The Roman Catholic Church’s belief in the Real Presence of Christ in the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist has never varied in twenty centuries. Many other Christians have disagreed and got it wrong, sometimes with disastrous results.
We once lived about 100 miles south of Waco where Vernon Wayne Howell wrecked havoc when he was the leader of the Branch Davidians. Howell had petitioned for a name change for business reasons in the 1990’s. The name he chose was David Koresh, David since he saw himself as a spiritual descendant of King David, and Koresh for a Persian king who was seen as a messiah during the Babylonian captivity.
This fellow took Christ’s message that we all attempt to see and follow and perverted it into something not readily identifiable as Christian by any of the other mainstream denominations.
Other People Who Got It Wrong
James Warren Jones took his message and watched as it was perverted into another strange sect in the jungles of South America. The People’s Temple met a sad fate because their leader got it wrong.
Another space cadet who got it wrong was Marshall Applewhite who was in charge of a sect known as Heaven’s Gate. They took their lives after having packed their bags for a trip on a hidden spacecraft.
There are also biblical references to people who may have gotten it wrong. The reference I recalled was in the Book of Acts:
34 But a Pharisee in the Sanhedrin named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, respected by all the people, stood up, ordered the men to be put outside for a short time 35 and said to them, “Fellow Israelites, be careful what you are about to do to these men. 36 Some time ago, Theudas appeared, claiming to be someone important, and about four hundred men joined him, but he was killed, and all those who were loyal to him were disbanded and came to nothing. 37 After him came Judas the Galilean at the time of the census. He also drew people after him, but he too perished and all who were loyal to him were scattered. 38 So now I tell you, have nothing to do with these men, and let them go. For if this endeavor or this activity is of human origin, it will destroy itself. 39 But if it comes from God, you will not be able to destroy them; you may even find yourselves fighting against God.” They were persuaded by him.
How Do We Know We Don’t Have It Wrong?
Thank you for asking the question. We know we do not have it wrong for two primary reasons: First, Christ said it and we believe it “This is my Body”, next is the study known as Patristics. This title is given to the study of the early church fathers and their writings.
In terms of those Catholics or others who are aligned with the Holy See in Rome, we know that the Eucharist is the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Christ Jesus, the Son of God who died for our salvation. The Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us that this truth scandalized people, even in the New Testament:
CCC 1336 The first announcement of the Eucharist divided the disciples, just as the announcement of the Passion scandalized them: “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?”160 The Eucharist and the Cross are stumbling blocks. It is the same mystery and it never ceases to be an occasion of division. “Will you also go away?”:161 the Lord’s question echoes through the ages, as a loving invitation to discover that only he has “the words of eternal life”162 and that to receive in faith the gift of his Eucharist is to receive the Lord himself.
Most other denominations believe that communion ( lower case use is deliberate here ) is a recollection of the Last Supper, “Do this in remembrance of me, but I need you to hold off for 19 centuries until grape juice can be processed without becoming wine.”
Looking at the study of the early fathers in the study of Patristics, we find that St Ignatius in the very early second century ( approximately 110 A.D. ) told people he considered to be heretics to abstain from the Eucharist since they did not believe that it was the Body and Blood of Christ.
St. Justin Martyr in the year 150 AD, or close to there, wrote that we do not receive common bread and wine, but that we receive the food that we have been taught is the Eucharist of Christ.
St. Cyril of Jerusalem wrote in the late 350’s wrote that no matter what your senses are trying to tell you, the bread and wine in front of you are the Body and Blood of Christ who died for us and our salvation.
So, we can see from reading the early church fathers, if we as Catholic Christians got it wrong, we got it wrong from the beginning since for twenty centuries now, we have been taught the same thing. St. John Chrysostom declares:
- It is not man that causes the things offered to become the Body and Blood of Christ, but he who was crucified for us, Christ himself. The priest, in the role of Christ, pronounces these words, but their power and grace are God’s. This is my body, he says. This word transforms the things offered.
We can turn to the Catechism of the Catholic Church for validation of this as well:
CCC 1375 It is by the conversion of the bread and wine into Christ’s body and blood that Christ becomes present in this sacrament. The Church Fathers strongly affirmed the faith of the Church in the efficacy of the Word of Christ and of the action of the Holy Spirit to bring about this conversion.
What is the Holy Eucharist?
The Catechism of the Catholic Church offers the best explanation of Holy Eucharist. It is a sacrament and a sacrifice. In the Holy Eucharist, under the appearances of bread and wine, the Lord Christ is contained, offered, and received.
(a) The whole Christ is really, truly, and substantially present in the Holy Eucharist. We use the words “really, truly, and substantially” to describe Christ’s presence in the Holy Eucharist in order to distinguish Our Lord’s teaching from that of mere men who falsely teach that the Holy Eucharist is only a sign or figure of Christ, or that He is present only by His power.
(b) All Christians, with but few minor exceptions, held the true doctrine of the Real Presence from the time of Christ until the Protestant Revolution in the sixteenth century.
(c) The word “Eucharist” means “Thanksgiving.”
When did Christ Institute the Holy Eucharist?
Christ instituted the Holy Eucharist at the Last Supper, the night before He died.
(a) About a year before the Last Supper Our Lord promised to give us the Holy Eucharist. This promise is related in the sixth chapter of the Gospel according to Saint John. The fulfillment of this promise took place at the Last Supper.
We cannot accept the watered-down version of the Holy Eucharist celebrated in Protestant churches as a mere remembrance of the Last Supper because the Eucharist is the source and summit of our life in Christ:
CCC1324 The Eucharist is “the source and summit of the Christian life.”136 “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.”137