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It is a good idea to have your Bible handy for this topic.

The Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist

collected by Mario Derksen
edited by L. Kovach

Matthew 26:26-28 teaches what we should believe: that the Eucharist is a change of substance. What other denominations believe is that this is only a symbolic act. "This is My Body": is it Literal or Symbolic?

We turn to John 6:35,47-62. Jesus must be speaking literally, since: Christ equates the bread He gives with the flesh He gives for the life of the world. The Jews ask: “How can He give us His flesh to eat?” (v.52). He reponds: “Amen, amen, unless you eat...” (v.53). His blood is true drink; His bread is true food. Jesus says His food is superior to the manna in the desert (v.49) - The manna was supernatural, heavenly, miraculous food - and the Eucharist? Clearly, it too must be miraculous!

The Greek word translated as “eat” is trogo, which means to chew and to crunch - this does not make sense if “to eat Jesus’ flesh” = to believe in Him. Jews left Jesus because they understood Him literally, and our Lord did not keep them from leaving, which He always did, at least to His disciples (Mt 4:34; 16:5-12); rather, the Lord says, “Does this shock you” (vv.61ff.) If Jesus had spoken figuratively, then He would have effectively said “whoever reviles Me has eternal life” (cf. Isaiah 9:18-20; Micah 3:3, Psalm 27:2). To say this would have been a sin for Jesus, for then He would have been commanding people to reject Him.

We turn to 1 Corinthians 11:27-29. To answer for someone’s body and blood is a grave offense. I could commit a grave offense only if the substance against which I commit it is actually the substance of that person, that is, the person himself. Nobody is guilty of committing murder if he only commits it symbolically! If Christ’s body and blood are not truly in the Eucharist, I cannot have to answer for them by receiving unworthily.

We turn to Matthew 23:39, “Blessed is he who comes...”. We are told we will see Jesus--we do at the Mass, under the appearance of Bread and Wine. This prophecy is not fulfilled in Protestantism.

Some notable Anti-Catholic arguments against the literal interpretation of “Eat my flesh and drink my blood.”

  • “God does not work miracles without outward evidence”

    Yes, He does: the Incarnation, Mary’s pregnancy during virginity (Mt. 1:23, cf. Is 7:14 LXX).

  • “It would be “cannibalism”

    No, because we’re only eating the substance of His flesh, we’re not tearing him apart as a human being. This is part of the miracle of the Eucharist - that we can partake of His Body and Blood, without the appearnace of eating human flesh.* Also, the Bible nowhere forbids the eating of human flesh as such, especially not if it is commanded by God.

  • “Leviticus 17:10-14 forbids us to drink blood”

    Jesus modifies this commandment, as well as “eye for an eye” (Deut 19:21). It cannot be a sin of itself, or Christ could not have commanded us to do it even symbolically, for then our Lord would have commanded us to sin.

  • “Jesus referred to ‘His blood’ as the ‘fruit of the vine’ after the consecration” (Matthew 26:29).

    Because it still looked like wine; it easier to refer to it that way, especially in the presence of 12 people that are not all tremendously educated. The disciples were not yet fully instructed in the understanding of this Sacrament. A similar thing happens in Exodus 7:10-12; even though the staffs were snakes, they were referred to as staffs.

  • “But Jesus was still physically with His disciples”

    God is omnipotent (Mark 10:27); who are we to say, “God cannot....”? God is everywhere in a spiritual way; why not in a physical way, too?

  • “Jesus is in Heaven now, not in tabernacles on earth”

    This is the difference between His natural presence and Sacramental presence. Ergo, He is present still truly and physically, but differently than during His personal ministry on earth. Similarly, Jesus is in Heaven present in two different ways: glorious and slain (Acts 5:31 vs. Revelation 5:6). Since that is true, then the Real Presence is true, too.

  • “Jesus said, ‘I am the vine/door/rock,’ yet these He meant symbolically”

    He resembles a vine, a door and a rock by virtue of His mission and doing; but He does not resemble bread in any way, nor wine, so “I am the Bread of Life” is not on a par with “I am the vine, you are the branches.”

  • “John 6:63 says, ‘the Spirit gives life; the flesh is of no avail"

    If that were true, then John says there is no use in eating Christ’s flesh. That would make no sense, because first Jesus said we must eat it. What Jesus meant was that we must be “gifted from above” to understand and accept His words; the Spirit gives us that life, not our sinful human nature (the 'flesh').

  • “He says, ‘The words I have spoken to you are SPIRIT and life’ (John 6:63).

    Yes, Jesus words are spiritual, not from this world. “Spirit” does not mean “symbol,” or else we would have to conclude that because God is spirit (John 4:24), He is only a symbol - and clearly that isn't so!

    Having established that Jesus commanded us in John 6 to eat His body and drink His blood literally, Christ must have left us with an opportunity for us to actually fulfill that command--this is found in the Last Supper, the Mass: “This is My Body.” It is the only instance where Jesus gives us the chance to do what He commanded us to do in John 6. Otherwise, Jesus would have commanded us to do something without giving us the opportunity to actually do it.

    Many non-Catholic Christians treasure their 'personal relationship with Jesus.' All Christians should. Yet, the closest possible relationship a person can have in this life is to be in Communion with Jesus - and this is possible sacramentally in the Eucharist. To take the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus our Lord within us, that is the closest possible relationship any one can hope for on earth! That is the awesome priviledge found in the Mass. We hope you'll join us there, and seek full Communion with Jesus our Savior!

