From the Mail – Transubstantiation

We received a rather long Guestbook submission recently in which the guest chose to launch into a rebuttal of the Catholic doctrine of Transubstantiation.  While inflammatory use of the Guestbook is probably both a common occurrence on blogs and within the domain of trolling, I’ve decided to humor the author of the comment (which may be a mistake).  However, the subject matter is of great importance, and we receive few enough comments that, when we do get them, it is something of a privilege to respond.

In responding, I will borrow from Fr. Z’s response style:  Bold for my emphasis of the original text and Bold Red for my comments.  I must also preface this with the following important points:

  • I am not a priest
  • I am not a theologian
  • I am a layman

Therefore, I am neither particularly learned nor have I the grace of state of a preacher or teacher of the Faith.  I rely on the grace of Baptism and Confirmation, and by virtue of these sacraments, I ask the guidance of the Holy Ghost to explain as best I can the truths of the Faith, as I am bound to do.

Contra Transubstantiation

Dear Catholic Crusader, [Is this a compliment?]

Five hundred years ago in 1517, Martin Luther made public his 95 complaints against the Roman Catholic church [Who likes a complainer?] (hereafter, RCC [Great! Jesus’ Church is abbreviated like a brand of soda.]). Today, we shall do likewise, with another 95 reasons. However, in this critique, we will exclusively fixate on the nucleus of all Catholic doctrine called, Transubstantiation. This teaching is built on the premise that when the priest utters “This is my body” over bread and wine [Hold it … the priest says something different over the wine, FYI.] that the “combustible” syllables of these four words ignite with such power and energy that, unbeknownst to our cognizant senses, the substance of bread and wine miraculously change (“by the force of the words” says the Council of Trent; cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1375). They are then abruptly replaced with something else entirely; namely, the very body, blood, soul and divinity of the Lord Jesus Christ in some mysterious form [Is this a quote or is this your own wording?  The same question goes for “combustible”, “ignite”, etc.] which leaves only the outward appearance of bread and wine (i.e., the color, shape, size, taste, weight and texture — or “accidental” properties, remain unchanged in objective reality). It is claimed that the supernatural power that creates this miracle on a daily basis, 24 hours a day in Masses worldwide, “is the same power of Almighty God that created the whole universe out of nothing at the beginning of time” (Mysterium Fidei, 47). The question is: does the sacred rhetoric of Jesus lead us to conclude He intended it be recited like a magician recites his incantations? (Reason 6, 74).  [That’s not an obvious question that comes to mind from reading your comment so far.  I am  unaware of any priest who speaks these words like an incantation.  That would be gravely disrespectful. Perhaps the question is “Was it Christ’s intention that these words be repeated?”  To which I reply emphatically YES!  By Christ’s own words He commanded “Do this in memory of me”.]  That at the recitation of these four words, the world is obligated to be transfixed on Transubstantiation??? [I’m going to say no.  When I am at Mass or at Eucharistic adoration, I am transfixed on Jesus Christ.  While the means which Jesus gave His priests to confect the Eucharist are truly marvelous, it is not the means but the end–the Person of Jesus Christ Himself–that transfixes me.]

To find the answer, the mindset of an archeologist was employed [Do you not know that we “walk by faith and not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7)?  The mindset of an archeologist will not show you what you seek.  “Taste, and touch, and vision, to discern Thee fail;  Faith, that comes by hearing, pierces through the veil.  I believe whate’er the Son of God hath told;  What the Truth hath spoken, that for truth I hold.” (Adoro Te Devote)] to not just scratch the surface of the Bible, but to dig into even deeper depths to see if this doctrine is the “most precious treasure of all” as is claimed (Mysterium Fidei, intro). If Transubstantiation is on course, it should stand out like a ship in the night sailing through the darkness with the floodlights of Scripture to guide it. [Sola Scriptura is a given, it would seem.] Those of us in life rafts looking for salvation would then be more than happy to anchor our soul in the ocean of its truth. And yet, after going on this archeological expedition, we discovered the theological fossils did not at all fit the “mummified remains” of Jesus Christ being “buried” in the Eucharist. [That’s not surprising:  It is not the mummified remains of Jesus but rather his living Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity therein truly present in the Blessed Sacrament.  I would not expect you to find mummified remains.] Rather, we unearthed 95 artifacts against it. [He shall dash them to pieces like the potter’s vessel! (Was that my outside voice?)] Our primary excavation tools were the unshakable Scriptures, which God likens to a hammer that smashes a rock into pieces (Jeremiah 23:29). Our thesis conclusion, set forth here at the beginning, is that the skeletal framework of Transubstantiation is a bone of contention that must be hammered into pieces. [You can certainly turn a colorful phrase, but you haven’t really said anything convincing.]

