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Christ’s Presence in the Eucharist

Mafa Emmaus

The exact mechanism of Christ’s Presence (or not!) in the Eucharistic elements of consecrated bread and wine appears to me to be approached in a way that nothing else is.

How is Christ present where you are now? How is Christ present when two or more are gathered in His Name? Exact mechanism please – as you seek to do, and demand that others do, with the bread and wine…

Look, I can’t even tell you, in a vague way, how it works that I punch keys on this laptop and you, wherever you are, whenever you are, can read what I’ve written! If I cannot explain something as simple as that, how do I hope to explain Christ’s Presence? Or the Incarnation? Or God’s action generally?

I can use some models, some metaphors, some stories, some inadequate signposts that might point approximately to the reality. But, I want to live in the reality – more than I want to think about it.

My friend, the Ven Dr Peter Carrell, encourages “virtualism” as a being a “middle way” between real presence and receptionism. Peter’s post is here. It is based on three posts on another site: here, here, and here. And those posts are based on one in a wonderful series on Anglican Eucharistic Theology.

A lot of the discussion is founded on a misunderstanding of the actual teaching of the Real Presence. That misunderstanding is found on all three sites. All three sites refer to

The bread and the wine therefore do not become the body and blood of Christ in substance (as if they were being identified with the natural body and blood of Christ on the cross) but in spiritual power, virtue and effect. This means that through consecration the bread and wine are endowed with spiritual power or virtue which make them the sacramental body and blood of Christ, but not the natural body and blood of Christ.

It is a misrepresentation to suggest that the Real Presence (often going by the term “transubstantiation”) means the bread becomes “the natural body of Christ on the cross” and the wine becomes “the natural blood of Christ on the cross”. Formal teaching, rather, has that Christ’s Real Presence in the Eucharistic species means that the whole Risen and Glorified Christ is present under the appearance of bread and wine. Let me stress again: the Risen and Glorified Christ is fully present under the appearance of bread; the Risen and Glorified Christ is fully present under the appearance of wine [see, for example, here and here (1374)].

That is not to say that aberrations, mis- and false interpretations are not taught, believed, and expressed by many, both Roman Catholic and Anglican (and others). Only recently, I was in a discussion where someone insisted that the wine MUST be red because it’s blood – my immediate response was that, hence, using WHITE bread would be a gross error! We should be using brown bread (LOL!). [Some, of course, in their practice, and based on this bioliteralism, maintain the redness of the liquid but not its wineness – that is another story for another time!]

I return to where I began: what is this obsession with the nature of Christ’s presence and action in the Sacrament that the same people simply do not begin to apply, for example, to Christ’s presence and action in the Word? When was the last time you heard a debate about the nature of the sound waves coming from someone reading Christ’s words from the Bible in English…

I conclude this particular post with the words from A New Zealand Prayer Book He Karakia Mihinare o Aotearoa (page 541):

Praise and glory to you creator Spirit of God;
you make our bread Christ’s body
to heal and reconcile
and to make us the body of Christ.
You make our wine Christ’s living sacrificial blood
to redeem the world.

You are truth.
You come like the wind of heaven, unseen, unbidden.
Like the dawn
you illuminate the world around us;
you grant us a new beginning every day.
You warm and comfort us.
You give us courage and fir
and strength beyond our every day resources.
Be with us Holy Spirit in all we say or think,
in all we do this and every day.
Amen.

This series is continued with a post on transubstantiation.

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19 Responses to Christ’s Presence in the Eucharist

  1. Christ was the word that spake it
    He took the bread and break it
    And what his word doth make it
    That I believe and take it.

    Elizabeth 1 when interrogated about her Eucharistic beliefs

    Not a bad effort, I’d say.

  2. I may be repeating myself from a comment on eucharist from some point in our joined past, but I am reminded of the Metropolitan Community Churches. That is a denomination that has attempted to be a home for the LGBTQ community since 1968 and meets the needs of that community which comes from every background in modern day Christendom. Romans, Lutherans, Anglicans/Episcopalians Methodists, high church, low church, Evangelicals, Baptists, Mennonites, etc. In the Eucharistic Prayers of the majority of MCC clergy, the epiclesis asks, to some effect, “…send your Holy Spirit upon these elements of grape & grain, that they may be for each of us a perfect & holy communion.”

