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Real presence of Christ in the Eucharist


Real presence of Christ in the Eucharist

Catholics give adoration to Christ, whom they believe to be really present, in body and blood, soul and divinity, in sacramental bread whose reality has been changed into that of his body.

Real presence is a term used in various Christian traditions to express belief that Jesus Christ is really present in the elements of the Eucharist, and that his presence is not merely symbolic, metaphorical, or by his activity alone, ideas common amongst the Radical Reformers and their followers.

Not all Christian traditions accept this doctrine, and there are considerable differences in the understanding of the "reality" of the presence. Efforts at mutual understanding of the range of beliefs led in the 1980s to consultations on Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry (BEM) through the World Council of Churches, consultations that included the Catholic Church.


  • Different understandings 1
    • Catholic: Transubstantiation 1.1
    • Orthodox: Definitive Change 1.2
    • Lutherans: sacramental union 1.3
    • Anglicans – broad range of opinions 1.4
    • Methodism – Real Presence as "Holy Mystery" 1.5
    • Reformed/Presbyterian: "spiritual presence" 1.6
    • Symbolic interpretation 1.7
  • Consecration, presidency and distribution 2
  • See also 3
  • References 4
  • External links 5
    • Anglican 5.1
    • Eastern Orthodox 5.2
    • Lutheran 5.3
    • Roman Catholic 5.4
    • United Methodist 5.5

Different understandings

The Catholic Church understands the presence of Christ in the Eucharist as real, though not in a physical or "carnal" sense, and as coming about through a real change of the elements of bread and wine into the body and the blood of Christ, a change sometimes referred to as transubstantiation.[1][2] Lutherans believe in a real eating and drinking of the body and blood of Christ, which they say is done by sacramental union: "in, with and under the forms" of bread and wine.[3] Anglicans and Orthodox Christians generally prefer a view of objective presence that maintains a definitive change, but allows how that change occurs to remain a mystery.[1][4] Likewise, Methodists postulate a par excellence presence as being a "Holy Mystery".[5] Reformed Protestants speak of a real but spiritual presence and stress that Holy Communion is a "spiritual feeding". Certain other Protestant traditions (for instance, Baptists and some contemporary evangelicals) simply reject outright the doctrine of the real presence of Christ's body and blood in the Eucharist. These differences correspond to literal or figurative interpretations of Christ's Words of Institution.

Catholic: Transubstantiation

Chalice displayed after consecration at Mass in Lourdes

The Council of Trent promulgated the view of the Real Presence in which the "change of the whole substance of the bread into the body, of the whole substance (substantia) of the wine into the blood [of Christ], only the appearances (species) remaining; which change the Catholic Church most fitly calls Transubstantiation."[6]

The Western Roman Catholic Church greets what it sees as really in the Eucharist with the words of a Latin hymn of which a literal translation is: "Hail, true body, born of Mary Virgin, and which truly suffered and was immolated on the cross for mankind!"[7]

The Catholic Church does not see what is really in the Eucharist as a lifeless corpse and mere blood, but as the whole Christ, body and blood, soul and divinity; nor do they see the persisting outward appearances of bread and wine as a mere illusion. This actual change or conversion of the reality, while the appearances remain unaltered – not the process or manner by which the change comes about, since all agree that this occurs "in a way surpassing understanding" - has been called transubstantiation.[8]

In the view of the Catholic Church, the presence of Christ in the Eucharist is of an order different from the presence of Christ in the other sacraments: in the other sacraments he is present by his power rather than by the reality of his body and blood, the basis of the expression "Real Presence". Accordingly, it considers that those who hold that, in objective reality, the elements of the Eucharist remain unchanged believe not in the Real Presence of Christ in this particular sacrament, but in a presence that is merely personal to the communicant, whatever name (pneumatic, anamnetical, etc.) is used to describe it.

