John 6:53 So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.
Luke 24:30-31 When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight.
It's very clear here that Jesus is saying that his flesh and blood provide spiritual nourishment. Not just as the flesh and blood itself, but in the action of feeding and drinking of his flesh and blood. In the book of Luke in the walk to Emmaus, Jesus revealed himself to his disciples in the breaking of the bread. They did not recognize Jesus until that very moment. In all scriptural studies, you have to look at the context and the theology and why the author chose to reveal certain aspects of Jesus' life within the text. This story clearly acknowledges that Jesus had resurrected, the disciples knew and felt his presence but it was not made known until he broke the bread.
Catholics continued this celebration from the time of the resurrection until today. We see even in the book of acts and in the letter from St. Paul to the Corinthians how the celebration of the Mass had already begun.
So does that mean we're cannibals like some would like to claim in order to diminish and discriminate against our apostolic tradition? No - because they are misunderstanding the theology behind the Eucharist. Here are the key points...
1. Scripture clearly defends our position of receiving the Eucharist as the body and blood of Jesus Christ. He does not say "this is a symbol of my body" or "this is like my body"... He says "THIS IS MY BODY" THIS IS MY BLOOD".
2. The Eucharist was believed even by the early apostles and disciples to be more than just a symbol or an act to remember Jesus. They already believed that when you receive the Eucharist, it's equal to receiving Jesus Christ within you.
1 Corinthians 11:27-30Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.
3. The Eucharist is not the Jesus that walked the earth before his resurrection. The Eucharist IS the RESURRECTED Lord. This is the Jesus that had risen from the dead. He was a different form from before. He is now able to change forms, change the way he looks. He's able to appear and disappear. Luke 24:31 Suddenly, their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And at that moment he disappeared! also see John 20:19 with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”
This is the resurrected Lord we receive at the mass. This Jesus doesn't have to die again. This Jesus is now transformed. When we receive the Eucharist, we receive the risen Lord who is able to change forms.
4. Want some more recent proofs? Here is a website that explains several Eucharistic miracles. There have been times when the wine turned to real and physical blood, and before people's eyes, the Eucharist began to bleed. http://www.therealpresence.org/eucharst/mir/a3.html
5. So why are we called to go to mass every week? We're in need of Christ's spiritual nourishment through the Eucharist. "Unless you eat and drink of the flesh of the son of man, you have no life within you". The longer you go without receiving the Eucharist, the more you are missing out on the incredible gift of his true presence.
You can connect to Jesus through Scripture and receive graces through other ways, but the primary way our Lord gives us grace is through the reception of the Eucharist, and the other sacraments. For a Catholic, the Eucharist is the SOURCE AND THE SUMMIT. Yes, the homily is nice, and leads our minds and hearts to the Lord, but even the greatest homily, talk, lecture, or preaching can't physically bring Jesus into our midst.
Here's the way I personally look at it...
Other churches focus on the pastor, and his ability to preach and inspire through his words and quotations of scripture. As a Catholic, we have the same scriptures. We have inspiring words and preaching of our pastor. The difference is our focus is not on the pastor and his reflection of Jesus - but on Jesus himself present among us in the Eucharist. In the Catholic liturgy - it's focal point is NOT on the "talk" but on the Liturgy of the word (Scripture) and the liturgy of the Eucharist (the consecration). Liturgy when done well will emphasize the things.
The mass is about community - receiving the Lord - and then most importantly, taking Jesus Christ within us to the world around us. As we approach Easter, we reflect on several things. We experience his call to be a servant of all in the washing of the feet. We are given the Eucharist in his last supper. In his sacrificial death and resurrection, we are given the incredible gift of Grace and the ability to saved and inter the gates of heaven. As the tomb is rolled away on Sunday morning, may you find Jesus Christ awaiting your arrival. As you receive the Eucharist on Sunday morning, may you find his presence irresistible.