What does the ‘real presence’ mean when you celebrate the Holy Communion? It is a term used that expresses a belief that Jesus Christ is physically present in what appears to be bread and wine. There are two different beliefs. The first is by Catholics and Orthodox in that what happens that the bread and wine transforms into the real body and blood of Christ. This is called transubstantiation. The Lutherans and other Protestant denominations believe that the body and blood becomes present with the bread and wine. This is called consubstantiation. Once this transformation happens the host is then known as the Eucharist.
There is information I’ve read that 67% of Catholics do not believe in the ‘real presence’ in the Eucharist. I have several reasons for writing this paper. I hope to make the transformation of the host into the body and blood of Christ understandable. I also will present evidence from the Early Church Fathers that they believed in the real presence. I will answer critics of the real presence and answer their reasons for not believing in the real presence.
I will start by trying to explain why this transformation into the body and blood of Christ from the bread can happen. There is a saying among us mere humans that if it walks like a duck and talks like a duck it’s a duck. So when you take the host at Communion if it looks like bread and tastes like bread then it is bread because we are mere humans. I would refer you to Matthew 19:26. Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” I think we all can agree that with God all things are possible. Of course that would mean that with God it is possible to turn the bread into the body and blood of Christ. God can do this and still make it look like bread and taste like bread. Holy Communion is not a mere human event. God is involved in Holy Communion and that makes this transformation possible. This might answer your question at least partially. I think you will find the rest of this article very interesting.
You can see testimony directly from Jesus Christ concerning the that we will need to eat the body and blood of Christ..This is stated in John 6:53-56. Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.”
In John 6:63 Jesus then said to his disciples, “The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life.” This verse gives rise to an interpretation that it is the Spirit alone. Those who interpret the verse would have to totally neglect the verses in John 6:53-56.
To get a better insight to solve this conflict you would only need to go to John 6:60 which says that on hearing this many of the disciples said that this is a hard teaching referring to verses 53-56. Then in John 6:66 it states that many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. If Jesus meant that it is only the spirit and you wouldn’t have to eat his flesh and drink his blood, he would have called those disciples back and explained to them they misunderstood what he was saying. I believe this should end that conflict.
We can also look back at the early Christian fathers for more evidence. We find this evidence in the First Apology of Justin and then in Irenaeus against Heresies. We can really get a good perspective on this argument from our early church fathers. The first evidence is from First Apology of Justin. This food we call the Eucharist, of which no one is allowed to partake except one who believes the things we teach are true, and has received the washing for forgiveness of sins and for rebirth, and who lives as Christ handed down to us. For we do not receive these things as common bread or common drink; but as Jesus Christ our Saviour being incarnate by God’s word took flesh and blood for our salvation, so also we have been taught that the food consecrated by the word of prayer which comes from Him, from which our flesh and blood are nourished by transformation, is the flesh and blood of that incarnate Jesus. Irenaeus Against Heresies For when the mixed cup and the bread that has been prepared receive the Word of God, and became the Eucharist, the body and blood of Christ. Iranaeus received his teachings from Polycarp who was mentored by John. This is compelling evidence that in the Early Church the physical part of the Holy Communion was considered transformed into the body and blood of Jesus Christ.
In a letter from Ignatius to the Smyrnaens Ignatius says, “They(Docetics) hold aloof from the Eucharist and from services of prayer, because they refuse to admit that the Eucharist is the flesh and blood of our Saviour Jesus Christ.” Ignatius is describing a cult known as the Docetics. Ignatius also says of them that they seem to believe that Christian martyrdom is meaningless as an imitation of the Christ if he had never suffered. This shows the extreme heresy the cults would go to back then to deny the true meaning of the Eucharist. This is what the Jehovah Witnesses believe. It is also what the Docetics taught to Mohammed. This is the reason Islam believed Jesus just appears to be on the cross.
This is a verse that was very confusing to me at first. In 2 John it says, “Many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. And such person is the deceiver and the antichrist.” This verse did not make sense to me when I first read it. Every cult today such as the Mormons and Jehovah Witnesses deny the deity of Christ. This verse is exactly backward in that is says Christ never came in the flesh. The verse in 2 John refers to the Docetics mentioned in the previous paragraph. They admitted Jesus was God but they denied that he took on flesh.
This is more evidence from an early Christian father. In a letter written by Ignatius to the Smyrnaeans reveals a warning from Ignatius. “Pay close to attention to Docetics. They hold aloof from the Eucharist and from services of prayer, because they refuse to admit that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Saviour Jesus Christ. Christian martyrdom is meaningless as an imitation of the Christ if he never suffered. What good does anyone do me by praising me and reviling the Lord by refusing to acknowledge that He carried around live flesh. “The Epistle of Polycarp to the Phillipians
Chap 3 verse 1 For whosoever does not confess Jesus Christ is come in the flesh, he is Antichrist: and whoever does not confess His suffering upon the cross is the devil.
