Godfrey Ashby, a religious scholar and retired Anglican bishop, writes in his book “Sacrifice: Its Nature and Purpose” that the reason the disciples unquestioningly participated in the last supper is that Christ didn’t literally mean he was giving them his body and blood to consume. Rather, he argues, the words Jesus used “are words of identification… not that he is making an ontological statement about bread and wine.” (1988, 106). In other words, Christ is saying the eucharistic species represent him, but are not actually his body and blood. How does one respond to this argument?
The good Evangelist John tells us otherwise: “For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink (Jn. 6:55). “After hearing it, many of his followers said, ‘This is intolerable language. How can anyone accept it?’ Jesus was aware that his followers were complaining against it and said, ‘Does this upset you?”
Jesus could EASILY have said that he was only speaking figuratively and not literally. BUT HE DID NOT SAY THIS! “What if you should see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before? (Jn.6:62).” He then went on to say that it is the spirit that gives life and that the flesh has nothing to offer. Some suggest that he in saying this, he was nullifying what he had just said about flesh and blood. This doesn’t make sense. Why would he say such conflicting things?
Actually, he was showing them that without faith, they would not be able to understand this. He then asks the Twelve if they will abandon him also. Peter speaks for the rest, as he was to do more and more. “Lord to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we believe; we know that you are the Holy One of God (Jn. 6:69).”
They didn’t understand any better than the others did who left. But the Apostles loved Him and trusted Him. It has never been otherwise for his Catholic Church through the ages–even when confronted by those who refuse to believe.
Fr. Vincent Serpa, O.P.