“What the world could not contain, love imprisons here.”
The Curator of the Papal Artifacts Collection &
The Topic Nearest & Dearest to His Heart
An Apologetics Class Taught at His Home Parish
Apologetics Topic: The Eucharist
St. James Catholic Church, Duluth, MN
The topic of the Eucharist is the one class I teach the most, because it is the single most important class, the single most important subject, from the Catholic standpoint, to learn about and to hear about: the Eucharist. That’s because the Church itself has defined the Eucharist as the source and summit of the Catholic faith. So, the Church has articulated that this is the single most important aspect of who we are as Catholics. And so, therefore, we put emphasis on it, and we recognize why this is so significant.
This is the single biggest thing that separates Catholics from non-Catholic Christians. A lot of people think it’s probably purgatory, or Mary, the pope, or saints, etc. It’s not. It’s the Eucharist. This is the biggest gap of difference between us and non-Catholic Christians. And it’s based on the theology of it. As I go through the theology, you’ll understand why this is so different from what we believe and profess vs what non-Catholics profess.
So, when we speak of the Eucharist: you know, often we interchange the word, Eucharist, with the Mass as if they’re one and the same. But the Mass is the action in which the Eucharist happens. The Eucharist can be viewed as the chief act of worship in the Catholic faith. And the consecrated host and the consecrated wine ought to be adored and worshipped with the same adoration and worship due to God, because it is God. It’s Jesus Christ. It’s the second person of the blessed trinity.
The Eucharist is the fullness of the Divinity of Jesus Christ completely: body and blood, soul and divinity. And because that worship is due to the consecrated host and consecrated wine, then we should, in the perfect realm of strong faith, be willing even to give our lives for the consecrated host. I would like to think that I would be willing to do that.
And in some ways I kind of already have. Because I love women; I love children; I would love to have a family. I’ve always been drawn to that. And I would love to have a more lucrative career, but I gave it all up for the Eucharist. My draw to the priesthood was the Eucharist. I tell everybody it was wearing black all the time, but that’s not really the answer. The draw was the Eucharist. That’s the reason I became a priest.
In the Catholic Church we have seven sacraments, but only one of them deserves to be called the Blessed Sacrament, because of the seven sacraments the Blessed Sacrament, the Eucharist, is the only one of them that gives us God Himself. Baptism doesn’t give us God, nor does Confession. But the Eucharist gives us God in the fullness of his divinity, Himself. It’s very scriptural.
There are so many different scripture passages, but I always focus on two of them. Here is the background first: If you were to think of the very first story about the life of Jesus ever written down, what would you think it is?
Let me back up even more. When we go to Mass and we hear the readings from St. Paul’s Letters to the Romans or the Corinthians or the Ephesians, etc., one thing a lot of people don’t know is that Paul was dead before the first gospel was ever written. So the first gospel written was Mark’s. Paul had been dead for probably seven years before Mark’s was written. So when Paul was writing these letters, and he talks about the Good News or about the gospel, he’s not talking about a book. He’s talking about a story, the story and the message of Jesus. And in all 13 letters attributed to St. Paul in the New Testament only once does Paul retell a story from the life of Jesus. And that is the story of the Last Supper. So think about it: the very first thing ever written down in narrative style from the life of Jesus was the Last Supper.
And it comes from Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, Chapter 11:
23 For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over, took bread,
24 and, after he had given thanks, broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”
25 In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”
26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.
27 Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord.
28 A person should examine himself, and so eat the bread and drink the cup.
29 For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself.
30 That is why many among you are ill and infirm, and a considerable number are dying.
Paul is saying if you’re receiving the Eucharist without believing it, you’re getting sick because of it. Pretty powerful stuff. The very first narrative of the life of Jesus: the Last Supper. All about the Eucharist.
That’s not nearly as significant as another passage. In the whole Bible, the single most important passage or part in regard to the Eucharist is John 6. Let me set the stage. It’s one of the longest chapters in the whole Bible, so the only miracle that is recorded in all four gospels is the miracle of the loaves and the fishes, other than the Resurrection, but that doesn’t count. And every single time it’s extraordinarily rich with Eucharistic symbolism. And we could go through each version of that and point out all the symbols. I’m not going to do that. Instead I’m going to focus on just one scene.
