We belong to a small charismatic family centred prayer group. We meet once a month for praise and worship; teaching; prayer and fellowship. One of the members of our group, Patrick is a keen apologist. He wrote the wonderful talk which follows. It takes the form of a role play.It is very long, but extremely thorough.
It is a talk to which I will return to many times, hence it's placement here on my blog. I can only hope and pray that when I am asked similar questions about The Real Presence, that I will be able to answer with similar depth and grace. Or perhaps I'll just carry a copy in my handbag!
Patrick, please tell me this Eucharist that I so often hear Catholics talk about, what is it exactly and why is it so important?
The Eucharist (which means "thanksgiving") is the source and summit of the Catholic faith. It is the Sacrament of sacraments. It is the focal point of the Catholic Mass. Why you ask? Because the Eucharist is the sacrament in which Jesus gives himself completely to us – body, blood, soul and divinity. So at every Mass we actually participate in a miracle – Jesus comes to us in the form of bread and wine. In other words the same Jesus who walked the streets of Galilee is present to each of us (Catholics) at every Mass.
So at the Mass we worship Jesus – the living God.
Why? I mean why would Jesus do this?
There are many ways to answer this but I guess the best way for me is to look at what Jesus himself said.
In John 6:53-63 Jesus says,
53. …"Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you.
54. Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day.
55. For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed.
56. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him.
57. As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father: so he that eateth me, even he shall live by me.
58. This is that bread which came down from heaven: not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead: he that eateth of this bread shall live for ever."
We thus see here Jesus giving His disciples an important injunction if they are to inherit eternal life. In other words receiving His body and blood is a matter affecting our salvation. Also through the Eucharist Jesus comes to nourish us spiritually. It is food for life – does the "give us this day our daily bread" ring a bell. Think about it. It is also our greatest defence against the forces of darkness – because it is Jesus himself.
Wait, wait, wait – you have just opened a can of worms for me now. I think what you are also on about is something Catholics call the Real Presence. Is that right?
Correct. By Real Presence we mean that Jesus is really physically present in the Eucharist. The bread and wine are not merely symbols of His body and blood. The bread and wine IS his body and blood. That is why it is such an awesome sacrament.
Wow, this I find a bit hard to believe. How on earth can you say that? Surely in John 6 Jesus must have been talking figuratively and not literally?
Actually no. He was speaking very literally. You see one actually needs to take a holistic view and get a proper perspective of all that relates to this topic in Scripture. Now there is not enough time for me to deal with it all in-depth so I will be brief.
In the OT we read in Exodus 12 about the first Passover. We see here that God gave the Israelites a clear instruction to eat the sacrificial lamb and sprinkle its blood on the door mantle. The Angel of the Lord would then pass them by when passing through Egypt that night killing all the first born (the 10th plague).
John chapter 6 starts off with the feeding of the 5000. The next day the people came looking for Jesus again – and He knows they want Him to feed them again. In His subsequent discourse He tries to point them to something far more significant – that He is the Bread of Life. That His body and blood is real food and drink. He was preparing them for what was to come a year later at the Last Supper – the institution of the Eucharist. From that point onwards all His followers could receive His Body and Blood for spiritual nourishment.
This of course ties in very closely with the sacrifice on the cross. Jesus offered himself for our salvation – "the Lamb of God". Note the resemblance - the Passover lamb had to be eaten – Jesus gives us His Body and Blood to eat and drink at the Eucharistic meal.
But let’s go back to John 6 to see why Jesus was speaking literally. I will pick up the story at John 6:25-66…all are welcome to follow in their Bibles.
1) Jesus the teacher
If Jesus was not speaking literally in John 6 ("My flesh is real food; My blood is true drink," etc.), He would have been a poor teacher. After all, everyone listening to Him speak those words understood that He meant them literally. They responded, "How can this man give us His flesh to eat?" In the cases of Jesus saying He is a "door" or a "vine," we find no one asking, "How can this man be a door made out of wood?" or, "How can this man claim to be a plant?" It was clear from the context and the Lord's choice of words in those passages that He was speaking metaphorically.
