When I first started writing this blog, I still had many days to wait until I could partake of the Holy Eucharist (397 actually :) ). Back then, as I look back on my writings, I can see that I was still very much thinking like a Presbyterian and I was still very much focused on the theological differences between one side of the Tiber and the other: like “Bible Alone”, “Grace vs Works”, “Free Will vs Predestination”, “where do you find Mary or Confession in the Bible?” etc.
However, after making the swim and as I’ve gone further and further into Catholicism and the river gets further and further behind me, those theological differences are dwarfed by the Most Blessed Sacrament: Holy Communion in the Eucharist.
To understand why Catholics put such a great importance on the Eucharist you have to understand how Catholics read the Bible.
Now I know you’re probably like “Catholics read the Bible!?!?”. Yes, and we read way more of it than you do, I promise you that. If you go to Mass every day, you’ll have the entire Bible read to you in 3 years. Ask your Pastor to commit to that sermon schedule. Ha-ha!
Catholics read the Bible in a manner best described as if, to borrow a line from Dr. Hahn, “the New is concealed within the Old and the Old is revealed in the New”.
I’m going to briefly go over the scriptures and provide some historical context for the real presence in the Eucharist and I’ll include a couple of videos for you to watch if you want to know more.
Let’s start one year prior to the crucifixion, at the time of Passover, in John 6.
I’ve heard the first story in this chapter at least eleventy billion times. It’s where Jesus feeds the 5000 men with the loaves and the fishes.
When they are finished, he commands the disciples to collect the “klasmata” (greek for “Breakings”) into 12 baskets. It is interesting John should use this word to describe the left-overs. It’s a strange choice of word, right? Why wouldn’t he just say “left-overs”?
I discovered that he didn’t just say “left-overs” because John wanted to draw a direct-connection between what Jesus did at the sea of Galilee and what he would do at The Last Supper.
How do we know this? This greek word, klasmata, is the exact same word used in the original Greek writings in all 3 of the synoptic Gospels during The Last Supper narratives (Matthew 26:26, Mark 14:22, Luke 22:19) and then by Paul in 1 Corinthians 11:24.
Considering John’s Gospel was the last of these books to be written, and it was written several decades later, it is definitely possible that he intended this and had these scriptures as reference as he wrote and if he didn’t, it is an incredible coincidence.
In my opinion, he did intend this and I think you’ll agree if you continue.
On the next day, he goes to the other side of the lake at Capernaum and the 5000 follow him (there is some debate on if all the 5000 followed him or just some. But it’s also important to note that this only said 5000 men. The women and children may or may not have been counted. Therefore the original size of the crowd could have been 5000 to 20000 or more, depending on family size).
It is here that Jesus goes into the bread of life discourse.
He tells the Jews assembled no less than 9 times that they must eat his flesh and drink blood.
Now Protestant Pastor’s will tell you all day that Jesus was being figurative here but if you read the text, I think it is plainly obvious that he was being quite literal, especially when he had multiple occasions to say “Hey you guys..just being figurative..DON’T LEAVE!” but he doesn’t and they all left..except the 12.
Still not convinced? Let’s look at the greek.
In john 6:53-58, John changes the word for “eat” from “phago” or “esthio” (greek: to eat) to “trogo” (greek: to chew, to gnaw, to munch). So here is John 6:53-58 with the appropriate translation:
“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you CHEW [Greek trogo] the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who CHEWS my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who CHEWS my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who CHEWS me will live because of me. This is the bread which came down from heaven, not such as the fathers ate and died; he who CHEWS this bread will live forever.”
Now, considering the reaction of the Jews, who became really upset and left, and John’s choice of words I realized that there was no real scholarly claim that Christ was not literal that could satisfy me here. It is plainly obvious to me that Jesus was being literal and John wanted us to clearly understand that.
Now, let’s fast forward one year to The Last Supper.
The Last Supper was a Passover Seder. A Passover Seder consists of 4 cups of wine interspersed with bitter herbs, two hymns, and the lamb. It is THE most Holy time of year for a Jew at the time of Jesus. It was like Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving, and the Fourth of July all rolled into one for them.
In Mark 14 starting in verse 12, we can see that The Last Supper was a traditional Passover meal, the Seder.
[On the first day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread, when it was customary to sacrifice the Passover lamb, Jesus’ disciples asked him, “Where do you want us to go and make preparations for you to eat the Passover?” So he sent two of his disciples, telling them, “Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him. Say to the owner of the house he enters, ‘The Teacher asks: Where is my guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ He will show you a large room upstairs, furnished and ready. Make preparations for us there.” The disciples left, went into the city and found things just as Jesus had told them. So they prepared the Passover.]
