2020.8.30 – Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity
All quotes in this homily are taken from: O’Connor, James T. The Hidden Manna: A Theology of the Eucharist. Ignatius Press: San Fransico, 1988. (I strongly recommend this book in its entirety by any who are able to do so.)
Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity.
These four words, held together in succession, describe our firm Catholic belief that the Eucharist is true Flesh, and true Blood. The Eucharist is not mere bread nor mere wine, nor is it a symbolic sharing in the flesh and blood of Jesus, nor is it some figurative meaning, as if Jesus meant something other than true Flesh and true Blood. No, Jesus himself said of the bread, “Take this all of you and eat of it, for this is my Body” (Eucharistic Prayer II, Matt 26:26). And again, taking the wine, he said, “Take this all of you and drink of it, for this is my Blood” (Eucharistic Prayer II, Matt 26:27-28). And again, in the Gospel of John, he said,
Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him (John 6:53-56).
And so, according to Jesus’ own testimony we firmly believe that the Eucharist is an actual sharing in His true Flesh and true Blood. This Flesh is the same flesh that was born of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This blood is the same blood shed on the cross. And the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity that we receive from the Eucharist, is the same Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity that was resurrected from the tomb, ascended into heaven, and seats, even now, at the right hand of the Father.
The Catholic Church has never lost its faith in this revelation of Jesus’ own words. From the earliest times to our present day, this faith, given to us by our Lord, has been faithfully handed on from generation to generation. So let’s take a brief walk through history.
First of all, Jesus himself taught it, as quoted above and found in the Gospels. Then, faithful to Jesus, St. Paul taught it when he said,
The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ” (1 Cor 10:16)?
For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over, took bread, and, after he had given thanks, broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me (1 Cor 11:23).
And then, adding to St. Paul, St. Peter tells us that our union to Christ is so effective that we actually “become partakers in his divine nature” (1 Peter 1:3-4). As Christ is fully human and fully divine, so too, when we eat his Flesh and Drink his blood, our human nature is united to his divine nature and we become divinized!
Then, early in the first centuries of the Church, Christians were persecuted by the powers that be. One accusation leveled against them was that they practiced cannibalistic customs. For reasons we will soon see, this accusation is unfounded; but they hurled it at Christians because Christians shared the faith that what they received was the Flesh and Blood of the savior. While this accusation is a negative thing, it points to a positive reality: the language of early Christians used to explain the Eucharist was so realistic, so clear, that it led to a seriously misguided accusation.
Even in my own priesthood, this misunderstanding showed itself in a more innocent fashion. In a parish I used to serve at, on several consecutive Sundays, parishioners found consecrated hosts, which had been in a person’s mouth, hidden in hymnal. After this happened a few times, and knowing that this was some form of misunderstanding, I asked the parish to watch for what was happening. Soon, a parent came forward with her seven-year-old daughter. The daughter had been taught so clearly that the Eucharist was the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of our Savior, that she was unable to reconcile the mental image with the truth of transubstantiation. As a result, she felt stuck, got scared, and hid the Eucharist in a hymnal. Once the truth was explained to her, she was no longer scared.
Jesus himself knew that if we were to receive his true Flesh and true Blood, we should do so in a manner that is not abhorrent to our senses. So, in his goodness, he allows the Eucharist to look like bread, and look like blood, so that we can receive him without being overwhelmed in mind and heart.
Returning to Church history, in the year 107 we find St. Ignatius of Antioch liken his own martyrdom to the Eucharist saying,
I am God’s grain, I am being ground by the teeth of wild beasts in order that I may be found to be pure bread for Christ… I take no pleasure in corruptible food or in the delights of this life. I want the Bread of God, which is the Flesh of Jesus Christ, who is of the seed of David; and as drink I want his Blood, which is incorruptible love (Letter to the Romans, 4 and 7).
In referring to the flesh as the “seed of David” his is referring to the Eucharist and the true Flesh of Jesus’ human nature, the same flesh born of Mary. In this way he emphasizes that the Flesh we receive is not simply a ‘spiritual’ union, but a union of Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. And so St. Ignatius clarifies,
Be careful to observe only one Eucharist; for there is only one Flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ and one cup of union with his Blood, and one altar of sacrifice (Letter to the Philadelphians, 4).
Thirty years later, in 135 AD, Justin Martyr, the earliest Church historian, takes up this theme saying,
This food we call the Eucharist, which no one is allowed to share except the one who believes that our teaching is true… we do not receive these as common bread and common drink; but as Jesus Christ our Savior, having been made flesh… and by which our blood and flesh are nourished through a change, is the Flesh and Blood of the same incarnate Jesus (The First Apology, 66).
What is important in Justin’s quote is the teaching that the bread and wine that we receive becomes the Flesh and Blood of Christ through a “change [Gk. Kata metablen]”, literally, through a metabolism. This ‘change’ will later become known as transubstantiation. It is this change that allows the appearance bread and wine to remain, while the substance of Flesh and Blood are actually present.
