The Jews quarreled among themselves, saying, "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?" Jesus said to them, "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. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink" (John 6:52-56)In this passage Jesus spoke quite literally. Why else would His words elicit that response?
The empirical evidence that bread and wine are transformed by the Holy Spirit into the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ is supposed to be the lives of those of us who regularly partake of the Blessed Sacrament. I have no doubt that our Lord intended it to be that way. Such a view does not preclude or exclude eucharistic miracles. But keep in mind that Jesus was quite ambivalent about the miracles he performed. This view is given credence by something earlier in the sixth chapter of St. John's Gospel.
After the multiplication of the loaves and fishes, Jesus, along with His disciples, crossed the Sea of Galilee (during which crossing Jesus joined the disciples by walking on the water). The crowds followed and, upon finding Him the next day, they asked Him, "Rabbi, when did you get here?" Jesus replied:
Amen, amen, I say to you, you are looking for me not because you saw signs but because you ate the loaves and were filled. Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him the Father, God, has set his seal (John 6:26-27)You see, the miracle He performed was a sign, that is, it pointed beyond itself to something else. There are those who balk at using the words "sign" and "symbol" to describe Christ's Real Presence, but, the fact is, it is both a sign and a symbol. Objections to describing the Blessed Sacrament using those terms are, I believe, the kind of thing Walker Percy had in mind when, in his treatise on semiotics, he wrote: "There is an almost intractable confusion about the terms sign and symbol."
The Blessed Sacrament is neither "merely" a sign, it is an efficacious sign, nor merely a symbol, though it surely is that too. It is a symbol when the Son of God makes Himself present to us in and through these every day things. Our words and categorizations always fall short of the mysterium tremendum. It is precisely this about which Corpus Christi seeks to remind us.