The following are excerpts taken from the catechetical writing series on the Holy Eucharist by Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., originally published by The Monitor in August 2016. To read the full two-part series, click HERE.

When we receive Holy Communion, the minister offers us the host and says, “The Body of Christ;” …  And we respond, “Amen,” a Hebrew word found throughout the Old and New Testaments that means, “yes, truly;” “so be it,” “I believe it.” 

The Lord Jesus Christ is fully present in the host and wine consecrated by the priest at Mass.  The appearances of unleavened bread and true wine remain visible — the “sign” of the Sacrament … and the taste remains the same — but they are totally, entirely and completely transformed into the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.  The theological term used for this transformation is “transubstantiation,” the mysterious process by which the Lord Jesus Christ becomes present. 

As we read in the Letter to the Hebrews, “faith is confident assurance about things hoped for and conviction about things we cannot see (Hebrews 11: 1).” Transubstantiation and the “Real Presence of Christ” are one of the core beliefs and acts of faith of the Catholic Church … Mystery?  Yes, it will always be.  Truth? Yes, it will also always be. 

At the Last Supper of the Lord Jesus Christ, … the Lord Jesus Christ instituted the Holy Eucharist: And as they were eating He took bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them and said, ‘Take, this is my body.’ And He took a cup and when He had given thanks, He gave it to them and they all drank of it and He said to them, ‘This is my blood of the New Covenant which is poured out for many (Mark 14: 22-24).

Jesus explained … ‘I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world. …  Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.  For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink.  Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. (John 6: 35-51).’

St. Paul instructs the community of faith about the Holy Eucharist: ‘… the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” … For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes (1 Cor 11: 23-26).’

True, there have been theological discussions and debates — even disagreements — about the scriptural sources for and the meaning of this and other Sacraments of the Catholic Church.  But belief in the Holy Eucharist as the Body and Blood of Christ has endured in the Catholic Church from the Last Supper on as a fundamental and constitutive element of the Catholic faith.  It is a non-negotiable belief for Catholics.

The Second Vatican Council (1963-65) referred to our Catholic belief in the Holy Eucharist as “the source and summit of the Christian life (Lumen Gentium, no. 11).” 

In his catechesis, our Holy Father Pope Francis reflected: ‘In his life, Christ manifested his love by being with people, and by sharing their desires and problems. So too the Eucharist brings us together with others – young and old, poor and affluent, neighbors and visitors. The Eucharist calls us to see all of them as our brothers and sisters, and to see in them the face of Christ (Pope Francis, General Audience, Feb. 12, 2014).’