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Why I Don’t Buy the Roman Catholic Interpretation of John 6 in Defense of Transubstantiation

Catholic apologetics is more robust today than it has been in the recent past. Since Rome has given more freedom of exploration and discover along with the encouragement for Catholics to study the Scriptures, there have been many Catholic apologists preparing Catholics to defend the faith. Despite our temptation in today’s world to let bygones be bygones, the engagement between Protestants and Catholics must go on for the differences are still relevant.

One of the key differences between Protestants and Catholics through the years is the view of the Lord’s Supper or the Eucharist. Catholics, along with the Orthodox Church, have traditionally believed that the Eucharist represents the centerpiece of our worship to God. Catholics call the celebration of the Eucharist “Mass.” They believe that when properly administered, the bread and the wine literally turn into the body and blood of Christ. This is called “transubstantiation” because the “substance” of the elements “transform” into Christ’s body and blood. Most Protestants rejected this view of the Eucharist opting for either a memorial view or a spiritual view of the Lord’s supper (Lutherans believe in a somewhat mediating position called “consubstantiation”).

Why is this important? Because historic Protestantism has often charged the Catholic church with idolatry, believing that they have turned God into an idol of bread and wine, worshiping the elements without, indeed, contrary to, a scriptural basis. Catholics, on the other hand (and this is important), have elevated the celebration of the Mass and the belief in Transubstantiation to an essential of Christianity. In other words, according to Catholic dogma, if you do not celebrate the Mass as they believe it to be understood, you are in great danger of the fires of Hell, since missing Mass without a valid excuse is a mortal sin.

With the recent rise of modern Catholic apologetics, Catholic lay people are being trained to answer some of the more difficult objections to their faith that Protestants bring forward. The two primary areas that Catholic apologetics is centering on are issues with the canon of Scripture and the doctrine of Transubstantiation. We are focusing on Transubstantiation here. Not only this, but I want to focus on one particular argument that is being put forth more and more in defense of Transubstantiation that comes form John 6.

Here is the passage:

John 6:48 “I am the bread of life. 49 Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50 This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” 52 The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” 53 So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. 55 For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. 56 Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. 57 As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven, not as the fathers ate and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” 59 Jesus said these things in the synagogue, as he taught at Capernaum. 60 When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” 61 But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, “Do you take offense at this? . . . After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.”

The Basic argument is this: If Christ was not speaking literally when He said, “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day,” why did they respond by saying: “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” If Christ was only speaking symbolically about feeding on His flesh and drinking His blood (as most Protestants believe), then it is not really a “hard saying,” just a misunderstood saying. According to the Catholic apologist, if Christ was speaking symbolically, Christ could have—indeed would have—corrected them and said, “This is not really hard. You must understand I am only speaking symbolically of eating my flesh and drinking my blood.” But He did not. He let them walk away. The Catholic apologist will often emphasis this fact and declare it to be incontestable evidence that Christ was speaking literally about eating and drinking His flesh and blood. Thus, this becomes a primary defense of transubstantiation and the necessity of partaking in Mass for eternal life.

Karl Keating, a popular Catholic Apologist and President of Catholic Answers, says:

“There was no attempt to soften what was said, no attempt to correct misunderstanding, for there were none. His listeners understood him quite well. No one any longer thought he was speaking metaphorically. If they had, why no correction? On other occasions, whenever there was confusion, Christ explained what he meant. Here, where any misunderstanding would be catastrophic, there was no effort to correct. Instead, he repeated what he said” (Karl Keating, Catholicism and Fundamentalism, [San Francisco: Ignatius, 1988], 233-234).

While I respect and appreciate the attempts of some very fine Catholic apologists to defend difficult positions and believe this to be a good argument on the surface, I believe it is seriously flawed. I believe that it is taken out of the context of the entire book of John and bears a burden that it cannot sustain on exegetical and theological grounds.

Why? For two primary reasons:

1. Jesus is always being misunderstood. John rarely records Jesus’ correcting the misunderstanding of people.

The people in John 6 were looking for Christ to provide for them like Moses did and they were not interested in His talk about belief and eating his flesh. Some naturally thought that he was being literal about his statements. It is true, Christ did not correct them. But this is a common theme in the ministry of Christ. As Peter demonstrates, it is only those who stay with him that get the answers for eternal life (John 6:68). Often Christ would speak in parables and not tell any but those who were His true followers (Luke 8:10). The rest He let go in their ignorance since he knew all men and he was not committing himself to them.

John presents this side of Jesus more than any other of the Gospels when he says: John 2:24-25 “But Jesus, on His part, was not entrusting Himself to them, for He knew all men, and because He did not need anyone to testify concerning man, for He Himself knew what was in man.” He did not entrust himself to his listeners. Why? I suppose some wanted a king who would provide literal food for them like Moses did in the wilderness and they left when it became clear that He was not going to do the same. Some thought that He was speaking about actually eating his flesh and blood, I violation of the Mosaic Law, and they left. But why didn’t He simply correct their misunderstanding in this case? For the same reason He does not throughout the book of John. He often says things that are open to misinterpretation and then leaves His listeners in their confusion. Notice these examples

a. John 2:18-21 “The Jews then said to Him, ‘What sign do You show us as your authority for doing these things?’ Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ The Jews then said, ‘It took forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?’ But He was speaking of the temple of His body.”

Notice, Christ was not being literal here yet He did not correct the misunderstanding. This misunderstanding eventually leads to His conviction and death.

b. John 3:3-4 “Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.’ Nicodemus said to Him, ‘How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?”

Notice again, Jesus does not correct Nicodemus’ misunderstanding (although, like in John 6, it is obvious to the reader that this is not to be taken literally).

c. The disciples want Jesus to eat: “Rabbi, eat” (John 4:31). Jesus answers: “I have food to eat that you do not know about” (4:32). “So the disciples were saying to one another, ‘No one brought him anything to eat, did he?’” (John 4:33).

This time Jesus does correct his disciples, but in frustration because they cannot see the symbolism behind it. In other words, they should know enough by now to interpret His words symbolically since this is the way He always spoke.

Now we come to John 6. John’s readers should know by now that Christ speaks symbolically in such statements as these. We should understand by now that Christ is always being misunderstood by “outsiders.” They also know that sometimes Christ corrects the misunderstanding (especially with true followers) and sometimes he does not. Therefore, it would be irresponsible for the reader to take Christ literally in John 6.

Would Christ have corrected the misunderstanding of unbelievers whose heart he already knew?

“For judgment I came into the world, so that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may become blind” (John 9:39).

“For this reason they could not believe, for Isaiah said again, ‘He has blinded their eyes and he hardened their heart, so that they would not see with their eyes and perceive with their heart, and be converted and I heal them’” (John 12:40).

It does not seem so. This was not His modus operandi.

2. Another important factor that Keating and other Catholic apologists fail to take into account is that John does not even record the central events of the Last Supper at all. Obviously if we took the Catholic interpretation of John 6 and believed John included this passage to communicate that believers must eat the literal body and blood of Christ in order to have eternal life, you would expect John to have recorded the events that it foreshadows. You would expect John to have a historical record of the Last Supper, the inaugurating meal of the Eucharist. But John does not. What an oversight by John! In fact, John is the only Gospel writer that did not record the Last Supper. Therefore, it is very unlikely that in John’s mind, a literal eating and drinking of Christ body and blood are essential for salvation. Remember John wrote the only book in the NT that explicitly says it is written for the purpose of salvation and he does not even include the Lord’s Supper.

John 20:30-31 “Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.”

Why did they walk away? Because, like all other unbelievers, they expected something of Jesus that He did not come to provide and they misunderstood His teachings and intentions. A very common theme in John and a very common mistake today.

In short, before you start paddling across the Tiber, set an anchor and think seriously about the exegetical and theological viability of the Catholic interpretation of John 6.

185 Responses to “Why I Don’t Buy the Roman Catholic Interpretation of John 6 in Defense of Transubstantiation”

  1. I’m puzzled as I thought Anglicans and Lutherans believe in “Real Presence” though under different forms than us Catholics yet your remarks are directed at the Catholics only.

