Category Archives: Eucharist

Baptist discovers the early Church & Mass


-by Steve Ray, a convert to the Catholic faith

“Time for Mass rolls around, and I am usually entangled in things like catching up on emails, writing an article, planning a pilgrimage trip, playing with the grandkids, or reading. It is hard to break away, hard to step out into the heat or cold to get the car started and hard to shift gears in my mind and heart.

But once I step into the sacred space of a Catholic church, the world melts away, and I am swept up into reality of heaven. The presence of God fills the church, while heaven comes down to earth on the altar. I am swept away to another world, one more real than the one where my feet are planted.

Why was I fortunate enough to discover this euphoria? How did this great joy become a reality for humans bound to a planet spinning around a star in one of billions of galaxies?

Sundays as a Baptist

Before explaining my profound discovery of the liturgy and sacraments of the Catholic Church, I must first to take a step back in time to my delightful Baptist childhood.

Before I ever read the Bible for myself, I was well aware of my Baptist tradition, which permeated every aspect of my childhood and teen years. I was reminded constantly that Baptists reject many of the teachings of the Catholic Church. We rejected infant baptism and taught that anyone baptized as an infant had to be baptized again, or re-baptized as an adult—and this by full immersion.

We also rejected the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist and that there was any sacrifice involved. This was Catholic heresy that originated in the “traditions of men.” We did not use the words Mass or Eucharist. For us, the correct terminology was the Lord’s Supper or communion. Since Jesus was crucified once and for all on the cross, there is no way that the Lord’s Supper could have anything to do with the sacrifice of Christ. It actually did nothing, and changed nothing. It was simply a meal we shared to commune spiritually with our Lord and to remember what he did for us on the cross.

The door of our Baptist church opened, and the early arrivers stepped in with well-worn Bibles under their arms. (I still have my dad’s marked up and notated King James Schofield Reference Bible on my desk. The date in the cover reminds me of his conversion from pagan to Christian in 1954, the year I was born.) Boys with cute bow ties and girls in frilly dresses were dropped off at Sunday school. Women adjusted their hats and smiled at their friends.

It was always the same: We entered the church with chattering friendliness accompanied by the organ or piano. Everyone took their place in the padded pews. The pastor stepped up to the front and welcomed everyone, especially any visitors. Then we all stood as he opened with a solemn and often lengthy prayer. A number was called out, and we all grabbed our hymnal and proved we were real Christians by belting out the hymn—and not just the first verse, but every verse.

Then came announcements, the doxology, and the collection while a soloist sang. I remember at one church they even passed a credit card machine up and down the pews.

Then we were enriched by nearly an hour of preaching with the exercise of flipping from one end of the Bible to the other. I don’t recall us ever reading any lengthy selection of Scripture in context. It was usually a thematic study, using verses out of context from one passage then another.

It usually concluded with an altar call—a passionate, heartfelt appeal to come forward to receive Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior. I always wondered about this, since I assumed everyone there had already done that at least once, if not many times. No one ever came forward except in the yearly revivals, when flocks came forward just to make sure. Then came the closing prayer and another complete hymn followed by a reminder of the Sunday service at 7:00 p.m.

It never dawned on me (and probably not on any other person sitting in the pews) to ask what the very first Christians did on Sunday mornings. After all, Christians have been gathering on Sundays for more than 2,000 years. Jesus and the apostles set something in motion, and their immediate disciples followed them in their manner of worship on Sundays.

They certainly had a structure to their “worship service,” as is clear from the New Testament and the writings from the first and second century. The apostles certainly taught them what to do and how to do it, if only by their example.

The Lord’s Supper

In my Baptist congregation (and later in other churches we attended, such as Reformed, non-denominational, Methodist, Calvary Chapel, Presbyterian, New Testament Assembly, Plymouth Brethren, etc.) we had the “Lord’s Supper.” Once every three months or so it was tacked on to the end of a regular church service.

Broken crackers were distributed on a silver tray, followed by the grape juice in individual mini-glasses (like shot glasses used for whiskey). We were clear that nothing happened to the crackers and grape juice during the ceremony. Only the heretic Catholics believed that unseen magic took place. The crackers and grape juice were mere symbols to remind us of the body of Jesus that was nailed to the cross and the blood that resulted from the nails.

Jesus had ordered us to do this, so we obeyed, calling it not a sacrament but an ordinance. The ceremony did nothing but remind us of the crucifixion. It was simply a “meal”—meager as it was—to remind us of our Lord’s death. We were always anxious to get out of church and to our real meal at the diner on the way home.

Jesus said, “As often as you do this”—but in our Baptist church, this was interpreted as, “As infrequently as you do this.” No one seemed concerned that the apostles and the early Christians celebrated this ceremony often and that it was more than just sharing crackers and grape juice. St. Luke informed us that the very first Christians “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42).

The apostles and their disciples met frequently to “break bread,” which was the earliest term for the Eucharist or the Lord’s Supper. This was shared no less than weekly (cf. Luke 24:30; Acts 2:46, 20:7). The daily bread of the Israelites in the wilderness of Sinai was called manna. The manna prefigured the Eucharist, and we are taught likewise to pray for the Father to provide us with our “daily bread,” which certainly refers to the Eucharist as well as our daily provisions.

Beyond the book of Acts and St. Paul’s epistles, do we have any idea what the apostles did on Sunday mornings when they gathered together? Did the early Christians leave a record of what they did on Sunday? Was it similar to the typical Baptist church service?

A historical record

We are fortunate. The early Christians did leave us a record of what they did, as taught by the apostles. It would serve us well to read their testimonies.

Why? Well, who can provide us with the best and most accurate idea of what the apostles taught, practiced, and expected the Church to do on Sundays than those who actually learned it from the apostles?

There is an old axiom that tells us the water is always cooler and clearer the closer you get to the source.

Justin Martyr (c. A.D. 100-165) was a pagan philosopher who converted to Christianity. He became a celebrated defender of the Christian faith and was beheaded as a martyr in Rome in A.D. 165. This was only 65 years after the death of the Apostle St. John in Ephesus.

St. Justin wrote to Emperor Marcus Aurelius, who was a persecutor of the Christians. He tried to explain to the emperor what the Christians believed and practiced. Maybe, he reasoned, if the Emperor understood Christianity he would stop killing the Christians.

It would do well for modern Protestants to look beyond their own relatively recent traditions to see what the first Christians did on Sunday morning.

Justin Martyr’s voice can still be heard ringing clearly down through the centuries, for our ears:

“And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things.

Then we all rise together and pray, and, as we before said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people assent, saying Amen; and there is a distribution to each, and a participation of that over which thanks have been given, and to those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons (quoted in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 1; Roberts, Donaldson, and Coxe, eds., p. 186).”

This is the earliest description we have of the Sunday morning worship service, as Protestants usually refer to it. Catholics refer to it as the Mass, or the Eucharistic liturgy.

Notice first of all that Christians gathered on Sunday mornings. This was something that was expected and even required. They gathered! Second, they all gathered in one place. Today, in Anytown, USA, Sunday morning is the most segregated time of the week. Christians do not gather in one place but in multiple, sometimes competing, locations—Baptists, Lutherans, Pentecostals, Nazarenes, Methodists, Presbyterians, so-called non-denominational denominations, and a host of others.

An ancient form

In the early centuries Sunday morning began with reading lengthy selections of Scripture, including the Old Testament and the developing New Testament (though the final collection was not codified for another two hundred years or so). They read the Gospels—the words of our Lord.

The readings were extensive and in context. Afterward, the presider or the priest would exhort the Christians to follow and imitate what Scripture taught. Then they stood together and prayed, usually ending with “Lord, hear our prayer,” just as we offer our petitions to God in the Catholic Church today.

After the homily and prayers of the faithful, “bread and wine and water [were] brought” to the front of the church. The priest then “offer[ed] prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people assent[ed], saying, ‘Amen.’”

