Eucharist: You are what you eat, part one

Our family overslept on a recent Sunday, and, having missed our regular Mass, we went to church at a neighboring parish. The deacon giving the homily that day spoke about his anguish over a survey reportedly showing that two thirds of Catholics did not believe that Christ was actually present in the bread and wine at Mass.

After Mass I remarked to Jacob, 14, that when the deacon spoke of the statistic, my feelings were the opposite of his: I had been filled with amazement and gratitude that on the day of that survey, fully a third of the people asked could say that they believed the bread and wine were Christ. I told Jacob I thought it showed tremendous faith that so many people could believe in something that would be so impossible to prove.

“Of all the things the Catholic Church teaches, that’s my hardest thing to believe,” Jacob admitted. “Sometimes I can, and sometimes I just can’t.”

The Eucharist, so central to our faith as Catholics, is also elusive. Our theology of Eucharist, as explained in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, says that as the priest begins the part of the Eucharistic Prayer recalling the night of the Last Supper (“On the night he was betrayed . . . ” in one version), the bread and wine on the altar truly become the Body, Blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ, although the appearances and properties of bread and wine remain. The church calls this transformation of the gifts of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ “transubstantiation.”

Believing in this, as Jacob noted, can be tough.

Perhaps, though, if we understand that faith in the Eucharist does not begin and end at our First Communion but rather is a lifelong process of deepening our understanding of what the sacrament means, we can cut ourselves a little slack.

The Eucharist gives us grace. You don’t need to know there are about 90 calories in a banana in order to receive energy from that banana. Christ gives us grace through the Eucharist whether we understand it or not. The Eucharist is a mystery, but the grace we receive to be people of love and compassion can be seen all around us. “I feel like I receive grace every time I take the Eucharist,” says Amy, mother of four.   …continued next week

by Annemarie Scobey, from the pages of At Home with Our Faith, Claretian Publications’ print newsletter for parents on nurturing spirituality in the home. Winner of the 2010 General Excellence award from the Catholic Press Association. Here’s a sample issue.

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