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The Eucharist - The Body and Blood of Christ

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(Last Updated:  30 Nov 1998 )

Contents

The Last Supper Accounts
The 'Bread of Life' Passage
The Corinthian Passages
Old Testament Evidences
Christian Tradition

1.  The Last Supper Accounts

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."  Jesus says the bread is his body and commands us to continue the sacrament (he doesn't say "This represents my body").  The other Last Supper accounts say much the same thing (Matt 26:26-28;  Mark 14:22, 24; 1 Cor 11:23-25 and Lk 22:19-20;).
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2.  The "Bread of Life" Passage from John's Gospel

There's also John 6:47-66.  I won't quote the whole thing, but it's worth looking at.  John 6:55 - "For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink".  The people Jesus was talking to found this difficult to believe.  I think that this is actually the only place in the New Testament where the followers of Jesus abandoned Him for theological reasons (Jn 6:66).  When they started arguing about what he meant (vs 52), instead of clearing up their misunderstandings and explaining that he was only talking symbolically (which he maybe should have done if he was just being metaphorical), he reiterates his teaching several more times.  In fact, after vs 53, Jesus uses an even stronger Greek word for "eat";  he switches from using phago (which just means "eat") to using trogo which means "gnaw" or "chew".

Note that there are other places where Jesus just repeats a true but unpopular teaching, such as Matthew 9:2-7, where he talks about his power to forgive sins, and John 8:56-58, where he talks about his eternal existence.  Also notice that Jesus made no attempt to soften what he said, no attempt to correct "misunderstandings," for there were none. Our Lord's listeners understood him perfectly well. They no longer thought he was speaking metaphorically.  If they had thought he was speaking metaphorically, if they mistook what he said, why no correction? On other occasions when there was confusion, Christ explained just what he meant (like Matt. 16:5-12). Here, where any misunderstanding would be fatal, there was no
effort by Jesus to correct. Instead, he repeated himself for greater emphasis.

Protestant churches tend to say that this whole "Bread of Life" passage is symbolic, while Catholics emphasise the literal language used.  My personal opinion is that it is both metaphorical and literal - there are elements of both.

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3.  The Corinthian Passages

1 Cor 10:16 says - "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?"  (By the way, the word "Eucharist" means "thanksgiving".)

And even more strongly than that, there's 1 Corinthians 11:27-29, which says "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 recognising the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgement on himself."  Sounds a lot like Paul's talking about the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.  You wouldn't be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord if it was just a symbol.

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4.  Old Testament Evidence

There is some more Biblical evidence in favour of the Catholic teaching on the Eucharist.  In Genesis 14:18 it says "Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High", and then in the prophesy of Psalm 110:4, "the LORD has sworn and will not change his mind: 'You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.'"  Taken together, these passages could be saying that Jesus will make an offering of bread and wine forever. Since Christ did make this offering at the Last Supper and commanded His followers to keep doing it, it is quite possible that the Mass is the sacramental, supernatural continuance of Christ's own self-sacrifice.  (The relationship between Jesus and Melchizedek is also mentioned in Hebrews 5:6,10; 6:20; and 7:1-28).

Another relevant Scripture is Malachi 1:11 - "'My name will be great among the nations, from the rising to the setting of the sun. In every place incense and pure offerings will be brought to my name, because my name will be great among the nations', says the LORD Almighty."  This is a prophecy about an on-going, universal, pure offering, as in Catholic teaching, not a symbolic gesture.  In fact, the re-presentation of Christ to the Father in the Eucharist at Mass is a physical offering that has no parallel in Protestant services, so it seems very likely that the Eucharist is the literal fulfilment of this prophecy.

And here's another interesting fact: the statement, "Do this in remembrance of me" can also be translated as "Offer this as my memorial sacrifice." The Greek term for "remembrance" is anamnesis, and every time it occurs in the Protestant Bible (whether in the New Testament or the Greek Old Testament), it occurs in a sacrificial context. For example, it appears in the Greek translation of Numbers 10:10: "On the day of your gladness also, and at your appointed feasts, and at the beginnings of your months, you shall blow the trumpets over your burnt offerings and over the sacrifices of your peace offerings; they shall serve you for remembrance [anamnesis] before your God: I am the Lord your God." Thus the Eucharist is a remembrance, a memorial offering we present to God to plead the merits of Christ on the
Cross.

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5.  Christian Tradition

And finally, it has been the universal consensus of the Christian Church for the first 1500 years of its existence that in Communion the bread and wine really is changed into the body and blood of Christ.

Ignatius of Antioch, who died in AD 110 and was a disciple of both Peter and John, wrote about the Gnostic heretics of his time:

"They even abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they will not admit that the Eucharist is the self-same body of our Savior Jesus Christ, which flesh suffered for our sins and which the Father in His goodness raised up again" (Epistle to the Smyrneans, 7, 8).

And Justin Martyr, writing around AD 155, describes the early Christian belief about the Lord's Supper like this:

"And this food is called among us Eucharist, of which no one is allowed to partake but he who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed in the bath for the forgiveness of sins and to regeneration, and who so lives as Christ has directed. 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" (First Apology, 1:62).

Again, there's more quotes to be found that demonstrate that the Catholic teaching was universally accepted until the Protestant Reformation (and even then, Martin Luther said that Zwingli, another Protestant Reformer, was "damned and out of the Church" for teaching that the Eucharist was only symbolic). 

For more on this subject, see my Eucharist page.

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