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

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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

25 Replies to “Thanksgiving in the Eucharist: Reflections on the Gospel of John 6”

  1. This is amazing! What an excellent job! LOVE the quotes at the end from the Early Church Fathers.

  2. Just finished reading it! Great post Adrienne! Isn’t it amazing what we learn when we connect the Old Testament to the words of Christ in the Gospel? It was almost too much for me to take in when I first heard about the Passover and the Passion of Jesus and how they were connected. I feel that people who do not know that they are not TWO separate “mini-Bibles” but to be read as a whole are really missing out on so much that God told us. It shouldn’t be that shocking to anyone though, Jesus said He didn’t come to abolish the Old Law but to Fullfill it, but somehow it is shocking that the Old Testament has anything to do with the New.

    One time I was thinking about it and it was a huge AHA moment. As I was Praying I thought “Is this real? Like are they THIS connected to each other?” And I heard a huge “DUH!!!” In my heart. I’m sure it was my guardian angel, he’s a bit of a smarty pants. LOL!!

  3. Thanks, Ladies!

    AnnMarie, me too, those quotes blow me away, but I guess Church Fathers are Church Fathers for good reason!

    Leticia, agreed. The two testaments support each other in a way only God could make happen. The richness of Truth in the folds of the two books is humbling. Love your guardian angel!!

  4. Perfect time for me to read this entry. We started discussing the Eucharist last night in my RCIA class. This is such a vast difference from how I was raised (Protestant, even more so Baptist.)

    I plan on reading John Chapter 6 tonight. I love verses 51-59 🙂

    Happy Thanksgiving! God Bless!

  5. Wonderful connection between the true and real presence of Christ and Thanksgiving. When we are bowing our heads, thinking of all that we are thankful for, Christ in the Eucharist should be the first blessing we thank God for. Thank you for this post!!

  6. John 6 is my favorite part of the entire Bible. And how powerful to place those quotes from the early Church fathers at the end. Truly, this is the faith of 2000 years.

  7. I loved the article. This was one area, as a convert to Catholicism 5 years ago, that I was not very knowledgeable. Just this morning I told the Mother Mary and Jesus that I needed to understand the Eucharist better and now I do.

    Also, I had a major miracle last year, I was very sick, unexpectedly, and at the clinic they told me I had only 4 hours to go into surgery or not make it. I didn’t feel that sick, but the whites of my eyes were yellow and there was pain in my upper abdomen. My husband, drove me to the emergency room, left me there and didn’t come back for 6 days to take me home and then he was made at me.

    To make the story short, I died 2x on the operating table and my surgeon told me that it was a miracle he could bring me back both times. The third time I died was in my room when I had quit breathing. This time I was up-above watching and I saw myself, what I thought was sleeping in my hospital bed. Then the nurse walked in, checked me for breathing, (she knew I had breathing problems), saw that I was not breathing and started shaking me. It was at that point that I went back into my body. I did not see the light, which I believe maybe I was in a middle area. A friend of mine who did die when in the ambulance, said he did see the tunnel of light. It is of no matter as to whether or not anyone believes me, but what I feel is important is that I share the information. When you know for sure, and I always knew, but many people are skeptical, that there is another life in heaven with Mary, Jesus, the Saints, Archangels and Angels as well as everyone who has sproceeded us in heaven, it is a wonderful thought to know where you will hopefully be when your time comes.


  8. Thank you for this Blog. It is a great tie-in of the Real Presence of Jesus in the Consecrated Species. This doctrine is often attacked, and not understood even by many Mass attending Catholics.
    It really comes down to “Would Jesus lie?”, and, “Did Jesus really say this?”
    If Jesus really said it, and evidence from early martyrs including the eleven is that He did, then it is true.
    Thank you.

  9. Megan, that’s exciting that you’re on your journey home! If you don’t mind, would you share with us the view of the Eucharist you’ve previously been taught and what it meant in your spiritual life?

    Michelle and Lily, thanks for leaving a note! Agreed, the Eucharist should be the first blessing we thank Him for this Thanksgiving, and absolutely! I love the evidence of our ancient faith!

    Jan, oh how I was praying this article would reach out to someone to better understand the Eucharist, so glad you stopped by! And congrats on your journey home! Wow, what an event to have lived through – dying, three times! And isn’t it so amazing to realize that at the mass, because of the Eucharist, we’re united with those who are in Heaven? So even those of us who will not have such a close encounter with Heaven through death, as you have, can still encounter Heaven in mass! I bet the mass has a much richer meaning for you!

    Teapot, agreed. This doctrine is very difficult to understand, even with how explicitly laid out it is, by Jesus, by St. Paul, by the Church Fathers. That’s why I love that St. Augustine quote so much, “faith does not desire instruction” encompasses it all. It is only by faith someone can accept this doctrine.

