There are many tenets of our Catholic faith that make us unique from other Christian denominations. The Communion of Saints, Purgatory, the Sacraments, Sacred Tradition are just a few examples. But nothing is more central to being Catholic than the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. In fact, this truth is polarizing. It has been this way up and down the centuries.
Sadly, there are some of us Catholics who do not really understand what the Real Presence of Christ means. In short, it means that the bread and wine and Mass, through the words of consecration become the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ. He is there, present on the altar for all to see. If you are a Catholic who believes that what is occurring on the altar is merely a symbol of Jesus' body and blood, It is time to rectify that gross misconception. This is so fundamental. This is putting it very bluntly, but I think it is true. If you believe that the Eucharist is only a symbol of the Body and Blood of Jesus, then you are Catholic in name only. To quote the great Catholic American author, Flannery O'Connor, "Well, if it is only a symbol, to hell with it." Amen.
There is a doctrine found in non-Catholic denominations known as sola scriptura, or "by Scripture alone." It is "the doctrine that the Holy Bible, being the Word of God, is the only infallible rule of faith and practice for Christians in the post-apostolic age." [http://www.justforcatholics.org/a74.htm]. The Catholic Church does not follow this doctrine. Instead, we believe that divinely revealed truth comes from both Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition. For more on this, please see Section 80-82 of the Catechism. Nevertheless, in some denominations, sola scriptura leads to a very literal reading of the Bible. That being the case, I always found it odd that non-Catholics had such a hard time understanding the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. That brings me to today's Gospel from the sixth chapter of John.
"Amen, Amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him." John 6:53-56. This quote follows verse 52, which states, "The Jews quarreled among themselves, saying, 'How can this man give us [his] flesh to eat?'" And Jesus' response was not, "hey guys, don't take me so literally. I don't mean that you actually eat my body and drink my blood." That is what Jesus said in response, right? Reread the quote again! Jesus turns up the heat. Having every opportunity to back off his statement, he doubles down! If you doubt the literal meaning of Jesus' words, look no further than to the reaction of his followers. It is perhaps the only instance in the Gospels where his followers left Jesus in droves. John 6:66 (somewhere back in time there was a monk sitting in a cubicle of his monastery who had a really good sense of humor!) describes the scene: "As a result of his, many [of] his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him."
The Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, the actual consumption of the sacred Body and Blood of Jesus, has been turning people away ever since the discourse recorded in John 6. And it continues today. I find it ironic that non-Catholics who adhere to sola scriptura and a literal reading of the Bible want to read John 6 in a non-literal fashion. I think they have to. To read it literally would give credence to what Catholics hold to be true. As Scott Hahn says concerning non-Catholics, they are very familiar with the menu (the Bible), but they completely miss out on the meal. "Blessed are those who are called to the Supper of the Lamb."
On this Feast of Corpus Christi, celebrate a core truth to Catholicism. Be awed and humbled by the tremendous gift bestowed on us as Catholics. If you want to learn more about the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, Bishop Robert Barron has a great book called Eucharist. You can also check out these sections of the Catechism: 1373-1381.