THE doctrine of the Catholic Church on this article of our holy faith is defined in the clearest and most precise terms. In the Council of Trent (Sess. A can. 1, 2), viz. "That in the Sacrament of the most Holy Eucharist are contained, truly, really and substantially, the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ." And again: "That (by consecration) the whole substance of the bread is changed into his body, and the whole substance of the wine into his blood." Such is the clear Catholic doctrine; while Protestants contend that Christ is present only in sign, or figure, or virtue; or, in other words, they deny the corporal presence of Christ in the Eucharist.
The proofs of the Catholic doctrine are deduced from various sources, viz., sacred Scripture, tradition, prescription, liturgies, etc. Learned men have written volumes on each of these subjects. Our space and object will allow us to touch only on a few of these proofs.
Our first argument from the sacred Scriptures, we divide simply into two parts: First, we will prove that Christ promised to give his real body and blood for our food and drink; secondly, that he fulfilled his Promise, and gave his real body and blood.
In the Old Testament, the promises are contained in types, figures, and prophecies: in the New, they are expressed by Christ himself. The types and prophecies of the Old Testament foretold the mystery of the Blessed Eucharist, and that of the Incarnation. Thus God prepared the world for the great truth. "The law," says St. Paul (Heb., x. I), "had but the shadow of the good things to come."
St. Irenæus tells us, that the tree, of life planted by the hands of God in the garden of Paradise was a figure of the Blessed Eucharist. The fruit of this tree preserved the freshness and vigor of perpetual youth - banished the decay of old age as well as death. It was the life of our first parents. So the Blessed Eucharist is the real tree of life, planted by Christ in the garden of his Church, whose branches extend over the entire earth; whose shelter strengthens youth, and gives youth to old age; and whose sap (may I thus speak?) preserves the soul from everlasting death.
"He that eateth this bread shall live forever."
The sacrifice of Melchisedech points clearly to the great sacrifice of the New Law. "Melchisedech," says the holy Scripture (Gen., xiv. 18), "the King of Salem, bringing forth bread and wine, for he was a priest of the Most High God." Nine centuries later, the Royal Psalmist, singing the praises of the Messiah, addressed him in these words: "Thou art a priest forever, according to the order of Melchisedech." Ps., cix. 4. Thus, this sacrifice to God of bread and wine was an evident type of the great Victim of the Christian religion, offered under the appearance of bread and wine.
Again, the sacrifices of expiation were evident figures of the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist: and how powerfully they convey to our minds the idea of the efficacy of the blood of redemption shed upon our altars? We learn from the xvi. chap. Levit., and also St. Paul to the Hebrews, that the highpriest, carrying the blood of the victim, entered alone once a year into the Holy of Holies, and there offered this blood to expiate the sins of the people. How vividly this brings to our minds the Christian priest in the Holy of Holies, offering, in expiation of the sins of the world, the blood of Jesus Christ, typified by the blood of calves and goats! How beautifully St Paul (Heb., ix. 13) expresses its efficacy! "If the blood of goats and oxen sanctify such as are defiled, to the cleansing of the flesh; how much more shall the blood of Christ, who, by the Holy Ghost, offered himself unspotted unto God, cleanse our conscience from dead works, to serve the living God."
The manna in the desert was another striking figure of the real presence. God in his mercy rained down this manna from heaven to feed his people, pressed by hunger and fatigue in their journey through the desert to the land of promise. On this earth we are all travellers, journeying through the desert of life to heaven, the land of promise. How often we sit down fatigued, exhausted by spiritual hunger, about to faint on the way; but in the Blessed Eucharist we have the real manna from heaven, the bread of angels, to give us strength, to cheer us on our journey to Paradise the land of promise. "Your fathers," said the Redeemer (John, vi. 59), "did eat manna in the desert, and are dead. If any man eat of this bread, he shall live forever."
Were not the "loaves of proposition" placed before the tabernacle, on a table of satinwood overlaid with pure gold," eloquent figures of the real presence of Jesus Christ in our tabernacles or ciboriums of silver and gold?
The Paschal Lamb! The very name of the Lamb of God on our altars! "Agnus paschæ deputatur." This Lamb was "without blemish;" his blood, sprinkled on the doors of the Hebrews, preserved them from the sword of the destroying angel who smote the children of Egypt. How eloquently this speaks of the true Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world! The Lamb, "unspotted and undefiled," whose blood, sprinkled on the doors of our souls, preserves us from the angel of everlasting death. "He that eateth this bread shall live forever." John, 7, vi. 59.
