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Explaining Eucharist to child

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At Mass, following the consecration, what started as wine has now been changed into the blood of Christ. That is the "mystery of faith" that the church has taught for 2,000 years.

Father Kenneth
Doyle

Q. At Mass recently, after listening intently to the words of consecration, our 4-year-old granddaughter whispered to my wife, "Is wine really blood?" How would you answer her question? Also, would your answer be different for a 7-year-old, a teenager or an adult taking RCIA classes? (Florence, South Carolina)

A. First of all, I credit your granddaughter for her attentiveness and only wish that many of the grown-ups at Mass were so sharply focused. Next, the short and completely truthful answer to her question is, "Yes."

At Mass, following the consecration, what started as wine has now been changed into the blood of Christ. That is the "mystery of faith" that the church has taught for 2,000 years. (St. Aquinas, in his 13th-century "Summa Theologica" noted that the priest, in repeating the words of Jesus, does not say, "This bread is my body"; he says, instead, "Hoc est enim corpus meum," which is simply, "This is my body.")

This is the "hard saying" referred to in the sixth chapter of John's Gospel. Jesus had said, "Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him."

Even though many disciples would not accept that teaching and walked away, Jesus made no attempt to call them back by saying that he had only been speaking symbolically.

Now having said this, I don't think your granddaughter needs to know all of that right now. Little children think in pictures, so I'm not sure that I would mention "body and blood" at all.

I might say something like, "It still tastes like wine, but it's different now and special; it's Jesus coming into our souls to help us to be good."

I'm not even sure that a teenager is ready for a philosophical explanation of transubstantiation, but in fairness I think that I would try -- as I certainly would with an adult Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults catechumen. (I would explain that the "accidents" of bread and wine remain -- the taste, smell, texture -- but that, in the Mass, the "substance" is changed into the body and blood of Christ.)

Q. I have very deep feelings of anger toward my parents. I won't go into the details, except to say that I have caused many hard feelings in the past but can't seem to admit my guilt and take the blame.

My parents, I know, have made many sacrifices on my behalf and helped me to become a successful adult -- but I still can't seem to free myself of my historic grudge against them. Now this is bothering me a lot and I'm wondering if it is a sign that I should stop receiving holy Communion until I can resolve this resentment. (New Orleans)

A. Without knowing the basis for your "grudge," it's hard to decide whether it might be helpful for you to talk it out directly with your parents or perhaps with a counselor.

But I don't think that you should stop receiving holy Communion. Feelings are rarely within our total control; what we can manage, though, is what we say or do against the background of those feelings.

I'm guessing that your behavior toward your parents is decent and your conversations with them kind -- and your own preference would clearly be to free yourself of the angry feelings.

Moreover, Pope Francis said in "Evangelii Gaudium" that the Eucharist is "not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak."

I hope your continued reception of the Eucharist will sustain you in your goodwill and guide you in reducing your anger.

Father Kenneth Doyle is a columnist for Catholic News Service

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