For the past few months I’ve been debating on whether or not to start a blog. As you can see, I did indeed start one. The main reason I wanted to start this blog was to give a glimpse into the life of a Catholic family that is faithful to the Magisterium. There are a lot of people who self identify as Catholic, but there beliefs and lives reflect very little of what it means to be Catholic. Then there are the Non-Catholics or Lapsed Catholics (sometimes self identified as “Recovering Catholics” which is a term I’m not a fan of) who have misconceived notions of what the Church teaches and what those who live out their faith look like. At different points in my life I have belonged to all of these groups.
At some point after I was born, my mother converted to Catholicism, and when I was four my little brother and I were baptized at Our Lady of the Highways in Thomasville, NC. As I grew up I remember wondering why my father never went up to receive Eucharist like my mother did, and at some point I learned that my he was Lutheran. I love the fact that my dad attended Mass with us every week even though he was not Catholic and now that I’m older I commend him for respecting the Church’s teachings about closed Communion.
What is that exactly? The Merriam-Webster definition reads: : Communion in the Lord’s Supper restricted to the baptized members belonging to the same denomination or the same church —opposed to open communion.
Why would the Catholic Church not allow everyone to have access to the Eucharist? It goes back to our belief of what the consecrated bread and wine truly is. Let’s take a look at what the Magisterium teaches in the Catechism:
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:197 in his word, in his Church’s prayer, “where two or three are gathered in my name,”198 in the poor, the sick, and the imprisoned,199 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.”200 (1088)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.”201 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.”202 “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.”203 (1211)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: (1105, 1128, 298)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.204And 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.2051376 The Council of Trent summarizes the Catholic faith by declaring: “Because Christ our Redeemer said that it was truly his body that he was offering under the species of bread, it has always been the conviction of the Church of God, and this holy Council now declares again, that by the consecration of the bread and wine there takes place a change of the whole substance of the bread into the substance of the body of Christ our Lord and of the whole substance of the wine into the substance of his blood. This change the holy Catholic Church has fittingly and properly called transubstantiation.”2061377 The Eucharistic presence of Christ begins at the moment of the consecration and endures as long as the Eucharistic species subsist. 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.207
The teaching that the consecrated bread and wine become the body and blood of our saviour Jesus is a very difficult teaching for our rational and scientific minds to grasp. How can this be? Where in the Bible can this teaching be found?
To answer the first question allow me to ask you one. If you believe in God, do you believe He made the entire universe out of nothing? If your answer is “Yes” then why do you think He could not do such a simple thing?
Where in the Bible is this teaching found? Let’s go to the Gospel of John 6:22-69 and let’s read together what Jesus taught in the Bread of Life discourse:
22On the next day the people who remained on the other side of the sea saw that there had been only one boat there, and that Jesus had not entered the boat with his disciples, but that his disciples had gone away alone.
23However, boats from Tiber’i-as came near the place where they ate the bread after the Lord had given thanks.
24So when the people saw that Jesus was not there, nor his disciples, they themselves got into the boats and went to Caper’na-um, seeking Jesus.
25When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?”
26Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.
27Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of man will give to you; for on him has God the Father set his seal.”
28Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?”
29Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”
30So they said to him, “Then what sign do you do, that we may see, and believe you? What work do you perform?
31Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, `He gave them bread from heaven to eat.'”
32Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven; my Father gives you the true bread from heaven.
33For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven, and gives life to the world.”
34They said to him, “Lord, give us this bread always.”
35Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst.
36But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe.
37All that the Father gives me will come to me; and him who comes to me I will not cast out.
38For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me;
39and 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 at the last day.
40For this is the will of my Father, that every one who sees the Son and believes in him should have eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day.”
41The Jews then murmured at him, because he said, “I am the bread which came down from heaven.”
42They 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’?”
43Jesus answered them, “Do not murmur among yourselves.
44No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day.
45It is written in the prophets, `And they shall all be taught by God.’ Every one who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me.
46Not that any one has seen the Father except him who is from God; he has seen the Father.
47Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life.
48I am the bread of life.
49Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died.
50This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that a man may eat of it and not die.
51I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
52The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”
53So 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;
54he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.
55For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed.
56He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.
57As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me.
58This is the bread which came down from heaven, not such as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live for ever.”
59This he said in the synagogue, as he taught at Caper’na-um.
60Many of his disciples, when they heard it, said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?”
61But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples murmured at it, said to them, “Do you take offense at this?
62Then what if you were to see the Son of man ascending where he was before?
63It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh is of no avail; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.
64But there are some of you that do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the first who those were that did not believe, and who it was that would betray him.
65And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.”
66After this many of his disciples drew back and no longer went about with him.
67Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?”
68Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life;
69and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”
Now let’s take a closer look at this discourse between Christ and his followers. First, Jesus tells his followers that He is the bread of life that God has sent down from Heaven. Then he tells these Jewish men that they must then eat of his flesh and drink of his blood to have true life. They are aghast at this very idea because they had been taught about God’s prohibition from consuming the blood of any animal (Gen. 9:3-4, Lev. 17:10-14), and yet here was a man proclaiming that not only is his body and blood “true food” and “true drink” but that any who eat and drink of it shall live forever.
To quote these followers, “This saying is hard; who can accept it?” Yes, this is a very hard thing to accept and believe. My protestant brothers and sisters (as well as many so-called “Catholics”) will most likely point to the next line in which Jesus responds, “Does this shock you? What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life, while the flesh is of no avail. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe.” Many interpret this to mean that Jesus was just stating that he was speaking figuratively and that the bread and wine are just a symbol.
I could go into detail about the language used in the original Greek text and how he went from using a word that could be used to mean symbolically eating to a word that was used for animals gnawing on food, but I won’t. Let’s however look at the fact that “many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.” Huh??? You see Jesus allowed these followers who could not come to term with what He was saying about his flesh and blood to just walk away. Don’t you think that if what he was speaking symbolically that he would have said something to correct them and keep them by His side? But he didn’t.
Now back to the original question at hand. Why does the Catholic Church have closed Communion? Because we believe that by some means only known to God, the bread and wine literally becomes the body and blood of Jesus. We believe that he is fully present, body, soul, and divinity, and only those who truly believe and are in full communion with Christ’s Church should receive this beautiful sacrament.
“Well, if it’s just a symbol, to hell with it.” –Flannery O’Connor
Wow! I had no intention of writing an entry on such a deep topic so soon. The Spirit leads as the Spirit wills.