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The Eucharist

At the Last Supper, Jesus took bread, blessed it, broke it, and declared, "This is my body" (Matt 26:26; Mark 14:22; Luke 22:19). Jesus then took the cup of wine, gave thanks, and declared, "This is the cup of my blood" (Matt 26:27-28; Mark 14:23-24; Luke 22:20). When Jesus said these words, the bread and wine became His body and blood. As Paul in his epistle to the Corinthians declares: "Is not the cup of blessing a sharing in the blood of Christ? Is not the bread which we break a sharing in the body of Christ?" (1 Cor 10:16).

In John 6, Jesus declared he was the "bread of life" that "came down from heaven" (John 6:33-35). Later he got more explicit and said, "the bread I will give is my flesh" (John 6:51), and "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day." The disbelieving Jews objected, saying, "How can this man give us His flesh to eat?" (John 6:52). This was such a difficult teaching that even some of His disciples, "when they heard this said, ‘this is a difficult teaching; who can listen to it?'" and "as a result of this many of His disciples withdrew and would not walk with Him anymore." (John 6:60, 66).

Evangelicals say Jesus was speaking metaphorically in John 6. But when those who heard Him understood Him literally, He would not correct them. At other times when there was confusion on what Jesus said, He would explain what He meant (cf. Matt. 16:5-12). When Jesus said, "I have meat to eat that you know not of" (John 4:32), the disciples thought he was talking about real food, but Jesus cleared this up by saying, "My meat is to do the will of Him that sent Me, that I may perfect his work" (Matt. 4:34; cf. 16:5-12). In John 6, there was no correction because there was no need of correction. Even His disciples, who were used to His incredible teachings, would not follow Him anymore, and Jesus made no attempt to call them back and explain He was only speaking figuratively.

Evangelicals argue that Jesus was not talking about physical food and drink, but about spiritual food and drink. They quote John 6:35: "Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst.'" They claim coming to him is "eating", and having faith in him is "drinking". Thus, eating his flesh and blood merely means believing in Christ.

But in John 6, Christ speaks more specifically and more literally as time goes on. Initially he states that he is the bread of life in the sense that those who come to him and believe in him will never hunger or thirst (have eternal life). Later on in the chapter, he says he is the bread of life in the sense that he will give us his body to eat in the form of bread (the Eucharist–a source of grace and spiritual nourishment, and therefore, "life.") Thus, He makes it clear that those who come to Him and believe in Him (Christians, of course) are the ones who through faith will partake of the Eucharist and therefore will never hunger or thirst, being fed with the spiritual food and the spiritual drink that is the Eucharist (1 Cor. 10:4, the "spiritual rock was Christ", and the spiritual food--the manna of Ex. 16:15, and the spiritual drink–the water from the rock of Ex. 17:6, prefigured the Eucharist). In the first part of John 6 (vv. 26 to 51), Christ speaks figuratively about being the bread of heaven, a spiritual food to be received by faith, and in the second part (vv. 51 to 59), He speaks literally about the Eucharist being His flesh and blood. Furthermore, "to eat the flesh and drink the blood," when used figuratively in the Scripture and among Jews, meant to injure another (Is 49:26; 2 Sam 23:17; Job 39:30; Ezek 39:17-20; Num 23:24; Deut 32:42 Jer 46:101 Chron 11:19).

Evangelicals also say that Christ was speaking metaphorically because He did so often, such as in John 10:9 ("I am the door") and John 15:1 ("I am the true vine"). But just because Jesus spoke metaphorically at certain times, it does not logically follow that He always spoke metaphorically. John 6 seems to be a definite exception, since He refused to say He was speaking metaphorically, insisting that what He was saying was, as hard as it was to accept, literal and not metaphorical. This seems to be proven by the fact that in John 6, the Greek word for "eats" (trogon) means to "chew" or "gnaw," while the Greek word for body in John 6 is sarx, which means only physical flesh.

Evangelicals say Christ was speaking spiritually, and quote John 6:63 to back it up: "It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh is useless; the words I spoke to you are spirit and life." But Christ's flesh is far from being "useless". The flesh of Christ was the instrument of redemption. The "flesh" here does not refer to the flesh of Christ. Rather, the flesh and the spirit refer to thinking "according to the flesh" and "according to the Spirit," natural versus supernatural reasoning. Thus in John 8:15-16 Jesus says: "You judge according to the flesh, I judge no one. Yet even if I do judge, my judgment is true, for it is not I alone that judge, but I and he who sent me." And in 1 Cor 2:14-3:1, Paul says: "The unspiritual man does not receive the gifts of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual man judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. ‘For who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?' But we have the mind of Christ . . . But I, brethren, could not address you as spiritual men, but as men of the flesh, as babes in Christ."And nowhere in the Bible does "spiritual" mean "symbolic." "The words I have spoken to you are spirit" is not the equivalent of "What I just said is symbolic." God is "spirit," but He is not symbolic (John 4:24). Angels are "spirit" but are not symbolic (John 1:14).

