The Eucharist and the story of Israel

It is the biblical account of salvation history that gives the Eucharist the meaning that it has.

Detail from 'Institution of the Eucharist' (1441) by Fra Angelico (www.wikiart.org)

On August 5th, Pew Research Center released a survey that found that a majority of Catholics don’t believe that Jesus Christ is truly present in the Holy Eucharist—Body, Blood, soul, and divinity. I became aware of this study the very next day via Bishop Robert Barron, who released a brief video of his initial reaction to the survey. He expressed anger and disappointment at himself and others who share in the task of teaching the faith in our parishes and schools. “This should be a wake-up call,” Bishop Barron said, “to all of us in the Church—priests, bishops, religious, laypeople, catechists, parents, everyone—that we need to pick up our game when it comes to communicating even the most basic doctrines of the Church.”

There has, understandably, been an explosion of Catholic commentary in the weeks following, with people doing their best to get their minds around the simple fact that many, if not most, Catholics in the U.S. just don’t believe in the Eucharist. The clarion call from most commentators was essentially all the same: better catechesis; no dumbing down the Faith; emphasis on core teachings; better liturgy, which translates to greater reverence for the Eucharist (receiving on the tongue, restore the altar-rails, get back to preaching hard truths, and so on).

Bishop Barron is correct when he says, “It represents a massive failure on the part of Catholic educators and catechists, evangelists and teachers.” The list can go on and on, some points (and solutions) more significant than others. There is, as far as I’m concerned, enough blame to go around that at some level—some levels more responsible than others, to be sure—we have all failed in this most basic task.

But what exactly is the task, again?

The answer to that question comes, I think, on the heels of a still more basic one: What exactly is the Eucharist? And no, it’s not quite enough to say, “It’s Jesus’ Body and Blood.”

I’m convinced, well aware that many others are not, that the ultimate answer is found in a comment made by Bishops Barron himself in his most recent video St. Paul’s Masterclass in Evangelization. It was a side comment, to be sure, but, as far as I’m concerned, it was the most powerful point his excellency has ever made. If one were to add up all the great points about this or that saint, this or that spiritual principle, this or that theological point made by Bishop Barron over the years, they would all still fall short in importance compare to these words:

When we lose the link between Jesus and Israel, we miss the point… Can we distill timeless truths from His teaching? Sure, sure. But what’s interesting about Jesus is, in His dying and rising, He is the fulfillment of all the promises made to Israel.

I have argued here and elsewhere that the Church can only make sense of its life and mission when it sees itself within the story of God, Israel, the nations, and the world. There are few more pressing words for the Church today than these sentences by Barron. And when it comes to the Eucharist, nothing else will do.

The Eucharist comes to us as the climax of the biblical narrative, as the climax of Jesus’ own ministry, as the climax of Jesus’ death and resurrection, which is itself framed by the story of Israel and the prophets. Thus, whatever else we want to say about the Eucharist (Transubstantiation being true, cf. CCC 1376), the one thing we must say is that it has something to do with Jesus’ death and resurrection, which is itself the fulfillment of the biblical narrative, of the story of Israel and Israel’s God, of the promises made to Abraham (Gen 12), and those promises as the solution to the problem of sin (Gen 3).

Transubstantiation is the greatest truth, but it is only great because it comes to us as the moment in which God has moved the story of Israel into its final stage. It is great, it is true, and it is truly Jesus’ flesh and blood, but only when it is placed within the framework of the story of Israel’s God, Israel’s Messiah, and Israel’s mission to the nations.

To tell another story is to get the Eucharist all wrong.

But if the Eucharist ushers the story into its final stage, which of course it does, then what exactly is this final stage? What, then, is the Eucharist for, and how does it do this? We must keep in mind that if the Eucharist comes to us as the fulfillment of the Abrahamic promises, then the promises to Abraham themselves come to us as the climax to the story of creation begun in Genesis 1-2. In particular, however, we must keep in mind this: the promises to Abraham come to us as the answer to the problem of sin outlined in Genesis 3, spiraling out of control in the chapters that follow, creating friction and then division within the human family. God’s promise was simply that in and through Abraham’s seed, the Seed of Genesis 3 would be provided, and the human family would be renewed and reunited around and within Abraham’s family.

It is not a coincidence that Paul sees the Eucharistic flesh of Jesus creating the one family of Abraham that God had always promised (1 Cor 10:17). If one is tracking the story, as every Catholic is called to do, then the point about unity is not just a side comment by Paul. Unity, rather, is the Gospel message. And that message of unity is both contextualized by the story of Abraham and God’s promises to him and made a reality in those who eat Jesus’ flesh and drink His blood. All this, however, is for the purpose of restoring creation to its former glory. The point about going to heaven when we die (which, interestingly, is not explicitly talked about in the New Testament) is true, but the authors of the New Testament, not least Jesus Himself, were looking beyond heaven to a union of heaven and earth (this, of course, is what the resurrection of the body is all about). As Paul states in his epistle to the Ephesians:

For he has made known to us in all wisdom and insight the mystery of his will, according to his purpose which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fulness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. (Eph 1:9-10)

Paul was mostly concerned with God’s rescue operation for the creation through Israel. And that operation is picked up and made active in the Abrahamic promises finding their fulfillment in Jesus.

