True Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist | Podcast with Bishop Robert Hermann

Lisa Johnston

It's the source and summit of our faith. It nourishes our souls and takes away sin. In the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, time stands still.

The Eucharist. When we receive Him, He's really there. And perhaps it's the closest we will get to heaven on this earth.

Admittedly, the Real Presence in the Eucharist is sometimes one of those subjects that Catholics take for granted. But when we understand that Jesus, through the Eucharist, has the ability to cleanse our own sins and draws us into a deeper relationship with God, how can we resist that?

The Real Presence

Belief in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist is difficult to comprehend as an intellectual experience, said Bishop Emeritus Robert J. Hermann. Rather, we must be able to embrace His Real Presence as a faith experience from the heart.

"When Jesus said, take and eat, this is my Body; take and drink this is my Blood, we literally believe His word," said Bishop Hermann. "We're taking on the words of Christ Himself. ... He told us, unless you eat ... My Body and drink My Blood, you shall not have life in you."

The Eucharist is seen as the centerpiece of all of the Church's sacraments, because of the presence of Christ. The Council of Trent laid out that in the Eucharist, "the whole Christ is truly, really and substantially contained. This presence is called real because it is presence in the fullest sense. It is a substantial presence by which Christ, God and man, makes Himself wholly and entirely present."

Church fathers also have spoken about the importance of the Real Presence. St. Thomas Aquinas noted that understanding the Real Presence, "cannot be comprehended by the senses, but only by faith, which relies on divine authority." St. Cyril of Alexandria also said, "Do not doubt whether this is true, but rather receive the words of the Savior in faith, for since He is the truth, He cannot lie."

Father Edward Nemeth, who was ordained an archdiocesan priest in 2008, said he often explains to Catholics that their understanding of the Real Presence in the Eucharist is not likely to happen overnight.

"Faith in the Eucharist and true love for the Eucharist is something that develops," said the associate pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Imperial. "It's a cooperation between us asking God to give us a deeper faith and our own taking steps to learn more about the Eucharist. That allows God to respond and give us a greater faith."

But that requires some sweat equity on the part of the faithful, said Father Nemeth. "We can't just say God needs to download this faith in my mind and then I'll believe," he said. "We have to do a little work as well."

The Mass makes His presence possible

To understand the Real Presence, one must understand the Liturgy — that which makes the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist possible through the hands of a priest.

Father Nemeth explained that through the Mass, we are continually making present the sacrifice at Calvary.

"Because God loves us so much, he didn't want that event to be limited to those who were just living at that time," he said. "Every time we come to Mass, we're entering something timeless. We are able to stand at the foot of the Cross, like Mary and St. John. Because God wanted us to be able to share in the event of salvation across the centuries, for us to be able to be united exactly at that moment, He left us also the presence of Christ Himself in the Church."

Catholics and others sometimes view the Liturgy as something created only by humans, he said.

"And if it's a human creation, why do I need to pay much attention to it? Why do I even need to go?"

God gave humans the Liturgy as a way of sharing in His own divine life, said Father Nemeth. "This is how He wants us to worship Him. It's true that the Liturgy itself has been constructed by humans throughout the centuries, but if we look at it as the Eucharist is the gift that God gave us, this is how He best asks us to worship Him."

Adoration of Our Lord

Another way in which we can grow in our understanding of the R eal Presence is by participating in eucharistic adoration, said Bishop Hermann.

In adoration, "I look upon the Real Presence and I talk to Him as if He had a physical body like I do," said Bishop Hermann. "And I talk to Him and I listen to Him. I see Him as looking from His vantage point, as (He is) looking on the other side, on all of heaven ... the Father, Mary, the angels and the saints. So looking at the Host, as I see it, is the closest thing we can ever get to heaven on this earth. The Holy Eucharist is a window into eternity."

Bishop Hermann said he encourages Catholics to spend time in adoration, silently talking to Jesus as if He were a friend, and asking Him for His help in believing in the Real Presence. He said doing that is guaranteed to open a person's heart over time and let that understanding in.

"I really believe that if we keep it simple and just ask Jesus to help us, He will come through and help us develop a realization that it is Him truly present," he said. "That's why we need to pray to Him from the heart."

A gift we receive and give to others

The catechism teaches that the Eucharist takes away a human being's venial sin — a sin w hich does not destroy, but rather wounds a person's soul, and is forgivable.

"The holiness of the Eucharist is so much greater than our sinfulness," said Bishop Hermann.

That's why the Eucharist is seen as a "food for our souls," he said. "The love of the Eucharist reaches down and nurtures those areas within us and helps redeem them, because we know that the Eucharist is also medicine against sin. It heals those deep down hurts that we have. It heals the emptiness inside."

Father Nemeth explained that the Eucharist is not simply a gift that we must selfishly hold to ourselves. As in all of the sacraments of the Church, the Eucharist especially pours out graces — free, undeserved gifts from God Himself — to help us "courageously live our Christian faith outside of the Mass," he said.

"God isn't a God who dwells far away on top of a mountain," he said. "He's a God who dwells in the midst of His people. I think that's a beautiful image of the Eucharist itself. God dwells with us." 

More on the eucharist

The Eucharist is “the source and summit of the Christian life.” In addition, “the other sacraments, and indeed all ecclesiastical ministries and works of the apostolate, are bound up with the Eucharist and are oriented toward it. For in the blessed Eucharist is contained the whole spiritual good of the Church, namely Christ Himself, our Pasch” (CCC 1324).

Transubstantiation is the term used to designate the unique change of the eucharistic bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ. Transubstantiation indicates that through the consecration of the bread and wine, done at the hands of a priest, there is a change in the entire substance of bread into the Body of Christ and the wine into the Blood of Christ. This occurs even though the appearances, or “species” of bread and wine remain (CCC 1376).

The Eucharist is the true Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. This is something “that cannot be comprehended by the senses,” said St. Thomas Aquinas, “but only by faith, which relies on divine authority.” St. Cyril said, “Do not doubt whether this is true, but rather receive the words of the Savior in faith, for since He is the truth, He cannot lie” (CCC 1381).

To read more about the Real Presence in the Eucharist, visit the Real Presence Eucharistic Education and Adoration Association online at therealpresence.org.

Click below to listen to a podcast of Bishop Robert Hermann on the Eucharist.

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