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What Catholics teach about Communion and how that differs from what Lutherans teach

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There is a lot of confusion (even among Catholic clergy, I've found) about the difference between the Catholics teach about Communion and what other churches (like the Lutheran teach about Communion).

To understand the difference, we have to understand the difference between "accidents" and "substance" .

The "accidents" of bread and wine are how it looks and how it tastes. The "substance" of the bread and wine are what it IS i.e. bread and wine.

We can further divide substance into physical substance and non physical substance.  Humans are interesting because we are a combination of:

  • accidents (what we look like)
  • physical substance (our human bodies - what we are)
  • spiritual substance (our souls created in the Image and Likeness of God)

We can change the accidents of bread by for example, putting it in the toaster.  Now it looks different but it STILL is bread.  We can change our own accidents by coloring our hair or losing weight (or gaining weight) or even putting makeup on. But whatever our hair color is or what our faces look like, or our bodies look like, we remain human in physical substance, and individuals ("US") in spiritual substance.

Bread and wine are not human so they only have TWO parts, a physical substance and the accidents or what they look like.

What Lutherans believe about Communion seems to vary, not only with the conference the church belongs to but also with the individual Lutheran.  I have encountered many Lutherans who not only feel it is merely a symbol for Jesus' Body and Blood but say that this is what they were taught in their Confirmation classes.  (Even one from the Missouri Synod told me this).

However, the official belief seems to differ.  Apparently "Consubstantiation" or the idea that the Presence of Christ is added to the elements ONLY DURING THE SERVICE and leaves after the service is ended, is not taught in the two largest conferences, the ELCA and the LCMS.  They teach, according to one theologian I have dialogued with, that during the service, the elements remain bread and wine but also contain the Body and Blood of Christ, Soul and Divinity.  This theologian also told me that if there is any Sacrament left over after Communion, it must either be consumed by the minister (whom he called a priest) or else reserved in a place of dignity and safe from defilement (for example, Sacrament taken to the sick later). The ELCA is trying to encourage Communion at every service.  The LCMS may already HAVE Communion at every service.

If in fact the churches TEACH this, it is very close to Transubstantiation, however, there still exists the question of whether it really DOES become the Body and Blood of Christ if a non Catholic priest who has not been ordained "in succession" is presiding in a Community which still rejects some important Catholic beliefs (like salvation by grace alone THROUGH faith and good works and "Salvific Universal" or Baptism of Desire and of Blood)

From my readings and studies, it appeared that Martin Luther went back and forth about Transubstantiation and in the end of his life, felt it WAS true. The following might have been written years earlier when Luther was in the mood to feel that Communion was a symbol and no more:

Martin Luther wrote:

As regards transubstantiation, we care nothing about the sophistical subtlety by which they teach that bread and wine leave or lose their own natural substance, and that there remain only the appearance and color of bread, and not true bread. For it is in perfect agreement with Holy Scriptures that there is, and remains, bread, as Paul himself calls it, 1 Cor. 10, 16: The bread which we break. And 1 Cor. 11, 28: Let him so eat of that bread. (Smalcald Articles, Part III, Article VI)

In other words, Luther says because St Paul referred to Communion as bread, that means Paul was saying the SUBSTANCE of Communion was NOT changed during the Mass and it always remains Bread and Wine. But taken IN context this doesn't make much sense because if it was JUST bread, why did Paul in 1 Corr 11:27 ff write:

Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord.
A person should examine himself,  and so eat the bread and drink the cup.
For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself.
That is why many among you are ill and infirm, and a considerable number are dying.
If we discerned ourselves, we would not be under judgment;

In the Augsberg Confession which many orthodox Lutheran churches of today follow however, it defines Communion as the Body and Blood of Jesus but does not elaborate.

Now let's look at what Catholics believe about Communion.

