On the Thursday before Easter, called “Holy Thursday”, we celebrate Jesus Christ’s institution of the Sacrament of His Body and Blood which is popularly referred to as “Holy Communion”.
The following dialogue from the Gospel according to Matthew is the focal point of the Celebration of Mass when the priest recites the words by which the bread and wine are changed into the very Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.
While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying,
“Take and eat; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks,
he gave it to them,
“Drink from it, all of you.
This is my blood of the
which is poured out for all for the forgiveness of sins.”
(Matthew 26: 26-28)
Jesus gave this Holy Sacrament to us, His followers, as food and drink to unite us to himself. Further, this Holy Sacrament provides the means and the grace through which we can live truly Christian lives and receive from God the Father eternal happiness. While the Holy Eucharist is certainly a gift of unique privilege to us now, it is also a means to the end: eternal life in the presence of God. In fact, in the Gospel of John, Jesus said to his disciples,
“Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” (John 6:53)
Those words of Jesus are telling us that the Holy Eucharist is a means to salvation of which we must partake.
Saint Paul in his writings stresses the dispositions of worthiness for a person who receives Holy Communion. Certainly the question of adequate worthiness is part of the Catholic Faith Tradition. The Ecumenical Catholic Church+USA adds the following considerations to “worthiness” when it invites everyone to receive Holy Communion at Mass.
The first consideration is that no human being is ever truly worthy to receive the Lord’s Body and Blood. Surely Jesus knew that when he gave us this wonderful gift. However, the Eucharist was not given to us as a reward for being good; it was given as a source of grace and the means to become a better Christian. We don’t receive Holy Communion as a reward for what we have done, or what we are spiritually, but rather we receive as sinners who want to better configure themselves with Jesus and to live a life worthy of being a child of Almighty God. Therefore, our Church invites all to receive Holy Communion at our altar.
The second consideration is that while we believe with all of our faith and theological understanding that the Eucharistic Bread and Wine is truly the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, we do not require that anyone holds a particular understanding of “how” Jesus is present under the appearance of bread and wine.
Some Christian Churches teach that Jesus’ presence is merely symbolic; we reject that as not based on Catholic Faith Tradition. Others teach that only the significance (meaning) of the bread and wine is changed; we reject that as not based on Catholic Faith Tradition.
The Roman Catholic Church teaches the Doctrine of Transubstantiation as defined (i.e., must be believed) doctrine. In the Transubstantiation of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, the external appearances (taste, shape, smell) of bread and wine remain unchanged, but the substance, the underlying bread-ness or wine-ness, are changed into the substance of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. Transubstantiation is based on the philosophy of Aristotle and the teaching of St. Thomas Aquinas and was defined as a RCC article of faith by the Council of Trent (1564 AD). Most people who were raised Roman Catholics fully accept the Doctrine of Transubstantiation.
For those persons not of the Roman Catholic tradition, our Church accepts and offers the Orthodox Church’s understanding of the real presence of Jesus in the Holy Eucharist. Orthodoxy explains the change as a trans-formation or simply a change. “Orthodox believers do not dwell overly on how precisely the bread and wine change into the Body and Blood of Christ. It is enough for them to believe in the omnipotence of God and in this dread and incomprehensible divine mystery.” (1) Simply put, the how of Jesus’ presence is a “Great Mystery.”
The take-away for all of this is that Jesus has given us the Great Mystery of his Real Presence in the Holy Eucharist. It is “right and just, proper and helpful toward salvation” (2) that we both treasure and partake of this His real presence in our lives.
All Christians who believe that Jesus Christ is truly present in Holy Communion under the appearance of bread and wine are welcome to receive Holy Communion at St. Thomas Catholic Church ECC+USA.
(1) Metropolitan Nektarios at Second Open Ecumenical Seminar, 2016.
(2) Opening phrases in many Prefaces of the Eucharistic Canons at Mass.