Orthodox: Definitive Change

The Eastern Orthodox Churches and the Oriental Orthodox Churches, as well as the Church of the East, believe that in the Eucharist the bread and wine are objectively changed and become in a real sense the Body and Blood of Christ.[9] The theologians Brad Harper and Paul Louis Metzger state that:

While the Orthodox Church has often employed the term transubstantiation, Kallistos Ware claims the term "enjoys no unique or decisive authority" in the Orthodox Church. Nor does its use in the Orthodox Church "commit theologians to the acceptance of Aristotelian philosophical concepts" (as it has in the Roman Catholic Church). Ware also notes that while the Orthodox have always "insisted on the reality of the change" from bread and wine into the body and the blood of Christ at the consecration of the elements, the Orthodox have "never attempted to explain the manner of the change."[10]

The Greek term metousiosis (μετουσίωσις) is sometimes used by Eastern Orthodox Christians to describe the change since this term "is not bound up with the scholastic theory of substance and accidents", but it does not have official status as "a dogma of the Orthodox Communion.[11][12][13] Similarly, Oriental Orthodox Churches, such as the Coptic Church, "are fearful of using philosophical terms concerning the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, preferring uncritical appeals to biblical passages like 1 Cor. 10.16; 11.23-29 or the discourse in John 6.26-58."[14]

The Eastern Orthodox Church, unlike some Western Christian denominations, teaches that the "change takes place anywhere between the Proskomedia (the Liturgy of Preparation)" and "the Epiklesis ('calling down'), or invocation of the Holy Spirit 'upon us and upon these gifts here set forth'". In light of this fact, it teaches that "the gifts should be treated with reverence throughout the entirety of the service. We don’t know the exact time in which the change takes place, and this is left to mystery."[4]

The words of the Ethiopic liturgy are representative of the faith of Oriental Orthodoxy: "I believe, I believe, I believe and profess to the last breath that this is the body and the blood of our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ, which he took from our Lady, the holy and immaculate Virgin Mary, the Mother of God."

The Eastern Orthodox Church Synod of Jerusalem declared: "We believe the Lord Jesus Christ to be present, not typically, nor figuratively, nor by superabundant grace, as in the other Mysteries, ... but truly and really, so that after the consecration of the bread and of the wine, the bread is transmuted, transubstantiated, converted and transformed into the true Body Itself of the Lord, Which was born in Bethlehem of the ever-Virgin Mary, was baptised in the Jordan, suffered, was buried, rose again, was received up, sitteth at the right hand of the God and Father, and is to come again in the clouds of Heaven; and the wine is converted and transubstantiated into the true Blood Itself of the Lord, Which, as He hung upon the Cross, was poured out for the life of the world."[15]

Lutherans: sacramental union

A note about the real presence in Mikael Agricola Church, Helsinki.

Lutherans believe in the real presence of the body and blood of Christ in the Eucharist,[16][17] that the body and blood of Christ are "truly and substantially present in, with and under the forms" [18][19] of the consecrated bread and wine (the elements), so that communicants orally eat and drink the holy body and blood of Christ Himself as well as the bread and wine (cf. Augsburg Confession, Article 10) in this Sacrament.[20][21] The Lutheran doctrine of the Real Presence is more accurately and formally known as "the Sacramental Union." [22] It has been inaccurately called "consubstantiation", a term which is specifically rejected by most Lutheran churches and theologians [23] since it creates confusion about the actual doctrine, and it subjects the doctrine to the control of an abiblical philosophical concept in the same manner as, in their view, does the term "transubstantiation." [24][25][26]

For Lutherans, there is no Sacrament unless the elements are used according to Christ's institution (consecration, distribution, and reception). This was first articulated in the Wittenberg Concord of 1536 in the formula: Nihil habet rationem sacramenti extra usum a Christo institutum ("Nothing has the character of a sacrament apart from the use instituted by Christ"). Some Lutherans use this formula as their rationale for opposing in the church the reservation of the consecrated elements, private masses, the practice of Corpus Christi, and the belief that the reliquæ (what remains of the consecrated elements after all have communed in the worship service) are still sacramentally united to the Body and Blood of Christ. This interpretation is not universal among Lutherans. The consecrated elements are treated with reverence; and, in some Lutheran churches, are reserved as in Orthodox, Catholic, and Anglican practice. The external Eucharistic adoration is usually not practiced by most Lutherans except for bowing, genuflecting, and kneeling to receive the Eucharist from the Words of Institution and elevation to reception of the holy meal. The reliquæ traditionally are consumed by the celebrant after the people have communed, except that a small amount may be reserved for delivery to those too ill or infirm to attend the service. In this case, the consecrated elements are to be delivered quickly, preserving the connection between the communion of the ill person and that of the congregation gathered in public Divine Service.

Lutherans use the terms "in, with and under the forms of consecrated bread and wine" and "Sacramental Union" to distinguish their understanding of the Eucharist from those of the Reformed and other traditions.

