From January 24 to 31, 2016, Cebu City will be a center of the Catholic Church as the faithful from all over the world gather for the 51st International Eucharistic Congress (IEC).
The gathering seeks to highlight the importance of the Holy Eucharist in the life – both temporal and eternal – of the Catholic in particular and of all men in general.
READ: Eucharistic Congress kicks off in Cebu today
The basic text of the IEC stresses the sacrament as the “source and summit” of Christian faith and life.
Unfortunately, many if not most people are unaware of the importance of the Holy Eucharist. Many, while aware, may not fully understand what it is and its significance in their faith life. This is especially true to Catholics.
The Eucharist and eternal life
This article will attempt to explain the Holy Eucharist and what it means to those who believe in life beyond this earth, where men and women try to extend their youth and their years to no avail.
But what has the Holy Eucharist got to do with the afterlife? And what is its use besides the weekly (or daily) partaking of this small piece of white wafer near the end of the Mass?
Simply put, the Holy Eucharist—the Blessed Sacrament of Bread and Wine—offers eternal life.
Man has spent billions looking for ways to live longer—much of this to advance the medical and biological sciences. People spend thousands, even millions, on natural or synthetic food and more efficient exercise and lifestyle just to be healthier. All of these are aimed at making man more resilient, thus avoiding death.
Recently, the oldest man in the world passed away at the age of 112. Guinness World Records says the oldest woman lived 122 years and 164 days. They both lived very long lives—longer than most people—but still they died.
Oh, if only people could live forever; if only life could be eternal!
Yes, you can!
The Holy Eucharist says “Yes! People can live forever. Life can be eternal.” And the sacrament is offering that to those who believe.
This belief is anchored on the words of Jesus—God’s Son who became man to personally deliver the good news to men: “Yes, you can live forever. Yes, I can give you eternal life.”
In the Bible, Jesus said, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life.” (John 6:54)
With that assurance, Jesus warned: “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” (John 6:53)
READ: Eucharist and mission
The Catholic Church and the Bible say Jesus has long ascended back to heaven. How could people today eat His flesh and drink His blood to have eternal life?
According to the Church, God who is infinitely wise and powerful gave men a way to avail of His Body and Blood even in this day and age. And God’s way is by turning plain bread and wine into His life-giving Body and Blood.
Jesus instituted this giving of His Body and Blood during the Last Supper, the Church says, citing the Gospels.
The Gospel according to Matthew (26:26-28) narrates: “While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, ‘Take, eat; this is my body.’”
“Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.’”
Transubstantiation and the Mass
By the words of Jesus and the power of His Spirit, He turned simple bread and wine into His Body and Blood in a divine act which the Church calls Transubstantiation. In transubstantiation, the bread and wine retain all their physical characteristics but their substance and essence are changed into the Body and Blood of Jesus.
The Church says that this act of Jesus is reenacted in the Holy Mass when the priest utters the very words of Christ: “This is my body … This is my blood” over the bread and wine.
“At the Last Supper, on the night he was betrayed, our Savior instituted the Eucharistic sacrifice of his Body and Blood,” says Paragraph 1323 of Article 3 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church or CCC.
The CCC adds, “This he did in order to perpetuate the sacrifice of the cross throughout the ages until he should come again.”
Through this reenactment of the act of Jesus and the echoing of His words, the Body and Blood of Jesus becomes present to the believer who is given the opportunity to partake of them.
Eternal life for the taking
Subsequently, by partaking of the Body and Blood of Jesus, the believer is able to receive the eternal life that he longs to have and which God promises to give him.
All that a person has to do is believe, accept and receive.
Thus is the importance of the Holy Eucharist, and thus the International Eucharistic Congress.
But wait! Jesus is giving men His Body and Blood as food?! Isn’t that cannibalism? Or is it just symbolism?
We will try to answer such objections in the following articles on the Holy Eucharist.
The author is a Roman Catholic by birth and by choice. He is former seminarian who finished a course on the Sacraments and Old Testament Studies. He continues to engage in Biblical and Church studies and has embraced Catholic apologetics as a personal apostolate.