The Holy Eucharist


The Scriptures | The Church Fathers

Questions and Answers on the Eucharist



Christ's Promise of the Eucharist: John 6: 22—71

In the sixth chapter of St. John's gospel we read that Christ multiplied five loaves of bread and two fishes into so much that as many as 10,000 people could eat their fill.

Here Christ had performed the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves primarily as a sign, a prefiguration of the bread that he was to give mankind for the supernatural life of their souls, a bread which could be eaten by millions of men of every century and still never be diminished. This symbolism was the reason behind the miracle. The Son of God did not become man in order to satisfy the hunger of a few Jews; he does not stoop to the role of a mere magician. The very ceremonies with which He introduced the multiplication of loaves were those that He would use at the Last Supper. Each time: "He took bread, blessed it, broke it and gave it to His disciples." The miracle of the multiplication took place, not in Jesus' hands, but in those of the Apostles; they kept giving a fresh supply of bread to the crowds of people. Thus, the transformation of bread into Christ's body and its distribution to the people is to take place through the hands of the Apostles and their successors, the priests. All who are present can receive this Eucharistic bread, no matter how great their number.

In the Eucharist, bread is transformed into Christ's body. Christ thus works two miracles, one in the bread and one in His body. Thereby proving that He has power both over the bread, and over His own body. He can transform His body into a mysterious and spiritual condition in which it is no longer subject to the laws of nature.

 Jesus exhorted the Jews, who desired a repetition of the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves: "Labour not for the meat which perishes but for that which endures unto life everlasting which the Son of Man will give you" (27). In the ensuing Eucharistic speech, Jesus:

a)      Speaks first quite generally of the true heavenly bread which descends from heaven and confers eternal life on the world (29—34);

b)      Then designates Himself as this life‑giving heavenly bread, and for its possession demands faith (35–51a);

c)        and finally more closely determines the true heavenly bread as His flesh and makes the eating of His flesh and the drinking of His blood necessary for the possession of eternal life (51b—58).[1]

The, opponents of the Real Presence understand these words in the metaphorical sense of belief in the sacrificial death of Christ on the Cross. The necessity of accepting a literal interpretation in this case is however evident:

a)      From the nature of the words used. (v. 56) “true, real meat,” “true, real drink”' "Caro enim mea vere est cibus: et sanguis meus, vere est potus:” The obvious meaning is the literal one.

b)     From the difficulties created by the figurative interpretation. In biblical language, that is, among the Orientals, to eat a person's flesh and drink his blood in the metaphorical sense means to persecute him in a bloody fashion, to destroy him, to calumniate him.

Psalm 26, 1b‑2: "The Lord is the protector of my life: of whom shall I be afraid? Whilst the wicked draw near against me, to eat my flesh."

Isaias 9, 20: "And he shall turn to the right hand, and shall be hungry: and shall eat on the left hand, and shall not be filled: and everyone shall eat the flesh of his own arm: Manasses Ephraim, and Ephraim Manasses, and they together shall be against Juda"

Isaias 49, 26: "And I will feed thy enemies with their own flesh: and they shall be made drunk with their own blood as with new wine;..."

c) From the connection between the first part and the second part of the discourse: just as Christ came to us really through the Incarnation (v. 38f), so He really comes to us in His own person through the Eucharist (v. 50f).

d) From the auditors' manner of understanding: they heard these words in the literal meaning; and from Christ's manner of acting: Rather than correct this interpretation of His words, He approved of it.[2]

2. Institution of the Eucharist

Whatever Christ promised; that He faithfully gave. For on the day before He suffered, after the celebration of the Paschal Supper, "Jesus took bread, and blessed and broke, gave to his disciples and said: Take ye and eat: This is my body which is given for you," according to St. Luke: "which shall be delivered for you," according to St. Paul: "And taking the chalice he gave thanks and gave to them, saying: "Drink ye all of this: For this is my blood...”[3]

Clearly in the literal sense these words demonstrate the Real Presence. Taken in their proper and literal sense, the words are so clear, that no clearer words can be found for explaining the Catholic dogma; simultaneously, the metaphorical sense is obscure. Therefore, the literal sense must be preferred.

The apostles, to whom our Lord was speaking, were simple men, inclined to interpret literally even metaphorical utterances (cf. Matt. 16, 11). As witnesses of Christ's miracles and aware of His omnipotence, they were ready to give simple faith to the Master's affirmations, even to those which were difficult to grasp. Through the discourse in chapter six of St. John, they were disposed to admitting the real eating of the Lord's body and blood. It is unthinkable that Jesus employed metaphorical words, difficult to understand, without explaining them. Christ was clear on the point 'unless you eat my body and drink my blood you shall not have life within you.'

In examining the circumstances we see that Christ, in instituting the Eucharist, established a new testament or covenant: "This is my blood of the new testament." He left a perpetual memorial of his love, and at the same time He imposed the law of repeating this rite. "Do this in commemoration of me." All of this was done at the Last Supper before his death. A testament of covenant must be clear, therefore a metaphorical sense which is difficult to understand is excluded. If the Eucharist is only a figure of Christ's body, then it is not a unique pledge of His love. Also, after His Resurrection, He never modified His words. Thus, if he only intended the metaphorical sense, many of his disciples have for years been practicing idolatry, adoring as the true body of the Lord, what was and is nothing but bread.