In the accounts of the Last Supper, Jesus said, "this is my body," which makes the Catholic doctrine seem quite clear. Evangelicals argue that the Greek word for "is", "esti," can only mean "represent." But the word is just the English equivalent of "is," and can mean is really or is figuratively (you can point to a man and a picture of that man and say about both "this is a man").

The Eucharist was celebrated on Passover, and so the Eucharist is the fulfillment of the Jewish Passover sacrifice. This ritual required that the paschal lamb be eaten (Ex. 12:8, 46). John the Baptist calls Jesus the "Lamb of God" (John 1:29) and St. Paul calls Christ "our paschal lamb who has been sacrificed" (1 Cor. 5:7). Therefore, to complete the sacrifice of the Mass, the Eucharist must be eaten.

Paul said: "Therefore whoever eats the bread and drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord . . . For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself" (1 Cor. 11:27, 29). One cannot be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord unless the Eucharist was true flesh. If it is only bread and wine, the offender cannot be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. For example, if a man beheads a statue of the pope or stomps on a picture of his wife, he might be guilty of disrespect, but certainly not assault, much less murder.

Evangelicals point out the fact that Paul calls the Eucharist "bread" (1 Cor 11:27), and Jesus refers to the cup as holding "the fruit of the vine" even after the consecration (Matt. 26:29). This is true, but it does not disprove the Real Presence. Scripture often calls things by their appearance. In various places, angels are called men (Gen. 18:2, 22; 19:1). Scripture also calls things by their what they were formerly. After Aaron's rod was turned into a serpent, it is still called a rod: "And Aaron's rod devoured their rods" (Ex. 7:12). After Jesus cured the man born blind, he is still called "the blind man" (John 9:17). The Eucharist is called "bread" because it retains the accidents of bread, and because it used to be bread. Bread is simply another valid name for the Eucharist, as the Eucharist is consecrated bread, while the blood can appropriately be referred to as the wine, since it is consecrated wine. In Catholic churches today, the words "when we eat this bread and drink this cup" is sung by the congregation, and by bread we mean "the body of Christ".

Evangelicals say that the doctrine can be dismissed by an "appeal to the senses." But the Real Presence, by definition, cannot be refuted by an appeal to the senses, because the senses cannot detect the change of substance when the accidents remain the same.

Some will argue that if there is no bread or wine left after consecration, why can the bread still get moldy, and why can the wine still get someone intoxicated. After all, a body does not grow mold, and blood does not make a person drunk the way alcohol does. This is so because of a miracle. God wants us to "believe without seeing" (John 20:24-29). If we were able to see the consecrated host and wine as they really were, we would see Christ's flesh and Christ's blood. But God allows the accidents of bread and wine (taste, appearance, etc.) to remain, even after the substance of bread and wine has changed into the body and blood of Christ. Therefore, the Eucharistic host grows mold as if it were still bread, and the wine can still intoxicate, as if it was still wine. The accidents and characteristics of bread and wine remain.

Evangelicals make the argument that at the Last Supper, Jesus couldn't have been present in the Eucharist because that would mean he would have to be in two places at once–present physically, and present sacramentally in the Eucharist. The obvious blunder here is that nothing is impossible for God (Luke 1:37). Christ was present at the Last Supper in two ways. He was present in a physical way, and present in a sacramental way, under the appearances of bread and wine. That Christ can be present in two ways simultaneously is indeed a mystery, but it is not an impossibility, and those who say it is would have God's hands tied.

Some evangelicals say that Holy Communion amounts to cannibalism. But Christians are not asked to eat the flesh of Christ in the manner of a cannibal, but rather the flesh of Christ has been given in a supernatural way. Christ is received whole and entire–body, blood, soul, and divinity–under the appearance of bread and wine. Cannibalism is not intrinsically evil, and if Jesus commanded us to eat His flesh, then it is not wrong. When one person kills another, it is normally evil, but if he does so unintentionally or in self-defense, he does not incur guilt. So it is with the justifiable eating of the flesh of Christ–in this instance it is not evil.

Evangelicals accuse Catholics of idolatry for worshipping the consecrated host. But Catholics worship God who they believe is present under the appearance of bread, but not the bread itself. If the Eucharist is truly God, then there is no real objection to the worship of the host. Evangelicals further charge that it is also a contradiction for God, who commanded that no objects be worshiped, would enter into bread and wine and command them to be worshiped. They forget, of course, that God entered into a physical body, and people worshiped Him in the flesh.