Without that story, as Bishop Barron says, we miss the point about Jesus. But the sharp edge of that point is made that much sharper with the recent Pew Research center statistics: without the story of Israel, the Eucharist can’t (and won’t) make the sense it does.

Oftentimes the solution to the crisis of faith, and in this case the specific crisis of faith in Our Lord’s real presence in the Eucharist, is to “do things better”, or to have better training for catechists, or to preach the hard truths of the faith. What is too often left out as a solution, never-mind as the solution, is the story of Scripture itself, in and through which all these things make sense.

Does it really matter all that much that we “do things better” if the things we are doing has little or no reference at all to the story of Israel and Israel’s relationship to the nations and the world? Is not the telling of the story of Abraham the one thing we should be ‘doing better’? It is the story of the Bible that gives the Eucharist the meaning that it has. What does it mean to train better catechists if they aren’t trained in the story of the sacred page, in and through which the Eucharist makes the sense it does? As far as preaching ‘hard truths’, well, that’s been a given for some time now. Yet, the hard truths themselves make the sense they do when framed within the larger story of Israel, Israel’s God, Israel’s Messiah, and the nations. For those who still believe, the task is ours for the taking. And if we are to take up that task, then it is to that story that we must go.


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About Christopher Plance 2 Articles
Christopher Plance teaches theology and history at St. Monica Academy in Los Angeles. He attended graduate school at Franciscan University, where he received his MA in Theology. He currently lives in the San Fernando Valley with his wife and three children.

20 Comments

  1. The primary catechesis must be the liturgy. We’ve been getting that wrong for fifty years, so it’s not surprising the faithful are ill-informed.
    What we are and what we do are much more important than what we say.

  2. Bishop Barron and the author might consider that it is adult “Catholic” apostasy that explains why young “Catholic” people don’t believe that the Eucharist is what Jesus and the apostles said it is.

    For example: our little boy, in preparation for his 1st Holy Communion, was taught by us at home that the Eucharist is the Bidy, Blood, Soul and Divinty of Jesus (which can be found expressed in any faithful Catholic teaching text, from a child’s Catechism to an advanced sacramental theology text such as Abbot Anscar Vonier’s “A Key to the Doctrine of the Eucharist.”

    We were required to submit our little boy to the parish “religious education” program in order to “qualify” our son to receive his First Holy Communion.”

    There was a little assembly at the end of “the religious education program” to demonstrate for the parents what the “educators” were teaching our children. The woman who ran the “program” called on the class to answer this question: “When we receive the Eucharist, what is is we are receiving?” My wife was in attendance. Our little boy raised his hand eagerly, and answered in confidence for all to hear: “We receive Jesus’ body, blood, soul and divinity.”

    The woman “running things” over-ruled him, stating for all to hear: “Well, what we receive MOST OF ALL is Jesus’ live in our hearts.”

    So the reason children don’t believe is that they are being taught by adult apostates. It is not a failure as Bishop Barron states. It is a deliberate defrauding of our children by “counterfeit-Catholic” adults who are the spawn of the McCarrick Establishment, an empire of mediocre frauds who have muddled their way into concocting a new post-Catholic and increasingly post-Christian cult.

    Our pastor is content, because the parish is wealthy and and has been a leader in generating big revenue. But I must admit, he has voiced concern in the last year or so, but not about the mediocrity of his “religious education program,” but about: the significant decline in revenue after the truth about “our former hero” McCarrick was finally admitted by “the Church Hierarchy,” only after having been forced to admit it after being so long denied and rebuffed in Church, that justice could only be served by bringing the truth to the US public newspapers.

    If the adults are mediocre, like-warm, “Hallmark-Card” zombies, then the children and their faithful parents have to fight uphill every day just to stay alive in Christ.

