March 27, 2006
Thank you for your letter. This is a wonderful topic so I am happy to do my best to answer your questions. It may take a while to answer all of them adequately. What I ask is that you really consider the answers, and not to have your mind made up ahead of time. You asked the following:
1). If the wafer is turned into the body of Jesus, how come it still looks like a wafer and the wine still looks like wine?
I could likewise ask you, if Jesus is really God, how come he looked like a man? The answer is that God can be present in any way He wants to be. Jesus, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, joined a fully human nature to Himself.
“Have this mind in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who though he was by nature God, did not consider being equal to God a thing to be clung to, but emptied himself, taking the nature of a slave being made like unto men. And appearing in the form of a man, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even to death on a cross.” (Phil 2:5-8).
If God can appear in the form of Man, why is it impossible for him to appear under the form of Bread and Wine if He chooses to? In the Eucharist He changes bread and wine into His Body and Blood. Jesus is present in the Eucharist sacramentally, that is, in a hidden way. He is the one who says it is so; “This is my body” (Mt 26:26). “This is my blood”(Mt. 26:28).
St. Paul says to the Corinthians: “Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily, will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord. For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself.” (1Cor 11:27-29).
Clearly St. Paul does not think the Eucharist is merely bread and wine, or only a symbol. He warns of dire consequences for receiving unworthily. Only if it is really His body and blood could someone have to answer for the body and blood. He goes on to explain that because some of them don’t discern or recognize Christ’s Body in the Consecrated Bread they eat and drink judgment on themselves, and as a consequence, many of them are ill, infirm, and a number of them were dying (see 1Cor 11:30).
2). If we really ate Jesus’ flesh, isn’t that cannibalism?
No. Jesus gives us His Body and Blood sacramentally, under the appearances of bread and wine, precisely so that we are not biting off pieces of His arm etc. and cutting into His veins to drink His Blood in a cannibalistic way. Remember that His Body is now Resurrected and Glorified. It is not subjected to any harm by being eaten. It is His very intimate way of coming to be with us in Communion, so that with His bride, the Church, He can become one body, so that the two may become one flesh. “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him”. (Jn 6:56)
In John 6:52 the unbelieving Jews raised the same objection. “The Jews quarreled among themselves, saying, ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’”
“Then, many of his disciples who were listening said, “This saying is hard; who can accept it?” (Jn 6:60).
Sadly, they refused to believe Jesus. In verse 66 we read “As a result of this, many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him”. We should not disbelieve Jesus and stop following Him like these unfortunate people.
3). Isn’t drinking blood forbidden in the Scriptures?
A direct command from Jesus in this matter settles any debate about the interpretation of the Old testament dietary laws. As I just showed, Jesus gives us His Blood in a mysterious way, under the appearance of wine. Jesus said, “For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed”. (Jn 6: 56)
He commanded us to eat and drink His Body and Blood: “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.” (Jn 6:53). The dietary laws of the Old Covenant were concerned first and foremost with the blood of animals. The Blood of Jesus is not in its former, natural condition. Rather, it is sacramentally present under the appearance of wine. Therefore, St. Paul asks; “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not the sharing of the blood of Christ? And the bread we break, is it not the partaking of the body of the Lord? (1Cor 10:16).
4). Does he really mean that literally?
Obviously He means it literally since Jesus repeated himself six times in a row as recorded in the 6th chapter of John’s Gospel, commanding us to eat His flesh and drink His blood. He asked, “does this shock you?” (Jn 6:61). Those who couldn’t accept His teaching left Him (v. 66) He didn’t call anyone back and tell them they misunderstood by taking him literally, in fact He asked His apostles if they also wished to leave; they accepted His literal words and stayed.(Jn 6:67-69). How do you respond to the question of Jesus: does this shock you? If you were there, which group would you have joined?