  2. I am an ex roman catholic and now a Presbyterian Protestant. My studies on Kxox and also Zwigli have changed my position on communion. Most students of John Calvin are aware that it was his desire that churches practice weekly communion. Calvin believed that this frequency could be found in both apostolic teaching and example, and that weekly observance was also the practice of the church fathers. Moreover, Calvin saw weekly observance as necessary for uniting the ministry of Word and sacrament.

    When I first became a Presbyterian I missed the weekly celebration of the Lords Supper. My congregation and all the Presbyterian congregations I have worshipped with celebrate monthly communion. However I now am of the opinion that the position John Knox advocated in his Order of Geneva (1556) where he proposed monthly communion is a correct practice.

    Many of Calvin’s Presbyterian descendants did not adopt Calvin’s desire for weekly celebration. The blame for this is usually placed upon another Reformer, Ulrich Zwingli. Zwingli however suggested quarterly observance: once in the autumn and on Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost. The Zwiglian practice is more like the way Baptists celebrate the Supper. Modern Presbyterians reject a Zwinglian view of quarterly, and infrequent communion.

    I believe now that In the sacrament of the Lords Supper the bread and wine do not embrace the body and blood of Christ, I totally reject the roman catholic teaching of transubstantiation. I now believe that there is little urgency for frequent celebration. I think monthly celebration makes it a bit more special and I now believe that weekly celebration could have a tendency to romanize the supper and it can become more like the papist celebration of the mass.

    As I read John Knox my position on the Lords Supper and baptism have become more enlightened and my own preference from my roman catholic tradition has now changed in favor of only monthly celebration of communion.

    In grace,
    Dudley

  3. I said in my previous comment that I am an ex roman catholic and now a Presbyterian Protestant. I believe now as a Protestant that The Lord’s Supper is a Sacrament wherein by giving and receiving bread and wine, according to Christ’s appointment, His death is showed forth, and the worthy receivers are not after a corporal or carnal manner but by faith made partakers of His Body and Blood with all His benefits to their spiritual nourishment and growth in grace.’However the bread remains bread and the wine remains wine, and the command of Christ is: ‘Do this in remembrance of Me.’ I also believe Christ becomes present in the sacrament to all partakers spiritually because of our common faith in Him.

    However how Christ makes himself present in the Lords Supper is a mystery of the infinite and should not be defined by finite men. The council of Trent made official a theory by some Christians up to the 16th century that the bread and wine actually become the body and blood of Jesus. They call that transubstantiation. I no longer accept that teaching. However I do not condemn those who do accept it.

    I think that the irony that is caused by Rome’s Trent teaching divides Christians in the one sacrament which we should share together, The Eucharist of the Lords Supper. Christ also prayed that “They all be one.” as a Roman catholic Protestants were not welcome to receive at a Catholic mass and it was considered a sin for roman Catholics to receive communion in a Protestant church.

    When I was a roman catholic I was taught that the Protestants abandoned the true essence of the sacrament of the Eucharist, and particularly Reformed Protestants, Baptists and Presbyterians. My study of John Calvin opened my eyes that it was the roman catholic church that abandoned and then corrupted the true nature of the sacrament. I was never comfortable with the adoration of the catholic wafer bread even when I was a roman catholic. However as a Protestant I believe all Christians should be welcome at the at the Lords Table, for it really is His Table not ours and does not exclusively belong to Roman Catholics only!

    In grace,
    Dudley

  4. Well said.

    1) Note by the way, that even transubstantiation, is a more sophisticated theory than that held by many Catholics; who should know better than to believe – as many do – that the host is often transformed, in miracles, into real, actual, physical flesh. See many accounts of the host being examined … and found to have blood, veins, human DNA, and so forth.

    Transubstantiation is more defensible than that.

    While 2) as for transubstantiaion itself? It seems Platonic or something; trying to separate the “essence” of a thing, from its appearance. But so radically that, by this standard, anything could be anything. If a piece of bread could be flesh, then a cat could be a dog; an elephant could be a screwdriver.

    3) Probably, the real meaning was indeed, more like … the bread and wine are symbols … as many would say, in Protestantism.

    4) Remember, Jesus said with regard to the bread and wine, “do this in rememberance of me”; he did not say that the host was him; he did not say, do this “with me,” the host.

    5) Apparently too by the way, note that the Eucharist was not always given to all the people by the Church; bread and wine both. In history, it was only priests often. To this day, we get the host … but not the wine, often.

    Nor does the Bible stipulate how often this is to happen; no doubt priests say every week, to get you through their doors. But …

    6) If God really wanted us to eat his real, actual body, then why didn’t the disciples around Jesus just … start canibalizing him on the spot?

    7) It was a “hard saying.” And many left. But who was it that left? Those that took him literally, perhaps? Since taken literally, it is absurd and ugly. Do we have to eat God, like canibals?

    Ironically then, those who think they have stayed with Jesus … actually follow those who left.

    No doubt it is “hard” for many people to understand metaphors, symbols.

  5. Well said Dr. G. I think Michael’s article above on why the roman catholic teaching of transubstantiation is a fallacy is excellent. I think you can appreciate it. I of course do. Not all Protestants do. I as a Protestant who was a roman catholic however can appreciate it.

    I am now invited to the Lords Supper as a Presbyterian. I now believe in the Presbyterian reformed teaching of The Lord’s Supper. That it was instituted by Jesus the same night he was betrayed, to be only a symbolic remembrance of the sacrifice of himself in his death and for our spiritual nourishment, and growth in him, and as a bond and pledge of our communion with him, and with each other.

    I now believe as Calvin taught “That sacred communion of flesh and blood by which Christ transfuses his life into us, just as if it penetrated our bones and marrow, he testifies and seals in the Supper, and that not by presenting a vain or empty sign, but by there exerting an efficacy of the Spirit by which he fulfills what he promises.” I am nourished when I commune in the Presbyterian fold, I did not find that nourishment and presence as a RC when I was taught the bread and wine became the body and blood. I am convinced Rome is in error and the Reformed teaching on the Lords Supper is what Christ intended.

    I am now certain that the Reformation was a tremendous act of God and the Reformers were true Believers. My study of the Protestant Reformation led me to be convinced that the Reformers were right in Separating from the Church of Rome at the Reformation.

    The Reformers realized as they studied the Scriptures that the great central doctrine of the gospel was expressed in the comprehensive sentence, “Christ died for our sins.” The death of Christ was the great center from which the doctrine of salvation sprung. Rome, instead of preaching the Cross, boasted she was repeating the sacrifice of Christ in her service of the Mass, which I now see as an abomination and blasphemy to Christ’s only one time sacrifice on Calvary and the roman catholic belief of transubstantiation and adoration of the rc breadwafer in a monstrance outside the celebration of the Lords Supper not only distorts the sacrament it has lead and continues to lead to gross superstitions. I renounce the roman mass and the roman catholic church and her pope as did the reformers.

    The Roman Catholic Church teaches a gospel which sadly is corrupted by the magesterium, the Roman curia and the Papacy. The reformers had to leave Rome; they could not reform her abuses and corruption from within. I left Roman Catholicism for similar reasons.

    I searched and found the truth by election and grace, not my merit.

    God Bless
    Dudley

  6. I also agree with DR G. when he said “Probably, the real meaning was indeed, more like … the bread and wine are symbols … as many would say, in Protestantism.”

    They are primarily symbols. I have said on other occasions ‘I decided to become a Presbyterian because I asked myself “Either the Catholic Church is very right, OR if its not, its very wrong?” I discovered and then knew it was wrong and a false teacher of the true Gospel of Christ and there can no in-between on this issue.

    Michael also said “Thus, this becomes a primary defense of transubstantiation and the necessity of partaking in Mass for eternal life.”

    I am now a Protestant and do not of course any longer worship as a roman catholic and go to her mass or eat her Eucharist which they believe is the actual body and blood or Christ. I now worship at service as a Presbyterian and commune as a Presbyterian once a month. However I also believe I and all Christian Protestants will if we are born again in Christ and live by the Bible as the sole and only authority will have eternal life.

    I came to believe The Lord’s Supper is a Sacrament wherein by giving and receiving bread and wine, according to Christ’s appointment, His death is showed forth, and the worthy receivers are not after a corporal or carnal manner but by faith made partakers of His Body and Blood with all His benefits to their spiritual nourishment and growth in grace.’However the bread remains bread and the wine remains wine, and the command of Christ is: ‘Do this in remembrance of Me.’

