One of the simplest objections I got over when I decided to become a Catholic had to be the Eucharist. Why? Because Jesus makes it so plain and evident that he is truly present in the host and that we must literally eat his body and drink his blood In John 6. Not only does he make this clear, but the Jews reaction to his statements makes his claims even more truthful.
Also, something that made the Eucharist more apparent was the Old Testament typology of the manna from the book of Exodus. If you aren’t familiar, the Old Testament has tons of what the author of Hebrews referred to as “shadows (Hebrews 8:5).” Essentially, when we discuss typology or “shadows” in the Old Testament this involves an event, object or person that later has full fruition or fulfillment in the New Testament. For example, Joseph is a type of Jesus and his life prefigures the Passion of Christ in many ways. Joseph and Jesus were both betrayed, ridiculed and stripped of their clothing, were robes, sold for coins, and later exalted as an authority like figure.
In John 6 we read Jesus very profound words about him being the bread of life. Jesus knew the story from Exodus 16 about the manna and God. However, he takes this Old Testament object (just as he did with many Old Testament teachings) and brings it to its fullest extent and meaning in his Incarnation.
Exodus 16 tells the story of how the manna and quail came to the Israelites. The manna was given by God to the Israelites while they were traveling in the wilderness. Israel was repeatedly stubborn and complained against God, but on this occasion, they were complaining about how God should’ve left them in Egypt with abundant food than to die hungry on their journey.
Then the Lord said to Moses, “Behold, I am about to rain bread from heaven for you, and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day, that I may test them, whether they will walk in my law or not.” This “bread from heaven” was to sustain the travelers and know that God truly was present to meet their physical and spiritual needs as they fled Egypt. It wasn’t a mere physical meal but also designed to show their obedience and trust to God who redeemed them out of Egypt.
Fast forward hundreds of years later when Jesus tells the crowd in John 6:48-51
48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50 This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
Here Jesus says many profound things
1) He definitively declares himself to be the divine by using “I am.” Noticeably in John, Jesus makes claims to divinity using several “I am” statements. Only Jews that were familiar with Exodus would’ve known the “I am” statement since God revealed himself to Moses by his covenant name using the same words (Ex 3:14). The name is loaded with unique attributes only related to God such as eternal power and self-existent being. The hearers recognize Jesus’ words but grumble because they couldn’t fathom how he could make such divine claims when they’re fully aware of his earthly lineage (41-42).
2) Jesus draws upon an Old Testament type to illustrate its ultimate fulfillment in him. The manna was given so that the Israelites would be sustained physically, but ultimately they died. The bread from heaven was given by God, but God wasn’t present in the manna to sustain eternal life as Jesus points out. Therefore a greater bread from heaven, one that’s imperishable and unfading (1 Pet 1: 4), came down to offer his life as a meal to dispense eternal life and healing.
Jesus declares that he is the true bread from heaven and whoever eats him will not die. He is making the claim that he is necessary for life. Jesus contrasts the manna, which was temporary, to his body, which is eternal. Jesus was convincing the Jews to think in an eternal way and stray away from the merely physical aspect of the bread given by God.
3) The Jews liked to boast over Moses, but he too was a type that prefigured the coming of Jesus. Moses died, but Jesus is eternal. Moses gave the law, but Jesus fulfilled the law. The Jews liked to think that Moses and the manna given by God were great signs, but before their eyes, the Son of God was in front of them instructing all to eat his body and flesh for eternal life, but yet many claimed this saying was too hard to grasp and abandoned him.
On a separate miracle of multiplying the loaves, Jesus told the crowd that followed him, “Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. (27).” Just as we eat food and it becomes a part of our life, so too does the Eucharist. When Catholics partake of the host and chalice, they’re supposed to be becoming more like Christ through his body, blood, soul, and divinity.
Unlike the other six sacraments of the Church that offers God’s grace, the Eucharist is the only sacrament in which Christ is truly present. Where the manna was given over a course of days, the Eucharist is the continual daily bread.
I don’t partake in the Eucharist, mainly because I haven’t been confirmed yet, but I have attended Adoration many times and I find it to be a peaceful and amazing way to further my devotion to Jesus Christ.
Until then, I will wait and behold the sacrament in Adoration and during Mass with my prayers for grace.
Where the Israelites temporarily gained with the manna, we ultimately find eternal more abundant life through Jesus Christ who is truly present in the Blessed Sacrament.