Why the Eucharist is Important
Many non-Catholics are quite happy to accept the Catholic teaching regarding the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist as something that the Catholic Church believes. They say that the Catholic Church has “these funny ideas” about their communion rites, and believes “some odd things” about the bread and wine used in their services. But, they continue, does that really matter? Their view seems to be “We all have some different ideas about the non-essentials, but on the essentials we agree. Can't we all just get along?”
Many Catholics seem to agree with them, choosing to remain silent on the matter of the Eucharist when it comes up. Many Catholics do not seem to understand the importance of the Eucharist, and what it actually means.
To suggest that Catholics should view their distinctive view of the Eucharist as important and be aware of how it differs from the non-Catholic position does not mean that a Catholic cannot or should not be friendly with a non-Catholic – far from it! Such friendships are wonderful things, and are – in fact – a source of opportunities for ecumenical and apologetic dialog. It is also a very good thing to work with non-Catholics on projects where there is no theological conflict (picketing abortion mills, running soup kitchens) and so forth.
However, compromising, downplaying or ignoring the Eucharist is not something that Catholics are permitted to do, nor is it a position consistent with the beliefs of Catholics or non-Catholics to suggest that what the Catholic Church believes about the Eucharist is “non-essential”.
To a Catholic, the Eucharist is neither more nor less than Jesus Christ Himself in the flesh. He is really, truly and substantially present under the appearance of bread and wine. Because Catholics believe that Jesus Christ is divine, when Catholics interact with the Eucharist, that interaction is worship and adoration. Although non-Catholics often accuse Catholics of worshiping statues and the saints when we in fact do not, the fact of the matter is that we do worship (and admit to worshiping) something which looks to them to be, and they think is, a small wafer of bread. Catholics do worship the Eucharist, because the Eucharist is God.
Protestants do not worship the Eucharist, because they do not believe it is God. They believe that it is nothing more than a small wafer of bread.
It is these two positions – the Catholics worshiping something which the Protestants think is not God and the Protestants not worshiping something which the Catholics think is God – which show just how important and essential the Eucharist is.
As far as the Protestants are concerned, the Catholics are guilty of idolatry – worshiping something which is not God with the adoration and reverence due to God-alone. As far as the Catholics are concerned, the Protestants are guilty of not worshiping God as He wants to be worshiped (the verse “Do this in memory of me” and Jesus' words “if you do not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood you have no life in you” clearly show how important the Eucharist is to Catholic worship).
In essence, both Protestants and Catholics have to believe that the other is – in some way – not a “real” Christian because of their attitude to the Eucharist. Protestants believe Catholics are idolaters, Catholics believe Protestants are not worshiping properly.
It does not matter if you, or another Catholic, or a Protestant, say that you, he or she does not believe that himself – it is the necessary logical step from the professed beliefs of the two groups.
Understanding this and bringing this issue up whenever the issue of the Eucharist, or communion, or “the Lord's Supper” is mentioned, is essential to apologetics. Without this understanding, no progress can be made. Before any apologetics regarding the Eucharist can proceed, it is vital that both sides understand not only what the other's views are, but also what they mean when logically extended into other spheres.
Some people may react very badly to the notion that the Catholic Church is calling them, in some way, deficient Christians. And some Catholics will react badly to being called idolaters. But if we can get past these emotive aspects, then – and only then – is true dialog possible. We do ourselves no favors by pretending that something as central as what we believe to be God and what we do not believe to be God is “unessential”.