I remember the first time that I learned about the Catholic idea of transubstantiation, the belief that the "substance" of the bread and wine of the Eucharist are turned into Christ's body and blood. I was in Catholic high school. I remember being flabbergasted that we would believe something so creepy. I recall being similarly shocked by the idea that I would be resurrected just as Christ was. I had images in my head of zombies coming out of the graves, and I thought it was morbid.
MrC and I attended a week-long Catholic retreat last week. The retreat was heavily focused on the meaning behind the Eucharist. We had a fellow at the retreat who was sharing strange stories about bread turning into flesh, with veins and muscle ("True story! The muscle is still on display in France! They should isolate Jesus' DNA!") We had another woman there whose husband was Jewish and was still offered the Eucharist, even though he wasn't Catholic.
I've been reflecting on these things, on the meaning of the Eucharist, of partaking in Christ's essence. The words of a familiar hymn have come to mind:
One bread, one body,
one Lord of all,
one cup of blessing which we bless.
And we, though many
throughout the earth,
we are one body in this one Lord.
A new meaning for Transubstantiation materialized in my mind while reflecting on the words of this hymn.
The celebration of the Eucharist to me seems to be much less about a literal change of the bread and wine itself, as it is a "taking in" of Christ's/Deity's essence into our bodies and into our lives. By partaking of Christ's "substance," we allow divinity to enter us. We become part of his body, as we take him into ours. We become extensions of his essence in all that we do in the world. His hands to help another, his eyes to see poverty and pain, his compassion and his charity. By partaking of communion, we come into communion with Deity, we become one with our God.
I find that I now consider the ritual of taking Deity into myself to be profoundly beautiful, regardless of the literal interpretation of it.