Today we will do something different and take on a new topic, namely the Lord’s Supper, from a Catholic point of view. Most Protestants that I know view the Lord’s Supper (or Communion) as a solemn ritual, a symbolic yet profound commemoration, or reminder, of the saving work that Jesus Christ did on the cross.
But to the Catholic, it is much more. The Catholic version of the biblical communion service is the celebration of the Eucharist, and the Catholic Church celebrates it daily in its Mass (church service). To the Catholic, the Eucharist (bread and wine) is considered a sacrifice, and is the ACTUAL BODY, BLOOD, SOUL and DIVINITY of Jesus Christ (Catechism of the Catholic Church [CCC], paragraph #1374). They believe that when the priest consecrates these two elements, that the bread miraculously changes into Jesus’ literal, physical body, and the wine into His literal, physical blood. They call this “transubstantiation,” which means the appearance of the elements remains the same, but the actual substance or essence is (supposedly) changed. And because they believe that the bread and wine are now actually JESUS, HIMSELF, then these two elements are worthy to be worshipped (CCC #1378).
Having said that, I don’t see how anyone, Catholic or otherwise, can be indifferent, apathetic, or “neutral” on this issue. Can anyone say, “Well, I like it, but that’s just me,” or, “Yeah, it’s OK, but I can do without it,” or, “It’s no big deal,” or “It may be OK for you, but I don’t have to do it”…? If it is indeed the actual body and blood, soul and divinity of Christ, if it is really HIM, then we should ALL be eagerly lining up to worship this bread and wine (Eucharist). But if these are NOT actually Jesus… then it is, by definition, idolatry.
Folks, we need to understand the seriousness of this contrast. I repeat, it is either Jesus Christ, Himself…or it is not Jesus at all. There is no middle ground here. The Eucharist is either a very good thing… or a very bad thing. It cannot be “kind of good,” or “kind of bad.” Either it is acceptable and wonderful worship of the Savior… or it is an abominable and disgusting act of idolatry. That’s why I say that we cannot be indifferent on this topic.
Remember, the Eucharist is one of THE central teachings in the Catholic Church, and is considered “the source and summit of the Christian life” (CCC #1324). Since it is a very extraordinary claim, Catholics need to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the Eucharist is what they say it is. The stakes are high, so let us examine the Catholic arguments and see if they hold water.
Literal or Symbolic?
CATHOLIC CLAIM – JESUS SAID IN JOHN CHAPTER 6, “WHOEVER EATS MY FLESH AND DRINKS MY BLOOD HAS ETERNAL LIFE.” HE COULD ONLY HAVE BEEN SPEAKING OF THE EUCHARIST, AND WAS THEREFORE SPEAKING LITERALLY.
There are several reasons to believe that Jesus was NOT speaking literally in John chapter 6. First, we need to ask, to whom was Jesus speaking? He was speaking to the multitudes (the people), v. 22 and 24. But whenever He spoke to the multitudes, He spoke to them in parables (figurative language). This was the NORM:
Matthew 13:10-11 - And the disciples came, and said unto him, Why speakest thou unto them in parables? He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given.
Matthew 13:34 - "All these things spake Jesus unto the multitude in parables; and without a parable spake he not unto them"
Mark 4:11 - And he said unto them, Unto you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God: but unto them that are without, all these things are done in parables:
Mark 4:34 - But without a parable spake he not unto them: and when they were alone, he expounded all things to his disciples.
If this is true, then we have strong evidence that He was NOT speaking to this multitude literally, but metaphorically, or symbolically.
Secondly, right in the middle of this very same sermon, we see symbolic language used (John 6:35):
And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.
Are we to believe that whoever came to Jesus and believed on Him would never physically hunger or thirst again? Of course not. Jesus was simply using an analogy and comparing one's coming to Him with "hunger", and one's believing on Him with "thirst." Obviously figurative language. Starting with verse 26, Jesus is contrasting the physical with the spiritual, and He uses symbolic language to do it.
