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Dear catholic.com visitors: This website from Catholic Answers, with all its many resources, is the world's largest source of explanations for Catholic beliefs and practices. A fully independent, lay-run, 501(c)(3) ministry that receives no funding from the institutional Church, we rely entirely on the generosity of everyday people like you to keep this website going with trustworthy , fresh, and relevant content. If everyone visiting this month gave just $1, catholic.com would be fully funded for an entire year. Do you find catholic.com helpful? Please make a gift today. SPECIAL PROMOTION FOR NEW MONTHLY DONATIONS! Thank you and God bless.

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Catholic Cannibals!

How do these cultists justify consuming human flesh and blood? Let's see.

All the modern papal rumors and diocesan scandals have suppressed a much deeper and more concerning aspect of the Catholic religion: cannibalism. The problem of Catholic Communion-goers. Just think of these modern vampires, drinking blood out of golden chalices weekly, or even daily. Somebody needs to bring this to light.

According to a 2019 survey by the Pew Research Center, 31 percent of Catholics in America believe that a little piece of bread transforms into human flesh before they eat it. Before they eat it. Many Catholic theologians have written about the “alarming” 69 percent of Catholics who don’t agree, but I want to take a moment to focus on these maniacs masquerading as normal people. Why do they believe such antiquated lore? How can they stand by this practice, even in modern times? What should we do about these dangers to society, walking among us?

Let’s see.

The Biblical Approach

The average Catholic could probably recite the script: “Take my body and eat it; take my blood and drink it” (Matt. 26:26ff). But the well-studied Catholic could cite Jesus’ famous “Bread of Life” discourse in the sixth chapter of John’s Gospel, offering a more profound justification for the Catholic eucharistic experience.

The commands Jesus gives to take his body and drink his blood are clear enough, if we’re comfortable assuming that Jesus meant those words literally. On the other hand, if every utterance from Jesus were to be taken literally, then we would end up with some odd quotes elsewhere.

Therefore, no, the command alone does not validate the literal interpretation of the Catholic Holy Communion experience. It’s what happens afterward. In John’s Bread of Life discourse, Jesus tells his followers, “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed” (John 6:54-55).

If someone spoke these words to you today, you might assume the person had a screw loose. The reaction in the first century was not so different: “After this many of his disciples drew back and no longer went about with him” (v. 66). It was not critics, but his followers who reversed their course at this disquieting command.

Challenged with this context, the average English-speaker may feel inclined to interject on Jesus’ behalf, supposing that Jesus did mean what he said but allowing for a misunderstanding of the meaning of the word “body.” After all, “body” can refer to many things: a body of water, a body of people, a cadaver, a person, a collection of writings. Perhaps when Jesus says, “Take my body and eat it,” he means to take his teachings and live them out, or take his scriptures and consume the knowledge.

This is where the pesky problem of translation comes into play.

The Gospel of John was originally written in Greek. In Greek, there are two words that can refer to the body. The Greek soma refers to “body” and is used elsewhere in the New Testament to refer to the body of believers or the Church community.  But in John’s Gospel, Jesus uses the word sarx, which has a meaning closer to “flesh.” Whereas soma can refer to a literal or a figurative body, sarx specifically refers to meat or flesh. With that knowledge, it becomes clear that Jesus really is directing his followers to ingest his flesh, not just absorb his teachings.

The Philosophical Approach

The great philosopher Plato had a whole ideology about forms and matter. He believed that a thing’s “form” is its essence. “Matter” is merely the way in which we understand a thing’s form, or essence. (A shape with three sides is the form or idea of a triangle; a drawing of a triangle is the visible representation, or matter, through which we understand the form.)

Aristotle explained ontology through substance and accidents. A thing’s substance is essential to its definition; a thing’s accidents contribute to the essence of a thing but aren’t inherently necessary to its existence. Flat sides are part of a box’s substance or definition (you can’t have a round box, or else it’s not a box, but a sphere), but the box’s material (cardboard, wood, metal) is accidental.

Applying those ideas to Holy Communion, there is an unusual occurrence in the Eucharist, where the accidents do not match the substance of the object. Usually, we think, “If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it must be a duck.” In the case of the Eucharist, it looks like bread, feels like bread, and tastes like bread, but it’s actually the flesh of Jesus Christ. As the priest holds it up, everyone can see that it has the accidents of bread, but faith informs Catholics that its substance, or its essence, is God.

