Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me.
The Fourth Lateran Council, beginning in 1215, formally "defined" the Eucharist; the prelates insisted that the bread and wine of the Mass are truly the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, under the "appearances" of bread and wine.
The new mendicant orders, including the Franciscans and Dominicans were entrusted with encouraging and spreading devotion to the "Blessed Sacrament" throughout the Christian world. The laity were encouraged to receive the Sacrament at least once a year. And they should revere the churches, altars and tabernacles where the Real Presence was preserved, its rituals including the Mass and Benediction, and the priests who offered the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. At the height of its worldly powers, the Church had the financial, social, economic and personnel resources to upgrade the ancient devotion with renewed energy.
The Second Vatican Council, which will certainly be considered of equal or greater in importance than the Fourth Lateran Council, has promoted even more devotion to the Eucharist; first by presenting the prayers in the language of the people, and then by encouraging every believing Catholic to receive the Eucharist as often as they attend Mass.
A lot of history passed between the two Councils, including the Great Western Schism and the Protestant Reformation, and the Catholic Counter-Reformation. Many Christians lost faith in the Roman Church, especially during the Schism when three popes, each with his coterie of cardinals, bishops and priests, claimed to be the true Pope. The power struggle caused such distress among the laity that many lost faith altogether in the clergy and their mumbled prayers. That distress triggered the Reformation with its endless sectarian splits.
Can today's access to the Eucharist gather the dispersed flock of Jesus' disciples into one communion?
Many Christians, separated from the Church by centuries and generations, prefer a "spiritual communion." They interpret the eating and drinking without physically swallowing either. Others celebrate the Eucharist without that communion with Rome which the Roman Church considers essential. Given the many centuries when even devout Catholics only looked at the Eucharist, the practice of "spiritual communion" is hardly surprising.
I find it difficult to ponder the words of Jesus --
"so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me.without considering our history and traditions. Anyone can say what the Church should theoretically do if they only followed the literal words of Jesus; they would literally eat and drink the Sacrament. But history, tradition and custom run deeper than any particular interpretation of scripture. As the old song says, "It was good enough for Grandma and it's good enough for me."
The theoretician cannot ignore the fact that tradition has theological value. Jesus' birth, life, death and resurrection were not theoretical stories about a mythological past; they happen in actual human history. They are remembered by our traditions, not our theories of how God or his people should act.
It is good, in the meanwhile, to attend daily Mass, to ponder the daily readings our Lectionary offers, and to rest one's heart, mind and spirit in the presence of Jesus, even in the Real Presence, the physical presence of the Blessed Sacrament, whenever and wherever possible. This is the particular gift of our mystical tradition. Our God is with us and will remain with us through every century until his Second Coming.