    God bless to you all! Happy Advent!

  10. Hi: Thank you for your kind words. I have always believed, and it doesn’t matter what religion you are, but I found that when I converted to catholic that the richness of my faith and experiences grew exponentially. I have had 3 visions in addition to the out-of-the body experience. Lately, I have been a little dry, don’t quite understand why, as my faith is as strong as ever. But I imagine there are so many things going on in the world and in my life lately that it causes one to be not as focused. I love my faith and, being a small business owner, I am able to share it to one degree or another with my customers. My business has been very challenging so I always tell people that God opened up a window for me but it has been by the seat of my pants. My marriage is the same. I am also in that particular window again and I can’t wait for it to pass. But I have been told to offer up my suffering and God will bless me. This window has been very frustrating, but my experiences in my faith keep my faith strong.

    Thank you for your wonderful website.


  11. One more comment and would love to hear your thoughts. I pray the rosary daily, on the average of close to 2x a day, early in the morning and when I go to bed at night. I also pray the chaplet to St. Micheal every time I pray the rosary. I understand when one prays to St. Micheal that the angles and archangels accompany you to the Eucharist. Are you familiar with this and can you give me more details. When I go up for the Eucharist I try to envision all of the angles/archangels accompanying me.




  12. Adrienne, I would be glad to share. The Eucharist was always referred to as communion in the Baptist churches I attended. It was taken only on special occasions and then normally once a month. The communion plate was typically oyster crackers or some other small cracker and the wine was always grape juice. The plates were passed through the congregation and each person took a piece of bread and a cup (tiny sip size) of wine. Then we all held it until the pastor said we were to take of it and do it in remembrance of Jesus. The emphasis on the body and blood was not really apparent. It was the “in remembrance of” that was emphasized the most. Honestly, it never really meant anything to me in my spiritual life. It was just a different part of a random Sunday. However, that is probably not how everyone felt about it.
    I’m so glad to be a part of the Catholic Church were we truly honor Jesus’ sacrifice and obey His words “This is my Body..This is my Blood.”
    I’d be glad to answer any questions about this. I’m sure I can give better details. Thanks!

  13. I was Missouri Synod Lutheran and they did represent the Eucharist as the body and blood of Jesus Christ, etc. But it was not really, in my mind, really emphasized. Missouri Synod is the closest to Catholic of other religions and Evangelical Lutheran very far left. I have found, as you also state, where there is so much food for the faith, in books, EWTN, websites such as this. It is such a fabulous experience. In other churches most of our faith was only talked about on Sundays and the rest of the week people went on as usual. I love talking about my faith and sharing other people’s faith.


  14. Megan and Jan, thanks for sharing your experiences with communion in your former traditions. I know that you two cannot speak for the experience and teaching on Communion for all non-Catholic Christian traditions, but I value you sharing none the less =).

    Megan, how you describe the Lord’s Supper in the Baptist churches you’ve attended sounds very similar to the celebration of the Lord’s Supper at my husband’s Bible church. His pastor makes sure every month to remind everyone that the celebration has no bearing on anyone’s salvation. Is this what you understood as well? Out of curiosity, what was the meaning for it being celebrated and how was the frequency of once a month chosen (if you know)? Lastly, how did you come to understand the Catholic teaching on the Eucharist, and what were your first thoughts on it?

    Jan, thank you for sharing about a conservative Lutheran tradition. As I understand it, the teaching on the Eucharist is that that of consubstantiation, where the elements retain their original properties meanwhile also bearing the Real Presence of Christ. Meanwhile the Catholic doctrine of Transubstantiation explains that while the elements still look like bread and while they have been 100% transformed into the body and blood of our Lord. In the Catholic tradition we have Eucharistic Adoration, where the Eucharist is displayed in a monstrance for a period of time so that the faithful may come and kneel in His presence in worship and prayer. As far as you are aware, was this something that occurred in the Missouri Synod Lutheran tradition? I ask because I wonder how viable worshiping the Eucharist can be with the doctrine of consubstantiation, would it be idolatrous to worship the Eucharist if it retained the properties of bread and wine? Lastly, what did celebrants do with the remaining blessed bread and wine after service? In the Catholic Church there are very detailed proper disposal and clean up procedures for the precious blood, and the body is locked safely in the Tabernacle. Karen wrote a great article about the subject a while back: How were the sacramentals treated in the Lutheran church?

    Thanks for the great conversation ladies!!

