“I don’t get it.
I don’t understand.
Why would He do this?
Why would He humble Himself like that?
What would cause Him to perform such an insane miracle for us?
The kind of thing that makes so many of His followers today walk away in disbelief?
I’m not good at not understanding. I hate confusion. I’m not okay with living with ignorance. I wonder a lot about a lot of things, and then I want answers.
I honestly don’t know if this normal, this almost incessant questioning. But my hunger for truth has caused me to ask a lot of hard questions. Thankfully God has placed a lot of people, books and The Book in my path, to lead me to some of His divine answers.
But this one is one of the toughest, and He hasn’t given me an answer yet. Why the Eucharist? Why on Earth would He change the substance of two created things, bread and wine, into the substance of His very own body and blood? And then command us to eat Him (John 6:53-56)?
The only thing I can think of is the reason that God does anything else for us, like becoming a man or giving us the Bible: love. Divine, immeasurable, self-sacrificing love. When I really think about it, this answer to this question is the best there could be.
But I still don’t understand.”
That was a brief (but polished) example of my thought process from almost two years ago, while I considered the dogma of The Real Presence and its accompanying doctrine, transubstantiation. As a lifelong Protestant who grew up in Catholic school, I had always known that the Catholics believed that something really mind-blowing happened to that piece of bread for Communion. But I had never given it any thought, really. I just shrugged it off as another really crazy and wrong, even idolatrous, opinion of a misguided group that taught a bunch of really wrong and heretical things.
During college, though, for reasons too complicated to talk about now, I began to take a closer look at the Catholic Church. As I researched the history of the dogma, I began to see that faith in the Eucharist was the predominant, normal experience of all early orthodox Christians. Only some of the heretics, like the Gnostics, actually questioned it.
I spent months researching what the early church believed the Apostles had taught them, what the Church Fathers believed and practiced, the history of the Mass, the relevant Bible verses, the witness of the saints, and the numerous documented Eucharistic miracles that have occurred throughout the history of Christianity. I watched debates, videos and talks, read online translated primary source documents from the early church, as well as books, blogs, and articles that both defended and rejected the doctrine. As I did so, it became more and more clear to me that this was a central and biblical tenant of true Christianity from the very beginning.
But I just could not see how they believed that a piece of bread and some wine change into Jesus Christ Himself. The church fathers’ writings blew me away. Many of these men were taught by the Apostles themselves. I thought, how could the Apostles have gotten Jesus’s teaching on Communion so wrong? How could they have been so erroneous to the point of gross idolatry? (If that bread and wine up there aren’t truly Jesus, then worshipping them as if they are is idolatrous to the worst possible degree).
I found that the dogma actually has more Scriptural support, in terms of exegesis and typology, than some of the Protestant versions. I could see that it wasn’t seriously debated until the Protestant Reformation, when Luther, Calvin and Zwingli each denied transubstantiation in favor of his own different and mutually exclusive opinion of the Eucharist. The theology of the Eucharist is one that no Protestant denomination credibly maintains in keeping with traditional Christian beliefs of corporate Sunday worship.
I found clear historical documentation, evidence that not only Catholics but all of the Orthodox churches as well had always held and continue to hold to this view even in the face of intense persecution. People’s relationships with Jesus centered around this dogma. People died for this dogma!
I even came to realize that the dogma wasn’t a metaphysical impossibility. I had researched how it (supposedly) works, and although it is enormously complicated, it wasn’t more difficult to wrap my mind around than other divinely revealed truths like the Trinity, the hypostatic union, or the Virgin Birth.
I also came to discover after a few years of research that without the Catholic Church’s divine authority to teach and interpret in Christ’s name, any view of the Eucharist, whether it be transubstantiation, sacramental union (Luther), suprasubstantiation (Calvin), or symbolic memorialism (Zwingli), can only be taken as human opinion, rather than an authentic doctrinal expression of divine revelation. As one Catholic apologist, Ray Stamper, wrote:
“The content of revelation is (almost by definition) beyond the native capacity of reason to discover. . .Men have no natural capacity for knowing super-natural truths – which is why such truths must be revealed. Since God alone perfectly knows Himself and His purposes in creation, if supernatural truths are to be known by men, God must condescend to “reveal” Himself by communicating to men what they could not come to know by their own intellectual resources. Nothing in the natural world in which reason operates. . .can provide knowledge of the Trinitarian nature of God, the hypostatic union, the realities of supernatural grace, or of heaven and hell and purgatory, or of transubstantiation, or of inspired writings, or of the efficacy of the sacraments, etc. Men must receive all such truths as revealed content either directly from God, or else from some divinely authorized revelatory source, since the human mind cannot arrive at such truths through any of its natural resources. It follows from this that any possibility of knowing or determining the content of divine revelation (as distinct from mere human theological opinion) requires that the messenger through whom, or by whom, men receive revealed content, must be known as either God Himself, or else a source authorized by God to speak in His name – which entails some form of participation in God’s infallibility.”
Nobody can reason their way to what is supposedly a supernatural truth of divine revelation; one can’t prove using fallible human reason that there are three divine persons in one nature, or that the real presence in the Eucharist is real or not. If Christianity is going to be anything more than a compilation of mere human opinions, doctrines have to be accepted by faith and proclaimed by a divinely-authorized ecclesial authority that has the supernatural ability to teach infallibly in Christ’s name. Without it, doctrines cannot be anything but scholarly exegetical interpretations of Scripture amounting to nothing more than fallible human opinions. I knew that if I eventually did hypothetically come to accept the Church’s divine authority claims, then I could believe de fide what she taught as divinely revealed by Christ, without needing a convincing reason first.
