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 | By Dr. Tom Dorsel

Bringing the Real Presence to Real Life

A dear Protestant friend of mine sent me a note in reference to my self-professed personal joy in cantoring at Hilton Head’s Holy Family Church, mentioning, in particular, my assumed joy in “being in his presence.” But the friend was, I’m quite sure, speaking generally about all churches, most of which think of “his presence” as being only symbolic.

I could not let it go as that simple. My response, which is based on an analogy that my old friend from Catholic elementary school, Mark Koenig, suggested many years ago, is below:

Counter to Symbolism

Dear Protestant friend, I appreciate your recognition of his presence, and hope you understand that it is Jesus’ true, consubstantial presence — that is, there’s nothing symbolic about it.

Imagine if a sign were posted in front of a given Catholic church that Jesus, himself, would be appearing in person this coming Sunday. There would be helicopters flying overhead, cars backed up to the city limits and people walking to fill up the parking lot, all just to get a glimpse of Jesus. There would not only be Catholics but Protestants, Jews and Muslims, and every politician would find a way to be there.

And yet, isn’t this exactly what Jesus told us happens thousands of times everyday in every place in every country around the world? He is there in Body and Blood, present “in person,” on the altar at the consecration.

Why do we believe this? Because we believe all things Jesus said to us. He is our hero, and we believe in our heroes. As a retired diocesan priest, Father Robert Morey, once said, “We believe it because he said so!”

Why would we believe other things he said, and then ignore the most important thing he said: “This is my Body … this is my Blood.” There’s no mention of anything symbolic about it. He did not say to come to church because you will have wonderful sermons, fellowship and plan good works for the community. He said to come because “I AM THERE for you.” 

And that is why the Catholic Church continues to survive all its troubles over the centuries — because we have God himself, present in Body and Blood, in person in our sanctuaries.

What Happens to His Body and Blood?

We need nutrients to live. Nutrients come to us in many forms of food. When you eat any kind of food, you take it into yourself, it is transformed, and it becomes one with you and nourishes you. 

For example, nutrients come to us in the form of an apple (no connection to Adam and Eve intended). An apple is an apple before you eat it. It is still an apple once you chew it up and it is inside of you, but now it is in a new form that becomes one with you, part of you, nourishing you. You and the apple are one, working together, the apple sustaining you.

Similarly, Jesus is Jesus before you eat his Body and drink his Blood. Once inside of you, his form changes, but he is still the same Jesus once he is consumed and is inside of you. Now this changed form becomes one with you, part of you, nourishing you. He becomes indistinguishable from you. You and Jesus become one, working together, Jesus sustaining you.

To paraphrase St. Paul, it is not so much that I live, but that Christ lives in me. St. Paul went further to say that we should not try to live Christ’s life, but live our life as Christ would have lived it, which we can do through receiving holy Communion and becoming one with Jesus.

Thomas Dorsel, Ph.D., is professor emeritus of psychology at Francis Marion University and now lives on Hilton Head Island with his wife of 50 years, Sue. Visit him at