The Eucharist is the consecrated bread shared by the faithful at Mass. Almost all Christian religions have some form of this sacrament, often called “communion.”
However, the Catholics are the only branch that believe that the Eucharist contains the real presence of Jesus, rather than being a symbolic gesture.
Where does this belief come from, and why isn’t it shared by the other Christian churches?
Communion in Scripture
The communion services of the Protestant churches and the Liturgy of the Eucharist in the Catholic church are all based on the Last Supper.
During the Last Supper (Mathew Ch. 26, Mark, Ch. 14, Luke Ch. 22, and John Ch.s 13-17) Jesus was celebrating Passover with his apostles for the last time before being arrested, put on trial, and summarily crucified.
The prayer that is said before communion is taken from the Last Supper sequence as recorded in the Synoptic Gospels (that is, Mathew, Mark, and Luke). As is typical for events recorded in multiple gospels, the event is not recorded in exactly the same way each time.
These deviations are one of the reasons that there is disagreement between the churches regarding whether the real presence of Jesus is in the Eucharist.
“Do This in Remembrance of Me”
The record of the Last Supper in Mark and Mathew is almost identical. Mathew 26:26-29, (Revised Standard Version) reads as follows:
Now, as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”
This much is similarly recorded in the Gospel of Luke. However, in the Gospel of Luke, after Jesus breaks the bread, Jesus says “Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19).
As mentioned above, Protestants do not believe in the true presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. Many attribute this belief to the line added in Luke. The argument is that we replicate the Last Supper in remembrance of Jesus in the way that other historical events are re-enacted but not redone.
It may seem that Jesus was clear when he says “do this in remembrance of me.” However, a Catholic argument was that he seems equally clear when he says “this is my body … this is my blood” not “this represents my body, this represents my blood.”
The question of how Jesus could be present in the Eucharist has been a theological stumbling block since the Church Fathers. However, in Mathew 18:20, Jesus promises “where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”
Further, while the passages mentioned above are the foundation for the sacrifice of the mass, they aren’t the only times when Jesus referred to himself as the bread of life. In John 6:51, Jesus says,
“I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
The real question is this: Do you believe Jesus when he says, “this is my body… this is my blood”?
Article written by Johnathan Jaehnig with Christian Catholic Media
Jon Jaehnig is a professional freelance writer and journalist, specializing in technology and health. He is a practicing Catholic and active Knight of Columbus living in upper Michigan, USA.