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The Blessed Sacrament: It’s either All or nothing

On the Readings for June 19, 2022, The Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ

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

Readings:
• Gen 14:18-20
• Ps 110:1, 2, 3, 4
• 1 Cor 11:23-26
• Lk 9:11b-17

Shortly after my wife and I entered the Catholic Church in 1997, I had a conversation with an Evangelical friend that was as disconcerting as it was friendly. A.J., whom I met in Bible college several years earlier, was curious about the Catholic doctrine that the Eucharist is the true Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. I say “curious” because A.J., unlike some of my other Protestant friends, was not really bothered or offended by this belief, merely puzzled. After much discussion, he said, “I don’t see what the big deal is. I believe that Communion is symbolic, and you believe it is more than a symbol. But, either way, we’re both Christians.”

His comment surprised me because it was readily evident to me—as it is to many Protestants—that the Catholic belief in the Eucharist (shared by Eastern Orthodox and Ancient Oriental Christians) is an “all or nothing” proposition. If the Eucharist is Jesus, it calls for a response of humble acceptance; if the Eucharist is not really Jesus, it is an idolatrous offense against God—worshipping bread and wine as though they are somehow divine.

On this feast day celebrating the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, the readings reveal, in different ways, the truthfulness of the ancient and consistent belief in the Eucharist. It is fitting that this great mystery has ancient roots in one of most mysterious of all biblical figures: the priest Melchizedek, who makes just one historical appearance in the Scriptures (Gen. 14:18-20), is mentioned once more in the Old Testament (Ps. 110:4), and then reappears in the seventh chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrews.

Having just left the battlefield, Abram encountered the “king of Salem”, who was also a “priest of God Most High.” Melchizedek brought bread and wine to Abram and blessed the patriarch, and Abram responded with a tithe. Both actions indicated Melchizedek’s superior position, as noted in the letter to the Hebrews (Heb 7:1-7). It is the first time a priest is mentioned in the Scriptures, several centuries before the Hebrews had a priesthood.

“The Christian tradition,” the Catechism states, “considers Melchizedek, ‘priest of God Most High,’ as a prefiguration of the priesthood of Christ, the unique ‘high priest after the order of Melchizedek’” (CCC 1544, 1333). Christ’s priesthood is superior to the Aaronic priesthood. Because he is the Son of God and is God himself (the argument of Hebrews 1), His priesthood is validated by his eternal nature and his infinite being (Heb. 7:16, 24ff). Melchizedek’s importance lies in his loyalty to God Most High, the purity of his intentions, and his sacrifice of bread and wine.  He represents a time when the priesthood was part of the natural order of family structure. By establishing the New and universal covenant through His death and resurrection, Jesus Christ formed a new and everlasting family of God, bound not by ethnicity, but by grace and the Holy Spirit.

And because Jesus is God, he is able to give the household of God his Body and Blood for the nourishment of soul and body, and for the forgiveness of sins. By providing this Eucharistic banquet, a foretaste of the Kingdom of God, he fulfills the promise of a worldwide family of God foreshadowed in the person of the king-priest Melchizedek. The feeding of the five thousand, described in today’s reading from Luke’s Gospel, anticipates and represents the sacrament of the Eucharist, as Christ miraculously feeds—with the assisting hands and efforts of His priests, the Apostles—those who hunger to hear his words.

If the bread and wine remained unchanged, Christ would be, at best, equal to Melchizedek. But the King of Kings said, “This is my body that is for you”, and the High Priest declared, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood.” The Eucharist is Jesus Christ. That is the great truth we humbly celebrate today—and every day we receive the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ.

(This “Opening the Word” column originally appeared in the June 10, 2007, edition of Our Sunday Visitor newspaper.)


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About Carl E. Olson 1180 Articles
Carl E. Olson is editor of Catholic World Report and Ignatius Insight. He is the author of Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?, Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"?, co-editor/contributor to Called To Be the Children of God, co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax (Ignatius), and author of the "Catholicism" and "Priest Prophet King" Study Guides for Bishop Robert Barron/Word on Fire. His recent books on Lent and Advent—Praying the Our Father in Lent (2021) and Prepare the Way of the Lord (2021)—are published by Catholic Truth Society. He is also a contributor to "Our Sunday Visitor" newspaper, "The Catholic Answer" magazine, "The Imaginative Conservative", "The Catholic Herald", "National Catholic Register", "Chronicles", and other publications. Follow him on Twitter @carleolson.

