The Most Holy Eucharist: As Real Presence (An Introduction to the

Controversy)

By Rev. Fr. Oliver Onah

"This Is a Hard Teaching. Who Can Accept It?"

The reality of transubstantiation (the conversion of the substance of bread and wine into the real Body and Blood of Christ) which was our topic for discussion last week generated a heated controversy in the Church's liturgical life. The controversy started early enough in the form of utter surprise and rejection by many of Christ's disciples: "Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, 'How can this man give us his flesh to eat?'" (J6:52).

And "on hearing it, many of his disciples said, 'This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?'" (Jn 6:60). The provocation of both the traditional Jews and the disciples of Jesus, precipitated by the scandal of the Word of life was predicated upon the horror around the Jewish notion of eating flesh and drinking blood.

In fact, through the prophet Ezekiel, God had used the imagery of having their flesh and blood eaten as an ultimate disgrace to be visited upon sinners (cf Ez 39:17-19). Jesus knowing the shock created by his utterances, added immediately, "Yet there are some of you who do not believe" (Jn 6:63-64). The scandal of the Mystery has never gone away. It is for many just too much to accept.

It is surely true that the Mystery of the Eucharist can be propounded in such a way that all of the "shock value" contained in the words of Jesus is removed by anticipation. Such a form of catechesis however departs from the approach taken by the Lord himself. It can happen that by removing the shock, one can as well remove an accurate appreciation of the Eucharist.

This might obviate the response in faith that is necessary to accept Christ's words. Jesus may have intended the shock. Indeed, on the occasion of his synagogue talk at Capernaum, he let the words stand by themselves, refusing to give any explanation that would soften their impact. What he taught was indeed beyond human nature's ability to comprehend.

As St Augustine puts it, "That is called Flesh which flesh does not understand, and because it is called Flesh, so much the more does flesh not understand". The truth is that the Lord was however looking for faith- faith in himself and faith in his words, well aware, as he already said, that no one could offer such faith "unless the Father draws him" (Jn 6:44). And for lack of faith, so many found the saying too much to take. They went away.

Through the centuries, the Church has consistently refused to mitigate the shock contained in the words of the Lord at Capernaum. Yes! Her pedagogy is like her Master's. Thus, recognize in all its fullness what it is you are expected to believe and pray that the Father will lead you to accept it.

Dissent to the Church's teaching has always existed. This dissent has touched upon not merely secondary issues but frequently upon those most central to the Catholic understanding of Jesus' message. None more so than the Eucharist.

Many have not been able to accept the Mystery as the Church meditated upon it and expounded it more adequately, but their very unwillingness or inability has been the occasion used by the Spirit to deepen the Church's appreciation for what Jesus meant.

Since this lack of faith in some, has stimulated the faith in others, we wish to discuss more on the controversy that greeted the Eucharistic theology regarding the real presence. Meanwhile, it has to be noted here that it is just a problem of faith as some desire to walk by sight rather than by faith.

As a matter of fact, at the Last Supper, physical Flesh and Blood never appeared after Jesus said the Blessing. If as a priest physical flesh and Blood appear after pronouncing the words of consecration, I would need 'extra grace' of God to eat the Flesh and to drink the Blood.

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