We should think that a rollercoaster of 95 reasons against this doctrine should at least pique your curiosity, let alone make you wonder if, like the calmness of a ferris wheel [Ferris wheels terrify me.], you can so calmly refute them.  [Is this an appeal to my pride?] The issue is far from inconsequential, since it’s claimed our very eternal destinies are at stake! So while sensitive to the fact that many are captivated by this doctrine, we are persuaded that the theological framework of the Bible [as laid down and interpreted by whom?] conveys a persistent and vigorous opposition to this theory. [But that was a foregone conclusion.] God’s word tells us to, “study to show yourself approved” (2 Tim 2:15)  and we have indeed done just that. Keep in mind the foundational meaning of “love” is to desire the well being of another. If we did not care about the issues raised, we simply wouldn’t do anything. But because the path of truth has been so little traveled and become overgrown with weeds, we have attempted to uproot them in this essay. It has been given to you in the spirit of 2 Corinthians 10:5, with the intent to, “demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God” (cf. Titus 1:9-13, Eph 5:11, 2 Tim 4:2, Romans 16:17-18).

Provoking this study was the 50 page book called, “This is my Body” by M. Shea. In the forward, we read that a fan found the book “unanswerable”, and hoped “some first-rate Protestant reads it and has the moxie to take up the debate.” The author concludes…

*** There is no reason whatsoever to believe that Jesus did not mean exactly what He said by, “This is my body” (p. 42).

*** Every shred of New testament evidence points to an apostolic faith in the Real Presence (p. 48).

*** [My] “theological house, once littered with reasons to disbelieve in the Real Presence, was now, spic and span” (p. 45).

We wholeheartedly reject all three of these irresponsible conclusions, and suggest the theological house the author lives in is built on sinking sand and made of glass, subject to shatter at any moment by the undercurrent flowing beneath it made up of the following 95 reasons. [As I said, you can turn a colorful phrase.]

[Incidentally, why not discuss this with M. Shea?  Why come to me?]

