Real Presence

Real Presence

[ree-uhl, reel]
Real Presence, expression of the belief among certain Christians, especially Roman Catholics and some Anglicans, that the actual presence of the body and blood of Jesus is in the Eucharist. Saints Ignatius of Antioch, Justin Martyr, and Irenaeus wrote of the bread and wine of the Eucharist as the actual body and blood of Christ. In the 4th cent. the focus shifted to the substantial transformation of the elements; by the 7th cent. the idea that the bread and wine were transmuted or converted in substance to the body and blood of Christ was prevalent throughout Christendom. This transformation was the subject of controversy in the 9th and 11th cent., and a Roman Council of 1079 issued a statement declaring that the bread and wine are changed substantially through consecration. The Fourth Lateran Council (1215) again sanctioned belief in transubstantiation. The doctrine recieved its classic formulation in the writing of St. Thomas Aquinas. The Council of Trent, confronted with Protestant challenges, especially from Ulrich Zwingli and John Calvin, issued an authoritative teaching upholding the doctrine of transubstantiation. For Protestant interpretations, see Lord's Supper.
The Real Presence is the term various Christian traditions use to express their belief that, in the Eucharist, Jesus Christ is really present in what was previously just bread and wine, and not merely present in symbol, as a figure of speech (metaphorically), or by his power (dynamically).

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

Different understandings

Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christians see the Real Presence in terms not of a physical or "carnal" presence, but of transubstantiation/metousiosis. Anglicans argue for contentment with the mode of objective presence to remain a mystery. Lutherans expound a presence "in, with and under the forms" of bread and wine. Methodists postulate the par excellence presence as being a "Holy Mystery." Reformed Protestant views instead speak of a "spiritual" real presence and stress that Holy Communion is a "spiritual feeding." Certain other Protestant traditions (for instance, Baptists and contemporary evangelicals) simply reject outright the doctrine of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.

Catholic and Orthodox views

Orthodox and Catholics believe that in the Eucharist the bread and wine are actually transformed objectively, and become in a real sense the body and blood of Christ; and that it is therefore theologically incorrect to refer to them, after consecration, just as bread and wine or even just as holy bread and wine. The consecrated elements retain the appearance and attributes of bread and wine, but are in reality the actual body and blood of Christ.

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.

Similarly the Western 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!

None of these Churches sees 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 transformation, change or conversion of the reality, while the appearances remain unaltered – not the process or manner by which the transformation comes about, since all agree that this occurs "in a way surpassing understanding – has been called transubstantiation or, in Greek, μετουσίωσις (metousiosis).

In the view of these Churches, 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, they consider 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.

Lutherans - the sacramental union: "in, with, and under the forms of bread and wine"

Lutherans believe that the Body and Blood of Christ are "truly and substantially present in, with and under the forms" of the consecrated bread and wine (the elements), so that communicants eat and drink both the elements and the true Body and Blood of Christ Himself (cf. Augsburg Confession, Article 10) in the Sacrament of Holy Communion. The Lutheran doctrine of the Real Presence is more accurately and formally known as "the sacramental union." It has been inaccurately called "consubstantiation." This term is specifically rejected by Lutheran churches and theologians since it creates confusion about the actual doctrine, and it subjects the doctrine to the control of a philosophical concept in the same manner as, in their view, does the term "transubstantiation."

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, Roman Catholic, and Anglican practice. The external Eucharistic adoration is not usually practiced by most Lutherans except for bowing, genuflecting, and kneeling to receive Holy Communion. 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 Lord's Supper from those of the Reformed and other traditions. More "liberal" Lutheran churches tend to practice open communion, inviting all who are baptized to participate. Confessional Lutheran churches view fellowship as an undivided whole and practice closed communion (or close communion), restricting participation to those who are in complete doctrinal agreement with them. Fellowship involves the formal declaration of "altar and pulpit fellowship," another term for eucharistic sharing coupled with the acceptance of the ministrations of one another's clergy.

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).