Anglicans – broad range of opinions

In Anglican theology, a sacrament is an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace. In the Eucharist, the outward and visible sign is that of bread and wine, while the inward and spiritual grace is that of the Body and Blood of Christ. The classic Anglican aphorism with regard to the debate on the Eucharist is the poem by John Donne (1572–1631): "He was the Word that spake it; He took the bread and brake it; And what that Word did make it; I do believe and take it" (Divine Poems. On the Sacrament).[27]

Anglicans generally and officially believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, but the specific form of that belief range from transubstantiation or metousiosis, sometimes even with Eucharistic adoration (mainly high church Anglo-Catholics), to belief in a "pneumatic" presence (mainly low church Anglicans).

During the English Reformation, the new doctrine of the Church of England had a strong influence from continental Reformed theologians whom Cranmer had invited to England to aid with the reforms. Among these were Martin Bucer, Peter Martyr Vermigli, Bernardino Ochino, Paul Fagius, and Jan Łaski. John Calvin was also urged to come to England by Cranmer, but declined, saying that he was too involved in the Swiss reforms. Consequently, early on, the Church of England has a strong Reformed, if not particularly Calvinistic influence. The view of the real presence, as described in the Thirty-Nine Articles therefore bears much resemblance to the pneumatic views of Bucer, Martyr, and Calvin.

The Anglican Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion contends that "transubstantiation (or the change of the substance of bread and wine) in the Supper of the Lord, cannot be proved by Holy Writ, but is repugnant to the plain words of Scripture, overthroweth the nature of a Sacrament, and hath given occasion to many superstitions. The body of Christ is given, taken, and eaten in the Supper, only after an heavenly and spiritual manner. And the means whereby the body of Christ is received and eaten in the Supper is Faith" (Article XXVIII). For many Anglicans, whose mysticism is intensely incarnational, it is extremely important that God has used the mundane and temporal as a means of giving people the transcendent and eternal. Some have extended this view to include the idea of a presence that is in the realm of spirit and eternity, and not to be about corporeal-fleshiness.

During the Oxford Movement of the 19th century, Tractarians advanced a belief in the real objective presence of Christ in the Eucharist, but maintained that the details of how He is present remain mystery of faith,[28][29] a view also held by the Orthodox Church and Methodist Church.[1][5] Indeed, one of the oldest Anglo-Catholic devotional societies, the Confraternity of the Blessed Sacrament, was founded largely to promote belief in the real objective presence of Christ in the Eucharist.[30]

From some Anglican perspectives, the Real Presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist does not imply that Jesus Christ is present materially or locally. This is in accord with some interpretations of Roman Catholic doctrine, as expressed, for instance by St. Thomas Aquinas, who, while saying that the whole Christ is present in the sacrament, also said that this presence was not "as in a place".[31] Real does not mean material: the lack of the latter does not imply the absence of the former. The Eucharist is not intrinsic to Christ as a body part is to a body, but extrinsic as his instrument to convey Divine Grace. Some Anglicans see this understanding as compatible with different theories of Christ's Presence—transubstantiation, consubstantation, or virtualism—without getting involved in the mechanics of 'change' or trying to explain a mystery of God's own doing.

Anglican and Roman Catholic theologians participating in the first Anglican—Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC I) declared that they had "reached substantial agreement on the doctrine of the Eucharist".[32] This claim was accepted by the 1988 Lambeth Conference of Anglican Bishops (Resolution 8), but firmly questioned in the Official Roman Catholic Response to the Final Report of ARCIC I of 1991.[33]

Methodism – Real Presence as "Holy Mystery"

The followers of John Wesley, the clergymen, have typically affirmed that the sacrament of Holy Communion is an instrumental Means of Grace through which the real presence of Christ is communicated to the believer,[34] but have otherwise allowed the details to remain a mystery.[35] In particular, Methodists reject the Roman Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation (see "Article XVIII" of the Articles of Religion, Means of Grace). In 2004, the United Methodist Church affirmed its view of the sacrament and its belief in the Real Presence in an official document entitled This Holy Mystery: A United Methodist Understanding of Holy Communion. Of particular note here is the church's unequivocal recognition of the anamnesis as more than just a memorial but, rather, a re-presentation of Christ Jesus and His Love.