This is exactly what happens in every Catholic Church in the world today, 2,000 years later. After the Eucharistic prayers the people say “Amen” and arise to receive the Body and Blood of Christ. Then the deacons take the Eucharist to those who were absent. A collection is taken to help the poor and to help support the Christian community.

Is this the Catholic liturgy or the Baptist service? St. Justin Martyr’s voice pierced the noise of modern religious confusion and reached my ears with a clear and clarion call: “Steve, wake up—open your eyes, abandon sectarian novelties and man-made traditions and listen to us who followed the actual teachings and practices of the apostles. We are still living and teaching and preserving what we learned from the apostolic Fathers. Their words are still ringing in our ears, their liturgy still vivid before our eyes.”

Justin Martyr again:

“And this food is called among us Εὐχαριστία [the Eucharist], of which no one is allowed to partake but the man who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins [water baptism], and unto regeneration, and who is so living as Christ has enjoined.

For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Savior, having been made flesh by the word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh. For the apostles, in the memoirs composed by them, which are called Gospels, have thus delivered unto us what was enjoined upon them; that Jesus took bread, and when He had given thanks, said, “This do ye in remembrance of Me, this is My body” (quoted in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 1, p. 185).”

So, what did the earliest Christians do on Sunday morning? The same thing Catholics do today.

Time machine experiment

I’ve always wanted to perform an experiment. I want to invent a time machine and drop a first-century Christian into a modern Baptist church on Sunday morning. Would he know where he was, or what is going on?

No, he would not. It would be foreign to him.

Next, I would like to take that same apostolic Christian and set him down in a modern-day Catholic Church. Then would he know where he is and what is going on?

Yes, because it is precisely what he was doing in the first or second century—every Sunday for his whole life since his conversion from paganism.

Except for the cultural differences—language, style of dress, type of instruments accompanying the songs, architecture—the “blueprint” and structure of the liturgy, as well as the teaching and belief in the Eucharistic mystery, are the same.

Where did my former Baptist tradition come from? Not from the Bible or the early Church. It came from man-made traditions begun by Martin Luther and a host of other schismatics. The Baptist tradition is usually traced to English Separatist John Smyth in 1609 who in Amsterdam, after his own novel interpretation of the New Testament, decided that infant baptism was invalid and that only believing adults could be baptized. After baptizing himself, he baptized others of his new sect.

But back to this past Sunday. I again sat at church with tears in my eyes. It has been seventeen years since my family and I converted to the Catholic Church. Yet I still am amazed, enchanted, overjoyed, overwhelmed, and profoundly grateful.

We are proud of the Catholic Church for keeping the blueprint and living in obedience to our Lord and his apostles. I sat and listened to more Scripture read, sung, and prayed than I had ever experienced in any hour in a Baptist church. I ate the Body and drank the Blood of our Lord. I am still transported.

Heavenly continuity

My wife, Janet, and I sat in Mass this weekend again swept away by the beauty of the liturgy—not because the music was soaring or the homily profound but because it was the same Sunday morning worship that was given to the Church by Jesus and his apostles, and it has been celebrated uninterrupted for the last 2,000 years. It was the same liturgy loved by Justin Martyr, Ignatius of Antioch, Clement of Rome, Peter and Paul, Andrew, James . . .

The Catholic Church is ancient, yet ever young. We partake of the same Body and Blood of Jesus as did the first Christians. We are one body in Christ not only across the surface of the earth but throughout all of time. The Mass is timeless, vital, essential. It is life and light for those who have eyes to see and ears to hear.

As St. Ignatius of Antioch, another first century Christian wrote—not of himself but as a disciple of the apostles, with their words still ringing in his ears—“Obey the bishop and the presbytery with an undivided mind, breaking one and the same bread, which is the medicine of immortality, and the antidote to prevent us from dying, but [which causes] that we should live forever in Jesus Christ” (quoted in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 1, p. 57).

The first Christians lovingly reached through two millennia and gave me the sign of peace saying, “Welcome home!”

I am proud and happy to be a Catholic.”

Me, too. Although, the sinners, full of them, like me, drive me nuts. But, He is there. And, that is all that is needed, desired, possibly hoped for.  Praise Him, Church!!!!!  Praise Him!!!!
Love,
Matthew

O Sacrum Convivium

One of my favorites….

O sacrum convivium!
in quo Christus sumitur:
recolitur memoria passionis eius:
mens impletur gratia:
et futurae gloriae nobis pignus datur.
Alleluia.

O sacred banquet!
in which Christ becomes our food,
the memory of his Passion is renewed,
the mind is filled with grace,
and a pledge of future glory to us is given.
Alleluia.


-by Br Linus Martz, OP

“If the Eucharist is “the source and summit of the Christian life” (CCC 1324), then it matters how we think and pray about it.  Repeated prayers, such as the Our Father, teach us how to pray (cf. Luke 11:1) through the repetition of familiar words and postures. And so, several times a day, the friars recite the above antiphon, kneeling before the Blessed Sacrament. How might these words of Saint Thomas Aquinas teach us?

O Sacred Banquet. The banquet is a common image, ideally calling to mind the Wedding Feast in Revelation 19.  In the Mass itself, the priest says, “Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb.” Still, given present circumstances, we might balk at this opening. It seems too much talk of a meal among friends could reduce the altar of sacrifice to a table, the Sacrament to a symbol, and the supernatural reality to a self-enclosed communion of attendees. Since last year’s poll projected that only a third of U.S. Catholics believe in transubstantiation, we urgently need clear Eucharistic teaching. Haven’t we heard enough about banquets and tables?

First, the O Sacred Banquet seems designed to teach; it’s a mini-creed of Eucharistic faith. In four steps, it clarifies what (or Who) this Sacred Banquet is:

Christ becomes our food. Aquinas writes: “The effect of this sacrament [here, grace] ought to be considered, first of all and principally, from what is contained in this sacrament, which is Christ” (ST III q.79 a.1). Only the doctrine of transubstantiation accounts for Christ’s sermon at Capernaum (John 6:22-59) and his unqualified words: “Take, eat; this is my body” (Matt 26:26). The memory of his Passion is celebrated. The Mass is a re-presentation, in an unbloody mode, of the One Sacrifice on Calvary, when the same “blood of the covenant” was “poured out” for our sins (Matt 26:27-28). The soul is filled with grace. Through the sacraments the Holy Spirit makes us “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Pet 1:3-4), even in this life. But the pledge of future glory is given to us: while we await “the glory that is to be revealed” (Rom 8:18), we possess here a foretaste of Heaven.

Notably, the O Sacred Banquet puts all four of its verbs in the present tense: through the unique efficacious signs instituted by Christ, past, present, and future are signified, now, for our sanctification (ST III q. 60 a. 3). Again, there’s a whole theology in this one prayer.

Lastly, the “sacred banquet” language is not just a cliché.  Aristotle famously wrote that human friendship takes a certain amount of “eating salt together,” that is, of time and familiarity around a shared table (Nicomachean Ethics VIII.3). But when the Church speaks of the supper of the Lamb, she means primarily our communion with God, which is the basis for (and inseparable from) our communion as believers.

This idea, divine friendship, seemed foolish to the Philosopher. He thought there was such inequality between gods and men that they cannot be friends, and “do not even expect to be so” (Ethics VIII.7). True: God and human beings are not equals. But Jesus has revealed a new vocation for us: “No longer do I call you servants … but I have called you friends” (John 15:15). This charity which He offers, this “friendship of man for God” (ST II-II q.23 a.1), fulfills all true communion in the one Body of Christ.

Because the Eucharistic gift of divine friendship is the source of our human friendship in religious life, we friars need to turn to our Lord with these words throughout the day. But, in today’s world, a more widespread use of this devotion could “teach us how to pray.” It would be a constant reminder of the con-vivium, the life shared between God and man, given to us in this Sacred Banquet.”

Love, and His grace,
Matthew

Truly His Body & His Blood

Here is one of the best explanations I have ever read.


