I desire two things from this writing. For born-again Christians, I hope this will better equip you with a knowledge of Catholic belief and how to witness to Catholics you know. For those who are Catholic, I challenge you to truly take an impartial look at your beliefs. Don’t let emotions or the fact that you were raised this way stop you from properly examining your religion. If indeed you find problems with this teaching, examine further and do not hesitate in reaching out to me. If beliefs don’t make sense, nothing is worth holding on to them.
The belief in transubstantiation is a sacred one in the Catholic and Orthodox Churches. It is elevated as a sacrament and one of the most important parts of the religious devotion of their members. The physical presence of Christ in the Eucharist is believed (in the Catholic Catechism, which I have studied more extensively since I have a number of Catholic friends) to be powerful in a number of ways, including the ability to keep from sin and even help the dead gain quicker entrance into Heaven.
For those unfamiliar, allow a brief explanation. The Catholic Church teaches that when a priest blesses the bread and wine, the bread becomes the literal body of Jesus and the wine the literal blood of Jesus. The bread and wine, however, maintain their appearance and taste. Those who partake in communion, therefore, are believed to partake of Christ Himself.
The Catechism describes it this way:
“The Council of Trent summarizes the Catholic faith by declaring: ‘Because Christ our Redeemer said that it was truly his body that he was offering under the species of bread, it has always been the conviction of the Church of God, and this holy Council now declares again, that by the consecration of the bread and wine there takes place a change of the whole substance of the bread into the substance of the body of Christ our Lord and of the whole substance of the wine into the substance of his blood. This change the holy Catholic Church has fittingly and properly called transubstantiation.’” –CCC, pg. 347, #1376
The belief in Christ’s presence in the Eucharist is based off of the words of Jesus in John 6:
“Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him. As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father: so he that eateth me, even he shall live by me.” –John 6:53-57
Taking these words alone, transubstantiation would seem to be, well, substantiated. However, there are very obvious reasons as to why I take issue with this. As it is a very sacred doctrine of the Catholic Church, I will attempt to tread lightly. It must be noted, though, that this teaching is exactly as it appears: Catholics weekly or even daily cannibalize Jesus.
First, the context of John 6 does not at all indicate that Jesus meant that we are to literally eat His flesh and drink His blood. This immediately follows the feeding of the five thousand, a well-known event in Jesus’ ministry. Jesus now has a mass following of people who are not following Him because they believe His message, but because they want more free meals:
“Jesus answered them and said, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Ye seek me, not because ye saw the miracles, but because ye did eat of the loaves, and were filled.” –John 6:26
Jesus, as He often did, uses figurative language to explain a heavenly principle:
“Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you: for him hath God the Father sealed. Then said they unto him, What shall we do, that we might work the works of God? Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent. They said therefore unto him, What sign shewest thou then, that we may see, and believe thee? what dost thou work? Our fathers did eat manna in the desert; as it is written, He gave them bread from heaven to eat. Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Moses gave you not that bread from heaven; but my Father giveth you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world. Then said they unto him, Lord, evermore give us this bread. 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.” –John 6:27-34
Sound like a prior passage? Recall when Jesus spoke to the Samaritan woman:
“Jesus answered and said unto her, If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water. The woman saith unto him, Sir, thou hast nothing to draw with, and the well is deep: from whence then hast thou that living water? Art thou greater than our father Jacob, which gave us the well, and drank thereof himself, and his children, and his cattle? Jesus answered and said unto her, Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again: But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life. The woman saith unto him, Sir, give me this water, that I thirst not, neither come hither to draw.” –John 4:10-15
Earlier Jesus had called Himself “Living Water”, using that as an example because He was at a well. The same opportunity came when people followed Him for food. In Samaria, the woman sought water when she needed “Living Water”. In Capernaum (where the people found Him), the crowd sought bread when they needed the “Bread of Life”. This is simply a figurative comparison, not a literal truth. No one blesses water to make it become Jesus.
Jesus later continues:
“Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me hath everlasting life. I am that bread of life. Your fathers did eat manna in the wilderness, and are dead. This is the bread which cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” –John 6:47-51
How do we know this is figurative? The many disciples of Jesus were confused and even angered that Jesus said they must eat His flesh and drink His blood (John 6:53-57):
“Many therefore of his disciples, when they had heard this, said, This is an hard saying; who can hear it? When Jesus knew in himself that his disciples murmured at it, he said unto them, Doth this offend you? What and if ye shall see the Son of man ascend up where he was before? It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life. But there are some of you that believe not. For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were that believed not, and who should betray him. And he said, Therefore said I unto you, that no man can come unto me, except it were given unto him of my Father.” –John 6:60-65
Jesus directly states that “the flesh profiteth nothing”. His words are “spirit”, not literal. The intent was not to state that He is present in the Eucharist, but that it is only Him that satisfies – not a temporary meal. Not all of His words were meant in a literal way. I’ve brought up before to Catholics that there should also be a doctrine of literally cutting our right hands off and plucking our right eyes out when they offend us (Matthew 5:29-30). Not everything is meant literally.
There are a number of other problems with transubstantiation.
