“Jesus said to them, ‘Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day.’” (John 6:53-54) As a result of this teaching, many of Jesus’s disciples left and no longer followed Him. This teaching was hard, for He was asking them to consume His body and blood. Isn’t that cannibalism?
Recently on The Patrick Madrid Show, 11-year-old Louis called in to ask this very question. “So, my question was, when you go to Mass and you receive communion, I know it’s the actual body and blood of Christ, but I think about eating somebody’s body. And, I don’t know, it seems like cannibalism maybe? I don’t know, it seems like…How could you explain that?” That’s a valid and reasonable question. One of the most important teachings in the entirety of the Catechism is the teaching that when we consume the Eucharist, we are not eating ordinary bread. We are eating the Bread of Life, that is, the Body of Christ.
Patrick begins by explaining that while a valid concern, it’s not cannibalism because Jesus is eternal life itself. And He is not coming to us in the form of flesh or blood. He is coming to us in the accidents of bread and wine, a form we can understand. “So, before the Consecration, that wafer of bread, if you put it under a microscope, you would see all the properties of bread. It tastes like bread, molecular properties of bread, all those things. And the same would be true for the wine.” But when Consecration happens and transubstantiation takes place, only the outward characteristics of the Eucharist remain unchanged. It is, however, the Body of Christ.
“It’s true. You are receiving, in a sacramental way, the actual Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus.” We are not chewing on the physical flesh and tissue of Jesus because He has given us the gift of eternal life through these common substances. But not everybody understood. The people around Jesus quarreled and murmured about this teaching. Jesus made it abundantly clear to all that this was no metaphor. It’s not an analogy. He is quite literally sacrificing His body, as He did in His Passion and death, so that we might experience eternal life.
Those who did not leave Jesus and trusted that He would not lead them astray gradually came to understand His meaning. They were being taught about the reception of the Holy Eucharist. The culmination of this teaching came at the Last Supper when Jesus celebrated the Passover meal with His Apostles. “While they were eating, Jesus took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and giving it to his disciples said, ‘Take and eat; this is my body.’ Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed on behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins.’” (Matthew 26:26-28)
As we attend Mass this Sunday and all the Sundays after, let us call to mind the tremendous gift God has given us in the sacrifice of His Body and Blood. Let us express our gratitude for the graces that we receive through Him, and for the possibility of eternal salvation.
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