So I want to go ahead and address the whole, “So do you seriously believe that the bread and wine actually turn into the body and blood of Christ?” question. Yeah, I do. It wasn’t easy, lemme tell ya. A lot of my hang-up was the arrogance of the Catholic Church saying that it only happened in THEIR church (well, and the Orthodox Church), and therefore, I hadn’t really ever received a “real” communion in my whole life. How insulting! But it was also grasping the extent to which Catholics believe in the transubstantiation of the elements. I’ve always believed the bread and the wine REPRESENTED the body and blood of Christ, but jumping from that to they ARE NOW the body and blood of Christ isn’t a single leap. It’s like there’s several steps in between. I’m not quite sure how to explain it, but it’s recognizing that the elements are more than representatives, and yet, still not believing they’re the actual thing. I hung out in the in-between for a long time.
When Lukus was talking to one of his brothers about our confirmation that was coming up, he explained that the biggest significance was going to be that we could partake in the Eucharist for the first time. We got to talking about what that meant, about the priest consecrating the bread and wine, and at that moment, the elements become the flesh of Christ. His brother responded that that sounded really hocus-pocus-y. Which I totally understand. I was there too. But when you start to realize how many insanely weird things Jesus did (spitting in mud and sticking it in a guy’s eye to heal his blindness, sending a swarm of demons into a herd of pigs), it ALL sounds pretty hocus-pocus-y if you’re hearing it for the first time. It’s just that there are some miracles we’re used to and comfortable with, and some, well, they creep us out.
I’m not going to go into a litany of logical, scriptural, or historical reasons as to why the Eucharist is what the Catholic Church claims it to be – there are plenty of blogs, books, lectures and podcasts dedicated to that one subject by far better equipped and knowledgeable people than I. My intent is to share my own experience, and how I came to process the concept.
First of all, because the Church preceded Scripture, compiled Scripture into the book we have today, and for 400 years before that, practiced and interpreted Scripture, I’ve come to place a pretty heavy weight on what historical traditions and Church practices there were alongside Scripture. So if for 400 years, the early Christians believed that the bread and wine were ACTUALLY the body and blood of Christ, I have to take that into account. Lukus flooded me with writings from early Church fathers who wrote very specifically on the subject. So that was probably Phase 1 of recognizing more than just a representation going on.
Phase 2 had me pondering what communion was really even for. It always seemed so abstract in the Protestant Church, like it was partly a simple meal of mutual fellowship, and, well, I don’t really know what else. It was supposed to have an element of transformative or healing power, but that was all kind of up to your faith and how earnestly you received it. It was kind of up to me about whether I was receiving just bread and wine (or more commonly, grape juice), or if by my faith it somehow was something more. It was a practice that I’d always enjoyed in church, but it was all so ambiguous – something we did just because disciples of Jesus did this thing.
I felt like there had to be more to it than that. God’s ways are always deeper and richer than what they appear to be on the surface. So I prayed about it.
Then God got all science-y on me. Several years ago, I had done a personal study on the book of Genesis. If you compare the first verses of John 1 to the first verses of Genesis 1, you’ll see that there are some interesting similarities. In fact, don’t read Genesis 1 out of the context of John 1, because it’s so much more awesome to read together. John 1 establishes that Jesus, before He became flesh, was in the beginning with God in the form of “the Word”. Then God says (through the power of His WORD) “Let there be light.” John 1 then goes on to describe the incarnate Jesus as “the Light which was the life of men.” Are you with me? So Jesus was in the beginning as “the Word”, then God said, “Let there be light” and Jesus was that light. This is only accentuated by the fact that God had not yet created the sun. I looked up what the ancient word “light” meant in that verse, and what God actually said was, “Let there be energy and life.” Brilliant! So I got carried away, and started to do some self-study about the science of light. Yeah, I’m a nerd. A cute nerd, at least.
Obviously, light is a form of energy, and what are we taught in junior year physics about energy? The Law of the Conservation of Energy (I had a really great physics teacher who used puppets to teach 17 year olds. Best science class ever!): energy cannot be naturally created or destroyed; it can only be changed from one form into another. What the heck does this have to do with the Eucharist?! I’m getting there.
So Christ is the Light, the Energy and Life of the universe, literally the One in whom all things are held together (Colossians 1:17). But energy is constantly being transferred from one thing to another – it never stays put for long. And did you know, that the more light something absorbs, the more energized it becomes? So here we have Christ as THE energy, constantly transferring Himself throughout creation in various ways, but His primary intent is to energize us, and the more we absorb who He is, the more energized we become, and the more we share in the works produced by that energy!
When I began to truly recognize that Christ is literally, atomically holding together my bed, my glass bowl, my body, my piece of toast, I began to see that He was surely capable of invigorating ordinary bread and wine with a greater voltage of Himself so that it actually becomes His body and His blood. And not only that, but that extra stored energy encased in the Eucharist is energy for us to absorb to become more like Him! Bread is already naturally energy for the body, but through the power of Christ, it becomes energy for the spirit.
For the first time ever, science found a use in my life. I began to recognize my desperate need for energy in my life; energy to do what’s right, energy to pursue God, energy to do more than survive each day. And I no longer wanted just ordinary bread and grape juice and their 47 calories worth of energy. I wanted the power of Christ in my life in a new way.
Maybe the Catholic Church doesn’t go all Mr. Veri (my high school physics teacher) on the Eucharist, but it does have a richer, deeper understanding of what the Eucharist is, what it’s for, and it’s amazing power. The Catholic Church understands that, just like Christ multiplied the loaves and fishes to be more than enough to feed the crowds, He has more importantly supplied an abundance of Himself, so that, we too, can partake of His divine nature, and be energized with His very life.
I realize that no serious scholar is probably ever going to make this same argument for the transubstantiation, and no serious scientist would accept my argument as any kind of “proof”. But it’s what God used to speak to me, to help ME wrap my little head around this elusive concept when I couldn’t just take it on faith. And even though my first experience with the Eucharist was a bit underwhelming, let me just say that I did have an unnatural shot of energy on my second go around. This last Sunday, I barely made it to church. I felt miserable, exhausted, and borderline sick. Throughout the entire Mass, I just wanted to lie down in my pew and go to sleep. But in the few steps between partaking of the Body and the Blood, and returning to my seat, I felt completely and totally reinvigorated. It kinda startled me. But there it was – pure, raw Energy…and it didn’t come from mere bread.