The Catholic Church teaches that through the Holy Mass, the communion bread and wine become Jesus Christ, ‘wholly and entirely present’, not in a symbolic way. This is known as the Eucharist and it has always been one of Jesus’ difficult teachings.
Even in the Bible, when Jesus tells his followers that they must eat His body and drink His blood, they struggle to understand what He is saying.
‘“How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” 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; he who 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 6:52-55
His followers find this teaching so difficult that many leave, which is the only time in the Bible that we hear of Jesus losing followers.
‘Many of the disciples, when they heard it, said, “This is a hard saying: who can listen to it?” … After this, many of his disciples drew back and no longer walked with him.’ John 6:60-6:66
Here, Jesus does not tell them that this is symbolic language to keep these people as His followers. He does the opposite and doubles down on what He is saying, willing to lose followers over this teaching.
This is why the Church takes Jesus’ teaching on the Eucharist literally.
At the Last Supper, the night before He dies, Jesus alters the Passover and says that the bread and wine that he blesses are His body and blood before telling His disciples to repeat this action.
‘And he took bread, and when he had given thanks he 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
This is the origin of the Holy Mass, with modern-day priests continuing this act of remembrance as Jesus instructed His followers to.
So now, in every Catholic Church, Jesus dwells in the form of the Eucharist. In this form and all over the world, He becomes present to His people.
When Catholics eat the Eucharist, it is referred to as communion, which describes the deep, physical and spiritual union that occurs between the believer and Jesus.
‘Communion unites me more deeply with Christ, makes me a living member of the Body of Christ, renews the graces that I received in Baptism and Confirmation, and fortifies me for the battle against sin.’ YOUCAT 221
In this way, even among all the challenges of everyday life, the Eucharist transforms us and renews us.
‘Not to go to Communion is like someone dying of thirst beside a spring.’ St John Vianney