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Thomas O'Neil wrote:

Hi, guys —

You may have answered this question before, but I am having trouble finding the answer. I know several atheists who repeatedly tell me that Catholics are cannibals because we believe we eat the actual Flesh and Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus.

I am unsure of how to exactly respond. Another one said to me that we practice ritualistic cannibalism.

  • Am I confused on this issue?
  • Do we actually eat Jesus carnally, that is His bones, tissue, and sinews?

I know Jesus is not consumed, that is, He is never diminished physically by our eating of the Eucharist. He always remains whole and entire in Heaven.

It seems to me, to answer atheists on this, we have to explain all of Revelation to them or,
at least, get into theology which I am unable to explain fully.

These fellows I know are complete materialists.

Thank you for any help.

Thomas

  { Do Catholics practice ritualistic cannibalism when partaking in the Eucharist? }

John replied:

Hi, Thomas —

Thanks for your question.

The Church teaches that Jesus is truly present — Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity in the Eucharist.
This presence is Sacramental — it is not physical, in the sense that we are eating Jesus' cells and tissue.

We believe and profess that the substance of the bread and wine are changed into the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ, while the accidents (appearance and physical properties) of the bread and wine remain. This change in the substance is called:

Transubstantiation.

This is a philosophical explanation, not a scientific one. It is infallible yet it is also limited.
We can only understand a Mystery to a certain extent.

If we could fully understand it, it wouldn't be a Mystery any longer.

I hope this helps,

John

Thomas replied:

Thanks John!

I was wondering?

  • Do you know of any books or articles that explain transubstantiation in more depth;
    so I can get a fuller explanation?
  • Also, what do you mean by a Sacramental presence?
  • Can you be more precise?

Thomas

Mike replied:

Hi, Thomas —

There is one book I was given a long time ago, but never got around to reading:

Also make sure you read our posting here:

This definition from Second Exodus should answer your other question.

Sacramental Presence

Christ is really, truly and substantially contained in the Holy Eucharist under the appearances of bread and wine.

He is not physically or spiritually present, but rather sacramentally present. Sacramental presence is absolutely as real as physical presence. If His presence were merely physical and historical we would have only His body and blood.

If His presence were merely spiritual it could include soul and divinity but not body and blood. His sacramental and substantial presence in each species contains His body, blood, soul and divinity.

Christ is present in every sacrament, but His sacramental presence is substantial only in the Holy Eucharist. Substantial means that the host we receive is truly Christ. He is not in the bread. After the consecration there is no bread.

Christ's sacramental presence is necessary because Jesus did not rise from the dead in the same way as He raised Lazarus from the dead. Jesus resuscitated Lazarus, who was raised to die again, but Jesus Himself was resurrected into a new and eternal existence called risen life. The Holy Eucharist is Jesus' risen life, His glorified body.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says this on your question:

The presence of Christ by the power of his word and the Holy Spirit

1373 "Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised from the dead, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us," is present in many ways to his Church: (Romans 8:34; cf. Vatican II, Lumen Gentium 48) in his word, in his Church's prayer, where two or three are gathered in my name, (Matthew 18:20) in the poor, the sick, and the imprisoned, (cf. Matthew 25:31-46) in the sacraments of which he is the author, in the sacrifice of the Mass, and in the person of the minister. But He is present . . . most especially in the Eucharistic species. (Vatican II, Sacrosanctum Concilium 7)

1374 The mode of Christ's presence under the Eucharistic species is unique. It raises the Eucharist above all the sacraments as the perfection of the spiritual life and the end to which all the sacraments tend.(St. Thomas Aquinas, STh III,73,3c.) In the most blessed sacrament of the Eucharist "the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ and, therefore, the whole Christ is truly, really, and substantially contained." (Council of Trent (1551): DS 1651)

"This presence is called real - by which is not intended to exclude the other types of presence as if they could not be real too, but because it is presence in the fullest sense: that is to say, it is a substantial presence by which Christ, God and man, makes himself wholly and entirely present."

(Paul VI, Mysterium Fidei 39)

1375 It is by the conversion of the bread and wine into Christ's body and blood that Christ becomes present in this sacrament. The Church Fathers strongly affirmed the faith of the Church in the efficacy of the Word of Christ and of the action of the Holy Spirit to bring about this conversion. Thus St. John Chrysostom declares:

It is not man that causes the things offered to become the Body and Blood of Christ, but He who was crucified for us, Christ himself. The priest, in the role of Christ, pronounces these words, but their power and grace are God's. This is my body, he says. This word transforms the things offered.

(St. John Chrysostom, prod. Jud. 1:6:PG 49,380)

And St. Ambrose says about this conversion:

Be convinced that this is not what nature has formed, but what the blessing has consecrated. The power of the blessing prevails over that of nature, because by the blessing nature itself is changed. . . . Could not Christ's word, which can make from nothing what did not exist, change existing things into what they were not before? It is no less a feat to give things their original nature than to change their nature.

(St. Ambrose, De myst. 9,50; 52:PL 16,405-407)

I hope this helps,

Mike

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