Anglicans generally and officially believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, but the specifics of that belief range from Transubstantiation or Metousiosis, sometimes with Eucharistic adoration (mainly Anglo-Catholics or High-Church Anglicans), to something akin to a belief in a "pneumatic" presence (many Broad-Church Anglicans). A small minority reject the doctrine of the Real Presence altogether (Mainly Low-Church Anglicans). The oldest of the various Anglican devotional societies, the Confraternity of the Blessed Sacrament, was founded largely to promote and re-affirm belief in the real presence amongst Anglicans.

The Anglican Thirty-nine Articles contend that the doctrine of transubstantiation, as understood by those who drew up the text, overthrows the nature of a sacrament as an outward, visible sign that conveys an inward, spiritual grace. For some 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. They consider the presence to belong to the realm of spirit and eternity, and not to be about corporeal-fleshiness, which is not to say that they accept only a "pneumatic" presence. Instead, they strongly argue to be content to allow the mystery to remain a mystery. They bristle at the idea that one material substance gets substituted for another. (Roman Catholic doctrine insists that the material substance, being part of what is open to the senses, is in no way altered, and that the philosophical-sense substance or inner reality is converted into that of the body and blood of Christ, not substituted by it.) As some Anglican divines have stated: "It may not be about a change of substance, but it is about a substantial change."

It may be noted that 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 the definition of the Roman Catholic Church, 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". 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 an Anglican/Roman Catholic Joint Preparatory Commission declared that they had "reached substantial agreement on the doctrine of the Eucharist".

Methodism - Real Presence as "Holy Mystery"

According to the United Methodist Church,
Jesus Christ, who "is the reflection of God's glory and the exact imprint of God's very being" (Hebrews 1:3), is truly present in Holy Communion. Through Jesus Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit, God meets us at the Table. God, who has given the sacraments to the church, acts in and through Holy Communion. Christ is present through the community gathered in Jesus' name (Matthew 18:20), through the Word proclaimed and enacted, and through the elements of bread and wine shared (1 Corinthians 11:23-26). The divine presence is a living reality and can be experienced by participants; it is not a remembrance of the Last Supper and the Crucifixion only.

The followers of John Wesley, himself an Anglican clergyman, 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, but have otherwise allowed the details to remain a mystery. 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. 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:

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.

This affirmation of Real Presence can be seen clearly illustrated in the language of the United Methodist Eucharistic Liturgy (for example: Word and Table 1) 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.

For most United Methodists — and, indeed, for much of Methodism as a whole — this reflects the furthest extent to which they are willing to go in defining Real Presence. They will assert that Jesus is really present, and that the means of this presence is a "Holy Mystery"; the celebrating minister will pray for the Holy Spirit to make the elements "be the body and blood of Christ," and the congregation will 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, beyond this degree of specificity most Methodists will not go. For them, the affirmation of Real Presence, as in the above references, is sufficient for them to know and partake of the sacrament in a worthy manner.

Reformed (Calvinist, Presbyterian, most United churches) - "Real Presence" as "pneumatic presence"

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 consecrated elements vary widely.

While Reformed theology has taught that Jesus' body is seated in heaven at the right hand of God and therefore is not physically present in the elements, nor do the elements turn into his body in a physical or any objective sense, a long standing tension within Reformed theology combined with recent ecumenical developments have placed this theology in transition. To wit, 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; open communion.The theologies of Presbyterian and Reformed Free Churches in this tradition are in flux, and recent agreements, especially A Formula for Agreement, between these denominations and the Lutherans have 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, 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)."

Other Protestants - no Real Presence

Some Protestant groups see Communion (also called the Lord's Supper or the Lord's Table) as merely a symbolic meal, a basic memorial of the Last Supper and the Passion, which is done by the ordinance of Jesus, but in which nothing miraculous 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. 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. In the Anglican Communion, it is taught in the Diocese of Sydney, but rejected by most other Anglicans.

Consecration, presidency and distribution

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

Some groups, chiefly Protestants, have a different concept of consecration, seeing it as a setting aside. Those who see consecration as a "setting aside" require church leaders (pastors, elders and deacons) to preside over the elements and distribute them.

References

See also

External links

Anglican Church

Eastern Orthodox Church

Lutheran Church

Roman Catholic Church

United Methodist Church

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