VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis on Sunday reminded all Catholics of the Church’s teaching on the Real Presence of Jesus in the Holy Eucharist, stressing that at the Holy Mass, the Sacred Host is “really his Body given for us” and the chalice of what has the appearance of wine “is really his Blood poured out for us.”
Speaking to pilgrims from his studio in the apostolic palace before praying the noonday Angelus, the Pope commented on Jesus’ bread of life discourse contained in the Gospel of St. John, chapter 6.
The Holy Father acknowledged that some in the crowd were shocked and even scandalized by the Lord’s words: “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life” (Jn 5:51-54).
But he said the Lord’s teaching is clear: The Eucharist is neither a symbol nor even a thing, but rather a divine Person who desires that we live in intimate communion with Him.
“The Eucharist is Jesus who gives himself entirely to us,” the Pope said. “Feeding on Him and abiding in Him through Eucharistic communion — if we do so in faith — transforms our lives into a gift to God and to our brothers and sisters.”
For a Catholic, receiving Holy Communion in a state of grace and with faith and love therefore means “entering into harmony with the heart of Christ, assimilating his choices, his thoughts, his behavior. It means entering a dynamism of love and becoming people of peace, people of forgiveness, reconciliation,” he said.
While the Pope acknowledged the astonishment of Jesus’ listeners was understandable,” nonetheless he said the Lord used “a style typical of the prophets to provoke questions in the people — and also in us — and ultimately, to provoke a decision.”
Some reports estimate that only 30% of Catholics in the West today believe in the True Presence of Jesus in the Holy Eucharist.
Yet the Catechism of the Catholic Church (paragraph 1374) clearly states the Church’s teaching: “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.]
The Catechism goes on to explain: “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.” [Pope Paul VI, Mysterium Fidei, 39.]
Here below we publish a translation of the Pope’s Angelus address.
Dear brothers and sisters,
Good day. This Sunday the liturgy sets before us, from the Gospel of John, Jesus’ discourse on the Bread of life which is Jesus himself, and which is also the Sacrament of the Eucharist.
Today’s passage (John 6:51-58) presents the final part of this discourse, and makes reference to several among the people who were scandalized because Jesus said: “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day” (Jn 5:51-54).
The astonishment of the listeners is understandable. In fact, Jesus uses the style typical of the prophets to provoke questions in the people—and also in us—and ultimately, to provoke a decision.
First, the questions: What does it mean “to eat Jesus’ flesh and drink his blood? Is it only an image, a way of speaking, a symbol, or does it indicate something real? To respond, we need to understand what is happening in the Heart of Jesus as he is breaking the bread before for the hungry crowd.
Knowing that he was to die the Cross for them, Jesus identifies himself with the bread that is broken and shared, and it becomes for him the “sign” of the sacrifice that awaits him. This process reaches its climax at the Last Supper, where they truly do become his Body and his Blood. It is the Eucharist that Jesus leaves to us with a precise purpose: so that we may become one with him. In fact, he says: “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me and I in him” (v. 56). That “abiding”: Jesus in us and us in Jesus. Communion is assimilation: in eating Him, we become like Him. But this requires our “yes,” our adherence in faith.
Sometimes one hears this objection regarding the Holy Mass: “But what good is Mass? I go to Church when I feel like it, or I pray better alone.”
But the Eucharist is not private prayer or a beautiful spiritual experience. It is not a simple commemoration of what Jesus did at the Last Supper. In order to understand well, we say that the Eucharist is a “memorial,” i.e. an act that makes present the event of the Death and Resurrection of Jesus: the bread is really his Body given for us, the wine is really his Blood poured out for us.
The Eucharist is Jesus who gives himself entirely to us. Nourishing ourselves on Him and abiding in Him through Eucharistic communion, if we do so in faith, transforms our lives into a gift to God and to our brothers and sisters. Nourishing ourselves on the “Bread of life” means entering into harmony with the heart of Christ, assimilating his choices, his thoughts, his behavior. It means entering a dynamism of love and becoming people of peace, people of forgiveness, reconciliation, and supportive sharing … the same things that Jesus did.
Jesus concludes his discourse with these words: “He who eats this bread will live for ever” (Jn 5:58). Yes, to live in real communion with Jesus on this earth makes us already pass from death to life. Heaven begins precisely in this communion with Jesus. And in heaven our Mother Mary already awaits us — yesterday we celebrated this mystery [of the Assumption]. May she obtain this grace to nourish ourselves in faith on Jesus, the Bread of life.
Diane Montagna is Rome correspondent for Aleteia’s English edition.