Did Jesus Really Mean We Should Eat His Flesh?
When my Protestant friends ask me why I’m Catholic, hundreds of reasons come to mind. But the main reason is the Eucharist (Holy Communion).
For Catholics, Communion is not just a mere symbol or piece of bread, but rather the fullness of the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ. It’s about intimacy… When we truly love someone, we don’t just want a friendship or a distant relationship, we want intimacy. The deepest level of intimacy is when a couple becomes “one flesh”. In the same way, Christ desires to make Himself present to us and truly become intimate with us, when we receive Him in the Eucharist.
There’s a saying: you are what you eat. If we want to become more like Christ, its about saying yes to receiving Him in the Eucharist and allowing Him to pour out graces in our lives. However, Christianity is wounded with division about whether Communion is actually the real presence of Jesus Christ or simply just a symbol to represent Christ...
The Bread Of Life Discourse - John 6:25-69 “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”
Whenever I read this passage of scripture, it’s so clear how Jesus was instructing us to literally eat His flesh. Jesus used the word “trogo” which in Greek translates to gnaw and to chew off one's flesh, which sparked controversy -“How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”
For it was blasphemy for a Man to claim that He was God and then to command His followers to eat His flesh. That was not Kosher! But if Christians can believe Jesus’ claim to be God, then why can’t we believe His claim to be truly present in Communion.
Many disciples then deserted Jesus, stating “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”. If our eyes are not open to the truth, then it can be extremely difficult to accept that Communion is so much more than just a symbol, but truly the precious Body of Christ. If Jesus was speaking symbolically, He would have called back His disciples and cleared up the misconceptions. But no, rather Jesus continued to repeat, insist and emphasise, multiple times that this truly was His flesh.
Lastly, Jesus asked Simon Peter if he too wanted to leave to which he responded, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.”
If Jesus asked you the same question – what would your response be? For Protestants, the Reformation was marked by the denial of Holy Communion as being the real presence of Christ. As more branches broke off from the Catholic Church, the deeper sacred meaning of Communion was reduced to just a symbol.
“Do This In Memory Of Me” – Luke 22:19
When reading scripture, we must read it with context, through the lens of a 1st Century Jew, to fully unlock the deeper meaning. For the Jewish notion of the word “memorial” was not to merely recall a past event, but to make present. At the Last Supper, Jesus instituted the Eucharist by saying “This is my Body, which is given for you. Do this in memory of me.” The word “Eucharist” means thanksgiving and is celebrated to make present the sacrifice of Calvary.
The Sacrificial Lamb Of God
Jewish sacrificial rites made eating the sacrificed lamb, an essential part of the Passover celebrations. Your sins weren’t forgiven if you didn’t eat the lamb. Therefore, if Jesus is the Lamb of God, then it would make sense that we would be required to partake in a Communion Meal to seal the sacrifice of the New Covenant.
“Christ, our Paschal Lamb has been sacrificed. Let us, therefore, celebrate the festival.” 1 Corinthians 5:7-8
For Paul makes clear that these celebrations include the festive meal, stating “Isn’t the bread we break a participation in the body of Christ? … for we all partake of the One Bread” 1 Corinthians 10:16-17
The Lord’s Prayer
In English, the true meaning of “give us this day our daily bread” can often be lost. However, when translated back into the original language of the New Testament: Greek, the word “bread” is “epiousios” to mean supersubstantial bread or in other words, supernatural bread.
When we pray, we ask to receive the Eucharist, as a foretaste of the union with Christ in Heaven. Catholics may receive Communion daily, as long as they are in a state of grace to do so. Many, such as Therese Neumann, have lived on the Eucharist alone, by abstaining from food and water for 40 years without weight loss or dehydration. For it was Christ's presence in the Eucharist, that truly was her source of life.
Jesus Made Himself Unrecognisable
After the resurrection, Mary Magdalene mistook Jesus for a gardener and the disciples failed to recognise Him when fishing. Scholars suggest that Jesus “veiled” His identity to the disciples, in the same way Jesus veils Himself truly in the Eucharist under the form of bread and wine.
Catholics believe in Transubstantiation, whereby sacramentally the whole substance of the bread, once consecrated by an ordained priest, transforms into the Body of Christ, though it retains the appearance and taste of bread. In all essence “God is with us” in the Eucharist. Why would you want a counterfeit Communion, when you could have the real thing: Jesus Himself? My personal conviction and belief in the Eucharist is why I am Catholic and not just Christian.
Theology is something I am very keen on studying at university and these are just a few of my research findings. I believe that a person should believe in a religion because it is true and not because of convenience or circumstances.
Whether, you’re Catholic or not, I hope these findings challenge you to grow stronger in faith and to see that the 1st Century Church also believed in the real presence doctrine which historically has been around for nearly 2000 years in the Catholic Church! God Bless :)