Explaining the Eucharist to Non-Catholics

I explained the Eucharist (particularly transubstantiation) and they thought it was very odd, and it struck me that I had never asked a question they asked. Since Jesus is obviously present in the Eucharist, are we actually eating his flesh and drinking his blood? (Essentially what they asked me) and I wanted to say yes, but having been raised Protestant and been subjected to Protestant doctrine for 16 years, I didn’t know what to say, so, I’m sorry if this is a weird question, but How do I explain the Eucharist (Real Presence) to Non-Catholics?

Thank you for your help!

Yes, that’s exactly it - Catholics do indeed eat the flesh and drink the blood of Christ (actually, his body, blood, soul and divinity), as he commanded. :slight_smile:

I’m not good at explaining Catholic apologetics to non-Catholics, but here’s a link to an essay by Scott Hahn about the institution of the Eucharist and where you can see it in scripture:


And here is a video by Bishop Barron about the Eucharist:


Just wait until you try to explain Purgatory to them. :wink:

1 Corinthians chapter 13:23+

For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread,
and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”

In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.

This one passage should be sufficient. For “guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord” could in no way be a symbol. And “without discerning the body” brings down judgment…which a symbol could never do.

Jesus was not ambiguous with his language in John 6 “Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood,you have no life in you” (John 6:53). When discussing this, make sure that you talk about the institution narratives as well (Matthew 26:26-28, Mark 14:22-23, Luke 22:19-20) And make sure you don’t forget to explain 1 Corinthians 11:24-27. Pulling out just one of those, you might be able to get “this is just a symbol” but you’d have to be reaching. “Now, as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and broke it, and gave to the disciples, and said ‘Take eat; this is my body.’ And he took a chalice, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them saying 'Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the** covenant** which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins”, Matthew 26:26-28. Please note how he says this is the blood of the covenant. That is what really stood out to me. God bless.

Yes, we actually eat his flesh and drink his blood, as He himself commanded. But here’s the thing. We consume him whole and entire, in a unitary manner. Jesus is not harmed or divided. He is wholly present in his entirety under the appearances of the smallest particle of the Eucharist.

Even most Catholics I talk to are not good at comprehending this teaching, and even accepting it. I have been working on it myself, considering the Eucharist. I was baptized Catholic - and looking for truth.

Most Catholics stop short on the John 6 passage, and don’t quote to the end, where he says, John 6:63 - It is the spirit that gives life, while the flesh is no avail. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe.

When asked if he wanted to leave Peter said in 6:68 - “To whom shall we go, you alone have the words of eternal life.” He did not say the bread of eternal life. It sounds to me like he understood that the words were the important part that would give life, not the bread.

I know of no Catholic that stops short. From Catholic.com:

Spirit vs. Flesh

John 6:63 is the one verse singled out by Protestant apologists to counter much of what we have asserted thus far. After seeing the Jews and the disciples struggling with the radical nature of his words, our Lord says to the disciples and to us all: “It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh is of no avail; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.” Protestants claim Jesus here lets us know he was speaking symbolically or “spiritually” when he said “the spirit gives life, the flesh is of no avail.” See? He is not giving us his flesh to eat because he says “the flesh is of no avail.” How do we respond? We can in several ways.

  1. If Jesus was clearing up the point, he would have to be considered a poor teacher: Many of the disciples left him immediately thereafter because they still believed the words of our Lord to mean what they said.
  1. Most importantly, Jesus did not say, “My flesh is of no avail.” He said, “The flesh is of no avail.” There is a rather large difference between the two. No one, it is safe to say, would have believed he meant my flesh avails nothing because he just spent a good portion of this same discourse telling us that his flesh would be “given for the life of the world” (Jn 6:51, cf. 50-58). So to what was he referring? The flesh is a New Testament term often used to describe human nature apart from God’s grace.

For example, Christ said to the apostles in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Mk 14:38). According to Paul, if we are in “the flesh,” we are “hostile to God” and “cannot please God” (cf. Rom 8:1-14). In First Corinthians 2:14, he tells us, “The unspiritual man does not receive the gifts of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.” In First Corinthians 3:1, Paul goes on, “But I, brethren, could not address you as spiritual men, but as men of the flesh, as babes in Christ.” It requires supernatural grace in the life of the believer to believe the radical declaration of Christ concerning the Eucharist. As Jesus himself said both before and after this “hard saying”: “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” (Jn 6:44, cf. 6:65). Belief in the Eucharist is a gift of grace. The natural mind—or the one who is in “the flesh”—will never be able to understand this great Christian truth.

