1. THE FLESH AND THE BLOOD
One day, when Jesus taught at Capernaum, directly after the miracle of the Feeding of Five Thousand with five barley loaves of bread and two small pieces of fish, he said to the people, who had sought him out perhaps to see if he could perform that kind of miracle again:
“I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and are dead. This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is my flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world.” (John 6: 48-51).
This statement astounded the people hearing it. Some of them perhaps thought he was speaking metaphorically but most of them understood there was nothing metaphorical or allegorical about the statement. That is why they reacted the way they did:
“The Jews therefore quarreled among themselves, saying, ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’” (John 6: 52).
This is how the Christians quarrel among themselves today saying “how can Catholics claim they eat the flesh of Jesus Christ and drink his blood?” Those among them that do Communion would rather eat and drink things they would want to represent his body and blood.
Jesus, therefore, made it clear to them that he was not telling a parable or saying something symbolic; that he was saying something very serious – a life and death issue! The Catholics would want everybody to mean it the way Jesus meant it – a very grave matter as can be seen from what happened next:
Then Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed” (John 6: 53-55).
It is fair, really, to say that the statement is difficult to understand in that literal context and also difficult to take as reality. It is really a hard saying; hard for many, offensive to many and impossible for many to understand. Is it really possible? Jesus knew about this difficulty and told us how we can easily understand it:
When Jesus knew in Himself that His disciples complained about this, He said to them, “Does this offend you? What then if you should see the Son of Man ascend where He was before? It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life”. (John 6: 61-63)
In other words, it is a mystery. A mystery is “A divinely revealed truth whose very possibility cannot be rationally conceived before it is revealed and, after revelation, whose inner essence cannot be fully understood by the finite mind. The incomprehensibility of revealed mysteries derives from the fact that they are manifestations of God, who is infinite and therefore beyond the complete grasp of a created intellect. Nevertheless, though incomprehensible, mysteries are intelligible. One of the primary duties of a believer is, through prayer, study, and experience, to grow in faith, i.e., to develop an understanding of what God has revealed”.1A man of flesh cannot understand it but a spiritual man easily understands it as a spiritual matter, a mystery, and necessarily obeys without question: Jesus is God. God has spoken and He must be obeyed, understand it or not.
Jesus was uncompromising in this matter and was ready to lose his followers if it came to that – all of them. Many of his disciples left him because of this and he told the twelve apostles remaining with him that they were at liberty to leave too. This matter was so important to him that he would not want to take back or rephrase his words for any reason at all. Peter said what underlines the catholic mentality on the issue:
But Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. Also we have come to believe and know that you are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (John 6: 68-69)
We agree with Peter but
- HOW CAN THIS BE DONE?
How can we then obtain the body of Jesus to eat and his blood to drink? Did Jesus tell us how? I think he did because he made a bloody offering of himself as the victim for the supreme sacrifice so we can have the slain lamb, the victim of the sacrifice for a new and everlasting covenant, be shared to us for consumption. This he explained to us during The Last Supper at the Upper Room:
And He took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of me”. (Luke 22: 19)
Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. For this is my blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins”. (Matthew 26: 27-28)
Jesus said “This is my body” and not “This stands for my body”, “For this is my blood—” and not “For this stands for my blood—”. The bread and the wine became his body and his blood instantly following those words, and his apostles took the very first Holy Communion, The Eucharist. Those words did the conversion and that is what happens today: the Catholic Priest says the same words and the same thing happens. This is because they have the power and authority as transferred to them by Jesus in several ways previously (cf. Matt. 16: 18-19; 18: 18-19) and especially here, by saying “do this in remembrance of me” (Lk. 22: 19b). The Catholic Priest actually becomes Alter Christus which means “Another Christ”, when he utters those words in a first person expression, exactly as it was uttered by Christ himself. He does this during Consecration of bread and wine to become the body and blood of Jesus, in the Holy Mass which he is always celebrating in the person of Christ – In Persona Christi.
St Paul clarifies it further:
For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” (1Corinthians 11: 23-25)
For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes. Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. (1Corinthians 11:26-27)
The first part contains the words spoken by the Catholic priest during Consecration of bread and wine when the transubstantiation happens. Also, what he received from the Lord he delivered. It continued to be delivered down the generations until it got to us. The first bishops (the apostles) received the authority from Jesus and transmitted same to their priestly sons and the transmission continued in the same fashion until it got our priests. The records are available and show that if the genealogy of any Catholic priest is traced (from the priest who is a son to the bishop that ordained him, who, therefore, is his father, and was also the priest son of another bishop, and so on) it ends up in one of Christ’s apostles. This means that this authority to act in the person of Christ was transmitted from Christ himself, through his apostles, in an unbroken chain, to every Catholic priest of today.
The second part of the bible text above shows that the bread and wine continued to become Christ’s body blood when they did the consecration and did not stop at when Christ himself did it (with those same words the priests use in doing it today). They, therefore, got that authority from him and transmitted it down the line.
3. STILL ON HAVING LIFE – ABIDING IN THE TRUE VINE
There is a related statement by Jesus Christ which is also of premium importance and requires to be examined:
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without me you can do nothing. (John 15: 1-5)
I recall when, as a medical student, I lived in Alexander Brown Hall, University of Ibadan, which is located inside the University College Hospital, along with the College of Medicine and some other Health Care related schools. I was coming home one night in a taxi we boarded at the main campus of the university, when a girl in the cab asked me if I knew where the Evangelical Christian group was holding an advertised Programme with a prominent Evangelical Christian doctor. We had stopped in front of my hostel but I decided to help her locate the venue since she was a total stranger to the hospital. Knowing the two usual locations for their programmes, I first walked her to the Public Health auditorium before going to the School of Nursing where we found the Programme going on. A long journey in the night it was. Then, without even saying Thank You, she started this conversation:
Are you a Christian?
“Yes”. I answered.
Then, she said:
“How can you say you are a Christian if you are a Catholic?”
I was not offended because I understood the mentality of these indoctrinated, straitjacketed, fanatic Nigerian evangelicals. I just smiled and said to her :
“How can you say you are a Christian if you are not a Catholic?”
I then waved her into the venue and left.
I later thought about the incident and felt I was actually right: because many of these non-Catholic Christians reject most of these doctrines and teachings that actually link back to Christ and practice a strange brand of Christianity that is discriminatory, parochial, uncharitable, even hostile, with no interest in sublime Christian tenets but rather emotive with shallow spirituality full of showmanship and loud noise. A typical example of the flaws is their rejection of institutionalized sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist. What kind of life is such a Christian living? Is he really attached and abiding in The True Vine? Are they bearing fruit, and what kind of fruit?
Every Christian is called to a constant examination of conscience and being in a state of grace always. To be sure you are doing the right thing you need the sacrament of Reconciliation as instituted by Christ. It is only in a state of grace you can partake in the Eucharist, the reception of the body and blood of Jesus. (1Cor. 11: 27) How do you intend to abide in Jesus the True Vine and get true nourishment, bear true fruit and not die off? Jesus gives the final answer:
“He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who feeds on me will live because of me”.(John 6: 56-57).
- Catholic Dictionary, Mystery. Catholic Culture.Org, https://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/dictionary/index.cfm?id=35021