  15. “His pastor makes sure every month to remind everyone that the celebration has no bearing on anyone’s salvation. Is this what you understood as well?” Yes, this is how I understood it. It was simply an act to remember how Jesus taught us and how we should remember His sacrifice for us through communion since that was how it was taught in the Last Supper. In fact, “Do This In Remembrance” or something similar is carved into most altar tables in the churches I went to.
    “Out of curiosity, what was the meaning for it being celebrated and how was the frequency of once a month chosen (if you know)?” The meaning was simply to remember Jesus and be more aware of His sacrifice on the cross for us. I have no idea as to the frequency, other than it must have been convenient. I think also the fact that it was supposed to be special. Maybe they assumed doing it too often takes away some of the uniqueness and makes one complacent, but it doesn’t seem to really matter because it wasn’t taught to be a huge grace or way to salvation.
    “Lastly, how did you come to understand the Catholic teaching on the Eucharist, and what were your first thoughts on it?” I actually used to be taught that it was NOT literal. That this was incorrect and not possible. So my first thought upon learning about the Eucharist was…wow, this is going to take some getting used to and some time in order to reverse old habits and ideas. However, once the verses in Chapter 6 were pointed out and the fact that Jesus did not correct the Jews or the other followers who left because they would not and/or could not believe, then I felt the truth was slapping me in the face. I have come to understand it through conversations with my sponsor and instruction from my RCIA teachers.
    Thanks to you too Adrienne!

  16. Adrienne, What a great response. At this time of my life, I wanted to be so filled with God’s love, and I never knew very much other than to go to church on Sunday and have communion. I do not recall a lot of discussion on the Eucharist but we did kneel at a rail, which I wish we still did, we drank from a very small individual cup and and we placed a wafer in our mouth. We knew it was very important to take communion, but there just isn’t the availability of materials as there is for the Catholic Faith. I believe what caused me to blossom was EWTN. There shows are fantastic, then I started reading also. Then, I ended up with a holy spot in my living room which started out my grandma’s rocker and her little table. (she was born catholic and converted when she married my grandmother. I believe she missed her Catholic faith.) Then I found a picture of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the Sorroful Heart of Mary, Jesus Light of the World Icon with a huge gift of a picture of Jesus at Gethsemanie…(forgot how to spell it.) Below the pictures is the Immaculate Heart of Mary, a cross and then a statue of St. Micheal. I would love to add more. First I started out with a couple of pictures some candles that had been blessed praying the rosary, then I added the chaplet of St. Micheal. At that time myhusband was working and I would have time to actually have coffee with them and visit with them about all kinds of things. I treated them as my best friends that I couldn’t wait to visit. I know I sound weird, but it really isn’t. But my husband started being up set, I call him a pew sitter Catholic and he started saying that I was sick for praying the Rosary. So then I tried to do this only when he wasn’t home, which seemed like he was always home. So then I started praying the rosary and the chaplet early in the morning in bed and the same at night. I really prefer having my relationship back as it used to be. At My business I have a picture of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and I pray to him and also have conversations but not as many. I am a very normal person who is passionate about my love for Mary and Jesus. It has only been thist last year that I realized that I needed to learn more about the Eucharist. My Priest is very fussy about the Eucharist.

    when I started I was the only person who would take the wine. They would take the bread. they also don’t bow when they go up, etc. I asked my husband why no one else would take the wine and he said they were afraid of germs. I said if you believe in Jesus you can’t worry about germs….As time went by more and more people are taking the wine, not a huge number but more than zero. I try to do a lot of little stuff that I hear about or see on EWTN and maybe people will start thinking more about it. Please do not get the idea that I think I am doing fabulous, I have such a long way to go, and I work sometimes 7 days a week with long hours and I don’t get to do as much as I so desperately want.

    I really like being able to visit and learn more about faith. It is so refreshing.


  17. To answer Jan’s questions, yes, the angels are always present with us at Mass. In the Mass, just before beginning the Eucharistic Prayer in the center of the Mass, the priest appeals to “the angels and archangels” to sing the glory of God. Which means we are called to unite ourselves first to the holy angels, the first adorers of God, in our own worship.

    The angels’ roles in the liturgy is much more obvious in the Latin Mass, where St. Michael is actually mentioned as someone we confess our faults to. Then at the offeratory, the priest asks the blessing of God upon the sacrifice through the intercession of Saint Michael.

    In the Mass, the angels are our intercessors, taking our prayers and offerings directly to God. Also, during the Holy, Holy, Holy, we are to understand that worship as being us JOINING in the perpetual worship offered to God through the holy angels. Our first priest used to say that was the moment when heaven and earth truly combined, because both heaven and earth are praising God together. I love that!

  18. thank you Dawn for your input on the angels and archangels and the eucharist. It is wonderful what food for the faith that you bringing to us.


  19. I saw that someone from Sisseton, SD visited the site. I am only 15 minutes from there. Maybe you could comment.


  20. Such a beautiful article. I teach 8th grade Faith Formation and I will share this with them later this year. I pray that I can deliver it as eloquently as you have. Thanks!

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