Crossed The Tiber

An Evangelical Converts to Catholicism

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Location: Pennsylvania, United States

I was born into the Catholic faith. At 14, I was "born again" and found Jesus personally but lost His Church. After thirty years as an evangelical protestant, I have come full circle to find that He has been there all the time, in the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. I wish others to find the beauty and truth of the Catholic faith as I have found.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Why Is the Doctrine of the Eucharist Important?

The past three weeks in Mass the gospel readings have been from John 6 and the homilies have focused on the Eucharist. So it is very timely that commenter Anette asked "Regarding the bread and the wine really becoming flesh and blood. Why is this important? Isn't the presence of Christ what matters?"
I understand what you are saying- that His presence is really what matters! It's just that Catholics believe that receiving his body in blood in the Eucharist is the most direct way to experience his presence and avail ourselves of His grace. This is a doctrine that is very near and dear to me because once my eyes were opened to His presence in the breaking of the bread(the way the early Christians referred to the Mass) I knew I had to return to this Church because it had always been my desire to experience him as fully as possible. I still remember the feeling I had once I realized the early Christians actually believed that Jesus was still with them by way of the Eucharistic celebration/sacrifice of the altar. It was one of those "I could of had a V8" moments multiplied exponentially. I have blogged on this extensively but because of my non-existent system of archiving posts, I am going to answer Anette's question here once again using my thoughts and readings from the past 5 years.

The bread and wine becoming Christ's body and blood is very important because it is the normative way that the Christian world for 2000 has experienced the presence of Christ. It does not preclude us from experiencing Him in other ways but it is indeed the source and summit of a Catholic's faith. It is the ultimate sacrament above all other sacraments.(God's use of physical means to convey His grace) Why do we need a sacrament to fully experience God? I suspect it has something to do with the incarnation, God coming to earth as a man. He chose to use flesh and the stuff of earth to redeem us. Blood, water, bread and wine. Tertullian said that the flesh is the hinge of salvation.

The concept of receiving Christ in the Eucharist is pre-figured in the Old Testament. In the NT, John calls Jesus the Lamb of God and hinges the past with the future for the Jewish disciples. When the followers of John looked down the river and heard John say "Behold the Lamb of God" the picture that came to their mind was the Passover and the sacrificed lamb and the sure knowledge that they must eat the Lamb in in order to escape certain death. Only with a Jewish mind do I suspect we could really gather the import of those words spoken by John about his cousin.(Check this post here) Later, we hear Jesus tell us that He is the bread come down from heaven and we must eat his body and blood. Still later, the night he was betrayed, he took the bread and broke it and said: "Take and eat this is my body" Still later, as the early church started to grow, Paul had to speak to the Corinthians about their lack of discernment of the Lord's body and blood and how some were even getting sick and dying because of their abuse of the sacrament.

Please take a look at what the earliest Christians did with these words and the teachings that the disciples handed down to them. These early Christians believed that Christ would become physically and spiritually present to them in the breaking of the bread. They wrote about it extensively and defended this belief to their deaths and continued to celebrate the Mass for the next 1600 years with almost no dissent in this belief. Here's just a brief story example: Ignatius was a disciple of John, Jesus beloved disciple. He wrote about the Eucharist describing it as the body and blood of our Lord and admonished those who refused to accept it. That was just a mere 70 years after Jesus ascended to heaven. It is unlikely they could have twisted this doctrine wrong so soon. Especially being handed to them from one of the twelve original disciples.

There are pages and pages of writings of the early Church fathers that show that the early Church believed in the real presence which you can access, but my point is that this has been a constant teaching of the Church for 2000 years. There was one or two occasions in history(pre-reformation) when the doctrine of the Eucharist was challenged. Most notably was a priest named Berengar of Tours in the 11th century who argued that it was not necessary for the elements to be changed into his real body and blood, but he was the exception and almost universally this belief has been held. Even when the great schism of 1054 occurred, the Orthodox continued to carry with them this apostolic teaching and to this day we believe Christ is present in the Eucharist confected in an Orthodox Church because they can trace the succession of their priests and bishops to the original apostles.
So the early disciples believed it, the early Church believed it and it was a doctrine rarely challenged in the history of the Church. Even Luther*, at least initially, held to this belief and fought vehemently with the other reformers(Zwingli) who wished to state that the Lord's Supper was symbolic.
When you think about it, why would anyone rail against this doctrine? To believe that Jesus can still come to us in the appearance of bread and wine and give us himself, body soul and divinity? To me, it is one of the most wonderful aspects of this incarnate faith we share. Martin Luther said this in his defense of the Real Presence:

Who, but the devil, has granted such license of wresting the words of the holy Scripture? Who ever read in the Scriptures, that my body is the same as the sign of my body? or, that is is the same as it signifies? What language in the world ever spoke so? It is only then the devil, that imposes upon us by these fanatical men. Not one of the Fathers of the Church, though so numerous, ever spoke as the Sacramentarians: not one of them ever said, It is only bread and wine; or, the body and blood of Christ is not there present.

