The Roman Catholic Church teaches that during a Mass, when a priest says, this is my body, the words transform the wafers of bread miraculously into the crucified flesh of Christ. However, Protestants accept the language of the Last Supper as figurative, signifying a memorial to Christ.
Luke 22:14-20 — And when the hour was come, he sat down, and the twelve apostles with him. And he said unto them, With desire I have desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer: For I say unto you, I will not any more eat thereof, until it be fulfilled in the kingdom of God. And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and said, Take this, and divide it among yourselves: For I say unto you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine, until the kingdom of God shall come. And he took bread, and gave thanks, and brake it, and gave unto them, saying, This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me. Likewise also the cup after supper, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you. -----(Cross reference passages set out at the bottom).
When Christ said This is my body, did a miraculous transformation occur, so that Christ ate his own body, as he will do when the kingdom of God comes? But why does Christ have to eat his own flesh and drink his own blood? When he says, this do in remembrance of me, does he establish the Supper as a memorial of a miraculous event, or does he indicate a never ending series of miraculous events to come? When Christ said, This cup is the new testament, did the cup miraculously transform into a document with the terms of the new covenant? Does this cup figuratively refer to the wine contained which was consumed? Then, is the wine itself a figurative representation of blood?
II. The Protestant Position
Christ often spoke using figurative language. For example, note John 6:35 — And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst. It is completely preposterous to hold that when Christ said “I am the bread of life,” that he miraculously transformed into a loaf of bread, or that on becoming a Christian a person literally no longer has to eat or drink. Or for example, note John 15:1 — I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman. It would have to be considered completely ridiculous to hold, that this verse indicates the words of Christ miraculously transformed him into a plant with roots, a stem, and leaves. Christ's language is illustrative. Note verse 5 — I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.
In figurative language Christ said, I am the light of the world, John 8:12, the door of the sheep, John 10:7,9, the good shepherd, John 10:11,14. Just before Christ's death, he noted to his disciples his use of figurative language: John 16:25 — These things I have spoken to you in figurative language; but the time is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figurative language, but I will tell you plainly about the father, NKJV.
When Christ said, “This is my body,” does the word “is” mean “miraculously becomes” by definition? The word “is” comprises the third person singular of the present tense of the verb “to be.” Consulting The Oxford Dictionary and Thesaurus, 1996, at pages 114, 115, the entry “be” uses 419 words to set out a definition. One meaning given is “signify;” however, “miraculously becomes” simply cannot be found. Again, The Random House Dictionary of the English Language, College Edition, 1968, at pages 116,117, for the entry “be” makes no reference to inherent miraculous power, but it is noted that the word can be used as a copula to a predicate nominative “in order to describe, identify, or amplify the subject” — which includes the concept of illustrating.
Walter Bauer's A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, translated by William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, 1979, pages 222-226, sets out six columns of definitions for “be” (using the Greek dictionary form of the first person) corresponding closely to the English meanings, and including the use as a copula for the function of “representing.” But again, there is no reference to any concept of conveying miraculous power. Thus, for the word “is” to indicate a miracle occurring, it must be established by a broad context of usage.
Indeed, Christ performed many miracles, but in portraying these events Scripture sets out verification of the miraculous. For instance, at the wedding in Cana, when Jesus had pots filled with water, guests served as witnesses that there was a miraculous transformation to wine, John 2:1-10. The miraculous was also verified by witnesses, when Jesus healed the nobleman's son, John 4:46-54, healed the man at the pool of Bethesda, John 5:1-15, fed the 5,000, John 6:1-15, walked on water, John 16-21, opened the eyes of a blind man, John 9:1-21, raised Lazarus from the dead, John 11:1-44. However in the passages on the Lord's Supper, there is no verification set out that a miracle occurred, only that a memorial was being observed.
And there is nothing in Scripture anywhere stating that a priest by playing the role of Christ recreates an awesome and overpowering miracle of transforming bread into the flesh of Christ. However, the apostle Paul does uphold the Last Supper as a memorial: I Corinthians 11:24,25 — And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me. After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me.
III. The Catholic Position
The Roman Catholic position on transubstantiation is set out in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Libreria Editrice Vaticana (Rome: Urbi et Orbi, 1994), paragraphs 1374-1381.
1374 — “...In the most blessed sacrament of the Eucharist 'the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ and, therefore, the whole Christ is truly, really, and substantially contained. This presence is called 'real' – by which is not intended to exclude the other types of presence as if they could not be 'real' too, but because it is presence in the fullest sense: that is to say, it is a substantial presence by which Christ, God and man, makes himself wholly and entirely present.'
