Friday, May 1, 2009

The Real Presence of Christ

Do you believe in the real presence of Christ in Holy Communion (aka The Eucharist)? For most of my adult life, I thought this was hokey midevil nonsense because I couldn't understand it. I just couldn't rationalize how bread and wine got turned into the body and blood of Christ.

As a clinical pharmacist who grew up in the "Show Me" state of Missouri, I feel that am much more skeptical about things than the average person. I have to be skeptical because I am exposed to bogus claims from Over-The-Counter drug and herb manufacturers who put a lot of money into poorly designed drug studies to show that their product is beneficial for specific health issues/diseases for the sole purpose of selling more of their product.

With all of this in mind, I can understand why some Christians don't believe in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. I also realize that nothing I could write here will convince a non-believer because belief comes through the power of the Holy Spirit. However, I will show you how I rationalized my way towards having an open mind on the issue--and what a wonderful and powerful sacramental gift I have received.

Three important scriptures to note beforehand:

1) Remember that as Christians, we live by faith, not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7).

2) Wherever two or more come together in Christ's name, Christ says he will be there (Matthew 18:20). Having Christ's presence inside of us through the Eucharist is even more spiritually powerful than around us as I will testify about later.

3) The concept of Real Presence should be easier to understand than it is because Jesus tells us that whatever we ask in his name, he will do (John 14:13-14)

"This is my body"-- Jesus Christ

Jesus told us very plainly in three of the four Gospels:

  • Matthew 26:26: "While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, "Take and eat; this is my body."
  • Mark 14:22: "While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, "Take it; this is my body."Luke 22:19: "And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, "This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me."

Note: Jesus did not say "This is a symbol of my body"

The Gospel of John is considered by most scholars to be the last of the four Gospels written (completed around 90-100AD) and the ushering in a new covenant of Jesus's body and blood is noticeably absent. It is believed by the time that The Gospel of John was written, the Church was already practicing Holy Communion (proof in Paul's writings below) and John instead chose to write about the humbleness of Jesus washing Peter's feet the night of the Last Supper.

Apostle Paul

Apostle Paul also wrote his testimony of the Last Supper in First Corinthians:

  • 1 Corinthians 11:23-25: For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and gave thanks to God for it. Then he broke it in pieces and said, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this to remember me.” In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me."

Holy Communion Purely Symbolic?

Apostle Paul died somewhere around 67AD. Here is Paul's clarification that Holy Communion was not symbolic and proof that Holy Communion was part of the very early Church:

  • 1 Corinthians 10:16: “Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ?
  • 1 Corinthians 11:27-30: Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep.

Would partaking in a symbolic act cast judgment on oneself if it was purely symbolic? Paul says only if we do so without recognizing the body of the Lord and says that is why many of the members of the Corinth Church were weak and sick.

The Church after Christ's Ascension

Many Christians were persecuted for their beliefs until Roman Emperor Constantine's Edict of Milan that legalized Christianity in 313 AD. In the early stages of Christianity, Christians church services were conducted in homes and secret caves. Proof of the celebration of the Eucharist can be found in the book of Acts:

  • Acts 2:42: They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.

  • Acts 2:46: Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts.

Early Church Fathers

Whether you are Catholic, Orthodox or Protestant, these 1st and 2nd Century church fathers below are your church fathers as well. Why? They are key figures in the advancement of Christianity because they had to practice Christianity underground until Roman Emperor Constantine and most were brutally killed for our faith. Some were accused of cannibalism for the belief in Holy Communion and Real Presence.

What They Said

Ignatius of Antioch (ca 35-110 AD) Also known as Theophorus. Third Bishop of Antioch behind St Peter and Evodius. Sentenced to die by Roman Authorities due to his Christian faith. He was sent to the Colosseum where he was eaten by lions.