But in John 6 He was speaking literally. In John 6:41, the Jews "murmured" about Christ's teaching precisely because it was so literal. Christ certainly knew they were having difficulty imagining that He was speaking literally, but rather than explain His meaning as simply a metaphor, He emphasized His teaching, saying, "I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever, and the bread that I will give is My flesh for the life of the world" (John 6:51). Why would Christ reinforce the literal sense in the minds of His listeners if He meant His words figuratively? The Lord dealt with other situations where His listeners misunderstood the meaning of His words. In each case, He cleared up the misunderstanding.
For example, the disciples were confused about His statement, "I have food to eat which you do not know." (John 4:32). They thought he was speaking about physical food, real food. But He quickly cleared up the misunderstanding with the clarification, "My food is to do the will of Him that sent Me, that I may perfect his work". Also Jesus talking to Nicodemus about being born again (John 3:1-15). Refer also Matt. 4:34; cf. 16:5-12. So you see when Jesus realised that they did not understand he explained.
Back to John 6. Notice that the Jews argued among themselves about the meaning of Christ's words. He reiterated the literal meaning again: "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" (verses 53-54). In verse 61 we see that no longer was it just the wider audience but "the disciples" themselves who were having difficulty with this radical statement. Surely, if Christ were speaking purely symbolically, it's reasonable to expect that He would clear up the difficulty even if just among His disciples. But He doesn't. He stands firm and asks, "Does this shock you? What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where He was before?" (Verse 62-63). Did Christ "symbolically" ascend into heaven after the Resurrection? No. As we see in Acts 1:9-10, His ascension was literal. This is the one and only place in the New Testament where people abandon Christ over one of His teachings.
2) Peter’s Affirmation
Rather than try to correct any mistaken understanding of His words, the Lord asks His Apostles, "Do you also want to leave?" (verse 67). And Peter replies, "Lord to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life; and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God." What a profound act of faith. We have hindsight but Peter did not. His Apostles knew He was speaking literally. They hardly understood what it was all about but they believed.
3) Paul’s writings
St. Paul emphasizes the truth of the Real Presence: "Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord . . . .Whoever eats and drinks without recognizing the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself" (1 Cor. 11:27-29).
The Greek phrase for being "guilty of someone's body and blood" (enokos estai tou somatos kai tou haimatos tou kuriou) is a technical way of saying "guilty of murder." If the Eucharist is merely a symbol of Christ, not Christ Himself, this warning would be drastically, absurdly overblown. If the Eucharist is merely a symbol of the Lord's body and blood, then St. Paul's words here make no sense. For how can one be "guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord" if it's merely a symbol?
4) Martin Luther
Even Martin Luther himself admitted that the early Church was unanimous in the literal interpretation of Christ's words in John 6: "Who, but the devil, hath granted such license of wresting the words of holy Scripture? Who ever read in the Scriptures that my body is the same as the sign of my body?. . . It is only the devil, that imposeth upon us by these fanatical men. ..Not one of the Fathers, though so numerous, ever spoke [thus] . . . they are all of them unanimous."
5) The Satanists
Why is it that the satanists target the sacred host? And desecrate it? There have been numerous stories of satanists visiting Catholic churches to steal the host so they could desecrate it during their satanic rituals. It is because they know that it really is the body and blood of our Lord.
Okay, let’s say you are right. But then Jesus is promoting cannibalism! Also the Bible states clearly that God never changes. He forbade the drinking of blood in the Old Testament, why would he "literally" tell his followers to "drink his blood" in the New Testament?
Well, there are two points to look at here. One is cannibalism and the other the drinking of blood. Let’s look at cannibalism first.
There are two ways of illustrating why the Eucharist is not cannibalistic. It was precisely this misunderstanding that led the unbelieving Jews and disciples in John 6 to reject Jesus when He said they must eat His body and drink His blood. They thought Jesus was commanding them to consume Him in a bloody, cannibalistic way.
However, the believing disciples were rewarded for their faith at the Last Supper. Jesus revealed that they would receive His true body and blood sacramentally (present in a hidden way).
In the Sacrament of the Eucharist, Christ’s body and blood are truly present, but not with their normal physical properties. Jesus’ body isn’t spread out in space; its normal condition is hidden under the appearance of bread and wine. While the Apostles truly consumed Christ’s real body and blood, it wasn’t cannibalism, because Christ was not in His natural condition.
