This is the most controversial aspect of Christianity; even some Catholics still deny that they are eating the real body and drinking the real blood of Christ. They try to explain the literal words of Jesus away in spite of His insistence on them. Some argue that to accept the words literally would be cannibalism. Is it?
Do you reply like the Jews in John 6:52 when they argued amongst themselves and asked – “How can this man give us flesh to eat?”
Catholics believe that during Holy Communion, they are eating the very flesh and drinking the blood of Christ and by partaking in this meal, they are joining themselves in Holy Communion. So what’s the big deal here? After all, other expressions of Christianity have Holy Communion? But there is a significant difference. In the sharing of the wine and bread, the Holy Spirit acts through the priest to change the wine into the precious blood of Jesus and the bread into the flesh of the divine body of Jesus. It is ONLY the priest who has this power to transform the substance into real flesh and real blood.
This doctrine of transformation is known as transubstantiation – the belief in the change of the substance. There is an ACTUAL PHYSICAL CHANGE of the bread and wine. It differs from the non-Catholic belief of consubstantiation which believes that there is only a spiritual change and that the bread still remains bread and the wine remains wine.
As is common in theologies developed by non-Catholics, there is division amongst themselves on their own doctrine of consubstantiation as seen in Lutheranism and Anglicanism to name a few of the divisions. For the Catholics, it is black and white – the Holy Spirit is invoked and through the words of the priest which are the exact words of Christ, physical change is effected. The body and blood is a reality and the presence of Jesus is not just something spiritual like in other sacraments where He is present only by His power. He is actually there in flesh and blood under the form of bread and wine.
The word of God is life and power and so by the priest’s utterance of “This is my body”, the bread is transformed and by the words “This is my blood”, the wine is also transformed. It is an awesome experience to those who truly believe!
So back to the initial question, cannibalism? The Catechism of the Catholic Church is clear on the real Presence of Jesus under the forms of bread and wine in CCC 1375-1381. It does not shy away from this and stands firm as Jesus did when the Jews in John 6:60 said “This language is very hard! Who can accept it?” To assert that the doctrine promotes cannibalism is a fundamental misconception of the divine body of Jesus which has been glorified as seen in 1 Corinthians 15:43-44 and Philippians 3:21.
CCC 1374 echoes the pronouncement in the Council of Trent which states that Jesus is present in the “body and blood, together with the soul and divinity.” Cannibalism denotes that the body is dead, but we all know that Jesus is alive. Catholics receive Jesus in the form of His Resurrected Body and He is consumed in whole; both body and soul and not in part, as in cannibalism.
Cannibalism also denotes that what is consumed is lessened as it is consumed. This does not happen in the Eucharist since God the Son does not change. Jesus is not lessened by the number of people who receive Him. In fact, His presence is multiplied, as He takes up residence in those who consume Him and establishes His presence within them, to be other Christs to those they encounter.
Catholics also believe that by taking communion, divine life is obtained from consuming Christ and not temporal nourishment as is the case in cannibalism.
WE WANT PROOF
God knows us inside out. He knows that we tend to want proof; that our faith shakes and so He presents to us several miracles proving the miraculous nature of the bread taken in Communion. Miracles help us with our faith such as that in 1996 in Argentina where the unleavened bread which had fallen down to be later discarded, was kept and found later to have mysteriously changed its nature; its substance. A sample of it was taken and it was scientifically proven to be the real flesh and real blood of a person who lived in the Middle East region and had suffered intensely.
There are so many testimonies of people who have believed in the real presence and consumed Christ and received supernatural healing of mind and also body. There was a woman (Marthe Robin) who survived SOLELY on eating communion for 50 years – no food or water. There was another (Alexandrina Maria da Costa) who survived similarly on the real flesh and blood for 13 years until her death. Her explanation was that she did not feel hunger because she was indeed full.
So next time the priest offers you the unleavened bread and says “the Body of Christ” in readiness to receive Communion, let our reply be a resounding “Amen.” Let it be an Amen because we believe that we are physically taking Jesus within us and by consuming Him we gain spiritual, emotional and physical healing and rejuvenation. What an awesome gift this is to the Church – to those who believe. Do you? Amen.
O Lord may we truly believe in your words, which are spirit, which are truth and which are life, as we partake in Holy Communion with you and you share with us your body and blood. In Jesus name we pray, Amen.