  • "They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer because they do not confess that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, flesh which suffered for our sins and which that Father, in his goodness, raised up again. They who deny the gift of God are perishing in their disputes." (Source: Letter to the Smyrnaeans 7:1 [A.D. 110]).

Justin Martyr (ca 100-165 AD) Also known as Justin The Philosopher. A pagan who converted to Christianity. He suffered death by beheading with six of his students due to practicing an illegal religion (Christianity) under Roman Prefect Rusticus.

  • "And this food is called among us 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, 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 Saviour, 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." (Source: First Apology 66 [A.D. 151])

Irenaeus of Lyons (ca 115-202 A.D.) A disciple of Polycarp, who was said to be a disciple of John the Evangelist.

  • Then, again, how can they say that the flesh, which is nourished with the body of the Lord and with His blood, goes to corruption, and does not partake of life? Let them, therefore, either alter their opinion, or cease from offering the things just mentioned.But our opinion is in accordance with the Eucharist, and the Eucharist in turn establishes our opinion. For we offer to Him His own, announcing consistently the fellowship and union of the flesh and Spirit. For as the bread, which is produced from the earth, when it receives the invocation of God, is no longer common bread, but the Eucharist, consisting of two realities, earthly and heavenly; so also our bodies, when they receive the Eucharist, are no longer corruptible, having the hope of the resurrection to eternity. (Source: Against Heresies Book 4 Chapter 18:5 Circa 180 A.D.)

Tracing Real Presence Through History

If you look at the history of Christianity (Click HERE to see chart), the belief of Real Presence followed churches which split off from the Catholic Church.

5th Century Splits

The Assyrian Church's confirmation of the belief in the Real Presence:

"The baptized faithful receive the body and blood of Christ under both species of bread and wine, and the "real presence" of Christ is understood in the elements." Source: Link

The Oriental Orthodox churches belief in the Real Presence:

"I believe, I believe, I believe and profess to the last breath that this is the body and the blood of our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ, which he took from our Lady, the holy and immaculate Virgin Mary, the Mother of God." Source: Link

11th Century Schism

The Eastern Orthodox Church, which spilt off from the Catholic Church in 1054 over an issue regarding the Nicene Creed (the Filioque Clause), believes in Real Presence:

"The eucharist is always given to all members of the Church, including infants who are baptized and confirmed. It is always given in both forms -- bread and wine. It is strictly understood as being the real presence of Christ, his true Body and Blood mystically present in the bread and wine which are offered to the Father in his name and consecrated by the divine Spirit of God. Source: Link

16th Century Reformation

Martin Luther, the "Father of Protestantism" and founder of the Lutheran Church was well-known for having his disagreements with the Catholic Church. However, the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist wasn't one of them.

In Martin Luther's Small Catechism (1529) Part 6 (English Translation) it states this about Holy Communion:

"It is the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ under bread and wine for us Christians to eat and to drink, established by Christ Himself." Source: Link

My Personal Testimony

Overall, the following research demonstrated to me that there was a preponderance of evidence in the belief of Real Presence and that Holy Communion was something that was a part of the early church. It also convinced me that Jesus was to be taken literally when he said:

  • John 6:53-56 "I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him."

When Jesus says, "Take and eat, this is my body", it has broader implications than human flesh and especially to Jews at the time. Jesus's body is EVERYTHING: His body, His teachings, His spirit and His soul.

This is why the Eucharist is so powerful. Every time I have taken Holy Communion, I have felt a tingly warm sensation in my body, sometimes across my back, other times in my chest. But this share in divine life is only for true believers. Unfortunately, we as humans have a finite capability of understanding an infinite God.

As Father John Corapi says, the sacraments work so long as we don't put an obstacle in the way. That obstacle for many is faith. Even if you have faith, things are received according to the disposition of the receiver. Overall, I feel blessed that I have finally found my way to the fullness of Christ every Sunday. I hope the Holy Spirit leads you there as well.

Peace be with you

© Michael J. Cox


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