Does the bread and wine of the Eucharist really become Christ's body and blood?
by St. Maggie | January 11, 2017Dear Maggie,
Does the wine and bread really become Christ’s body and blood at the Eucharist?
Dear Substantially Searching,
Thank ye for yer difficult question. This was one of those issues at the heart of the Protestant Reformation and an issue about which there have been a host (no pun intended) of opinions. Anglicans, being a middle way between Roman Catholicism and the more radical Protestants like Zwingli, have tended to come to a middle view of the issue.
Though all the trees in Scotland could have been cut for all the books published on the subject, I’ll try to give as straight an answer as me can. Roman Catholics have tended to argue that the bread and wine of the Eucharist are “Transubstantiated” which means that the appearance does not change, but their fundamental substance has turned to Christ’s actual flesh and blood. This view relies on some complicated Aristotelian metaphysics I don’t have the energy or time to go into just now, but that is the basic explanation. Because of this view Catholics tend to value practices like Eucharistic adoration because they see Christ as being there in the elements independent of any ongoing worship by the community of faith.
Lutheran’s tend to favor the idea of “Consubstantiation” which is similar, but holds that the bread and wine remain bread and wine but also become Christ’s body and blood. It’s a bit more nuanced than that, but there’s the basic idea.
Swiss Reformers like Zwingli favored the idea that the bread and wine are mere symbols. One finds that idea in churches like the Baptists of today. There are a whole smattering of opinions between all of these.
Anglicans hold to what we call the “Real Presence” of Jesus in the Eucharist. We mean by this that Jesus is really there in the bread and wine, but we can’t explain the mechanics of it. What we do believe is that Jesus only becomes present when we celebrate this meal of thanksgiving in a community and that the faith of the believer is part of what makes it real. This is why we call for the Holy Spirit to come down and bless the sacrament as well as to bless us in order for this worship to work. It is also why we don’t allow for a priest to bless the sacrament without another person present. Jesus becomes really present to us in community and so our liturgies reflect this.
When ye hear the priest invite you to “feed on him in your hearts with thanksgiving” you get a hint of the Anglican Eucharistic theology that holds that it is the faith of the believer that helps transform the bread and wine and not the “magic hands” of the priest. There is no magic moment when the bread or wine becomes God’s body and blood. Instead it is our whole worship together that invites Jesus to be truly present in the Eucharist.
That may spark more questions than answers for ya, but so goes the way of faith and learning. Nonetheless, I hope this has at least helped ye understand a bit better and will help direct yer next questions as ye explore the mysteries of God further.
Peace be with ya,