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.
1353 In the epiclesis, the Church asks the Father to send his Holy Spirit (or the power of his blessing180) on the bread and wine, so that by his power they may become the body and blood of Jesus Christ and so that those who take part in the Eucharist may be one body and one spirit (some liturgical traditions put the epiclesis after the anamnesis).
In the institution narrative, the power of the words and the action of Christ, and the power of the Holy Spirit, make sacramentally present under the species of bread and wine Christ's body and blood, his sacrifice offered on the cross once for all.
1375 It is by the conversion of the bread and wine into Christ's body and blood that Christ becomes present in this sacrament.
1376 The Council of Trent summarizes the Catholic faith by declaring: "Because Christ our Redeemer said that it was truly his body that he was offering under the species of bread, it has always been the conviction of the Church of God, and this holy Council now declares again, that by the consecration of the bread and wine there takes place a change of the whole substance of the bread into the substance of the body of Christ our Lord and of the whole substance of the wine into the substance of his blood. This change the holy Catholic Church has fittingly and properly called transubstantiation."206
1377 The Eucharistic presence of Christ begins at the moment of the consecration and endures as long as the Eucharistic species subsist. Christ is present whole and entire in each of the species and whole and entire in each of their parts, in such a way that the breaking of the bread does not divide Christ.207
1384 The Lord addresses an invitation to us, urging us to receive him in the sacrament of the Eucharist: "Truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you."217
1391 Holy Communion augments our union with Christ. The principal fruit of receiving the Eucharist in Holy Communion is an intimate union with Christ Jesus. Indeed, the Lord said: "He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him."226 Life in Christ has its foundation in the Eucharistic banquet: "As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me."227
1406 Jesus said: "I am the living bread that came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; . . . he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life and . . . abides in me, and I in him" (Jn 6:51, 54, 56).
1410 It is Christ himself, the eternal high priest of the New Covenant who, acting through the ministry of the priests, offers the Eucharistic sacrifice. And it is the same Christ, really present under the species of bread and wine, who is the offering of the Eucharistic sacrifice.
1411 Only validly ordained priests can preside at the Eucharist and consecrate the bread and the wine so that they become the Body and Blood of the Lord.
1412 The essential signs of the Eucharistic sacrament are wheat bread and grape wine, on which the blessing of the Holy Spirit is invoked and the priest pronounces the words of consecration spoken by Jesus during the Last Supper: "This is my body which will be given up for you. . . . This is the cup of my blood. . . ."
1413 By the consecration the transubstantiation of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ is brought about. Under the consecrated species of bread and wine Christ himself, living and glorious, is present in a true, real, and substantial manner: his Body and his Blood, with his soul and his divinity (cf. Council of Trent: DS 1640; 1651).
160 Jn 6:60.
161 Jn 6:67.
162 Jn 6:68.
206 Council of Trent (1551): DS 1642; cf. Mt 26:26 ff.; Mk 14:22 ff.; Lk 22:19 ff.; 1 Cor 11:24 ff.
217 Jn 6:53.
226 Jn 6:56.
227 Jn 6:57.
Such is what the Catechism of the Catholic Church has to say about the real presence. You also have “Reformed” Catholics and Federal Revisionists who are calling upon Calvinists to cultivate a more Catholic sacramentology. They also berate Reformed Baptists and Confessional Presbyterians who obstinately refuse to see the “obviously” sacramental import the Bread of Life Discourse.
Okay, then, let’s see how the Catholic church makes her case for the real presence.
i) For starters, let us stipulate to the sacramental reading of Jn 6. I don’t believe that myself, but for the sake of argument, let’s concede that point.
Now, some folks might worry that in so doing I’ve already given away the store. Have I, though?
ii) The problem is that, even if you grant the Catholic interpretation of Jn 6, you still have to connect that text to the communion elements.
Even if Jesus is talking about the Eucharist in Jn 6, he is not, presumably saying, that every piece of bread or glass of wine is his true body and blood, is he?
