The Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist
Our Special Blessing of the Real Presence in the Eucharist
As Catholics, we have the wonderful blessing of uniting with Christ in a profound and intimate way through the Eucharist. Holy Communion is a sacrament that brings Catholics together in worship, fostering a sense of community and bonding as the body of Christ. The act of receiving Holy Communion is a participation in the one body of Christ, transcending differences and unifying the faithful in our faith and love for God.
Our Roman Catholic Church holds the belief in the doctrine of the Real Presence in the Eucharist, which teaches that during the celebration of the Mass, the bread and wine used in the sacrament of the Eucharist become the actual body and blood of Jesus Christ. This doctrine is rooted in the teachings of Jesus Christ and has been held by the Church for centuries.
What is the Real Presence?
The Eucharist is considered one of the most powerful and central sacraments in the Roman Catholic Church, with profound spiritual significance and transformative effects on the lives of the faithful. It’s truly a blessing to be able to receive the Eucharist each Sunday!
As Catholics, we believe that the real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist is not merely symbolic or metaphorical, but a true and substantial Presence. According to Church teaching, during the consecration of the bread and wine by a priest during Mass, a miraculous transformation occurs, known as transubstantiation. Although the bread and wine retain their physical properties, their substance is changed into the Body and Blood of Christ, while still retaining the appearance of bread and wine. This transformation is understood to be a mysterious and supernatural event that occurs through the power of the Holy Spirit.
The power of the Eucharist is seen in its transformative effects on the lives of the faithful, helping them to grow in holiness, deepen their relationship with God, and participate in the mysteries of faith.
How It Happens
According to Catholic teaching, transubstantiation is the miraculous transformation of the bread and wine used in the sacrament into the actual body and blood of Jesus Christ, while still retaining the appearance of bread and wine. Isn’t it amazing that as Catholics we get the honor of experiencing this miracle each time we attend Mass?
The doctrine of transubstantiation is based on the words of Jesus at the Last Supper, as recorded in the Gospels, where He said, “This is my body” and “This is my blood” when he instituted the Eucharist. Additionally, the doctrine has been developed and clarified over centuries of theological reflection and is considered an essential belief of the Catholic faith.
For Catholics, transubstantiation is a central aspect of the Eucharist, which is believed to be a unique and unparalleled encounter with the living Christ. It is seen as a profound mystery of faith that enables Catholics to participate in the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross, receive his grace, and be united with him in a deeply spiritual way.
It’s In The Bible
We draw on a number of Biblical verses to support our understanding of the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. I encourage you to look up the following verses in your Bible and take a moment to reflect on their importance:
- In the “Bread of Life Discourse” (John 6:22-71), Jesus speaks about Himself as the “bread of life” that came down from heaven, and He repeatedly emphasizes the need to eat his flesh and drink his blood in order to have eternal life. As Catholics, we interpret these words metaphorically as referring to the Eucharist, where the bread and wine are transformed into the body and blood of Jesus Christ, and are necessary for spiritual nourishment and salvation.
- In John 6:53-56, Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.”
- After His resurrection, Jesus appeared to two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35), and as He broke bread with them, their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. As Catholics, we see this event as a foreshadowing of the Eucharist, where Jesus made himself known in the breaking of the bread, indicating His Real Presence in the Eucharistic elements.
St. Paul’s letters to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 10:16-17; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26) speak about the Eucharist as the Body and Blood of Christ and stresses the importance of receiving worthily.
The History of the Real Presence
Our belief in the Real Presence has existed for thousands of years. Historical references to the belief in the Real Presence of the Eucharist can be found throughout the history of Christianity.
For example, in the writings of St. Ignatius of Antioch, a bishop and martyr of the early Church who lived in the first century, he referred to the Eucharist as “the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ” and “the blood of Christ” (Letter to the Ephesians, Chapter 20). Similarly, St. Justin Martyr, an early Christian apologist in the second century, wrote about the Eucharist as the “flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh” (First Apology, Chapter 66).
Other Church Fathers, such as St. Augustine of Hippo and John Chrysostom, also wrote extensively about the Real Presence of the Eucharist in their writings, affirming the belief in the true and substantial presence of Christ in the sacrament.
The Council of Nicea in 325 AD, one of the earliest ecumenical councils of the Church, affirmed the doctrine of the Real Presence, stating that those who denied the reality of Christ’s body and blood in the Eucharist were to be excommunicated.
