This article is about the Protestant and Catholic views of Holy Communion and the scripture which explains the Church’s view. Here are Bishop Fulton Sheen’s famous words spoken in 1938: ”There are not over a hundred people in the United States who hate the Catholic Church. There are millions, however, who hate what they wrongly believe to be the Catholic Church—which is, of course, quite a different thing."
Jesus is very clear in the Bible about the meaning of the Eucharist, the bread of life, in our lives and the meaning of the True Presence. There are many tangential passages about this concept in the Bible, but in the Gospel of John, alone, there are six references to the true meaning of the Real Presence. I will not chronicle all of the words of the verses; but, here are the passages: (John 6: 31, 35, 41, 48, 51, 58). The purpose of this lesson is to teach what Jesus tells about the bread of life and also where he points us to in the Old Testament for lessons about “The Bread of Life” in John 6:31: (Exod 16:15, Num 11:7-9, Neh 9:15, Ps 78:24, Ps 105:40). Being open to new ideas and concepts means one must throw away the old thinking and read about a new concept with a different set of eyes. If you will read John 6 slowly, paying special attention to the passages I have noted here, you will see how clear this teaching is. Yet, in today’s world Catholics and Protestants understand Holy Communion differently; the Catholic’s believe in the True Presence and the Protestants claim Holy Communion is only a symbol.
If the Eucharist is only a symbol than Jesus’ words in John 6:53-59 must be false. At the end of John 6 the disciples turned and deserted Jesus. Jesus then turned to the twelve and asked, “Are you going to leave me too?” He did not say, “I meant what I told you metaphorically; nor did he make a plea to them to disregard what he had said and to return to him.” Were there any doubt about the preciseness of his words, he would have corrected them then. It was only Peter who said, “Lord, to whom would we go? You alone have the words that give eternal life. We believe them and know that you are the Holy One of God.”
- SOME ADDITIONAL BIBLE REFERENCES from: Catholic Doctrine in Scripture, by Gregory Oatis.
- Mark 14:22-24- While they were eating, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them and said, ‘Take it; this is my body.’ Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, and they all drank from it. He said to them, ‘This is my blood of the covenant which will be shed for many.’”
- Luke 24: 13-35 – After Jesus’ resurrection, two disciples were taught scripture while they walked on the seven mile journey to Emmaus, not recognizing Him, until “The breaking of the bread,” and then they recognized who He was; Jesus left their presence leaving them astounded as they rushed back to tell their fellow disciples what had happened.
- I Corinthians 5:7-8– “For out paschal lamb, Christ has been sacrificed. Therefore let us celebrate the feast…” Paul is referring to the Mass, the new Passover. The Church teaches that the Mass is both sacrifice and meal.
- I Corinthians- 11:26-30 – “…Whoever eats the bread unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord.” Here Paul reinforces the teaching of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Being adjudged guilty of someone’s “body and blood” is clear reference to murder. How could anyone be guilty of murder for violating a mere symbol? This is also a key passage that affirms the Church’s practice of denying the Eucharist to those who are not in full communion with the Catholic Church. Saint Paul is warning us that to receive the sacrament without an accompanying faith would be an offense of the most serious nature, akin to the murder of the Lord.
- Hebrews 13:10-16 – “We have an altar from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat.” The author, Paul, is differentiating between the Christian Community and the Jewish the Jewish people. He is saying that those who continue to worship in the Jewish tradition cannot share in the Eucharistic meal; and this passage affirms the Catholic Church tradition now of refusing Communion to non-Catholics.
- Genesis 14:18 – “Melchizedek brought out bread and wine…” This mysterious high priest and king is a clear precursor to Christ. Catholic scripture scholar, Scott Hahn, notes the importance of Melchizedek in his book, The Lamb’s Supper. Melchizedek’s priesthood pre-dates the Levitical priesthood, so it is very ancient. He is indeed the first high priest mentioned in scripture. On another topic, Scott writes that in Psalm 110 that the coming of the Messiah, “Like Melchizedek’s, you are a priest forever.” This verse clearly establishes the Last Supper as a sacrifice. This observation reaffirms the Catholic teaching that the Last Supper was in fact the first Mass.
The Early Fathers reinforced the existing scripture in many of their writings about the Eucharist, and the Real Presence.
In Gregory Otis’s book, Catholic Doctrine in Scripture,it cites that, “Belief in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist dates back to Apostolic times. It is evidenced in the writings of the earliest church fathers-among them, St. Ignatius of Antioch, who, writing in 110 A.D., states: “Take care, then, to use one Eucharist, so that whenever you do, you do according to God: for there is one Flesh of our Lord Jesus, and one cup in the union of his Blood…” (The Faith of the Early Fathers; Vol. 1, William A. Jurgens, [Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1970], page 22). ”Historians agree that Ignatius knew the apostles John and Peter, and was probably ordained by one of them. It is hardly likely that such a great martyr as St. Ignatius would have gone to his death to maintain the purity of the faith by propounding novel and absurd notions. This is not just unlikely, it is unthinkable. And when you add to it the fact that all of the Church leaders at the time must have simultaneously traveled the same strange path to apostasy, the illogic of the “Great Apostasy” theory comes clear. Thus the teaching of the Real Presence had to come from the apostles, who were present at the Last Supper, and who heard Jesus preaching to the multitudes along the shores of the Galilee. The complete unanimity of the early Church Fathers on this teaching allows for no further conclusion. It is also interesting to note that not a single Christian voice was raised to question this teaching for nearly fifteen hundred years.
As I close this lesson of the Eucharist, (Holy Communion), and the Real Presence, I suggest that you read the Gospel of John, chapter VI, to fully comprehend the complete teaching of Jesus on these matters.
There are more than 35 issues on which the Protestants and the Catholics differ; and, I am planning on writing here on 10 of the most frequently contested topics.
Jesus taught that, “Ignorance of scripture was ignorance of Him.” I hope this presentation was helpful to you in understanding what the scripture clearly teaches. If you don’t have a Bible accessible, you can read John Gospel, chapter VI, at this location.
NEXT WEEK: Graven Images and Venerating Relics