Among the aberrant Catholic sacraments and doctrines, one of the least understood is that of the Eucharist and transubstantiation. While analogous to communion in many ways, it is also worlds apart, separated by a gulf of heresy. This article will provide a basic analysis of the Catholic Eucharist, and reveal the ways in which it is unbiblical and a denial of the sufficiency of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross.
The Catholic Church teaches that once a Catholic priest has consecrated the wafer of bread during communion, or “Eucharist” as it is called by Catholics, it turns into the literal and real body, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ. It is no longer a piece of bread. It is Jesus Christ under the appearance of bread, and is therefore worthy of worship and adoration. This process of consecration followed by a literal change from a mere wafer to the body of Christ is called transubstantiation. The following paragraphs are taken from the Catholic Catechism.
Paragraph 1374, page 383
“In the most blessed sacrament of the Eucharist the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ and, therefore, the whole Christ is truly, really, and substantially contained.”
Paragraph 1380, pages 385, 386
“The Church and the world have a great need for Eucharistic worship. Jesus awaits us in this sacrament of love. Let us not refuse the time to go to meet him in adoration, in contemplation full of faith, and open to making amends for the serious offenses and crimes of the world. Let our adoration never cease.”
Paragraph 1418, pages 395
“Because Christ himself is present in the sacrament of the altar, he is to be honored with the worship of adoration.”
Also see, paragraphs 1373-1377 and 1413 on pages 383-385 and page 395
The Catholic Church similarly teaches that the wine or water taken with the wafer becomes the literal blood of Christ upon consecration by a priest. They claim that Jesus taught transubstantiation at the last supper and that the disciples were anointed with the power to change bread into the actual presence of Christ. This authority was then passed down through priestly ordination and apostolic succession.
To the early church the practice of the Lord’s Supper was a time of fellowship and a meal memorializing Christ’s sacrifice. The bread and wine were taken in a Thanksgiving celebration that came to be known as the Eucharist. Eucharist comes from the Greek word, eucharistia, which means “thanksgiving”. 1 It was a celebration held in expectation of the Marriage Supper of the Lamb that awaits all believers before the Glorious Appearing (Rev. 19:9). The transubstantiation doctrine of the Catholic Church was not taught or practiced until the middle ages, long after the emergence of Roman Catholicism in the 6th Century A.D.
Four Catholic Popes can be credited with the evolution of the Eucharist to include several of the traditions now held by Catholics.2
- Sixtus III, bishop of Rome AD 432-440 was the first to establish an “altar” within basilicas where the elements of bread and wine were blessed.
- Felix IV, (AD 526-530) separated the altar as a holy place to be used exclusively for blessing the Eucharist elements.
- Boniface II (AD 530-532) came up with altar coverings
- Gregory I (AD 590-604) in his early 7th century reforms added candles, tabernacles to hold the elements, and the vestments worn by priests.
The early church never practiced these traditions. The Mass did not change from a celebration meal of thanksgiving to a ceremonial encounter with the literal body and blood of Jesus until the 12th century. The doctrine of transubstantiation was decreed in AD 1215 at the fourth Lateran Council.
The Catholic Church places a great deal of authority on antiquity and appearing to be an exact replica of the early church. Therefore, when history proves that most Catholic traditions are found nowhere in the early church, and are in fact the result of an evolution of doctrines as they were passed down through a succession of Popes, the church simply rewrites history. This works because the laity are taught to never question the authority of the Church. Investigating the historical record and the evidence for the Church’s claims to authority would be tantamount to questioning the Pope.
While the Catholic Church relies heavily on a revised history to support their claims, they also use the Pope’s interpretation of scripture as a support. I say “the Pope’s interpretation” because the laity is not allowed to interpret scripture for themselves and must look to the church for its meaning instead. One of the verses the Catechism lists to support transubstantiation is Luke 22:19,20.
And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.
Its proponents also commonly use chapter 6 in the book of John as a support for transubstantiation.
John 6:51-55 “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world. Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat? Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink.”
When Christians participate in the Lord’s Supper we do it in remembrance of the sacrifice Christ made for us. The bread represents the body of Christ, and the wine represents the blood sacrificed to cover our sins. This verse and the verses in John do not teach that the bread is the literal flesh of Jesus, and the wine is the literal blood of Christ.
The key to understanding scripture is to read it in context. We know from context when to interpret scripture literally, and when the context demands a figurative or symbolic interpretation. The Bible is replete with verses that use metaphors, symbols, and descriptive images to make a point or explain a teaching. Some examples of metaphors that would not be taken literally are listed below.