    I agree with Michael totally when he said “While I respect and appreciate the attempts of some very fine Catholic apologists to defend difficult positions and believe this to be a good argument on the surface, I believe it is seriously flawed. I believe that it is taken out of the context of the entire book of John and bears a burden that it cannot sustain on exegetical and theological grounds.”

    Michael’s first argument is the most powerful in showing the fallacy of roman catholic teaching 1. “Jesus is always being misunderstood. John rarely records Jesus’ correcting the misunderstanding of people.”

    I also said in my comment #3 “However how Christ makes himself present in the Lords Supper is a mystery of the infinite and should not be defined by finite men.”

    The roman catholic pope is a finite man and we who are Protestants not only renounce papist false teachings we do not and should not try to explain Gods infinite mystery. That is why I am a Presbyterian Protestant and not a Lutheran. Luther did not take the reforms far enough. Calvin, Knox and Zwigli did.

    I thought I would paste here a poem sent to me by another ex roman catholic who like me became a reformed Protestant. It speaks for itself on the absurdity of roman catholic belief in transubstantiation. I wrote to another Protestant friend the following when I sent it to her.

    Ii wrote her because she was denied communion at a roamn catholic mass

    I wrote;

    The following is a cute poem, a satire on the ridiculous teaching about the Lords Supper by the roman catholic church. I think you would appreciate this because of your being denied communion in a roman catholic mass. I too would now be treated in the same way because we Protestants renounce as ludicrous and blasphemous the papist teaching of transubstantiation which was really a knee jerk reaction to the reformers position that to adore the bread wafer outside the celebration of the Lords Supper is a total distortion of the sacrament itself.

    I can tell you that I now find the celebration of the Lords Supper as a Protestant once a month is more meaningful. I believe now that the bread remains bread and the wine or juice remains wine or juice. In the supper Christ becomes present to us because of our faith and the the elements which are symbols are not changed into Christ actual body and blood. I hope you enjoy the poem, I did after I became a Protestant.

    An Interesting Tale of the Eucharist

    A PRETTY MAID, A PROTESTANT,
    WAS TO A CATHOLIC WED;
    TO LOVE ALL BIBLE TRUTHS AND TALES,
    QUITE EARLY SHE’D BEEN BRED.

    IT SORELY GRIEVED HER HUSBAND’S HEART
    THAT SHE WOULD NOT COMPLY,
    AND JOIN THE MOTHER CHURCH OF ROME
    AND HERETICS DENY.

    SO DAY BY DAY HE FLATTERED HER
    BUT STILL SHE SAW NO GOOD
    WOULD EVER COME FROM BOWING DOWN
    TO IDOLS MADE OF WOOD.

    THE MASS, THE HOST, THE MIRACLES,
    WERE MADE BUT TO DECEIVE;
    AND TRANSUBSTANTIATION, TOO,
    SHE’D NEVER DARE BELIEVE.

    HE WENT TO SEE HIS CLERGYMAN
    AND TOLD HIM HIS SAD TALE
    “MY WIFE IS AN UNBELIEVER, SIR;
    YOU CAN PERHAPS PREVAIL;

    FOR ALL YOUR ROMISH MIRACLES
    MY WIFE HAS STRONG AVERSION.
    TO REALLY WORK A MIRACLE
    MAY LEAD TO HER CONVERSION.”

    THE PRIEST WENT WITH THE GENTLEMAN
    HE THOUGHT TO GAIN A PRIZE.
    HE SAID, “I WILL CONVERT HER, SIR,
    AND OPEN BOTH HER EYES.”

    “THE PRIEST HAS COME TO DINE WITH US!”
    “HE’S WELCOME,” SHE REPLIED.

    AND WHEN, AT LAST, THE MEAL WAS O’ER,
    THE PRIEST AT ONCE BEGAN,
    TO TEACH HIS HOSTESS ALL ABOUT
    THE SINFUL STATE OF MAN.

    THE GREATNESS OF OUR SAVIOUR’S LOVE,
    WHICH CHRISTIANS CAN’T DENY.
    TO GIVE HIMSELF A SACRIFICE
    AND FOR OUR SINS TO DIE.

    “I WILL RETURN TOMORROW, LASS,
    PREPARE SOME BREAD AND WINE;
    THE SACRAMENTAL MIRACLE
    WILL STOP YOUR SOUL’S DECLINE.”

    “I’LL BAKE THE BREAD,” THE LADY SAID.
    “YOU MAY,” HE DID REPLY.
    “AND WHEN YOU’VE SEEN THIS MIRACLE,
    CONVINCED YOU’LL BE, SAY I.”

    THE PRIEST DID COME ACCORDINGLY,
    THE BREAD AND WINE DID BLESS.
    THE LADY ASKED, “SIR, IS IT CHANGED?”
    THE PRIEST ANSWERED, “YES,

    IT’S CHANGED FROM COMMON BREAD AND WINE
    TO TRULY FLESH AND BLOOD.
    BEGORRA LASS, THIS POWER OF MINE
    HAS CHANGED IT INTO GOD!”

    SO HAVING BLESSED THE BREAD AND WINE,
    TO EAT THEY DID PREPARE
    THE LADY SAID UNTO THE PRIEST
    “I WARN YOU TO TAKE CARE.

    FOR HALF AN OUNCE OF ARSENIC
    WAS MIXED RIGHT IN THE BATTER,
    BUT SINCE YOU HAVE ITS NATURE CHANGED
    IT CANNOT REALLY MATTER.”

    THE PRIEST WAS STRUCK REAL DUMB,
    HE LOOKED AS PALE AS DEATH,
    THE BREAD AND WINE FELL FROM HIS HANDS,
    AND HE DID GASP FOR BREATH.

    “BRING ME MY HORSE!” THE PRIEST CRIED,
    “THIS IS A CURSED HOME!”
    THE LADY REPLIED, “BEGONE;
    TIS YOU WHO SHARES THE CURSE OF ROME!”

    THE HUSBAND, TOO, HE SAT SURPRISED,
    AND NOT A WORD DID SAY.
    AT LENGTH HE SPOKE, “MY DEAR, SAID HE,
    “THE PRIEST HAS RUN AWAY.

    TO GULP SUCH MUMMERY AND TRIPE,
    I’M NOT FOR SURE QUITE ABLE;
    I’LL GO WITH YOU AND WE’LL RENOUNCE
    THIS ROMAN CATHOLIC FABLE.”

    In grace,
    Dudley

    I too renounced that same roman catholic fable!!!

    • Dear Mr Dudley thought you might be interested in listening to Jesus and the Jewish roots of the eucharist by Dr Brant Pitre. It helped to further my understanding of the Gulf between protestants and catholics on this issue even though the guy himself is catholic 3 bucks on amazon sincerely anonymous

  7. I have one more thought to share tonight on this subject.

    Michael also said” Catholics, on the other hand (and this is important), have elevated the celebration of the Mass and the belief in Transubstantiation to an essential of Christianity. In other words, according to Catholic dogma, if you do not celebrate the Mass as they believe it to be understood, you are in great danger of the fires of Hell, since missing Mass without a valid excuse is a mortal sin.”

    If that were really true than “I am in Mortal sin” I am sure that some roman catholics do now think I am because I have been a Protestant since January 2006 and I miss mass regularly because I worship as a Presbyterian in Sunday services and I receive the Lords Supper monthly as a Protestant.

    I have said I renounce roman catholicism and I believe her mass is a blasphemy as well as the way she corrupts the Lords Supper.

    I wish to add here that the truth I discovered is that the roman catholic church was really all about money and control. I have found that I without intention have become a bit anti-papist as well as a bit anti-roman catholic as a result of my studies; the reformers felt as I do also. I never thought I would ever convert to Protestantism let alone become a Presbyterian. We were taught as roman catholics that Presbyterians are the furthest from the roman church in sacraments, worship and government, and that really is true. We were taught that Presbyterians through out the mass, 5 of the sacraments and they cast out the ecclesiastical form of church government and renounce the pope as vicar of Christ. They do not believe the Eucharist becomes the body and blood of Jesus Christ. The irony is that I truly believed Presbyterian Protestants had strayed too far from the truth and the true church of Christ and the apostles, which was the Roman catholic church.