They did not bite off pieces of Christ’s arm, for example, or swallow quantities of His blood; instead they received Christ whole and entire - body, blood, soul and divinity – under the appearance of bread and wine. Receiving Christ’s real, but sacramental presence in the Eucharist has nothing to do with cannibalism or drinking blood.
The second way is stated in point 4) further on when we deal with the drinking of blood. Cannibalism and blood drinking are usually uttered in the same breath by our Protestant brethren. Heavens forbid - we be vampires if this claim were true!
The drinking of blood
Leviticus 17:10 indeed condemns "eating blood. If we're going to be consistent with the Levitical Law, then we must also perform animal sacrifices - lambs, pigeons, turtledoves- according to Leviticus 12:8. But as Christians, we are not under the Levitical Law. We're under the 'law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus'" (Rom. 8:2). Hebrews 7:11-12 tells us the Levitical Law has passed away with the advent of the New Covenant. A New Testament commandment always abrogates an Old Testament commandment.
For example, in Matthew 5, the Lord repeatedly uses the formula, "You have heard that it was said (quoting an Old Testament law), But I say unto you . . ." In each instance, Christ supersedes the Old Testament law with a new commandment of His own, such as the commandment against divorce and remarriage, over against Moses' allowance for it in Deuteronomy 24:1 (cf. Matt. 5:21-22, 27-28, 31-32, 33-34, 38-39, 43-44). This is what we see in John 6. The blood prohibition in Leviticus 17:11-12 was replaced by Christ's new teaching in John 6:54: "Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you shall have no life in you." Eating blood was prohibited in the Old Testament, "Because the life of the flesh is found in the blood" (Lev. 17:11). Blood is sacred and the life of each creature is in its blood. Many pagans thought they could acquire "more" life by ingesting the blood of an animal or even a human being. But obviously this was foolish. No animal or human person has the capacity to do this. But in the case of Christ, it's different. John 6:54 tells us that our eternal life depends on His blood: "Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you shall have no life in you."
So notice that we are not under the Levitical Law but even so the participating in the Eucharist does not violate the Levitical Law as Jesus blood is sacramentally present as I said before.
There is a lot for me here to digest. I have also heard the term Transubstantiation used when it comes to the Eucharist. What does it mean and where does it come from?
Good question. Okay, let’s start with the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC). The CCC defines this doctrine in section 1376:
"The Council of Trent summarizes the Catholic faith by declaring: 'Because Christ our Redeemer said that it was truly his body that he was offering under the species of bread, it has always been the conviction of the Church of God, and this holy Council now declares again, that by the consecration of the bread and wine there takes place a change of the whole substance of the bread into the substance of the body of Christ our Lord and of the whole substance of the wine into the substance of his blood. This change the holy Catholic Church has fittingly and properly called transubstantiation."
In other words, the Roman Catholic Church teaches that once an ordained priest consecrates the bread at the Lord's Supper, it is transformed into the actual flesh of Christ (though it retains the appearance, odour, and taste of bread), and when he consecrates the wine, it is transformed into the actual blood of Christ (though it retains the appearance, odour, and taste of wine).
Transubstantiation is actually quite simple - though when dealing with the divine means it can never be completely understood. Let’s consider accidental and substance change. By accidental we mean that which is outwardly observable – physical appearances/characteristics of something. By substance we mean the essence of what something consists of. An example of accidental change is when water changes from liquid to steam or liquid to ice. The substance remains the same but the accidentals change.
When the priest consecrates the bread and wine, there is a change (trans - ) of substance = transubstantiation. This occurs through the will of the Father and the work of the Holy Spirit. The accidentals – appearances of bread and wine remain the same but at the substance level it has changed from bread to the body of Christ. And the wine to the Blood of Christ. It is a miracle indeed that happens at every Mass. No-one can fully grasp the entirety of what happens – but we are called to believe and see through the eyes of faith. The following table (courtesy of Dave Armstrong) hopefully illustrates it a bit better with some examples.
Type of change
Water to ice or steam
Metabolism of food
Miracle of the loaves (Matt. 14:19)
If this be true then surely it should have been proclaimed from the beginning. How come this doctrine was only invented in the 13th century?