-by Karlo Broussard

“Catholics argue that when Jesus said at the Last Supper, “This is my body . . . This is my blood” (Matt. 26:26, 28), He literally meant for bread to become His Body and wine His Blood.

But a Protestant might object: “Wait a minute. If we take the bread and wine to be really Jesus’ body and blood because He says, ‘This is My body . . . This is My blood,’ then we’re gonna have to say Paul meant the rock that followed the Israelites in the wilderness to be really Jesus, since he says, ‘the Rock was Christ’ (1 Cor. 10:4). But most Christians don’t believe the rock really was Jesus, like Catholics believe the consecrated host really is Jesus’ Body. Therefore, we shouldn’t take Jesus to mean that the bread and wine really became His Body and Blood because He says, ‘This is my body . . . This is my blood.’”

What should we make of this objection?

First, the appeal to 1 Corinthians 10:4 doesn’t show that Jesus’ use of “is” must be taken figuratively. It only shows that the verb “is” can be taken figuratively. As such, this argument only gets as far as saying a figurative interpretation, like in 1 Corinthians 10:4, is possible.

But this is a moot point, because Catholics could agree that Jesus’ words “This is my body . . . This is my blood” taken by themselves can be interpreted literally or figuratively. There’s nothing in the words themselves that determines one interpretation over the other. So, Catholics need have no qualms with saying these words could be taken figuratively when they’re considered in isolation from other evidence.

Second, the objection demands that a Catholic should interpret Jesus’ use of the verb “to be” at the Last Supper like it’s used in 1 Corinthians 10:4—figuratively, the reason being that it’s supposedly obvious that bread and wine can’t be Jesus’ body and blood. However, such a demand would be common only on the supposition that Jesus is not performing a miracle.

For example, I might hold up a picture of my father and say, “This is my father,” and you know that the picture is not literally my father but a figure of him. But—and here’s the key—your conclusion would be based on the assumption, and a true one at that, that I’m not performing the miracle of making my father substantially present under the form of ink and paper.

Similarly, to interpret Jesus’ use of “is” at the Last Supper figuratively would be natural if we already knew he’s not performing a miracle. But if there is evidence that what Jesus is doing at the Last Supper is miraculous, then a literal interpretation would be a viable option, and even a more probable one.

And there is an abundance of such evidence. Due to the limited space here, however, we’re only going to consider some of the evidence.

When Jesus first made the promise to give His Flesh to eat in John 6:51-52, He did so against the backdrop of the manna of old: “Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that a man may eat of it and not die . . . the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is My Flesh.”

This bread that God gave in the wilderness was not ordinary bread. It was miraculous bread:

  • It was bread that rained from heaven (Exod. 16:4).
  • It appeared every day with the coming of the “dew” (Exod. 16:13)
  • It never lasted more than a day, except on the Sabbath. When the Israelites didn’t obey the instruction to leave none until the next day, it “bred worms and became foul” (Exod. 16:19-20).
  • It didn’t appear on the Sabbath. And the amount they gathered on the sixth day did not breed worms and become foul (Exod. 16:22-26).
  • It appeared every day for forty years, and only stopped upon the Israelites entering the promised land (Exod. 16:35; Joshua 5:10-12).
  • A jar with an omer’s worth was kept in the Israelite’s sanctuary “throughout the generations” (Exod. 16:31-34)

As bible scholar Brant Pitre argues in his book Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist, to say the Eucharist at the Last Supper, the New Manna, is merely a symbol, we’d have to conclude that the Old Manna in the wilderness was superior to the New, since miraculous bread is clearly greater than ordinary bread. But that’s a no-go in biblical theology. The New Testament fulfillment is always greater than the Old Testament type.

Therefore, the Eucharist at the Last Supper couldn’t have been ordinary bread, which is what it would have to have been on the view that Jesus was speaking metaphorically. Rather, there’s something supernatural to it. And that supernatural quality allows for us to interpret literally the words of institution (“This is my body . . . this is my blood”), meaning that the bread and wine became his body and blood.

That the Eucharist is supernatural is further confirmed by Jesus’ teaching that faith is required to accept His command to eat His Flesh and drink His Blood. Jesus prefaces His revelation that His Flesh is the bread of life by saying, “No one can come to Me unless the Father Who sent Me draws him” (v.44). Then, after giving His discourse about eating His flesh and drinking His blood, He says, “There are some of you that do not believe . . . This is why I told you that no one can come to Me unless it is granted Him by my Father” (v.64-65). If Jesus begins and concludes His remarks about eating His Flesh and drinking His Blood with faith, a gift that only the Father can give, then Jesus is revealing that faith is required to accept His teaching.

There’s something else that Jesus says which reveals the requirement of faith: “It is the Spirit that gives life, the flesh is of no avail; the words that I have spoken to you are Spirit and Life” (v.63).

“The flesh” is a New Testament phrase that is often used to describe human nature apart from God’s grace (Mark 14:38, Rom. 8:1-14, 1 Cor. 2:14-3:1). What Jesus means is that without God’s grace, and in particular the grace of faith, acceptance of Jesus’ command to eat his flesh and drink his blood is impossible. If his disciples are to believe his teaching, they must avail themselves of that grace.

Jesus’ statement about his words being “spirit and life” mean that his teaching is of the Spirit and therefore can be accepted only by the power of the Spirit. This makes sense of why Jesus’ command to eat his flesh and drink his blood is bookended by his teachings about faith (v.44, 65).

Since what Jesus says in John 6 is a promise of what will be fulfilled at the Last Supper, and he teaches that faith is required to accept what he says, it follows that faith would also be required when confronted with the words at the Last Supper: “This is my body . . . This is my blood.”

Now, what need would there be for faith if the bread and wine at the Last Supper were intended by Christ to merely represent or signify his body and blood? Faith would not be needed to believe that bread and wine serve as a symbol of Jesus’ body and blood. But faith would be needed if the bread and wine became his body and blood, which, of course, would be miraculous.

Since Jesus teaches that faith is required to accept what He says about the bread and wine being His body and blood, it follows that there is a supernatural dimension to the Eucharist. And if the Eucharist is supernatural, then we have good reason to not automatically take Jesus’ words to be metaphorical. The supernatural nature of the Eucharist makes the literal interpretation a viable option.

Given the supernatural nature of the Eucharist, there’s no need for a Catholic to give up his literal interpretation of Jesus’ use of the verb “is” in favor of a figurative interpretation as we see in 1 Corinthians 10:4. The two cases are disanalogous, and thus cannot be read in light of each other. Catholics, therefore, don’t have to settle for the ridiculous claim that Jesus became a rock in the wilderness in order to keep our literal interpretation of the words of institution: “This is My Body . . . this is My Blood.”

Love,
Matthew

Eucharist symbolic?


-“Última_Cena”, by Leonardo DaVinci, 1490, tempera, gesso, 460 cm (180 in) × 880 cm (350 in), Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan, please click on the image for greater detail


-by Joseph Heschmeyer, is a seminarian in the Catholic Archdiocese of Kansas City. A former lawyer, he blogs at Shameless Popery.

“There are a great many intelligent Protestant Christians, well-versed in Scripture, faithfully seeking to know and follow the will of God, who have concluded that Jesus’ words about the bread and wine of the Last Supper becoming his body and blood are merely symbolic.

What if they’re right?

At first, it seems like such a revelation would be a tragedy. Receiving the Eucharist is the most intimate encounter with Jesus Christ possible this side of eternity. Suddenly to discover that this intimacy was a sham, and that what we thought was God was actually just bread, would be disheartening, to put the matter mildly. Worse, it would mean that those hours spent in adoration were something approaching idolatry rather than proper worship of God.

But the true tragedy would be greater still—it would mean that the Church has been wrong about the Eucharist from the beginning. For the earliest Christians universally believed in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. The well-respected early Church historian J.N.D. Kelly, a Protestant, has acknowledged that “Eucharistic teaching, it should be understood at the outset, was in general unquestioningly realist, i.e., the consecrated bread and wine were taken to be, and were treated and designated as, the Savior’s body and blood” (Early Christian Doctrines, 440).