Thirdly, notice that the author of this gospel (John) records many of the symbolic remarks of Jesus. For example, of the four gospels, only in John are these terms used by Jesus: “born again,” “living water,” “meat that ye know not of,” “destroy this temple,” and the “I am” sayings (see below). Therefore, we have good reason to believe that Jesus was speaking symbolically in John chapter 6.
No Pampering for the Non-Committed
CATHOLIC CLAIM – BUT SINCE HIS DISCIPLES WALKED AWAY FROM HIM (John 6:66) WHEN HE SAID, “EAT MY FLESH” AND “DRINK MY BLOOD,” HE HAD TO BE SPEAKING LITERALLY. JESUS WAS A GOOD TEACHER AND ANY GOOD TEACHER, IF SPEAKING FIGURATIVELY, WOULD NOT HAVE LET THEM WALK AWAY. HE WOULD HAVE SAID, “HEY, WAIT A MINUTE, COME BACK… I WAS ONLY USING SYMBOLIC LANGUAGE!”
No, Jesus was not obligated to chase after these false "followers" and beg them to come back. They didn't have the commitment or trust to stick with Him, thus proving that they were not true believers. His job is not to "baby" or pacify those who reject His teachings. Like we said earlier, the norm is that He would only explain things privately to His own disciples, not to the crowds publicly. If the Catholic wants to say that John 6 is NOT the norm, then the burden is on him to prove that.
CATHOLIC CLAIM – IN CHAPTER 6 OF JOHN, WE FIND, NOT JUST ONCE, BUT SEVERAL TIMES, JESUS SAYING THAT WE MUST “EAT HIS FLESH” AND “DRINK HIS BLOOD”. THIS REPETITION INTENSIFIES HIS STATEMENT AND LETS US KNOW THAT HE MEANT IT LITERALLY.
No, not at all. THIRTY times in the New Testament, Jesus is presented as the “Lamb of God,” or “the Lamb.” If repetition proves that something is literal, then He must be a literal, physical lamb. But everyone knows that this is symbolic language. So, this Catholic argument doesn’t work, either.
CATHOLIC CLAIM – IF YOU DESTROY A STATUE OR PHOTOGRAPH OF SOMEONE, YOU WOULD NOT BE GUILTY OF HARMING THAT PERSON, SINCE STATUES AND PHOTOGRAPHS ARE ONLY SYMBOLS. I CORINTHIANS 11:27-29 SAYS THAT WE CAN BE GUILTY OF PROFANING THE BODY AND BLOOD OF THE LORD DURING COMMUNION AND THUS, SUFFER CONDEMNATION. SO, HOW COULD PROFANING A MERE SYMBOL CAUSE SOMEONE TO BE CONDEMNED?
One can indeed, suffer condemnation because of a “mere symbol.” Consider this:
Genesis 17:10 - This is my covenant, which ye shall keep, between me and you and thy seed after thee; Every man child among you shall be circumcised.
17:14 - And the uncircumcised man child whose flesh of his foreskin is not circumcised, that soul shall be cut off from his people; he hath broken my covenant.
What if the Old Testament Jews despised, or somehow profaned, their God-given sign of circumcision (Genesis 17:10-11)? Would they have escaped judgment for this? Circumcision was their very identity (physically) as God's people. Would God have said, "Oh, well, that's OK, since it's just a symbol"? No, God would have cut them off from the very covenant they despised. To despise the sign / symbol of the covenant (circumcision) is to despise the One with Whom the covenant is made. In the same way, to despise or profane the symbols of the bread and wine of the New Covenant is to despise the One to Whom the elements point, i.e., Jesus and His work on the cross.
Context, Context, Context
SYMBOLICALLY SPEAKING, EATING FLESH AND DRINKING BLOOD WAS ALWAYS USED IN A NEGATIVE WAY IN THE OLD TESTAMENT (PSALM 27:2; ISAIAH 9:20; 49:26; MICAH 3:3; 2 SAMUEL 23:17), AS IN DESTROYING, REVILING OR ASSAULTING AN ENEMY. SINCE THAT IS THE SYMBOLIC MEANING, WOULDN’T JESUS’ WORDS IN JOHN 6 MEAN, “HE WHO REVILES OR ASSAULTS ME HAS ETERNAL LIFE”? THIS, OF COURSE, IS ABSURD. IT MAKES FAR MORE SENSE IF LITERAL.
