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A Deep Dive into the Real Presence of the Eucharist

The conversation over the real presence has been around for some time. Bible verses get thrown around but when we look at the full context of scripture, the words of Jesus come fully alive with its full glory. Catholic Answers Apologist, Karlo Broussard, joins us for a compelling conversation on this topic.

 


Cy Kellett:

Hello and welcome to Focus, the Catholic Answers Podcast for living, understanding, and defending your Catholic faith. I’m Cy Kellet, your host. And among the things that Catholics have to defend, because it is the most precious thing in this world to us, is the Eucharist and our understanding of the Eucharist differs from some other people’s understanding of the Eucharist.

So today we talk about defending what Christ, what he was doing when he said the words, “This is my body and this is my blood.” To help us do that, Karlo Broussard, apologist extraordinaire, almost a doctor of philosophy and author of many books, including the two books, Meeting the Protestant Challenge and Meeting the Protestant Response, which discuss lots of issues like this. Karlo, welcome.

Karlo Broussard:

Hey, Cy. Thanks for having me, my friend.

Cy Kellett:

It does seem to me like we have to defend the Eucharist in different ways to different groups. To our Orthodox brothers and sisters, we don’t have to defend the Eucharist at all. They have essentially the same understanding that we have, although different words and that kind of thing, different language, but essentially the same understanding about what is happening there.

To the person who’s a nonbeliever, it just probably looks like, and we’ll talk about this in a future conversation, another one of those absurd things that religious people believe in. But to Protestants, we have to defend our view of what Christ is doing. That’s essentially what the conversation is, that there’s the Catholic view shared by the Orthodox and maybe some others, and then there’s the Protestant view, and this is a contest of views that’s been going on for 500 years.

Karlo Broussard:

Yeah, absolutely. And so it’s going to involve an exegesis reading and interpretation of the sacred text, and particularly those passages that we in the Christian tradition have always appealed to as believers in the real presence of Christ in Eucharist, the Bread of Life discourse being the major one in John 6 and, of course, our Lord’s words of institution at the Last Supper, “This is my body. This is my blood.”

And the defense or the apologetical approach in offering our interpretation and view of these texts is going to take on a couple of different forms whenever we’re engaging in conversations with Protestants. So for some, and this was the initial apologetics movement with the advent of the modern apologetics movement initiated by our founder Karl Keating here at Catholic Answers. And that question was, well, hey, where’s that belief in the Bible? What’s the biblical justification for that particular belief?

So that’s one form of how the conversation would go, but there’s another form that the conversation can take, and that is the challenge takes on the form, well, hey, listen, I’ve read that text before and here are some reasons why your Catholic interpretation is wrong. And so this is a Protestant counter response to the Catholic argument that has been given traditionally. And so I deal with many of these Protestant responses to Catholic arguments in my book Meeting the Protestant Response.

And so in our conversation today, I thought it would be fun to look at a few Protestant counter responses to our understanding and our interpretation of Jesus’ words at the Last Supper, “This is my body. This is my blood.” Whenever we read those words as Catholics, of course, along with our orthodox brethren and any believer in the real presence of our Lord in the Eucharist, we conclude that by those words, Jesus intended and meant to change, to actually literally change bread and wine into his very body and blood.

And so that’s what we believe. That’s our exegesis of the texts. But of course, our Protestant brothers and sisters who deny the real presence of our Lord in the Eucharist have a few counter responses to that reading and offer some reasons why they think we ought not to interpret these words literally and thereby conclude Jesus actually changed bread and wine to his body and blood, but rather that we should interpret these words metaphorically or symbolically.

That Jesus simply meant for the bread and wine to symbolize his body and blood. So I thought it’d be fun to pull out a few counter responses from my book Meeting the Protestant Response and go over some of these counter responses.

Cy Kellett:

It is interesting to me that you choose to respond entirely with scriptural exegesis, and that’s because that’s the authority that Protestants are willing to listen to. Is that why you choose to do that? You’re not making philosophical arguments. You’re not arguing from the tradition of the church. You’re using biblical exegesis because that’s something both we and Protestants recognize as legitimate.

