Hello there Rosary lovers! In this post we will ask: what do Catholics believe about Communion?
I take it this question refers to Holy Communion, or the Holy Eucharist. The central act of Catholic worship, the offering of the body and blood of Jesus to God.
Nothing is more important than Holy Communion
Catholics believe that Holy Communion is the most important event in the life of any Christian.
We believe it is the most important event that takes place on God’s earth, which is why the Catholic Church celebrates Communion daily.
That’s right, the Church celebrates the Eucharist every, single day. Of course, the vast majority of Catholics cannot attend Holy Communion everyday, but many do attend often.
All Catholics have to attend Communion every Sunday and on Holy Days of Obligation (of which there are about 5 or so every year, depending on where we live).
This is because of how vital Communion is to our Catholic lives. The Catholic Church calls Communion ‘the source and summit of faith’. It is the beginning of Catholic faith and the highest point of Catholic faith.
The Real Flesh and Blood of Jesus
There is a unique Catholic belief about Communion which we call by the hefty title ‘transubstantiation‘. This is an old word which means ‘transformation of substance’. It refers to the Catholic belief that during the Mass, the bread and wine are truly and really transformed by the power of God into the real body and blood of Jesus Christ.
This is more than a mere belief in the Real Presence of the flesh and blood of Jesus. Many non-Catholics believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. No, it’s more than this.
What Catholics believe is that the actual essence/nature of the bread and wine is COMPLETELY transformed into the whole of Jesus Christ: his body, blood, soul and divinity.
So that, after this tranformation, it isn’t really bread and wine anymore, but Jesus Christ whole and entire.
Sure, it still looks like bread and wine, because this is what the senses tell us. Our sight, smell, taste and touch tell us that it’s just bread and wine, but faith tells us that actually it is Jesus’ body and blood.
As St Cyril of Jerusalem said in the 4th century:
‘Do not, therefore, regard the Bread and the Wine as simply that; for they are, according to the Master’s declaration, the Body and Blood of Christ. Even though the senses suggest to you the other, let faith make you firm. Do not judge in this matter by taste, but – be fully assured by the faith, not doubting that you have been deemed worthy of the Body and Blood of Christ.’
There is a MASSIVE amount of evidence that this Catholic belief has ALWAYS been the belief of Christians since very, very early in Christian history.
Take, for instance, this very early quotation from the very early 2nd century, by a man who actually knew the apostle John:
‘They [i.e. the Gnostics] abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they do not confess that THE EUCHARIST IS THE FLESH OF OUR SAVIOR JESUS CHRIST, flesh which suffered for our sins and which the Father, in his goodness, raised up again.’
It wasn’t until relatively recently – the 16th century – that many Christians began to think that the bread and the wine was purely symbolic of the body and blood of Jesus. It wasn’t always so.
Because the bread and wine have become Jesus’ actual body and blood, we believe as Catholics that when we eat the bread and drink the wine we are truly eating the flesh and blood of Jesus. Really, we believe this. We don’t believe we are only eating bread, but faith tells us that it is in reality the flesh of Jesus.
Our faith doesn’t make it the flesh of Jesus. It IS the flesh of Jesus, whether we believe it or not. Faith simply gives us eyes to see that this is so.
Jesus teaches all of this in John’s gospel, chapter 6, when he says: ‘the life that I give to the world is MY FLESH … Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life,’ and so on.
Catholics take these words of Christ at face value. We believe that Jesus Christ gives us his holy and divine flesh and blood in Holy Communion. All so that we can have eternal life, salvation.
So, for Catholics, Communion is LIFE. It is Jesus, it is the experience of the divine life of God. The divine life of Jesus Christ is truly present in the bread and wine, and comes into our bodies when we eat his flesh and blood.
Communion with God
Therefore, at Communion, Catholics are united to Divinity. We are united to God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We are brought into an incredibly close fellowship with God himself.
John the apostle writes about this when he says: ‘Our fellowship is with the Father and his Son Jesus Christ,’ 1 John 1:3-4. We have communion with the Father and his Son because we partake of the flesh and blood of God’s own dear Son.
Communion with Each Other
We also believe that at Communion, we are united to each other. When Catholics feast together on the holy body and blood of Jesus Christ, we are feasting on one body, and one Christ. This makes us one.
Catholics share communion with each other. This is the closest communion that it is possible to experience with other people on this earth, because together we become one body in God, the body of Christ.
Catholics feel a natural affinity for each other that is very powerful. We love each other, even though we hardly know each other. Sometimes we even feel like we would die for other Catholics.
The Catholic Church is the body of God, the body of Christ on earth. It is God’s called-out Fellowship of People. Every time we share the sacred Meal of Communion together, we are re-experiencing again our union with one another. We are re-experiencing the fact that we are in fact one people, one body and one nation under God.
So Holy Communion for Catholics has FAR greater significance than might at first meet the eye. In fact, it is so special that many Catholics don’t know what it’s all about.
If you have any questions about this post, or anything on this site, don’t hesitate to get in touch.
God bless you.