The Last Supper
Beezy's religious education class is currently preparing for their first sacrament of Holy Communion, which will take place at Mass on April 28. "I can't wait to have the bread and wine, can you?" she asked me. I will receive my First Communion at the Easter Vigil at the end of March. I know that she will be bummed that she has to wait longer than me! Why the excitement? Is it because she will get to taste wine? No, she has already tasted wine, and she didn't like it. It's because Catholics believe in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist; that is, the bread becomes Jesus' body, and the wine becomes his blood. This is called transubstantiation, and it is understood literally.
When I was in my 20s, I scoffed at a young Catholic woman who tried to explain transubstantiation to me. "That's just silly!" I remarked. "It's only a symbol," I said with confidence. "But that's what we believe," she answered in exasperation. I show you my lack of humility and my arrogance, dear reader, to illustrate that we often fail to believe in things that we can't logically explain and understand. But why believe that the bread and wine are really Jesus' body and blood at all? Because Jesus said so, that's why. I give you John 6: 52-58:
"The Jews then disputed among themselves, 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. 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 eats me will live because of me. This is the bread which came down from heaven, not such as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live forever.' "
And that's what Beezy told me. Communion is so exciting because it makes you live forever! But this is a parable, the non-Catholic might argue. First of all, from a literary standpoint, this is not a parable, and you will just have to take my word as a Bachelor of English for it. Also, when Jesus teaches in parables, he always explains the metaphor. He says that this is like that, specifically using the simile language of "like" or "as" to clear up the listeners' confusion. He doesn't do that here. In fact, "After this many of his disciples drew back and no longer walked with him (v. 66)." He doesn't call them back. He doesn't say, "Wait, I was speaking in parable! It was a metaphor!! Let me explain!!!" He lets them go, for they have no faith.
Jesus always explains his parables, so this is evidently not a metaphorical story. There is no plot; this passage is labeled as a discourse. And Jesus repeats himself five times in a row to make sure we get this! This is of the utmost importance, a teaching not to be missed or brushed off as merely symbolic. He expected his true disciples to believe even if they did not understand, yet he does eventually tell the twelve how, exactly, they will be able to eat of his flesh and drink of his blood. I give you Matthew 26: 26-29:
"Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, 'Take, eat; this is my body.' And he took the chalice, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, 'Drink of it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you I shall not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom.' "
Did Jesus say that the bread and wine were like his body and blood? No, he said, this is. Again, no explanation of a parable, because this is no metaphor. Holy Communion is the center of Catholic faith and worship. It literally provides spiritual sustenance and eternal life. It is Jesus abiding in us, and we in him, body, soul, and divinity. And it is of undisputed historical record that the earliest Christians believed and practiced this, in the very first century of Christianity. This is why I am joining the Catholic Church and raising my child Catholic. She deserves this gift from the hand of our Lord and Savior, and this is Organic Mothering at its best! I wish I could find that Catholic woman that I laughed at and apologize to her. I thought I was right, but that was no excuse for my disrespect of her beliefs, and I rejoice that I was wrong after all!! As Jesus' mother Mary said, "Do whatever he tells you."
Wedding Feast at Cana