  3. So, Bosco, when the Reformers objected to Transubstantiation in the 16th century, were they objecting to something which they should jolly well have objected to (because then mediaeval Catholic teaching was a misrepresentation of the truth) or were they mistaken?

    • Thanks for the question, Peter. I am not going to present a full response as “transubstantiation” is, as I indicated, included in my next intended post in this series.

      Teaser for my future post: as I quoted on this post,

      The bread and the wine therefore do not become the body and blood of Christ in substance (as if they were being identified with the natural body and blood of Christ on the cross)

      One might say, then, that this current misunderstanding of “transubstantiation” (as highlighted in my above post) leads to the rejection of a “straw man”. This contemporary confusion does have similarities to the 16th Century Reformation period. In fact, in rejecting the misunderstood term “transubstantiation”, both Luther and Calvin (unwittingly) developed approaches closer to the actual teaching of transubstantiation!

      One might note in passing, that the united front against the misunderstood teaching of “transubstantiation” by the 16th Century Reformers did not lead to unity in that Reformation but to fragmentation. History shows: a shared disagreement against a teaching and practice is insufficient to unite those who disagree with that teaching and practice. Now who might learn from that in our current context…

      Blessings.

      • I can see why Calvin, who never actually had a theological education and so never became a priest, (nor was he ever ordained by the Reformers,) might misunderstand the Roman concept of transubstantiation, but why Luther, theologically trained and ordained?

        • Again, we are getting ahead of ourselves, David 🙂 Luther was trained in Nominalism and its misunderstanding of transubstantiation. And he probably never read Aquinas, only knowing his ideas second hand. Blessings.

      • I am happy, Bosco, to think that five centuries of both arguments and reflections mean that we are better equipped to understand the mystery of the eucharist than previously. (I am also happy to acknowledge that were any commenters here alive in, say, 1520-50, we might, depending on precise contexts, have taken up the thinking of an Erasmus, Luther, Calvin, Cranmer, More, Fisher, Servetus without any thought that we were mistaken!).

        I am also happy to acknowledge, insofar as I have any ability to think about this great theological problem that, indeed, when one wishes to (say) push against Transubstantiation it can be hard not to end up a quasi-Transubstantiationist; ditto (IMHO) if one pushes against Zwinglianism (because all theologies of the eucharist must speak about memory and about absence).

        But I do note, Bosco, looking up the links you offer to the Catechism, that there is some ambiguity in the words used: they do not all press forward towards “the Risen Christ” being present. Further, when Jesus himself said “This is my body … my blood” it was on the night before he died and not on the night after he rose again. He was referring to his natural body and to his natural blood. So is it a mistake, whether one is an Aquinas or some priests I have heard in the 21st century or the writer whom you cite above if some kind of equation is made between the substance of the body/blood and the natural body/blood of Jesus? If it is a mistake, is it (so to speak) a natural mistake!?

        • Thanks, Peter.
          To move this dialogue along, I would point towards two ways to move forward:
          1) there is (IMO) more to the Gospels than simply a bald recording of historical events – there is, in the words of the Gospels, a ‘sacramental’ verbal encounter with the Risen Christ and the Word of God;
          2) “body” and “blood” in the understanding of Jesus’ time (and evidenced in usage also in the First Testament) has far more than your limitation “to his natural body and to his natural blood”. If, in this brief comment, we were to summarise “body” and “blood” and translate it into one word of English now, I would suggest “Person” and “Life” – this is me; I give you my life.
          Blessings.

        • Ditto, Father B.

          I was going to ask Dr C how he knew that Jesus was “only” referring to his natural body & blood?

          This is the same guy who is reported to have claimed that if folks destroyed the Temple, it would be rebuilt in 3 days.

  4. Dear Bosco and David
    I don’t know precisely what Jesus was/is referring to, and yes, the words of the gospel are already overlaid in a sacramental direction.
    My point is slightly different: is it reasonable for someone to talk about the natural body and blood of Jesus in sacramental theology? I think it is. It is also reasonable talk about the body and blood of the Risen and Glorified Christ. I think it unreasonable to be certain that those who talk about the natural body and blood etc are mistaken.

