(This is based, in part, on John Gerstner’s Primer on Roman Catholicism from a compilation of his primers in the book Primitive Theology. I am using Primitive Theology for my Sunday School class. For this lesson, I will also draw from James R. White’s The Roman Catholic Controversy, (Bethany House, 1996).There is a growing list of links on the left for the posts for this class.
TransubstantiationThe key to understanding Rome’s teaching on the Mass, a topic we began in the previous lesson, is to appreciate the doctrine of Transubstantiation.
Recall Trent proclaimed: [If anyone] denies that wonderful and singular change of the whole substance of the bread into the body and the whole substance of the wine into the blood, the appearances only of bread and wine remaining, which change the Catholic Church most aptly calls transubstantiation, let him be anathema.
This is what they mean:
The bread completely changes into the whole body of Christ. There is no “breadness” left. It is not bread that symbolizes the body of Christ, it is even real bread conjoined mysteriously co-joined with the body of Christ, it is wholly and only the actual body of Christ. Yes it still looks like bread—the appearances of the elements are unchanged—but the appearances (and the taste) are “ac cidentals” that have nothing to do with the substance of the element.
Again, from Trent:
The most Holy Eucharist has indeed this in common with the other sacraments, that it is a symbol of a sacred thing and a visible form of an invisible grace; but there is found in it this excellent and peculiar characteristic, that the other sacraments then first have the power of sanctifying when one uses them, while in the Eucharist there is the Author Himself of sanctity before it is used. For the Apostles had not yet received the Eucharist from the hands of the Lord, when He Himself told them that what He was giving them is His own body. This has always been the belief of the Church of God, that immediately after the consecration the true body and the true blood of our Lord, together with His soul and divinity exist under the form of bread and wine, the body under the form of bread and the blood under the form of wine ex vi verborum; but the same body also under the form of wine and the same blood under the form of bread and the soul under both, in virtue of that natural connection and concomitance whereby the parts of Christ the Lord, who hath now risen from the dead, to die no more, are mutually united; also the divinity on account of its admirable hypostatic union with His body and soul. Wherefore, it is very true that as much is contained under either form as under both For Christ is whole and entire under the form of bread and under any part of that form; likewise the whole Christ is present under the form of wine and under all its parts.Here we find a detailed expression of Transubstantiation, including the key to its meaning. Three important claims from Catholic dogma:
- The transformation of the bread and wine into the body and blood of Jesus goes all the way back to the Final Supper. When Jesus broke and consecrated the bread it was transformed into His body—even though He was standing there.
- This has always been the belief of the Church. While we won’t bother, as we did for the case of the papacy, to demonstrate that this most certainly was not the belief of the early church, we can rest assured of that fact. Elsewhere it is claimed that this will always be the teaching of the Church—and so in effect it is an unfixable doctrinal error.
- Trent went out of its way to emphasize that all of Christ is present in each element. That, in spite of the way scripture clearly identifying the bread with the body and the wine with the blood—both elements become the body and blood of Christ. The reason for this was to justify the practice of withholding the cup from laity—for they spilled it they were spilling the very blood of Christ and cleansing rituals needed to be performed. On the other hand, the laity did not want to miss out on the blood—hence the neat solution.
But since Christ our Redeemer declared that to be truly His own body which He offered under the form of bread, it has, therefore, always been a firm belief in the Church of God, and this holy council now declares it anew, that by the consecration of the bread and wine a change is brought about 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 properly and appropriately calls transubstantiation.Scriptural Basis
As you may have anticipated, the scriptural support claimed by Rome for the doctrine of Transubstantiation comes, in large part from John’s gospel:
52 The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” 53 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. 54 Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. 55 For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. 56 Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. 57 As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven, not as the fathers ate and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” (John 6:52-58)Everyone has their favorite passages that simply must be taken hyper-literally. This is one that Rome places in that category. The Catholic Church claims that the plain teaching here is that we must eat the flesh and drink the blood of Christ in order to inherit eternal life. Evangelicals, according to Rome, have no basis for spiritualizing this passage and seeing the bread as a metaphor for Christ and the “eating” as a metaphor for believing.
It is helpful, in trying to decide of the passage in question should be taken literally or spiritually, to look through John 6 and see the variety of ways the Apostle teaches us that we may have eternal life. We find:
For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:44)In these four passages, John describes three ways to obtain eternal life:
No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. (John 6:47)
Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. (John 6:47)
Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. (John 6:54)
- Believe in Him
- Drawn by the Father
- Eats His Flesh and Drinks His Blood
- These are three different ways to obtain eternal life, any one of them is sufficient
- All three are jointly required
- There is only one way to obtain eternal life, and these are three different ways of describing the same thing
The Last Supper
If John 6 is of no use for the doctrine of transubstantiation, what about the Last Supper? Let us read the familiar passage:
26 Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” 27 And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, 28 for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. (Matt. 26:26-28)We are reminded that according to Trent even here, at the initiation of the sacrament, the bread and wine were transubstantiated. Rome also teaches that Paul’s words supports their view:
23 For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes. 27 Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. 30 That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. 31 But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. (1. Cor 11:23-31)Keeping in mind that we have already demonstrated that Christ’s references to partaking of His flesh and blood in John 6 cannot be taking literally, to prove the Catholic position we must examine these passages on their own without calling on John 6:53 for backup.
We shall ask two questions. Does the blood Jesus (and Paul) speak of refer to the liquid in the cup, or the blood Christ shed on the Cross? And do Jesus and Paul seem to consistently—beyond a the single reference (in each case) that Rome takes literally—refer to the bread and wine as actual flesh and blood?
As for the first question, we argue that the blood Jesus speaks of is properly understood as the blood of the new covenant—which is specifically tied to the blood Jesus shed on the cross, and never to the wine he transformed at the Last Supper. If the Apostles didn’t get it then, they surely would have remembered and understood Jesus’ words after his bloody crucifixion.
The book of the bible that is most damaging to the Catholic teaching of the mass is the book of Hebrews.
he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. (Heb. 9:12)Hebrews is quite clear that Christ’s single sacrifice on the cross was sufficient once for all, and that the blood of which we must partake is the blood shed on Calvary.
25 Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, 26 for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. 27 And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, 28 so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him. (Heb. 9:25-28)
What of the second question—how do Jesus and Paul refer to the elements after consecration? We see that in Jesus’ initiation of the sacrament (ordinance) and after he allegedly has changed the wine into His own blood, He goes on to say:
I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom.” (Matt. 26:29)He does not refer to the liquid in the cup as blood but wine—promising to never drink of again until he drinks with us in His Father’s kingdom.
And what of Paul? After He has consecrated the bread, supposedly transforming it into flesh, he instructs us that for as often as we eat this bread we proclaim the Lord’s coming.
Rome changes both the meaning of the object and the action in Paul’s statement. “As often as we eat this bread we proclaim the Lord’s coming” becomes “As often as we eat this flesh we are sacrificing Christ again for the forgiveness of our sins.