Karlo Broussard:

Yeah. Primarily using sacred scripture in order to justify our interpretation of these texts and show why the Protestant counter response to our interpretation ultimately does not succeed and fails. Now, of course, in that process side, we’re using reason.

We’re using a little bit of philosophy here and there in order to organize our thoughts and put them in a nice succinct conceptual framework to see with clarity where some of the responses might go wrong and how the Catholic interpretation is correct. And so there is philosophy employed, but of course, it’s primarily rooted in using the data that sacred scripture gives us.

Cy Kellett:

Okay, so let’s start with the first counter that you list, and that is our argument might… So if the Catholic says, “Look, when Jesus says, ‘This is my body,’ it is in fact made his body because by the power of his words, what he says is.” And when he says, “This is my blood,” it is his blood again for the same argument. But then the Protestant might counter, “But Jesus identifies the contents of the chalice as the fruit of the vine, which would suggest that it’s still wine after the consecration.”

Karlo Broussard:

First of all, Catholic Answers’ good friend there, James White, right? Trent Horn has debated him several times now. James White makes this argument in his book, The Roman Catholic Controversy, and he provides this detail as a basis for the symbolic interpretation of the words of our Lord.

And on the surface, Cy, I’ll admit, this is a pretty darn good counter response, and I can see how one not having any sort of tools in the toolkit to get around it, one might very well be persuaded to say, “Well, wait a minute. Jesus is calling the contents of the chalice wine after he said the words of consecration. Shouldn’t he be calling it his blood if he meant it literally?” And that makes sense.

Cy Kellett:

Yeah, that does make sense.

Karlo Broussard:

And so the question is, well, how do we respond? And so in the book, I actually give four answers and let’s see if we can go through them here. First of all, it’s interesting, Cy, that this objection and the way Mr. White puts the objection is that he fails to consider that Luke puts the disputed words before the words of consecration. So in Luke 22:17-18 and verse 20, it is very clear that Luke puts these words in Jesus’ mouth as being said before the words of consecration. So here’s the argument, given that ambiguity, right?

So Matthew and Mark are putting the words after the consecration. Luke puts it before. So there’s ambiguity here as to where these words were actually said by our Lord, before or after the words of consecration. And so simply given that ambiguity, the Protestant appeal to these words to show that the contents of the chalice post consecration were merely wine ultimately fails because it could have referred to the contents of chalice before the words of consecration. You see?

So far in the dialectic here in the conversation, we really don’t know where these words are placed actually in order to make an argument. So a Protestant can’t say, “Because Jesus says fruit of the vine after consecration, therefore, it’s not Jesus’ blood because Luke says those words were said before the words of consecration.” So it could have been said before, and if it were said before the words of consecration, well then we would have no problem here, right?

Now, it’s interesting here, Cy, that Luke actually identifies the cup over which Jesus says fruit of the vine as distinct from the cup of consecration, because Luke says it’s a cup that contains. Jesus took a cup and said, “I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” And then he goes on and says and likewise the cup after supper, saying, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” So Luke is clearly drawing a distinction between two different cups upon which or over which Jesus says these words.

The fruit of the vine language was said over the cup before the end of supper. The words of consecration, “This is my blood,” were said over the cup after supper. So Luke in his mind is clear that these are two different cups that Jesus is saying these words over. And so that’s at least one answer to the objection to say, hey, the Protestant counter here fails because it fails to take into consideration the ambiguity. Given the ambiguity, it could be either/or. And of course, that’s just going to raise the question, well, which view is correct? Right?

Cy Kellett:

Yeah. Right.

Karlo Broussard:

How do we know where these words are placed? Are they placed before consecration or after consecration? Well, we actually have some evidence in favor of Luke’s view. So as I point out in the book, we have reason to think that Luke’s version is the more accurate chronologically speaking and is clarifying which cup was consecrated to bring order and clarity to Mark and Matthew’s account where there’s ambiguity as to which cup over which Jesus said the fruit of the vine.

