I don’t believe in transubstantiation (i.e. “the bread and the wine used in the sacrament of the Eucharist become, not merely as by a sign or a figure, but also in actual reality the body and blood of Christ.”) Here’s a funny story (at least to me). I was talking with a Catholic friend a long time ago about communion. I had totally gotten the Catholic perspective wrong. I thought they believed that it literally turned into flesh and blood. I teased and told him to go take communion and when he came back I would stick my finger down his throat and we would see what came up, bread and wine, or flesh and blood. LOL I now understand that the doctrine is not literal. I am assuming that it is meant to be understood spiritually. I am guessing it helps worshippers to feel part of the mystical body of Christ. However, it doesn’t make sense to me. Aren’t Catholics always a part of the body of Christ, even if they for whatever reason haven’t had communion for a while. My thoughts: I believe that communion is an indispensible church rite that affects or can affect worshippers in a profound spiritual way. In fact, I believe that when taken by faith it has the effect of strengthening or re-strengthening (not sure the best use of words here) the bond we have with Christ. I guess in a way if reaffirms in the heart of the believer who they belong to (again, not sure the best way to describe.) But to say “the bread and the wine used in the sacrament of the Eucharist become, not merely as by a sign or a figure, but also in actual reality the body and blood of Christ” is untenable to me. And another point: Suppose I believe that communion is purely symbolic (which I don’t) and suppose I take communion with all the faith humanly possible and yet don’t know or understand that God may do more in the spiritual realm than I realize, does my lack of understanding prevent God from blessing me more fully (spiritually). I don’t believe it does. I’m sure that many catholic’s have no depth of understand of what may or may not take place spiritually when they take communion, but the fact that they take it by faith symbolically or otherwise is what matters. I don’t see the need to divide people (i.e. differentiate true believers from non-true believers) on this point. But my lack of belief in transubstantiation as I understand it disqualifies me to be a catholic – correct?
There is no real way, in a single post, to deal with the subject at hand in a comprehensive way. There simply isn't. What I can do however is first have the reader (and hopefully Pastor Pete) watch what follows, something that I think gives an excellent introductory perspective to the notion of The Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist:
- John 6 quite forcefully gives the Scriptural basis sought to support the notion of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. It's revealing and telling that Christ sought not to explain away what he had to say as something merely symbolic but that in effect he doubled down on his teaching even after some of his followers could not accept it.
- The early Church, through the first 1,000 years, believed in the notion of the Real Presence with such stalwarts as St. Augustine, St. Ephraim, St. Irenaeus and St. Justin Martyr being in full support.
- God desires union with us and it is through the Eucharist that He unites with us and us with Him.
- The Eucharist is a means by which we can become Holy
I recall my own struggle with the Real Presence.
I remember wanting to believe but not quite crossing the chasm that existed. But then, during RCIA, I had a brief but powerful confession with the priest who is now my pastor and he helped me bridge the divide.
I've not been the same since.
Many others have crossed that same divide including Mark Shea:
And the more I read Scripture and church history, the more convinced I became that it was. For Jesus wasn't kidding around when he said, "This is my body. This is my blood." Yes, the Sacrament is symbolic. Even the Catholic Church says so. My mistake, as an Evangelical, was to try to insist that it was only symbolic. But from Jesus (who said, "This bread is my flesh which I will give for the life of the world" (John 6:51)) to Paul (who warned the Corinthians that in receiving Eucharist unworthily they would be "sinning against the body and blood of the Lord" (1 Cor. 11:27)) to a host of Fathers, saints, martyrs, virgins, theologians, and doctors of the church, the resounding cry was unanimous: Eucharist was not only symbolic. It was, in the words of St. Ignatius of Antioch (a man who heard St. John the Apostle with his own ears), "the flesh of our Savior, Jesus Christ" (Epistle to the Smyrnaeans). This was why St. John Chrysostom, echoing the unanimous Faith of the first thousand years of the Church, declared of Eucharist: "When you see it exposed, say to yourself: Thanks to this body, I am no longer dust and ashes, I am no more captive but a free man." Indeed, he boldly states, "This is that body which was once covered with blood, pierced by a lance, from which issued saving fountains upon the world, one of blood and the other of water" (Commentary on Corinthians).
In short, I discovered it was my Evangelical "mere symbolism" approach that was the new kid on the block. It was the Catholic picture that was the clear outgrowth of the biblical and patristic data. The Eucharist really was the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. It was not only beautiful, it was true and rooted as deeply in the apostolic teaching as the Resurrection. And that was why I came to believe in it and in the rest of the teaching of the Church. Beauty, practicality, comfort, happiness and the rest were glad bonuses, to be sure. But it was truth that won me.
I hope this post serves not as an end-all to Pastor Pete's (and anybody else's) objections but as an appetizer of sorts to seek more on this.
Carry on dear reader.
UPDATE: Kathy has in the comments published a link to the transcript of the following Fr. Barron video, one I linked to above, that I think does an outstanding job explaining not only the Real Presence but how mechanically the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ.
Excellent find Kathy: