St Francis Q&A

Friday, July 07, 2006

"This is a hard teaching"

Mass and Adoration tonight! All bloggers are invited to join me tonight (7/7) in St Andrew's Church for Mass (7 pm) and Adoration of Jesus in the Eucharist (7:30-8:30). We'll have some prayerful music and I'll offer a spiritual reflection. These are two great ways to be with our Lord, but especially on First Friday (of the month).
Recently, a SAA blogger wrote the following about the Eucharist: "I JUST DON'T GET IT!!!! I can't really explain but I try to believe that it's God but somehow I just can't. That's a problem that sometimes occurs. The ENORMITY of it all just overwhelms me that I am scared to even try to understand the Eucharist fully. I'd feel safer thinking that it's just a symbol."

This is really good stuff! I don't mean to belittle the anonymous blogger's struggle at all because "this is a hard teaching" (John 6:60). But, this is what faith is all about. A connection has been made for "Anon": he/she has heard the Truth about the Eucharist. For that reason, Anon, you do get it!! You are so right to say that the ENORMITY OF IT ALL IS OVERWHELMING. It is. But, so many Catholics never even approach that point because it never registers with them that it's anything more than bread.

Now, a few practical points, to help you and all those who struggle with the Real Presence in your faith:

1) Trying to understand the Eucharist is like trying to understand the Trinity: 'not gonna do it'. We believe THAT transubstantiation occurs (the substances of bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ while retaining their qualities) but we don't understand HOW it happens; it's a mystery.
2) Please read John 6. This is where Jesus teaches about the Eucharist. Neither in this chapter nor in any of the Last Supper accounts does Jesus use the word 'symbol'. The word symbol, in relation to the Eucharist, was first used in the 1500s by the Protestant Reformers.
3) To use an analogy, monopoly money is symbolic only; it means nothing in the real world.

Martin Luther was a Catholic priest who helped start the "protests" against the Church 500 years ago. He changed "this is my body" to "this symbolizes my body" in his biblical translation in order to meet the new theology of his movement. 'The Eucharist is a symbol only' is man-made; the Church has condemned it as heresy (denial of a truth that must be believed in faith). It doesn't appear anywhere in Scripture, Tradition, or in the teachings of the Magisterium. It is not safe at all, then, to believe that the Eucharist is symbolic only; in fact, heresy puts one's soul in REAL DANGER!

The Church has believed for 2000 years that the Eucharist is the Real Presence of Jesus Christ- Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity - because of 4 words: "This is my body". Jesus said these words at the Last Supper when he instituted the Eucharist (and the priesthood). Before that, he spoke in real, literal terms to thousands of Jews when he taught about the Eucharist: "whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal flesh is real food and my blood is real drink" (John 6:54,55). Almost all of them rejected his teaching and left him that day. He didn't stop them, and say 'hey, you all misunderstood me'. They understood him correctly, and didn't believe him.

The Apostles also understood him correctly, but they DID believe Him even though they didn't understand. "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we believe" (Jn 6:68).


  • What a sad thing Martin Luther did.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7:57 PM  

  • Father Greg ,
    I am glad that you went into this subject.I like learning about my faith.Could you , when you have time help me understand other religions (specially from the middle east ) and other forms of Christianity .if you know ?


    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:50 PM  

  • Willie, thanks for the questions, but they are a bit on the general side. Could you be more specific? Which religions exactly are you looking to learn more about? Are you looking to learn about doctrine...or history..or similarities / differences with the Church?

    I would be happy to pursue this with you, but would need a little more focus to it. For example, regarding 'other forms of Christianity'... there are about 30,000 organized forms of Christianity.

    If you can hone in on one or two, and let me know what you'd like to know about them, then I can get back to you. Thanks, buddy!


    By Blogger Fr Greg, at 12:07 AM  

  • Wow I had no idea there were so many.I guess the root of my question had to do with when I'm speaking to friends who are not catholic I dont know anything about their religion for the most part some are baptist and lutherans and pentacostal.Some are from the church of the redeemer and a couple of mormans .About the middle east I was curious about islam .I dont know if I make any sense but any light you can shed on this would be great.


    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:00 AM  

  • I have several friends of various (non Christian) ethnic backrounds and it is really fascinating to learn about each others' cultures, whether it be the types of food eaten, languages spoken, ethnic costumes worn etc. I especially find it interesting about the different types of worship there is in the world. As Catholics is it okay to attend these different houses of worship (not replacing Mass at all) just out of curiousity?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:19 AM  

  • Hi Willie to answer your question on learning more about the Mormons go to the following websites: and

    Its very different from what we as Catholics believe.

    Anony I like that name it rhymes with my real name!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:31 PM  

  • Willie, thanks for narrowing it down a bit. I asked our seminarian, Dan, to help with some info about Islam, and he practically wrote a book! Thanks, Dan, for all your help. His comments are below.

    A good reference for you in your education about other religions is the website It's a Catholic encylopedia online! Look up "Protestantism", and you'll find tons of info about the different denominations.

    Also, it would be good to get a copy of the book, "Vatican Council II", published by Costello, at your nearest bookstore (Newman bookstore near Catholic Univ, e.g.). In it you find the document that Dan references, "Nostra Aetate", which speaks about non-Christian religions.