Psalm 34:8 “Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good.”
John 4:14 “Whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.”
This verse does not mean that believers will literally have a fountain of water springing up inside them. It is a metaphorical way of telling us that those who accept the salvation Christ offers will have eternal life.
John 2:19 “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”
The Jews thought that Jesus was referring to the Jewish temple, but as you read further it becomes obvious he was referring to His body.
Jesus makes several I Am statements in the book of John alone that are good examples of the symbolic nature of some scripture.
- I am the bread of life (John 6:35)
- I am the light of the world (John 8:12)
- I am the door (John 10:9)
- I am the good shepherd (John 10:11)
- I am the resurrection and the life (John 11:25)
- I am the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6)
- I am the vine.
All of these statements tell us something about the nature of Jesus, however Jesus is not a literal door that opens when we ask to receive Him. He is no more a literal grape vine than he is a loaf of bread, and He does not become either.
These are but a few examples out of many. Just as Jesus used parables to explain things that were hard for his listeners to understand, the Bible uses metaphors to help us understand and visualize what we read. Jesus told us to expect this in John 16:25 which reads, “These things I have spoken to you in figurative language…”
Let’s look at the context for the verses in chapter 6 of John that are often cited by Catholics. Chapter 6 begins with the story of Jesus feeding the 5,000 with two small loaves of bread and 2 fish. The next day the people Jesus had fed were looking for Him for the wrong reasons. We know this from Jesus’ words in verses 26 and 27 which read, “You seek Me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled. Do not labor for food which perishes, but for food which endures to everlasting life.”
This frames the context for verses 51-56. Jesus explains to the crowd that they should be seeking eternal life. In verse 29 He explains that eternal life comes only through belief in Jesus. He re-emphasizes this in verse 35 when he says, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.” Again in verse 40 he says, “And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day.”
At this point the Jews he had fed the previous day started grumbling. They were angry that Jesus had said he came down from heaven. Jesus responds by once again telling them that only the person who believes that Jesus is the Son of God will be saved, and that He is indeed the “bread of life”. He uses a metaphor when he says “your forefathers ate the manna in the desert, and yet they died, but here is the bread that comes down from heaven which a man may eat and not die.” Remember He’s repeated several times that eternal life comes through belief. Therefore, the bread must be a metaphor just as the manna is a metaphor used to describe their forefathers faith.
Jesus then tells them that “whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day”. He goes on, “For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your forefathers ate manna and died, but he who feeds on this bread will live forever.”
First Jesus compares himself to the manna that fell from heaven and sustained their forefathers as they wandered in the desert. Though they were sustained for a time by this manna, they eventually died. Jesus is saying that he is the bread that brings eternal life. This contrast is used to strengthen his main message from verse 47, which says, “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me has everlasting life.”
When Jesus said these things he had no bread or wine present with him. He was either speaking figuratively about believing in him for eternal life, or he was suggesting cannibalism. If he were speaking literally here, he’d be directly contradicting Genesis 9:4, “You shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood.” If you keep reading, (something Catholics citing these verses choose not to do) it’s made clear that Jesus was indeed speaking figuratively.
In verse 60, in response to the teachings above, the disciples said just what many of you might be saying – “This is a hard saying; who can understand it?”
Jesus responded in verses 61-64 this way, “Does this offend you? What then if you should see the Son of Man ascend where He was before? It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life.” This bears repeating. The flesh profits nothing. Jesus was speaking in spiritual terms. He was not talking about his literal flesh. Jesus used the exact same word for flesh (sarx) that he used in previous verses when he tells them the flesh profits nothing. 3
Reading farther, Peter leaves no room for doubt as to what Jesus meant here. Jesus asked him if he also wanted to go away. Peter responded in verse 68, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. Also we have come to believe and know that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Peter did not say that they’d come to know that they must eat Jesus’ flesh and drink his blood. Jesus had just told them that the flesh profits nothing. Instead Peter understood his main point – believing in Christ leads to eternal life.
The contrast in Jesus words here is clear. Just as Jesus does several times in scripture, He contrasts the limited and temporary benefits of the flesh with the infinite and eternal benefits of the Spirit.