    Now I am a convinced and avowed Presbyterian Protestant. I also believe it is Rome that strayed and corrupted he church and its teachings. I ultimately like Calvin had to personally renounce her as well as the pope and its romish and pagan inspired corrupted worship the mass and all her teachings that were contrary to the Gospel.

    Dudley

  8. The question is this…is it a metaphor when we don’t understand it, and becomes real when we do understand?

    It’s real easy to pass things off as symbolic, allegoric, or metaphoric. Notice those “ics”…

    Because religions are Calvinist “ic”, Cathol “ic”, Charismat “ic”.

    I think the use of the “ic” sometimes makes the religion more viewed as respectable.

    But symbols are to be understood simply by the user. Like the schwastika was a symbol of hate, but the Najavo used it long before and so did some groups in Indian. So the symbol was understood by the user. A symbol is a symbol. Nothing more.

  9. After two+ decades as a non-denominational Protestant Evangelical/Charismatic, my studies of church history and doctrine and liturgical development (Dix, Bradshaw, et al.), as well as the Apostolic and Early Church Fathers, led me to consider both the Roman Catholic and the [Eastern] Orthodox Church(es), ultimately choosing the latter.

    (I also have read Keith Mathison’s Given for You: Reclaiming Calvin’s Doctrine of the Lord’s Supper.)

    My reading in these things, as well as my constant re-reading of 1 Corinthians 10-11 and John 6, led me to accept the long-held and ancient view and understanding of the Eucharist as taught and believed by these churches.

    But without being polemical toward Roman Catholics or Eastern Orthodox or even sacramental Protestants, including Lutherans and some Presbyterians, I ended up leaving that communion when I realized that I could no longer affirm the belief in the change of the bread and wine as taught and professed, as well as the other teachings about the Eucharist/communion.

    My efforts to reconvince myself, both by prayer and additional and continuing reading and studying, only further supported my present belief that these churches misunderstand what Christ taught and meant, and what the Lord’s Supper is and how it is to be shared.

    FWIW, a book that expresses some similar ideas to what I hold is Come to the Table: Revisioning the Lord’s Supper by John Mark Hicks, though Hicks only supported, not formed, some of my conclusions; I had already arrived at most of them before finding his book.

    And as I continue to read 1 Corinthians and John 6 and the other Gospels, I do not find myself persuaded back to the Catholic/Orthodox teaching.

    YMMV

  10. But to be sure, even “just” symbols have some usefulness. The letters of the alphabet are symbols; words are symbols. And words and letters are useful too.

    And the words in the Bible are “just” symbols, someone might say. Still, 1) even these mere symbols, the words of the Bible, manage however, to … make themselves useful. To convey thoughts. Some would even say, spirit.

    For that matter, 2) Catholics seem happy enough with the Bible, often; and its symbolic/alphabetic communication.

    So 3) why would we need more than that? Why would we need anything magic-like? Like hosts/bread wafers, allegedly changing, literally, into flesh?

    4) Or for that matter, do we even need, the odd Platonic sophistries of … “transubstantiation”? A tale of inner ghosts secretly transforming objects in their essence or “substance” (whatever that is?); as opposed to the host’s secondary appearance, its incidents and accidents.

    The theory of “transubstantiation” many would say, is obviously a rationalization, a fig-leaf, a smokescreen; to disguise the everday failure of a confirmable, literal, physical transformation, of a piece of bread. A miracle.

    5) But Catholic-bashing is all too easy on a Protestant blog.

    So consider this: if Protestants reject the old Catholic miracle – bread changing literally in flesh – then to be sure, how about Protestant miracles?

    6) Many advocate even “Cessationism”; or say, an end, a “cessation,” to expecting them, any longer.

    7) Should we all stop believing in all physical miracles? Or for example, just say that there are not (m)any physical miracles today?

    8) Are there many Protestants that dare to say that out loud, in a “plain” way, in church? Or argue that, on a Protestant blog? By any other means than by deliberately obscure language; euphemisms and Big Words?

  11. Dr. G,

    From what I understand of Catholic teaching, protestant objection goes way beyond any miracle spoken of in transubstantiation.

    They believe that the Mass is a continued sacrifice of the body and blood of Christ, contrary to the Scripural proclamation that He gave Himself once and for all.

    One of the commenters here on this site that used to be a Catholic spoke of that fact in at least one of his first comments here.

    Therefore, I don’t think it has anything to do with a rejection of miracles per se.

  12. No doubt, the literal (as opposed to the “transubstanialist”) account of the Eucharist, could be opposed on many grounds.

    Still, it seems clear from the literature, that many individuals – if not all – apparently did reject the literal understanding of the transformation of the host. And they rejected it in part, as they say in the literature, on the grounds of … disbelief in miracles.

    There has been much literature on this subject: about early informal and then later scientific tests,on the host, after it touched the mouth. Tests were said to be proving that the bread was not transformed into real material flesh. Saying that it was still, provably, bread.

    Many Protestants and rationalists, cited this evidence, these tests, for turning from the Church.

    And while it might be that while, as you say, some Protestants might not regard this as a litmus case for belief in miracles in general, others definitely did.

  13. Christ has asked us to continue this custom of communion in rememberance of Him, not in place of Him. The believers around Him partook of these things while He was them, after all. Were they literally eating Him then?

    If the elements are indeed His real flesh and blood, as some teach, then we would be in a sense performing an act similar to those folks in Mexico who nail themselves to a cross every year in order to feel Christ’s pain, and purify themselves.

    Since most Christians accept that Christ died a substitutionary death on the cross for our sin, why go to the trouble of doing it ourself all over again? We accept the symbolism of the cross in faith. In the same way, it seems to me that the taking John 6 literally would in essence mean we would be crucifying Christ all over again, something scripture warns us not to do.

    In taking communion, we are simply symbolically remembering His life and death and resurrection in faith as well, and honoring Him the way He asked.

  14. “And while it might be that while, as you say, some Protestants might not regard this as a litmus case for belief in miracles in general, others definitely did.”

    That was, it seems to me a very strange litmus test! Frankly, I have never heard anyone say that and can’t remember ever reading that it was used that way. I am not arguing with you–just saying that was something I was not aware of.

  15. Read especially the early Rationalist philosophers. I can’t remember which; but maybe Volataire? Descartes? Who used this very example. A history of thought on the Eucharist, would uncover this group.

  16. If Louis Bouyer of the Oratory is correct in grounding the meaning of the Eucharist in the Jewish liturgy and prayers, then the “remembrance” we make of Christ during communion, as well as the “proclamation” of His death, is not as many of us have supposed or been taught. Read his book Eucharist: Theology and Spirituality of the Eucharistic Prayer, esp. pp. 103-105, The Meaning of the “Memorial”. As he writes: “It in no way means a subjective, human psychological act of returning to the past, but an objective reality destined to make some thing or some one perpetually present before God and for God himself…. Every time Christians celebrate it, as St. Paul says, they ‘announce’ or ‘proclaim’ this death, not first to the world, but to God, and the ‘recalling’ of Christ’s death is for God the pledge of his fidelity in saving them.”

    Think of the OT covenant-renewing meals and feasts before and in the presence of YHWH when you think of the Eucharist.

  17. Thanks Eric. I like this reference. But of course you did not unequivocally endorse this source though. And I can see strengths and weaknesses in it.

    1) First, the very word “remembrance” (apparently found in the original text?) implies a mere memory. Something wistful; not quite a full “presence.” We are invoking a memory. Not presenting God up front again, live and in person, before us.

    2) This is a useful source though, in suggesting something not quite a full presence, but not quite a wistful memory either; something as strong as an oath of allegiance, say.

    Which may not bring the old Lord back to life before us, exactly; but which puts our current, modern bodies – and arms? – at the disposal of that old idea/LORD. Given the old ideas or spirit, a very real modern, physical “arm.”

    A strong oath of allegiance? Would that be close to the old ceremonies? Less than a resurrection of Jesus; but more than a wistful memory too?

  18. MBaker:

    A good summary of the symbolic nature of the Eucharist. Though note Eric’s “Pledge of fidelity”; which refines that a bit perhaps.