What was the "corn of the elect and the wine springing forth virgins" of the prophet Zacharias (ix. 17) but the Blessed Eucharist, which is the life of the elect, and fills the Church of Christ with virgin spouses?
But how omit the testimony of Malachias (i. 10)? How clearly, in the far distant future, the prophet saw the Catholic priest saying mass at the altar! God, by the mouth of his prophet, said: "From the rising of the sun even to the going down, my name is great among the Gentiles, and in every place there is sacrifice, and there is offered to my name a clean oblation. for my name is great among the Gentiles, saith the Lord of Hosts." Could anything be clearer? The Blessed Eucharist, or mass, is the clean oblation offered to God in every clime and every land, from the rising to the setting sun. Thanks be to God for the true faith of Jesus Christ.
Thus the Blessed Eucharist, like the Incarnation, was promised by God from the very beginning. Like the pencil of light in the far distant horizon, it shone amidst darkness. Centuries rolled by: the pencil of light became more clear and distinct, until, breaking through darkness, twilight, and dawn, it shone in broad daylight in the meridian effulgence of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. "Behold, now thou speakest plainly, and speakest no proverbs. " John, xvi. 29.
Christ Himself Promised the Blessed Eucharist in the Gospel of St. John Chap. vi.
IN the first part of this chapter, up to the 26th verse, the Evangelist gives the details of the history of the great miracle wherein our Divine Redeemer fed the five thousand with five loaves and two fishes. At the 26th verse, the Saviour addresses the multitude, confirms their faith in him as God, promising another bread, having before his divine mind the Blessed Eucharist At the 51st verse, he tells them clearly what this bread shall be. He says; "I am the living bread, which came down from heaven. If any man eats of this bread, he shall live forever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world." The Jews therefore strove among themselves, saying: "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?" Then Jesus said to them: "Amen, amen, I say unto you, except you eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink his blood, you shall not have life in you. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath life everlasting, and I will raise him up in the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, abideth in me, and I in him. As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father: so he that eateth me, the same also shall live by me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Not as your fathers did eat manna and are dead. He that eateth this bread shall live forever."
From these texts we prove that Christ meant real eating of his real flesh, and a real drinking of his real blood: whilst Protestants contend that the words are to be taken in a figurative or metaphorical sense.
Now, the phrase, to eat the flesh of a person, when used figuratively, had a fixed, unvarying meaning among the people whom Jesus addressed. The phrase occurs in four passages of the Old Testament, and two of the New, and, besides, is current even to this day in the Oriental languages. Now, in all these passages, to eat the flesh of a person, means to injure or calumniate him. For instance, the Psalmist says: "While the wicked draw near against me to eat my flesh." Ps., xxvii. 2. And holy job says: "Why do you persecute me, and are not satisfied with (eating) my flesh?" xix. 12. And so on with the other texts. Therefore, when our Lord used the words, he had no choice between the literal meaning and the mixed metaphorical sense; but this figurative meaning is absolutely absurd. For it would mean, unless you injure, calumniate, and offend me, you shall not have life in you! Hence it logically follows, that he used them in their clear literal sense of giving his real body and blood for our food and drink.
Add to this, that the Jews had an awful repugnance to drink the blood even of a clean animal. If, then, the words in question were used figuratively by our Blessed Saviour, they would have conveyed to the minds of his hearers a most repugnant and revolting image; whilst he could convey the same doctrine in simple, winning words: or, if a figure was to be used, a thousand other agreeable metaphors were at hand, which might have been adopted. No human teacher, if only wise, would express himself in the manner which Protestants attribute to our Divine Lord. Hence we must conclude, that our Lord used these expressions in their literal sense, which is that of the Real Presence.
The Murmurs of the Capharnaites.
To understand the meaning of an author or speaker, we must consider the time and circumstances under which he wrote or spoke. Now in the present instance we are singularly happy; for all the circumstances supply an argument so forcible, that we are persuaded it would be impossible for the candid Protestant, who invokes the light of the Holy Ghost, and who reasons before God on these circumstances, not to bow down and adore Jesus Christ present in the Eucharist.