So Catholics are not hallucinating some mystical vision of fleshy tissue when they receive the Eucharist. Everyone understands that what he is consuming looks and tastes like bread and wine. Spiritually, however, Catholics believe that in the moment of the transubstantiation, the prayer when the priest asks God to come down and be present in the bread, the object transforms in its essence, from the ordinary to the divine, all the while remaining unchanged in its accidents, or physical properties.

The Logical Approach

Catholics, as do many other religions, believe that God is all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-loving. Catholics also believe that God is a spiritual being, meaning that he doesn’t have a physical body and isn’t made of matter. This Catholic God took on properties of matter during the Incarnation, when God became man, but God had already been in existence prior to that moment in time, and he was all spirit, and without matter.

Humans, however, are both spiritual and physical beings. We have bodies—matter. Catholics believe we also have souls, which encompass our spiritual nature. When Catholics enter into prayer, the sacraments, or other religious acts, they believe they are connecting spiritually with God, sustaining a spiritual relationship. The problem is that in every other human relationship people have, they relate to others using their bodies. Facial expressions, body language, physical touch—all of these things help us communicate and make meaningful connections with others.

If God is all-loving, why wouldn’t he relate to his creations in the way he designed them to relate to others? It can’t be because he doesn’t realize that humans need physical touch, because he’s all-knowing. It can’t be because he doesn’t possess the capability to relate to us physically, because he’s all-powerful—he can do anything he wants.

This brings us back to the Eucharist. Catholics believe that in the Eucharist, God offers a supernatural experience where, defying logic, he takes on a physical form, in the simplicity and humility of regular bread and wine, so that his people can encounter him physically, as often as they choose to, in the Mass or even in Adoration.

The Jesus of history cannot be around forever in his bodily form, handing out hugs to emotional Christians. So Catholics can understand the Eucharist as a creative, mysterious, mystical solution, offering physical connection to God’s people.

The Miraculous Approach

This one is wild. There have been stories of Eucharistic miracles told for hundreds of years, with varying degrees of validity. Some have seen apparitions. Some have claimed that the Eucharist was the source of healing for a physical ailment or infirmary. Others have described the host as bleeding.

Skeptics know that people of earlier times used religion to explain things beyond their understanding, that modern science often holds the answer to. Stories of wonder can turn into legend over time, exaggerated and inaccurate. But four well-known Eucharistic miracles have been documented in just the last twenty-three years, and some are ongoing. Thus far, modern science has been unable to provide an explanation for these events, prompting Catholic bishops to describe these events as supernatural in origin.

  1. In 2014, in Legnica, Poland, a consecrated host was revealed to contain heart muscle, including marks that indicated cardiac distress.
  2. In 2008, in Sokólka, Poland, another host was dissolved in water and turned to blood. The molecular structure of human heart tissue was interwoven around the area of the blood stain in a way that scientists have been unable to reproduce.
  3. In 2006, in Tixtla, Mexico, a host was tested three months after showing red markings. The tests confirmed the presence of live heart tissue.
  4. In 2001, in Chirattakonam, India, a priest revealed the blessed host for Adoration. He and others in the room noticed three red dots. Over the next week, the red dots expanded into an image—one that looks suspiciously like a depiction of Christ.

All of these phenomena occurred more recently than Y2K, more recently than the advent of the camera phone, and more recently than “google” became a verb. They are not old wives’ tales or legends from long ago; they are well-documented situations with verifiable facts and physical evidence. These Eucharistic anomalies have been studied thoroughly, with advanced technology, and in blind studies (where the scientists analyzing the specimen have not been informed what the specimen is or where it came from).

In each of the aforementioned situations (and in others from earlier times that have also been investigated), scientists found that the specimens contained human DNA, human blood (AB blood type in every one), and tissue from the left ventricle of an inflamed, distressed human heart. It shouldn’t be possible. And yet . . . it is so.

After uncovering all of the explanations for these crazed Catholics, I’ll admit that this is not a lazy belief system. In fact, after exploring these different angles of understanding the Eucharist, I am tempted to say the alternative belief is lazy, conveniently wrapping an entire belief system with a neat metaphorical bow on top that also happens to be socially acceptable.

Cannibalism is certainly a striking allegation, but now it seems Catholics might be up to something far more incredible: physically encountering the divine.

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