These terms were indeed used in that way in some Old Testament passages. But this argument is assuming that there can only be one symbolic interpretation possible for phrases that are similar. Jesus sets the context for us in John 6 and it is certainly not the same context as those Old Testament verses mentioned. Those contexts were about war, mistreatment, judgment and punishment, NONE of which have to do with Jesus’ meaning here. To limit the meaning of Jesus’ words to “destroying, reviling, or assaulting” as the only possible symbolism, is to utterly ignore the overall context, as well as to ignore the very symbolism used within it.
So, what DID Jesus really mean when He said to “eat My flesh” and “drink My blood” if He wasn’t referring to the Eucharist? He was referring to His work on the cross, where His body would be “broken” (like bread) and His blood would be “poured out” (like wine). In this context, to “eat” and “drink” (spiritually and symbolically) means to PARTAKE OF, to ACCEPT, to BELIEVE, to TRUST IN His work at Calvary.
He Didn’t Say…
CATHOLIC CLAIM – DURING THE LORD’S SUPPER, JESUS NEVER SAID, “PRETEND THAT THIS IS MY BODY AND BLOOD,” AND HE DIDN’T SAY, “THIS IS LIKE MY BODY AND BLOOD.” HE SAID, “THIS IS MY BODY AND BLOOD.” THIS PROVES HE WAS BEING LITERAL.
He also said, "I AM the vine..." (John 15:5), "I AM the light of the world..." (John 8:12), "I AM the good Shepherd..." (John 10:11), and "I AM the door..." (John 10:7). Does anyone think that any of these statements were meant physically and literally? Hardly. He didn't say, "PRETEND that I am the vine," etc., in these contexts either. But how are any of these statements any different from, "I AM the Bread of Life..." (John 6:35)? The point is, they’re not any different…they’re all symbolic.
By the way, if Catholics want to be specific about which words were NOT used at the Last Supper, it can be pointed out that neither did He use the words “miracle,” “changed,” “soul and divinity,” “real presence,” “to make present,” “RE-presented,” or “merits grace.” He doesn’t call the bread or wine a “propitiation” or a “sacrament,” much less a “sacrament of redemption.” And He mentions nothing of a “priesthood.” The Catholic Church connects ALL of these with the Eucharistic Mass, but the biblical accounts of the Last Supper mention NONE of these. Many extraordinary claims, but no proof.
CATHOLIC CLAIM – WHY SHOULD WE BELIEVE WHAT PROTESTANTS SAY WHEN ALL THE CHURCH FATHERS WERE UNANIMOUS IN THEIR BELIEF ABOUT THE EUCHARIST? EVERY SINGLE CHURCH FATHER BELIEVED AS THE CATHOLIC CHURCH BELIEVES IT TODAY. NONE OF THEM, BEFORE THE REFORMATION, EVER BELIEVED THAT THE EUCHARIST WAS ONLY SYMBOLIC.
This is certainly debatable, and a number of Protestant apologists have dealt with this topic already (quite successfully, I believe). I will leave the specific views of each church father to those more qualified to debate that. However, my point here is simply this: Depending on the church fathers to prove the truth of a particular doctrine is risky and it raises more questions than it answers.
The fact is that the church fathers, however wise and respected, were not infallible. Their writings are useful and informative, but they had faults just like you and me. They too, needed to “study to show themselves approved.” (2 Timothy 2:15)
But even if they WOULD HAVE unanimously agreed on the Eucharist (and I certainly do not believe this is the case), this still would not prove the argument. Majority vote does not prove truth. As the Scripture says, “…let God be true, but every man a liar…” (Romans 3:4)
The question is, can this Catholic doctrine be found within the pages of the ultimate Standard, God’s Word? If no, then why WOULD it not be found in the Bible, since the Eucharist is such an IMPORTANT teaching of the Catholic Church? If yes, then please show it to us. So far, this extraordinary claim has not been proven at all.