Then in Mark 14 beginning in verse 24 we see the following:
[“This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many,” he said to them. “Truly I tell you, I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.” When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.]
The hymn they sung was the “Great Hallel”, which is Psalm 114-118. Then they went to the Mountain of Olives.
Now a Jew would read this and see that Jesus did it all wrong. Jesus didn’t complete the meal. He left off the most important cup: the 4th cup, the Cup of Blessing.
But then we see Jesus’ prayer in Garden of Gethsemane, in Mark 14 beginning in verse 35:
[“Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take THIS CUP from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”]
What cup!? The 4th cup of the Passover Seder.
Now, let’s fast forward to the next day, to the crucifixion and look what it says in John 19:28-30:
[Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty”. A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the HYSSOP plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips. When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “IT is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.]
“IT”? What is “IT”?
The Passover Seder. Jesus drank the 4th cup with his last breath on the Cross.
You’ll also notice that the sponge was put to Jesus lips with a Hyssop branch?
What kind of branch had to be used in Exodus 12 to put the blood of the Passover Lamb on the door-posts? I’ll give you 3 guesses but you’ll only need 1..
That’s right!! A hyssop branch!
From Exodus 12:22:
“Take a bunch of hyssop, dip it into the blood in the basin and put some of the blood on the top and on both sides of the doorframe.”
The Last Supper is the institution of the Holy Eucharist. It is simultaneously the completion and perfection of the Passover Seder, in the Body and the Blood of Jesus in the New Covenant.
And because he didn’t finish it until Calvary, the Holy Eucharst and Calvary are one and the same sacrifice.
What does this mean? It means that’s Christ sacrifice didn’t begin on Calvary, it began in the upper-room, on Holy Thursday!!
Now, if you’ve made it with me this far, I know you’re probably thinking “That’s really cool but how do I know the Eucharist today is the real presence?”
That’s easy: because Paul and the early Church Father’s say so.
Let’s consider what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 11:27
[Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty (greek: enochos) of the body and blood of the Lord.]
The greek word here for guilty “enochos” is used in multiple places in the greek translation of the old testament (the Septuagint) to translate the Hebrew idiom: “His blood shall be upon him”.
This means that someone who takes the Holy Eucharist, in an unworthy manner, is guilty of a capital offense and deserves death.
Paul then goes onto say in versus 28—30:
[Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.]
It’s kind of hard to imagine that Paul would give such dire warnings over just a piece of a cracker and cup of grape juice..right? RIGHT!?! :)
Lastly, let’s consider what one of the earliest Bishops of the Church had to say on this. St. Ignatius, in a letter to the Smyrneans in A.D. 107, wrote the following words:
“Now note well those who hold heretical opinions about the grace of Jesus Christ which came to us; note how contrary they are to the mind of God. They have no concern for love, none for the widow, none for the orphan, none for the oppressed, none for the prisoner or the one released, none for the hungry or thirsty. They abstain from the Eucharist and prayer, because they refuse to acknowledge that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, which suffered for our sins and which the Father by his goodness raised up. Therefore, those who deny the good gift of God perish in their contentiousness. It would be more to their advantage to love, in order that they might also rise up. It is proper, therefore, to avoid such people and not speak about them either privately or publicly.”
Ignatius said to deny that Christ was really present in the bread and the wine was to be a heretic and that such believers should be separated and shunned from the body.
It’s hard to imagine that he would take such a drastic opinion unless he truly believed that the presence of Jesus in bread and the wine was real.
This is why the Catholic Faith revolves so much around this one thing. It was Jesus’ last commandment: “DO THIS IN REMEMBRANCE OF ME”.
It is a physical communion with the Lord, not just a spiritual one.
This is why, for me, all of those other theological issues, they’re just so insignificant to me now.
I am 100% certain that the Catholic Church is correct on their interpretation of these scriptures and that’s enough for me, I can accept the rest of what I don’t understand on Faith…alone (pun intended).
As G.K. Chesteron once wrote:
“I don't need a church to tell me I'm wrong where I already know I'm wrong; I need a Church to tell me I'm wrong where I think I'm right.”
If you want this more in depth, you can spend about 2.5 hours listening to a couple of youtube videos, which I’ve embedded below:
Lastly, if you want to read the best book I’ve ever read on the Bible, pick up a copy of “Stunned By Scripture" by Dr. John Bergsma, which is available here.
Both of Dr. Hahns talks above, the corresponding books, and Dr. Bergsma's book, mentioned above, really laid all of this out in an easy to consume and much more in-depth manner. Their writings were the primary sources of the information above. In fact, Bergsma’s book goes in-depth on most of the “theological issues” mentioned earlier as well and is a great resource if you're looking for scriptural evidence for the dogmas of Catholicism.
Peace Be With You!