    Christ is indeed, as 1 Peter 2:7-8 reminds us, the stumbling block for those who do not believe. His saying is difficult to accept, as the Jews said in John 6:60. Let us not leave Him but stay with Him; let us be the ones who believe, for He has the Words of Eternal Life (John 6:68)!

    Appendix: Church Fathers’ Testimony
    As usual, the early Christian writings affirm the Catholic doctrine of the Real Presence. In the Apostles’ document called the Didache, we read, “Let no one eat and drink of your Eucharist but those baptized in the name of the Lord; to this, too, the saying of the Lord is applicable: Do not give to dogs what is sacred [Matthew 7:6].”1

    This sounds completely Catholic, especially when we remember that no non-Catholic may receive Communion - because they don’t (as yet) share the same belief in the Real Presence as Catholics do. Furthermore, the Eucharist is called “sacred” by the Apostles. What is there sacred about the grape juice and crackers used by some non-Catholics? Nothing. This sacredness only makes sense if the Apostles held to the doctrine of the Real Presence.

    In the Greek original of Matthew, the phrase “what is sacred” is to hagios [to; a{gion], and it is precisely this phrase that, in the Old Testament, was used to refer to sacrificial meat: “And if a man eats of a holy thing [to hagios] unwittingly, he shall add the fifth of its value to it, and give the holy thing to the priest” (Leviticus 22:14; emphasis added).2 This is a strange thing if the Eucharist is not sacrificial in nature; if a Protestant admits it is, then the Real Presence is proven, for otherwise the sacrifice would make no sense. Indeed, to hagios was used to refer to Holy Communion in liturgical language.3

    There’s more proof from the Didache. The Apostles truly believed in and taught the Real Presence, for they wrote, “Thou, Lord Almighty, ...hast given food and drink for men to enjoy...; but to us Thou hast vouchsafed spiritual food and drink and eternal life....”4 We can tell the Apostles recognized the “bread” and “wine” of Holy Communion as not mere “food and drink for men to enjoy,” but as “spiritual food and drink.” This statement only makes sense if the Apostles believed in the Real Presence, for there would be no difference in bread and wine “for men to enjoy” from the bread and wine used at the Lord’s Supper if there were no Real Presence.

    St. John Chrysostom (c. 350-407) testifies, “Let us not contradict [God] although what he says appears to be contrary to our reasoning and understanding. [...] Behold, you...see [the Lord], you touch him, you eat him!”5

    In his epistle to Rome, Pope St. Clement I shows his belief in the Real Presence of the Eucharist. Fr. James T. O’Connor says:

    When he [Clement] comes to speak of the ministry proper to the presbyter-bishops, he refers to it as the “offering of the gifts”: “Our sin will not be a light one if we expel those who worthily and blamelessly have offered the gifts of [proper to?] the episcopacy.” In the light of Matthew 5:23 and Leviticus 1:2 and 7:38, it seems quite clear that the offering of gifts referred to by Clement is the equivalent of calling the Eucharistic liturgy a sacrifice.6

    On top of all that, the Apostles, as well as St. Ignatius, call the Eucharist thusia [qusiva],7 a Greek word meaning “sacrifice.”8

    Neither Clement nor Ignatius nor the Apostles could have professed belief in the Eucharist as being a sacrifice unless they also believed in the Real Presence.

    Editor's Footnote

    * Patrick Herrick, M.D., PhD contributed the following additional and very helpful observations on this portion of the topic (thanks, Doctor!):

    "Cannibals kill people so that they may eat the dead flesh. In the Host, we receive Jesus' living body. The well documented instances of visibly bleeeding hosts underscores the fact that His flesh is living. Dead tissue does not bleed.

    Cannibalism demonstrates domination over one's enemy. In Communion, we submit to our Creator: "I am the food of the grown. Grow and thou shall eat Me; nor shall thou change Me into thee, as thy bodily food, but thou shalt be changed into Me." (Augustine's "Confessions," quoted in "The Effects of the Eucharist," from the Catechsim of the Council of Trent.)"

    This scholarly yet beautifully insightful observation reminds us what we as disciples of Christ are called to do; namely, to become more like Jesus by uniting ourselves with Him through the sacramental graces of Communion. That was Jesus' request at the Last Supper, and faithful Christians should long to fulfill His Will!


    1. James A. Kleist, trans., The Didache (Westminster, MD: The Newman Press, 1948), 20

    2. The original language in which Leviticus was written was Hebrew, not Greek. The Septuagint indeed uses to hagios, while the Hebrew version has qodesh [vd,q]. This expression, however, means just the same as to hagios.

    3. Kleist, trans., Didache, 160, note 61

    4. ibid., 21

    5. Mathaeum Homil., qtd. in James T. O’Connor, The Hidden Manna (San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 1988), 47

    6. O’Connor, Hidden Manna, 11

    7. acc. to ibid., 159, note 54

    8. acc. to Strong’s Lexicon, #2378 Greek

    Related topics:

    The Bible and the Lord's Supper"

    You can click here to learn more from an article about what the early Christians believed about the Lord Supper. Eucharistic Adoration

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