Take, for example, the church at Smyrna, in modern-day Turkey. In the latter half of the first century, the apostle John had delivered a message directly from Jesus Christ to the Smyrnaeans, encouraging them in their faithfulness amidst their sufferings (Rev. 2:8-11). Shortly thereafter, a student of John’s, St. Ignatius of Antioch, wrote to this same local church on his way to be martyred in Rome early in the second century.

In his letter, Ignatius warns the Smyrnaeans to “keep aloof from” the heretical Gnostics “because they confess not the Eucharist to be the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ” (Epistle to the Smyrnaeans 7). Notice that Ignatius doesn’t feel the need to convince his readers of the truth of the Real Presence. For him, it’s enough to say that since the Gnostics reject the Real Presence we should not even “speak of them either in private or in public.”

And this is the way that Christians approached the Eucharist throughout the first few centuries of the Church. It was not just that a theologian here or there taught the Real Presence, but that it was the Christian position on the topic. In a series of lessons given to catechumens about to enter the Church, St. Cyril of Jerusalem reminded them that “you have been taught and you are firmly convinced that what looks and tastes like bread and wine is not bread and wine but the Body and the Blood of Christ” (Catechetical Lecture 22). Cyril is comfortable assuming that even those not yet baptized know enough about Christianity to realize that Christians believe in the Real Presence.

Even more telling than the many Church Fathers teaching and preaching on the Real Presence of the Eucharist is the absence of Christian leaders either rejecting this Catholic position or teaching a contrary position.

If a Baptist pastor got up on Sunday and declared that the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ, you could expect that there would be angry letters denouncing him as a heretic, or at least seeking to correct him. That’s because Baptists don’t believe in the Real Presence.

The fact that we don’t see this sort of outcry in the early Church is compelling evidence that the early Christians didn’t believe what modern Baptists do about the Eucharist. Rather, they were united in belief about the Real Presence in the Eucharist at a time when Christians weren’t afraid to squabble with one another over relatively smaller matters.

So why is this important? Because it means that these Protestants aren’t just saying, “I think Jesus’ words at the Last Supper are meant to be merely symbolic,” but “I think that the entire Church misunderstood one of the most basic aspects of Christianity for centuries.” Call this the “everybody got the gospel wrong” position.

At the Last Supper, Jesus said, “I will not leave you desolate” (John 14:18), a promise not to abandon the Church or to leave us as orphans. Specifically, Christ promised to preserve his Church by sending “the Spirit of Truth,” the Holy Spirit, to “teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:17, 26). How is belief in this promise compatible with the idea that the whole Church lost the true meaning of the Last Supper, and that no Christians successfully followed his instructions to “do this in remembrance of me” (1 Cor. 11:24)?

To be sure, left to our own devices, you and I would get some aspects of the gospel wrong. That’s why there are so many competing Protestant denominations. But the solution to that is to turn to the Church and to have the humility to be guided, rather than trusting that our own reading of Scripture is superior to everyone else’s. This is the model laid out in Scripture itself. When the apostle Philip found an Ethiopian official reading the book of Isaiah, he asked him, “Do you understand what you are reading?” to which the man replied “How can I, unless someone guides me?” (Acts 8:30-31). But the Protestant view undermines all of this by suggesting that the visible Church, and indeed all Christians everywhere, might be the ones in the wrong.

This isn’t just about rejecting the Church’s teaching authority, but about rejecting all of Christianity prior to a certain point in history. If you can simply throw out all of (say) pre-1517 history as heretical and off-the-mark, why not throw out all pre-2018 Christianity? What appears on the surface to be a question simply about the Eucharist or the Perpetual Virginity of Mary is really a question about whether we can trust Christ’s promise not to abandon us, leaving us to our own private theological interpretations.

What’s more, if everybody got the gospel wrong then, what makes us think that anybody has the gospel right now? If we could all be wrong on the literality of the Eucharist for centuries, why couldn’t we be wrong about the literality of the Resurrection or of any other aspect of Christian teaching? If all of Christianity can get the core message of Christianity wrong, then it seems that we simply can’t be trusted to get the basics of Christianity right. But holding that, of course, undermines our ability to trust Christianity itself.”

Love, Lord, give me faith,
Matthew

Transubstantiation – Natural Philosophy, Accidents & Substance, What the definition of IS is

If you are not familiar with philosophy, as I am not, some things said, some “arguments”, in the pleasant, logical sense, can be difficult to understand, since we do not possess the basic premise, language, or vocabulary from whence the final definition we are handed comes from.  It may be difficulty to understand:

if we have not been trained from the beginning of mathematical training.  In the same way with philosophical and theological “arguments”, it is likely the novice, especially literal ones :), will be lost very quickly in what is meant.

Ancient, at least Greek, philosophers were trying to understanding the world. They sought immutable truths, even in an ever mutable reality. One of the ways they described this knowledge to which they obtained was Plato’s “Theory of Forms”. A tree has “treeness”. A rock has “rockness”. Even though there are a myriad of different things by which we call “tree” or “rock” there is an immutable reality known as “tree” or “rock” which exists outside of these ever changing realities, by which we know their particular instantiations. This area of philosophy is called “ontology”, or the study of being. What does it mean to “be”? It’s quite logical and makes much sense if you follow the bouncing ball in its “ballness”. [Couldn’t help myself! 🙂]

Aristotle was a student of Plato, and a friend. But, famously said he was more a friend of the truth, and so disagreed that the nature of a thing is abstracted from the thing. A rock has “rockness”, a tree has “treeness”, says Aristotle. There is not an abstracted sense of being, but of being itself. The nature of the thing cannot exist without the thing itself.  Whereas Plato believed the concept of “treeness” or “blueness” existed outside human beings as an abstract reality, Aristotle believed the abstract reality existed in the human mind and not independent of physical reality, or the human mind.  Plato said forms are extrinsic to things.  Aristotle said forms are intrinsic to things.  Aristotle said you cannot have the form without the thing.  Plato said you could have the form without the thing.

Substance & Accident – Aristotelian Logic

Aristotle made the distinction between thing and quality of a thing. For instance, a dog is a dog, its substance. A dog may be black or brown, its accidents. Substance is the thing. Accidents are the qualities of things.

Substance and Accidents

Accidents are the modifications that substance undergoes, but that do not change the kind of thing that each substance is. Accidents only exist when they are the accidents of some substance. Examples are colors, weight, motion. For Aristotle there are 10 categories into which things naturally fall. They are

Substance, and
Nine Accidents:

  • Quantity,
  • Quality,
  • Relation,
  • Action,
  • Passion,
  • Time,
  • Place,
  • Disposition (the arrangement of parts), and
  • Rainment (whether a thing is dressed or armed, etc.)

As Fr Dwight Longnecker, a convert from Anglicanism, explains in a a helpful manner, the consecrated Eucharist for Catholics is neither a symbol nor literal flesh and blood, and neither has ever been the teaching of the Catholic Church, although to explain the distinction, less than articulate explanations have been given when you don’t know calculus.

Rev Dwight Longenecker, Fr. Dwight Longenecker is an American who has spent most of his life living and working in England.
Fr Longenecker was brought up in an Evangelical Protestant home in Pennsylvania. After graduating from the Fundamentalist Protestant Bob Jones University with a degree in Speech and English, he went to study theology at Oxford University. He was eventually ordained as an Anglican priest and served as a curate, a school chaplain in Cambridge and a country parson on the Isle of Wight. Realizing that he and the Anglican Church were on divergent paths, in 1995 Fr. Dwight and his family were received into the Catholic Church. In December 2006 he was ordained as a Catholic priest under the special pastoral provision for married former Anglican clergy. He now serves as parish priest of Our Lady of the Rosary parish in Greenville, SC.