12 Comments

  1. The Eucharist is indeed the body and blood of Jesus. Besides Melchizedek’s bread and wine which he brought to Abram the Father of the Old Covenant, we also have the event when Abraham’s descendants killed a lamb, ate its flesh and sprinkled the killed lamb’s blood on the door post which protected them from the destruction that was happening all around. It was the time when these people were freed from slavery.
    It was during the celebration of the event – the Passover – that Jesus instituted this sacrament, which provides a profound spiritual experience. Baptism makes us members of our Lord’s Church, the Eucharist enables us to maintain this mystical union with Jesus and also protects us from the destructive elements in the world.

  2. Fine article. I’m reminded that we live in a non-culture that claims to believe that humans have the capacity to transform men into women and women into men but cannot countenance that God can take bread and wine and have its essence become his Body and Blood. But I’m also reminded that we live in a culture where it’s not unheard of for thieves to break into churches and steal the Eucharist. Why would they steal it if it were only bread? The truth is that Satan himself, for one, truly believes in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist; it’s just that he hates this fact.

  3. The astonishing scientific analyses of Eucharistic Miracles might give any earnest Christian Protestant pause to reflect deeply on the Words of the Beloved One at the Last Supper, the First Holy Mass and Holy Communion. Some people insist on a literal reading of every word in the Bible except for these. This irony challenges Pilate’s tragic query to the Way, The Truth and the Life; “What is truth?”.

  4. That all the denominations that formed when separating from the Catholic Church do not believe in the real presence is significant. Except for the claim of Lutherans and Anglicans, Lutherans that Christ is truly and substantially present in, with and under the forms, Anglicans that Christ is pneumatically present neither which clearly affirm that the consecrated bread and wine is Christ [what author Carl Olson means by All or Nothing].
    It’s significant in that it signifies a reality, that in departing from Catholicism they effectively departed from the Mystical Body. At least at the moment of the departure. Since the original departed, many are not quite as culpable, many excellent Catholics former Protestants. This is brought home in Marcus Grodi’s Journey Home interviews with story after story of conversion accenting the real presence.
    Somehow, mysteriously we know he’s there, he’s within us when received, we ‘sense’ Christ. Is it faith? Yes. And more. It’s faith manifest in transformation. We desire to love persons we never thought possible before receiving him. We are distressed when we hurt someone however subtly. We find rare happiness even in wanting to suffer for their good.

  5. As a convert, I personally experienced the true miracle of the Eucharist. At my last duty station in the Navy, I finally became Catholic (after going to Mass for over 3 years every Sunday). My duty watches were extremely demanding and tiring. I worked 2 Eve watches (4PM-12AM), then 8 hours later, 2 Day watches (8AM-4PM), then 8 hours later, 2 Midnight watches (12AM-8AM). You were completely drained after the last Midnight watch. My work involved handling highly sensitive Top Secret messages for NSA. I was baptized Catholic between my Eve watches. My last Midnight watch ended on Sunday at 8AM. But that watch was the most frantic I ever served. We detected 13 Soviet submarines 18 miles offshore up and down the east coast (each submarine had 19 nuclear armed missiles). Three Soviet ships had deliberately bumped our ships in the Mediterranean, and the Chinese had amassed 3 battalions of their Army at the closest point in their country to Taiwan. After this watch, I just wanted to go back to the barracks, and get a ton of sleep. But I knew it would very much upset the priest who personally taught and baptized me. I went to Mass, and received the Eucharist. When I took 3 steps after receiving the Eucharist, every cell in my body literally exploded with energy (I still can remember what it felt like). After Mass I drove the 3 hours to my parents house (I was now on liberty). The moment I entered the foyer of my parents house, every bit of energy completely drained away from me. I was totally befuddled and confused. But then I recalled that all this happened after receiving the Eucharist. And at that exact moment, Jesus spoke to me saying: “IT IS My Body, always treat it with reverence and respect”. I realized then that the Eucharist is a miracle of its own making, each and every time we receive it. And as a convert, it was a lesson I needed to learn.