The scene of John 6 is immediately after the multiplication of the loaves, and then the passage starts of Jesus giving a super long narrative where he is repetitive to the point that we might think of telling him, “OK, we get it.” But what scripture scholars say is that anything in the scriptures that is repetitive is highly important. When something is repeated over and over again, it is something that is highly important.
I’m going to record here a short section of John 6 during this long monologue that happens right after the multiplication of the loaves. Again, you are familiar with this, but you will see the repetition.
51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”
52 The Jews quarreled among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us [his] flesh to eat?”
[I’m going to pause here for a moment to explain something. For the Jewish people they were not allowed to touch a corpse, a dead body. That would have rendered them ritually unclean for seven days. That means that they wouldn’t have been able to worship or even congregate among other Jewish people for seven days—for simply touching a corpse. And so what Jesus was saying was abhorrent to them, because he’s talking about eating his flesh and drinking his blood. So as abhorrent as this is for us to think about it’s even more so for the Jews.]
53 Jesus said to them, “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.
54 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day.
55 For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.
56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.
57 Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me.
58 This is the bread that came down from heaven. Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever.”
59 These things he said while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.
60 Then many of his disciples who were listening said, “This saying is hard; who can accept it?”
66 As a result of this, many [of] his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.
So Jesus is repeatedly saying the necessity of eating his flesh and drinking his blood caused a number of his disciples to go away. They left. And if I were to have kept on reading, you would not have heard Jesus run after them and try to change their minds or his words. He let them go. He totally let them go. In fact he even upped the ante a bit. As soon as he got done saying this and all these disciples left him—remember: he’d just gotten done feeding the 5,000—he turns to the 12, and he says, “Are you going to leave, too?” He was ready to sacrifice everything that he’d accomplished up to that point in regard to gathering disciples for the sake of what he was saying—of eating his flesh and drinking his blood.
St. Peter, in response to being asked, “Are you going to leave, too?” says, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
But imagine what is going on in the minds of those twelve apostles. This is the first time they had heard him talk about eating his flesh and drinking his blood, which is like crazy talk! So we can imagine that all these guys are thinking, “This is nuts! But we’re going to stick with him, because we’ve seen some amazing things so far, but we don’t get what he’s saying. It’s crazy!”
But now, fast forward 12 months, because I think this is 12 months before the Last Supper. And at the Last Supper? What does Jesus say? He takes this bread, this wine, “This is my body; this is my blood. Do this in remembrance of me.”
You can imagine around that last supper table, or whatever it was, little lightbulbs going off and their thinking, “This is what he meant! This is what he meant all those months ago when he said, “Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood you will not have life within you.”
If I had kept reading, another thing to note is at the end of that very scene? It’s the first time that it is mentioned that Judas is going to betray Jesus. In light of the Eucharist. It’s the first time that we have the sense that Judas is inspired to betray Jesus because of his teaching about eating his flesh and drinking his blood.
There’s obviously the component of faith when it comes to this, because when we look at the Eucharist, it looks like a stale old piece of unleavened bread. And it still looks like wine. But you know, God gave us so much more than our senses. He gave us our faith and reason.
One of the little analogies I use in regard to this idea of faith and belief is I ask people how many of you believe George Washington ever existed? How many of you actually voted for him? How many of you have ever seen a photograph of him? Anyone heard a recording of his voice? No! Anybody met anybody that actually met him? But you know he existed! Right? Why do we believe he existed? Because we know that there are 200 and 40 some years of lived tradition in the United States of America of biographers writing books from people that did meet and know him, and we just know that even though we don’t have anyone around us that has any experiential knowledge of him, we still believe because of that lived tradition of those who did know him.
It’s actually easier to believe in the presence of God, the Blessed Sacrament, the presence of Christ in the Eucharist, than it is to believe in George Washington, because he’s the one who said it. He’s the one who said, “This is my body; this is my blood. Do this in remembrance of me.”