“Neither position (symbolism nor literality) is the teaching of the Catholic Church. We believe in transubstantiation. The substance of the bread and wine really are transformed into the Body, Blood Soul and Divinity of Our Lord Jesus Christ. However, the transformation is not physical in a literal way. If you took the consecrated host to a laboratory it would be chemically shown to be bread, not human flesh.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) teaches:

1375 It is by the conversion of the bread and wine into Christ’s body and blood that Christ becomes present in this sacrament.

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 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.

It is therefore not possible for a Catholic to believe that the transaction at Mass is merely a symbolic memorial. But many people who believe in the Eucharistic transformation do not understand transubstantiation.

The word “transubstantiation” means “substance across” and to understand what this means we must first understand what the medieval philosophers like St Thomas Aquinas meant by the word “substance”. They meant by this word almost exactly the opposite of what we mean by it. When we say something is “substantial” we mean it is solid, real, physical and concrete. The medieval philosophers however, used the word “substance” to indicate the invisible and eternal quality of a thing. The physical aspect of a chair, for example, is temporary and mutable. It changes. Eventually, given enough time, the wood of the chair will break, rot and decay into dust. The “chair-ness” of the chair is the eternal, invisible part and this is what is referred to as the “substance.”

With bread and wine the “breadness” of the bread and the “wine-ness” of the wine is the substance and it is this “substance” which is transformed. The physical part of the bread and wine is called the “accident” and the accident of bread and wine remain although the substance of the bread and wine have become the Body and Blood of Christ.

We can think of it like this: I have in a room at my home pictures of myself at the age of two being held in my father’s arms. Then there is a picture of me as a high school student and one of me in my thirties and now in my fifties. Each one is totally different because the “accident” of my physical body has changed. However, there is a “substance” of Dwight that is the eternal part of me that has not changed. It is present in each of the pictures even though my body is very different.

So with the bread and wine at the Eucharist, it is the invisible, eternal “substance” which becomes the Body and Blood of Christ while the “accident” of bread and wine still exist.

However, this philosophical explanation, like all philosophical explanations can only take us so far. In fact, the invisible part of a thing and and the physical part cannot necessarily be separated in this way. The invisible part of me and the physical part seen in the photographs is a unity. The objection to this explanation of transubstantiation that I have just given is that it sounds like the Lord is only “spiritually present” in the Eucharist. If the physical aspect is not transformed in some way, then some Catholics argue, the transformation is just an ethereal or spiritual presence sort of floating about and around the bread and wine. This is to misunderstand the fact that the invisible substance is the most real part of the bread and wine, not the least real. Not only is it the most real, but it is not separate from the physical aspect, nor can it exist separately from the physical aspect. Therefore, inasmuch as the substance is changed there is also some sort of change in the physical aspect.

Furthermore, there is a physicality to the Lord. He is not just a spirit floating around in the air. We say the Eucharist is His body, and that implies some kind of physicality. Therefore we must go a bit further than the medieval philosophical explanation and posit that the real presence of the Lord’s Body Blood Soul and Divinity in the sacrament is also, in some way, physical. We could say the inner quality of the physical Christ is present, but not extended in space. In other words, the reality of Christ’s presence is not just spiritual in an ethereal sense. Through the transubstantiation Christ is also present physically within the substance.

This does not mean that the bread and wine become human flesh and blood, and it is this misapprehension that we need to be careful to correct.

The exception to this would be the unusual examples of Eucharistic miracles, where the Lord, for the encouragement of our faith, allows at certain times for the bread and wine to be transformed not only in their substance but also in their accident.

Finally, transubstantiation is a philosophical explanation for what we believe happens in the mystery of the sacrament of the altar. What happens on the altar is far greater than a philosophical definition just as what happens in a marriage is far greater than a psychological definition of “love”. Instead of trying to explain the mystery of “love” we simply say to the beloved, “I love you.” Likewise, although we attempt to understand and explain the mystery of the Eucharist it is best to hear the Lord say, “This is my Body” and to hear the priest say as we receive the Lord, “The Body of Christ.””

———-

“O my soul, when you receive Holy Communion, try to reanimate your faith, do all you can to detach yourself from exterior things and retire with the Lord into the interior of your being where you know He is abiding. Collect your senses and make them understand the great good they are enjoying, or rather, try to recollect them so that they may not hinder you from understanding it. Imagine yourself at Our Lord’s feet, and weep with Magdalen exactly as if you were seeing Him with your bodily eyes in the house of the Pharisee. These moments are very precious; the Master is teaching you now; listen to Him, kiss His feet in gratitude for all He has condescended to do for you, and beg Him to remain always with you. Even should you be deprived of sensible devotion, faith will not fail to assure you that Our Lord is truly within you.

If I do not want to act like a senseless person who shuts his eyes to the light, I can have no doubt on this point. O my Jesus, this is not a work of the imagination, as when I imagine You on the Cross or in some other mystery of Your Passion, where I picture the scene as it took place. Here, it concerns Your real presence; it is an undeniable truth. O Lord, when I receive Holy Communion, I do not have to go far to find You; as long as the accidents of bread are not consumed, You are within me! And if, during Your mortal life, You healed the sick by a mere touch of Your garments, how, if I have faith, can I doubt that You will work miracles, when You are really present within me? Oh, yes! when You are in my house You will listen to all my requests, for it is not Your custom to pay badly for the lodging given You, if I offer you good hospitality!

O Lord, if a soul receives Communion with good dispositions, and if, wishing to drive out all coldness, it remains for some time with You, great love for You will burn within it and it will retain its warmth for many hours.” (-Teresa of Jesus, Way of Perfection 34-35).

Love & truth,
Matthew

You may also enjoy:  Truly His Body & His Blood

Eucharistic love


-by Br Elijah Dubek, OP

“Sometimes we take our Catholic lingo for granted, forgetting that like any other group, we have jargon. It takes time to get acclimated to it. If we are not attentive, sometimes the meaning of our own jargon eludes us. Maybe we grew up hearing a word and everyone seemed to know what it meant (except us, of course) and we were too ashamed to ask about it. As a result, when we listen to our pastor’s homily, faithfully looking for that spiritual nugget he delivers each week, we frown in confusion. “Let your love be eucharistic,” he says. We know what he says is true, and our whole heart affirms it in faith, but we puzzle over its meaning. What does it mean for love to be eucharistic? We believe in the Eucharist, and the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, but what does it mean for my love to be eucharistic?

I would like to suggest four ways to understand this.

First, eucharistic love is gratuitous. From its Greek roots, ευχαριστία, “eucharist” means thanksgiving or good grace/favor. God’s love for us is gratuitous because He loves us prior to anything good we do or become that could earn any love. Saint Paul said that’s how God proved His love, that He died while we were yet sinners (Rom 5:8). For our love to be eucharistic, then, means that we also offer gifts to others without first sizing up whether they are worthy. Instead of asking ourselves if the person in need deserves our help, and understanding they would accept our help while we maintain their dignity, let’s give them what they lack, regardless of any judgment.

Second, eucharistic love is empowered by God. Because every good gift has its origin in God, we cannot hope to love eucharistically if we expect the power to do so comes from ourselves. Jesus told us, “Apart from me, you can do nothing” (John 15:5). To love eucharistically is to love with utter reliance on God’s divine power loving through us. Instead of white-knuckling our way through the day, whether at work, school, or home, let’s pray for God’s help and recognize that He delights in granting us the help we need, our loving Father.

Third, eucharistic love demands totality. When Christ approached His Passion, he “loved his disciples to the end” (John 13:1). He held nothing back when He offered His very self on the Cross for us. Eucharistic love knows no limit or measure. Empowered by God and not waiting for others to deserve it, we can love eucharistically when we give everything. It costs us to take time from our day, to break our routine in order to make someone else’s concerns our own. Instead of seeing these as distractions or delays to our own plans, let’s pray for the grace to expand our love so that they become opportunities to give our whole heart to them. As St. Paul put it, “Whatever you do, work with your whole heart, as for the Lord and not for men.” (Col 3:23).