1375 — “It is by conversion of the bread and wine into Christ's body and blood that Christ becomes present in this sacrament. The Church Fathers strongly affirmed the faith of the Church in the efficacy of the Word of Christ and of the action of the Holy Spirit to bring about this conversion. Thus, St. John Chrysostom declares: 'It is not man that causes the things offered to become the Body and Blood of Christ, but he who was crucified for us, Christ himself. The priest, in the role of Christ, pronounces these words, but their power and grace are God's. This is my body, he says. This word transforms the things offered.'...
1376 — “The Council of Trent summarizes the Catholic faith by declaring: 'Because Christ our Redeemer said that it was truly his body that he was offering under the species of bread, it has always been the conviction of the Church of God, and this holy Council now declares again, that by the consecration of the bread and wind there takes place a change of the whole substance of the bread into the substance of the body of Christ our Lord and of the whole substance of the wine into the substance of his blood. This change the holy Catholic Church has fittingly and properly called transubstantiation.
1377 — “The Eucharistic presence of Christ begins at the moment of the consecration and endures as long as the Eucharistic species subsist. Christ is present whole and entire in each of the species and whole and entire in each of their parts, in such a way that the breaking of the bread does not divide Christ.
1380 — “It is highly fitting that Christ should have wanted to remain present to his Church in this unique way. Since Christ was about to take his departure from his own in his visible form, he wanted to give us his sacramental presence... In his Eucharistic presence he remains mysteriously in our midst...
1381 — “That in this sacrament are the true Body of Christ and his true Blood is something that 'cannot be apprehended by the sense,' says St. Thomas, 'but only by faith, which relies on divine authority.' For this reason, in a commentary on Luke 22:19 ('This is my body which is given for you.'), St. Cyril says: 'Do not doubt whether this is true, but rather receive the words of the Savior in faith, for since he is the truth, he cannot lie.'...
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Thus, each wafer of bread is the entire body of Christ, just as the wine is his entire blood. As soon as a priest says, “this is my body,” the transformation occurs. If a priest were to go to the local supermarket and say the words over the bread section, every piece of bread in the store would become the entire body of Christ. To conceive of such power is overwhelming — it is greater than any worldly ruler has, any military leader, any scientist, or the most wealthy people on earth. However, the Catechism is careful to note that the power is only Christ's (paragraph 1375). Still, as any president, premiere, general, scientist, or rich person cannot play the role of Christ and make the miraculous transformation happen by saying the words, the power is inherent only in the priest. And as Christ must come when the priest says the words, even if they should be spoken at a supermarket over hundreds of loaves of bread, the priest is all powerful — or is he just grossly arrogant in playing the role of Christ?
However, paragraph 1381 notes that the transformation cannot be apprehended by the senses. The power of the transformation is viewed as mysterious (paragraph 1380), as the conversion cannot be verified by science, no matter how many wafers might be tested. However, paragraph 1381 notes, that it is a lie to say the conversion does not happen. It never should be doubted, because the words of Christ say transubstantiation does occur — or do the words say so? Christ cannot lie, but can someone who is playing the role of Christ lie?
At paragraph 1376 it is stated that transubstantiation occurs because Christ said, “that it was truly his body that he was offering under the species of bread.” However, no biblical citation is given on just where Christ said it was truly his body that he was offering. It appears he never said these words, but the Roman Church merely assumes such a meaning.
Paragraph 1380 notes that through transubstantiation Christ wanted to remain present to the church. Again no verse of Scripture is cited to confirm this position. However, Scripture does set out the words of Christ on how he would dwell with believers after the ascension, not by a priest playing the role of Christ, but by sending the Holy Ghost. John 14:16-20 — And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you. I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you. Yet a little while, and the world seeth me no more; but ye see me: because I live, ye shall live also. At that day ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you. John 16:13,14 — Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come. He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall shew it unto you.
And paragraph 1377 notes the presence of Christ during the Mass endures only as long as the species subsist. Thus, there is no need for the use of special sewage facilities, which is convenient, (cf. Matthew 15:17 — also see, New Living Translation, King James 2000).
************ Cross Reference Passages on the Lord's Supper *************
Matthew 26:26-29 — And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body. And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. But I say unto you, I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom.
Mark 14:22-25 — And as they did eat, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and brake it, and gave to them, and said, Take, eat: this is my body. And he took the cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them: and they all drank of it. And he said unto them, This is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many. Verily I say unto you, I will drink no more of the fruit of the vine, until that day that I drink it new in the kingdom of God.
M. Paul Webb