A family member is investigating Catholicism, and raised two primary objections to the Real Presence in the Eucharist. The first – Jesus had to humble Himself to become man, it doesn’t seem right that he would debase himself to become bread and wine. The second – Why do we need the real presence?
The first turns out to be a strong argument against consubstantiation, and makes transubstantiation more palatable, so to speak. The Church teaches that the bread is changed into Christ’s body, and the wine into His blood. They are no longer bread and wine, they are the body and precious blood of Jesus. The early Protestants didn’t deny the Real Presence, but, in an effort to distance themselves from the Church, proposed consubstantiation as a compromise. In consubstantiation, the bread and wine remain bread and wine, and this would indeed raise a question as to the propriety of Him becoming bread and wine. Transubstantiation, the complete change of one substance to another, avoids this difficulty. Transubstantiation, of course, raises the question of why the body and blood appear to the human eye to be bread and wine, but the discussion of substance vs. accidents of appearance is a another can of worms.
So, having dispensed with the argument that it would be improper for Jesus to debase Himself to become bread and wine, why do we need the Real Presence? In short, just as we need physical food for our physical being, we need spiritual food for our spiritual being. As the USCCB says, “Jesus gives himself to us in the Eucharist as spiritual nourishment because he loves us… By eating the Body and drinking the Blood of Christ in the Eucharist we become united to the person of Christ through his humanity. ‘Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him’ (John 6:56). In being united to the humanity of Christ we are at the same time united to his divinity. Our mortal and corruptible natures are transformed by being joined to the source of life. ‘Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me’ (John 6:57)… By his Real Presence in the Eucharist Christ fulfils his promise to be with us ‘always, until the end of the age’ (Mt 28:20). As St. Thomas Aquinas wrote, ‘It is the law of friendship that friends should live together… Christ has not left us without his bodily presence in this our pilgrimage, but he joins us to himself in this sacrament in the reality of his body and blood’ (Summa Theologiae, III q. 75, a. 1).”
A few helpful resources:
John Young, Transubstantiation and reason
1 Corinthians 11: 27, 29 – Paul indicates strongly that the body of the Lord is truly present.
John 6: 25-71, particularly 52, where they understand Him to say they must eat His flesh, and He does not clarify it, merely reaffirms it (53, 54, 55, 56, 57, and 58), even though the cost (66) is that many left Him. In other cases, he did correct misunderstandings:
Matthew 16:5-12, concerning the “leaven of the Pharisees.”
John 3:1-15, where Nicodemus didn’t comprehend being “born again
One of the earliest saints, Saint Ignatius of Antioch (~106 AD) criticized those who “abstain from the Eucharist and the public prayer, because they will not admit that the Eucharist is the self-same Body of our Savior Jesus Christ, which [flesh] suffered for our sins, and which the Father in His goodness raised up again” (Epistle to the Smyrnaeans 6, 7).
In any case, logical arguments aside, I choose to emulate St. John Chrysostom, whom Pope Paul VI, in Mysterium Fidei quotes as saying “Let us submit to God in all things and not contradict Him, even if what He says seems to contradict our reason and intellect; let His word prevail over our reason and intellect. Let us act in this way with regard to the Eucharistic mysteries, and not limit our attention just to what can be perceived by the senses, but instead hold fast to His words. For His word cannot deceive.”
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