There could be a misunderstanding that Luther was the one who initiated the teaching denying the real presence. Actually Martin Luther debated Zwingali in 1529 which, was called the Marburg Colloquy, that the Eucharist was the actual body and blood of Christ. There are just a few Christian denominations that do acknowledge the Eucharist. Those that still use the term are Anglicans, Reformed/Presbyterians, United Methodists and Lutherans. Also included in using the term Eucharist are Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox and Roman Catholics. The term Eucharist comes from the Greek word ‘eucharista’ giving of thanks. Only a few denominations deny the real presence and usually you will find them to be Anabaptists. Again, I want to stress they are not cults if they simply don’t understand the real presence of the Eucharist.
If Jesus never died in the flesh there would be no road to salvation. He would have suffered no pain. Of course the Docetics main purpose was to show that could not have been the real body and blood of Christ since he was never in the flesh. Therefore there is no salvation.
I would also mention that later that some Docetics said Jesus came in the flesh but never experienced a physical birth as a normal human being would have. This still denies that Christ didn’t come in the flesh but just appeared in the flesh. It also is explainable that Jesus had to e physically born.
Remember when the Lord and two other men appeared to Abraham in Genesis 18:1 to warn him about Sodom and Gomorrah. In Genesis 18:2 it says three ‘men’ appeared to Abraham. Since Jesus stayed and the other two men left that would clearly show Jesus was the third man that appeared to Abraham. Jesus stayed with Abraham while the two other men went to report what they would see in Sodom and Gomorrah. Then in Genesis 19:1 it reveals that the other two men were angels. “The two angels arrived at Sodom in the evening, and Lot was sitting in the gateway of the city.” I use this example to show you angels as well as Jesus (before his birth) can appear to take on flesh. In this attempted deception Marcion was still saying that Jesus was never born as a human being. Jesus had to have real flesh and not appear just to have flesh as he did to Abraham. If he would have been sacrificed at the time of his visit with Abraham when he and the angels it would have not counted for his our salvation. In addition he was never born he would not have fulfilled the prophecies of the Messiah.
There is another argument that at the Lord Supper Jesus had not died yet. Those who argue correctly that Jesus hadn’t died yet. First of all the Lord’s Supper was done as a Passover meal and it wasn’t Holy Communion. Matthew 26:27 states, Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, "Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. Jesus could not have drunk from the cup because Jesus had no sins to forgive if it was Holy Communion. Jesus drank from the cup and said he would never do it again until he drinks it with us in His Father’s kingdom.
You can see that Jesus refers to a new covenant. This covenant broke the enmity between God and man. It was not only salvation for Jews but also for Gentiles. This was an act of God’s grace reconciling man to Himself. This covenant eliminates the rigors of the law and provides the perfect sacrifice in Christ to forgive men’s sins and not just cover them with the sacrifice of animals.
There is another issue that I’ve never seen addressed. This has to do with the Church being the bride of Christ. Christ is the groom. The Jewish custom of the time was the following. The bridegroom would present himself to the bride with this agreement, offering to pay a suitable price for her and she and her father would consider his contract. If the terms were suitable, the bride and groom would drink a cup of wine together and would seal the bargain. This cup was most significant. It signified the bridegroom’s willingness to sacrifice in order to have this bride. It was offered as a toast to the bride, and of course, it showed the bride’s willingness to enter into marriage. There is nowhere else where the apostles drank the wine that was the acceptance of the marriage proposal. Being that Jesus was Jewish there was a necessary act. Jesus drank the wine with the apostles who, of course represented the bride. If this were simply Holy Communion Jesus would not have drank the wine since he never sinned. I believe when the apostles, representing the church, drank the wine it was the bride saying yes to the groom. The church is now the bride of Christ.
In addition, after this ceremony the groom would give a small speech and then announce to his bride, “I go to prepare a place for you.” (John 14:2 -3) In my father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you may also be where I am. “This is more evidence that this represents Jewish wedding tradition.” Finally in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 we read that Jesus has prepared the place for us and Michael the Archangel, a member of the wedding party shouts for the bride. It’s all Jewish wedding tradition.
In conclusion if you believe in the real presence of the Eucharist I believe you will appreciate more of what Christ has done for us. It will draw you into a deeper relationship with him. Always remember Christ is Risen!
The Epistle of Ignatius to the Smyrneans, "But I know that even after his resurrection he was in the flesh; and I believed that he is still so."
The Epistle of Ignatius to the Trallians 2:10 Stop your ears therefore, as often as any one shall speak contrary to Jesus Christ; who was of the race of David, of the Virgin Mary.
The Epistle of Ignatius to the Ephesians 4:13 ---God himself appearing in the form of a man, for the renewal of eternal life.