What Does the Church Teach About the Eucharist?

For nearly 2000 years, the Catholic Church has taught that Jesus Christ is really and truly present in the Eucharist.  Under the appearance of bread and wine, Christ is completely present in His body and blood as well as His soul and divinity. 

All the outward appearances and sensible qualities of the bread and wine remain.  This transformation of substance is called transubstantiation.  The substance of the bread and wine is changed into the substance of Christ's living body and blood.  The bread and wine are gone, replaced by the real presence of Christ, while only their appearances remain.

Jesus is present wholly and entirely in each of the Eucharistic elements (or species) as well as in each of its parts.  The smallest of sliver of the consecrated host or the tiniest drop from the chalice contains the whole Christ.  We can receive Jesus under the form of bread alone, under the form of wine alone, or both together.  In each case, we receive the same perfect sacrament, the same Jesus into our souls.

Because Jesus is truly present, we adore the Eucharist as God.  That's why we genuflect (or bow deeply) before the tabernacle.  That's why the Church reserves the consecrated hosts with such care.  That's why the Church carries the consecrated hosts in processions and exposes them for solemn adoration.

Christ's presence in the Eucharist begins at the moment of consecration and lasts as long as the appearances of bread and wine remain.  When a consecrated host is digested or dissolved and no longer has the qualities of bread, it is no longer Jesus.  (1)  When we receive Holy Communion, Jesus remains in our bodies for about 15 minutes.  We should adore Him within us as long as He is sacramentally present.  For a short time, we are living tabernacles of the all-holy God.

Because the Eucharist is our God and Savior Jesus Christ, we dare not receive Him in the state of mortal sin.  To receive Jesus worthily, we must be in the state of grace.  If we have committed a mortal sin, we cannot receive Holy Communion without first receiving absolution in the sacrament of confession.

We can't be indifferent about Christ's presence in the Eucharist.  This issue separates Catholics from virtually all Protestants.  If Christ is only symbolically present in the Eucharist as most Protestants believe, then Catholics are guilty of idolatry: worshipping mere bread and wine as God Himself.  But if Christ is really present in the Eucharist, then most non-Catholics are guilty of not recognizing - perhaps even denying and rejecting - their Lord and Savior in the Eucharist.

Both sides are obligated to seek the truth in love.  Whichever side is wrong on such a fundamental issue cannot claim to have preserved the whole gospel; it cannot claim to be Christ's true Church.  In true charity, neither side can let the other remain in error.  True ecumenism means charitably resolving these kinds of doctrinal disagreements, not agreeing to disagree.

Three Ways Jesus is Present

But what's so special about Christ's presence in the Eucharist?  Isn't Jesus present everywhere?  To answer this common objection, we must distinguish three different ways Jesus can be present:

1.  Jesus is present everywhere as God through His knowledge, power and essence.  (This is called God's natural presence.)

2.  Jesus is present spiritually in those who are in the state of grace.

3.  Jesus is present in His flesh and blood, soul and divinity, in the Eucharist.

In His glorified human body, Jesus is present only in two places: at the right hand of the Father in heaven, and in the holy Eucharist on earth.  As we shall see later, this flesh and blood presence provides us with a unique, live-giving power.

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(1) CCC 1377: "The Eucharistic presence of Christ begins at the moment of the consecration and endures as long as the Eucharistic species subsist."

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Included in this booklet:

* FOREWORD BY MARK P. SHEA

* INTRODUCTION

* WHAT DOES THE CHURCH TEACH ABOUT THE EUCHARIST? (Included Above)
Three Ways Jesus is Present (Included Above)

* WHY SHOULD WE BELIEVE IN THE REAL PRESENCE?

* THE BIBLICAL BASIS FOR THE REAL PRESENCE
The Eucharist Prefigured in the Old Testament
The Eucharist Fulfilled in the New Testament

* THE HISTORICAL BASIS FOR THE REAL PRESENCE
Evidence from the Early Church Fathers
Evidence from History
Evidence from Eucharistic Miracles

* A SAINT'S SUMMARY

* I BELIEVE! NOW WHAT SHOULD I DO?
Appreciate the Eucharist More Fully
Receive the Eucharist More Fruitfully
Pass the Faith on to Our Children More Permanently
Evangelize our Separated Brethren More Effectively

* A SAINT'S REFLECTION

* CONCLUSION

* HOLY COMMUNION PRAYERS
Prayer of St. Thomas Aquinas (Before Communion)
Prayer of St. Thomas Aquinas (After Communion)
Pange Lingua (Tantum Ergo)
Adoro Te (translated by Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J.)

Father Frank Chacon, and Jim Burnham. Beginning Apologetics 3: How to Explain and Defend the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Farmington, NM: San Juan Catholic Seminars, 1999-2014. Print.

To order one or more of the Beginning Apologetics books by Father Frank Chacon and Jim Burnham, see San Juan Catholic Seminars' website.