In transubstantiation, the SUBSTANCE of the bread and wine are changed into the Body and Blood of Jesus so that, although it retains its "accidents" (the way it looks and tastes) it is no longer bread and wine.  And once thus changed, it cannot go back to being bread and Wine again.

Let's look at this a bit closer. 

Here is a diagram of what the bread is before transubstantiation:

We can notice several things about this.  The bread is finite (limited) and physical BOTH in looks (accident) and substance (what it is). 

Now let's look at Communion AFTER transubstantiation:

And as we notice, the Bread is still finite and limited in its accident (how it looks) BUT in its substance, it is no longer PHYSICAL as it becomes the entire Person and Divinity of Jesus!  That means the substance of the Eucharist is INFINITE!  (By logical deduction it must be like this because otherwise, if it were still physical, we would ask what PART of Jesus' Body did we receive, an ear or a finger).  The substance of the Eucharist is NON physical even though the accidents (how it looks) remains physical.

So what happens when we consume the Eucharist. We don't know exactly what happens to the accident since in Communion only the accidents are physical (what it looks like) but Jesus in His total Body, Soul and Divinity combines with OUR non physical part, our soul, in the most intimate Embrace ever!

Which is why we say before Communion "Happy are They who are called to His Supper".

Since the Communion Bread is permanently changed, if we have any left after Mass, we must keep it in a special place and we respect it as the Body and Blood of Our Lord because that's exactly what it IS!

Perhaps this is why it is called, the "miracle of transubstantiation."!

If you read John 6, Jesus explains that He was going to give us His Body and Blood and that those who did not eat and drink of it "had no life within them". His listeners, well familiar with symbols, understood Jesus to be TALKING LITERALLY and they remarked "Lord these words make no sense!"  Jesus did NOT correct them but simply repeated what He had said before.  At the end of John 6, it states that MOST OF JESUS's Disciples LEFT him and Jesus did NOT call them back and correct them at all.  He allowed them to leave and turned to Peter and asked if Peter was going to leave also and Peter said his famous "Lord to whom shall we go - for You alone have words of Eternal life"

So what the Catholics teach about Communion and what has been taught since the earliest writings of the church is correct according to the 6th chapter of John!

Thus, although the beliefs sound similar and may well be similar, fact remains, many Lutherans not only don't believe in the "True Presence" but also, it seems that some pastors in all Conferences of Lutherans are still teaching that Communion is just a symbol. As I have shown above, whether you are really getting the Body and Blood of Jesus outside of a Catholic church is a leap of faith.  Jesus told us that branches which break off the vine, wither and die off.  He said HE is the vine but he also has closely identified Himself with the church He founded (for example He asked Saul who was persecuting Christians, "Saul Saul, why persecutist Thou ME?"

A miraculous change occurs which we call "transubstantiation." But note: the King of Glory does not descend in order to "enter" the bread and wine. No, instead of his coming down, he draws the essence of the elements to where he is, at the right hand of the Father. The risen Lord draws the inner reality of the bread and wine in all celebrations of the Mass unto himself and indeed into himself. Thus he maintains his own bodily unity. In other words, Jesus Christ himself is not changed into the essence of the elements of bread and wine. Rather, the essence of those elements is changed into him.


But in no non-Catholic church (excepting the Eastern Orthodox) can you receive Jesus Christ himself, Body and Blood, Soul and divinity. Because of the lack of apostolic orders for their ministers, none of the non-Catholic communion services is the Eucharist. Therefore, in no non-Catholic church can you be literally united with Jesus Christ. ("JESUS GIVES HIMSELF TO US: TRANSUBSTANTIATION" By Fr. Ray Ryland

(In the above passage, Ray Ryland hinted at the problem I brought up i.e. that even if the Communion beliefs are correct theologically, we cannot be sure that it IS really the Body and Blood of Jesus in churches which have been the branches which broke off the Vine.)

NOTE: Ray Ryland's pamphlet (quoted above) can be purchased on The Coming Home Network, a site run by ex-Lutheran clergy