Believing in Christ in the Eucharist should really be made somewhat simple by this little explanation. Some years ago someone took the time to do something somewhat weird. Imagine if you went down to Park Point, and you grabbed a handful of sand, and then you put it on a table, and you counted every single grain. And for an adult male, a handful of sand is about 5,000 grains. Think to yourself, how many grains of sand are on Park Point? Then expand that to how many grains of sand are in the state of Minnesota with its ten to fifteen thousand lakes? How many grains of sand are in the United States? How many grains of sand are on the entire planet earth? We can’t even fathom it, can we?
There are more stars in the universe than there are grains of sand on the planet, Earth. We are in the galaxy called the Milky Way, which has hundreds of millions of stars. And there are hundreds of millions of other galaxies like ours. So when you think about the claim of Christianity? Christianity without faith is the most asinine religion that has ever been conceived. Because what we make the claim of is that the Creator of this universe, of all these stars that far exceed the grains of sands on the planet, Earth? This God who made all of this came to our planet!
You know how stupid that sounds without faith. We are microbes feeding off of a speck of dust, revolving around a small star in an average size galaxy, and we say that God became one of us and died for us, because he loved us. Right! Doesn’t that sound ridiculous? It is, without faith.
So, if we can make such a ridiculous claim of belief that God who created the entire cosmos became one of us, then it should be super simple to take the next step and say, “You know what? He also becomes Eucharist, because he said so.”
And if he said so, how can we not believe it? If we believe that one and the same God created the entire universe and came here, then belief and faith in Christ’s presence in the Blessed Sacrament is the most logical, obvious step in our Christian faith. Because he’s the one who said it. And if we are going to say that we believe who he says he is, then we better believe what he says.
Scott Hahn, a Presbyterian preacher who converted to Catholicism, gave this little analogy. He said, “Go around a room sometime and have everyone say what they think the greatest miracle in the Bible was. You might get five different answers, but chances are they’re not going to say the greatest miracle. The greatest miracle was actually creation itself. Because if you think about it, God created everything out of nothing. There wasn’t dust, and then he created everything out of dust. There weren’t elements. He created everything out of nothing. So the words of creation are the greatest miracle. But greater than the words of creation are the words of consecration at Mass. [You know, the words the priest says at Mass: “This is my body; this is my blood.”] At the words of creation they brought forth creation, but the words of consecration bring forth the Creator.”
So at every single Mass we go to we see a greater miracle happen than the greatest miracle recorded in the sacred texts. With the words of creation came forth creation, but the words of consecration bring forth the Creator.
So this is why the Catholic Church puts a very high premium on Sunday Mass, the Sunday obligation, although I don’t like that word; I like to say, “Sunday necessity.” If Jesus repeatedly said, almost ad nauseum, in John 6, “Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood you shall not have life within you,” then we should understand why the Church puts such an obligation on us to go to Mass to receive the Eucharist. When Jesus says these words, he’s not talking about biological life, he’s talking about spiritual and divine life.
Here’s the thing. When it came to blood, you know how the Jewish dietary laws prohibited the drinking of blood? Their belief was blood was the life force of that animal. And so when Jesus says to eat his flesh and drink his blood, he is saying (if you don’t) you will not have divine life—his life force.
The idea of why the Church puts this obligation on us is not because it is trying to boss us around. The sole purpose of the Church is saving souls. This is why I always encourage weekday Mass. We cannot fathom the value to our immortal soul of receiving the Eucharist until we get to the “pearly gates.”
A great quote from St. Padre Pio is, “It would be easier for the earth to exist without the sun than without the sacrifice of the Mass.”
There’s an urban legend about a Lutheran pastor talking to a Catholic priest, asking, “Do you really believe that’s God Himself in the Eucharist?” And the priest answers, “Yes, I really do believe that.” And the Lutheran pastor says, “Then I couldn’t bring myself to crawl to your Church, because I would not be worthy enough.”
So when we walk into our Churches, our knees should tremble a bit: we are truly in the presence of the fullness of the divinity of God; the very one who made the created universe is in the tabernacle.
There’s a tabernacle in La Crosse, Wisconsin, that has emblazoned on top of it that says, “What the world could not contain, Love imprisons here.”