Jesus commands us to be “fruit inspectors” (Matt 7:16-20). Even though a Catholic “fruit tree” may offer “shade in the summer” in the forms of hospitals and soup kitchens [I thought works were as dross, in the estimation of the Protestants], a naive person might conclude that because the fruit is genuine, the tree itself must be genuine also. But this is not always true. [Are you saying, “by their fruits you *might* know them” because I don’t think that’s what Jesus said.] It is therefore vital to investigate and not just believe everything we hear (Prov 25:2; Luke 8:18; John 4:1). [So far, you have made no argument; you have simply put forward stipulations.  How is this different from asking me to believe everything I hear?] Deception runs rampant on every topic under the sun, putting all of us in a position of being hoodwinked by the one, “who deceiveth the whole world” (Rev 12:9), so it is imperative that we be “vigilant” (1 Pet 5:8). Hence, there is nothing wrong in disputing the issues, even at the risk of (and knowing full-well) this polemic will be accused of being a worthless anti-catholic rant. Call it what you will. [You said it, not me.] Yet, remember that Jesus was not always delicate, diplomatic and politically correct. He agitated His audience and was not the type to walk around with a limp wrist, brushing off His opponents with a feather duster. He swooped down like an eagle and insulted the religious leaders 16 times in Matthew 23. Neither was the apostle Paul any type of wall flower. He turned the world upside down with his much disputing (Acts 9:22, 17:2, 17:6, 17:17, 18:4, 18:19, 19:8-10; 19:26, 20:31, 24:25, 28:23). Therefore, if at times our tone seems harsh, you must realize that not only is there biblical precedent for it, but Catholicism has made it plain they [Catholicism is a singular noun and not a person;  they is a plural pronoun referencing two or more persons.  So who exactly are they?] consider any opposition to Transubstantiation, “satanic and godless” (see our “Final Analysis”). [Anything that is opposed to Truth is by definition satanic and godless, for Jesus IS Truth.] Hence, they themselves are well aware of Scripture’s call not to take the mild-mannered approach when it comes to false doctrine. Christians must challenge the status quo [?], and to the alert mind, Jesus congratulates the ones who examine those who “claim they are apostles, but are not, and hast found them liars” (Revelation 2:2). [There’s something ironic about this.] To that end, we have strived to remain focused, showing “integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned, so that those who oppose may be ashamed” (Titus 2:6). [I’m still waiting for a coherent argument…]

The almost “romantic fidelity” to Transubstantiation springs forth from the opinion that consuming the “organic and substantial” body of Christ in the Eucharist is necessary for salvation (CCC 1129 & 1355; Trent, “Concerning Communion”, ch. 1 and “Concerning Communion Under Both Kinds”, ch. 3; Canon 1; Mysterium Fidei, intro). The word “Eucharist” (i.e., thanksgiving) was an early Christian way of referring to the Last Supper ordinance. Thus, if it’s true that in the Eucharist, Transubstantiation becomes the “center, source and summit of the Christian life” (CCC 1324, 1343), [No, the Catechism says the Eucharist, not Transubstantiation, is the summit of Christian life.] then we would agree the whole world ought to become Roman Catholic, and subsequently follow the intelligentsia of Rome which claims to be the center of all truth (CCC 834, 1383). [I looked up both references, and neither the word intelligentia nor anything resembling it appear at either passage.  The Church echoes her Divine Master, Jesus Christ.  He is the “center of all truth”.] On the other hand, if it is not true, then this doctrine must be ranked with those which Jesus says, “I hate” (Rev 2:15). Our burden here is to safeguard the gospel (Jude 1:3). [St. Jude was writing to you personally?] If a religious system professing to be Christian is going to demand that something be done as a prerequisite for eternal life, it is vital to scrutinize this claim under the searchlight of Scripture and with “the mind of Christ” (1 Cor 2:16). [You know the mind of Christ?  Did He also tell you that the gates of hell would not prevail against you, as He said to St. Peter?] Proverbs 25:2 says, “the honor of a king is to search out a matter”. We shall do likewise.

Determined to test all things by Holy Writ (1 Thess 5:21; Acts 17:11, 2 Cor 10:5), the following 95 reasons [I don’t see them below.] have been compiled to an extravagant length to provoke you to consider the cognitive complexities of this doctrine which we conclude are biblically unbearable. [“But there are also many other things which Jesus did; which, if they were written every one, the world itself, I think, would not be able to contain the books that should be written.” (John 21:25)  That kind of biblically unbearable?] We are so convinced the Bible builds a cogent, concrete case against this superstition, that we will not allow the things we have in common to suppress the more urgent need to confront the differences that divide us, such as Transubstantiation. We are told this issue directly impacts our eternal destiny, so it must not be ignored. The Lord Jesus came to divide and conquer by the truth of His word. He said, “Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division” (Luke 12:51-53).

