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Lord’s Day 29 Q78 – Transubstantiation


Catechism Class. Lord’s Day 29 Q78   Transubstantiation

The doctrine of the Lord’s Supper, (or Holy Communion) was a major issue at the time of the Reformation, and I suggest that it still is, even today. In Lord’s Day 29 Q78: We are asked, Are then the bread and wine changed into the real body and blood of Christ? The answer is No! Just as the water of baptism is not changed into the blood of Christ and is not the washing away of sins itself but is simply God’s sign and pledge so also the bread in the Lord’s supper does not become the body of Christ itself, although it is called Christ’s body in keeping with the nature and usage of sacraments. (Sacraments being signs that point us to the reality indicated by the sign). So in this episode we shall think about the Roman Catholic belief in TRANSUBSTANTIATION. Before we begin READ Hebrews 2:14,17,


There comes a point when, in a traditional Latin mass the priest utters the words “hoc est enim corpus meum” “This is my body.” And as if by magic, when those words are muttered, the bread and wine become the actual body and blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Catholic Catechism stresses the importance for Catholics:- It states, “The Eucharist is “the source and summit of the Christian life.” “The other sacraments, and indeed all ecclesiastical ministries and works of the apostolate, are bound up with the Eucharist and are oriented toward it. For in the blessed Eucharist is contained the whole spiritual good of the Church, namely Christ himself, our Pasch.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1324)

It is that last line of the Catholic Catechism that concerns us here. “…in the blessed Eucharist is contained the whole spiritual good of the Church, namely Christ himself,…’ Catholics believe that Christ is actually present during the mass, that the bread is his actual body, and the wine is his literal blood.  But even though the priest utters the phrase ‘this is my body’ and the bread and wine are changed miraculously into flesh and blood, – rational people will look at it, and observe that the elements are, without doubt, still physical bread and wine. That is explained by the RC church as an ‘accident’. It’s an application, not of biblical theology, but of Greek (Aristotelian) philosophy. They talk about ‘substance and accidents.’ In transubstantiation, the accidents (or characteristics) of bread and wine remain while the inner substance, the essential reality, comes to be entirely different. In other words, the physical appearance of the bread and wine are non-essential characteristics, as opposed to their real essence or substance. The non-essential elements of the bread and wine remain the same, while their substance is changed into the body and blood of Christ. (If you think this sounds like gobbledygook – you’re right! It is!). The reformers certainly thought so!  

Of course Catholics defend their beliefs, saying that the process of changing the bread and wine into the actual body and blood of the Lord is a miracle, and thus defies rational thought. As the priest lifts the wine he says “Mysterium fidei.” – A mystery of faith – a miracle. But, God never did a miracle, except that it was obvious and apparent to everyone who witnessed it. READ Exodus 4:2-3, John 2:1-11

We know that when Jesus spoke to his disciples, he often used words and phrases figuratively or metaphorically – to help his disciples and those who followed him understand difficult concepts. For example, he said in John 10:9 I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture. We know that he wasn’t literally a door! And we know that when Jesus said “I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst,” in John 6:35, he was not an actual loaf of sliced bread. There are many other examples where Jesus likened himself to something familiar just to aid comprehension. When he gathered his disciples around the table, and said “this is my body,” why would we assume that he was speaking literally, and not metaphorically? After all, the disciples were sitting with him, looking at him, they were looking at the bread and wine and they were quite capable of understanding that he was speaking spiritually, for the bread and wine were just that – bread and wine.  And Christ was sitting at the table with his disciples, physically present, and he himself ate and drank the bread and wine.  All the protestant reformers of the 16th century and onwards rejected the notion that the bread and wine are changed into the body and blood of the Lord Jesus at the command of a Roman priest. 

So, in question 79, our instructor asks us, Why then does Christ call the bread his body and the cup his blood, or the new covenant in his blood, and why does Paul speak of a participation in the body and blood of Christ? Our answer is, Christ speaks in this way for a good reason: He wants to teach us by his supper that as bread and wine sustain us in this temporal life, so his crucified body and shed blood are true food and drink for our souls to eternal life.  But, even more important, he wants to assure us by this visible sign and pledge, first, that through the working of the Holy Spirit we share in his true body and blood as surely as we receive with our mouth these holy signs in remembrance of him, and, second, that all his suffering and obedience are as certainly ours as if we personally had suffered and paid for our sins.”

Let’s sum this difficult lesson up. Just as the bread and wine are actually present on the table, the body and blood of Christ are actually present at the Lord’s Supper, but only in a SPIRITUAL SENSE, only because the Holy Spirit is present there, and only through FAITH in the heart of the believer.  READ 1 Corinthians 11:26 26 For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come. 

Our communion feast then is a SPIRITUAL EATING and a SPIRITUAL DRINKING. But understanding the spiritual presence of the Lord through faith at the communion table is only one part of the significance of the Lord’s Supper. There’s much more to communion than that. At the Lord’s Supper, we are taught to remember Calvary, we are drawn back to that hill outside Jerusalem, where he gave his life for sinners.  We enter into communion with Christ, by faith, and through the work of the Holy Spirit . We look forward to his return, proclaiming the Lord’s death as long as this earth lasts, and we are spiritually nourished, and  We are brought together around the table, united as fellow believers in Christ.

There is more to the Catholic Mass than transubstantiation. There are other errors to be discussed and teased out, so in our next lesson, we will find out why the reformers were so opposed to the doctrines of the Roman Mass that they described it as a ‘blasphemous fable…’

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