    Let me know if I can help any more. If you have specific questions about doctrine as a result of discussions with people of other faiths, it's always good to ask a priest. We have heard most, if not all, of the arguments for the past 2000 years!

    Islam was founded by Mohammed, who lived 570 - 632 A.D. on the Arabian peninsula, mostly in or near the city of Mecca. Over a period of years beginning in 610, Islam teaches, Mohammed transcribed exactly the words that God spoke into his ear in Arabic, which became the Koran. He preached total submission ("islam") to the one God, Allah (which is the word for "God" used even by some Christians who speak that language), who is described as "all-compassionate" but not as love. Whereas Catholics recognize Christ as the incarnate Word of God, Muslims look to the words of the Koran, which are to be obeyed, not translated, interpreted, or understood by reason.

    Islam sees itself as the completion and correction of Judaism and Christianity, which has led to a complicated relationship. Figures like Abraham, Mary, and Jesus are honored, but teaching about them is significantly different. Whereas pagans are told to convert or die, Jews and Christians have been encouraged to convert, and had their religious freedom restricted and extra taxes imposed if they did not. Unlike the efforts of Catholicism to take on the good cultural forms of each culture in which it takes root, Islam seems to carry its Arab cultural forms and language wherever it goes.

    Due to political, cultural, and religious conditions of the time, Islam was able to spread incredibly quickly, especially through military campaigns, across (Christian) North Africa, through Spain, and into France. The Muslim army was turned back at Tours, in central France, in 732 (just 100 years after Mohammed's death!), and pulled back south of the Pyrenees. (The Christian reconquest of Spain would not be complete until 1492.) It also spread quickly through the (Christian) Middle East, influencing even the Christian iconoclasm controversy of the 700s; although it was not able to take the Eastern Christian stronghold of Constantinople (now Istanbul) until 1453. After this, the threat of Muslim Turkish invasion in southeastern Europe helped to keep the papacy distracted from Church reform, which helped to lead to the Protestant Reformation. Whether it has been wars, crusades, philosophical debates, proselytizing, piracy, imperialism, exploitation, or terrorism, there has been a constant relationship between Christianity and Islam for these 1400 years. Aside from the military reconquest of Spain, it seems that no land once Muslim has converted to something else.

    There are "Five Pillars" of Muslim belief and practice. (1) Its creed: “There is no god but Allah, and Mohammed is his prophet.” (2) Prayer: the praying of certain prayers five times a day while facing Mecca. (3) Zakat: commitment to give alms. (4) Fast during month of Ramadan (a total fast from food, drink, and other things, from sunrise to sunset; there is a family meal after sunset). (5) Hajj: making a pilgrimage to Mecca, at least once in one's lifetime.

    A major division in Islam originated in a disagreement over who would succeed Mohammed's son-in-law Ali (who had succeeded Mohammed) after his death in 661. From those who insisted that the successor ("caliph") must come from Mohammed's family, and so supported Ali's sons, came the Shiites, who make up 10 percent of Muslims today; from those who said the successor could come from Mohammed's clan, and so supported someone else, came the Sunnis, who make up 90 percent.

    The Caliphate governed a mostly unified Muslim world for several centuries, moving from Mecca to Damascus to Baghdad -- until it was destroyed by invading Mongols in 1258. Since then there has been no central authority in Islam. Western commentators who say that Islam needs a "Reformation" overlook the fact that it is structurally much more like Protestantism than like the Catholic Church, and ignore the European religious wars that followed the Reformation; they really mean that they hope Islam will be secularized.

    Sometimes people wonder if the Koran teaches the sort of violence that we have seen from some Muslim terrorists. From what I have read, it depends on which verses one reads: some support it, some don’t.

    The Second Vatican Council spoke of Islam briefly in #16 of its Dogmatic Constitution on the Church ("Lumen Gentium"; and a little more extensively in #3 of its Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions ("Nostra Aetate"; The reader should keep in mind that these documents are not meant to be a comprehensive evaluation, but a quick statement of what may be said positively.

    By Blogger Fr Greg, at 12:04 PM  

  • Anon, regarding Catholics attending non-Catholic services, you can read the following excerpts from the Vatican II document, "Directory on Ecumenism", that addresses your question. In general terms, Catholics may attend other houses of worship for services (but never to replace Mass, as you said), but cannot participate fully in them (cannot receive their version of Holy Communion, i.e.).

    Another priest has written a bit more about this document; if you want to read his comments, check out this address:
    "Catholics may be allowed to attend occasionally the liturgical services of other brethren if they have reasonable ground, e.g., arising out of a public office or function, blood relationship or friendship, desire to be better informed, an ecumenical gathering, etc. In these cases, with due regard to what has been said above--there is nothing against Catholics taking some part in the common responses, hymns and actions of the community of which they are guests--so long as they are not at variance with the Catholic faith. The same principles govern the manner in which our separated brethren may assist at services in Catholic churches. This participation, from which reception of the Eucharist is always excluded, should lead the participants to esteem the spiritual riches we have in common and at the same time make them more aware of the gravity of our separation" ("Ad totam ecclesiam", 1967,#59).

    By Blogger Fr Greg, at 12:15 PM  

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