Thursday, August 6, 2009



“Grandma, I wish I could receive the bread and wine at Mass like you do.”

“You will after you go to the classes and become Confirmed someday. It’s a very wonderful and serious thing to do.”

“But I can still line up and go up front to the priest with you and cross my arms in front of me. It’s so cool when the priest touches my head and blesses me. It reminds me of my baptism day.”

“Even though you can’t receive the Eucharist now, you are already a Catholic because of your baptism.”

“That’s a strange word. What’s the Eucharist?

“That means the bread and the wine. It comes from a Greek word meaning ‘thanksgiving.’ We are thankful to God for sending His Son Jesus to the people of the world so that whoever believes in Him and what He did for us when He died on the cross, can live forever with Him in heaven.”

“What I’d like to know is does the wine taste like blood and the little round white piece of something taste like a piece of body?”

“Before I explain that, let’s back up a bit, Jeffrey. Would you like to know a whole bunch of new words?”

“I’m always up for new words so I can use them in our Scrabble game!”

“We’ll start with some short ones and then throw a really long one at you, ok? Mass is what Catholics call our worship gathering and all that goes on there. It’s not the same as what your friend Jon calls their ‘service’ at the Baptist church where his family goes.”

“Yeah, I know it’s different because Jon says they sing a lot of songs with the words on a big screen, and then their pastor talks a long time about some verses in the Bible. Everyone brings his Bible to church and looks up in it what the pastor is preaching about. He said they have the bread and grape juice only once a month, and the juice is in tiny glasses, and they serve little squares of soft bread. Jon’s parents let him to take it too since he already asked Jesus to come into his heart.”

“OK, Jeffrey, here come more new words. The host is what the bread is called, and it comes in the form of a white, unleavened, pure wheat wafer. Real wine, not grape juice, is offered in a large silver or gold cup called a chalice.”

“Whoa. What’s ‘unleavened’ mean?”

“That means no salt or yeast or baking powder in it to make it rise like regular bread or biscuits. It is only wheat flour and water. The priest is doing all these things at the altar, which is the big table with the fancy tablecloth at the front of the church. After the host is consecrated and blessed by the priest, it becomes the body and blood of Jesus, and….”

“Stop again, Grandma. What do you mean consecrated and how does the priest do that?”

“He prays a special prayer and makes the sign of the cross over the elements, which is what we call the host and the wine. He asks God to change them into the body and blood of Jesus. Here comes the longest word: When that happens, it is called transubstantiation, the big word which means ‘change in its substance.’ After the bread is consecrated, it is holy and is called ‘The Blessed Sacrament.’

“Then it’s like magic? The bread and wine don’t look or taste like they did before?”

“No, not magic. That’s not what happens. Those elements do become the real body and blood of Jesus Christ. Catholics believe in The Real Presence, that Jesus is really there. The elements are not just symbols, like Jon’s church believes. Catholics believe exactly what Jesus said in the Bible in the gospel of John chapter 6. Jesus even gave his disciples the very words to say and what to do in Luke chapter 22 just before he died.”

“Let me get this straight, Grandma. The wine and the host are changed but they aren’t changed—but they are changed?”

“I’ll try to explain it a little more. Do you know what ‘matter’ is?”

“I think so. It’s stuff—like what everything is made of. I think we learned in science that it is something that occupies space. Something not invisible.”

“That’s good, Jeffrey. Now you have to think really, really deep on this—are you ready? All matter has two aspects: its substance and its appearance. The substance is what the thing is "deep down inside," so to speak. Its appearance is what we can observe with our five senses. The priest is given authority by the Catholic Church to consecrate the bread and wine. After he does, their appearance remains exactly the same, but their substance changes. The "breadness" and "wineness" disappear and in their places are Christ's body and blood.”

“Grandma, does that mean that the elements are really changed, but we don’t see any change? Could a high-powered microscope tell any difference?”

“A change does take place but not even a microscope can see it. And the answer is No to the question you first asked me, whether they taste like flesh and blood. The taste doesn’t change. Although the consecrated bread is no longer bread, when you swallow it, it acts in your body as though it were still ordinary bread. For instance, if someone is allergic to wheat-based food, he may have a reaction to it. If you were to drink lots of consecrated wine, you would get drunk. If someone with a cold or flu virus leaves germs on the chalice, someone might become ill. Bacteria and viruses are not transubstantiated.”

“What happens to the leftovers? Are they un-consecrated and go back to being plain bread and wine?”

“They remain consecrated and are very holy and precious. That’s why we must be so careful not to drop any crumbs or spill any wine. The priest puts the rest of the host that is not distributed during the Eucharist in an enclosed, locked, beautiful box-like receptacle called the Tabernacle which is usually located behind or to the side of the altar.”

“What does the priest do with it?”

“The Eucharist is taken to people who can’t come to Mass, like Catholics who are shut-in or those in the hospital or nursing homes. One of the consecrated wafers is displayed reverently in our Adoration Chapel for people to come there and pray and be with Jesus. We’ll talk about that sometime too, Jeffrey.”

Whew! What a lot to learn! I’m not sure I understand it all yet, but I know it’s not magic. It’s another one of those mysteries, but a really big one this time!”


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