My Husband and I joined the Catholic Church in 2007. We both came from protestant backgrounds, both appreciated the upbringing we had, and both felt that becoming Catholic was the natural destination of our faith. The more we studied the scripture and followed our beliefs to their logical end, the more arrows we found pointing to the Catholic Church. In this series, I’ll go into some of the reasons behind our move toward Catholicism and out of Protestantism.
Where Jesus Is. I think if you ask any Christian why they go to church, they will probably tell you that it is because they want to meet with Jesus. He is specially present in His churches around the world.
For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them. – Matthew 18:20
I particularly remember in college, my history class that was a survey of world history up until the Protestant Reformation. But long before we got to the questions of the reformation, we were reading early church fathers. And what stuck out so strongly in my memory, was this passage from St. Justin Martyr in his First Apology:
But we, after we have thus washed him who has been convinced and has assented to our teaching, bring him to the place where those who are called brethren are assembled, in order that we may offer hearty prayers in common for ourselves and for the baptized person, and for all others in every place, that we may be counted worthy, now that we have learned the truth, by our works also to be found good citizens and keepers of the commandments, so that we may be saved with an everlasting salvation. Having ended the prayers, we salute one another with a kiss. There is then brought to the president of the brethren bread and a cup of wine mixed with water; and he taking them, gives praise and glory to the Father of the universe, through the name of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, and offers thanks at considerable length for our being counted worthy to receive these things at His hands. And when he has concluded the prayers and thanksgivings, all the people present express their assent by saying Amen. This word Amen answers in the Hebrew language to γένοιτο [so be it]. And when the president has given thanks, and all the people have expressed their assent, those who are called by us deacons give to each of those present to partake of the bread and wine mixed with water over which the thanksgiving was pronounced, and to those who are absent they carry away a portion.
And this food is called among us Εὐχαριστία [the Eucharist], of which no one is allowed to partake but the man who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins, and unto regeneration, and who is so living as Christ has enjoined. For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Savior, having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh. For the apostles, in the memoirs composed by them, which are called Gospels, have thus delivered unto us what was enjoined upon them; that Jesus took bread, and when He had given thanks, said,This do in remembrance of Me, [Luke 22:19] this is My body;and that, after the same manner, having taken the cup and given thanks, He said,This is My blood;and gave it to them alone.
It had always been my understanding that the way we worshiped in our Protestant worship services was just like it was done in the early church. It had always been my understanding that it was the Catholic Church which added in so many aspects of their worship – the “smells and bells.” While we held the Lord’s Supper as a highly important, we believed that the early church saw it merely as a symbol and that it was pagan inventions seeping into the Catholic Church that invented the supernatural transformation of the bread and wine that later became known as the Eucharist. But St. Justin was writing around 155AD. Other than the Scriptures themselves, this is the earliest description of how the Christian Church worshiped. And it is clear that their structure of worship looked a lot more like the Catholic Mass than it looked like the protestant worship services I was familiar with.
But, I put those thoughts aside for a while. It was interesting. I was willing to see that there was more evidence and warrant for the way Catholics worshiped. And I was now ready to defend them as our brothers in Christ rather than wolves in sheep’s clothing and corrupters of the faith.
It was not until after college that I really took up the question of the Eucharist again. Sometimes, when I was working as a nanny in Cincinnati, I would listen to the Catholic Radio program, Catholic Answers. I had a lot of questions, and so many separate events and things I read brought me back to the Catholic Church with a bunch of questions.
One time, someone was asking about transubstantiation, and the host turned directly to John 6.
25 When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” 26 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. 27 Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.” 28 Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” 29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” 30 So they said to him, “Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform? 31 Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” 32 Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” 34 They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”
So far, so good, right? Nothing out of the ordinary. Some symbolic language from Jesus, as we all would expect…
35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. 36 But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. 37 All that the Father gives me will come to me, andwhoever comes to me I will never cast out. 38 For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. 39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. 40 For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son andbelieves in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”
Still, this does not really present a problem to the protestant view of the Lord’s Supper as merely symbolic.
41 So the Jews grumbled about him, because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” 42 They said, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” 43 Jesus answered them, “Do not grumble among yourselves. 44 No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. 45 It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me— 46 not that anyone has seen the Father except he who is from God; he has seen the Father. 47 Truly, truly, I say to you,whoever believes has eternal life. 48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50 This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
At this point, the Jews are getting pretty upset. Because it sounds like Jesus is saying He’s the Son of God. And then he says that His “flesh” is the “bread” that He gives for the life of the world. Hmm…Still, I can see one may have a symbolic reading of this, but you’d have to kinda be trained into a symbolic reading. It really just sounds like he’s saying that people are going to eat Him just like the Jews in the desert.
52 The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” 53 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. 54 Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. 55 For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. 56 Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. 57 As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” 59 Jesus said these things in the synagogue, as he taught at Capernaum.
Ok, there can be no mistake now. Jesus is saying that His flesh is food and His blood is drink. But of course there will be an interpretation. Jesus so often offers an interpretation when His audience isn’t getting it, what He means.
60 When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” 61 But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, “Do you take offense at this? 62 Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? 63 It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 64 But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) 65 And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.” 66 After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.
Hmmm. They were bothered by His teaching. They didn’t get it. And He didn’t explain it to them. Or did they get it? Was He really saying that His flesh would become our food and His blood would become our drink? Skip ahead to the Last Supper and Jesus breaks the bread and says, “This is My body.” And He presents the cup of wine and says, “This is my blood.” Connection made.
This is why Catholics believe that Jesus is present in the Eucharist: body, blood, soul & divinity. And after really wrestling with the John 6 passage, I knew I could no longer believe in a purely symbolic Lord’s Supper. After he insisted. After He didn’t explain it away. After He let some leave Him over what was apparently not a misunderstanding. They understood what He was saying, and they wouldn’t accept it.
And I get that. It’s hard to believe. Without the eyes of faith, this is foolish! When before you, you see bread and wine, and are told that in the consecration it becomes the body, blood, soul & divinity of Jesus, it’s difficult. Probably as difficult as it was for people who knew Jesus to see Him (looks like a man) and believe that He was more than just a man, but also the Son of God. It’s hard to recognize Jesus there without the eyes of faith. And what it comes down to is if you will take Jesus at His word that these things are His body and blood, or if you are going to decide that that is to hard a saying, and redefine the meaning of “is” to make it work for you.
This reminds me of the passage I just read to Nikki in Prince Caspian (C. S. Lewis) where Lucy wakes and sees Aslan. He’s calling for the children to follow him in a direction that doesn’t quite jive with their reasoning. The other children can’t see Him, but Lucy insists He’s there. So eventually they decide to follow Lucy because they know that she has been right before, and that she doesn’t lie about these things. Edmund was the first to remind the group of Lucy’s trustworthiness and to say that he would follow her if she said that Aslan was leading that way. And so, as they continue to follow where Aslan leads, first Edmund, then Peter, and finally Susan can all see him. First only shadows, but after a while of following and trusting, they can see him and recognize him.
That is what it’s like with the Eucharist. Taking into account the witness of Scripture, and the fact that this is what the Church has believed and practiced from the beginning, you can either obey and follow, or turn away according to your own understanding. But if you will follow where Jesus is leading, you will begin to recognize Him where He is.
This was my development into the belief in the Eucharist as the Catholics understand. Transubstantiation and all. And I wanted to be where Jesus really was present as He said, and that was in the Catholic Church.