  1. On another level very closely related to our last point, Christ said, “It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh is of no avail,” because he wills to eliminate any possibility of a sort of crass literalism that would reduce his words to a cannibalistic understanding. It is the Holy Spirit that will accomplish the miracle of Christ being able to ascend into heaven bodily while being able simultaneously to distribute his body and blood in the Eucharist for the life of the world. A human body, even a perfect one, apart from the power of the Spirit could not accomplish this.
  1. That which is spiritual does not necessarily equate to that which has no material substance. It often means that which is dominated or controlled by the Spirit.

One thing we do not want to do as Christians is to fall into the trap of believing that because Christ says his words are “spirit and life,” or “spiritual,” they cannot involve the material. When speaking of the resurrection of the body, Paul wrote: “It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body” (1 Cor 15:44). Does this mean we will not have a physical body in the resurrection? Of course not. In Luke 24:39, Jesus made that clear after his own Resurrection: “See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself; handle me, and see; for a spirit has not flesh and bones as you see that I have.”

You do realize in John 6:54, he uses the Greek word trogo, which is never used symbollically? In fact in earlier verses John uses the word phago, which can be interpreted either metaphorically or literally, but in 54 as Jesus ramps up the discourse, John turns to a word which is never used metaphorically.

If your looking for TRUTH, then continue your search into the Catholic Church. Jesus gave us His BODY and BLOOD for Eternal Life. Taking something out of context caused confusion. The Catholic Church teaches the fullness of the Truth. The Eucharist is the most important part of Catholic truth. Like Peter said, “To whom would we go??” God Bless, Memaw

I have to say - I have really considered that “The flesh is no avail” means our human effort.

If the words He had spoken are spirit and life, then it’s what He just said that gives life???

For me this would be submission to what he said then, over what I try to figure out.

FYI - I am a thick skulled, not too sharp, former anti-Catholic, trying to find truth, not trying to be a stinker.


From Catholic Education Resource Center:

The narrative opens on the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee with the feeding of the five thousand, the only miracle recorded by all four evangelists. After the people were fed, Jesus withdrew to the hillside to be alone. Night fell, and the disciples went down to the lake without Him and, embarking in the only boat available, sailed for Capharnaum, which was on the western shore. Jesus caught up with them some time later by walking on the water. The multitude, thinking He still must be with them, stayed overnight where the miracle was performed. The next morning they discovered Jesus was nowhere to be found and, when other boats put in near them, they embarked for Capharnaum, where they found Jesus and asked Him when (but not how) He had made His way there, apparently thinking He had set off on foot before dawn for the long walk around the lake. He did not answer directly, but told them to “work to earn food which affords, continually, eternal life” (Jn 6:27). He had provided them their fill of natural bread; now He began to speak of supernatural bread.

With verse 30 begins a colloquy that took place in the synagogue at Capharnaum. The Jews asked Him what sign He could perform, and, as a challenge, they noted that “our fathers had manna to eat in the desert” (Jn 6:31). Could Jesus top that? He told them the real bread from heaven comes from the Father. “Give us this bread”, they insisted. “But Jesus told them, ‘It is I who am the bread of life’” (Jn 6:34-35). He was getting more explicit, and the Jews started to complain, but still understood Him to be speaking metaphorically. Jesus repeated what He said before, then summarized: “I myself am the bread that has come down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he shall live forever. And now, what is this bread that I am to give? It is my flesh, given for the life of the world” (Jn 6:51-52). Then the Jews asked, incredulously, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” (Jn 6:53).

Hugh Pope, in commenting on this chapter, remarked that **at last “they had understood Him literally and were stupefied; but because they had understood Him correctly, He repeats His words with extraordinary emphasis, so much so that only now does He introduce the statement about drinking His blood”.**1 “You can have no life in yourselves, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink his blood. The man who eats my flesh and drinks my blood enjoys eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. My flesh is real food, my blood is real drink. He who eats my flesh, and drinks my blood, lives continually in me, and I in him” (Jn 6:54-57).

