More than Just Bread and Wine Part 1: Catholic Teaching on the Eucharist
Because I have been asked many times, I decided to write a blog post about what the Catholic Church teaches about the Eucharist - Holy Communion. I give this one disclaimer: I am only a human, and some mysteries can never be fully understood by the human mind (The Incarnation, the Trinity, the Virgin Birth, to name a few....), and this is definitely one of them. Like the Incarnation, this mystery asks us to take a leap of faith. And as with explaining all mysteries, sometimes difficulties arise in choosing the proper terms. This is also not comprehensive - that would take several volumes! So please, ask questions if you have them! If I can't answer them right off, I will go find the answer.
What We Believe
As Catholics, we believe and profess to be truth that when we celebrate the mass, the bread and the wine offered become the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. This is a mystery called Transubstantiation. (In English, that just means that two substances, not the same, are one. This is compared to Consubstantiation which is two or more things that are the same – the Father, Son, and Spirit – that are also one).
The bread and the wine never lose their physical form. However, the essence, what they are, does change. Not molecularly, obviously, but essentially. Just as Jesus was 100% human, and he looked human, sounded human, and smelled human, so too does the bread and wine look like bread and wine, smell like bread and wine, and taste like bread and wine. However, in addition to being fully human, Jesus was fully (100% again), divine. Prior to his resurrection, He didn't “glow” (except at the transfiguration), didn't speak in a booming voice that reverberated throughout the land and shook people to their bones, and didn't appear in four places at once as is His Divine nature. Neither does the bread (typically) look like anything more than a piece of unleavened, really flat bread, nor does it taste like anything other than a wafer. The wine still tastes like wine, smells like wine, burns like wine.
Now, just as God did miracles and showed his true nature in the transfiguration, so too does Jesus allow his true nature in the Bread and Wine to be witnessed by people. Many people have seen the face of Jesus in the consecrated host. A friend of mine has a picture of the face of Christ in an exposed host that I thought was digitally done, but she assured me that she'd taken that picture just days before, printed it, and framed it as a reminder of the miracle God allowed her to witness. There are numerous stories – credible, documented stories – that tell of either priests or laity doubting, wondering, or wanting a sign, and the host beginning to bleed during the mass or turn to physical flesh and blood in their mouths. Search online or in books for these (and weed through the sources that do not have any merit), and you will find many of them.
Now, because we believe that the bread and wine are the Body and Blood of Christ does notmean that we are sacrificing Jesus every day. No! Jesus died once; He rose, and He ascended into Heaven. However, He comes back, daily, in the humble form of bread and wine. We recall His death and resurrection. We offer, as Christ did, His Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity for the remission of our sins to the Heavenly Father. But we do not kill Him every day! Christ died once, and that death was enough to redeem every soul, past, present, and future. The best way I have heard it described is the following: Christ's historical, singular, passion and death are the sun. Each Eucharist is a ray from the sun. It is the sun, but it is not making new suns. He died once, but he allows us to partake in the sun – His passion and death, and therefore His resurrection and ascension – by offering a ray of sun each day to pierce our hearts and bring us closer and closer to Him.
But what on earth would make us believe that the bread and wine, once consecrated, become the Body and Blood of Christ? By what merit do we teach this? Firstly, because of scripture. Jesus and Paul very clearly state this doctrine. This is also the same doctrine that has been taught and preserved since the early days of the Church. Because of these two things, and the many miracles, we believe and teach with certainty that it is not just bread and wine that we receive at Holy Communion. It is the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
When we, as Catholics, go to mass on Sunday (or any other day of the week), we are present at the Banquet Table of the Lamb. We are invited to share in the heavenly banquet.