Well, a point of correction first – the RCC never invents a doctrine. It merely defines or formalises what it believes from time to time. Often as a result of heresies. It’s teachings are based on what was passed on from the Apostles and Jesus himself as contained in Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture. When it comes to doctrine the Church cannot add.
Now the essence of Transubstantiation has always been the belief of the RCC. It was only in 1215 at the Fourth Lateran Council that the term Transubstantiation was officially invoked as properly describing the belief of the Church when it comes to the Eucharist.
If this is true how come it is not in Scripture? I have never seen the word Transubstantiation in Scripture.
You are correct. It is not found in Scripture, but then neither is Trinity. The point being that Scripture often does not spell out a doctrine but supports it. The Eucharist is very heavily Scripture based and so is the doctrine of the Trinity. Simply put a doctrine is intended to spell out in clear terms the essence of a theological truth being conveyed by the Scriptures. The actual words used surely do not have to be in Scripture verbatim. This would be very tricky considering all the languages of Scripture and the different translations throughout the centuries. Conversely a doctrine can never contradict Scripture – that is a bad or false doctrine.
I’ve heard that the most serious reason transubstantiation should be rejected is because it is viewed by the Roman Catholic Church as a "re-sacrifice" of Jesus Christ for our sins. Jesus died "once for all" and does not need to be sacrificed again (Hebrews 10:10; 1 Peter 3:18).
The RCC most emphatically does not re-sacrifice Christ at every Mass. Every Mass is a re-presentation of the Sacrifice of Calvary? What's the difference you say? Let me explain.
I think we all agree that Jesus has a divine and human nature in one person. Because He is both God and man the physical limitations of time and space do not apply to Him. Indeed, He is the master of His creation and is in no way limited by it. We are, however, constrained by time and space - BUT we must be careful not to apply our limitations and very, very limited understanding to the divine. On the human side what happened at Calvary is a historical event - it occurred 2000 years ago. However, God is not bound by time and the Sacrifice of Calvary is as present to Him today as it was 2000 years ago and as it will be 10 000 years from now. This of course holds true for every event in human history.
In essence what happens at every Mass is that the one and only Sacrifice of the Calvary is made present again. It is as if we were standing at the foot of the cross.
Karl Adam, author of the book The Spirit of Catholicism, remarks upon the transcendent nature of the Mass:
"The Sacrifice of Calvary, as a great supratemporal reality, enters into the immediate present. Space and time are abolished. The same Jesus is here present who died on the Cross. The whole congregation unites itself with His holy sacrificial will, and through Jesus present before it, consecrates itself to the heavenly Father as a living oblation. So Holy Mass is a tremendously real experience, the experience of the reality of Golgotha."
Dave Armstrong in his book A Biblical Defense of Catholicism says the following:
"It is crucial to understand that the Sacrifice of the Mass is not a "re-sacrifice" of Christ, as is the common misconception. Jesus does not die every time a priest offers Mass, since He died once, in history, on earth. Rather, the Mass lifts us into the heavenly realms, where all events are eternally present (as they are with God). The Mass is thus a re-presentation of the one Sacrifice at Calvary in a sacramental, unbloody manner. One may not agree with this belief, but opponents of Catholic doctrine should at least honestly and clearly understand what it is they contest."
Another point, in my understanding, Communion is the rite that Christians perform in fulfilment of Jesus' instruction to do in REMEMBRANCE of him what he did at his Last Supper. Now I have heard all that you have said, but does remembrance not imply that the bread and wine are symbolic of the body and blood of Jesus Christ, and in partaking of the elements we, the believers, commemorate the sacrificial death of Christ.
Good point. Renowned Catholic Apologist, Tim Staples, has the following to say on this subject:
The Eucharist is a true sacrifice, not just a commemorative meal, as "Bible Christians" insist. The first Christians knew that it was a sacrifice and proclaimed this in their writings. They recognized the sacrificial character of Jesus’ instruction, "Do this in remembrance of me" (Touto poieite tan eman anamnasin; Luke 22:19, 1 Cor. 11:24–25) which is better translated "Offer this as my memorial offering."
