What is the Real Presence?

Among the many ridiculous things that critics of the Catholic Church say about us, none is more bizarre than the attack that we are “cannibals.” Taking our doctrine of the real presence a bit too literally (and forgetting that they, mostly fundamentalist Christians, also have communion services in which they read Jesus’ words “this is my body”) they talk about us as if we were offering a live human sacrifice on the altar and sharing it among the congregation.

But unlike some of the other doctrines for which we are criticized in a ridiculous way (venerating Mary, baptizing babies, having a pope, etc.) I have the sense that most Catholics don’t know how to defend themselves on this issues. In fact, I suspect that many Catholics actually make the situation worse, misunderstanding our doctrine and perpetuating misunderstandings in their attackers.

We believe in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist… but we do not believe that it is actual flesh and blood. In this case, “real” takes on a very different significance than we are used to.

That’s the topic of these week’s Catholicism in Focus, the first of the season. Theologically, what are we actually saying when we say that Christ is truly present, body, blood, soul, and divinity.

Now, as a caveat not in the video (a reason why you should read the blog as well and not just watch the video!) there have been what are called “Eucharistic miracles” on various occasions in which the host has appeared to bleed. I have intentionally left these instances out of the video, not because I do not believe in them or because they challenge the point I’m saying, but simply because they are the exception. Regardless of whether or not you believe in such miracles, they are miracles precisely because they act against the normal way of things—the normal Eucharist that we celebrate does not bleed real blood because that is not what we believe is happening. If God so chooses to make it bleed so that some may have faith, as it appears may have happened a handful of times in history, then God is capable of such miracles, but they serve as the exception to the rule, not the norm.

Anyway, that might make more sense after watching the video, so you should do that first. Also, you should come back every Monday this semester for new episodes!

2 Comments on “What is the Real Presence?

  1. Thank you for your diligence and effort. Always look forward to your posts.

  2. Excellent explanation! I’ve shared it with family and friends who don’t understand…..

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