The Real Presence
Is Jesus Christ truly present in the Eucharist? It seems since early times people have affirmed that Jesus Christ’s blood, body, soul and divinity is truly present in the Blesséd Sacrament. This article will attempt to put forward a scriptural and historically based argument for the real presence. Also, describing some of the other doctrines around the Eucharist.
What does Jesus say?
In Matthew, Mark and Luke the Lords supper is accounted in all three Jesus takes bread and wine gives thanks and either says this is my body or this is the new covenant in my blood and to do so in remembrance of him. Jesus does not say this is like my body and blood or this represents my body and blood. Jesus clearly says ‘this is’. What is important to recognise hear is that in 3 of the gospels pretty much the same language is being used if the Holy Spirit wanted to give people a more clear message he had 3 attempts in the gospels alone to do so.
But what about the Gospel according to St John, the Lord’s Supper is not mentioned once there? No, Jesus’ final meal with his disciples is not mentioned at all. But what we do have in John 6 is the bread of life dialogue. After Jesus feeds the five thousand, people come and see him and ask for another miracle like the manna in the wilderness. Jesus tells them that they need to eat the bread that comes from heaven. Jesus tells them that he is “the bread of life” this really confused them because essentially they are being told to eat a human being. But Jesus tells them their ancestors who ate the manna in the wilderness died, but whoever eats the bread that is his flesh will life, for it will be given for the life of the world. Again the Jews disputed what Jesus had said then Jesus once again gives a final clarification.
“Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live for ever.”
Jesus cannot be clearer now that his body and blood are actual food. The way that the canon of scripture was inspired by God has created 4 gospels 3 of which show the Lord’s Supper and one contains this dialogue. After Jesus’ bodily resurrection he is seen by two disciples walking along the road to Emmaus and they don’t recognise him, they proceed to tell him why they are sad that he has died. He then proceeds to tell them everything that the scripture says about him. They invite him in for dinner and he obliges he takes bread gives thanks over it, breaks it and passes it to them. In this act the disciples see the Lord in the breaking of bread. Jesus can be seen in the Eucharist.
What about the churches of the apostles?
Surely the early churches mentioned in the bible didn’t believe this papist nonsense about the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Let us explore the theology of the Eucharist as put forward in the New Testament epistles. We know from the Acts of the Apostles the Eucharist becomes a part of their regular worship. The earliest mention of the Eucharist in the New Testament is in 1 Corinthians. Paul is discussing bad practice around the Lord’s Supper with the church. Firstly he describes the words that Jesus used when he instituted the sacrament. Paul then rebukes the church and challenges them to eat and drink in a worthy manner. Those who eat in an unworthy manner are guilty of sinning against the body and blood of our lord. Firstly, if you look at the text in 1 Cor 11 you’ll notice the words bread and wine, body and blood are used interchangeably, this suggests that during the sacrament these two elements are in fact the same. It is also important to point out that when people do not examine where they are spiritually if they are unrepentant of their sin, if they chose to eat the Eucharist as if it is just a pleasant snack, if they do not consume the Eucharist reverently then they will eat and drink judgement on themselves. The bible says there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus, true as this may be. Disciples of Christ will be judged and those who eat and drink the body and blood of our Lord in an unworthy manner may get sick or even die.
Previously in 1 Corinthians 10 Paul asks is the cup of blessing for sharing the blood of Christ and is the bread for sharing in the body of Christ. This gives even more clarification to the fact that when we gather together to eat the holy elements we are eating and drinking Jesus, furthermore the context of 1 Cor 10 is Paul is talking about sacrifice to idols. Paul is saying that you cannot eat food sacrificed to daemons as well as eating and drinking the lamb of God sacrificed once and for all upon the cross, so when we eat and drink Jesus, we join with that moment on Calvary when he gave himself unto the world, to the glory of God.
St Justin Martyr who lived in Rome during the 2nd century and was an apologist of the second generation church, that is the first generation of Christians after the apostles, which means the majority of their practices were inherited from the apostles and therefore are likely to be in line with the teachings of Christ. In his first apology Justin describes pretty much the earliest description of the Latin mass. It is not as liturgical as the modern mass but nevertheless the basic outline is there. Justin gives a major insight into early church doctrine and practice, we know from his writing that the early church worshipped on Sundays rather than Jewish custom of Saturday, we know only baptised believers who had been instructed in the theology of the Eucharist could eat at the Lord’s Table. Justin says ‘we do not consume the Eucharistic bear and wine as if it were ordinary food’ this is because they had been taught that something transformational happened to bread and wine and it ‘becomes the flesh and blood of the incarnate Jesus’ and he also describes the method by which this happens he says that ‘by the power of his, [Jesus’], own words contained in the prayer of thanksgiving.’ What is said by Justin is once again entirely supportive of the doctrine of real presence.