Surely, it is not credible, nor possible, since they often speak, and repeat their sentiments, that they should never (if they thought so) not so much as once, say, or let slip these words: It is bread only; or the body of Christ is not there, especially it being of great importance, that men should not be deceived. Certainly, in so many Fathers, and in so many writings, the negative might at least be found in one of them, had they thought the body and blood of Christ were not really present: but they are all of them unanimous.”

Regarding the Eucharist he also said: "For it is dangerous and dreadful to hear or believe anything against the unanimous testimony, faith, and doctrine of the entire holy Christian Church, as it has been held unanimously in all the world up to this year 1500."

So in conclusion, it is important because the Eucharist is the means in which Christ promised to abide with us, nourish us and ultimately bring us to salvation.

St Ignatius said in the 2nd Century: "Every time this mystery is celebrated, 'the work of our redemption is carried on' and we 'break the one bread that provides the medicine of immortality, the antidote for death, and the food that makes us live forever in Jesus Christ'"

*What is the sacrament of the altar?

It is the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ under bread and wine for us Christians to eat and to drink, established by Christ Himself. ( cf Luther's little Instruction Book.)


Blogger George Weis said...


This is so usually on my mind. I can't shake it. For the Early Christians it was key to their faith and yet in the circles I come from it is celebrated once a month and as a symbol only.

Not the case with ALL of the oldest traditions! So who is closer to the original faith of the early Christians?

So here I am pondering this day after day. I don't know if I have been brainwashed, but I sure feel like I am missing a wonderful grace... ugh!


August 17, 2009 10:38 PM  
Blogger Joyful Catholics said...

And it remains a "hard saying." Christians are still divided over this most profound, (outrageous/disgusting/cannibalistic to some) statement of our Lord. Many left Him upon hearing "the 'bread' that I will give, is my flesh..." That it's His BODY?! The wine His Blood?! Many now do the same. They leave for other religions more "suitable" to their fancy.

Those early Christians did in indeed die FOR the Eucharist, not the "b-i-b-l-e" and mere words. Who would die for a symbol? What purpose would a 'symbol' serve the Church? I like the reference to Jewish Passover. Would they have killed a lamb, then served a "mock lamb?" Like vegans and their "Tofurkey?"

It will be as in the days of Noah, when Jesus comes again, and now there are even more in the world, sadly many are Christians/Catholics who are still offended at this 'literal' interpretation of scripture. Is this why our Lord asks, "When I return, will I find faith on the earth?"

There's nothing new under the sun.

Christians still squawking,bickering about John 6. I can't recall much teaching on this chapter from other churches we went to for 26+ years. It was mostly 'glazed over.' I mean, all of us "KNEW" that He [Jesus] meant.Symbolic. For 'bible believing' Christians, to tout their love for Scripture and the "literal interpretation" and then to MISS THIS TRUTH, is to me, (as a convert) completely stunning. I of course, was blinded by my own bias and could not see, or could not see because I didn't "want" to see. Oooh, that dang PRIDE does get in the way, doesn't it?

Once again, I am astounded by the AMAZING GRACE of God to have opened my eyes TO TASTE AND SEE the GOODNESS OF THE LORD... to now "get it" behold this glorious, wonderful, precious gift...the Eucharist!! Jesus WITH us, IN us, physically AND spiritually! The beautiful, the blessed "BOTH AND" of the Catholic faith!

Excellent post, TJ.
Multumesc (Moldavian)

August 18, 2009 8:07 AM  
Blogger Tiber Jumper said...

George-thanks for being so open to look into this.

"For the Early Christians it was key to their faith and yet in the circles I come from it is celebrated once a month and as a symbol only."

Your statement above captures the whole point of my diatribe! How does one come to develop a doctrine so opposite to the one that the early christians believed? It makes you wonder...

August 18, 2009 8:29 AM  
Blogger Tiber Jumper said...

"Once again, I am astounded by the AMAZING GRACE of God to have opened my eyes TO TASTE AND SEE the GOODNESS OF THE LORD."

I think this is the key Susie. We both must have read Jn 6 a million times but read it with the pre-conceived notion that it was symbolic. The early Christians didn't have pre-conceptions and didn't need to debate about what the meaning of is is.
Without his grace to open my eyes, I too would have continued to pass over this reality. Better late than never.
The saddest reality is there are many Catholics who go to Mass weekly and do not discern the Lord's body rightly. Keep prayin!

August 18, 2009 8:47 AM  
Blogger Bekah said...