    Bishop Barron is correct that Catholic education stinks…but he cannot admit why it stinks…presumably because it is too painful for him to admit it. But it has NOTHING to do with failed methods…

  3. On this Feast Day of the Nativity of Bl.Mother , who too is a ‘type ‘ of Israel / The Church , the loss of faith in the Real Presence can also be also seen as related to the so called Father Wound .
    Interesting how science mentions how the whole universe seems to be moving towards a mysterious huge ‘Mass ‘..
    The lies against The Father is what started in The Garden ..and continue to plague us – how He cannot be so loving as to share His love for The Lord with us , in and through The Eucharist ..and the contraceptive mentality massively reinforces that
    lie , by rejecting the God ordained truth in human sexuality that its is to be an act of true unity , in holiness and fidelity .
    The Fall possibly has brought in the aspect of sexuality having become a rather self focused occasion – more even at an animal level ; there is also the aspect that it can only be between two persons at any given time .
    True , we are given the graces of the Immaculate Conception , in our baptism, where in the aspect of the true union as God had desired for Adam and Eve, is brought in again .
    Sacrificing sexuality as it is now , through celibacy and chastity , in God ordained prudence , with the trust that it can help for occasions of growing in holiness,in deeper praise and adoration is to bring us to a higher realm – joining the holy angels , each other too , in The Spirit , to call on The Father , to adore Him .. we , whom He has foreseen from all eternity , lovingly created in spite of having seen what we would cost Him, in The Son ..
    Often the talk about the spousal relationship in the O.T is with all of Israel itself – that truth being focused upon more can help , how fidelity to Church teachings are not to deprive us of relationships but to enhance them to be at the heavenly realm, in depth and breadth ..
    That truth might be hard for many to come back to , unless also given means to be set free , from all the carnal spirits of fears and lies , the death spirits , brought in as a result of wrong choices ..
    The irony , even the mercy of the other side of the Church scandals is , it can also be seen as a calling to see the fallen Father figures being washed in The Blood , being set free , to be thus of The Father , in turn , to have more trust , to see own weaknesses to be washed clean as well ..
    That could help with more trust in what our Lord desires to do , in sharing the Holy Spirit Presence and power , through His Risen Body and Blood , that together we call ‘Abba ‘…
    Denying the desire and responsibility to accept The Spirit , in spite of the Oath that is made in The Eucharist – how many could there be that are spiritually
    dead , like Ananias and Saphira, from having lied to St.Peter !
    Let us hope and pray that the intercession of our Mother would help many to receive the joy of being reborn,through repentance , to be held in her arms like babies ,
    to grow in The Spirit ..

  4. I agree. I taught CCD classes for middle schoolers.I quit when I was told not to teach the 10 commandments because it may offend some parents who were in adulterous relationships.

    • 100% evil.

      Our Church is infested inside with a Pope, Cardinals, Bishops, clergy and laity who are promoting evil.

      They are devoting their lives to a post-Christian cult, whose only purpose is to be “content” producers and consumers for 80 years.

  5. First, Happy Birthday blessed Mother. IT has been taught by many that we may learn more about God through the workings and beauty of the world. St Francis, etc. I was a convert at a young age and learned most from reading about the Saints, the Catechism, and Gospels. This gives a sensing of the truth, formed conscience. I fortunately missed the errors that many describe. 1st commandment “You shall love the Lord your God with everything you are” If you love someone you take the time to learn about them. In learning you begin to make room in your heart, He can then fill you with Himself. He finds room in your “Inn”. I began to think clearly and saw that the Eucharist is the actual DNA of our Lord and King. If there is room in you, he can replace your fallen nature with HIS VERY OWN.
    This is the reality and I cannot get over the love and beauty He offers me. IF someone does not believe, it is not often the others to blame but where is one’s love. Knock and it shall be opened to you. HE fills me with knowledge and wonder every day. Ask and it shall be given to you. Teachers and info are a very small doors. The person that wrote about teaching their son is correct. Primary teachers are parents but I did not even have that. I had a desire to find God which he gives to all. Feed it. IF one is on their knees and calls out to HIM, HE will answer. Christianity is not for whiners and sissies. Taste and see the goodness of the Lord. I really feel sorry for those who accpt phonieness and sloth. Get busy LIVING, spend time with HIM in adoration and quiet yourself. Finally, it does not matter at all what anyone believes, it is what God believes that matters. Gospel, Chatechism, Saints are the teachers.

  6. The author misses the point. Stop the esoteric discussion. Eliminate Eucharistic ministers and Communion in the hand. Reinstutute Communion in the tongue, only, while kneeling

    Stop the singing at communion. You waste the most intimate moment if your life without adequate prayer and thanksgiving. And while you’re at it eliminate all the talking in church before and after mass. This is Gid’s House. Not the local bar and grill.

    • How does he miss the point? And how does simply enforcing any number of things (however laudable) make up for a lack of deep understanding of salvation history, Scripture, and the Messianic reality of Jesus, as the the author has described?