    • You refer to the 13 submarines. Over the top? By coincidence, from a high-ranking and first-hand source, yours truly heard, and has often wondered about, the unwritten and possibly “classified” account that during the Cuban Missile Crisis, in addition to the Soviet Surface ships there were “thirteen” Soviet submarines also in the picture along the southeast east coast (the later movie alludes vaguely to only one or two).

      Innovative tactics of antisubmarine warfare were also in play (later, my short Navy career). It was said that all but one of the subs was pinned down, and that the last one was almost so–and that this information was red-phoned by President Kennedy to Khrushchev during the last of the critical moments during the standoff.

      Decades later, my verbal source, who was on site in the Caribbean at the time and later became an admiral, was a devout, praying, Marian and Eucharistic Catholic all his life.

  6. YEAR OF THE EUCHARIST 2008
    “I AM THE LIVING BREAD” JOHN 6:51 – COMMUNION THANKSGIVING: THE DIVINE PRAISES

    Blessed be God.
    Blessed be His holy name.
    Blessed be Jesus Christ, true God and true man.
    Blessed be the holy name of Jesus Christ.
    Blessed be His loving and sacred Heart.
    Blessed be His Body and Blood.
    Blessed be His passion and resurrection.
    Blessed be Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist.
    Blessed be the Holy Spirit, the Giver of life.
    Blessed be the Holy Spirit, the Comforter.
    Blessed be Holy Mary, the Virgin Mother of God.
    Blessed be her Immaculate Conception.
    Blessed be her glorious Assumption.
    Blessed be God in His angels and in His saints.
    Blessed be our God, always now and for ever and ever. Amen.
    •This Thanksgiving prayer takes 1-2 minutes and fills in a glaring omission, that of thanking God for the great gift of the Holy Communion. There are prayers after Communion now, but they are still a ‘give us’ not a ‘thank you’ – eucharistia. What guest with what manners would rush out after a dinner without complimenting/thanking their host? The exposition of the Blessed Sacrament takes place par excellence at every Holy Communion. Can the Body and Blood of Our Lord be ever more exposed in this life than at Holy Communion?
    •More important still, is to receive Holy Communion, the Body and Blood of Christ, worthily (1 Corinthians 11:28-29, Matthew 5:23, 6:15) – to be free, beforehand, from serious sin, to pray at least the biblical act of contrition, “O God, be merciful to me a sinner. Remember me, O Lord, in Thy kingdom”, and to go to Confession when necessary.
    •Rightly we complain about disrespect shown to the Blessed Sacrament. But what does shunting the tabernacle from its front-and-center location to the sidelines tell the Faithful? Towards what do we genuflect? Restoring the tabernacle with its perpetual candle to the middle of the altar area –its universal location for many centuries and still its location in some churches– would rectify the schism between the altar and the tabernacle and would showcase the Eucharist as the center of Church life. Also, an image of the Last Supper by the altar, such as the one at Saint Maximilian Kolbe church in Mississauga, the Consolata Missionaries’ chapel in Toronto and in many other Orthodox and Catholic churches, from Rio de Janeiro to Jerusalem, would call to mind the roots of the Eucharist.

    Slavic Christian Society / Société Chrétienne Slave / Slăviansko Xristianskoe Sŏbranie, Mississauga, http://slavxrist.org 2000, 2004, 2008.

  7. At the Easter Vigil in the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem the bishop incenses first the slab of rock on the floor. After they took the lifeless body of Jesus of the Cross they laid His racked, wounded and pierced body on this stone-bed into the dust of the earth. THIS IS YOUR GOD! What LOVE is this? His Body and His Blood to the last drop given for our redemption and HE wants to feed us with HIMSELF. Who could dream up a God like this? His Words are crystal clear: if you do not eat and drink His body and blood, you do not have life in you. How can anyone studying scripture cast God’s Word out. He did say” it is my Word that will condemn you!

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