Sacraments: The Eucharist
Use this article to grow in one of the essential habits of the Christian life from Acts 2:42: devotion to Jesus in the Eucharist.
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Sacraments: The Eucharist
Optional Lectio Divina Prayer
- Read Luke 22:14-23.
- Meditate on the words.
- Speak to Christ about this passage.
- Rest and listen in God’s presence.
- Discuss together.
The Chinese authorities burst into the Church. The commander ordered the soldiers to tear down the tabernacle from the sanctuary. They opened it, took out the Eucharist and scattered 32 consecrated hosts across the floor. The men trampled on the Eucharist, while the commander sneered at the crowd, “Do you still believe in those fairytales your priest told you?”10
The soldiers arrested the priest and locked him in a metal bin inside the Church.11 Trapped, he peered out through a small slit, watching as he saw his people forced outside. He could see the Eucharistic hosts left desecrated on the Church floor.
The priest was later put on house arrest in the rectory next to the Church.12 Often the Church remained totally silent. Guards were posted around the Church and no one was allowed to enter. But one day, the priest looked through the window and saw someone walking in the Church. It was a young girl, maybe 11 or 12 years old, kneeling in prayer, crawling on her hands and knees toward the hosts on the floor. She bent down and received a single host on the tongue, prayed for a while and then left.
The next day, the little girl returned, taking one more host. She did this daily, receiving one host at a time. For a month, she entered the Church each day, risking being caught by the authorities. Finally, only one host remained. She entered the Church again to receive it. She made her prayers as usual, but, shortly after she leaned down and received Jesus for the last time, she made a slight noise. The guard heard her and the Church doors burst open behind her. He stormed in with his gun and brutally beat her with the butt of his rifle.
She died as a martyr, giving her life for Jesus in the Holy Eucharist.
Does this story change your perception of what it means to be
devoted to Jesus in the Eucharist? How so?
What this little Chinese girl did makes no sense at all if the Eucharist is just a piece of bread. But she saw something more in those consecrated hosts. This was not bread. And it was a lot more than a religious symbol. She understood the “Real Presence” of Jesus in the Eucharist—the fact that the bread and wine at Mass are changed into Christ’s Body and Blood. And it was this truth that drove her to risk her life as she ardently longed to receive Jesus in the Eucharist and protect the sacred hosts from further desecration.
But where do Catholics get this idea of the “Real Presence”? If you had to explain to someone else the Catholic belief in the Eucharist, could you do it? Could you explain how something that looks, feels, and tastes like bread and wine is really Jesus’ Body and Blood? And where in the Bible does Jesus ever teach about such a strange doctrine as this? Whether you’ve heard this long ago or you’re newer to your faith, this mystery of the Eucharist is so central we can never eagerly ponder its awesome reality enough—lest we sadly become the kind of people who take for granted the greatest gift Jesus left us before he died.
First, let’s make sure we clearly understand the doctrine itself. Since the time of the Apostles, Christians have believed that the bread and wine at Mass are changed into Christ’s Body and Blood. But this is not a chemical change. If you put the consecrated host under a microscope, you would see all the chemical properties of bread. But Catholics for 2,000 years have believed what that young girl in China believed and died for— the belief that the night before Jesus died, at his Last Supper, he took bread, and said “This is my body…” and that underneath those outward, sensible appearances of bread is the very Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ.
Second, we need to grasp clearly the biblical foundations for the Eucharist. While many Scriptural passages shed light on this mystery, there’s one in particular that gives the richest insights. Let’s look at John’s Gospel, chapter six, where Jesus delivers his clearest teaching about the Eucharist.
Although many non-Catholic Christians think of the Eucharist in a purely symbolic way—that the Eucharist is just a symbol of Jesus’ Body and Blood or a sacred reminder of Christ—Jesus tells the crowds in this scene something different. He says that he is the true Bread of Life and they must eat his flesh and drink his blood if they want to have eternal life. That’s strong language. And it’s clear he’s not speaking merely in a figurative or metaphorical way. He’s speaking literally. He really wants us to partake of his Body and Blood. Consider his own words:
After describing himself as the “bread of life” (Jn 6:35), Jesus says
“I am the living bread which came down from heaven…and the
bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh” (Jn
6:51). The crowds understand Jesus’ words clearly and they’re
appalled, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”
Notice how at this point Jesus doesn’t try to clear up a misunderstanding, soften his language or say he was just speaking metaphorically. He instead presses the issue of really partaking of his Body and Blood further: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you” (Jn 6:53). He then goes on to use a more graphic word for “eat”, meaning “to gnaw” or “to chew”– language that would not be used figuratively here: “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood will have eternal life” (Jn 6:54).
This is not something Jesus would do if he thought the crowds were misunderstanding him, taking him too literally. He wouldn’t talk this way if he was only speaking metaphorically about the Eucharist—as if the Eucharist was supposed to be just a symbol of his presence. Rather, he goes on to state explicitly, “For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him” (Jn 6:55- 56). Jesus is clear: We must eat his flesh and drink his blood, and if we don’t, he says, “you have no life in you” (Jn 6:53).
The crowds clearly understood Jesus in this literal way. They
grumbled and complained about this radical idea. Even “many
of his disciples drew back and no longer went about with him”
(Jn 6:66). If the Eucharist were just a symbol, why didn’t Jesus call
them all back, saying, “Wait, I was only speaking figuratively!”?
Instead, he lets them go. He loves us so much he is not willing to
compromise on his supreme gift to us, the gift of his very Body
and Blood in the Eucharist.
The Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian life.
Do you believe in the Real Presence? Could you explain it
to someone else? What difference does this truth make in
Love Near Us
Love wants to be near the one it loves.
And the God who is love ardently longs to be close to us. That’s why he remains dwelling among us here on earth in the Eucharist. The presence of that Divine Love in Christ had a powerful impact on people’s lives 2,000 years ago in Galilee. It overcame illness, drove away darkness, and brought healing to those who were suffering, forgiveness in the face of sin. Did you know we can encounter that same powerful presence of Jesus in the Eucharist? And not just when we receive him in Holy Communion at Mass, but also when we draw near to him in all the tabernacles in all our Catholic churches around the world.
So if you want to draw near to Divine Love Himself and experience the power of his Real Presence in your life—the power to guide, comfort and strengthen you—receive Jesus in the Eucharist as often as you can and visit him in the chapel where he continues to reside in the Tabernacle, where the sacred hosts are kept.
Do we approach Holy Communion with the same reverence and devotion that the little Chinese girl had? She went to such great lengths, even risking her own life, to draw near to Christ’s presence in the Eucharist, to love him in Eucharistic adoration and receive him in Communion each day. Do you have that same desire? What sacrifices are you willing to make to draw near to him?
Jesus in the Eucharist is readily available to you in your town, maybe even right on your campus. Have you ever thought of going to Mass not just on Sunday, but also during the week sometimes to receive him? Do you make the effort in your busy day to stop by the chapel, to tell him you love him, to bring your needs to him, to rest in his Presence? Jesus is waiting for you in this Sacrament. He longs for you to come to him.
The greatest love story of all time is contained in a tiny white host.
Jesus desires to draw close to you. Do you have that same
desire to draw close to him? What sacrifices do you need to
make to be more devoted to Jesus in the Eucharist?
It’s not enough to simply want to meet Jesus in the Sacraments;
we have to actually go. Make a plan. When will you go to Mass?
If you aren’t going weekly, start now. If you already go every
Sunday, can you participate in daily Mass? When can you go to
Real Presence: The Eucharist is truly the Body and Blood of Jesus.
Frequent Communion/Visits to the Blessed Sacrament: Jesus longs for us to encounter him regularly in the Eucharist.
NOTE: In Acts 2:42, “the breaking of the bread” or the Eucharist is
listed as one of the four foundational habits of the early disciples
of Jesus. Given the centrality of the Eucharist for the Christian
life, it’s not surprising that the expression eventually came to
represent all of the sacraments—namely, baptism, Eucharist,
confirmation, reconciliation, anointing of the sick, marriage, and
holy orders. These other sacraments will be addressed in later
10 The Little Girl Who Inspired Archbishop Fulton Sheen’s Vow. (n.d.) Retrieved from https://www.americaneedsfatima. org/Conversions/the-little-girl-who-inspired-archbishop-fulton-sheen-s-vow.html
11 The Little Girl Who Inspired Archbishop Fulton Sheen’s Vow. (n.d.) Retrieved from https://www.americaneedsfatima. org/Conversions/the-little-girl-who-inspired-archbishop-fulton-sheen-s-vow.html
12 Bishop James Conley. (2014, March 18). Eucharistic Adoration: Transforming a City. Retrieved from https://zenit.org/