Likewise, it was in reading John 6 with a prayer in my heart to know which Church held the most truth, that it suddenly hit me what the passage meant. In all those years before of reading the Bible, that one went completely over my head, until I *wanted* to know the truth. When people ask me what I read that made me convert, I honestly answer, "The Bible."

August 18, 2009 9:31 AM  
Blogger Gretchen said...

Tiber Jumper, thanks so much for this post. One of our parish priests preached this last Sunday that Jesus is NOT physically present in the bread and wine. It is a 'symbolic' thing, he intoned. It is a 'sacramental reality' but not a physical reality. There arose in me such a sense of outrage that I had a hard time sitting in the pew. And then, to add insult to heresy and apostasy, a joke was made about the current hot weather. The punchline being that the Catholics were praying for the wine to be changed back into water.

Is there any recourse for those of us in a beleagured parish (of a most progressive diocese)?

Again, thanks for your post.

August 18, 2009 10:21 AM  
Blogger Tiber Jumper said...

Dear Gretchen:
so sorry to hear about the heretical priest. Even though this isn't a liturgical abuise, (it is a heresy)
check out this link
that may help in approaching him. We will keep you in prayer. The beauty of "ex opere operato" is that even in the hands of a heretic priest, Jesus still comes to us on the altar. But so sad that he leads others to destruction with his teaching. I am sure your bishop would like to hear about his ideas about the Eucharist. Sound's like you have a modern day Berengar of Tours in your parish.

August 18, 2009 9:10 PM  
Blogger Anette Acker said...

Tiber Jumper,

I can tell this doctrine is near and dear to your heart, and I think we can agree to disagree. I don't believe in theological debate for its own sake--it seems like dragging something sacred through the mud.

But since George is still deciding, I figured I would defend the other side, so he won't feel "brainwashed." (I know you were joking, George. ;)

First, the fact that Martin Luther and the early Christians believed something doesn't persuade me that it's true. To me, the ultimate authority is God's word. But I'll also ask myself whether the argument is persuasive. In your quote, Luther literally demonizes his opponents but really says nothing except, "This is how we've always done it!"

Yes, Jesus said, "This IS my body" and "this IS my blood." However, he also said, "Tear down this temple and I will build it up again in three days," meaning his body, and his listeners thought he was talking about the physical temple. Jesus didn't say, "My body is like a temple . . ." I've mentioned before that he referred to the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducces, and his disciples thought he was talking about bread. Jesus rebuked them for lacking faith. There are times when we must take the word of God literally (for example, the physical death and resurrection of Christ), but there are also times when it uses symbolism to represent a spiritual truth. ("Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters." Isaiah 55:1)

But even if this is unclear regarding the bread and wine, the Bible tells us the purpose of the Eucharist/communion: "Do this for the remembrance of Me." It is to bring to mind Christ and his sacrifice on the cross for us.

Somebody commented that nobody would die for a symbol. That is absolutely correct. And nobody would die for the Eucharist either. Only Christ is worth dying for, and we receive him by faith.

The Bible says that we will know them by their fruit. So are Catholics who receive the Eucharist regularly more holy than other Christians? I don't know the answer to that question. But I do know that Christians (regardless of denomination) who practice God's presence (Brother Lawrence, Andrew Murray, Frank Laubach) are SIGNIFICANTLY more holy than other Christians. So that is the means of grace that I will aspire to.

These are simply my thoughts. As with everything, read them with discernment. Thanks again for inviting me to read your blog, Russ. I've really enjoyed the discussion!

August 20, 2009 2:55 PM  
Blogger Tiber Jumper said...

thanks for commenting Anette!
God bless

August 20, 2009 7:30 PM  
Anonymous c matt said...

Tear down this temple and I will build it up again in three days

That is a good point. But, if I recall correctly, scripture goes on to specifically explain that He was talking about His body, and the apostles themselves reiterate this understanding (same with the Pharisees' leaven). However, during the John 6 discourse, niether scripture nor any later apostolic teachings explain Jesus was speaking symbolically. In fact, quite the opposite. Rather than explaining to the apostles He meant it symbolically, He point blank asks them are they going to leave as well over this. Likewise, the practice of the Church from the beginning until the Reformation confirms this teaching (by which time the temple comaprison and the leaven comparison were well established.

August 24, 2009 4:23 PM  
Blogger Anette Acker said...

You're right that the Bible does explain it in those passages. But I would argue that Jesus explains the spiritual nature of the Eucharist/communion in John 6 as well. After people turned away from him, he said: "Does this cause you to stumble? . . . It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing." If the flesh profits nothing, why does the actual blood and body matter so much to you? To me, the clear implication is that we have spiritual life through the Holy Spirit, and the Bible uses imagery of eating and drinking throughout the OT and NT to symbolize receiving this gift of life.

August 24, 2009 7:31 PM  

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