One of the most important things that Father Robert Barron said in his talk at the Diocese of Knoxville’s 25th Anniversary Eucharistic Congress on Saturday was that “without the Eucharist, we would starve spiritually.” Father Barron recounted the story of the first time that he ever participated in a Papal Mass in St. Peter’s Square. He said that when he went out to a section of the crowd to give them Holy Communion, they reached out their hands almost as if to beg for Our Lord, saying “please padre, please!”
Father Barron said that this is certainly the correct attitude to have when approaching the Eucharist, because it is Jesus really and truly Present, coming to us as “the living bread that came down from Heaven.” (cf. John 6:51) Therefore, we should approach the Eucharist in a spirit of real longing, even if we are fortunate enough to receive Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament on a daily basis. The very fullness of communion with Jesus Christ in this world is to be had in the Holy Eucharist.
A number of years ago, I had a most interesting conversation with a Protestant friend of mine who is fairly well-read in the doctrines and dogmas of various churches and ecclesial communities. I will never forget that conversation because it was in that back-and-forth that I heard something for the first time that I have heard or read many times since then. My friend suggested that of all the actual doctrinal differences between most Protestant ecclesial communities and the Catholic Church, nearly all of them could somehow, in his mind, be bridged. He believed that the greatest dogmatic and doctrinal difficulty separating Protestantism from being united with the Catholic Church and again forming one united western Christendom was the Eucharist. He said that the single greatest difference between Catholic and non-Catholic Christians was the belief that in the Eucharist, bread and wine, though they maintain their outward appearance, when consecrated actually become the Body and Blood of Christ. Indeed this is exactly what is being done when the priest prays these or similar words in the Mass (from the Roman Canon):
Be pleased, O God, we pray, to bless, acknowledge,
and approve this offering in every respect; make it spiritual and acceptable, so that it may become for us the Body and Blood of your most beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.
At every Mass we believe that ordinary bread and wine becomes the Body and Blood of Christ when it is consecrated, as the celebrant of a Mass would pray in the words above. It maintains the appearance (or accidents) of bread and wine, but when consecrated it is really Christ’s Body, it is his Blood. The fancy theological word for this is transubstantiation. However we describe it, the idea that this is really Jesus’ flesh and blood we are receiving, not just a mere symbol or memorial, goes back to the earliest days of Christianity. Of this Jesus himself said in John 6:51-55:
I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread 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, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink.
From the time of the Protestant Reformation going forward, nearly all of the founders of the early Protestant ecclesial communities rejected, in varying degrees, what was once accepted as orthodoxy within Christendom. Some of the early Protestant leaders adopted the notion of consubstantiation, the idea that the Body and Blood of Christ exist along with bread and wine, as opposed to the substance of bread and wine maintaining its appearance but becoming Christ’s Body and Blood. Many others adopted the idea that the bread and wine are mere symbols of Christ’s Body and Blood, which is the predominant view within much of the Protestant world today, especially evangelical Protestantism.
As a convert to the faith myself, I have long believed as a matter of opinion that my friend’s very direct and honest assessment of the Eucharist as the greatest source of division of them all between Catholic and non-Catholic Christians is highly accurate. Here in the South, we hear a lot about Mary being a source of division between us (many, I have found, are quite mistaken in what they think we believe about the Blessed Mother, but that is material for some later post), but the Eucharist is often not discussed. I sometimes wonder if many of our evangelical separated brothers and sisters in the South even know what we believe about the Eucharist. When we witness our faith to others (and we should in appropriate ways) can we find ways to share the truth of the Real Presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament?
Why should the message of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist be shared and spread? I would humbly posit that the reason that we might do so is because what Father Barron shared in his message is absolutely true; without the Eucharist, without receiving Christ in his Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity, we spiritually starve to death. If we wouldn’t want that for ourselves or our families, why would we think that spiritual starvation would be fine for our neighbors or our friends?
Can I tell you the best way to share the truth of the Blessed Sacrament? Probably not, at least not in a way that would serve as the “catch-all” phraseology. Every person, every background, and every spiritual situation is different and we have to respect that reality. However, if you want to spread the message of the Eucharist to your friends and neighbors and the people in your community, pray about how you might do that. Ask your pastor, associate pastor, deacon(s), or the catechists if they might suggest material that can help you share the truth of what we believe about the Eucharist in an appropriate and respectful way.