Communion, chronologically, is not instituted until John 13. How would the disciples have known that the specific practice of communion is what was meant when Jesus said to eat His flesh and drink His blood? Couldn’t He have meant something else? Or maybe He meant it was a perpetual thing, like every time they ate and drank?
The Catechism states:
“The Eucharistic presence of Christ…endures as long as the Eucharistic species subsist.” –CCC, pg. 347, #1377
It might sound ridiculous, but when does this cease to be Christ? Is it after He is eaten? Is it not until the chemical change in the digestive system changes Him into something else? Or do those that partake of communion actually excrete Christ? It may seem humorous, but this presents a problem that needs answered. We would certainly need to properly dispose of whatever is the body and blood of Jesus. If the bread and wine are transformed into Christ, how long do they remain Him?
As mentioned before, these words were merely figurative. We do not say that Jesus is also in our well water because He said He is living water. In John 10:9, Jesus said, “I am the door.” So Jesus is literally a door, right? Or is it every door that we bless becomes Jesus, even though it retains all the properties of a door? It sounds absurd because it is. Paul calls Him the “chief corner stone” (Ephesians 2:20) and the “spiritual Rock” (I Corinthians 10:4). Jesus says He is the “vine” and we are the “branches” (John 15:5). And while we’re at it, that must mean that Christians are literal “salt” and “light” (Matthew 5:13-14). None of these things were meant in a literal sense, and deep down we know that. They are metaphors that are used frequently in the Bible. Why have we pulled out one metaphor, misinterpreted it, and built a sacred tradition around it all while overlooking the other metaphors?
Did Jesus forget what the law said?
“And whatsoever man there be of the house of Israel, or of the strangers that sojourn among you, that eateth any manner of blood; I will even set my face against that soul that eateth blood, and will cut him off from among his people. For the life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul. Therefore I said unto the children of Israel, No soul of you shall eat blood, neither shall any stranger that sojourneth among you eat blood. And whatsoever man there be of the children of Israel, or of the strangers that sojourn among you, which hunteth and catcheth any beast or fowl that may be eaten; he shall even pour out the blood thereof, and cover it with dust. For it is the life of all flesh; the blood of it is for the life thereof: therefore I said unto the children of Israel, Ye shall eat the blood of no manner of flesh: for the life of all flesh is the blood thereof: whosoever eateth it shall be cut off.” –Leviticus 17:10-14
“Only be sure that thou eat not the blood: for the blood is the life; and thou mayest not eat the life with the flesh. Thou shalt not eat it; thou shalt pour it upon the earth as water.” –Deuteronomy 12:23-24
The law not only prohibits consuming blood, but makes it a capital offense. Most of Jesus’ disciples were Jewish. If He is commanding them to drink His blood, He is blatantly commanding them to break the law in a very serious way.
Furthermore, Jesus also partook of the elements during the Lord’s Supper. One, this means (under the Catholic belief) that Jesus cannibalized Himself. Two, this means that Jesus broke the Mosaic law.
“Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.” –Matthew 5:17-18
This would present a stunning contradiction. Jesus, who claims He came to fulfill the law, broke the law by drinking His own blood. This makes Jesus a liar, and thus someone not really worth following anyway. It would also have given the Jewish religious leaders legitimate grounds for His execution and the executions of His disciples.
It must also be remembered that, at the time of Jesus’ statement in John 6 and the Lord’s Supper, Jesus had not been crucified yet. How could Jesus be resacrificed in the communion elements if He had not yet been sacrificed at all? The initial sacrifice was not even there yet.
The Eucharist claims that communion is not the resacrificing of Christ, but rather the same sacrifice on the cross is present in the Eucharist:
“The sacrifice of Christ and the sacrifice of the Eucharist are one single sacrifice.” –CCC, #1367
However, this would still be contrary to what Hebrews says:
“Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us…For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us: Nor yet that he should offer himself often, as the high priest entereth into the holy place every year with blood of others; For then must he often have suffered since the foundation of the world: but now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment: So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation.” –Hebrews 9:12, 24-28
If this sacrifice is showing up on a daily basis in locations across the world, how could it not be considered multiple sacrifices? The Bible makes it clear that Christ was ONCE offered. Catholic communion could rightfully be compared to the sacrifice of animals. Partaking must be a regular thing because doing it just once is not good enough. This is exactly what the writer of Hebrews wrote against.
Rick Jones, a former Catholic and author of Understanding Roman Catholicism: 37 Roman Catholic Doctrines Explained, wrote this in his comparison of the Eucharist to what the Bible says:
“…Can you knowingly partake in this practice now that you know the truth?
‘Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.’" –James 4:17
Jesus said in the very passage that transubstantiation mistakenly comes out of that “he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.”
“And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day.” –John 6:40
It is not the participation in communion or any other sacraments that brings peace with God. Salvation is not through a church; it is through the blood of Jesus alone.
“Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost;” –Titus 3:5
Put faith in the once-for-all sacrifice of Jesus for our sins. Don’t put trust in tradition that is contrary to scripture.
“Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. For laying aside the commandment of God, ye hold the tradition of men, as the washing of pots and cups: and many other such like things ye do. And he said unto them, Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition…Making the word of God of none effect through your tradition, which ye have delivered: and many such like things do ye.” –Mark 7:7-9, 13