It is hard enough for a Catholic to wrap their own heads around the mystery of the Eucharist, let alone explain it to others. A question people ask is: what does eating Jesus’ body or drinking His blood have to do with our own salvation? Catholics might just say “it is because Jesus told us to.”
“It is easy for Christians who are well used to the language of the Eucharist to fail to realise how shocking it is at first sight. We eat the body of Christ and drink his blood! It is vital to have a proper grasp of what this actually means, both for an effective catechesis inside the Church and also to help our explanations to those outside….
“Though the New Testament was written in Greek, its mindset is Hebrew. The Greek word for ‘body’ in all the Last Supper accounts is soma, but the proper understanding of it is not according to the Greek scheme by which a human being consist of ‘body and soul’.
We ourselves tend to understand ‘body’ as the Greeks did, as only part of a human being, the material, visible bit, but that is not the Hebrew meaning….
Jesus and the apostles were Jews, and ‘body’ in the Hebrew understanding does not just mean the outer aspect of a human being, something they have, rather it means what a human being is. Soma is ‘the nearest equivalent to out word “personality’”; soma is ‘the whole person’.
So, when Jesus says to his friends, ‘This is my body’, he means ‘This is myself, my whole being’, and gives himself to them so that they, by receiving, will in fact be drawn into his own self-gift to his Father, and will be drawn to one another in his self-gift.
“Blood also has a very specific significance in the Bible:
‘the life of the creature is in the blood’ (Lev 17:11)
It was thought that the breath was in the blood, and hence life itself. Because life come from God, blood was sacred as the very symbol of life….
So, when Jesus say to his friends, ‘This is my blood’, again he means ‘This is myself, my very life’; the life that God gave him he, in turn, is giving to them so that his life might be in them and they, in him, might dwell in God.
“There is undoubtedly, therefore, the most clear and profound identification of the bread and wine with Jesus himself. They are changed and become Him. However, this change is not a static thing….
Rather, the whole setting of the Last Supper, and therefore of the Mass, is a dynamic one.
Jesus transforms bread and wine, food and drink, into his body and blood, so that they will be eaten and drunk and that the recipients will thereby be drawn into his own sacrifice and ‘enter into the movement of His self-offering’ to his Father. By doing so, they will also be drawn into union with one another, ultimately they themselves will be transformed.
As we saw above, we receive the body of Christ so as to become the Body of Christ. Vatican II quoted Pope St Leo the Great’s magnificent statement of this truth:
‘the sharing in the body and blood of Christ has no other effect than to accomplish our transformation into that which we receive’.”
Through the Eucharist, Jesus is not simply showing the extent of his sacrifice, as beautiful as that revelation is: He is offering life and transformation in a way that nourishes our entire being. That is why we as Catholics should desire to participate in the Eucharist as often as possible, as it is the food and drink of our faith and grace.