Fourth, eucharistic loves is ordered toward Christ. In the Eucharist, Jesus makes Himself present substantially, though under sacramental forms of bread and wine. To love eucharistically can simply mean to love Jesus by adoring his presence in the Blessed Sacrament. Find out where and when Eucharistic Adoration takes place near you and spend an extra ten minutes, or more if you can, with Jesus. By getting to know Him, by growing in close friendship with our Lord, your love can become ever more eucharistic.”

Love, Praise Him!!!
Matthew

A Baptist minister discovers the Eucharist: Part 9 of 9


-by Ken Hensley

“To wrap up this short series, I hope to describe as simply and clearly as I can the essential line thought that led me, as a Baptist minister, to embrace the Catholic teaching of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.

Step One: The Witness of the Fathers

As I explained in Part I, the first step was reading the early Church Fathers and finding myself faced with descriptions of the Eucharist that were totally different than I was familiar with and that I would have ever thought to use.

Jesus had said, “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life” (John 6:54) and the early Church seemed to take this literally.

For Christians living in the earliest centuries of Christian history, the Eucharist was a meal of remembrance of Christ’s death, as I would have said as a Baptist, but it was more than that. It was supernatural food, a miraculous meal in which simple bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ. It was, to quote St. Ignatius of Antioch, an early bishop and disciple of St. John, the “medicine of immortality.”

The following quotation from St. Justin Martyr is fairly typical of what one finds in the writings of the early Church Fathers.

For not as common bread or 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 that 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 blood of that incarnated Jesus (First Apology 66).

During the past week, I’ve pulled four of five important historians of Christian doctrine off the shelf and looked again at what they have to say on this subject, only to have my own impressions confirmed.

According to one of the most prominent, J.N.D. Kelly:

Eucharistic teaching, it should be said at the outset, was in general unquestioningly realist, i.e. the consecrated bread and wine were taken to be, and were treated and designated as, the Savior’s body and blood (Early Christian Doctrines, p. 440).

Even those historians who personally reject the doctrine of Christ’s Real Presence in the Eucharist tend to admit that this indeed was the view of the Church from as far back as we can tell. Of course they take this as an illustration of how quickly the Church departed from what they perceive to be the “clear teaching” of the New Testament.

Step Two: The Examination of Scripture

The next step for me was to leave the writings of the early Church to re-examine the writings of the Apostles themselves. After all, the writings of the Fathers are not inspired. Only Scripture is inspired.

Now, I’d read the New Testament passages that touch on the Lord’s Supper many times. What I was eager to do now was read them again in the light of what I had seen in the early Church.

I wondered, would the Apostles contradict the early Church’s view of the Eucharist? Would the things they say about the Lord’s Supper support the teaching of the early Church, and possibly even be illuminated by it? Would I see things in Scripture I hadn’t noticed before?

What I found was that this was indeed the case.

First, there was nothing whatsoever in the New Testament that was not entirely consistent with the faith and teaching of the early Church, nothing that excluded or contradicted it.

But beyond this, there certain Old and New Testament biblical themes and passages that seemed positively illuminated when read in the light of the early Church’s faith and teaching (see Parts II, III and IV of this series).

I did not come away thinking I could, from the New Testament alone, somehow “prove” the doctrine of the Real Presence, or demonstrate its truth “beyond a shadow of doubt.” There simply is no passage where a “doctrine” of the Eucharist is spelled out in so many words.

But this only served to confirm something I had been coming to think for some time: that the New Testament was not written to function alone.

After all, Christian doctrine was something the Apostles taught the churches they founded, over a period of time, by word of mouth and face-to-face. St. Paul speaks, for instance, of having spent a year and six months in Corinth and three years in Ephesus teaching the believers there “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 18:11 and 20:27).

When the Apostles later wrote letters to those churches, the letters that comprise a good part of our New Testaments, with rare exceptions they were writing to those who already knew the doctrines of the faith and needed specific encouragement or correction or some issue resolved. When the churches read those letters, they read them, and understood them, in the light of what they had already been taught and already knew.

It wasn’t entirely surprising to me, then, to find that the passages in the New Testament that talk about the Lord’s Supper might need to be read and understood in the light of the early Church’s teaching.

Step Three: Relating Scripture and Tradition

All of this led to me thinking more deeply about the relationship of Scripture (the teaching of the Apostles as it was written down) to what Catholics refer to as “Tradition” (the teaching of the Apostles as it was known and preserved in the churches they founded).

As a general principle, it seemed reasonable to me to think that the teaching of the Apostles would be reflected in the faith and practice of the early Church, more than reasonable to think that when one found unanimous consent among the early Church Fathers on a particular issue, what the early Church believed would be a very good indicator of what the Apostles had taught. This made sense to me.

Given that we know all about the debates that took place in the early Church over issues both great and small (e.g. the correct day for celebrating Easter), it did not seem reasonable to me to imagine that when it came to the Eucharist, the very center of Christian worship, the Apostles would teach one thing and Church turn around and immediately teach another and there be no record of a debate on the issue.

This did not make sense.

And yet, here I was staring at quotations spread over the first three centuries of Christian history, quotations from the most prominent bishops, apologists and theologians of the Church at that time. I’m looking at quotations from every corner of the Roman Empire: from Syria (Ignatius), from Rome (Justin Martyr), from the south of France (Irenaeus), from Egypt (Clement and Origin), from Carthage and Hippo in North Africa (Tertullian and Augustine), from Milan (Ambrose).

Three centuries of witness from every corner of the Christian world supporting the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, and no record of any dispute? Not even one priest or bishop rising up to say, “this is not what we received from the Apostles!”?

Having been an evangelical Protestant for many years, there was the ingrained tendency in me to think:

Listen, Ken, everything God wants us to know is recorded in the New Testament and laid out clearly enough to be understood. You need to look again at the passages, examine the exegetical arguments and decide on the basis of Scripture alone which view you think best reflects the data. That’s how these things are determined. It doesn’t really matter what the early Church thought.

At the same time, thoughts that were new to this evangelical Protestant were beginning to insinuate themselves:

But Ken, Luther examined the data and came out in one place, Calvin examined the data and came out in another. And then there were the Baptists who examined the data and hold a view of the Lord’s Supper that differs from both Luther and Calvin. What if the New Testament wasn’t meant to function “alone”?

What if the very reason sincere and prayerful students of Scripture can “examine the data” for years, decades and centuries and not agree on the nature of the Eucharist is that the writings of the Apostles need to be read and understood in the light of that teaching preserved and handed down within the Church?

Step Four: Tradition in the Early Church

The final step for me was coming to see that this is exactly the view the early Church had of the correct relationship between the inspired Scripture and the faith and teaching of the Church.

In his book Against Heresies, the first serious work of biblical theology that we possess, St. Irenaeus describes the Apostles as having deposited their teaching in the Church as a rich man deposits his money in a bank. Because of this, when there are disputes about the correct teaching, Christians, he says, can come to the Church to draw from her the truth.

As I said before, the Church, having received this preaching and this faith [from the apostles], although she is disseminated throughout the whole world, yet guarded it, as if she occupied but one house. She likewise believes these things just as if she had but one soul and one and the same heart; and harmoniously she proclaims them and teaches them and hands them down, as if she possessed but one mouth…. When, therefore, we have such proofs, it is not necessary to seek among others the truth, which is easily obtained from the Church. For the Apostles, like a rich man in a bank, deposited with her most copiously everything which pertains to the truth; and everyone whoever wishes draws from her the drink of life (Against Heresies I:10:2 and 3:4:1, c. 189 A.D.)

What can I say but that this was a way of looking at things that was beginning to make more and more sense to this Evangelical.

I had treated the New Testament as though it were a stand-alone manual of Christian doctrine. The early Christians did not think of the New Testament in this way.

I had treated the faith and practice of the early Church as though it were essentially worthless when it comes to deciding what to believe as a Christian or how to understand the New Testament. None of the early Church Fathers thought in this way. None of them.