Holy Communion is remembrance, commemoration, and memorial, but this remembrance is much more than simply intellectual recalling. "Do this in remembrance of me" (Luke 22:19; 1 Corinthians 11:24–25) is anamnesis (the biblical Greek word). This dynamic action becomes re-presentation of past gracious acts of God in the present, so powerfully as to make them truly present now. Christ is risen and is alive here and now, not just remembered for what was done in the past.
A United Methodist minister consecrates the elements

This affirmation of Real Presence can be seen clearly illustrated in the language of the United Methodist Eucharistic Liturgy[36] where, in the epiclesis of the Great Thanksgiving, the celebrating minister prays over the elements:

Pour out your Holy Spirit on us gathered here, and on these gifts of bread and wine. Make them be for us the body and blood of Christ, that we may be for the world the body of Christ, redeemed by his blood.

This reflects the extent to which most Methodists are willing to go in defining Real Presence.

Methodists assert that Jesus is truly present, and that the means of His presence is a "Holy Mystery". A celebrating minister will pray for the Holy Spirit to make the elements "be for us the body and blood of Christ," and the congregation can even sing, as in the third stanza of Charles Wesley's hymn Come Sinners to the Gospel Feast:

Come and partake the gospel feast,
be saved from sin, in Jesus rest;
O taste the goodness of our God,
and eat his flesh and drink his blood.

However, most Methodists will not attempt to go beyond this degree of specificity. For Methodist Christians, the affirmation of Real Presence, as in the above references, is sufficient to know and partake of the sacrament in a worthy manner.

Reformed/Presbyterian: "spiritual presence"

A Scottish Sacrament, by Henry John Dobson

Many Reformed, particularly those following John Calvin, hold that the reality of Christ's body and blood do not come corporally (physically) to the elements, but that "the Spirit truly unites things separated in space" (Calvin).

Following a phrase of Augustine, the Calvinist view is that "no one bears away from this Sacrament more than is gathered with the vessel of faith". "The flesh and blood of Christ are no less truly given to the unworthy than to God's elect believers", Calvin said; but those who partake by faith receive benefit from Christ, and the unbelieving are condemned by partaking. By faith (not a mere mental apprehension), and in the Holy Spirit, the partaker beholds God incarnate, and in the same sense touches him with hands, so that by eating and drinking of bread and wine Christ's presence penetrates to the heart of the believer more nearly than food swallowed with the mouth can enter in.

This view holds that the elements may be disposed of without ceremony, as they are not changed in an objective physical sense and, as such, the meal directs attention toward Christ's "bodily" resurrection and return. Actual practices of disposing of leftover elements vary widely.

Reformed theology has traditionally taught that Jesus' body is seated in heaven at the right hand of God; therefore his body is not physically present in the elements, nor do the elements turn into his body in a physical or any objective sense. However, Reformed theology has also historically taught that when the Holy Communion is received, not only the Spirit, but also the true body and blood of Jesus Christ (hence "real") are received through the Spirit, but these are only received by those partakers who eat worthily (i.e., repentantly) with faith. The Holy Spirit unites the Christian with Jesus though they are separated by a great distance. See, e.g., Westminster Confession of Faith, ch. 29; Belgic Confession, Article 35.

The sacramental theology of some in the Reformed tradition has been in flux, however, and in 1997, three denominations which historically held to a Reformed view of the supper: the Reformed Church in America, the United Church of Christ and the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) signed A Formula of Agreement with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, a document which stressed that: "The theological diversity within our common confession provides both the complementarity needed for a full and adequate witness to the gospel (mutual affirmation) and the corrective reminder that every theological approach is a partial and incomplete witness to the Gospel (mutual admonition) (A Common Calling, page 66)." Hence, in seeking to come to consensus about the Real Presence (see open communion), the churches have written:

During the Reformation both Reformed and Lutheran Churches exhibited an evangelical intention when they understood the Lord's Supper in the light of the saving act of God in Christ. Despite this common intention, different terms and concepts were employed which. . . led to mutual misunderstanding and misrepresentation. Properly interpreted, the differing terms and concepts were often complementary rather than contradictory.
— Marburg Revisited, pp. 103–104

and further:

In the Lord's Supper the risen Christ imparts himself in body and blood, given up for all, through his word of promise with bread and wine ... we proclaim the death of Christ through which God has reconciled the world with himself. We proclaim the presence of the risen Lord in our midst. Rejoicing that the Lord has come to us, we await his future coming in glory ... Both of our communions, we maintain, need to grow in appreciation of our diverse eucharistic traditions, finding mutual enrichment in them. At the same time both need to grow toward a further deepening of our common experience and expression of the mystery of our Lord's Supper.
— A Formula for Agreement

Symbolic interpretation

Some Protestant groups see Communion (also called the Lord's Supper or the Lord's Table) as a strictly symbolic meal, a memorial of the Last Supper and the Passion with symbolic and subjectively meaningful elements, which is done by the ordinance of Jesus, but in which nothing miraculous or objectively significant occurs. This view is known as the Zwinglian view, after Huldrych Zwingli, a Swiss leader during the Reformation.

