Walking our Faith: Hoc est corpus, this is my body
Walking our Faith
I see the backs of the men gathered around the altar at the front of the church. Together, they celebrate the Eucharist, giving thanks as bread is broken and consecrated along with the wine to become the body and blood of Jesus Christ. I did not join them on this morning as I do on almost every Wednesday morning. But I know them as good men who come every Wednesday for Bible study at St. John’s and stay to participate in Mass, afterward.
I smiled as I realized that the sight of them provided insight into a question I’d been contemplating for the past week:
A recent Pew Research Center survey found that nearly 70% of Catholics do not believe the Eucharist is the real body and blood of Jesus Christ. This is a shocking and disappointing statistic because this belief is a central tenant of the Catholic faith, and so one wonders how an overwhelming majority of Catholics have come to reject this tenant.
The cause of this rejection has been on my mind because it is the Eucharist that brought me into the Catholic Church 35 years ago. Yes, I believe that after the priest consecrates the bread and wine, it is the real presence of Jesus Christ body, soul and divinity. And after 35 years, it still brings me joy.
This past Sunday, I had the pleasure of attending a worship service at the Breckenridge Christian Ministry on Sawmill Road. This nondenominational Christian group has been holding weekly services and doing outreach to Summit County youths for 40 years.
What makes it especially unique is that the church is not led by a pastor, rather a different person will speak on a topic of their choice each week. The service is run by a leadership team made up of people from the congregation.
On Sunday, John Koch spoke on the history of the Eucharist in the Christian church, and through his references to scripture and early church teachings, I learned a great deal about the very question I’d been considering. He pointed to letters of St. Paul, written 20 years and 1,500 miles from where Jesus’ implementation of the Last Supper occurred and noted that in the earliest communications, belief in transubstantiation was accepted:
“For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, ‘This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” (1 Corinthians 11 c. 53 AD)
“Therefore, my beloved, … the cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” (1 Corinthians 10 c. 53 AD)
“For we do not receive these things as common bread or common drink; but as Jesus Christ our Savior being incarnate by God’s word took flesh and blood for our salvation, so also we have been taught that the food consecrated by the word of prayer which comes from him, from which our flesh and blood are nourished by transformation, is the flesh and blood of that incarnate Jesus.” (Justin Martyr, First Apology c. 149 AD)
As Koch explained, today’s belief in the Eucharist ranges from the literal belief in transubstantiation — hoc est corpus, “this is my body” — to belief that the bread and wine are merely symbols of the presence of Christ.
When we partake in the bread and wine of communion, we might not agree on what it is. But this week, I saw the power of the Eucharist is undiminished by our varying interpretations. The power of the Eucharist (the body of Christ) strengthens the body of Christ (those who believe in Christ) when we celebrate Communion as a community.
It is not my place to argue that anyone should hold my belief in what the Eucharist is. In fact, I hope you will see that my understanding of the Eucharist was deepened by experiencing Communion in three very different churches this week.
We are strengthened through the gift of God’s love, which was the essential principle of this sacred meal. As we gather for Communion, we are called to remember that we are so loved by God that he gave his only son. This banquet of bread and wine nourishes our souls and unites us in God’s love. This insight is what I received when I saw “my guys” gathered around the altar table Wednesday.
If you have not found a home in traditional Christian churches, I hope you will give Breckenridge Christian Ministry a try. They are a welcoming community of people from all walks of faith and even people of no faith. Sunday service is at 9:15 a.m. You can learn more about it at BCMCommunity.org.
Suzanne Elizabeth Anderson’s column “Walking our Faith” publishes Saturdays in the Summit Daily News. Anderson is the author of 10 novels and nonfiction books on faith. She has lived in Breckenridge since 2016. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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