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Christ is not Locally Present in Communion

In no way is Christ’s body locally in this sacrament… Christ’s body is at rest in heaven. Therefore it is not movably in this sacrament.

Ask your average Roman Catholic (or even Christians generally) to guess where the above quote originates – they are most likely to come up with “a Reformation text” (e.g. The 39 Articles). You could not be more incorrect!!!

I thought of the above quote as, second only to the social media storm caused by Naomi Wolf’s claim that the Bible is mistranslated as she now had hold of “a Koine Greek – English side-by-side literal translation“, keyboard warriors flocked in droves to respond to the Church of England claiming that “our roots go back to the time of the Roman Empire, when the church came into existence in what was then the province of Britain.”

Responses: beyond the usual “Henry VIII started his own religion because he was randy and the Pope wouldn’t allow him a divorce”, there were claims such as “Anglicans don’t believe in the Real Presence in the Eucharist nor the Virgin Birth.”

The claim about the Virgin Birth is pretty quickly dismissed (that’s in the Nicene and Apostles’ Creeds, affirmed by Anglicans in the Eucharist, at Baptism, Confirmation, Ordination, and ‘Blessed Virgin Mary’ is in the title of many feasts, etc). The claim about the Anglican understanding of the Real Presence is more nuanced. [And here, I’m reflecting on official teaching rather than what percentage believes what – if we used such a more sociological approach, between one-third and two-thirds of (USA) Roman Catholics do NOT “believe in the Real Presence in the Eucharist”!]

Is it time yet to reveal where the above quote is from? Where do we find this teaching that Christ’s body is not locally present, where do we find this teaching that when we move the Consecrated Bread/Host/Wafer, Christ’s body is not moving?! This is the clear teaching from the expert in transubstantiation, St Thomas Aquinas in his Summa Theologiae, Part 3, Question 76, Articles 5 & 6!

Let’s get some more contemporary RC official teaching before examining the Anglican position:

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 wine 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.”

Catechism of the Catholic Church #1376

BUT wait, there’s more!

While this above paragraph holds to the bread changing substance to be the body of Christ our Lord, and the wine changing substance to be his blood, the very next paragraph has quite a different story:

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.

Catechism of the Catholic Church #1377

To be clear: official RC teaching is that the whole Christ – not just his body – is present in the [bread] “species” and the whole Christ – not just his blood – is present in the [wine] “species”. And the commingling of consecrated bread and wine is NOT a (re)uniting of Christ’s body and blood!

Note also: “this change… has fittingly and properly called transubstantiation.”

Transubstantiation may nowadays be used as short-hand for Christ’s Real Presence in the Eucharist, but technically it is the acceptance of Aristotelian categories that there is (as just one example) a “substance” of “chair” that I am sitting on and the “accidents” are the chair’s particular colour, weight, etc. In transubstantiation, then, God can (because God is God) continue to have it look like a chair (weigh like a chair, act like a chair, have the number of legs of this chair) but it is now actually a teapot (in substance). The understanding of molecules and chemistry means that not many people nowadays hold to there being such a thing as the “substance” of bread, or the “substance” of wine – so “transubstantiation” has become, simply, shorthand for “Real Presence”. Eastern Orthodox (and Eastern Catholics – those parts of the Church in union with the Roman Pope but following their own rites {including having a Eucharistic Prayer that does not have “this is my body… this is my blood”!}) – do not use “transubstantiation” in their explanations but still hold to the Real Presence.

Similarly, I would contend, Anglicans hold to Christ’s Real Presence in the Eucharist. The extra complication is that there is not a single “Anglican Church” but, like Eastern Orthodoxy, a family (technically, a “Communion”) of (about 40) Anglican Churches (as well as Churches in Full Communion with Anglicanism – such as the Old Catholics). Furthermore, unlike contemporary Roman Catholicism, there is not what might be termed a “credal” approach to belief – it is more strongly “Lex orandi, lex credendi” – what is prayed expresses what is believed.

So when people point to, say, Article 28 in the 39 Articles, firstly, different Anglican Churches (usually called “provinces”) present different statuses of these Articles (all the way to regarding it as merely an interesting historical document), but most importantly, one should look to formal agreed liturgical prayers and practices for the official belief.

So while Article 28 does disagree with transubstantiation (in the actual Aristotelian understanding in the period in which the Articles were written), it also says: “the Bread which we break is a partaking of the Body of Christ; and likewise the Cup of Blessing is a partaking of the Blood of Christ.”

I conclude with a prayer from the Anglican A New Zealand Prayer Book He Karakia Mihinare o Aotearoa:

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.

image source (detail)

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2 thoughts on “Christ is not Locally Present in Communion”

  1. Rev. Thomas Chopp, MDiv

    What’s the Anglican belief/doctrine on the Inerrancy of Scripture-I mean the original manuscripts. Do Anglicans subscribe to verbal inspiration?

    1. As per my post above, Thomas, different Anglican provinces will state this differently. Furthermore, I’m not sure what you mean by “inerrancy of Scripture”: some take that to mean there is a dome and all the animals and humans on earth descended from what went on the ark (fish etc exempt). Others would say the Scriptures are inerrant on salvation issues – but might again negotiate what is a salvation issue and what isn’t.

      The NZ Anglican Catechism has:

      Why does the Church value the Holy Scriptures?
      Because the Holy Spirit inspired their human authors and through the Scriptures God’s word continues to speak to the Church.

      How do we best understand the Bible?
      We understand the meaning of the Bible, the Church’s book, with the help of the Holy Spirit, who guides the people of God in interpretation and understanding.

      And our Ordination vows are:

      Bishop: Do you believe that the Bible contains all
      that is essential for our salvation,
      and reveals God’s living word in Jesus Christ?
      Candidate: Yes, I do.
      God give me understanding in studying the Scriptures.
      May they reveal to me the mind and heart of Christ,
      and shape my ministry.

      I hope that helps. Easter blessings.

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