This is the only record we have of any of Christ’s followers forsaking him for doctrinal reasons. If they merely had misunderstood Him, if they foolishly had taken a metaphor in a literal sense, why did He not call them back and straighten things out?

There was no attempt to soften what was said, no attempt to correct “misunderstandings”, for there were none. His listeners understood Him quite well. No one any longer thought He was speaking metaphorically. If they had, why no correction? On other occasions, whenever there was confusion, Christ explained what He meant. Here, where any misunderstanding would be catastrophic, there was no effort to correct. Instead, He repeated what He had said.

“There were many of His disciples who said, when they heard it, This is strange talk, who can be expected to listen to it?” (Jn 6:61). These were His disciples, people who already were used to His remarkable ways. He warned them not to think carnally, but spiritually: “Only the spirit gives life; the flesh is of no avail; and the words I have been speaking to you are spirit, and life” (Jn 6:64). But He knew some did not believe, including the one who was to betray Him. (It is here, in the rejection of the Eucharist, that Judas fell away.) “After this, many of His disciples went back to their own ways, and walked no more in His company” (Jn 6:67).

This is the only record we have of any of Christ’s followers forsaking him for doctrinal reasons. If they merely had misunderstood Him, if they foolishly had taken a metaphor in a literal sense, why did He not call them back and straighten things out? Both the Jews, who were suspicious of Him, and His disciples, who had accepted everything up to this point, would have remained had He told them He meant no more than a symbol…

…Leslie Rumble and Charles M. Carty answered this common charge years ago: "There is no logical parallel between the words ‘This is My body’ and ‘I am the vine’ or ‘I am the door.’ For the images of the vine and door can have, of their very nature, a symbolical sense. Christ is like a vine because all the sap of my spiritual life comes from Him. He is like a door since I go to heaven through Him. But a piece of bread is in no way like His flesh. Of its very nature it cannot symbolize the actual body of Christ. And He excludes that Himself by saying, "The bread that I will give is My flesh for the life of the world, and My flesh is meat indeed.’ That is, it is to be actually eaten, not merely commemorated in some symbolical way."6

One last point: In verses 33,35,47,48,50,51,53,55, and 56, Jesus said it is literal what I am telling you. In verses 41,43,52,60, and 64, the Jews doubt, and grumble, and murmur, and in verse 66, they, and many others to this day, walked away from Him and never came back. Did He call them back to say this was only a parable, and explain the meaning of it to them, as he had explained many other parables? No, for in verse 67, He would have let them ALL go, had they all not believed.

Yes, we truly eat His flesh and blood. And if they think it is “cannibalism”, then remind them that Jesus is a Lamb of God. As Jews sacrificed and ate lambs, Jesus is our Lamb for the time being.

Funny you should mention it. I’m a thick-skulled, not-too-sharp, Catholic, trying to understand the truth and also not trying to be a stinker. So you’re in good company, sir.

Thanks for the laugh! :smiley:

Keep seeking the TRUTH, Marc, HE’S there, waiting for you and the TRUTH is Jesus Christ, the fullness of TRUTH. Ask the Holy Spirit to lead you. I suggest you watch “The Journey Home”, on EWTN on Monday nights at 7 PM CST. Marcus Grodi is the host and it’s a great program for those interested in the Catholic Faith.

The New Testamemt contrasts spirit and flesh multiple times, and no, not in the “spirit is a metaphor” manner protestants attribute to this passage.

And since this will likely come up in any conversation in explaining the Eucharist to protestants…

Galatians 5:17
For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please.

Galatians 5:19-21
Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

Galatians 6:8
For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.

Romans 8:5-9
For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God. However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him.

Matthew 26:41
Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

The bible records that people found this to be a hard saying.

I propose that if you spend some time trying to penetrate the meaning of eating the flesh of the Lord, it will be time well spent and will draw you deeper into Christ than you could ever imagine.

Peace to you on your journey.

p.s. Try to look at it from God’s point of view.


Clearly He is not saying that His flesh is no avail since it was His fleshly sacrifice on the cross that saves our souls.


Also, we have to understand that Jesus was trying to let them know that they would see him going up to heaven, body and all. He seems to know that they are concerned abot eating his flesh and harming him.

But he is telling them that we would not be eating his flesh until he goes up to heaven.

At that point his flesh is spirit and life. The earthly flesh is of no avail.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.