Skipping ahead a to 350 AD Hillary of Poitiers spoke against a merely spiritual understanding of the Eucharist, and strongly asserted the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Christ,
Therefore, if Christ truly assumed the flesh of our body and if Christ is truly that man born of Mary, and if we truly receive the Flesh of his Body in the Mystery (Mystery is another word for Sacrament), how is anyone going to assert that we are speaking merely of a union of wills… About the truth of his Flesh and Blood there is left no room for doubt. For by the Lord’s own word and by our faith we know that it is truly Flesh and truly Blood… He is in us through his Flesh, and we are in him, and that by which we are with him is in God (De Trinitatae).
The words, “He is in us… and we are in him,” echo again what we heard St. Peter say earlier, “We are made partakers in the Divine Nature.” Again, in another place St. Hilary says,
Once, by his own will, Christ changed water into wine at Cana of Galilee; is he not worthy of belief when he changes [gk: metabolon] wine into blood… (De Trinitatae).
In other words, if he has power to change the nature of one substance, water to wine, does he not also have the power to change the nature of another, bread into Flesh? So St. Cyril of Jerusalem, in 410 AD, asserts:
Having learned these things, you have complete certitude that the visible bread is not bread, even if it such to the taste, but the Body of Christ; and the visible wine is not wine, even if taste thinks it such, but the Blood of Christ (Mystagogic Catechesis).
Perhaps, in my opinion, the clearest teaching on the power of God to turn bread and wine into the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Christ comes to us from St. Ambrose around the year 390 AD:
“For that Sacrament which you receive is brought about by the word of Christ. If the word of Elijah had such power to call down fire from heaven, will not the word of Christ have the power to change the nature of elements? You have read about the creation of the whole world: “He spoke, and they were made” (Ps 33:9)... Therefore, cannot the word of Christ, which was able to create out of nothing that which did not exist, change those things that do exist into that which they were not” (De Mysteriis, 52)?
What Ambrose is saying is that if God has the power to create everything out of nothing, does he not also have the power to change the natures of created things? Therefore, the conclusion is, what looks like bread and what looks like wine, has been changed by Christ’s own words into his Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity, by the same power through which he created the universe.
St. John Damascene, writing in the year 650, gives us the best summary of all that we have said. Just as Ambrose appealed to God’s power to create everything out of nothing by his word; so too, St. John appeals to the power of the Holy Spirit to descend on Mary so that she might conceive the Word made Flesh in Jesus Christ. His argument is that if the power of the Holy Spirit can bring about the unity of humanity and divinity in Jesus, why could the same power not also bring about the change of bread and wine into the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of that same Christ. So he says,
If the Word of God is living and powerful, and if the Lord does all things whatsoever he wills, if he said, “Let there be light,” and it happened; if he said, “Let there be firmament,” and it happened; …if finally the Word of God himself willingly became man and made of Flesh for himself out the most pure and undefiled blood of the holy and ever Virgin, why should he not be capable of making bread his Body and wine… his blood? …God said, “This is my Body,” and, “This is my Blood,”… and so it is done… For just as all that God made he made through the power of the Holy Spirit, so now these things, which surpass nature… and are understood…by faith, are made by the power of the Spirit. The Virgin asked, “How shall this happen to me,” …and the Angel Gabriel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High shall overshadow you.” And now you ask how the bread becomes the Body of Christ and the wine his Blood. I say to you: the Holy Spirit is present and does these things, which surpass reason and thought (De Fide Orthodoxa).
So, the conclusion of this small historic review is this: What we receive at Mass is, beyond all doubt, the Flesh and Blood of Jesus Christ, the same Flesh and Blood that was born of Mary. Christ himself said so! “This IS my Body…This IS my blood,” and we have that faith in these words that holds to them most literal and true. The Word of God that made the universe can certainly change bread into Flesh and wine into Blood, even if they still appear as bread and wine. The power of the Holy Spirit that descended on the Virgin and caused Word to became Flesh can certainly change the nature of bread and wine into the very Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Christ.
Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity.
These four words, held together in succession, describe our firm Catholic belief that the Eucharist is true Flesh, and true Blood. The Eucharist is not mere bread, nor mere wine, nor is it a symbolic sharing in the flesh and blood of Jesus, nor is it some figurative meaning, as if Jesus meant something other than true Flesh and true Blood. No, Jesus himself said of the bread, “Take this all of you and eat of it, for this is my Body” (Eucharistic Prayer II, Matt 26:26). And again, taking the wine, he said, “Take this all of you and drink of it, for this is my Blood” (Eucharistic Prayer II, Matt 26:27-28). And so, I declare to you, as the rite of Baptism says, “This is our faith. This is the faith of the Church. We are proud to profess it in Christ Jesus our Lord.” The Eucharist IS the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Christ and through it we are made “partakers of the Divine Nature.” How blessed are we to be given such a profound truth!