Wednesday, October 28, 2009

ASK FR. TOM: Questions on the Real Presence


It has been a while since I have tackled an "Ask Fr. Tom" question, and I know that a lot of you have enjoyed this feature in the past, so here's one that was sent in a while ago.  As always, feel free to send me an "Ask Fr. Tom" question and I'm going to try to get back into answering them regularly.

So, today's question:

ASK FR. TOM: I know that Catholics claim to use a very literal reading of Matthew 26:26-28 in the fact that we believe in the Real Presence. That makes sense. Jesus said "This IS my body". He didn't say "This is only a symbol of my body". But what I don't get is the fact that He also didn't take the bread and say "This is my body, blood, soul and divinity". He said "This is my body". So how do we take Jesus saying seperately with the bread and wine "This is my body" and "This is my blood" and get that both of them are body, blood, soul and divinity? Also, a related question-- why is it that we don't need to receive the Precious Blood and the Precious Blood wasn't offered pre-Vatican II and still isn't in many parishes when Jesus said in John 6:53 that we need to eat His body AND drink His blood?

ANSWER: This is a great question!  The answer lies in part of your question itself that this isn't only a symbol of the Body of Christ.  As always, let me first back up and review what the Church says. I'm going to assume for the purposes of this answer that we already belive in the True and Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.

First, from the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

  • "1374. The mode of Christ's presence under the Eucharistic species is unique. It raises the Eucharist above all the sacraments as "the perfection of the spiritual life and the end to which all the sacraments tend."201 In the most blessed sacrament of the Eucharist "the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ and, therefore, the whole Christ is truly, really, and substantially contained."202 "This presence is called 'real' - by which is not intended to exclude the other types of presence as if they could not be 'real' too, but because it is presence in the fullest sense: that is to say, it is a substantial presence by which Christ, God and man, makes himself wholly and entirely present."203 
  • 1375. It is by the conversion of the bread and wine into Christ's body and blood that Christ becomes present in this sacrament.
  •  1377. The Eucharistic presence of Christ begins at the moment of the consecration and endures as long as the Eucharistic species subsist. Christ is present whole and entire in each of the species and whole and entire in each of their parts, in such a way that the breaking of the bread does not divide Christ.207"
 (Underlining added by me.)  So, here is the point.  Jesus is fully and wholly present in both the Sacred Body and in the Precious Blood.  If you receive either of them, you receive the fullness of Jesus.  Your question focused on receiving the Body but not the Blood, but the reverse is also true - if you receive only the Blood you have received the fullness of Christ.  This happens for example sometimes for people who are Celiacs and cannot ingest bread products.  They will receive the Blood only and have received the fullness of the Sacrament.

They key is that last part from the Catechism that I quoted, "the breaking of the bread does not divide Christ."  We are not receiving parts or bits of Jesus that we have to assemble to be made full, but rather, we are receiving a Person, the fullness of Jesus in each and every and any portion of the Eucharistic Species.  Jesus fully embraces all of the Eucharist.

The General Instruction of the Roman Missal helps.  It says:
  • 281. Holy Communion has a fuller form as a sign when it is distributed under both kinds. For in this form the sign of the eucharistic banquet is more clearly evident and clear expression is given to the divine will by which the new and eternal Covenant is ratified in the Blood of the Lord, as also the relationship between the Eucharistic banquet and the eschatological banquet in the Father's Kingdom."

I think an example might be helpful here.  Take human conversation.  If we spoke with one another on a tin-can phone, a bad cell phone connection, a good phone connection, a Skype video link or in person, face-to-face; we have not been in more of each other's presence, but the experience of that presence of one another to one another has been increasingly fuller in those examples.  I have a fuller experience of you when we are face-to-face together, but I have still be fully in your presence even over a bad connection because we're not talking about parts, but about a person.

Likewise, we receive Jesus fully under either species, but our experience is fuller, more complete, when we receive both.

I hope this helps!!  Send your questions to: frtom@icprovince.org

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