As previously noted, I'm enrolled in Notre Dame's STEP program and currently taking the Core Course: Introduction to the Catholic Faith. This week's class focused on the Liturgy. This week's assignment question is:
What is meant by the term, "Real Presence," with respect to the Eucharist?
As always I am limited to the stated maximum of 200 words.
The doctrine of the Real Presence asserts that in the Eucharist, while the bread and wine appear to be bread and wine, Jesus is literally and wholly present—body and blood, soul and divinity—in them. This is a stumbling block for many non-Catholics, who look at the bread and wine and see a rather tasteless cracker and a (usually) bad tasting glass of wine.
But Jesus himself (Luke 22) declared that “This is my body, which will be given for you; do this in memory of me.” And, again, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which will be shed for you."
That Jesus was not merely speaking of the Last Supper as a unique event is confirmed in 1 Corinthians 11, where Paul wrote: "Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord."
If Jesus were not truly present in the bread and wine, why should it matter whether we are free of grave sin when we partake of it? It would be a mere symbol. But because it is not just a symbol, but rather the literal body and blood of Christ, those who are unworthy take him into themselves at grave risk.