  19. Dr. G.:

    I think your oath of allegiance idea is very much a part of the Eucharist/communion – i.e., we (re)bind ourselves to the Covenant, and God does, too. It is not just a remembrance, but also a reminder to God and to ourselves of what Christ effected between man and God, and what both we and He have pledged to do with respect to our respective parts of that covenant.

    (Not that the covenant goes in and out of force and has to be renewed/restarted at each communion, though…. I.e., Christ doesn’t have to be re-offered as if His one/one-time offering wasn’t truly once for all and sufficient.)

    IIRC, Catholics and Orthodox assert that in the Eucharist Christ is re-presented before the Father – i.e., His offering is eternally present to the Father, and the Eucharist re-presents (not simply represents) Christ to God and to the communicants. I.e., the Mass/Divine Liturgy presents the one and the same sacrifice that occurred at Calvary, not a new sacrifice or a resacrificing of Christ.

  20. KK:

    So it all seemed so metaphorical and vague; but suddenly it finds a very real, physical manifestation.

  21. Eric:

    Though it would seem to me that just seeing even a re-presentation of the old sacrifice, even that, would not be as vivid as our emulating it ourselves, in real life?

    Indeed, if we did not emulate it in real life, then that re-enactment of the original sacrifice was not real enough for us; or was perceived as a mere show or subtitute.

    I would rather see it not as anything self-sufficient in itself; of adequate in itself. Or an end in itself. But as a model for our very real actions in this world.

    To over-stress the sacredness of that moment, the Eucharist or host – as God himself – in makes it an end in itself. We have fully experienced God they say … so why ever do anything more than go to communion?

    But clearly just going to church, taking communion, should really not be enough; that would create a mere priest, who never gets out of the church (hanging around the sacraments, regarded as sufficient in themselves). It would not – and has not to this very day – recreated, more than priests, another Christ. Someone taking that spirit, even militantly, out into the world. As Jesus did; even in the aim of forming a “kingdom.”

  22. Luke 22:19-20 quotes Christ as saying regarding communion being a remembrance of Him.

    “And he took bread, and after giving thanks, he broke it and gave to them saying. “This is my body ,which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me. And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant of my blood.” (ESV)

    To me that suggests the act of taking communion signifies to Him both an establishment of a new covenant relationship with us, and our physical continuance of it in the church. Not in the literal sense that it actually it becomes real flesh and blood, just because we receive it as physical food and drink, but it is a representation of all that He is/was/ and is yet to come, and all the promises that go with that.

    Then there is I Corinthians 11:24 which further explains that as often we do this we proclaim the Lord’s death UNTIL He comes.

    Since humans eat flesh every day in the natural, I honestly cannot see how taking holy communion would equate into actually eating the Lord’s body and blood, because then it would only honor Him as merely a mortal man of flesh and blood like us, and not celebrate Him in the fullness of the Godhead. We could just as well remember Him every time we ate bread or meat or drank wine, rather than making communion the act of celebrating the mutual covenant that He established.

    It’s not the elements themselves that turn into Christ, but what Christ made of the elements by His death on the cross that turned them into something special.

  23. MBAKER

    1) That is a good objection to the too-literal understanding of the Catholic Eucharist. That is, that it is actual flesh.

    2) Fortuntely, to be sure, some Catholics have themselves moved a step past their earlier, too-literal understanding; to “transubstantiation.” Which holds that it is flesh … but then again it admittedly doesn’t look like it. It is rather still looking like bread, to be sure. It’s just that its invisible essence or “substance” has been changed.

    The theory of transubstantiation seems better than the old literal idea; but as a rather Platonist theory, there are anti-Platonic arguments against it. (That are too long for present explication).

    3) In any case though, as we ourselves take in the spirit of Jesus in the communion, and devote our lives to him … the spirit takes hold in us.

    4) And, here’s a recent addition to the traditions and scholarship on this, by a friend of mine, a scholar on Resurrection: this very moment s in effect, one way Christ has lived on, to be “resurrected” even in the physical world.

    That is: a) as the spirit takes hold in us, note, that we have a physical body.

    So that b) amazingly, as foretold, the spirit … now finds a physical body again. As we loan it, in effect, ours.

    Thus c) the spirit, Christ, is re-incarnated, resurrected; in the world; in the flesh. To the extent that we aa) know the spirit well and truly; and bb) actually act in the physical world, according to it.

    A note of caution of course: don’t try to do this at home yourselves. You must be very, very, very sure that you have the right spirit … before you go marching around the neighborhood as the living arm of Christ.

  24. I think the Lord’s Supper has to be seen in relationship to the Passover Seder and the covenant feasts with YHWH. While the Lord Jesus may have implemented/initiated something new, I don’t think He did what He did out of whole cloth.

    What are the OT precedents for the Lord’s Supper? What was the relationship of those at table with both God and with each other at these precedents? What was the place/meaning of the bread, wine and cups? What did the celebrants do at these things? Where in these things did or does the food and drink the celebrants partake of become the flesh and blood of deity so that they consume their God?

  25. “What is so special about this day?” As the older Jewish people say at such dinners today?

    Here’s my (even original?) understanding:

    Originally the passover of course, referred to indeed, another loyalty oath or show of loyalty in effect. Moses had told those who were loyal to him (and thus in effect to Mosaic Judaism), to make bread quickly. And especially, sacrifice an animal. Then put the blood on the lintel of the door to prove it. Those who showed their loyalty in this way … were not killed, when the “angels” of the Lord came by later, killing all those who did not show this sign of loyalty.

    Later generations of Jews, to this very day, get together on Passover; to show their continuing loyalty too. I part by putting something on the door? And the dinner too. Which includes quick – unleavened – bread.

    Those at table? Were, and are, in the kingdom. Wine? Cups? Who can say where you will be in the kingdom; as events overtake us all. But as an early and prominent and able celebrant?

    Once invited to the table of a king, you are already presumed to be a friendly; and the longer at table (at the LORD’s expense), the more you are expected to be loyal to the hand that feeds you. As a member of the messhall; and possibly the very household.

    If you eat meat there, you eat the “flesh of the Lord.” Which note, has a double meaning. And might only mean … a) eat the flesh or meat – the steak – he hands you. In contrast, likely the b) wrong understanding: don’t bite the hand that feeds you, like a cannibal indeed. When you eat the Lord’s “flesh” – or better said, “meat” – you are not eating the Lord himself; you are eating his hamburger.

    You don’t really quite eat or become the Lord himself; except as follows. By him feeding you, he is putting “flesh” on you (as in Dan. 1.4-15). Which was his, but is now yours. And to the extent that you in turn devote your/his flesh to the service of the Lord? Then you have taken on in fact – consumed and then become – the Lord’s flesh.

    I guess.

  26. Seems a bit grisly, I’ll admit. But to understand reality, even religion, it helps to be as concrete about it all, as a surgeon sometimes. Jesus told doubting Thomas, to push his very finger into the very wound. Grisly stuff … that we are commanded by the Lord to do, if we doubt.

  27. What are the OT precedents for the Lord’s Supper? What was the relationship of those at table with both God and with each other at these precedents? What was the place/meaning of the bread, wine and cups? What did the celebrants do at these things? Where in these things did or does the food and drink the celebrants partake of become the flesh and blood of deity so that they consume their God?

    To clarify my last statement, I am not saying or suggesting or implying that in the OT the food and drink they consumed indeed become the flesh and blood of YHWH. In fact, I’m suggesting that it does NOT, and that’s one reason I left the communion of those churches that teach this – i.e., it had no OT precedent, IMO.

    I kept asking and praying and looking for some OT precedent for what the Orthodox and the Catholics teach about the Eucharist, and I could find none.

    Even the statements in 1 Cor. 10, which seem to support the Catholic/Orthodox belief, seem to fall apart for me if in the analogy Paul makes with the celebrants at the table of demons they did not in fact believe that the food and drink they consumed became the flesh and blood of demons.

    So, if you can show me that this is indeed what those who ate at the table of demons believed, I might be persuaded to think again more in line with the Catholic/Orthodox teachings.

