Catholic teaching indicates that as a result of a valid consecration performed by an ordained representative of the Church, Jesus is actually made present to us in the form/appearance of bread and wine. Since some deny this and say that the Eucharist is only symbolic, let’s look at a similar example.
In the gospel account of Jesus’ baptism, (Luke 3:22), we read “…the Holy Spirit descended on Him in visible form like a dove.” Notice that the usual substance we associate with a dove (its “doveness”) is actually the Holy Spirit, even though the form/appearance is that of a dove. Hmm. The Holy Spirit comes in the form of a dove and is accepted without question. We teach that Jesus comes in the form of bread/wine and are resisted, even though the Gospel writers indicate that Jesus Himself says the bread/wine are His body/ blood, and that we must consume it to gain eternal life. Then there are the words of St. Paul (1 Cor. 10:16, 11:27), who warns the believers of his day (as the Church warns us today) against eating/drinking the Eucharist unworthily. This has little meaning if it’s only symbolic.
Some claim that scientific analysis justifies their unbelief in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. But just as science cannot show us a human soul, although we know that it animates our body and is the substance of our being, so science cannot analyze the substance of the bread/wine, either before or after the consecration. It can only report on the form/appearance, which doesn’t change.
Our belief comes from faith in the inspired words of the Bible and the Apostolic Sacred Tradition, a belief defended by the early Church: “…see how contrary their opinions are to the mind of God. 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 in a letter to the people of Smyrna regarding those who doubt the faith, 110 A.D).
Since the Church refers to the Eucharist as the source and summit of the Christian life (Catechism par. 1324), it’s time for all Catholics to profess the same belief and acknowledge the very clear teaching of the Church in this regard. Yes, what takes place is a mystery, but one that the Apostolic Catholic Church has always taught and one that our informed faith can defend.