That said, all sober-minded comments sent to this e-mail will receive a response. However, you must interact with at least one of the facts presented. [What facts?  Not a single fact was presented–just unsubstantiated opinion.] Unfortunately, the standard party line is to charge critics with being clueless, and with a wave of the hand, “you do not understand Catholicism” becomes the reply of choice. [I’m not a member of the party.  I am a member of the Church Christ founded.] However, this frequent retort is unacceptable. The introduction to the catechism states it was written for those who “want to know what the Catholic Church believes.” Will you say that there is no Protestant in the universe who understands what you believe? [I didn’t say that.] If so, the Pope has failed miserably in his mission. [There’s an interesting topic, but that’s above my pay grade.  Jesus judges the Pope; I do not.] Now while it may be impossible to fully represent a view with which you disagree to the satisfaction of every opponent, we will strive for clarity and let the RCC speak for themselves [This noun and pronoun do not agree.  Who are “themselves”?] in this essay as much as possible. Still, if you will accuse this writer of not understanding Catholicism, then kindly provide one non-catholic, living or dead, who does understand, yet at the same time still rejects your religion. [How about the Pharisees and Judas? See comment below.] We will then compare our complaints with theirs, and if they match, as we suspect, then your accusation that we don’t understand, is simply dishonest.

For the essay of 95 reasons, kindly e-mail me at [email address redacted] [So this was just a long bait and switch advertisement?]

Brief Refutation

Well, I’ve taken the bait as far as I am going to.  I am not concerned that, in the opinion of men, the doctrine of the Real Presence is difficult to accept.  It was just as difficult to accept in Jesus’ own day:

I am the living bread which came down from heaven.  If any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever; and the bread that I will give, is my flesh, for the life of the world. The Jews therefore strove among themselves, saying: How can this man give us his flesh to eat? Then Jesus said to them: Amen, amen I say unto you: Except you eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, you shall not have life in you. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath everlasting life: and I will raise him up in the last day.

For my flesh is meat indeed: and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, abideth in me, and I in him. As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father; so he that eateth me, the same also shall live by me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead. He that eateth this bread, shall live for ever. These things he said, teaching in the synagogue, in Capharnaum.

Many therefore of his disciples, hearing it, said: This saying is hard, and who can hear it? But Jesus, knowing in himself, that his disciples murmured at this, said to them: Doth this scandalize you? If then you shall see the Son of man ascend up where he was before? It is the spirit that quickeneth: the flesh profiteth nothing. The words that I have spoken to you, are spirit and life. But there are some of you that believe not. For Jesus knew from the beginning, who they were that did not believe, and who he was, that would betray him.

And he said: Therefore did I say to you, that no man can come to me, unless it be given him by my Father. After this many of his disciples went back; and walked no more with him. Then Jesus said to the twelve: Will you also go away? And Simon Peter answered him: Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life. And we have believed and have known, that thou art the Christ, the Son of God.

Jesus answered them: Have not I chosen you twelve; and one of you is a devil? Now he meant Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon: for this same was about to betray him, whereas he was one of the twelve.  (John 6:51-72)

The Jews and Judas understood exactly what Jesus was saying, and they could not accept it.  Jesus did not need to correct their misunderstanding, for they did not misunderstand.  Is it not eerily haunting how this discourse on the Eucharist ends?

Final Points

The Israelites were commanded by God to eat the paschal lamb of the passover, not simply to mark their doors with the sign of the lamb’s blood.  This was most emphatically a foreshadowing of the Holy Eucharist, whereby we eat the true Paschal Lamb of God that was sacrificed, whose Blood is more than just a sign.

I alluded to this earlier, but it should be repeated:  we must have faith.  We cannot accept Transubstantiation without faith.  Faith is a gift that is not given to everyone.  Yet without faith, it is impossible to please God.  Pray for faith.  “And he said: Therefore did I say to you, that no man can come to me, unless it be given him by my Father.” (John 6:66)

May the heart of Jesus, in the Most Blessed Sacrament, be praised, adored, and loved with grateful affection, at every moment, in all the tabernacles of the world, even to the end of time. Amen.

About the Featured Image

The featured image is a close up of the Eucharistic miracle of Lanciano.

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