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The Eucharist 3. The Eucharist as the Real Presence of Christ

PDF (Adobe Portable Document Format) and .ppt (Microsoft PowerPoint Format) files of the presentation for this session are available for download from the Eucharist Home Page and the Download page

 

Topics

1. Introduction

1.1. Review of The Words of Institution

1.2. Review of John's Eucharistic Theology

1.3. Questions

1.3.1. One Statement of the Question

1.3.2. Another Statement of the Question

 

2. Views in the Early Church

2.1. Introduction

2.2. Cyril of Jerusalem, 350 AD

2.3. Augustine, 354-430 AD

2.4. John of Damascus, 665-749 AD

 

3. The Meaning of "Presence" and "Real"

3.1. Introduction

3.2. The Meaning of “Presence”

3.2.1. Different Ways of Being Present

3.2.2. The Multiple Presences of Christ in the Eucharist

3.3. The Meaning of “Real”

3.3.1. Physical Reality

3.3.2. Non-Physical Reality

 

4. Theologies of the Real Presence

4.1. Introduction

4.2. Transubstantiation

4.3. Consubstantiation

4.4. Transsignification, Transfinalization

 

5. Conclusion. A Last Word

 

References

 

1. Introduction

1.1. Review of The Words of Institution

(This material is a summary of some material covered in the second session)

 

…the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”

Paul: 1 Corinthians 11:23-25 (NRSV)

 

We find four accounts of the words of institution from Paul and the gospel writers:

  • The four accounts of the words of institution, from earliest to latest:

  • Paul: 1 Corinthians 11:23-25

  • Mark (20 yrs. after Paul): Mark 14:22-25

  • Matthew (20+ yrs. After Mark): Matt. 26:26-29

  • Luke (20+ yrs. After Mark): Luke 22:14-20

 

In the four accounts:

  •  Words over the bread:

    • All four agree Jesus said, “This is my body”

    • only Matthew has an explicit command from Jesus to eat.

  • Words over the wine

    • Mark and Matthew have Jesus saying, “this is my blood of the covenant”

    • Paul and Luke have Jesus saying, “this cup is the new covenant in my blood.”

 

 

1.2. Review of John's Eucharistic Theology

John does not describe the words of institution, but does have an extended passage of Eucharistic Theology:

 

“I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” So Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.”

- John 6:48-58 (NRSV)

 

 

1.3. Questions

We can pose the fundamental question about the "real presence" of Christ in the Eucharist in the following ways:

 

1.3.1. One Statement of the Question

 

“This is my body,”

“This is my blood,”

“Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me and I in them”

 

What do these statements mean?

  • We aren’t cannibals. It’s not “literally” what we are doing

  • It’s not purely “symbolic.” Christ is “present” in some “real” way

 

 

1.3.2. Another Statement of the Question

The Eucharist as a sacrament involves:

  • an “outward, visible sign,” consisting of:

    • Matter: bread and wine, and

    • Form: broken, poured, eaten, drunk,

  • that is a “door,” a “window” to

  • an “inward and spiritual grace” (res) =

    • the presence of Christ within us

 

But in the Eucharist, we are affirming that:

  • Christ is not simply the presence of the inward, spiritual grace (the res) that comes to us (this happens in all the sacraments),

but also:

  • “really present” in the matter of the “outward, visible sign.”

 

But “really present” how?

 

 

2. Views in the Early Church

2.1. Introduction

The concept of the real presence of Jesus in the bread and wine was widespread in the early Church:

 

 

2.2. Cyril of Jerusalem, 350 AD

Cyril of Jerusalem, 350 AD wrote:

 

[Jesus Christ] by his own will once changed water into wine at Cana in Galilee. So why should we not believe that he can change wine into blood?. . . We should therefore have full assurance that we are sharing in the body and blood of Christ. For in the type of bread, his body is given to you, and in the type of wine, his blood is given to you, so that by partaking of the body and blood of Christ you may become of one body and one blood with him.

- From Catechetical Lectures given to those preparing for Baptism

 

 

2.3. Augustine, 354-430 AD

Augustine, 354-430 AD, wrote:

 

That which you see is bread and the cup, which even your eyes declare to you; but as to that in which your faith demands instruction, the bread is the body of Christ, the cup is the blood of Christ… … these things are called sacraments for this reason, that in them one thing is seen, another thing is understood.”

- Sermon, 272 AD

 

 

2.4. John of Damascus, 665-749 AD

John of Damascus, 665 to 749, wrote:

 

And now you ask how the bread becomes the body of Christ, and the wine and the water become the blood of Christ. I shall tell you. The Holy Spirit comes upon them, and achieves things which surpass every word and thought… Let it be enough for you to understand that this takes place by the Holy Spirit.

 

 

3. The Meaning of "Presence" and "Real"

3.1. Introduction

 

 

When we affirm the “real presence” of Jesus

in the bread and wine,

what do we mean by

“presence”

and

“real”?

