The Church Celebrates The Body and Blood

The real presence of Christ in the Eucharist is one of the most important teachings of the Church. In fact, when Christ instituted the Church at the Last Supper, he gave his disciples bread and said, “Take and eat; this is my body.” And then he gave them wine and said, “This is my blood of the covenant.” 

In the Scripture readings for this week’s Sunday Mass, the feast of the Body and Blood of Christ, he tells the crowds, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life.” 

So alarm bells went off in 2019 when a Pew Research poll asserted only 31% of U.S. Catholics believe in the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, with many believing the bread and wine are merely symbols of Christ’s body and blood. 

Some people felt that the way the question was worded led to such a low number, but, the number of Catholics who believe in this basic tenet is shockingly low. 

Timothy O’Malley, director of education at the McGrath Institute for Church Life at the University of Notre Dame and the author of “Real Presence: What Does It Mean and Why Does It Matter?” summarizes the teaching succinctly: 

“Transubstantiation is the explanation of the doctrine of Real Presence employing the word ‘substance.’ The bread and wine have changed their substance — what they fundamentally are. They look, taste, smell, feel like and even sound like bread and wine. 

“But through the words of Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit, and through the instrument of the ordained minister’s words, the substance of ‘this’ bread and ‘this’ wine are transformed. At the level of substance, there is no more bread. There is no more wine. Rather, the Eucharist is the total and real presence of Jesus Christ, given to the church in what looks and tastes like bread and wine. 

“The species or appearance — that is, the accidents of the bread and wine — remain available to our senses, maintained only by a miracle.” 

O’Malley has admitted the use of this terminology can sometimes be confusing to people. 

To that end, the Church has been employing more practical means to bring more prominence to this doctrine. 

The U.S. bishops have started the three-year National Eucharistic Revival to bring attention to the real presence, culminating in a National Eucharistic Congress in Indianapolis in 2024. 

The successful Lenten Pilgrimage undertaken by the diocese this year was part of the revival, and is due to be repeated next year. Many of the stops on the pilgrimage included eucharistic adoration. 

Thousands of Catholics attended a Pentecost vigil and eucharistic procession that wound its way from Times Square to St. Patrick’s Cathedral. 

In this week’s Tablet, you will see stories that focus on the real presence of Christ. 

One story outlines the next phase of the National Eucharistic Revival that begins on June 11, the feast of the Body and Blood of Jesus. 

Another story looks at people, including priests and bishops, who were not raised Catholic and who became Catholic specifically because of the Church’s teaching on the Real Presence. 

The Tablet reports on the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage that will take place next year and wind its way from different spots and culminate in Indianapolis at the start of the National Eucharistic Congress. 

Finally, the Scripture column notes Christ’s presence keeps us present to Him. 

We hope this content will help in your understanding of the Church’s teaching on the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist.