with bread in the multiplication of the loaves, and later He demonstrates that He can do miraculous things with His body, by walking on water.

Next, I love how a reference to God feeding the Israelites in the desert by raining manna from Heaven precedes Jesus’ discourse on eternal life.  How easy is it to believe that little flakes of bread rained down for 40 years?  Jesus came with a new covenant, so even more miraculous than raining bread is the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.  Jesus uses this reference to the manna to introduce the Eucharist, He proclaims, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.

In the Old Testament signs of faith were very physical, such as the raining of manna and even the Passover Feast of sacrificing a perfect lamb for God, adorning the door of a believer’s home with the blood of the lamb then eating it (for fun, reflect on how the Passover Feast relates to the raining of manna).  Jesus continues this physical sign of faith in the new covenant, charging ahead with very physical words.

1) “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.” 51
2) “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.”53
3) “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life.” 54
4) “For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink” 55
5) “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. “ 56
6) “I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me.” 57

Jesus pounded the crowd with very literal and vibrant words, repeating Himself because He knew how hard this teaching was to accept.  Jesus spoke of flesh many times in the Gospels, but by context the use means “humanly” or “earthly”, much like how He uses the word flesh in verse 63 “It is the spirit that gives life, while the flesh is of no avail.”  Meanwhile the rest of the references in this passage to flesh He takes ownership of, “my flesh”, “the flesh of the Son of Man”.  In fact, as far as I am aware, the only times recorded in the Gospels that Jesus speaks of His own flesh is when He commands us to eat it.  How unnerving this must have been to hear!

The ascension of Jesus

If I had been amongst the disciples I doubt my my astonishment would have been so gently expressed as “This saying is hard; who can accept it?”(61).   Jesus replied curtly “Does this shock you?”  Well… YES!  It IS shocking!  No Christian wants to believe anything against the teachings of Christ.   I’ve seen it argued that so many disciples left not because they understood Jesus to be saying to literally eat His flesh, but that they understood Him to be saying that He was God and that’s why they left.  This is definitely intellectually easier to swallow.  By our sinful nature we can’t help but think of ourselves as true followers of Christ compared to those who left Him in this passage.  We tend to consider ourselves more advanced and more intelligent than previous generations, especially those from thousands of years ago.  For some, it may even be intellectually embarrassing to admit to believing that the little host and cup of wine the priest is holding up during the consecration are anything more than “a cracker and grape juice”.  So, we see many Catholics abandoning the belief in the Real Presence, because to this day, this saying is hard… truly, who can accept it?

What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before?” (62) I find it interesting that Jesus uses His Ascension as the example for difficult belief, because this is still difficult to explain today.  For instance if He’d said, “What if you were to see the Son of Man die and come back to life three days later?” well, in today’s world we’d just be able to dismiss this as a medical miracle.  Maybe the tomb had been so cold as to lower His temperature enough that He was in some sort of state of suspended animation.  However, we still have no ability to explain Jesus ascending to Heaven.  This still takes a seemingly gullible amount of faith to believe in.  About as gullible as it seems to believe that the bread and wine are authentically the body, blood, soul and divinity of God’s dearly beloved Son.

Jesus, being infinitely wise, made sure to issue the disclaimer that only a select few would believe Him.  Jesus speaks of those in disbelief, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by my Father.” (65) which is a call back to “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him may have eternal life, and I shall raise him [on] the last day.” (40)  Jesus joins with the condition of believing in Him seeing Him.  The only way for this amazing statement of salvation to be binding on people of all generations is for us to be able to see Him in the Eucharist.

At every mass in every Catholic Church every day around the world we can approach Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament on bended knee and give Him proper thanks.  We know that Jesus is present to our souls at all times, but it is in the Blessed Sacrament that Jesus makes Himself present to our bodies – the bodies He gave us to separate us from the angels, and the bodies He’ll reunite with our souls upon His second coming.  Thanks be to God for the institution of the Eucharist.

“My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish. No one can take them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one can take them out of the Father’s hand.  The Father and I are one.”
Jesus, John 10:27

 

St. Ignatius learned from St. John the Apostle directly and was martyred in a death sentence by lions in Colosseum.

“Take note of those who hold heterodox opinions on the grace of Jesus Christ, which have 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 that suffered for our sins and that the Father, in his goodness, raised up again.  They who deny the gift of God are perishing in their disputes.”
~ St. Ignatius of Antioch, Letter to the Smyrnaeans, A.D. 110  (this guy learned from the Apostle John himself!)

“If the Lord were from other than the Father, how could he rightly take bread, which is of the same creation as our own, and confess it to be his body and affirm that the mixture in the cup is his blood?”
~ St. Irenaeus of Lyons, Against Heresies, A.D. 189

“What you see is the bread and the chalice; that is what your own eyes report to you.  But your faith obliges you to accept that the bread is the body of Christ and the chalice is the blood of Christ.  This has been said very briefly, which may perhaps be sufficient for faith; yet faith does not desire instruction.”
~ St. Augustine of Hippo, ibid 272