And so some of the evidence we know from the first century that Mark did not write things in chronological order. There’s a second century Christian Bishop named Papias and he records John the Presbyter. John the Presbyter was an eyewitness of Jesus’ ministry. Papias is recording what this John the Presbyter said, and we get this from Eusebius. And so here’s what this eyewitness of Jesus said, John the Presbyter. Mark, having become an interpreter of Peter, wrote down accurately, though not in order, whatsoever he remembered of the things said or done by Christ.

And of course, that’s permitted in ancient writing and the authors of the Bible. They’re permitted and they’re not expected to put everything in a precise chronological order. They are permitted and they have leeway to rearrange things. So there’s no problem there. But John the Presbyter is saying, “Hey, Mark did not write things in order.” Now, when we read Luke’s prologue, Cy, Luke says specifically in Luke 1, “I have set out to write an orderly account of the things accomplished among them.”

So some have suggested perhaps Luke is offering clarity, giving clarity where Mark is ambiguous as to which cup precisely over which Jesus said the fruit of the vine. And Luke puts those words in our Lord’s mouth pronouncing those words over a cup before supper, which was not the cup of consecration, and the words of consecration being for the cup of consecration after supper.

And so in light of this evidence, it would be reasonable to conclude that Jesus actually said these words before the words of consecration. So that would be one approach and one response to this counter Protestant response.

Cy Kellett:

So if you’re going to quote the gospels and the gospels disagree, it’s fair to go, well, which gospel has the reputation for being chronological and which does not have the reputation for being chronological?

Karlo Broussard:

And the evidence would favor Luke in that regard rather than Mark, and therefore give us a reason to conclude that Luke’s version is more accurate as far as when Jesus said those words, and therefore refuting the Protestant counter response.

Cy Kellett:

Okay, so that disposes of that, but what other answers do you have to the fundamental objection that we’re working with right now, which is that Jesus identifies the contents as the fruit of the vine after the works of consecration, and then this shows that he didn’t really turn the wine to blood?

Karlo Broussard:

So let’s grant for argument’s sake, Cy, that Jesus said those words over the chalice of consecration. So he’s referring to the contents of the chalice after the words of consecration, and he calls it fruit of the vine. Let’s just grant that for argument’s sake. It still wouldn’t necessarily follow that the contents of chalice are merely wine and not Jesus’ blood. Why?

Because it’s possible Jesus could be using what scholars call and what everyone calls phenomenological language, which is just language that’s used to describe something according to the phenomenon that is experienced. We even do this in common parlance. The weatherman says the sun will rise at 6:00 AM. Well, is he intending to say that the sun actually rises and moves and he’s advocating centrism?

No, he’s not. He is describing things according to what we sense, according to the phenomenon. The Bible even employs this, Cy. Remember in Genesis 18 those three men? They were described as men, but we know they were angels. So notice there’s a description according to the phenomenon. Even the Bible often speaks of death as sleep. Our Lord does this with Lazarus. Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, he said. Obviously Jesus was not saying, hey, guys, Lazarus ain’t dead.

He’s merely sleeping. He’s simply describing that according to the sensory experience and according to the phenomenon. So given the use of phenomenological language, it’s possible if we conclude that Jesus said fruit of the vine for the contents of the chalice after the words of consecration, it would not necessarily follow that that’s not his blood because he could just be simply describing it according to the phenomenon because it looks like wine.

Cy Kellett:

It smells like wine and tastes like wine.

Karlo Broussard:

That’s right. And the accidents remain, and so it’s appropriate for Jesus to refer to that thing, the contents of the chalice, according to how it’s sensed. And so phenomenological language could possibly provide a plausible explanation as to why Jesus was referring to the conscience of the chalice after consecration as fruit of the vine rather than his blood.

Cy Kellett:

Particularly out of all of those, the one about the angels being referred to as men seems like an almost perfect analogy. Here you have something where it appears as one thing when it is a different thing and you call it by its appearance.