    But if these pagan celebrations were of food and wine offered to and consumed in the presence of and in communion with their deities/spirits as a covenant-making and -renewing meal, but not or not believed to be an actual eating and drinking of now-changed-into-demons’-flesh-and-blood victuals, then for Paul’s analogy to hold, neither do the bread and wine of the Eucharist change into the Lord’s real body and blood. Nor were the participants supposed to believe that they did.

    Or so I think.

  28. EricW,

    Here is a quote from a very long article in the “Catholic Encyclopedia”. I didn’t read the whole article, just basically skimmed it for pertinent information.

    “Once more, we maintain that the sacrifical “giving of the body” (in organic unity of course with the “pouring of blood” in the chalice) is here to be interpreted as a present sacrifice and as a permanent institution in the Church. Regarding the decisive point, i.e. indication of what is actually taking place, it is again St. Luke who speaks with greatest clearness, for to soma he adds the present participle, didomenon by which he describes the “giving of the body” as something happening in the present, here and now, not as something to be done in the near future.”

    It was found at this site: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/10006a.htm
    (For some reason I couldn’t get it to copy as a link.)

    Anyway, if I read this correctly they believe that there is actually a sacrifice that is made in the Eucharist each time in a mystical way. It seems that they believe there was actually a mystical sacrifice that happened when Jesus instituted the Eucharist the night before His death on the cross and the same thing happens each time the Eucharist is given today.

    It would be an interesting read for anyone that has time and wants to understand the Catholic position better.

  29. I think we agree. I guess my ideas above are confused, no doubt.

    But you are right: we are not literally, eating the Lord’s physical body. As many thought. That would indeed be even more grisly than what I have described: that would be cannibalism. My assertion agrees with you I think: that any Catholics and others who think that … have misunderstood the Bible.

    I’m not too familiar with the demon example; I’ll look at it.

  30. C:

    Be careful of your source: “New Advent” is not entirely reliable.

    Though here, fortunately, it seems they are modernizing the Catholic approach; to be more compatible with Protestantism. In the ecumenical spirit of Vatican II.

    “Giving of the body” in New Advent, does not specify things as much as earlier Catholic literature did. And leaves open a mystical aspect.

    Earlier Catholic literature however, was very much more concrete.

    New Advent by the way, I think, is run by an individual person, who perhaps is not even a priest. And I do not believe that site is officially endorsed, by the Church itself.

    If you want an authoritative source, the only one is: Vatican.va

    And even there, the Church itself says, only when the Pope himself, speaks authoritatively, “infallibly,””Ex Cathedra.”

    Accept no substitutes.

  31. Thanks Dr. G. It is a very tehnical article with many quotes from the past. It seemed authentic. Doesn’t mean it is though.

    I guess you are maybe saying it is pretty hard to pin down exactly what they believe?

    I believe it was Dudley Davis above that said he was an ex Catholic and said they believe in a continued sacrifice in some way.

  32. Paul on eating with demons (1 Corin. 10)?

    The context is … Jews have strict food laws about what kind of food they can eat; “Kosher” laws we call them today. But Gentiles, Greeks and others, do not. So they could not eat at the same table.

    However, Paul wanted to extend Christ’s teaching not just to Jews, but also to the gentiles, Greeks. Yet Jews and Gentiles in effect, couldn’t even eat at the same table, according to old Jewish (OT?) laws. Because their foods might mix up.

    So, to allows Jews and Gentiles to mix, even at dinner (and eventually that special dinner, communion), Paul here tries to drop some of the old food prohibition. Telling us (with Peter) that in fact, we can eat anything put before us, or sold in the market.

    Christianity here drops, changing, some of God’s old food laws in the OT, to be sure. Many would say.

    The “new” law was: eat with others; whatever they eat.

    But there is apparently one exception however: just don’t eat food sacrificed/dedicated to other Gods; demons.

    Because the people and their food are … bad. Demonic.

    All this doesn’t seem to have a very direct relationship to the Passover seder. Other than not allowing non-Christians into communion.

    Or in fact, strictly speaking, it would be hard to violate: since today, it would be very hard to find any food at all, sacrificed to any gods or demons. Therefore there is little chance of eating it.

    Though to be sure, just in case: eat with friends, among good people, when you can. Don’t hang out too much with bad people; or eat too often at their house. And especially, don’t eat bad people’s (bad?) food?

    Does that answer anything? These are the thoughts off the top of my head. Basically, there’s not much here that is really relevant I think. Except to note that Paul is enlarging the circle of people who can share Judeo Christianity together, at table. To include not just Jews, but also non-Jews; Gentiles.

    That enlargement is fortunate. Since in fact, Christianity didn’t catch on among the Jews proper, that much; most Christians today, are not decended from Jews. But were from Gentile nations: Italians; French; Germans; Spainards; etc..

    Christianity spread far more among Gentiles than Jews. If Paul had not bent some table rules, f he had not modified Jewish OT food rules to allow Gentiles into the communion with the Jewish/Christian tradition of Jesus, then undoubtedly, Christianity would never have spread as widely as it did, through table fellowship. Early Jewish Christians, would have eaten only with their immediate tribesmen; no non-Jews would have been allowed into the inner circles and family groupings. And thus Christianity would never have spread so widely … until it allowed, attracted, “all nations,” all peoples.

    Note however, that this success of Christianity, was done by bending/breaking some Old Testament “laws” however, it seems. Paul (and Peter) dropping warnings from God, against eating pork, shellfish, and so forth.

  33. cherly u:

    Probably the best source for Catholic belief/teaching is the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC). An online searchable edition is here:

    http://www.scborromeo.org/ccc.htm

    Sections 1362-1372 are relevant to this discussion:

    The sacrificial memorial of Christ and of his Body, the Church

    1362 The Eucharist is the memorial of Christ’s Passover, the making present and the sacramental offering of his unique sacrifice, in the liturgy of the Church which is his Body. In all the Eucharistic Prayers we find after the words of institution a prayer called the anamnesis or memorial.

    1363 In the sense of Sacred Scripture the memorial is not merely the recollection of past events but the proclamation of the mighty works wrought by God for men.184 In the liturgical celebration of these events, they become in a certain way present and real. This is how Israel understands its liberation from Egypt: every time Passover is celebrated, the Exodus events are made present to the memory of believers so that they may conform their lives to them.

    1364 In the New Testament, the memorial takes on new meaning. When the Church celebrates the Eucharist, she commemorates Christ’s Passover, and it is made present the sacrifice Christ offered once for all on the cross remains ever present.185 “As often as the sacrifice of the Cross by which ‘Christ our Pasch has been sacrificed’ is celebrated on the altar, the work of our redemption is carried out.”186

    1365 Because it is the memorial of Christ’s Passover, the Eucharist is also a sacrifice. The sacrificial character of the Eucharist is manifested in the very words of institution: “This is my body which is given for you” and “This cup which is poured out for you is the New Covenant in my blood.”187 In the Eucharist Christ gives us the very body which he gave up for us on the cross, the very blood which he “poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”188

    1366 The Eucharist is thus a sacrifice because it re-presents (makes present) the sacrifice of the cross, because it is its memorial and because it applies its fruit:

    [Christ], our Lord and God, was once and for all to offer himself to God the Father by his death on the altar of the cross, to accomplish there an everlasting redemption. But because his priesthood was not to end with his death, at the Last Supper “on the night when he was betrayed,” [he wanted] to leave to his beloved spouse the Church a visible sacrifice (as the nature of man demands) by which the bloody sacrifice which he was to accomplish once for all on the cross would be re-presented, its memory perpetuated until the end of the world, and its salutary power be applied to the forgiveness of the sins we daily commit.189

    1367 The sacrifice of Christ and the sacrifice of the Eucharist are one single sacrifice: “The victim is one and the same: the same now offers through the ministry of priests, who then offered himself on the cross; only the manner of offering is different.” “And since in this divine sacrifice which is celebrated in the Mass, the same Christ who offered himself once in a bloody manner on the altar of the cross is contained and is offered in an unbloody manner. . . this sacrifice is truly propitiatory.”190

    1368 The Eucharist is also the sacrifice of the Church. The Church which is the Body of Christ participates in the offering of her Head. With him, she herself is offered whole and entire. She unites herself to his intercession with the Father for all men. In the Eucharist the sacrifice of Christ becomes also the sacrifice of the members of his Body. The lives of the faithful, their praise, sufferings, prayer, and work, are united with those of Christ and with his total offering, and so acquire a new value. Christ’s sacrifice present on the altar makes it possible for all generations of Christians to be united with his offering.