 

 

 

3.2. The Meaning of “Presence”

3.2.1. Different Ways of Being Present

A person or object can have a "presence" for us in different ways:

  • Local Presence

    • Presence in a particular place

  • Temporal Presence

    • Presence at a particular time or moment

  • Personal Presence

    • A presence in which a communication takes place between two persons. Another can be present for us in the tete a tete conversation with that person in a restaurant, a telephone call with the other who may be thousands of miles away, or through reading a letter composed by the other years earlier

      • Does not necessarily require a meeting in time and space

 

 

3.2.2. The Multiple Presences of Christ in the Eucharist

There are several ways that Christ is present for us in the Eucharist:

  • There is a gospel reading, so Christ is present in the Word

  • Christ is the true presiding minister, so Christ is present in the human minister who stands in for him

  • The Eucharistic community is made one body with Christ, so Christ is present in the community

  • After the words of institution, Christ is present in the bread and wine

 

With all these "multiple presences" of Christ in the Eucharist, we might say that Christ’s presence in the Eucharist is a personal presence which is focused in the bread and wine but is not localized to the bread and wine:

 

“On any natural reading of the words ‘This is my body’ or ‘This is my blood’, the demonstrative pronoun must be taken as referring to the bread and wine. We must not, however, wrench the focus out of its context. The bread and wine are not to be taken out of the human, personal situation in which they have their being as the body and blood of Christ.”

- Macquarrie, p. 127

 

 

3.3. The Meaning of “Real”

3.3.1. Physical Reality

One might limit reality to a purely "physical reality." That is, we might claim a thing is what it is purely because of its atomic and molecular structure.

 

However, no one claims that the molecular structure of bread and wine are changed in the Eucharist to the molecular structure of flesh and blood. So if we limit reality to no more than:

  • the physical reality of atomic and molecular structure, and

  • atomic and molecular structure in motion,

then we must say Jesus is not “really present” in the sense of being “physically really” “present”

 

 

3.3.2. Non-Physical Reality

We do not commonly limit reality to the above notion of physical reality. Perhaps without being consciously aware of it, we accept as "forces" greater than ourselves, several realms of "non-physical" reality  = “Metaphysical” Reality. These might include:

  • The “World of Ideas”

  • Love

  • “Good” and “Evil”

  • Mathematics

  • Meaning, Purpose

 

Theologies that attempt to explain the "real presence" draw upon the reality of these "non-physical" (= "metaphysical") realms.

 

 

4. Theologies of the Real Presence

4.1. Introduction

Theologies of the Real Presence include:

  • Transubstantiation

  • Consubstantiation

  • Transignification and Transfinalization

 

 

4.2. Transubstantiation

Transubstantiation is a theology of the real presence most fully developed by Thomas Aquinas, 1224-1274.

It is based on Aristotle’s view of reality that all matter has two qualities:

  • 1. accidents: its outward appearance, color, shape

  • 2. substance: its essential nature.

    • A horse is a horse because it partakes of the substance of “horse-ness”

    • A chair is a chair because it partakes of the substance of “chair-ness”

    • Bread is bread because it partakes of the substance of “bread-ness”

    • “Horse-ness”, “chair-ness,” “bread-ness” are metaphysical realities

 

In Transubstantiation, at the moment of consecration of the bread and wine, a miracle occurs:

  • The substance of the bread is changed to the substance of the body of Christ

    • The accidents of the bread remain unchanged

  • The substance of the wine is changed to the substance of the blood of Christ

    • The accidents of the wine remain unchanged

 

 

4.3. Consubstantiation

Consubstantiation is the name given to Luther’s view that:

  • The substance of both bread and the body of Christ are present together in the bread (Christ is present “in, with, and under” the bread)

  • The accidents of the bread remain unchanged

 

How the substance of both bread and the body of Christ can be together is a mystery. An analogy cited by Luther, (from Origen, 185-254) is to consider the following:

  • A piece of iron placed in a fire begins to glow

  • In that glowing iron, both iron and heat are present together

 

 

4.4. Transsignification, Transfinalization

Transsignification and Transfinalization are theologies formulated by the Roman Catholic theologian Edward Schillebeeckx in the 1960’s.

They are both based on a view of reality that the identity of a thing is based on:

  • Its atomic and molecular structure

  • Its meaning or significance within the context in which it is used

  • Its purpose or end goal (“finality”) within the context in which it is used

This view implies that meaning / significance, purpose /end goal of a thing have a metaphysical reality

 

In Transsignification and Transfinalization, at the moment of consecration of the bread and wine, a miracle occurs:

  • The meaning / significance of the bread and wine changes. They no longer mean / signify food, but they mean / signify Christ

  • The end goal (“finality”) / purpose of bread and wine changes. The end goal / purpose of physical nourishment is replaced by the end goal / purpose of spiritual nourishment

 

 

5. Conclusion. A Last Word

While the various theologies of the real presence probe the mystery and suggest ways in which we might understand it, in the end, mystery remains, and so we can return to the words of John of Damascus, 665-749 AD:

 

And now you ask how the bread becomes the body of Christ, and the wine and the water become the blood of Christ. I shall tell you. The Holy Spirit comes upon them, and achieves things which surpass every word and thought… Let it be enough for you to understand that this takes place by the Holy Spirit.

 

 

References

The information in these notes comes from the following references:

 

 

The Eucharist

 

1. Introduction to the Sacraments

2. The Eucharist as a Meal

3. The Eucharist as the Real Presence of Christ

4. The Eucharist as Sacrifice

5. The Practice of Reservation. Conclusions