Well, the evidence for the dogma was clearly there. At least enough historical and Scriptural evidence for me to realize it wasn’t a Catholic innovation or unbiblical heresy. Enough to make me seriously question the basis on which I believed it was a mere symbol.
But I still couldn’t see why this dogma would theoretically be part of God’s divine revelation in Christ.
My Catholic friends told me while I was researching that Jesus does it to be close to us. Some explained it was a way for Him to express His humility. Others said it highlights His Incarnation. I found these answers to be compelling, but couldn’t understand why He would express these things in this specific way. Why bread and wine? Why every week during Sunday corporate worship? Why become so strangely and uniquely present – bodily, sacramentally, substantially, truly, really? Why would we eat Him?
Then on a kind of whim, I bought a book by Dr. Brant Pitre called Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist. In it, Pitre describes how the dogma of the Eucharist connects intimately with the Jewish culture in which Jesus lived and taught. The author highlights three aspects of the faith that Christians have known for centuries: Jesus as the Lamb, the Manna, and the Bread of the Presence.
Pitre explained that in the original Passover in Egypt, participation in the sacrifice of the lambs was not the mere killing of the animals, but eating them. God commanded them to do so. Likewise, during the annual Jewish celebrations of that original Passover sacrifice and meal, to participate in each Passover people had to eat their slaughtered lamb. Pitre shows how Christ inaugurated the new Passover of the New Covenant at the Last Supper by giving Himself sacramentally as the Passover Lamb for His disciples to eat. At Mass, Christ does the same thing. He makes His sacrifice on Calvary sacramentally present, and then sacramentally feeds us with Himself, the Passover Lamb of God killed for our ransom from slavery.
The book showed how the Jews, in their expectations of a Messiah, also expected this Savior figure to bring a new type of manna that exceeded the miraculous nature of the manna of their ancestors. Just as the Israelites were physically nourished by bread from heaven in their physical journey out of slavery towards the Promised Land, so we, too, are spiritually nourished on our spiritual journey out of slavery towards our promised land of Heaven. He Himself is our living bread from heaven (John 6:51)! The manna in the Old Testament, which tasted of milk and honey, was a foretaste of their future land that flowed with milk and honey, just as communion with Christ Himself in the Eucharist is a foretaste of union with Him in our heavenly land!
Pitre also explained how the Eucharist continues the Old Covenant Bread of the Presence (Exodus 23:17, 25:30, 34:23), which was a piece of bread that allowed God’s people to see the Lord and was a sign of His love for them. Now, the sacrament is a true sign, in that it produces what it signifies — the body and blood of Christ. When we look at the host and see mere bread, it is actually the Real Presence of Our Savior there with us!
God used this book to help me realize some Scriptural reasons why He would do something so crazy for us: to shower His grace upon us as we eat the Passover Lamb of God, just as the Jews ate their passover lambs, for the New Passover of the New Covenant, and to spiritually strengthen and nourish us with the new Manna of the New Covenant. As Paul says, “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a communion in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a communion in the body of Christ?” (1 Cor. 10:16).
Months later, when by God’s grace and strength I believed in and accepted the Catholic Church’s claim to be the one founded by Christ, with His divinely authorized authority to present the content of divine revelation to His followers, I was able to submit and give my assent of faith — my belief in this divinely revealed truth. My goal was to have the mind of St. Anselm when he wrote, “I do not seek to understand in order that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand.”
But what an awesome truth! That Our Savior, body, blood, soul, and divinity, is substantially present at every Mass and afterwards in the preserved hosts, just to be our Passover Lamb that we as members of His New and Everlasting Covenant eat, to be our spiritual nourishment, our “supernatural bread,” a foretaste of heaven, and a pledge of our inheritance, all in the utmost humility and out of the most passionate, self-giving, radical love for us is just way too much for me to comprehend most of the time.
Just like any other divinely revealed truth it takes faith and is a gift from God to believe on the basis of divine authority, but for me it is the most awe-inspiring and amazing gift of Christianity other than eternal life. Jesus is really, truly present with us, in His physical reality. We can go visit Him anytime in the Sacrament! He performs this miracle so He can be our New Covenant Bread of the Presence, for love of us! God condescends to appear under the appearances of bread and wine to feed us with Himself, all for intimacy with us. “Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him” (John 6:56).
After realizing by faith that the Eucharist really is Jesus Christ, and that He offers us Himself at Mass, I questioned how could I not eat His body and drink His blood?! It is truly a miracle. I eventually came to the conclusion that if I walked away from the Church and the Eucharist, because of my own personal preference to stay Protestant out of a desire to be comfortable where I grew up, I would be denying Jesus Himself.
When I received my First Communion a few months ago, it was the happiest moment of my life. That He would love me enough to bodily enter in and commune with me just blows my mind. Jesus has been so, so good to me when I don’t deserve any of it. I just hope and pray that one day all of my Protestant brothers and sisters in Christ can come to be united in His Catholic [“universal”] Church and so experience and follow Jesus as He intended, while on our journeys to be forever united with Him in heaven.Tags » authority, Catholic Church, church fathers, communion, Cross, divine revelation, eucharist, faith, God, jesus, lamb, last supper, love, manna, Mass, passover, protestant, real presence, sacrifice, saints, salvation, Savior, transubstantiation, union