Also in this early celebration of the mass we see an early priesthood whereby Justin describes the president who says the words of institution. After they have received communion Justin says the deacons of the church take the sacrament to the sick, a practice still done in Roman Catholic and some Anglican churches to this day.
It is well documented that those who are widely accepted to be the greatest theologians of the early church all promote the real presence of the Eucharist. Take St Irenaeus of Lyons, Irenaeus wrote against heresies and clearly states that Jesus ‘declared the cup, a part of creation, to be his own Blood… and the bread, a part of creation, he established as his own Body [.]’ Irenaeus was writing in 177 AD on the subject. Jesus died approximately during-40 AD, the New Testament was completed during 70-100 AD; The Rt. Rev. John A. T. Robinson who is considered to be a liberal theologian puts forward a reasonable argument for completion of the NT prior to 70 AD. This means that in 100 years from the Apostles to Irenaeus, nobody was taken seriously if they denied the real presence in the Eucharist.
Scripture, Tradition and Reason
Perhaps the fact that there is a vast cornucopia of texts from the Fathers of the church is just part of a papist agenda and all the real truths were destroyed as part of one of the greatest cover ups of all time. But having looked at the evidence which could go on for days and days it seems fairly likely that for the early church the real presence wasn’t just a philosophy but an immovable doctrine of the universal faith. The scripture read in the context of divine inspiration does not move on the brutal language of Christ, to eat his body and drink his blood. The early church Fathers taught, preached and catechised these truths. So we must turn to our friend reason if we are to be reasonable about this we need to explore the various doctrines of the church.
Transubstantiation which means a change in substance by which the elements (bread and wine) when consecrated by an ordained priest acting in persona Christi are literally changed into actual body and blood but the accidents (appearance) of bread and wine remain. This is the official doctrine and teaching of the Roman Catholic Church, this view is also held by some Anglicans whose theology has been influenced by the Oxford Movement. The issue with transubstantiation is put forward in the 39 Articles of Religion found in the 1662 Book of Common prayer transubstantiation is put forward as being ‘repugnant to the plain words of Scripture’ and ‘overthroweth the nature of a Sacrament [.]’ what is meant here is there is no reasonable scriptural justification for the philosophy of transubstantiation, it does not meet the definition for the nature of sacrament that is, must have an outward sign of inward grace. If the bread and wine have fully become the body and blood then there is no outward sign, just grace.
Martin Luther when writing in 1528 but forward something called a sacramental union, sometimes called consubstantiation, (though this term is not used by Lutherans as Luther never personally used such a term) Luther questions why we say this is my body when the ‘this’ is clearly referring to the bread, he then puts forward that some sort of union must have taken place whereby the bread and Christ have made a union. Luther referring to the way in which St Paul speaks puts forward that Jesus is present ‘in, with, and under the forms of bread and wine’ once again rejecting the view of transubstantiation as the bread and wine do not change but are present in the same reality as the body and blood of Jesus.
Swiss reformer Zwingli put forward a symbolic view of the Eucharist. To summarise Zwingli essentially over spiritualised the words of Christ and Paul and that what they were really saying is this represents the body and blood not this is. He does draw reference from other things that Jesus says such as I am the true vine. However this is not the same as there was no vine but at the last supper he took bread and said this is my body. Martin Luther and Zwingli could not find agreement on this subject Luther eventually said ‘I would rather drink blood with the Pope than wine with the Swiss.’ Basically saying that transubstantiation is far more acceptable than what Zwingli was saying. Although interestingly they share the same problem: neither transubstantiation nor Zwinglianism has the nature of the sacrament, with Zwingli there is an outward sign but no grace.
This blog alone cannot give due justice to this most incredible and holiest of sacraments nor to this complex area of theology and philosophy. But what must be said based on the arguments put forward here is that Jesus Christ has ordained the bread and wine used in Holy Mass to be the true body and blood Christ as real food and real drink. When eating and drinking this holy meal St Paul puts forward that one is partaking of Jesus’ body and blood. The majority of the church past and present have argued for the real presence some have even died for it. It is not reasonable to accept a view put forward in the 1600’s that is so utterly repugnant to the words of scripture and the living word of God, Jesus Christ. The final thought of this blog article comes from that of the Eastern Orthodox Church they argue for the divine mystery of the Eucharist that Jesus is present truly: blood, body, soul and divinity. But more than this has not given through scriptural revelation. Grace, mercy and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ be with you this day and always. Amen.
- Word Sacrament and Charism (wordsacramentcharism.wordpress.com)
- Pope Francis: sacrament of the Eucharist is not a ‘magic rite’ (saintpatrickk.com)
- Transubstantiation (christianspooksite.wordpress.com)
- A Eucharistic Abundance of the Fruits of the Earth (frted.wordpress.com)