Where Does the Road to Rome Lead Ch. 4
Some Catholics have asked me how I can have peace or joy without the Eucharist (Catholic communion). They see it as being essential to being in the presence of Jesus Christ.
The Catholic Church teaches that when a priest consecrates bread, it literally turns into Jesus Christ—His body and His blood and His soul and His divinity. And so does consecrated wine. And as a result, the Host (consecrated communion wafer) actually is Jesus Christ. This doctrine is called Transubstantiation.
This was declared by the Council of Trent.1 The decrees of the Council of Trent were confirmed by the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965). The documents of the Second Vatican Council cite the Council of Trent as an authority for doctrinal statements, both in the text and in the notes. The “Dogmatic Constitution on the Church” states that the Second Vatican Council “proposes again the decrees of” three previous councils, one of which is the Council of Trent.2
The Catechism of the Catholic Church also confirms this doctrine, and quotes the Council of Trent in doing so.3
Canon Law (the laws governing the Catholic Church) also confirms this doctrine. In addition, it says that in the Mass, Jesus Christ is sacrificed again.4 So the Catholic Church sees Jesus as being sacrificed over and over and over, every time there is a Mass. But on the Cross, Jesus said, “It is finished” just before He died. (John 19:30)
When I was a Catholic, I went to communion as often as possible. And I would go to Catholic churches and sit in front of the Tabernacle. (This is a large, ornate, metal box where consecrated communion wafers are kept locked up.) I believed that Jesus was in there. I wanted to be with Him.
When I was a Catholic, I sometimes attended special services called “Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.” A large consecrated Host (communion wafer) was put in a Monstrance. (This is a large, ornate, metal container, in the basic shape of a daisy with a stem, plus a base so that it can stand up.) The Monstrance looked like it was made of gold. It had a circular chamber in the middle which held a large, round Host. The front of the chamber was glass, so you could see the Host. Visually it looked like gold rays were coming out of the Host.
There are two problems with this. First, there are some Biblical reasons for not believing that the bread and wine are literally transformed into Jesus Christ. You can read about them in Jim Tetlow’s article, “The Eucharist—A Biblical Review.”
We often speak in metaphors (symbolic language). For example, we might call a clumsy person who inadvertently causes problems “a bull in a china shop.” If a man is tenacious and just won’t quit, we might say, “He’s a bulldog.” An old love song says, “You are my sunshine.” Jesus also spoke in metaphors. For example, He said,
Second, even if consecrated bread really did turn into Jesus Christ, it would only bring His presence for a short time. This is what would happen when you took communion. You would eat the consecrated bread. Because of that, Jesus would be inside of you. But only until the bread was digested. Once the bread was gone, then Jesus would also be gone. If you only took communion at Mass on Sundays, then Jesus would be inside of you for a few hours on Sundays. The rest of the time, He would be gone.
This is not what we see in Scripture. Jesus promised to stay with us, to be with us all the time. He said,
He said that a time would come when we would realize that He truly lives in us, and we truly live in Him.
Jesus told us, “Abide in me, and I in you.” (John 15:4) According to Webster’s Dictionary, the word “abide” means “to stay; to continue in a place; to dwell; sojourn; to remain.” This is a command. Jesus expects Christians to dwell in Him, and to have Him dwell in them. Jesus should be our home. We should be His home. This should be a normal part of Christian life.
The Bible tells us that God will be with His people, and that He will be in His people. And it does not depend on circumstances, or consecrated bread. It depends upon our personal relationship with God. Look at the following Scriptures.
There are countries where Christians are being persecuted. Some Christians have been killed because of their faith. Others have been put in prison. If Christian prisoners are unable to take communion, does that prevent Jesus from being in them? Would He make His presence depend on circumstances over which they have no control?
Christianity works everywhere, for all people, regardless of their circumstances. It works for Christians who are in solitary confinement and have no access to communion.
Having God’s presence in our lives does not depend on our circumstances. It depends on our relationship with God. If we truly love God, then He will be with us. He will abide in us, which means that He will take up permanent residence in us. That is why the Apostle Paul says that we are God’s Temple. (1 Corinthians 3:16) God actually dwells in us.
Some Practical Problems
Transubstantiation is the doctrine that if a validly ordained Catholic priest consecrates bread and wine, then Jesus Christ is literally present—body, blood, soul, and divinity—in every crumb of consecrated bread and every drop of consecrated wine. This is the official doctrine of the Catholic Church. It is clearly stated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.5
Catholics call this “the Eucharist” or “holy communion.” They speak about the “real presence” of Christ in the bread and wine. Things relating to it are called “eucharistic.” A consecrated communion wafer is called a “Host.” Hosts that are left over after Mass are kept in a Tabernacle (a large, ornate container that can be locked). When hosts are in the Tabernacle, a candle is lit. This enables Catholics to know that consecrated hosts are inside, so they can kneel and pray in front of the Tabernacle as a form of eucharistic devotion. The Tabernacle also protects the hosts by making it difficult to steal them.
Belief in transubstantiation can cause problems for children. I have corresponded with “cradle Catholics” who, when they were children, were afraid that if they chewed the communion wafer they would hurt Jesus. I never personally had that problem because I was an adult convert to Catholicism. But it is easy to see why this could worry children.
Perhaps this is why communion wafers melt on your tongue, instead of being real bread, which has to be chewed. Jesus used unleavened bread during a Passover meal. In America, such bread is known as matzos, and modern Jews eat it during Passover. You have to chew it. And it makes crumbs. That’s a problem if you believe that every crumb contains the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ. What happens if someone steps on that crumb, or if a church mouse eats it? You can avoid that problem by making communion wafers of something similar to library paste, so that they melt on your tongue and don’t make crumbs.
The Orthodox church also believes in transubstantiation. They believe that when validly ordained Orthodox priests consecrate bread and wine, Jesus Christ is literally present in them.
There is a third religious group that believes in transubstantiation. Satanists have a reputation for stealing hosts in order to desecrate them during satanic rituals. Like the Catholic children I mentioned above, Satanists believe that they can hurt Jesus by doing things to the consecrated bread. The difference is that the children want to avoid hurting Jesus, but the Satanists are trying to hurt Him.
According to The New Encyclopedia of the Occult, the Black Mass is “the central rite of some traditional forms of Satanism.” It is a mockery of the Catholic Mass. During the Black Mass, a Host (consecrated bread) “is defiled in various ways.”6
The Satanists participating in the ritual think that they can hurt Jesus Christ by doing disgraceful things to consecrated bread.
Would God set up a system that enables people to hurt Jesus by doing shameful things to bread and wine? Of course not!
When Jesus talked about eating His flesh and drinking His blood, he was using a metaphor (symbolic language). He often did that when He described our relationship with Him. For example, Jesus said,
But we don’t make special doors that represent Jesus. And we don’t walk through them in order to be saved. And we don’t go into pastures to eat grass like sheep do.
It’s good to take communion as a grateful memorial in honor of what Jesus did for us. But it doesn’t make any sense to take communion in order to be closer to God. If we are truly Christians, then the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit all live in us. How can you get any closer than that?
For information about other Scriptural problems with the doctrine of transubstantiation, see Jim Tetlow’s article, “The Eucharist—A Biblical Review.”