“Love the Lord with all your heart, and with all your soul,
and with all your MIND”--MattQuestion: If Catholics believe that the Eucharist is actually the body of Christ, aren't Catholics participating in cannibalism when they take Communion?
My first response to this question is, so what if it is cannibalism? If Christ commanded us to do it, then as the Creator of the Universe speaking to a creature, he is to be obeyed. <shrug>
However, I understand if that answer is not satisfactory and not quite compelling enough to use in an apologetics discussion, when one is called to provide a reasoned defense of the hope that she has in her.
The better response is from apologist Mark Shea: "There are a number of paradoxes which the gospel teaches. We are not to worship men, but there is one Man whom we absolutely must worship. Human sacrifice is against the will of God, but in one unique case, a human sacrifice was at the heart of God's plan. In the Old Testament the eating of blood was forbidden since "the blood is the life." That is, we are not to seek our "life" from creatures. We are to seek it from God. And when God assumes flesh and blood he therefore tells us, "Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you."
Cannibalism is not sinful because it's "icky". It's sinful (unless done for desperate purposes as in the Donner Party) because it violates the dignity of the human body and it violates our dignity if done (as it typically is) for the religious purpose of seeking our life from a creature rather than from God. Cannibalism is virtually always a religious act, as it was in Germany. And it is a religious act fundamentally ordered to blaspheme God and those in his image either by treating a human being as an idol or as an animal, but not as a human being.
The Eucharist is, of course, not the consumption of dead flesh, but of the Living, Risen and Glorified Christ. It is shocking, to be sure. Indeed, if the Eucharist does not shock you, you're just not awake. But it is not immoral and it is not cannibalism for it is not seeking the ends that cannibalism seeks and it is instituted by the living God to give us his divinized human life, not to make us idolators and desecrators."
That is, the social taboo against cannibalism doesn't apply at the Eucharist. Cannibalism is gravely immoral not because consuming human flesh is inherently wrong, but through the intent--devouring the flesh of another in a barbaric and disrespectful manner violates the dignity of a human by treating the body as if it were an animal.
Finally, "cannibalism is when one individual physically eats the human flesh off of another’s body. Catholic or not, the words in John 6 do sound cannibalistic. Even a Fundamentalist would have to say that he eats the flesh of Christ and drinks his blood in a symbolic manner so as to concur with the passage. By the same allowance, Catholics eat the flesh of Christ and drink his blood in a sacramental way. Neither the Protestant nor the Catholic appears to be doing anything cannibalistic, though.
It would have been cannibalism is if a disciple two thousand years ago had tried literally to eat Jesus by sinking his teeth into his arm. Now that our Lord is in heaven with a glorified body and made present under the appearance of bread in the Eucharist, cannibalism is not possible. From "How to Defend Christ's Presence in the Eucharist".
In other words, if it's cannibalism for Catholics, then it's also cannibalism (albeit in a symbolic manner) for Protestants who partake of the Lord's Supper in their churches. Yet it seems that those who point out that Catholics are "ritualistic cannibals" don't seem to view their communion service as a symbolic cannibalism. If it's wrong for Catholics to literally be cannibals, wouldn't it be wrong for Protestants to symbolically pretend to be cannibals as well?