You see what’s missing in the appeal to Jn 6? What is it that makes his words refer to what happens in your church on Sunday morning?
And once you ask that elementary and unavoidable question, the appeal to Jn 6 loses its transparency. For there is absolutely nothing in Jn 6 to differentiate an ordinary piece of bread from “the Host.”
Nor is there anything in Jn 13. Nor is there anything in the entire Gospel of John to bridge the gap and seal the deal.
iii) So what is it that makes the difference? At this point, the Catholic church has to leapfrog from John to Luke or Paul. One of the differential factors consists in the “words of consecration.”
But there are not a few problems with this move. To begin with, it isn’t very sound exegetical method to complete your interpretation of one writer by ransacking another author. This is, frankly, a way of filling in the gaps of an interpretation that goes beyond the textual evidence. You can’t find everything you need in the text before you, so you import some putty to plug the cracks.
You then end up with an exegetical alloy that isn’t quite John and isn’t quite Paul. There’s no reason to suppose that this synthetic compound represents what either author intended.
iv) Another problem in the way in which a narrative description (“This is my body, this is my blood”) is suddenly turned into a magic formula or alchemical incantation for converting one substance into another. Where is the “epiclesis” in Lk 22:19-20 or 1 Cor 11:24-25? Where, in these verses, is the Holy Spirit summoned to transform the bread and wine into the true body and blood of Christ?
v) Even putting aside the putative role of the Holy Spirit, is there anything else in these passages to indicate a change in the state of the communion elements? A transition from one thing to another?
vi) So where do we stand thus far? The Catholic can’t find everything he needs in Jn 6, so he turns to Lk 22 or 1 Cor 11 to supplement Jn 6. Yet what he finds in Lk 22 or 1 Cor 11 isn’t really there, either. He’s assuming something that is, again, not in evidence.
So what he’s really doing is to plug up one hole with another hole—like a mime who carves up a nonexistent apple with a nonexistent knife. Although we may enjoy the pantomime, we can’t help feeling that something essential is still—how shall we say—missing?
vii) Oh, and that’s not the half of it. For not everyone who pronounces the “words of consecration” has the desired effect on the communion elements. Rather, this is reserved for a priest—a priest in apostolic succession, with valid holy orders, and the right intention.
Now, is there anything in Jn 6 or Jn 13 or Lk 22 or 1 Cor 11 where these additional factors may be found? No, no, no, and no. Is there anything anywhere in the NT that says who must preside at the Eucharist? No. Is there a continuation of the priesthood under the New Covenant? No.
viii) And that’s no all. What about the body and blood “under the species” of bread and wine? Is there anything in Jn 6 or Jn 13 or Lk 22 or 1 Cor 11 where those fine-spun distinctions may be found? Again, no, no, no, and no.
So, when all is said and done, the “straightforward” appeal to Jn 6 as a prooftext for the real presence quickly spirals into an ellipsis with another ellipsis, within yet another ellipsis, within another still ellipsis, &c.
BTW, it is striking that Lutherans, although they’re quite dogmatic about the real presence, don’t go rushing to Jn 6 to prove their point.
ix) Yet another oddity in the Catholic appeal is the asymmetry between baptism and communion. The baptismal water remains water while the grape wine and wheat bread is transmogrified into something other than, or over and above, mere bread and wine.
x) What we have here is clearly a dogma in search of a prooftext. The dogma comes first. And this, in turn, results in dogmatic exegesis as the dogma must conscript an unwilling prooftext, and then dictate to the conscripted text what the dogma needs the text to say.
It is upon this utterly Mickey Mouse tinkering and tweaking and retrofitting and gerrymandering of Scripture that hundreds of millions of Catholics as well as Orthodox are staking their faith--not to mention a rag-tag band of “Reformed” Catholic and Federalist stragglers who gobble up whatever stale crumbs fall from, and lick up whatever wine-stains adhere to the soiled apron of Mother Church.