This morning, my two oldest kids were talking about the Eucharist. They are 11 and 6. My 11 year old said, “isn’t it kind of weird that we EAT Jesus? I mean, does that mean we are cannibals?” My six year old just thought it was kind of funny. I looked up a good response to this, but all I have found are complex apologetics responses that are geared more toward adults. So, while I am glad that they understand that the bread and wine are literally the body and blood of Jesus I think I need to also emphasis the soul and divinity part a little more. Does anyone have a great kid-friendly way of explaining this or any analogies you can offer?
I would try explaining it this way…when cannibals eat flesh, then that part of the body is gone. Christ resurrected body is never lessened when we consume him. In fact we are not eating a piece of Christ but his entire divine person. That he is not lessened by this is fo course miraculous.
What does their religious instructor have to say?
Might be helpful to (briefly) talk about Passover. That’s what I do with my 7th graders.
Egypt, Passover, lamb, blood, eating = Sin, the cross, Lamb of God, the mass
What you are really contending with is the stigma associated with the word “cannibalism”. Murder, gore, horrendous criminals. There are many Catholic writers that insist that eating Christ’s flesh isn’t cannibalism, but they do this by playing with the definition of cannibalism itself (ie, they say that cannibalism is defined as a murderer eating the murdered, or that a cannibal only eats dead flesh whereas the Eucharist is living - but these are incorrect, as the definition of cannibalism is indiscriminately eating any flesh of the same species).
As well as this, I have also known people that have misunderstood these sort of teachings and have come to falsely understand that the “Eucharist is spiritual food and not physical”- but of course this is flat wrong, as the Eucharist is both spiritual and physical flesh. This way of thinking leads very easily if not directly into consubstantiation.
I’m not an educator of children (yet), but I would steer clear of these explanations - particularly for youngsters.
What I would think of doing, is this:
Teach them about the story of the pelicans*
Teach them that the Eucharist is real flesh, but that it is also more than that, as they will receive also the Soul & Divinity of Our Lord.
That God has allowed it to retain the look and feel of bread in order to make it easier for us to receive.
That although the Eucharist is flesh, the word cannibalism is a very irreverent word to associate with it - as God gives us this amazing gift because He loves us so much, whereas when we use that word it makes us think of evil.
*Pelicans were widely understood in olden times to provide for their critically starving young by opening a wound in their chest to feed them with. This could either be a very rare and rarely seen trait of those birds, something that had been observed by somebody at some time, or folklore, but nevertheless it is a warm story and a good image to associate. It is possible that you may even have this icon somewhere in your local Chapel representing Jesus, this would be an extra teaching aid if so.
I hope this helps!
Is it acceptable to think of Holy Communion as a memorial meal or would this be heretical?
It is a memorial, but it not *merely *a memorial. If you mean “memorial” to the exclusion of the Real Presence, then that would be heretical.
Hi. I’m a potential protestant convert and I too would like an answer to this question. I think that
answers that children can understand are the best. I’ve benn looking online and I also find
long-winded apologies. Surely 2000 years of theological developement has provided a thorough and simple explanation. Birds tearing at thier flesh doesn’t suffice.
You could start with the anthropological angle. That is that blood sacrifices have featured in the human relationship with our Creator since prehistoric days. It expresses the order of justice and the right relationship that we creatures have with God. We are hotwired to give honour, gratitude and sorrow for our flawedness, to the One who made us. This is most perfectly done (in human terms) by dying to ourselves and offering our lives to God and we express that by ritual offering.
So sacrifice has always been an outward expression of an inward ‘obligation’ in relation to God.
When Christ died order to be that sacrifice for all time, we no longer needed to use those ‘hosts’ to express that inward obligation. Through the Mass we now truly partake in that sacrifice each time we receive Holy Communion… Christ having made Himself the host of our human sacrifices to God.
This link might be helpful also…
Yes, we eat Jesus, but in doing so we are unable to harm him. If, for example, one were to tear the communion host into a number of pieces, Jesus remains whole and entire under the appearances of each piece or particle. We are unable to harm him or even divide him in any way in the Eucharist.
Tell them to keep in mind that those who consume the Body of Christ are the Body of Christ. The old person, the person ignorantly thinking himself or herself independent, died in baptism and rose to life in Christ alone. Holy Eucharist, a part of the three-fold initiation into the life of Christ, is an act of communion, an act of oneness. More to the point, though, it is an absolutely necessary act of oneness. There is no life outside of Christ. Come to Him for life, or reject life altogether. There is nowhere else to go.