Karlo Broussard:

Yep, absolutely. And that would map on beautifully. That’s a good point. That maps on really nicely with our understanding of the Eucharist. It appears to be one thing, but yet we know it’s another, but yet we describe it according to its appearance. Well put, Cy. Good job.

Cy Kellett:

Okay, so the basic objection we’re working with is the Protestant objection to the Catholic belief in the transubstantiation. The basic objection, again, is that Jesus refers to the chalice as the fruit of the vine after the words of consecration. We’ve had two of your answers to that objection. Give us your last one. Or did you say three that you were going to do?

Karlo Broussard:

Well, I said I was going to do four.

Cy Kellett:

Oh, I apologize. I apologize.

Karlo Broussard:

And the last two are not as substantial and persuasive as the first two. I’ll just say this. Thirdly, in the Bible, there are instances where you can describe something according to its prior state. Eve is called Adam’s bone in Genesis 2:23 because she was taken from the rib of Adam. Aaron’s rod has said to have devoured the rods of the magicians in Exodus 7:12, although they’re serpents, referring to what it was before. So this is sort of an idiom where you can describe something according to its prior state.

So in this case, we can offer a plausible explanation that Jesus is describing the contents of the chalice to be his substantial blood according to what it was before, namely fruit of the vine. So simply referring to it as fruit of the vine therefore would not entail it’s not his blood, because he could just be using the language according to what it was before as we see throughout the Bible.

And then finally, as to what he’s referring to when he speaks of I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until new in the kingdom, there is a bit of mystery here as to what precisely Jesus was referring to, and scholars will acknowledge this. Is he referring to the heavenly banquet? I’m not going to drink of the fruit of the vine until it’s new in the heavenly kingdom. Is it that? Because Jesus does describe the heavenly kingdom as a heavenly banquet and eating with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and all of those coming from east and west.

Could it be the wine that he would partake of while hanging on the cross and making all things new in John 19:30? Some have suggested that. St. John Chrysostom in the late fourth century, he thought it was referring to Jesus drinking wine with his disciples after the resurrection within the newness of the kingdom. Possibly that. And so just the bottom line here is there is a bit of a mystery as to what Jesus is referring to, but we know that Jesus was not revealing to us that the contents of the chalice was wine and not his blood. That’s something we know for sure.

Cy Kellett:

Okay, so that deals extensively with that objection. Let me give you another Protestant counter that you give in your book to the assertion that when Jesus says is, he means is. This is my body. This is my blood. Not figuratively, but literally. Catholics often appeal to the literal words of Jesus in the bread of discourse in John to prove that Jesus intended his words at the Last Supper to be taken literally.

But what Jesus speaks of in John 6 has no connection to what he does at the last Supper. In fact, two different Greek words are used, sarks for flesh in John 6 and soma for body at the Last Supper.

Karlo Broussard:

This is an objection that a Protestant apologist who was popular in the late ’90s, early 2000s put forward, and the reason why this objection is put forward, Cy, is because as Catholics we often try to explain the words of the Last Supper in light of the literal interpretation of Jesus’ words to eat his flesh and drink his blood in John 6. Now, this counter response says, hey, wait a minute. You’re assuming that there’s a connection between what Jesus says in John six and what he’s doing at the Last Supper when he says, “This is my body.”

But that’s a flawed assumption here. And so Eric Svendsen, this Protestant apologist, has given a reason for why we shouldn’t make that assumption and why they are distinct and not related. And so notice he gave this argument, there are two different Greek words. In John 6, it’s talking about sarks or flesh. At the Last Supper, it’s soma for body. Well, here’s how we can respond specifically to that reason for his conclusion. Sarks and soma are used interchangeably in the New Testament.

1 Corinthians 6:16, Paul uses them interchangeably whenever he’s talking about, do you not know he who joins himself to a prostitute becomes one body with her? Soma. For as is written, the two shall become one flesh. So clearly he’s not making a distinction there. He’s using two different words to refer to the same reality. Other examples would include 2 Corinthians 4:10-11 where he uses them interchangeably, Romans 7:24-25 and several others that I list in my book. And so here’s the argument, Cy.