I want to re-emphasize that John, chapter 6 does not deal directly with the Last Supper, or with the doctrine of the Eucharist. It has NOTHING to do with the Last Supper. Jesus had neither bread nor wine present during these verses, and never even mentions wine. Nowhere in these verse does Jesus give his disciples any instruction on how to practice communion. John does not deal with the Last Supper until Chapter 13. It does not teach in chapter 6 or anywhere in the Bible that the disciples must institute a priesthood, consecrate bread and turn it into His flesh, or worship his flesh under the appearance of bread.
In addition to their belief in transubstantiation, Catholicism teaches that during the Mass and the taking of the Eucharist, Jesus is being re-sacrificed for the atonement and forgiveness of our sins. The Catholic Catechism puts it this way:
Catholic Catechism, pg 351
“Holy Communion separates us from sin. The body of Christ we receive in Holy Communion (the sacrifice) is ‘given up for us’, and the blood we drink ‘shed for the many for the forgiveness of sins’. For this reason the Eucharist cannot unite us to Christ without at the same time cleansing us from past sins and preserving us from future sins.”
Paragraph 1414, page 395
“As sacrifice, the Eucharist is also offered in reparation of the sins of the living and the dead and to obtain spiritual or temporal benefits from God.”
Paragraph 1405, page 393
“Every time this mystery is celebrated, “the work of our redemption is carried on.”
Paragraph 1366, page 380
“The Eucharist is thus a sacrifice because it represents (makes present) the sacrifice of the cross.”
First, I must point out that Jesus is already inside of true believers, so there is no need to eat his flesh and drink his blood in order to have Him inside of us.
1 Col 3:16 “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you?”
Romans 8:9 “You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ.”
There is also no need for a frequent, repetitious sacrifice of Christ in Catholic churches around the world. Jesus was sacrificed ONCE for ALL for the remission of ALL sin. Teaching otherwise directly contradicts the Word of God.
Hebrews 7:27 “Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself.”
Hebrews 10:12, 14, 18 “But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God.
“because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.”
“And where these have been forgiven, there is no longer any sacrifice for sin”
The Bible makes it very clear here that Christ’s sacrifice was for all people, for all time, and covers all sin. There is only one sacrifice and it is sufficient for the forgiveness of our sins. We no longer need to continue making sacrifices as was required under the Old Covenant. The sacrifice of Christ was a one-time event. Communion is a memorial to this event that is done in remembrance of the sacrifice Christ made and the promise of His return. We are to celebrate the Lord’s Supper until He comes. “For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (I Corinthians 11:26). This verse does not tell us that every time a priest blesses the bread in the proper attire Jesus will come. It says to eat the bread and drink the cup UNTIL He comes.
There is no mention anywhere in the Bible that the Eucharist contributes to the work of redemption, that sin is forgiven by the act, that Jesus is sacrificed during the Eucharist celebration, that bread and wine change when consecrated, and there is no mention of the Mass, ever. The Bible does however have something to say about the act of participating in the Catholic Eucharist ceremony.
Acts 15:19, 20 “It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood.”
Would the Apostles have instructed their followers to abstain from blood if the Lord’s Supper included the drinking of Jesus’ literal blood? You would think the Apostles would have made some kind of qualification or exception here.
The Catholic church also teaches that the Eucharist is an unbloody sacrifice in which the offering of the Host is the perpetuation of the sacrifice of Christ in an unbloody manner to make satisfaction for sins.4 Yet the Bible states that there is no forgiveness of sins without the shedding of blood:
Hebrews 9:22 “without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sins.”
The Bible also warns often about idolatry, or the worship of man made things. This brings up the Catholic practice of displaying the consecrated host in a monstrance.
A monstrance is a vessel used to display the host for adoration. It is usually made of gold or precious metal. Its principal part is a circular glass through which the consecrated Host can be viewed. Surrounding this circular glass is a metal sunburst of golden “rays”. A cross might surmount the vessel, which stands on a pedestal and is supported by a circular base. A crescent-shaped device (lunette) or a double circle of gold or metal gilt by means of which the Host is held securely upright when exposed in the monstrance.5
The Catholic Encyclopedia provides information on how the monstrance came about.
In the Middle Ages there was no uniform custom in regard to the place where the Blessed Sacrament was kept. The Fourth Latern Council and many provincial and diocesan synods held in the Middle Ages require only that the Host be kept in a secure, well-fastened receptacle. At the most they demand that it be put in a clean, conspicuous place. Only a few synods designate the spot more closely, as the Synods of Cologne (1281) and of Munster (1279), which commanded that it was to be kept above the altar and protected by locking with a key.