      • How many young Americans have abandoned the Church as soon as they are out of their parent’s control? I know many of them myself. If you ask them, you’ll often hear their perception of a Church of silliness and slavish rules. Too often THAT is what they learned in CCD. They endure years of, “discussion groups” and time-filling “activities.” Unfortunately, many (most?) parishes seem to be forced into a sort of Warm Body Syndrome. That is, they have no choice but to accept anyone who volunteers. This naturally results in CCD teachers who know little about doctrine or teaching, Eucharistic Ministers who know little about the Eucharist, Religious Education Directors who care less about education than they do about enforcing rules, sadly, even Deacons who seem to be mainly instructed through a Chicken Soup for the Soul curriculum. So how would a CCD teacher approach Abraham and Jesus when he’s never heard such things himself? Most of the homilies I hear are essentially self-help talks, not deep theology. So no, I don’t believe Mr. Plance is missing the point. Rather, his point is being missed. I, for one, would love to hear more “esoteric discussion” on this topic. Maybe someone here can recommend further reading. I doubt that I’ll be hearing about it in a homily any time soon.
        Standard disclaimer: I’m not trying to rip on volunteers. I truly believe most are trying their best to do what is right and helpful.

        • I think there is a lot of spot-on insight here. There is a delicate balance-act to be sure, because if you reduce Catholicism to a series of ‘rules’ and/or ‘feel-good’ activities you will find that people naturally drift away, as someone can easily find more accommodating ‘rules’ and ‘activities.’ Catholic education does need to stress morality and virtue, but also have its own vitality to it, trying to impart a joy of living in Christ’s teachings. Salvation, service, and devotion should be joyful exercises, and oftentimes you have people whose take the faith as a soulless obligation – which others (especially children) pick up on and internalize.

          I don’t think the re-imposition of dusty-old rails and an resurgence of nuns-with-rulers would necessarily communicate to people a faith that is living. At our parish we have started all-day Eucharistic adoration with some modest successes (a few coupled people per week, scattered at different times), as well as monthly formation. These groups are small now (~30), but it is encouraging to see that people actually do yearn to talk more deeply about prayer, or the Eucharist, vs. a more passive Catholicism.

    • I joined the Catholic Church Mainly as I found reverence there. This was 20 years ago. Now there is noise before and after mass when a few people are praying. every one takes communion with no thought for being in good state of grace,taking Jesus in the hand and not kneeling to show we know who we are receiving . I too would like silence during communion reception. The reverence is almost gone, and I miss it.
      nancy

  7. I commend the beauty contemplated by the author.

    I think that the problem with the idea in the essay is that a deep understanding is shot through and through with an abiding belief that the Eucharist is the Body and Blood and Soul and Divinity, and that if this is denied and erased in teaching us as children, whichbit is, we can go on the commendable journey that the essay discusses, and perhaps still not assent to believing in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist.

    The real presence is a 1st principle from the lips of Jesus. We cannot arrive at assent other than through faith that it is what Jesus says it is because he is The Word of God.

  8. Since Abraham, the whole history of GOD is counter cultural and when you live the TRUTH you run into some kind of cross. (you will have trouble in the world but I have overcome) When you have trouble inside or out, and you turn to the Eucharist and the WORD, HE keeps HIS promise and you find another more secret HOLY way. The problem today is they don’t want to be counter cultural. Contraception/same sex etc etc. We cannot love GOD and mammon too. Can’t happen. The culture is free to choose HIM or not and so are we. Nothing about this is esoteric. It all has definite physical results based on one’s choice. I guess the non-believers need to see someone living it. You and me? Your joy will be such that no one can take it from you! I’ll go with that. GOSPEL IS COUNTERCULTURAL You become HIS flesh and blood. Meditate on that

  9. Wonderful article, thank you. One more precondition for belief is an acceptance of the supernatural in the universe at all. The whole modern West may not know from “apostasy” but it certainly does not dream of tolerating the supernatural. Without that Israel’s history is meaningless. And down that road they go….

  10. I find one of the most disturbing change in our mass is the constant singing and lack of reverence especially during the liturgy of the Eucharist. No longer does the priest proclaim the words during the transubstantiaton, during the distribution we are called on to sing and after receiving we are called on to sing. No quiet, no reverence, no prayer time, Just 1 big singalong. Bring back reverence and prayer. Let us hear the beautiful words again. Stop shutting us out

  11. People love stories. The Salvation History story is the most enthralling tale. Full of bad guys, damsels in distress, our Hero who saves the Day, and even a dragon. We can start to tell the world its own story again and get them to the happily ever after of joining heaven and earth one glorious day. We just can’t be afraid and we can’t be judgmental. We have to tell the world its story out of love for their well-being. And not just in the hereafter, but for a pure, joyful quality of life now! So many are despairing and lost. We can help them now, too.

  12. When Jesus celebrated the last super, we are told to do this in memory of me, there was no mention of how often we should do this but there is a hint suggestion, Jesus was celebrating an annual celebration like he had done both man and boy. We and those who have gone before us may , or have been celebrating the Eucharist to often ?

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