When our Lord had said: "The bread that I will give you is my flesh for the life of the world," the Gospel adds The Jews therefore strove among themselves, saying: How can this man give us his flesh to eat?" From this murmur, or interrogation, it is obvious that the Jews understood our Lord as using his words in their plain literal signification. Christ said to them: "I will give you my flesh to eat;" and they ask: "How can you give us your flesh?" Now comes the issue: Were they right or were they wrong? If they were right in understanding the words literally, so are Catholics right and Protestants are in error. And here blessed be God there is not even a shadow of doubt The divine lips of Jesus Christ himself answer the question.
Before we give our Lord's conclusive reply, we have to premise two remarks. First: we have eleven passages in the New Testament where the hearers of Christ erroneously took his figurative expressions in a litteral sense, and in all these eleven passages he corrects their mistake, though in some of them no great error would result from the mistake. For instance, Jesus said to his disciples (John xi. II ): "Lazarus, our friend, sleepeth." Taking the words in the literal meaning, they said: "Lord, if he sleepeth he will be well." Jesus corrected the mistake, saying: "Lazarus is dead." Another example: When our Lord said to Nicodemus: "I say to thee, unless a man be born again, he cannot enter the kingdom of God;" Nicodemus, understanding the words literally, objected, saying: "How can a man be born when he is old?" Jesus instantly explains the words: "Amen, amen, I say to thee, unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God." John, iii. 3. So also in the other passages where our Lord was misunderstood, he explained his meaning.
Secondly, we have three passages where our Lord's words were rightly understood in their literal meaning, and where his hearers murmured and objected. In these, instead of explaining away the literal meaning, he repeats the same thing in more emphatic terms. For instance, when our Redeemer said to the Jews: "Abraham, your father, rejoiced that he might see my day; he saw it and was glad;" his hearers correctly took the words in their literal meaning, and murmured; "Thou art not yet fifty years old, and hast thou seen Abraham?" Jesus repeats his words in more emphatic terms. "Amen, amen, I say unto you, before Abraham was made I am." John, viii. 56. It follows, then, that Christ's constant practice was this: First when he spoke figuratively, and was understood literally, in his reply he always corrected the mistake. Secondly, when he spoke literally, and his auditors, understanding him literally, murmured and objected, he repeated what gave offence in more emphatic language. Now let us bear in mind these two canons in Christ's reply to the murmurs of the Capharnaites.
The Redeemer's Reply.
From what we have said, the Jews understood our Lord's words literally, and murmured. According to his constant practice, he would have corrected their mistake if he spoke figuratively. Did he correct them? or did he confirm their manner of understanding his words? Never was there a more emphatic confirmation. In his answer, our Blessed Saviour repeats, no fewer than five times, the very same words, in emphatic confirmation of his doctrine: "Amen, amen, I say unto you, except you eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink his blood, you shall not have life in you." Could words be clearer? And again: "He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath everlasting LIFE" "My flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed." "He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood, abideth in me, and I in him." "He that eateth me, the same shall be by me." John, vi. Among the Jews there was no mistake, for the Gospel adds: "Many, therefore, of his disciples hearing it, said: `This saying is hard, and who can hear it' went back, and walked no more with him."
There was, then, no error: nothing to correct. Five times Jesus repeated that we must eat his flesh, and drink his blood; and hence the argument is conclusive that in the Gospel of St. John the Redeemer promised the Real Presence of his Body and Blood in the Blessed Eucharist. Now to sum tip these arguments. 1. We have seen that the type, figures, and prophecies of the Old Law clearly point to the Real Presence. 2. In the Gospel of St. John, if our Lord spoke metaphorically, when he spoke of eating his flesh, he should have used the words in the sense only which from the established rules of speaking they bore. But this would be absurd; hence he used them literally. 3. He would have selected the most repulsive and revolting figure to convey his heavenly doctrine, which would be unworthy of human, not to say Divine wisdom. 4. The Jews understood him literally; and so far from correcting their mistake, as was his constant practice, five times he repeated and confirms his previous words. 5. The Jews, even his own disciples, disgusted at these repeated confirmations, abandoned him "walked with him no more," for "his hard sayings." "Each argument in itself is strong and cogent; but all taken together, must force irresistible conviction on the candid mind of the promises of the Real Presence. With St. Peter, we cry out: "Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life." "We have believed and have known that thou are the Christ, the Son of God." John, xi. 69.
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