    • We are going to have to disagree, Peter. Strongly – I think.
      Could you please give an example of a reputable sacramental theologian who talks about Jesus (and the Church) understanding the bread in relation to His physical, historical, natural, First-Century body (skin, organs, bones) and the wine in relation to His physical, historical, natural, First-Century blood (plasma, red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets)?
      So – it may be “reasonable” for “someone to talk about the natural body and blood of Jesus in sacramental theology” – I just don’t know any reputable theologian who has or does. To whom do you refer?
      You speak in the present tense – so who are “those who talk about the natural body and blood” that you speak of?
      Blessings

  5. Hi Bosco
    But we are not talking about reputable theologians.
    We are talking about the citation you made and said is mistaken.
    We are talking about the kinds of things I have sometimes heard said by respectable priests who make no pretence of being reputable theologians.
    I am suggesting that at an ordinary level of discourse in the life of the church(es) it may be reasonable to talk about the natural body etc.

    • Thanks for clarifying your position, Peter.

      In your July 15 comment you asserted that at his last meal, Jesus, in referring to the bread and wine, “was referring to his natural body and to his natural blood.”
      I continue to hold that Jesus was not simply referring to His skin, organs, and bones; and to His plasma, red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets. But that for him “body” would be much closer to our English-language understanding of “person”, and “blood” would be much closer to our English-language understanding of “life”. Furthermore, the Gospels are not merely historical accounts – they make Christ’s life present to us now after the Resurrection – when Jesus’ “natural body and his natural blood” have been transformed into His glorified body. The Gospels are not merely about past, inaccessible history – they are in Jesus’ last meal stories proclaiming a reality present to us at every Eucharist.

      Your latest clarification is that you have sometimes heard respectable priests refer to the bread being Jesus’ historical natural body (ie. skin, organs, and bones) and the wine being Jesus’ historical natural blood (ie. plasma, red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets). You find this reasonable that they do so – whilst you cannot (and they cannot) cite a single reputable theologian who talks in this way. In other words, are you suggesting that the inadequacy of these priests’ training and study in this primary area of their ministry is reasonable? When you hear respectable priests preaching and teaching Modalism, or Docetism, or Gnosticism, or Arianism, or Pelagianism – do you think this is equally reasonable?

      Blessings.

  6. Ok Bosco.
    Next time I am at Mass and hear a priest I thought was well trained say something which suggests, at least to my ears, a somewhat crass equation between the bread and the body of Jesus (perhaps with a throwaway remark about Protestants), I will ponder the unreasonableness of the equation and the poverty of training and formation of the priest concerned.

      • Dear David,
        Indeed. But my point could take a lot longer to express if I sound like someone my actual age. A lot hangs on what “natural” might mean. I think Bosco overemphasises natural = literal physical characteristics of a natural body. I am not convinced that the original citation above means that, nor the occasional priest I am talking about. I think what they are meaning is “This is my body” is focused on the body of Jesus which went to the cross, and “this is my blood” focuses on the blood which flowed from crucifixion. It is fine to suggest, as Bosco does, that a fuller, larger, better thought through theology of the sacrament recognises that the Risen and Glorified Christ is actually what is meant (and I am personally fine with that, I think that takes us much closer to a spiritual feeding etc while acknowledging the real presence of the fullness of Christ in the Eucharist.) My point is that it is also reasonable to focus on the body and blood going to the cross. I am not convinced by Bosco that either the writer of the cited words above in this post/thread or the occasional priest I hear is somehow deficient in formation to a degree that is “unreasonable.” When I encounter the christology of the Oriental Orthodox, I do not think it reasonable (against the backdrop of what we believe in Western Christianity) but that does not mean I think such theologians are deficient in formation. There: that has taken a lot more words to be my true 58 year old self!

        • Thanks for the helpful expansion, Peter.

          I would add to your points that many (most?) RC priests you refer to only administer the consecrated bread in communion to the faithful – and not the wine. I would think they would argue strongly that Christ is fully present in that – not divided into body (bread) and blood (wine). Furthermore, as the bread is broken, one does not end up with half a body. Nor with two bodies.

          Blessings.

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