The Church Fathers were unanimous in their belief in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Some Fathers refer to the Eucharist as a "symbol" or "figure." But in the ancient use of the word, the symbol was in some sense the thing symbolized. This is proven by the fact that the Fathers who spoke about "symbol" and "figure" clearly taught the Real Presence elsewhere.

Ignatius of Antioch (Letter to the Romans 7:3 [A.D. 110]) "I have no taste for corruptible food nor for the pleasures of this life. I desire the bread of God, which is the flesh of Jesus Christ, who was of the seed of David; and for drink I desire his blood, which is love incorruptible" (Letter to the Smyrnaeans 6:2-7:1 [A.D. 110]) "Take note of those who hold heterodox opinions on the grace of Jesus Christ which has come to us, and see how contrary their opinions are to the mind of God. . . . They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer because they do not confess that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, flesh which suffered for our sins and which that Father, in his goodness, raised up again. They who deny the gift of God are perishing in their disputes".

Justin Martyr (First Apology 66 [A.D. 151]) "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".

Irenaeus of Lyons (Against Heresies 4:33-32 [A.D. 189]) "If the Lord were from other than the Father [and thus capable of performing miracles], how could he rightly take bread, which is of the same creation as our own, and confess it to be his body and affirm that the mixture in the cup is his blood?" (ibid., 5:2) "When, therefore, the mixed cup [wine and water] and the baked bread receives the Word of God and becomes the Eucharist, the body of Christ, and from these the substance of our flesh is increased and supported, how can they say that the flesh is not capable of receiving the gift of God, which is eternal life——flesh which is nourished by the body and blood of the Lord, and is in fact a member of him?".

Clement of Alexandria (The Instructor of Children 1:6:43:3 [A.D. 191]) "'Eat my flesh,' . . . 'and drink my blood.' The Lord supplies us with these intimate nutrients, He delivers over his flesh and pours out his blood, and nothing is lacking for the growth of his children". Tertullian (The Resurrection of the Dead 8 [A.D. 210]) "Likewise, in regard to days of fast, many do not think they should be present at the sacrificial prayers, because their fast would be broken if they were to receive the body of the Lord"(Prayer 19:1). "The flesh feeds [in the Eucharist] on the body and blood of Christ, that the soul likewise may be filled with God".

Hippolytus (Fragment from Commentary on Proverbs [A.D. 217]) "His [Christ's] honored and undefiled body and blood . . . day by day are administered and offered sacrificially at the spiritual divine table, as a memorial of that first and ever-memorable table of the spiritual divine supper".

Origin (Homilies on Numbers 7:2 [A.D. 248]) "Formerly, in an obscure way, there was manna for food; now, however, in full view, there is the true food, the flesh of the Word of God, as he himself says: 'My flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink'".

Cyprian of Carthage (The Lapsed 15-16 [A.D. 251]) "He [Paul] threatens, moreover, the stubborn and forward, and denounces them, saying, 'Whosoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily, is guilty of the body and blood of the Lord'. All these warnings being scorned and condemned–[those who receive the Eucharist sacrilegiously] before their sin is expiated, before confession has been made of their crime, before their conscience has been purged by sacrifice and by the hand of the priest, before the offense of an angry and threatening Lord has been appeased, violence is done to His body and blood; and they sin now against their Lord more with their hand and mouth than when they denied their Lord".

Aphraahat (Treatises 12:6 [A.D. 340]) "After having spoken thus, the Lord rose up from the place where he had made the Passover and had given his Body as food and his Blood as drink, and he went with his disciples to the place where he was to be arrested. But he ate of his own Body and drank of his own Blood, while he was pondering on the dead. With his own hands the Lord presented his own Body to be eaten, and before he was crucified he gave his Blood as drink".

Cyril of Jerusalem (Catechetical Lectures 19:7 [A.D. 350]) "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" (ibid., 22:6, 9) "Do not, therefore, regard the bread and wine as simply that; for they are, according to the Master's declaration, the body and blood of Christ. Even though the senses suggest to you the other, let faith make you firm".

Ambrose of Milan (The Mysteries 9:50, 58 [A.D. 390]) "Perhaps you may be saying, 'I see something else; how can you assure me that I am receiving the body of Christ?' It but remains for us to prove it. And how many are the examples we might use! . . . Christ is in that sacrament, because it is the body of Christ".

Augustine (Sermons 227 [A.D. 411]) "That bread which you see on the altar, having been sanctified by the word of God, is the Body of Christ. That chalice, or rather, what is in that chalice, having been sanctified by the word of God, is the Blood of Christ" (ibid., 272) "What you see is the bread and the chalice; that is what your own eyes report to you. But what your faith obliges you to accept is that the bread is the body of Christ and the chalice is the blood of Christ. This has been said very briefly, which may perhaps be sufficient for faith; yet faith does not desire instruction".

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