There is no “God is over there, and we exist separately.” That is our pride and ignorance talking. We are not God, but where God does not sustain us, we do not exist at all. Are we cannibals, to consume Christ? No, we are not. The branches are not parasites on the vine, like mistletoe on an oak tree. The branches have life that proceeds from the vine’s life. Separated from the vine, there the branches lie–quite dead. So for the branches to get nourishment from the vine is not consumption of the vine. It is oneness with the vine. Of course, these are all analogies, artistic reflections to help us to understand. There is nothing that fully parallels the saving mediation between Christ and humanity. It is unique and above all other realities, greater than all other realities. Therefore, there isn’t an entirely satisfactory analogy to describe it.
If one does not remember this general truth, even if one does not fully understand it, then the 6th Chapter of John does not make sense at all. Everyone would react as the disciples who left–it would be the only sensible course. Yet in it, Our Lord says, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.” (Jn 6:53) It only makes sense if one realizes how impossible it is to have life outside of Christ. If you don’t get that, then this whole thing seems like one “guy” making himself into food for cannibals.
This requires faith; that is, Our Lord said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by my Father.” (Jn 6:65) It is not something to boast about, since we know there will be those who are first who will be last and those among the last who will be first. Yet we must also not forget that our faith in this truth is essential to eternal life. Whether we come to know it early or late, we must not lose this truth once we have it.
Whenever Peter expressed faith in who Our Lord was, Our Lord never said, “Good for you, Peter! You are a clever guy! You get it!” No, He said, “Blessed are you, Peter, son of John, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.” (Matt. 16:17) If you accept this, it is not because you were clever or tried hard or “did good.” It is because God revealed it to you, and you accepted the gift of faith. That is ultimately what is necessary.
I’m still thinking about the little 11 year old trying to understand all this. I’ve thought about it, how I
would explain itto him. I think I would try this.
“Joey, imagine I am God and I love you so much that I want you to come to live with me in
heaven. Now you know only holy people can come to heaven with me right?”
“Yes.” says Joey.(hopefully)
“Well I have a plan to help you come with me. Your part in this plan is to repent of your sins
and be baptised and to be good like the saints. My part is this.
I will become the bread and wine presented at Mass. Now we all know you are what you eat, right?”
“Yeah,” says Joey.
“Then when you eat the Host at Mass you become a part of me and I become a part of you
and so you grow to be Holy. Now you’ll just have to believe me when I say that Host at mass
is me. That’s the faith you’ll have to have in me. See Joey, the Host is like a person who’s
just been baptized. On the outside they look like the same old person. But really on the inside
they are a completely new person whose whole life has changed. They don’t act like the same
person they used to be even though they still look like that same old person on the ouside. So
when the priest prays over the bread and wine, they too, are changed into something forever
new, even though on the outside they look like the same bread and wine.
And we worshp and adore the Host since it really is our Lord who can heal us and answer our prayers. Bread and wine can’t do that, can they? And neither can canniblalism, can it, Joey?”
I don’t know if this will address the canibalism issue, but it might help some.
When we eat any food, in a sense we are eating Sunshine, because ultimately that is where the energy in the food comes from. It no longer looks like Sunshine, but if we follow the trail backwards, sure enough, the energy comes from the Sun.
In a sense the Eucharist is like that in that it doesn’t LOOK like the body of Christ, yet if we follow the story backwards, indeed it can be seen that it is the body of Christ, even though it looks like another form of sustenance.
Since they are young children lets try this overly simplistic answer - no we receive him into us, so He can be closer to our Heart. Not entirely correct but as they get older a lesson of the Grace of the Sacrament of Eucharist can be built from there. Just a thought - six is young.
I would go to the “I am the vine, you are the branches” verses.
Cannabalism is when living persons eat the body of a dead person. To share in the one life of a living person is not like that.
I’m liking this one!
Me too! I love thr baptism metaphor because my new baby was just baptized and we’ve talked a lot about that.
Well, and the two connect as closely as can be. Eucharist is part of our three-fold sacramental initiation. To be fully brought into the Body of Christ, there is baptism, Eucharist, AND confirmation. The three work together very directly, absolutely, and they do bring about a new life. “Not I, but Christ lives within me.”
what about explaining the “eating” in terms of food. For example if we don’t eat earthly food our bodies will starve and eventually wither away. In the same way if we don’t eat heavenly food our spirit will starve and our ability to do good works will eventually wither away.
Also, when Jesus explained this to his disciples many of them got up and left. Some of these were men who had followed Him for months. So it should come as no surprise that even today we struggle to make sense out of this. It is a difficult teaching to understand but we must accept it all the same.