    In the catacombs the Church is often represented as a woman in prayer, arms outstretched in the praying position. Like Christ who stretched out his arms on the cross, through him, with him, and in him, she offers herself and intercedes for all men.

    1369 The whole Church is united with the offering and intercession of Christ. Since he has the ministry of Peter in the Church, the Pope is associated with every celebration of the Eucharist, wherein he is named as the sign and servant of the unity of the universal Church. The bishop of the place is always responsible for the Eucharist, even when a priest presides; the bishop’s name is mentioned to signify his presidency over the particular Church, in the midst of his presbyterium and with the assistance of deacons. The community intercedes also for all ministers who, for it and with it, offer the Eucharistic sacrifice:

    Let only that Eucharist be regarded as legitimate, which is celebrated under [the presidency of] the bishop or him to whom he has entrusted it.191

    Through the ministry of priests the spiritual sacrifice of the faithful is completed in union with the sacrifice of Christ the only Mediator, which in the Eucharist is offered through the priests’ hands in the name of the whole Church in an unbloody and sacramental manner until the Lord himself comes.192

    1370 To the offering of Christ are united not only the members still here on earth, but also those already in the glory of heaven. In communion with and commemorating the Blessed Virgin Mary and all the saints, the Church offers the Eucharistic sacrifice. In the Eucharist the Church is as it were at the foot of the cross with Mary, united with the offering and intercession of Christ.

    1371 The Eucharistic sacrifice is also offered for the faithful departed who “have died in Christ but are not yet wholly purified,”193 so that they may be able to enter into the light and peace of Christ:

    Put this body anywhere! Don’t trouble yourselves about it! I simply ask you to remember me at the Lord’s altar wherever you are.194

    Then, we pray [in the anaphora] for the holy fathers and bishops who have fallen asleep, and in general for all who have fallen asleep before us, in the belief that it is a great benefit to the souls on whose behalf the supplication is offered, while the holy and tremendous Victim is present. . . . By offering to God our supplications for those who have fallen asleep, if they have sinned, we . . . offer Christ sacrificed for the sins of all, and so render favorable, for them and for us, the God who loves man.195

    1372 St. Augustine admirably summed up this doctrine that moves us to an ever more complete participation in our Redeemer’s sacrifice which we celebrate in the Eucharist:

    This wholly redeemed city, the assembly and society of the saints, is offered to God as a universal sacrifice by the high priest who in the form of a slave went so far as to offer himself for us in his Passion, to make us the Body of so great a head. . . . Such is the sacrifice of Christians: “we who are many are one Body in Christ” The Church continues to reproduce this sacrifice in the sacrament of the altar so well-known to believers wherein it is evident to them that in what she offers she herself is offered.196

  34. Boy, is there a lot of confusion abounding on that particular subject!

  35. Some of the reformers held the view of consubstantation, such as Luther, where Christ’s body and blood are present, in, with, under the form of the bread and wine, which in and of itself still remains bread and wine.

    Even Calvin taught a form of this, that by taking the bread and the wine, which remain so in themselves, in a way that the Spirit raises us through faith to share Christ in a way that is both real and mystical.

    The Westminister confession (29.1) is generally used by the much of the church as the full statement of the meaning of Lord’s Supper as follows:

    (1) the Lord’s supper, as we call it, was instituted by Christ himself as a perpetual sacrament to be observed until the time of His physical return.

    (2) It symbolizes the sealing of all benefits accorded to us by His death as true believers

    (3) our spiritual nourishment and growth in Him

    (4) our further engagement in and to all duties which we owe to Him

    (5) and to be a bond and pledge of our communion with Him, and to each other, as members of His mystical body.

    The scriptures on which these statements are based are Matthew 26:26, Mark 14:22-25, Luke 22:17-20, I Corinthians 10:16-21; and 11:17-34.

    The reformed church believes that the sermon in John 6 about our need to feed on Him by eating His body and blood is not literal, but is better understood as being about what it signifies, – continued communion with Christ, by faith in what He has done and who He is, and how he has asked us to honor this, rather than the Supper itself.

  36. Regarding frequency? “Continuing sacrifice?” About how many times do we have to take communion to be saved?

    In much of Protestantism, I think it could be just once. But Catholics are indeed, having a continued, renewed sacrifice. Priests often say in public, that once is not enough. In fact, they hint that once a week is necessary.

    Though their tradition once said something very different.

    Regarding the main issue though? Actually eating God? I agree; the Bible was not really literal here. And many Catholics here therefore, make a mistake.

    New Advent might be trying to change that.

    However note again: there are several “Catholic” media outlets out there, that claim to speak for the Church; but so far as I know, none of them have that much authority; however complex and interesting their theology may seem. Or even if in some cases, their theology is a seeming improvement over Traditional ideas. The Church is extremely authoritarian and hierarchial; and the Church itself therefore, probably does not endorse such sites officially; nor do most Catholics themselves really follow them. The old Catholic Encyclopedia itself might have been reasonably reliable; but then New Advent stepped in, to insert its own two cents.

    For that matter? Probably theology and religion are so complicated, that no human source whatsoever is all that authoritative.

  37. The key phrase, somewhere in the current Catechism, seems to be asserting a “Real Presence” of Christ in the host.

    This phrase lends itself to two or three interpretations. Ordinary Catholics probably once favored this one: 1) when you eat that bread, it really turns into a piece of human flesh. So you are really eating Jesus.

    2) Others more plausibly favor this more modern interpretation: that piece of bread is really, really Jesus. In some mysterious way. The bread does not change in its external appearance. But – as in Transubstantiation etc. – changes its essence, or “substance.” A position accepted by many Protestants.

    3) Most conservative Catholics will not accept that this could be taken to mean its a “symbol”of God though. It has to be God; really, really, really, a “Real Presence” somehow.

    Most Catholics would accept something like many Protestant churches though; some of which also accept in fact, (I believe), Transubstantiation.

    This was one of the two or three top things at issue in conflicts bewteen Catholicism and Protestantism, for many years.

    To the point that it became immensely boring, c. 1950.

  38. I personally am only interested in it today … as a vehicle for some new ideas about the mechanism of the resurrection of the body and so forth.

    Many have heard about this over and over and over in Sunday School; and in church; and on Catholic Radio, a million times. And never really caring about it, at any time. Except to be concerned at all the people caught up in it. And to urge them to find another way of thinking.

    “It’s symbolic,” seems good enough.

  39. Regarding frequency, Christ says as many times as we do it. Does that mean salvation is based upon the number of times we observe a sacred ritual that He has asked us to observe? Of course not. If that were the case it would be more about our works than His.

    We are merely obeying His command to do it, however frequently, in perpetual remembrance of what He did in establishing a new and better covenant for us through His life, death and resurrection.

  40. Note however one important thing:

    1) At one time, Catholics were quite literal, and did not believe in transubstantiation.

    2) And Protestants did believe in it.

    3) And that was a cause of huge and violent conflicts between Protestants and Catholics.

    4) However, Catholicism has begun endorsing transubstantiation by name. Which does not quite take eating Jesus, literally.

    5) So that, actually, there is far, far less conflict or difference between Catholicism and Protestantism here, on the issue of the literality of it, today.

    Indeed, if you are a conservative/traditional protestant who believes in “Transubstantiation”? So does the Church.

    6) Though to be sure, many liberal Protestants no longer like that concept; and would just like to say, “its all symbolic.” A position that (most of) the Church itself, would not accept.

    7) Though there is a certain amount of fudging going on around the meaning of the “Real Presence.” And God being there in “substance.” Terms which … could have many meanings. a) Conservatives thinking of these as meaning God is really there physically; Liberal intellectual Catholics trying to find authorization to think of these as allowing … symbolism.

    8) Indeed, nearly churches deliver ambiguous language, open to many interpretations; so as to be “all things to all people.” So that the language is usually deliberately vague or equivocal; open enough for many theologies.

    The Bible itself they say is translated this way; systematically open to more than one interpretation (on issues like Universalism vs. Hellfire for example, perhaps).

