Sunday, February 20, 2011

Transubstantiation - The Body and Blood of Jesus

Body of Christ, Blood of Christ

Key points that the Catholic Church believes:
  • At mass, the bread and wine turn into the actual body and blood of Jesus.
  • You should not receive the body and blood if you are not in full “communion” with the church.
  • You should not receive the body and blood if you have sinned “gravely” without confession.

Let’s start with some relevant scripture:
“51 ‘I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.’ 52 The Jews quarreled among themselves, saying, ‘How can this man give us (his) flesh to eat?’ 53 Jesus said to them, ‘Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. 54 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. 55 For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. 56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. ‘“ –John 6:51-56 NAB

The Catholic Church interprets verse 55 to be literal just as the Jews do in verse 52.  At verse 52 the Jews asked, “How can this man give us (his) flesh to eat?”  During Jesus' time (and still now of course) cannibalism is a great stigma, something most cultures frown upon greatly, so it’s understandable why they would seem upset over this, because they understood him to be speaking literally.  If we continue on in this passage we will see that Jesus does not attempt to correct their understanding of His words to be literal.  He in fact he lets them leave and follow him no longer:

“60 Then many of his disciples who were listening said, ‘This saying is hard; who can accept it?’ 61 Since Jesus knew that his disciples were murmuring about this, he said to them, ‘Does this shock you? 62 What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? 63 It is the spirit that gives life, while the flesh is of no avail. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 64 But there are some of you who do not believe.’ Jesus knew from the beginning the ones who would not believe and the one who would betray him. 65 And he said, ‘For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by my Father.’ 66 As a result of this, many (of) his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him. " John 6:60-66 NAB translation

Why would Jesus let them leave Him without explanation if it were just a symbolic representation of His body and blood?  If it does not still happen every day during mass, why would Jesus have said in verse 53, “…unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.”?  Are we simply just not able to have (eternal) life in us because we weren’t around for the Last Supper?  Jesus surely wouldn’t leave us hanging; This is why he gave us priests so that we may celebrate the Eucharist (another topic I will cover at a later date) and at the Last Supper instituted the Eucharist itself (which by the way means “thanksgiving” from the Latin translation of the original Greek)Finally, lets see how seriously St. Paul takes the Eucharist:

“27 Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord. 28 A person should examine himself, and so eat the bread and drink the cup. 29 For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself.” 1 Corinthians 11:27-29 NAB

This sounds pretty harsh for something that some may consider just a symbol.  St. Paul takes the Eucharist pretty seriously when talking to the Corinthians.  At that time the Corinthians were doing some not-so-admirable things and Paul was warning them to not offend Christ's body and blood.  I will expound upon this a little later.

Common objections to this defense:

Some people may continue to stand by a figurative interpretation of this passage, but the words used in the original language suggest otherwise.  The word “eats” in the passage above is translated from the Greek word “trogon” which is not a very metaphorical word in the Greek language.  To note a difference “trogon” would mean more literally “chews” or “gnaws” as opposed to a more figuratively “beautiful” word like “consumes” or “takes into him/herself.” Furthermore, back in Jesus’ time, to say “eat my flesh” figuratively would have been similar to the more modern crude phase, “eat me.”  Surely not something Jesus would say.

Why should other faiths refrain from taking communion without this belief in their heart?  And who else should not partake?

Let’s again go to the Bible for our answer:
“27 Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord. 28 A person should examine himself, and so eat the bread and drink the cup. 29 For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself.” 1 Corinthians 11:27-29 NAB

From this we can infer two things:

Firstly, one must “discern the body” or believe that this is Jesus’ body and blood or one will “drink judgment” upon themselves.  If you don’t believe that the host given to you is the Body of Christ then you should not partake, hence why when you come up you are told, “Body of Christ.”  The proper response to this is, “Amen,” meaning, “I agree,” or, “what you said is true.”  If you come up to receive the Eucharist without belief in the true presence of Jesus, saying, “Amen,” would be a lie.

Secondly, we must be “worthy” or rather, be not “in sin” when eating the body and blood.  This is not referring to those outside of our faith, but to those who have a serious sin on them.  Verse 27 makes it very clear, that if we receive His body and blood unworthily we must “answer for the body and blood of the Lord,” which means to be just as guilty as those who murdered Jesus.  How do we know if we are worthy?  Nobody truly is, but “through [Christ] all things are possible!” (Matt 19:26)  This is why He instituted confession (I will cover this in another post as well).  When Jesus has forgiven us, when we hear Jesus’ words of absolution we know that we are free of our sins.  Only if we sin again grievously (that is, sin mortally, which is:  a serious sin, that we have knowledge that it is serious, and we willing commit even knowing of its seriousness) have we again become unworthy.

Even if this is all true, why does it taste and smell like bread and wine?

What happens at the mass is that common bread and common wine become the body and blood of our Savior, but all the physical attributes still appear to be common bread and wine.  What changes is the actual being of the bread and wine.  You won’t see any physical changes under the microscope.  This is because what changes is everything pertaining to its actual being while retaining the physical properties of food and drink.  Otherwise, how would we consume flesh and blood without regurgitating?

It is through faith that we must believe; as Jesus said in John 6:63, “it is the spirit that gives life, the flesh is of no avail.”  That means that the spirit (or spiritually thinking) gives us the truth and that the flesh (humanly thinking) does not.

If Jesus wanted to, could he move a mountain or drain the ocean?  If you are a faithful Christian, you likely answered, “yes.”  Well, if Jesus wanted to, could he turn mere bread and wine, basic food and drink, into His own body and use to for our salvation?  We believe that yes, He can, and He does so at every mass.

What do the earth Church fathers have to say on this topic? (Select quotes from Catholic Answer’s faith tract – The Real Presence)

"Christ was carried in his own hands when, referring to his own body, he said, ‘This is my body’ [Matt. 26:26]. For he carried that body in his hands" (Explanations of the Psalms 33:1:10 [A.D. 405]). – St. Augustine

"We call this food Eucharist, and no one else is permitted to partake of it, except one who believes our teaching to be true and who has been washed in the washing which is for the remission of sins and for regeneration [i.e., has received baptism] and is thereby living as Christ enjoined. For not as common bread nor 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 which 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 the blood of that incarnated Jesus" (First Apology 66 [A.D. 151]).  –Justin Martyr

"The bread and the wine of the Eucharist before the holy invocation of the adorable Trinity were simple bread and wine, but the invocation having been made, the bread becomes the body of Christ and the wine the blood of Christ" (Catechetical Lectures 19:7 [A.D. 350]).  –Cyril of Jerusalem

Final thoughts:

For a more full context of this whole passage read from John 6:1 to the end of the chapter, this will show in another important thing I did not see need in my explanation of Jesus' repetition that He is the bread of life and the living bread.  

If there is anything in this article that is incorrect please email me at TrueYomic [at] yahoo [dot] com.  If there is anything that you still disagree with or you would like to see discussed please leave a comment on this post.  If any points are brought up that I think are worth amending to this post I will add another section and answer it more fully.  If it is worth another article I may answer it there as well.  Thanks for reading, and God bless!

Much credit goes to them as a guide and for ideas to form this article.  Bible quote credit goes to the USCCB for the New American Bible translation available for free at: