Christ's presence in Eucharist is more than symbolism


Eucharistic adoration was part of the 2008 International Eucharistic Congress in Quebec City.

March 26, 2012

Through the priest, God's Word, prayer and singing, one can experience Jesus. But nowhere is Jesus' presence more real than in the Eucharist.

"Sometimes when I'm gazing up at the Eucharist, the great monstrance on the altar, it often seems to me there's this window onto God," said Father Stephen Hero, vice-rector of St. Joseph Seminary.

"A cloud of incense marking the presence of God's glory, with sunlight making the Host glow, the Eucharist is like this translucent window through which the glory of God shines through."

He spoke March 14 at Newman Theological College on Real Presence, the third in a monthly series of six catechetical sessions on the Mass, presented by the offices of liturgy and catechesis, and led by priests of the archdiocese. More than 50 people attended; others viewed his presentation via a live webcast.

Hero began his talk by sharing an account about a good Catholic friend. They were discussing Mass, and when Hero mentioned the body and blood of Christ, his friend replied, "You mean that symbolically, right?"

Her response was the same as many Catholics and most Protestants, believing that the bread and wine are merely representative of Christ, not his actual body and blood.


However, the Church has always taken Jesus' words at the Last Supper literally. If the Holy Eucharist were a symbol, then adoring it would be idolatry. But the Church has asserted for 2,000 years that the Eucharist is not a symbol.

"The Eucharist is truly the mystery of faith, as the priest sings during the Eucharistic Prayer. I know there are inexhaustible heights and depths to the Eucharist," said Hero.

Fr. Stephen Hero

The Holy Eucharist is handled with great reverence because Christ himself is present in the consecrated Host. The Holy Eucharist is sacred food for the nourishment of the soul, said Hero.

It is an important, sacred and crucial aspect of Catholic worship because it's regarded as the real and substantial body and blood of Christ under the appearance of bread and wine.


Hero did not try to defend the faith in his presentation. Rather, he took a more theological approach for those seeking understanding. To do so, he explained the parallel between the Passover in Exodus to the Last Supper described in the Gospels.

In the Gospels the same phrase recurs (Matthew 26.26, Mark 14.22 and Luke 22.19) to describe the Last Supper on Holy Thursday, the day before Christ was crucified. Jesus took the bread, broke it, gave it to his disciples, and said, "This is my body." This is also repeated by St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 11.24.

More than a few times in the New Testament Jesus commanded, "Eat my flesh and drink my blood." The Church reasons that if Jesus had intended these words as merely symbolic, he wouldn't allow so many of his followers to leave with such a serious misunderstanding.

"The Eucharist will be the way that believers will share in that one-time saving event: the cross and resurrection. This is the central saving event of all human history. It is the event of salvation," said Hero.


"Everything else was preparing the way for this. It is the perfect sacrifice. Jesus is the priest, the perfect gift."

His key message on the mystery and dogma of faith is that the substances of bread and wine are really changed into the body and blood, the soul and the divinity of Christ by the priest when he says the words of consecration at Mass.

Jesus gives his whole self, and sustains us. People consume Jesus' body and blood that they may become more like him. The taste and appearance of bread and wine remain to make the transformation acceptable.

Having the real presence of Jesus, and receiving it, is an intensification of the general Christian sacrament of divine union.

The sacrament of Holy Communion gives people the promise of eternal life. Just as food develops the body and keeps it healthy, so too the spiritual food, which is the body and blood of Christ, strengthens the soul so that it may grow continually in grace.

"Red wine, transformed by Christ's prayer of thanksgiving (into his Precious Blood), is a radiant sign of God's goodness, God's gift of himself to us," said Hero.

The next catechesis session is April 18 at 7 p.m. with Father Huy Nguyen.