This perspective is commonly associated with Baptists and many other Evangelicals, as well as liberal congregations. It is a perspective not uncommon "in the pews" (that is, among lay members) of some Reformed churches, even among those whose official doctrines are more in accord with the Calvinist spiritual real presence discussed above.

Consecration, presidency and distribution

Many Christian churches holding to a doctrine of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist (for example, Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Anglicans, Methodists, Reformed, and Lutherans) require ordained clergy, to officiate at the Eucharist, consecrating and distributing the elements to communicants.

Some groups, mostly Protestants, require church leaders who may or may not be ordained (pastors, elders and deacons) to preside over the elements and distribute them.

See also


  1. ^ a b c
  2. ^ Cf. , 1374–1376Catechism of the Catholic Church
  3. ^ (Harvest House Publishers 2008 ISBN 978-0-73692220-3), p. 273Conviction without CompromiseNorman Geisler, Ron Rhodes,
  4. ^ a b
  5. ^ a b
  6. ^
  7. ^ "Ave verum corpus natum /de Maria Virgine; /vere passum, immolatum /in cruce pro homine!" (late-fourteenth-century hymn)
  8. ^ Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1333
  9. ^ Assyrian Church of the East, "Oblation"
  10. ^
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^
  14. ^
  15. ^ Decree XVII of the Synod of Bethlehem
  16. ^
  17. ^
  18. ^
  19. ^ Jensen, R.M. (ed.), Vrudny, K. J. (ed.), Visual Theology: Forming and Transforming the Community Through the Arts, p85
  20. ^ Article X: Of the Lord's Supper, Augsburg Confession
  21. ^ Article X: Of the Holy Supper, The Defense of the Augsburg Confession, 1531
  22. ^ VII. The Lord's Supper: Affirmative Theses, Epitome of the Formula of Concord, 1577, stating that: "We believe, teach, and confess that the body and blood of Christ are received with the bread and wine, not only spiritually by faith, but also orally; yet not in a Capernaitic, but in a supernatural, heavenly mode, because of the sacramental union..."
  23. ^
  24. ^ Schuetze, A.W., Basic Doctrines of the Bible, Chapter 12, Article 3
  25. ^
  26. ^
  27. ^ . Accessed 2010-01-25.Classics NetworkQuotes – John Donne,
  28. ^
  29. ^
  30. ^
  31. ^ Summa Theologica, III, 76
  32. ^ See Windsor Statement on Eucharistic Doctrine from the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission and Elucidation of the ARCIC Windsor Statement. Accessed 15 October 2007.
  33. ^ Hill, Christopher and Yarnold, Edward (eds), Anglicans and Roman Catholics: The Search for Unity, London SPCK/CTS, 1994, pp.18–28; pp.153–155 and pp.156–166
  34. ^
  35. ^
  36. ^ for example,

External links


  • Dean of Christ Church Cathedral explains Church of Ireland belief in the 'real presence' [dead link]
  • Dealing with eucharistic 'leftovers' can cause deep offence – from Anglican Journal [dead link]

Eastern Orthodox

  • Orthodoxy and Transubstantiation/Metousiosis
  • The First Part of the Orthodox Catechism, questions 338–340


  • The Lord's Supper The Lutheran Church Missouri Synod
  • The Use of the Means of Grace: A Statement on the Practice of Word and Sacrament
  • The Sacrament of the Altar by Tom G.A. Hardt
  • WELS Topical Q&A: Real Presence Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod
  • WELS Topical Q&A: Real Presence – Holy Communion Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod

Roman Catholic

  • The Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist Article from the Catholic Encyclopedia
  • Christ's Presence in the Eucharist: True, Real and Substantial
  • The Real Presence Association
  • The Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist – Eucharist Index

United Methodist

  • "This Holy Mystery": A United Methodist Understanding of Holy Communion (Official)
  • "Holy Communion and the Real Presence" by Charles Duncan
  • "Holy Communion as a Means of Grace" by Gregory S. Neal
  • "Typology and the Real Presence of Jesus in Holy Communion" by Gregory S. Neal
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