THE EUCHARIST REALLY IS JESUS
By Joe Heschmeyer
My old pastor gave a homily in which he talked about preparing a girl for First Communion. Her parents had been wondering if she was ready yet, so Father asked her to explain her understanding of the Eucharist. She pointed to the large crucifix in the back of church and said,
“That looks like Jesus, but isn’t. The Eucharist doesn’t look like Jesus,
but is.” It’s hard to imagine a better or more succinct way of capturing
what Catholics believe about the Eucharist. Needless to say, the priest
decided she was ready!
I have one other story, one of my experiences teaching in an
“Inquiry” night at my parish in Kansas City. (Inquiry nights are for
those who have questions about Catholicism but aren’t necessarily ready
to prepare to enter the Church.) One of the young women attending was
coming from a Lutheran background, and so she believed that Christ was “in, with, and under”
the eucharistic bread, but the bread still remains bread. She wanted to know how this view,
which is sometimes termed consubstantiation, differed from the Catholic view, which is typically called transubstantiation.
Instead of getting into the technical discussion on “modes of presence,” I asked her, “Do
you worship the Eucharist?” She looked surprised and said she didn’t.” And so I told her, “We
do.” There’s the difference. Catholics worship the Eucharist, and for a simple reason: we believe that the Eucharist is really Jesus. Not simply a symbol of Jesus, or Jesus’ mysterious presence somehow lingering there with bread and wine, but Jesus.
I like how St. Cyril of Jerusalem explained it back in the fourth century. Preaching to a
group of newly-baptized Christians in the year 350, he tells them to be “fully assured that the
seeming bread is not bread, though sensible to taste, but the body of Christ; and that the seeming
wine is not wine, though the taste will have it so, but the blood of Christ.” After all, Cyril says,
since Jesus Christ himself “declared and said of the bread, ‘This is my body,’ who shall dare to
doubt any longer? And since he has himself affirmed and said, ‘This is my blood,’ who shall ever hesitate, saying, that it is not his blood?”
That’s it in a nutshell: the Eucharist doesn’t look like Jesus, but it is.