Therefore, the metaphorical sense is unacceptable and improper.

After reporting the institution of the Eucharist, St. Paul adds: "Therefore whosoever shall eat this bread, or drink the chalice of the Lord unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and of the blood of the Lord... not discerning the body of the Lord" (1 Corinthians 11, 27‑29). If Christ is only metaphorically present in the Eucharist, communicating unworthily offends indeed His person but not His body and blood. This is confirmed by what the Apostle said earlier: "The chalice of benediction... is it not the communication of the blood of Christ? And the bread, which we break, is it not the partaking of the body of the Lord?" (1 Cor 10:16).  We cannot communicate in the body and in the blood of Christ in the Eucharist unless they are really there.

Not only are the true body and blood of Christ contained in this Sacrament, but also Christ, whole and entire. The word Christ designates the God‑man, that is to say, one Person in whom are united the divine and human natures; the Holy Eucharist therefore contains both, and whatever is included in the idea of both, the Divinity and the humanity, whole and entire, consisting of the soul, all the parts of the body and the blood, --all of which must be believed to be in this sacrament. In heaven, the whole humanity is united to the whole Divinity in one hypostasis, or Person; hence it would be impious, to suppose that the body of Christ, which is contained in the Sacrament, is separated from His Divinity.

Not all of Christ is contained in this Sacrament in the same manner or by the same power. Some things are present in virtue of the words of consecration; for as the words of consecration effect what they signify; sacred writers usually say that whatever the form expresses is contained in the Sacrament by virtue of the Sacrament. Hence, could we suppose any one thing to be entirely separated from the rest, the Sacrament, they teach, would be found to contain solely what the form expresses and nothing more.

Some things are contained in the Sacrament because they are united to the things which are expressed in the form. For instance, the words: This is my body, which comprise the form, signify the body of Christ, and hence His body itself is contained in the Eucharist by virtue of the Sacrament. Since, however, to Christ's body are united His blood, His soul and His divinity, all of these must also be found to coexist in the Sacrament; not, however, by virtue of the consecration, but by virtue of the union that subsists between them and His body. All these are said to be in the Eucharist by virtue of concomitance. Hence Christ is whole and entirely contained in the Sacrament; for when two things are actually united, where one is the other must also be.

Thus, it also follows that Christ is whole and entire under either species. Under the species of bread are contained not only the body, but also the blood and Christ entire; so in like manner under the species of wine are truly contained not only the blood, but also the body and the entire Christ.

Although these are matters on which the faithful cannot entertain a doubt, it was nevertheless wisely ordained that two distinct consecrations take place. First, because they represent in a more lively manner the Passion of our Lord, in which His blood is separated from His body; and hence in the form of consecration we commemorate the shedding of His blood. Secondly, since the Sacrament is to be used by us as food and nourishment of our souls, it was most appropriate that it should be instituted as food and drink, two things which obviously constitute the complete sustenance of the body.

Christ is contained whole and entire under each particle of either species as well as being under each species. St. Augustine: Each receives Christ the Lord, and He is entire in each portion. He is not diminished by being given to many, but gives Himself whole and entire to each. This is obvious from the institution. Our Lord consecrated all the bread then used for the sacred mysteries at the same time, in a quantity sufficient for all the Apostles. That the consecration of the chalice was performed in this manner is clear: Take and divide it among you. - Luke 22:17

St. Paul says: "For we, being many, are one bread, one body, all that partake of one bread." (1 Corinthians 10:17) That is to say, as the individual soul becomes one with Christ through Holy Communion, so all who partake of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament are made one.


[1] (V. 52) "The bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world. (53) The Jews therefore strove among themselves, saying: How can this man give us his flesh to eat? (54) Then Jesus said to them: Amen, amen, I say unto you: except you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you shall not have life in you. (55) He that eats my flesh and drinks my blood, hath everlasting life; and I will raise him up in the last day. (56) For my flesh is meat indeed and my blood is drink indeed. (57) He that eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me and I in him. (58) As the living Father has sent me, and I live by the Father: so he that eats me the same also shall live by me. (59) This is the bread that came down from heaven. Not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead. He that eats this bread shall live forever."

[2] (61) Many therefore of his disciples, hearing it, said: This saying is hard,' and who can hear it? (62) But Jesus, knowing in himself, that his disciples murmured at this, said to them: Doth this scandalize you? (63) If then you shall see the Son of man ascend up where he was before?.(64) It is the spirit that quickens: the flesh profits nothing. The words that I have spoken to you, are spirit and life. (65) But there are some of you that believe not. For Jesus knew from the beginning, who they were that did not believe, and who he was, that, would betray him. (66) And he said: Therefore did I say to you, that no man can come to me, unless it be given him by my Father. (67) After this many of his disciples went back; and walked no more with him. (68) Then Jesus said to the twelve: Will you also go away?

[3] There are four narrations of the institution of the Eucharist: Matt. 26:26‑28; Mark 14:22‑24; Luke 22: 19- 30 and I Corinthians 11: 23‑25.