If there is no indication that body is being used in some sense as not to include flesh, well then we’re justified in reading body at the Last Supper as in telling flesh, which is what Jesus talks about in John 6. And since Jesus doesn’t say anything at the Last Supper to preclude our understanding of body as flesh, there’s no reason in the words of institution that would make us think that, we can take body to mean flesh and thereby affirm the connection between John 6 and the Last Supper.

So that’s how we would respond and begin to undermine Svendsen’s reason for his conclusion. Now, I think there’s a more persuasive argument to affirm the connection, Cy, and that is the image of drinking Jesus’ blood is used in both narratives. Even if we put to aside for a moment this argument that Svendsen puts forward as to sarks and soma, he’s trying to undermine the connection between flesh and body, well, wait a minute, he’s still got to deal with the blood. I mean, both narratives are the only places in the New Testament where Jesus talks about drinking his blood.

How in the world can we say they’re not connected? I mean, think about it. The principle is the fewer times an image or a cluster of words is used, and especially when it’s found prior to its current use, the more likely it is there’s going to be literary dependence. So at the Last Supper, Jesus saying, “Drink my blood,” well, the only other time in his ministry where he speaks of drinking his blood is in John 6. And so that gives us really good reason to affirm the connection between the two.

Here’s an analogy. To say that John 6 and the command to drink his blood is not connected to the Last Supper and the command to drink his blood is like saying John does not have the creation story in mind when he says in John 1:1, “In the beginning was the word.” I mean, what else could he possibly referring to? Everybody knows he’s referring to the creation story. Similarly, at the Last Supper when Jesus says, “This is my body. This is my blood,” what else could he be referring to the only other time when he talks about drinking his blood there in John 6?

Cy Kellett:

Well, I’m a little lost in my notes here. Are there more on that point?

Karlo Broussard:

Yeah, the only thing I would just mention and the last response here, Cy, is that in John 6, Jesus doesn’t give us any indication that he intends his audience to eat his flesh and drink his blood right then and there. Rather, it’s something to be done at some time later. And that actually fits with our interpretation that what Jesus is talking about in John 6 is indeed connected and the promise for what he’s going to do at the Last Supper. Jesus uses the future tense in John 6:51, “The bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

And he talks about if, it’s hypothetical, if someone eats this bread, he will live forever. So there seems to be an indication that he will give us his flesh. There’s no indication that he intends for us to immediately eat his flesh there in John 6. And given that what he’s talking about and what he’s going to give us, namely his flesh, the bread from heaven for the life of the world, being in the future, well then what’s the plausible solution to the resolution or the fulfillment of that promise, I should say?

It’s the Last Supper where he talks about, “This is my body. This is my blood.” And so I think these are sufficient ways in which we can show that this Protestant counter response does not succeed in undermining the Catholic argument that John 6 he speaks literally and that sheds light on and helps us interpret the words of Jesus at the Last Supper literally.

Cy Kellett:

Probably I guess the most common, I don’t know if it’s the most powerful, but the most common thing that a Protestant conversationalist and interlocutor says in these conversations, and we’ve heard it many, many times, is look, Jesus speaks figuratively all the time. This is clearly to be taken figuratively. And then you add this, that in John 16:25, Jesus confirms that he was speaking figuratively at the Last Supper.

Karlo Broussard:

Yes, he does say, “These things I have spoken to you,” in figurative language. That’s John 16:25, which is in the context of the Last Supper. So some Protestants will appeal to this verse right here. A Protestant pastor by the name of Todd Baker in Dallas makes this argument in his Exodus From Rome Volume 1 and saying, hey, look, this is in the context of the Last Supper. These are words that Jesus said after the words of consecration. And he’s saying these things that I have spoken to you are figurative language.

And so therefore, the words of the Last Supper, “This is my body. This is my blood,” the words of institution that is, should be taken figuratively, not literally. And so I offer several responses in the book, but one of them, Cy, is the most fundamental, and that is this. This argument, it takes a verse in John 16:25 and applies it to the words of institution, but yet John’s account of the Last Supper doesn’t include the words of institution. And so you’re inserting a preconceived idea that I have to take the words of institution figuratively.

