Posted by: Thomas Richard | June 21, 2014

Eucharist is Not “Cannibalism”!

The soon-upon-us Feast of Corpus Christi invites us to enter ever more deeply into the mystery of Holy Eucharist. A charge that has been leveled against the Church from very early in our history, and one that continues today as well, is that we Catholics practice cannibalism.  Justin Martyr defended the Church against this charge in about the year 150.  He wrote (First Apology, ch.66) describing the Eucharist in the Mass:

And this food is called among us Eukaristia [the Eucharist], of which no one is allowed to partake but the man who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins, and unto regeneration, and who is so living as Christ has enjoined.

For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Saviour, having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh.

In a simple and beautiful way, Justin did not discount the Eucharist as mere symbolic eating of bread and wine.  No, he pointed to the mystery: “the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh.”

The Eucharist is a precious mystery of our Faith no better understood today than then by the world – or by many Protestants (but not all).  Even today we are charged with “cannibalism” by some non-Catholic Christians.

The best response to the charge of cannibalism that I know of, especially for Christians who believe Scripture and in the Resurrection of the Dead is this: Yes we consume the body and blood of Jesus!  But we do not consume the mortal body and blood of Jesus – if we did, that would be cannibalism. Instead, we consume (substantially, sacramentally) the body, blood, soul and divinity of the living Jesus as He IS now in resurrected glory. That is, we consume the resurrected and glorified Lord.

The body of one risen from the grave is the same body of the same person, but it is changed.  St. Paul writes in 1 Cor 15 of the “spiritual body” appropriate to a person risen from the dead. The risen body is spiritual, AND it is a body.  It is not pure spirit – as an angelic being, for example.  It is not a mortal, material body either.  It is a “spiritual body.”  Paul wrote:

1Cor 15:42 So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable.
1Cor 15:43 It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power.
1Cor 15:44 It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual body.

The Catechism discusses – with many Scriptural references – some of the mystery of this risen body:

645 By means of touch and the sharing of a meal, the risen Jesus establishes direct contact with his disciples. He invites them in this way to recognize that he is not a ghost and above all to verify that the risen body in which he appears to them is the same body that had been tortured and crucified, for it still bears the traces of his Passion.[Cf. Lk 24:30,39-40, 41-43; Jn 20:20, 27; 21:9,13-15] Yet at the same time this authentic, real body possesses the new properties of a glorious body: not limited by space and time but able to be present how and when he wills; for Christ’s humanity can no longer be confined to earth, and belongs henceforth only to the Father’s divine realm.[Cf. Mt 28:9, 16-17; Lk 24:15, 36; Jn 20:14, 17, 19, 26; 21:4] For this reason too the risen Jesus enjoys the sovereign freedom of appearing as he wishes: in the guise of a gardener or in other forms familiar to his disciples, precisely to awaken their faith.[Cf. Mk 16:12; Jn 20:14-16; 21:4, 7]

The supernatural freedom for His body now glorified can help explain the radical difference between our Holy Communion in the Eucharist, and cannibalism, I think.  Jesus has great freedom in His resurrected body – which is a “spiritual body” – to be substantially present in a place, in heaven, and to appear as He wishes under the guise of other things and places.  He – even in His body – is “not limited by space and time but able to be present how and when he wills,” as the Catechism teaches.  In resurrection glory, His body is both spiritual, and a body.

Eucharist is no less a mystery now than ever!  But it is not “cannibalism”!

This teaching also helps explain one of the great values of the Eucharist for us today.  As Justin wrote, “our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished,” by this sacred mystery of Holy Eucharist.  Because Eucharist is the resurrected and glorified body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus, it is supernatural food preparing us for our supernatural lives in glory with Him.  Eucharist – the resurrected Jesus – is truly food for our resurrection as well.  John 6 points to resurrection, in his “Bread of Life” discourse, four times (6:39, 6:40, 6:44, 6:54).  This portion of the discourse links Eucharist very tightly to resurrection for us:

Jn 6:53 So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you;
Jn 6:54 he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.
Jn 6:55 For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed.

John closes the Bread of Life discourse with this teaching:

Jn 6:57 As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me.
Jn 6:58 This is the bread which came down from heaven, not such as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live for ever.”

Jesus lives because of the life of the Father: the Son receives all from the Father, all that He has is from Him.   Jesus lives because of the Father; Christians live because of Jesus.  His resurrected body, blood, soul and divinity is living Bread to nourish and give life to our bodies for both our journey to Him now, and our resurrected life in Him in eternity.  This is the Bread come down from heaven; this is the Bread of eternal life.

Thanks be to God.

 

 


Responses

  1. Dear Thomas,

    Thanks be to God, yes! Only God Who is Love could give Himself to us as He does. How sad to me, however, are those who go hungry because they do not believe!

    There are many who hunger for natural food but there is an even greater hunger in our world for supernatural food. God can feed us all, yet so many seem to ignore Him.

    Tomorrow we celebrate the Feast of Corpus Christi — Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ. May we who ask and receive, seek and find, knock and have the door opened for us, may we be beggars who show the hungry where to find Bread from Heaven.

  2. Dear Thomas,

    Thank you very much for a very clear and best simple response to the charge of cannibalism that you know of, especially for Christians. Hopefully, I can use the same response to whomever who might question our Catholic faith.

    In a separate note, I am glad the Navy gave in, in renaming their submarine as “The City of Corpus Christi” rather than Corpus Christi as a namesake for this wonderful Texas town.

    Like always, thank you very much for taking us along this journey to His eternal glory.

    • Thank you for your comment, and for the news about the Navy’s renaming of the submarine. “City of” does make it more appropriate. Blessings and grace to you.


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