I was beginning now to think that my understanding of the nature of both the New Testament and Tradition, and how the two should be related to one another, was simply incorrect. I was beginning to think that the Catholic Church’s view of these matters was not only more historical, but more biblical.

Sacred Scripture is the speech of God as it is put down in writing under the breath of the Holy Spirit. And sacred Tradition transmits in its entirety the Word of God, which has been entrusted to the apostles by Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit. It transmits it to the successors of the apostles so that, enlightened by the Spirit of truth, they may faithfully preserve, expound, and spread it abroad by their preaching.

Although this sounds like another quotation from the early Church Fathers, it’s actually from Vatican Council II, Dei Verbum, the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation.”

Love & truth,
Matthew

A Baptist minister discovers the Eucharist: Part 8 of 9


-by Ken Hensley

What Jesus Says and Does

So what am I talking about?

Well, so far Jesus has revealed himself to be the bread of life sent down from the Father in heaven. Those who “come” to him and “believe” in him will never hunger or thirst but will have eternal life, because Jesus will raise them up on the last day.

Beginning around verse 48, however, Jesus begins to use language he hasn’t to this point. He identifies the living bread with his “flesh” and says that one must “eat” this bread to live forever.

I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread which I will give for the life of the world is my flesh (vs. 51).

Now, those listening pick up on this shift in expression and immediately begin to dispute among themselves: “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” (vs. 52).

And what’s our Lord’s response? Does he explain that what he means by this is that they must “come to him” and “believe in him”? No. Instead, Jesus intensifies his language. He begins to insist—in the most literalistic and graphic of terms—that his listeners must “eat his flesh” and “drink his blood” if they would have life.

So Jesus said to them, “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 up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him . . . He who eats me will live because of me . . . He who eats this bread will live for ever” (vs. 53-58).

Jesus even switches from the more usual Greek verb for “eating” to use a word that means “to chew” or “to gnaw.” He repeats this particular verb four times in verses 54 through 58.

The repetition of this idea that his followers must eat, chew, gnaw upon his flesh and drink his blood is striking. It turns that not only are the Jews in general offended and scandalized, so are his disciples. It sounds to them as though Jesus is commanding some form of cannibalism and the exact reverse of the Mosaic laws forbidding the eating of flesh with the blood.

“Many of his disciples when they heard it, said, ‘This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?’” (vs. 60). “After this,” we read, “many of his disciples drew back and no longer went about with him” (vs. 66).

And what does Jesus do? Again, does he explain that he has only been speaking “figuratively”? No. He lets them leave.

He even asks the twelve, “Will you also go away?” To which Peter famously responds, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life; and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God” (vs. 67-69).

I had to admit it: This does not make sense—if all that Jesus meant was that his disciples must “come” to him and “believe” in him.

After all, Jesus’ disciples had already “come” to him and “believed” in him. And yet he allows “many” of them to draw back and “no longer” walk with him. He lets them go. In other words, this was the end of the road for a good number of his disciples.

Even the twelve, those who would become his Apostles, are on the verge of leaving, and it appears as though Jesus would have let them go as well!

It appears as though Jesus would have let everyone go! And all he had to do was say, “Hey, I’m only speaking figuratively”?

Didn’t make sense. Whatever Jesus is saying here, he must be saying something more than that to receive eternal life we need to come to him and believe in him. He must be saying something more than this.

Baptists, Presbyterians and other Evangelicals all say that the figurative interpretation explains the passage.

Catholics say that in John chapter 6 Jesus is pointing forward to when, after suffering on the cross and ascending to heaven, he will give his body and blood as supernatural food and drink in the Eucharist; that this passage is pointing forward to the greatest miraculous meal of all, the feeding of the multitudes par excellence.

What other options are there? Assuming Jesus wasn’t teaching cannibalism, what options are there beyond his words being purely figurative and them indicating some means by which his disciples will have his glorified flesh and blood to eat and drink, some version of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist?

At this point, there were several lines of thought converging in my head and moving me in direction of the Real Presence.”

Love,
Matthew

A Baptist minister discovers the Eucharist: Part 7 of 9


-by Ken Hensley

“In our last post we looked at the pattern of miraculous meals in Scripture. This is a theme that recurs throughout the Old Testament and continues into the New Testament as well.

In their wilderness wanderings, the Lord supplied the children of Israel with supernatural food and drink, sending manna from heaven every morning and causing water to spring up from a rock to satisfy their hunger and thirst (Exodus 1-17).

During a time of drought and famine in Israel, the Lord sent ravens to miraculously feed Elijah and sending Elijah to miraculously feed a poor widow and her son (1 Kings 17:8-16).

Elijah’s successor Elisha miraculously multiplied a few loaves to feed a hundred hungry disciples (2 Kings 4:42-44) and pulled supernatural strings to cause a widow’s “one little jar of oil” to somehow fill to overflowing as many large vessels as she could find (2 Kings 4:1-7).

According to the Apostle John, the first “sign” our Lord performed, manifesting his glory and causing his disciples to believe in him, was to turn water into wine (John 2:1-11).

And then, the final example recorded in all four Gospels, the high point of this biblical pattern, the greatest of all miraculous meals, when Jesus takes a few loaves and fish and multiplies them to feed thousands and thousands of men, women and children.

Or was it? Was the feeding of the multitudes the greatest of all miraculous meals, the high point in the development of this biblical pattern and theme?

The Catholic scholars I was reading insisted that it wasn’t. They said that the feeding of the multitudes was simply the greatest type, the greatest shadow, pointing forward to the culmination and fulfillment of the all miraculous meals of Scripture: The Eucharist.

Of course as a Baptist it would not have crossed my mind to think of the Lord’s Supper as being prefigured by the manna, the water from the rock, the miracles of Elijah and Elisha, the feeding of the multitudes. At that time, I didn’t think of the Lord’s Supper as a meal in which a miracle of any kind was taking place.

The Bread of Life Discourse

There’s no doubt that John 6:22-69 is one of the most important New Testament passages that Catholics, Orthodox, Anglicans and Lutherans point to when presenting a biblical case for the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Biblical scholars typically refer to this passage as the “Bread of Life Discourse.”

It just so happens to immediately follow John’s account of the feeding of the five thousand. Amazed at the miraculous meal Jesus has provided, the crowds want to take him by force and make him king. He withdrew to the hills alone, but word spreads of his location and the next day the crowds return, hungry and hoping that whatever he did the day before, he will do it again (John 6:14-24).

Jesus knows their hearts and encourages them to think about something more important than mere food and drink. “You seek me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you…” Jesus calls them to “believe” in him (vs. 25-29).

The response of the people is clever:

Fine. You want us to believe in you? You mention signs. OK, what sign will you perform so that we can believe in you? When our forefathers were starving in the wilderness, Moses was kind enough to give them bread from heaven. How about something along those lines?

But our Lord’s response is even more clever:

You just wait! The bread my Father is going to provide will make the manna look like the stalest of stale loaves! “The bread of God,” Jesus says, “is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world” (vs. 32-33).

The crowds are not sure what he’s saying, but they’re ready to listen: “Lord, give us this bread always” (vs. 34).

At this point, Jesus speaks the words no other religious figure in the history of the world has ever spoken or ever would have dared to speak: “I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst” (John 6:35).

Believe and Receive

Now, as a Baptist, here is how I would have answered the Catholic who wished to argue that this passage in some way is looking forward to the Eucharist:

Yes, Jesus is the bread of life that the Father has sent from heaven to give life to the world. Yes, Jesus is the true manna.

However, notice what Jesus says here in verse 35: “I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst.” And recall how he answered when the people asked him, “What must we do to be doing the works of God?” His answer? “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him Whom He has sent” (vs. 29). And then what Jesus goes on to say in verse 40: “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him should have eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day.” And verse 47: “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life.”

In other words, Jesus is speaking figuratively. All he means to say by calling himself the bread of life is that the Father has sent him to bring life to the world. To possess that life, we must see the Son, come to him and believe in him. That’s it.