The Catholic Encyclopedia also tells us how devotion and veneration of the sacrament in a monstrance came about.
The idea of exposing the Blessed Sacrament for veneration in a monstrance appears to have been first evolved at the end of the thirteenth or the beginning of the fourteenth century. When the elevation of the Host at Mass was introduced in the early years of the thirteenth century, probably as a form of protest against the theological views of Peter the Chanter, the idea by degrees took firm hold of the popular mind that special virtue and merit were attached to the act of looking at the Blessed Sacrament. To such extremes did this prepossession go, that the seeing of the Host at the moment of the elevation was judged to be the most vital part of attendance at Mass….
Moreover, a custom grew up, especially in Germany, of keeping the Blessed Sacrament continually exposed to view in churches. Tabernacles of great height and imposing appearance, were erected in the most conspicuous part of the church, and there the Blessed Sacrament was reserved in a monstrance.
Catholics believe that Jesus Christ is literally present inside the monstrance in the form of the host. The Catholic Church calls for adoration of the host while it is Jesus. A Catholic website gives the following description for Eucharist Adoration:
Catholics believe that during the Mass which we attend each week (for some of us daily), the priest (during the consecration) speaks these words as he holds the communion host, “…He took bread and gave you thanks. He broke the bread, gave it to his disciples, and said: Take this all of you, and eat it: this is my body which will be given up for you”. When the priest says “this my body”, it is at that instant when, through the miracle of transubstantiation, the bread and wine which we offer as the bloodless sacrifice to our Lord truly become the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus. It is His true Presence in the form of bread and wine. It is Christ.
Perpetual Adoration is when the priest takes a consecrated host, such as the one described above, and places it in a monstrance. The monstrance is then placed in front of the tabernacle or on the altar of the church or chapel for adoration.
What do you actually do during adoration? You may sign up to be an “adorer” which allows you to schedule yourself for one or more hours per week to pray before the very presence of Our Lord, exposed in the monstrance. It means that you can have some time alone with Jesus to recite your favorite prayers, read the bible, contemplate acts of faith, hope, charity, thanksgiving, reparation, pray a rosary or do whatever type of prayerful devotion that suits you before Our Lord. You can just sit and say nothing simply keeping Him company, just as you would with a dear friend.6
Pope John Paul II explained Eucharist Adoration this way – “Our communal worship at Mass must go together with our personal worship of Jesus in Eucharistic adoration in order that our love may be complete.” (Pope John Paul II, Redeemer of Man)
Catholics will usually deny that they worship the sacrament if they sense that you know what the Bible says about worshipping things made with human hands (idols). However, the Catholic Catechism starts off paragraph 1378 on page 347 with “Worship of the Eucharist”. Pope John Paul II also describes Eucharist worship in a speech delivered to the Forty-fifth International Eucharistic Congress, Seville, Spain, June 1993. He said:
Beloved priests, religious men and religious women, most beloved brothers and sisters, it is for me a motive of special joy to prostrate myself with you before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament in an act of humble adoration, of praise to the merciful God, of thanksgiving to the Giver of all that is good, of supplication to Him whom is always alive to intercede for us.
The only one we should ever be prostrating ourselves before is God. John learned this lesson several times in the book of Revelation when he attempted to bow down before an angel.
Exodus 20:4-5 “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God.”
I’ve already presented sufficient evidence to show that Christ does not become present in a piece of bread when a priest blesses it. If further proof is needed, several disciples in the book of Acts make the statement that God does not dwell in temples.
Acts 7:48 “However, the Most High does not dwell in temples made with hands…”
Hebrews 9:24 “For Christ has not entered the holy places made with hands…but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us.”
Acts 17:22-25 “[Paul said], Men of Athens, I perceive that in all things you are very religious; for as I was passing through and considering the objects of your workship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Therefore, the One whom you worship without knowing, Him I proclaim to you: God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands. Nor is He worshipped with men’s hands, as though He needed anything.”
Christ is not in a tabernacle made with Human hands, nor is he in a piece of bread made with human hands. He is in heaven where he sits at the right hand of the Father.
Matthew 24:23-26 “At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or, ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect–if that were possible. See, I have told you ahead of time. So if anyone tells you, ‘There he is, out in the desert,’ do not go out; or, ‘Here he is, in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it.
We might add to that ‘here he is , in the tabernacle’; or, ‘here he is, in the monstrance’. Don’t believe it.