The Eucharist is not simply a remembering of Christ’s sacrificial death but its representation. “The sacrifice of Christ and the sacrifice of the Eucharist are one single sacrifice”—the one “bloody” and the other “unbloody” (CCC, 1367). In this sacrifice is united the whole Church, including those in heaven and all the faithful departed. Christ doesn’t sacrifice himself again and again; rather his one perfect, eternal sacrifice on the Cross is represented so that we may share in it.
Christ is present with us in many ways, but uniquely so in the Eucharist. We call this presence “real” because it is full and complete: “the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ and, therefore, the whole Christ is truly, really, and substantially contained” (CCC, 1374).
At the words of the Priest and through the power of the Holy Spirit, the bread and wine are changed to the Body and Blood of Christ. The change is one of actual substance—transubstantiation. Furthermore, the bread and wine each become entirely Christ’s body and blood: “Christ is present whole and entire in each of the species and whole and entire in each of their parts” (CCC, 1377). The substance of the bread and wine are changed into the substance of the Body and Blood although the physical attributes (accidents) of the species remain—they still taste and smell of bread and wine. Only through the virtue of faith can we detect the Body and Blood, not through any physical analysis.
Much symbolism is associated with the Eucharist. For example, the physical nourishment of bread and wine suggests the spiritual nourishment of the Eucharistic host. The sharing of a meal symbolizes the coming together of the community. These symbols help us to better understand the Eucharist. But the consecrated bread and wine are not symbols. A symbol points to something beyond itself. The Eucharistic species are not symbols because they are truly the Body and Blood.
The Real Presence of Christ is displayed in what is sometimes called the “Bread of Life Discourse” from the 6th chapter of the Gospel of John. In this critical passage, Jesus explicitly identifies himself with the Body and Blood of the Eucharist: “I am the bread of life...whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him” (6:35, 56). This was and is a highly controversial statement: At the time, it led many to reject Jesus because they could not accept this radical claim.