A Note On The Roman Catholic Eucharisteō
This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me. Luke 22:19
The Roman Catholic tradition has normally seen the Lord’s Supper, or Communion, as a time in which the actual body and blood of Jesus Christ is transubstantiated (converted) to the elements which the believers consume during corporate worship. I have a love for many whom I know to be members or supporters of the Roman Catholic Church. I do not claim superiority over those who belong to this congregation. I am frail, weak, and can do nothing apart from Christ who strengthens me. I did not care to write a long, drawn out post about the Roman Catholic eucharist because I think there are men who are much more qualified to write about it than I. However, I felt lead to make a note concerning something which I think to be important.
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, 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.” 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.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. (1 Cor. 11:23-27)
Paul here, along with the original accounts in places like Matthew 36 and Luke 22, shed light on a few things, two of which I see to be rather important when discussing this topic. For one, we gain an idea as to the purpose of this Sacrament or Ordinance. For two, we can examine the actual origin of the word Eucharist, along with its definition.
The word, Eucharist, is derived from the Greek term eucharisteō (εὐχαριστέω). This word literally means good grace and has nothing to do, in and of itself, with the physical conversion of Christ’s literal body to the bread and wine consumed during the Eucharist, or Communion. Granted this word probably was not used to describe the Sacrament until after the close of the New Testament canon, it is important to note what the word itself means in order to eliminate any presupposed misconceptions concerning what the word actually makes necessary by definition.
1 Corinthians is possibly the most explicit mention concerning the purpose of the Lord’s Supper. Why do we “eat this bread and drink the cup”? We do this in order to proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes. Thus, it is a two-fold purpose. Not only are we proclaiming the Lord’s Sacrifice in our stead upon the cross, we are testifying to the truth of the promise wherein it is said He will return. (Rev. 22:12)
Nowhere in this passage are we to derive a concept of transubstantiation where the bread and wine literally become converted to the body and blood of our Lord who has been sacrificed “once for all.” (Heb. 9:26; 10:10) Is this to diminish the presence of Jesus Christ in or about the elements used in the Lord’s Supper? Not necessarily.
There is certainly a sense in which it is proper to recognize the spiritual presence of Jesus Christ, whether that be in the elements themselves (Luther) or a visible symbol (i.e. bread and wine) representing spiritual realities (Calvin).
There is not time to go into these differences here. But, one thing is for certain, both of these men universally rejected the concept of transubstantiation. It should also be noted that Augustine (4th & 5th Centuries) would not have agreed with Rome’s Doctrine of transubstantiation, considering the Sacrament as a visible word of God.
And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. (Luke 22:20)
In the passage from Luke above, Jesus seems to make it clear that these elements, the bread and wine, are symbols serving to point toward a deeper spiritual reality, or substance. Throughout the Old Testament, it is seen that a prerequisite for the inauguration of a covenant is blood; this came in the form of blood from animals. (See Gen. 3; 15; Leviticus)
Therefore, Jesus is drawing a parallel between the blood required at the start of a covenant in the Old Testament, and His blood which would ultimately usher in the New Covenant. However, in considering the Roman Catholic view, the cup being discussed is not literally the cup being passed around the table during the Last Supper.
The cup Jesus is referencing, using the symbol of the cup they were passing, is the actual Sacrifice which He would make of Himself upon the cross, “once for all”. That said, our Lord is utilizing the symbols of bread and wine in order to point us toward the deeper spiritual reality.