And these things which is figurative must refer to the words of institution, but the institution narrative is not even in John’s account. So what’s the plausible referent for these things? Well, we actually have two plausible reference in John’s narrative that these figurative things could be referring to. Number one, in verse 21, just four verses earlier, Jesus was using the metaphor of a woman in labor. So maybe Jesus was referring to that as being figurative language, not the words of institution, which aren’t even in the narrative or the account.

But a more plausible referent would be the figurative things that Jesus said about his Father. And this would make sense because Jesus contrasts the things which he spoke in figures with speaking as he says in verse 25 plainly of the Father. He says, “These things I have spoken to you in figurative language and I will speak plainly of the Father.” So the question becomes, well, it seems to be a juxtaposition between plain language about the Father and maybe perhaps figurative language about the Father.

Did Jesus use figurative language about the Father and did he speak of the Father in cryptic ways? And the answer is yes. In 15:23, he who hates me hates my father also. The Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, that’s a bit cryptic for the apostles, the Spirit proceeding from the Father. How are we to truly understand that? 16:5, Jesus says, “Now I’m going to him who sent me.” The apostles are wondering what he meant by going to the Father. He says, “I go to the Father and you will see me no more.”

There was a little ambiguity about that. All that the Father has is mine. I said that He will take what is mine and declare it to you in John 16:15. So in the preceding context, Cy, there are some figurative things that Jesus said about the Father. And so it’s possible Jesus is saying no, “I’m going to speak plainly about the Father.” So the figurative language that Jesus is bringing up here and speaking about is not the words of institution, but more plausibly the figurative cryptic language that he’s utilizing concerning the Father.

And so therefore, this passage of John 16:25 in no way proves that the words of institution must be taken figuratively rather than literally.

Cy Kellett:

Thank you, Karlo. I appreciate that. Now, I don’t know if you got to everything that you wanted to get to, but the basic question we had is, are Catholics wrong to say that when Jesus says, “This is my body,” that he is speaking literally because a transubstantiation has taken place, and that when he says, “This is my blood,” he means this is my blood because the transubstantiation has taken place? And so your method as it always is is to take all of the arguments against that and deal with them one by one. Have we dealt with everything you wanted to deal with or is there more?

Karlo Broussard:

Yeah, I think this is good for our conversation today, Cy. I mean, obviously this is not every counter response. There are more that I deal with in my book Meeting the Protestant Response. But we can conclude by saying this, that our Protestant friend cannot say our interpretation is wrong concerning “this is my body, this is my blood” at least on these grounds.

Cy Kellett:

Yeah, you’re going to have to find some other basis.

Karlo Broussard:

That’s right. So first, the fruit of the vine language apparently coming after the words of consecration. The idea that you can’t use the literal language of John 6 to prove your point for the Last Supper because there’s no connection between the two. That was the second counter response or the reason given why we’re wrong.

And then finally, the last reason why we gave from a Protestant who would think we’re wrong here is because Jesus says, “These words I have spoken are figurative language.” That’s not grounds for rejecting the Catholic understanding and interpretation of our Lord’s words at the Last Supper.

Cy Kellett:

Karlo Broussard is our guest. Check out his podcast, The Sunday Catholic Word. You can check it out at sundaycatholicword.com. If you want to see all of Karlo’s books, you can find them over at shop.catholic.com. And in a future episode, Karlo, we’ll tackle Eucharist again, but this time from the broader objection that it’s just absurd to think about it the way that Catholics think about it. Fair enough?

Karlo Broussard:

Fair enough. Sounds fun. I look forward to it, my friend.

Cy Kellett:

All right, thank you to our listeners. If you want to communicate with us, just send us an email focus@catholic.com. If you’d be willing to support us financially so we can keep doing what we’re doing, you can always do that at givecatholic.com. And that’ll about do it for us. We’ll see you next time, God willing, right here on Catholic Answers Focus.

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