    To be sure, many might not like such equivocation – some would say, evasiveness – in language. Feeling it is not honest.

    Could our Bibles be dishonest? Equivocal? Open to several different understandings? Trying to say two or more things at once?

    Many say it does do this.

    A shocking thought.

  41. G,

    In all due respect, you’ve got it turned around. The Roman Catholic church teaches that Christ is present by transubstantiation, as defined by the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215, not the Bible.

    Whereas, all the reformed churches accept that we celebrate communion by giving thanks to Christ for His finished and completed work of atonement, not simply literally recreating the act itself over and over again

    The Lord’s supper has both a past significance honoring Christ’s death, and a present and future hope that we will share in His resurrection.

  42. I want to ask this…is the flesh and blood of Jesus rather of Him as the Lamb and not man? They were eating the seder meal, the seder meal included lamb and was a throwback to the night of the Passover.

    I have eaten the seder before and instantly recognize the acts involved and saw Jesus in every aspect. I posted once on it so I am not going over it again. But I would like to think when we eat the bread it is His flesh because He is the lamb of God. Abraham was referring to him when he said “God will provide a lamb”.

  43. KK:

    The Gospel of John creates a problem for concluding that the Last Supper was a Passover meal. It differs from the synoptics in placing Jesus’ crucifixion during the time the Passover lambs were being slaughtered.

    Some argue that it was a Passover meal, but celebrated before the Jews’ Passover, or perhaps according to a sectarian calendar. The lack of mention of the lamb in the Gospels, as well as other missing features from the Seder, has been used to argue that it wasn’t a Passover meal.

    The use in the Gospel texts, as well as in 1 Cor 11, of artos (bread) without the word azymê (unleavened) has been used by some, including the Eastern Orthodox, to say that it wasn’t a Passover meal, as well as to support using leavened bread for the Eucharist. But in Hebrew the word lechem is used for the prayer over the bread, whether leavened or unleavened, so this may be a false distinction or invalid argument.

    One has to be careful about reading the modern Passover Seder, which is what most Jews and Christians know, back into the first century. Very little in Pesahim and/or Mishnah Pesahim 10 (the Talmud volume on Passover) relates to the first-century feast. There are differences between the Seder today and how it was celebrated in Jesus’ time in terms of the foods eaten and the order/content of the service.

  44. Kara,

    As I said in a comment above, most of the reformed church takes the position that it is not literal either way, as it was in the passover supper, or in the Roman Catholic belief which came along later, but a new covenant of everlasting life that Christ, as the Lamb of God established through his death once for all who would believe in Him.

    That stopped us from having to make sacrifices of any kind to have our sin remitted. If we take this one step further, we can see that Christ could not be immortal if we were constantly being able to literally eat Him, the sacrificial Lamb of God.

    The actual sacrifice occurred on the cross, but the Lamb Himself was resurrected. So what we do is symbolize that as well in partaking of communion, not just it eat as a literal sacrifice ourselves, if that makes any sense.

    Read Hebrews to get a much better explanation of that.

  45. MBAKER:

    “Reformed” Churches may have something different; but surely there are many other churches in Protestantism than “reformed”? Last I knew, in my old Presbyterian churches, we were taught “transubstantiation” as a living dogma. Has that changed?

    In any case, it was once held by many Protestant churches, denominations.

    If they’ve recently – in the last few decades – dropped it, that fine with me. But when did that happen?

  46. KK:

    Was the lamb part of the idea of eating God? Outside John perhaps?

    Jesus and the pascal lamb were identified, put together, in the New Testament and/or church dogma. When Jesus was called the “lamb” of God. This was done as one way of explaining how it could be that the son of God could be executed.

    Trying to explain how God could come to earth, and be executed, presented early Christians with a problem. To try to explain this, early apologists began looking back into OT literature for some figure or incident that could justify this. Finding among a dozen other possible apologetics, the passover lamb. Suggesting in the NT that Jesus perhaps, could die … rather like the lamb must die in passover. So that his death was not a failure, but part of the usual plan of God somehow. Dieing to “save” – feed – others. The sacrificed lambs fed family … but parts were often given to the poor.

    Eric raises good objections to that idea in the Gospel of John. But perhaps in other gospels, and then in church Dogmas, it gained some traction. Seeing Jesus as the lamb, might have been part for a way, to justify, explain, Jesus coming to earth and dying.

    And once you identify Jesus with the Passover lamb .. then indeed, the idea of eating God for passover comes up.

    Possibly therefore, that is part of the meaning/transfer which created the otherwise strange idea of eating God at passover. And it might make sense in this way: the passover lamb was killed, in part, to feed the priests, family, and the poor. So that eating it served many.

    To be sure though, there were also living strands of real cannibalism in the area historically; the belief that eating part of the body of your enemy gives you part of his strength.

    It would seem that your suggestion might be one of many contributions, threads, that will form the final overall picture or tapestry of the Eucharistic host and wine.

  47. Eric W:

    The Last Supper might not have to 1) be a Passover meal … for 2) Jesus’ death to still be regarded, as a passover sacrifice.

    Indeed, if Jesus dies the same time that passover lambs are being killed … that if anything seems to confirm the relationship?

    The John supper would not be a passover supper … but still, Jesus dies at just the right time for the real passover, a day or two later?

  48. MBAKER:

    To be sure, “transubstantiation” is not explicitly in the Bible itself”; I hope I didn’t say that.

    Some might harve argued that transubstantiation is implied in the Bible however. Its Platonic aspect (invisible forms etc.) might – remotely to be sure – be derived from Paul’s Platonistic references to things on earth as mere “shadows” and “copies” of ideal “forms” in “heaven.”

    To be sure, I’m not fond of the theory myself; partly because of its overly-Platonic sophistries. And I am happy to reject it. Though it was held not just in the Catholic Church, but also in many Protestant churches as well, if my memory serves.

    Certainly I can remember discussing transubstantiation in Protestant Sunday School, as a child.

  49. 1) Note that Patton’s intro above, said “most” Protestants rejected transubstantiation. That leaves some that accepted it.

    2) Certainly in any case, to be sure, most rejected the popular Catholic literal understanding of the Eucharist: the belief (still popular among many, even Catholics) that the host changed even visibly, into actual human flesh when we put it in our mouth.

    3) “Transubstantiation” though was a tiny bit more sophisticated than that: it held that the host did not change physically, visibly, at all; but that its (rather Platonic) essence or invisible “substance” was transformed in the body of Jesus somehow.

    a) Finally though, Transubstantiation itself, has some logical/conceptual problems of course. Not least of which being … how do we know it really changed in its invisible “substance”? If we can’t see it? And just exactly what is that invisible “substance” anyway?

    b) Then too of course, there might be theological objections to the idea as well.

    4) Though oddly: the transubstantialist notion of an invisible “substance” changing only, might be very, very close to the “spiritual” transformation, acceptable to many Protestants.

    5) Personally in any case, my interest in religion, is not in denominalist “dogmatics” or doctrines as they are called; I like a non-denom, scholarly theological sense of things. That ranges freely over all over Christiandom; without announcing any particular creed or denomination as final truth.

  50. In that vein, I might even accept the idea of “eating Jesus” as part of longstanding tradition, that is interesting. Though I would not accept either 1) the literalist, or 2) transubstantialist understanding of that (to be sure, in some ways rather humorous idea).

    See 3) my own perhaps origianl reconstruction of a perhaps more plausible understanding of that scenario, above. Where we eat not the Lord himself, but the meat or “flesh” that a lord serves us, at the dinner table.

    In my hypothetical reconstruction, the “Lord’s flesh” has been mistranslated or misunderstood; it does not mean exactly the flesh of God, but … the animal meat or flesh that he or his priests served at dinner. Which is “his” in the sense of being in his possession; not being his own muscle tissue.

    This is hypothetical of course; and needs a closer look at the original Greek.

    But in any case, in my (I think original) reconstruction of the meaning of that event, we are not following the scenario in transubstantiation that many Protestants seem to object to: we are not “eating Jesus” as I myself have lampooned it before. Rather, we are rather, eating the animal food, meat (/”flesh”), that he and/or his representatives give us, at meals, like Passover.

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