We, as Catholics, are often looked upon like we are a little bit crazy. We have the men who walk around in robes, wear funny, pointed hats and never marry; we even have ladies who shave off their hair before donning head coverings and vowing never to leave their cloistered environments. But the thing that sends people over the edge, when it comes to the Catholic faith, is the fact that they think we worship a piece of bread.
As a child, I had a fascination with that round, white thing that everyone but me was getting to eat at Church. I asked many questions to my parents, teachers, and our Priest. I was told it was Jesus but couldn’t figure out how he could be in all those little, white, wafers at the same time. My mind wasn’t able to comprehend the teachings about the Eucharist so, as I grew up, I received it and believed it, because I was told it was so.
God is mysterious and has presented himself to us in many ways. When we read the Old Testament, God appeared to Moses in a burning bush; yet, didn’t burn up the bush. He appeared to the Israelites escaping from Egypt as a pillar of fire to guide them. In the Gospel of Luke, the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus in the form of a dove, and at Pentecost as tongues of fire upon the Apostles. God takes “another form” because we, as human beings, need a familiar or earthly form to wrap our minds around the complex being that is God.
When God made a covenant with Abraham and asked him to leave the comfort of his home and travel to a foreign land, Abraham listened to God and believed. The covenant was established with a sacrifice of animals and the shedding of their blood. God even tested Abraham’s faith with asking him to sacrifice his son Isaac (who was around 30 some years old and could have easily fought off his father) but was spared. The faith of both Abraham and the willing faith of his son Isaac to be a “type” of Jesus, knowing that God could bring Isaac back to life and having such all-consuming faith in God, shows us that we should have the same strength of faith.
When God sent Jesus to be in human form, it was for our benefit. Jesus fulfilled all the prophesies of the Old Testament about there being one final sacrifice that is completed for all mankind, and the forgiveness of sins. It is a form of a final covenant between God and man. Whenever there was a covenant between people, there was a sort of “formula” that was followed. After an agreement was reached, it was “sealed” with a meal. The meal included, bread, wine and usually some form of meat (which required killing and draining of blood.) Also, according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church 1334, “In the Old Covenant bread and wine were offered in sacrifice among the first fruits of the earth as a sign of grateful acknowledgment to the Creator.”
Jesus uses what we know. He knew the symbolizing of the breaking of the bread, drinking of the wine were things the Jews knew to be important. When He told his disciples, “This is my body, and this is my blood” many left, saying it was too hard of a saying to be believed. Jesus wanted to leave something behind after his crucifixion for us to know that He would always be with us and He did so by establishing the Eucharist. St. Thomas says, “In this sacrament are the true Body of Christ and his true Blood and is something that cannot be apprehended by the senses, but only by faith.” This is why we don’t see any outward changes to the host which has changed interiorly. St Cyril says, “Do not doubt whether this is true, but rather receive the words of the Savior in faith, for since he IS the truth, he cannot lie.”
Changing of form wasn’t something unusual for Christ. He transformed himself on the Mount of Transfiguration with Peter, John, and James. He also appeared to his disciples in “another form” after his resurrection on the road to Emmaus and wasn’t recognized by them until he sat down at a meal and broke the bread with them. Jesus changing the interior form without changing the outward appearances of the species of bread and wine, allow us to respond to His “other form” with faith and reverence. The Catechism of the Catholic Church also states, “Christ is present whole and entire in each of the species and whole and entire in each of their parts, in such a way that the breaking of the bread does not divide Christ.” This helped me understand that Christ is fully present in the most minute piece of the species bread or drop of wine that is offered to us and we must inspect our hands for any particles and eat them, if receiving Him this way. We must also remember that we must not receive Him if we aren’t fully prepared to. This means fasting at least 1 hour before receiving, being without mortal sin, and being in full communion with the beliefs of the Catholic faith; otherwise, we can condemn ourselves by receiving Him unworthily.
As Jesus requested his disciples to “do this in memory of me” our priests were commissioned to continue to offer the Eucharist as a sacrifice by re-presenting to the Father, the Body of His Son, as an offering for us, for the forgiveness of our sins, for the Church, and all that we as the Body of Christ offer with Him in Thanksgiving and Praise of the One True God.
No longer do I look upon that little, round, piece of bread as something I was told is Jesus. I know what has taken place by the Holy Spirit and through the sacrifice offered up by the priest who is representing Jesus to us in “another form.” I recognize Jesus is truly with us and allows us to consume him, so he is within us in body and in spirit, and that will forever change MY form if I let it.