This is exactly what I would have said. And if the Bread of Life Discourse ended with verse 29, or 35, or 40, or 47, this interpretation might seem to explain Jesus’ words and make perfect sense of them.

The problem is that the passage doesn’t end with these verses.

Instead, Jesus continues on to say many things. What Catholic apologists were pointing out (and I was listening with greater care at this point) is that when one listens carefully to what Jesus says in verses 48 – 69, and watches what Jesus does, the figurative interpretation begins to makes less and less sense.

It just doesn’t deal seriously with the whole of the passage.”

Love,
Matthew

A Baptist minister discovers the Eucharist: Part 6 of 9


-by Ken Hensley

Miraculous Meals in the Old Testament

Now this whole concept was new to me.

It shouldn’t have been. After all, miraculous meals are a recurring theme in the Bible. Again and again, in both the Old and New Testaments, we find stories in which God’s people are fed through some supernatural means.

There’s the manna from heaven (Exodus 16) and water from the rock (Exodus 17). There’s the time when the Lord sent ravens to feed Elijah as he hiding in the wilderness (1 Kings 17).

And then there are a number of stories in which a small amount of food is miraculously multiplied to feed God’s people.

In 1 Kings 17, for instance, the prophet Elijah visits the home of a poor widow and her son. He says to her, “Make me something to eat!” She responds, “As the Lord lives, all I have is a little meal in my jar and a little oil in my vessel. I’m gathering some sticks right now to make something for me and my son before we die!”

Elijah instructs her to first make a cake and bring it to him and then to feed herself and her son, adding: “For thus says the Lord the God of Israel, ‘The jar of meal shall not be spent, and the vessel of oil shall not fail, until the day that the Lord sends rain upon the earth.’”

And it happened. Her little jar of meal and vessel of oil miraculously continued to produce until it was no longer needed.

In 2 Kings chapter 4 we find a similar account. This time it’s Elisha the prophet meeting a woman who explains that her husband has died, that she’s in tremendous debt, and that her two children are about to be sold as slaves to pay the debt. She informs Elisha that all she has to her name is “one little jar of oil.”

Elisha immediately instructs her to “Go and borrow empty vessels from all your neighbors. Find as many as you can and bring them here!” He then tells her to fill the vessels from her “one little jar.” Miraculously, the oil doesn’t stop flowing until she has filled every vessel to overflowing and run out of vessels to fill.

Later on in that same chapter of 2 Kings, another miraculous multiplication of food takes place.

In this case Elisha is sitting with one hundred of his disciples and they’re hungry. One of his servants has some loaves of barley and a few ears of grain. Here’s the passage:

And Elisha said, “Give to the men, that they may eat.” But his servant said, “How am I to set this before a hundred men?” So he repeated, “Give them to the men, that they may eat, for thus says the Lord, ‘They shall eat and have some left.’” So he set it before them. And they ate, and had some left, according to the word of the Lord (2 Kings 4:42-44).

This is a recurring theme in the Old Testament and a theme that continues right on into the New Testament.

Miracle Meals in the New Testament

It’s hard to read the account of the woman who borrowed all the vessels from her neighbors and filled them to overflowing from her “one little jar” without being reminded of a similar miracle that would take place centuries later, this time at a wedding feast in Cana of Galilee, when Jesus would command the servants to bring six stone water jars each containing twenty or thirty gallons and “fill the jars with water” so that he might transform the water into wine.

It’s hard to read the account of Elisha multiplying the barley loaves and ears of grain to feed one hundred hungry disciples without thinking about the time Jesus took a few loaves and fish and multiplied them to feed thousands of men, women and children who had come to listen to him speak and had become hungry.

In fact, the parallels between these Old and New Testament stories are clear and fascinating.

Elijah has compassion on the poor starving widow and Elisha on his famished disciples. Likewise, when Jesus sees the crowds he says, “I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat; and I am unwilling to send them away hungry, lest they faint on the way” (Matt 15:32)

Elisha’s servant objects when the prophet suggests that he feed the men: “How am I to set this before a hundred men?” (2 Kings 4:43). Likewise, the disciples object when Jesus suggests that they feed the multitude: “Where are we to get bread enough in the desert to feed so great a crowd?” (Matt 15:33).

In the end, Elijah and Elisha take whatever small amount the people have and miraculously multiply it to meet the need. Jesus does the same: “’How many loaves do you have?’ Jesus asked. ‘Seven,’ they replied, ‘and a few small fish’ (Matt 15:34).

And commanding the crowd to sit down on the ground, he took the seven loaves and the fish, and having given thanks he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And they all ate and were satisfied (Matt 15:35-37).

When our Lord changed water into wine and miraculously multiplied loaves and fish to feed the crowds, I’m convinced that he was consciously reenacting the miraculous meals of Moses, Elijah and Elisha, the greatest of the Old Testament prophets. Jesus was saying, “One greater than these has come!”

But was he also looking forward when he performed these miracles? Was the feeding of the multitudes the end of this Scriptural pattern of miraculous meals, or was there more to come? This is something St. Paul’s association of the Eucharist with supernatural food and drink made me wonder about. It’s something the early Church’s beliefs about the Eucharist made me wonder about. If anything was clear, it was that the early Church viewed the Eucharist as a miraculous meal.

The Last Supper

As an Evangelical Protestant, when I thought about the Last Supper, two things primarily came to mind: the Passover and the institution of the New Covenant.

By choosing to share this Last Supper during the celebration of the Passover meal, Jesus was surely revealing himself to be the true Passover Lamb, whose death would free his people from their sins. “This is my body which is broken for you.”

But he was also announcing the institution of the New Covenant. In Exodus 24 Moses sprinkled blood on the altar on Mt. Sinai and instituted the Old Covenant with these words: “This is the blood of the covenant.” When Jesus raised the chalice at the Last Supper and said, “This is my blood of the covenant,” he was deliberately echoing Moses’ words. Jesus was announcing the institution of the New Covenant—this time in his own blood.

The Last Supper was patterned after these sacrificial meals. This much is clear.

But there seems to be more, here. The Last Supper also seems to be patterned after Jesus’ feeding of the multitudes.

In the Gospel accounts of the Last Supper, whether in Matthew, Mark or Luke, the actions of Jesus are described in a very specific manner. As the disciples are reclining at table (Luke 22:14), Jesus “takes” bread, he “blesses” it, he “breaks” it, and he “gives” it to his disciples (See Matt 26:26; Mark 14:22; Luke 22:19).

Fine. So what? Well, it turns out that in every account of Jesus’ feeding of the multitudes—again, whether looking at Matthew, Mark or Luke—Jesus’ actions are described in exactly the same way—in fact, using the very same words.

Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass; and taking the five loaves and the two fish he looked up to heaven, and blessed, and broke and gave the loaves to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And they all ate and were satisfied (Matt 14:19-20)

Here’s the point: It appears that Gospel authors have for some reason consciously patterned their description of the Last Supper in terms of Jesus’ feeding of the multitudes. The two events are being connected. Even the crowds being commanded to sit down on the grass is echoed in the disciplines reclining at the table.

Whether the feeding of the multitudes is seen as somehow looking forward to the Last Supper, or the Last Supper is seen as somehow looking backward to the feeding of the multitudes, the two are connected in the minds of the Gospel writers.

Conclusion

Certainly, at this point, there were more questions than answers for this Baptist minister.

But the questions were provocative: Why did the Apostles draw this connection between the Last Supper and the feeding of the multitudes? Did they conceive of the Last Supper as some kind of meal in which a miracle was taking place?

And what about the Eucharist, to which the Last Supper points? From the earliest centuries of Christian history, the Eucharist was treated as the center of Christian worship and, essentially, as theNew Testament fulfillment of the miracle of the manna, the miracles of Elijah and Elisha, our Lord’s multiplication of the loaves and the fish. Is there truth to this? Is something happening in the Eucharist that is like what happened when Jesus fed the multitudes?

Is the Eucharist a miraculous meal?”

Love,
Matthew