There was a baby born at the same time Jesus was being crucified—right around 33 A. D. And he grew up a Christian and became the bishop of Antioch—this is St. Ignatius of Antioch. He will give you the idea that this information about the Eucharist is nothing new; we didn’t just come up with this recently. Remember, he was probably alive a generation after Jesus’ death. He said, “The Eucharist is the medicine of immortality and the antidote against dying.”
—Father Richard Kunst
Celebrating ‘The Source and Summit of Our Faith’
Corpus Christi Sunday
Ever since I was a seminarian my personal spirituality has been focused on the Eucharist and Eucharistic adoration, or, as Bishop Fulton Sheen referred to it, the “daily holy hour.” As a member of the vocations’ team in our diocese, I was very happy to note that spending time with Christ in the Blessed Sacrament is something most of our seminarians and recently ordained priests also practice. In stating that, of course, I know that Eucharistic adoration is common among our priests as a whole, and it is increasing in popularity among the laity as well, as evidenced in the growing number of adoration chapels throughout the country, not to mention the opportunities afforded the faithful in many of our parishes.
In the month of June, we have a feast day set aside to focus on Christ’s presence in the Blessed Sacrament. The second Sunday following Pentecost is the feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, or simply Corpus Christi. The feast day was established at least in part as a result of a Eucharistic miracle that happened in Bolsena, Italy, in 1263.
The story, which is infused with legend, has it that a priest who was on his way to Rome on a pilgrimage stopped to rest and say Mass at a church in the small town of Bolsena. Having for years struggled with faith in Christ’s true presence in the Eucharist, during his Mass at the consecration the host he held started to bleed.
After Urban V, the pope at the time, was notified of the miracle, he established the feast day inspired in part by the miracle. Today you can travel to Orvieto, Italy, where the bloody corporal (small altar cloth) that was used during the Mass of the miracle is housed in a beautiful reliquary in the town’s cathedral.
The real, true presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, something that we often take either too lightly or for granted, happens to be referred to by the Second Vatican Council as the source and summit of our faith. How often are we in the line to receive Communion without giving it much thought? When we go to Communion, we are doing the most important thing of our entire week: receiving the fullness of God’s divinity into our very selves!
Most saints in our history have had a deep and burning devotion to Christ in the Eucharist, and some of them in their devotion have left us some beautiful words on which to ponder and meditate.
My favorite quote about the Eucharist and the Mass comes from the great 20th-century mystic, Saint Padre Pio, who said, “It would be easier for the Earth to exist without the sun than without the sacrifice of the Mass.” Read that a couple times to have it sink in. If only we all had that faith in the Mass!
St. Ignatius of Antioch was likely an infant when Jesus was crucified, so we consider him one of the earliest church fathers. As a near contemporary with Jesus, what he says about the Eucharist gives us a good indication of the Christian faith in the first generations of the church. Ignatius said, “The Eucharist is the medicine of immortality and the antidote against dying.”
St. Alphonsus de Liguori writes extensively about the Eucharist. A couple of thoughts he brings up are not dogmatic but good to think about in how we prepare to receive Communion and how we pray after having received it. He said that if we did not receive our first Communion until our 100th birthday, we would not have sufficient time to properly prepare ourselves. That is something to ponder if we are repeatedly late to Mass. We should arrive in the church early enough to try and properly dispose ourselves to the important thing we are about to take part in. And for those who tend to leave Mass after going through the Communion line, Liguori said that after we receive the Eucharist, twelve angels surround us, worshiping what we just received. Needless to say the parking lot is not the appropriate place to give thanks to God for the great gift he has just given us. Leaving Mass early is a bad idea.
St. Jean Vianney, the patron saint of all priests, also speaks eloquently about the Eucharist and the priesthood when he writes: “How great is the priest! The priest will only be understood in heaven. Were he understood on earth people would die, not of fear but of love.” He also said, “There is nothing as great as the Eucharist. . . . If God had something more precious he would have given it to us.” Vianney also said, “All the good works in the world are not equal to the holy sacrifice of the Mass, because they are the works of men, but the Mass is the work of God.”
And although not a saint, there is a tabernacle in a church in La Crosse, Wisconsin that sums up the Eucharist. Etched right onto the doors of the tabernacle are the words: “What the world could not contain, love imprisons here.”