Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Trans vs. Con (-substantiation)

In response to a line from my Corpus Christi homily that Protestants believe that the Eucharist is “just a symbol” and “just bread”, “Cynthia BC” wrote the following, “We Lutherans … do NOT believe that the Eucharist is ‘just’ bread or ‘just’ wine. We believe that Christ is truly present in the bread and in the wine”. She then cited the Lutheran Catechism which “references 1 Corinthians to assert that the bread and wine are still present in the Sacrament…1 Cor. 10, 16: The bread which we break. And 1 Cor. 11, 28: Let him so eat of that bread."

We thank Cynthia and welcome her comments on this site. She gives us the opportunity to understand more clearly what the difference between Catholic and Protestant theology on the Eucharist is. As Tom indicated with his comment, the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation is “the doctrine that, at the consecration, the bread and wine undergo a change ("trans-") of substance from bread and wine to Jesus' Body and Blood, so that the consecrated Host is no longer bread and the consecrated cup no longer holds wine.” This belief has been in place since the Apostles and the doctrine has been more clearly defined by the Church in the past 1000 years.

There are many different Protestant theologies on the Eucharist because, well, there are many different Protestant denominations (30,000?). Lutherans follow what Martin Luther (1483-1546) taught: consubstantiation. Again, Tom tells us that “consubstantiation is the doctrine that, at the consecration, Jesus' Body and Blood become really present along with ("con-") the bread and wine, so that the consecrated host remains bread while also being Jesus' true body.” Cynthia references 1 Cor 10:16 and 1 Cor 11:28 to argue that St. Paul believed that the Eucharist was bread and wine along with the Body and Blood of Christ.

In response to Cynthia and the Lutheran Catechism, I begin with the words spoken by Our Lord about the Eucharist. Christ said at the Last Supper, “this is my body…this is my blood” in referring to the Eucharist. If the Eucharist is bread and wine along with Christ’s Body and Blood, he would have said, “this bread contains my body…this wine contains my blood”. At this moment of instituting the Eucharist, he makes no mention of bread and wine. Also, when he teaches about the Eucharist in John 6, he very clearly defines what the Eucharist is: “my flesh for the life of the world” (v.51). When he uses the word bread, it is a descriptive term only – much like the word “Eucharist”. The substance, as he says over and over in Jn 6:53-57, is flesh and blood. In those verses which are the solemn teaching on the Eucharist, He uses the words ‘flesh’ and ‘blood’ four times but doesn’t use the words ‘bread’ and ‘wine’ once.

In 1 Cor 11, St. Paul reiterates the exact words of the Lord Jesus at the Last Supper: “this is my body”. This is the tradition that he “received from the Lord” and that he “also handed on to you”. If he really believed that the Eucharist is bread and wine along with Christ’s flesh and blood, St. Paul would have handed on the tradition that Jesus said “this bread contains my body”. Jesus never said that and, so, Paul rightly hands on the tradition of “this is my body”. This defines what the Eucharist is; this is the tradition handed on by St. Paul.

We can know that this is the tradition handed on by St. Paul by reading what his successors believed about the Eucharist. Here are some quotes from the early Church Fathers (to see them in full please click on today’s title) who give strong support and evidence for the doctrine of transubstantiation:

Justin Martyr

"We call this food Eucharist, and no one else is permitted to partake of it, except one who believes our teaching to be true and who has been washed in the washing which is for the remission of sins and for regeneration [i.e., has received baptism] and is thereby living as Christ enjoined. For not as common bread nor common drink do we receive these; but since Jesus Christ our Savior was made incarnate by the word of God and had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so too, as we have been taught, the food which has been made into the Eucharist by the Eucharistic prayer set down by him, and by the change of which our blood and flesh is nurtured, is both the flesh and the blood of that incarnated Jesus" (First Apology 66 [A.D. 151]).

Cyril of Jerusalem

"The bread and the wine of the Eucharist before the holy invocation of the adorable Trinity were simple bread and wine, but the invocation having been made, the bread becomes the body of Christ and the wine the blood of Christ" (Catechetical Lectures 19:7 [A.D. 350]).

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