October 2004 to October 2005 was designated by Pope John Paul II as a special year of the Eucharist. While no one can explore the full depth of this most wonderful of God’s gifts, it would be unfortunate to rely on an incomplete or misguided understanding of the Biblical basis of what the Church calls the “source and summit of the Christian life”. The Eucharist is truly a mystery and therefore not fully understandable, and although we cannot believe in it apart from supernatural grace and faith, it is a faith based on the very words of Jesus.
In John 6:29-69, Jesus states several times that He is the Bread of Life and that it is necessary to actually feed on Him to gain eternal life. The crowd understood Him literally (vs. 52 and 60) to the point of departing His company (v 66), yet Jesus retracted nothing. The Apostles, however, while not admitting to an understanding of His words, put their complete trust in Him (vs. 67-69) and remained faithful. At the Last Supper Jesus gave the power to His chosen ministers and made known the process by which they would bring the Eucharistic food to us, something St Paul also references in his letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor 10:16, 11:23-29).
The early Church fathers defended this belief. “They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer because they do not confess that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ” (St Ignatius of Antioch, 110 AD). St Ambrose noted that He who created the elements could certainly alter them at will (par. 1375 of the Catechism). The multiplication of loaves and fishes in John chapter 6 attests to that. The substance of the food was somehow altered, giving it an unnatural ability to multiply, yet the appearance of the food didn’t change. Similarly, Catholics believe that at mass through the words of consecration the substance of the bread and wine is transformed, while the appearance is unchanged.
Our knowledge and belief in the Eucharist defines our Catholic identity. Continue to explore and renew your understanding of the most basic truth of our faith. Your salvation depends on it.