Thus, Protestant early Church historian J. N. D. Kelly writes that in the early Church "the Eucharist was regarded as the distinctively Christian sacrifice. . . . Malachi’s prediction (1:10–11) that the Lord would reject Jewish sacrifices and instead would have "a pure offering" made to him by the Gentiles in every place was seized upon by Christians as a prophecy of the Eucharist. The Didache indeed actually applies the term thusia, or sacrifice, to the Eucharist. . . .
"It was natural for early Christians to think of the Eucharist as a sacrifice. The fulfilment of prophecy demanded a solemn Christian offering, and the rite itself was wrapped in the sacrificial atmosphere with which our Lord invested the Last Supper. The words of institution, ‘Do this’ (touto poieite), must have been charged with sacrificial overtones for second-century ears; Justin at any rate understood them to mean, ‘Offer this.’ . . . The bread and wine, moreover, are offered ‘for a memorial (eis anamnasin) of the passion,’ a phrase which in view of his identification of them with the Lord’s body and blood implies much more than an act of purely spiritual recollection" (Early Christian Doctrines [Full Reference], 196–7).
Finally, a question regarding spirit and flesh. In John 6:58 Jesus spoke about his blood and body in a spiritual sense ("not as your fathers did eat manna and are dead") also see verse 63. ( …‘the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit"…) The disciples got upset because they interpreted His words literally, but is it not that Jesus states that he spoke words and "they are spirit" (not flesh)?
From the Catholic Answers website I found the following which I think will answer your question.
For Fundamentalist writers, the scriptural argument is capped by an appeal to John 6:63: "It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh is of no avail; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life." They say this means that eating real flesh is a waste. But does this make sense? Are we to understand that Christ had just commanded his disciples to eat his flesh, then said their doing so would be pointless? Is that what "the flesh is of no avail" means? "Eat my flesh, but you’ll find it’s a waste of time"—is that what he was saying? Hardly.
The fact is that Christ’s flesh avails much! If it were of no avail, then the Son of God incarnated for no reason, he died for no reason, and he rose from the dead for no reason. Christ’s flesh profits us more than anyone else’s in the world. If it profits us nothing, so that the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Christ are of no avail, then "your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished" (1 Cor. 15:17b–18).
In John 6:63 "flesh profits nothing" refers to mankind’s inclination to think using only what their natural human reason would tell them rather than what God would tell them. Thus in John 8:15–16 Jesus tells his opponents: "You judge according to the flesh, I judge no one. Yet even if I do judge, my judgment is true, for it is not I alone that judge, but I and he who sent me." So natural human judgment, unaided by God’s grace, is unreliable; but God’s judgment is always true.
And were the disciples to understand the line "The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life" as nothing but a circumlocution (and a very clumsy one at that) for "symbolic"? No one can come up with such interpretations unless he first holds to the Fundamentalist position and thinks it necessary to find a rationale, no matter how forced, for evading the Catholic interpretation. In John 6:63 "flesh" does not refer to Christ’s own flesh—the context makes this clear—but to mankind’s inclination to think on a natural, human level. "The words I have spoken to you are spirit" does not mean "What I have just said is symbolic." The word "spirit" is never used that way in the Bible. The line means that what Christ has said will be understood only through faith; only by the power of the Spirit and the drawing of the Father (cf. John 6:37, 44–45, 65).
Paul Confirms This
Paul wrote to the Corinthians: "The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?" (1 Cor. 10:16). So when we receive Communion, we actually participate in the body and blood of Christ, not just eat symbols of them. Paul also said, "Therefore whoever eats the bread and drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord. . . . For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself" (1 Cor. 11:27, 29). "To answer for the body and blood" of someone meant to be guilty of a crime as serious as homicide. How could eating mere bread and wine "unworthily" be so serious? Paul’s comment makes sense only if the bread and wine became the real body and blood of Christ.
I want to thank you for a very interesting, informative and challenging discussion. You have given me much to think about.
The pleasure is all mine. I think ultimately each of us have to decide what our reactions are going to be to these very important words of Jesus. If we really proclaim to be followers of Jesus Christ we cannot simply dismiss this very important subject or trivialise it. Are we going to walk away unbelieving like the Jews did or is our response going to be, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the message of eternal life and we believe."
A very challenging message, and so I pray that the Holy Spirit will enlighten your minds and those of all Christians to the real truth. God bless always.