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The Catholic teaching on the Real Presence

In a previous article I mentioned that the Pew Research Center, a respected polling firm, published results of a survey involving Catholics and their understanding of the faith. The survey revealed that approximately 50 percent of Catholics know the Church’s unbroken teaching that the bread and wine at Mass truly become the Body and Blood of Christ. Of these Catholics, 30 percent believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist and 20 percent do not. This finding has received considerable attention in the Catholic media.
Another finding of the survey has not received as much attention: While only 50 percent of Catholics know the Church’s teaching on the Eucharist, 71 percent of Catholics know the Church’s teaching on purgatory. What is the reason for this discrepancy that more Catholics know the teaching of purgatory than the teaching of the Eucharist?
A possible explanation is that our Protestant neighbors usually do not offer a teaching on Purgatory, so Catholics clearly understand Church teaching. However, many Protestant churches will conduct a Communion Service as part of their worship. Since both Protestants and Catholics call this “Communion” and since it often looks similar, Catholics may be confused that Protestants and Catholics are doing the same thing at “Communion.”
However, we are not doing the same thing. Catholics believe that at the Last Supper the Lord gave to the Apostles His authority to celebrate the Last Supper at each Mass. The Lord gave the Apostles His authority to say “This is my Body,” and “This is my Blood.” Jesus told them “Do this in memory of Me.” Because of this, Catholics believe the Eucharist is the Real Presence of Jesus: His Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity. Protestants seldom share this belief. Instead, they usually teach that their Communion Service is a “remembrance” or a “memorial,” but it is not the Real Presence.
Due to this difference of teaching about something which looks so similar and which both Catholics and Protestants call “Communion,” Catholics may pick up from their Protestant neighbors an understanding of the Protestant teaching on the Eucharist and think that this is the Catholic teaching too.
There are many passages from the Bible which explain the Catholic teaching on the Real Presence. Allow me to share but one. At the Last Supper Jesus celebrated the Passover with His Apostles. We know the story of the Passover. God decided to strike down the first born of each house in Egypt, but God promised to Pass-Over the houses of the Hebrews if they would take a lamb, sacrifice it and put the blood of the lamb on the wooden door posts and lintels of their doors. When God saw the blood of the lamb, He would Pass-Over those homes and set those people free to go to the Promised Land.
By celebrating the Passover that night, Jesus prepared His Apostles to understand that He was the true Lamb. He readied them to believe that when His Father saw His blood, not on the wood of doors, but on the wood of the cross, the judgment of God would Pass-Over them and set them free from sin and those able to go to the Promised Land of Heaven. We Catholics believe that we are saved by the Blood of the Lamb who died on the cross.
But Jesus did another thing as well. God gave Moses two commandments the night of the first Passover. He first commanded that each home sacrifice a lamb and place the blood of the lamb on the wood of their doors, and second God commanded them that they eat the lamb. Unlike many other sacrifices where the sacrifices were burned, God commanded that the Passover lamb be eaten.
And so Jesus, the true Lamb of God, told His Apostles that they had to eat him. He had already told them that “My flesh is real food, and my blood is real drink.” (Jn 6) And so Jesus took the bread and told them that it may look like bread but it was truly His body, so take and eat. And He took the wine and told them it was truly His blood, take and drink. Then He told them, “Do this.” Just as the blood on the cross was real blood and no symbol, so the body and blood Jesus gave to the Apostles was truly His flesh and His blood and no symbol.
For 2,000 years the Church has passed on this priceless gift of the Eucharist as the Lord has commanded. Some of our Protestant neighbors may not have come to believe that the Eucharist is real, but we trust the words of the Lord that “This is my Body,” “This is my Blood.”

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