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Are we really eating Jesus in the Eucharist, or is it only symbolic?

Full Question

Do we really “eat Jesus”? Don’t the words of consecration call only for a symbolic interpretation of eating and drinking of Christ’s body and blood instead of a literal one?

Answer

Not according to the understanding of the Catholic or Orthodox Churches, and not according to the practice of Christianity for 1,500 years.

The New Testament Greek in Mark 14:22, Matthew 26:26, and Luke 22:19 reads this way—transliterated, of course, into English characters: ” Touto estin to soma mou. ” (The very earliest account of the words of consecration in 1 Corinthians 11:24 is slightly different. Paul has it as: ” Touto mou estin to soma. ” In either case, the translation (as opposed to transliteration) is “This is my body.”

Philologists tell us that the verb estin can mean “is really” or “is figuratively.” But Paul’s discussion of the Last Supper clearly reflects his belief that the Presence is real, not figurative. Paul’s discourse may antedate the earliest Gospels by as much as eight years. It is hardly likely, in view of that, that Matthew or Mark meant estin to be taken figuratively.

Furthermore, the Greek word for body used in John 6:52-58 is sarx, which means quite specifically and only “physical flesh.” The Aramaic scholars I have spoken to tell me that sarx is as close as you can get in Greek to the Aramaic bisra, which Jesus himself used.

Even more evidence from the very earliest Church comes from Ignatius of Antioch. I had to go back to my Greek version of him—somewhat more tattered than it was in 1953 when I first got it. Ignatius wrote about A.D. 110, 10 years or so after the death of John. He’s speaking here about “certain people” who were beginning to hold to “heterodox opinions” that he deemed “contrary to the mind of God”—strong language for the personal disciple of the last apostle. As nearly as I can come to it, Ignatius says: “These people abstain from the Eucharist as well as from prayer because they do not admit that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, flesh which suffered for our sins and which the Father, in his goodness, raised up again from the dead” (Letter to the Smyrnaeans, 6:2).

Ignatius was taught by John himself, and the apostolic succession in this case extends to more than the laying on of hands. I find it unlikely to the point of impossibility to believe that Ignatius would hold to a doctrine antithetical to what he had been taught by the Beloved Disciple.










7 comments

  1. P.-C. Murphy Reply

    God is really present in the Eucharist. There have been studies (chemical which prove the presence.)

  2. Linda Reply

    I believe most certainly that Christ is present in the Holy Eucharist. However, some Protestants then claim that Catholics are cannibals. How do I answer clearly and succinctly, that this is untrue? I have never found a really good answer that non Catholics or non Christians are willing to accept.

    1. Hilary Bragar Reply

      This is what we call FAITH. FAITH is believing in something you can’t always explain 100%. Maybe it is not a good enough answer for everyone who is questioning you. But if it is good enough for you, it is good enough. Receiving the Eucharist is the most perfect gift we can ever get. Be the example of what this perfect gift can do for you. Your example will be the answer for the doubters.

  3. caz Reply

    No. It’s a symbol.

  4. anthony Reply

    Linda cannibals eat dead flesh of a created person. In contrast we are eating the flesh of a living deity. He is alive, Cannibals don’t eat the flesh of a God. Very different. The Jews believed in the old testament life was in the blood. So they forbade eating a drinking any animals blood. Well here is Jesus telling us to not only eat his flesh but to drink his blood. By doing this we are participating in his divine life. I hope this helps Linda

  5. Henriette Mbimenyuy Reply

    i do not doubt it and it is really what you call faith. the bible states it in Matthew 21:22 that it is only when you believe that you will receive. and faith means believing what you yourself does not understand to the fullest. he who believes, it works for him. there are so many things that i abstain for because i want to participate in the Eucharist. it is the most precious gift so far. i do not need to be convincing any body.

  6. Max Reply

    Jesus said to take the Lord’s Supper in “remembrance of Me.” The Lord’s Supper does not bestow God’s grace on those who practice the ordinance and that is as 1 Corinthians 11:24-25 state is an act of remembrance of Christ’s death and suffering for sin. Something that those who believe in transubstantiation miss is that when Christ instituted the Lord’s Supper on the Feast of Unleaven Bread He was physically with them. He was present and serving them and how could He be offering them His flesh and blood.

    What Does the New Testament Teach?

    Let us first look at 1 Corinthians 11:23-34 which records what the Apostle Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, recorded and instructed the churches through his letter to the Corinthian believers.

    “For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread:

    “And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me. After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me.” (1 Corinthians 11:24-25)

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