Throughout the Middle Ages, theologians such as St. Thomas Aquinas developed and defended the doctrine of transubstantiation, which affirmed the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, and this understanding was further codified at the Council of Trent in the 16th century.
The Roman Catholic Church has a long history of reported miracles associated with the Eucharist that are believed to provide evidence of the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the consecrated bread and wine. These miracles can serve as wonderful reminders for each one of us regarding the power of the Eucharist.
One well-known example is the Miracle of Lanciano, which dates back to the 8th century. According to tradition, a monk celebrating Mass in the Italian town of Lanciano experienced a miraculous transformation of the bread and wine into flesh and blood during the consecration. The flesh and blood were preserved and have been scientifically examined multiple times over the centuries, with the most recent examination in 1970 confirming that the flesh is human cardiac tissue and the blood is human blood type AB, matching the findings from previous examinations.
Another notable example is the Miracle of Bolsena, which is said to have occurred in the 13th century. As the story goes, a priest in Bolsena, Italy, had doubts about the Real Presence of the Eucharist and reportedly saw blood seeping from the consecrated host during Mass. This event was considered a miracle, and the blood-stained corporal (a cloth placed on the altar during Mass) is still preserved in the Basilica of Orvieto in Italy as a relic.
There are also numerous modern-day reports of Eucharistic miracles, such as the Miracle of Buenos Aires in Argentina, where a consecrated host was found to have turned into bloody tissue in 1996, and the Miracle of Betania in Venezuela, where a bleeding host was reported in 1991.
The Roman Catholic Church approaches these reported Eucharistic miracles with caution, subjecting them to thorough investigation by qualified theologians, scientists, and Church authorities. While these miracles are not considered official dogmas or required beliefs for Catholics, they are often seen as reinforcing the doctrine of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist and providing tangible manifestations of this belief in the lives of the faithful.
What Happens to the Consecrated Hosts After Mass Is Over?
After Mass, the consecrated Eucharist is treated with great reverence and care. There are several practices that the Church follows to handle the consecrated Eucharist in a respectful manner.
- Reservation in the Tabernacle: The consecrated Eucharist is usually reserved in a special container called a tabernacle. The tabernacle is typically a locked box made of precious metal, located in a prominent place in the church, and is used to store the Eucharist for distribution to the sick, for adoration, or for use in other liturgical services. The tabernacle is often adorned with candles or a sanctuary lamp, indicating the presence of the Eucharist within.
- Adoration and Benediction: The consecrated Eucharist can also be exposed for adoration after Mass, typically in a monstrance, which is a special vessel that holds the consecrated host for public veneration. During adoration, the faithful may pray, sing hymns, or silently reflect in the presence of the Eucharist. Benediction is a liturgical rite where the consecrated Eucharist is used to bless the congregation with the sign of the cross, typically performed by a priest or deacon.
- Reserved for the Sick: The consecrated Eucharist may also be reserved in a pyx or a small container for the purpose of taking Holy Communion to the sick or homebound. A priest, deacon, or extraordinary minister of Holy Communion may be entrusted with the responsibility of bringing the Eucharist to those who are unable to attend Mass.
- Consumption: In cases where there are leftover consecrated hosts after Mass or adoration, it is customary for the priest, and sometimes other designated individuals, to consume them reverently. This ensures that the Eucharist is not wasted or profaned.
The handling and treatment of the consecrated Eucharist in the Roman Catholic Church are guided by the utmost reverence and respect, recognizing the belief in the real presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist and the sacredness of this sacrament in the Catholic faith.
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In the past, Catholic World Mission has been honored to support the delivery of monstrances across the planet. It’s an absolute privilege to help Catholics in adoration of the Eucharist. Take a moment to read about our partnerships with Catholic leaders all around the world to help support this work.
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James Flanagan is the Executive Director at Catholic World Mission and is a devout Catholic with various nonprofit leadership recognitions. He has served close to 9 years in the Army where he had the honor to lead many successful teams in countries throughout the Middle East and Asia. James later worked in Senior and Executive corporate communications roles for Fortune 250 companies with an emphasis on Corporate Social Responsibility. He holds a BBA from the University of Georgia and a JD from the Catholic University of America Columbus School of Law.
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