Skip to main contentAccessibility feedback
Background Image

Does Paul Teach the Real Presence of Christ?

OBJECTOR: Catholics believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, don’t they? But how can you seriously believe that the bread and wine of communion are the body and blood of Christ?

CATHOLIC: The Real Presence means that Jesus Christ is really present under the appearances of bread and wine. The substance of Jesus’ body and blood is present, but not in the normal way. In the thirteenth century, the great theologian Thomas Aquinas explained that the proper species of Jesus’ body is in heaven. By this he meant that the body of Jesus is in heaven just as the proper species of our bodies is here on earth. The proper species of Jesus’ body is not in bread and wine, but, by his gracious command, he makes the substance of his body present under the appearances of bread and wine.

OBJECTOR: By his gracious command? Jesus didn’t use any of the complicated language you have used.

CATHOLIC: No, he said, “This is my body. . . . This is the blood of the covenant” (Mark 14:22–24). At the simplest level, Catholics believe this is true because the Son of God himself said it was true. We trust him as God. Anything he says is true.

OBJECTOR: I agree with that! Anything the Son of God says is true, but he didn’t mean what you Catholics say when he spoke those words, and I can prove it. St. Paul spoke about the Eucharist in 1 Corinthians 11:23–31. You’ll notice that there’s nothing of this “Real Presence” in those verses.

CATHOLIC: Let’s see what Paul says about the Real Presence. Let’s take a familiar phrase that is too often misunderstood. Paul repeats the words of Jesus, “Do this in remembrance of me.” These words were repeated by Luke in his version of the Last Supper in Luke 22:19–20.

OBJECTOR: The words “Do this in remembrance of me” prove my point. Jesus didn’t say anything about the Real Presence. He said only that this meal is a memorial meal.

CATHOLIC: When we hear these words, “Do this in remembrance of me,” most of us probably imagine that Jesus was commanding his original twelve and us today to keep his memory before us. We imagine him to be commanding a mental act of remembering much as we would remember any other important event of the past.

OBJECTOR: Yes, exactly. There are no biblical texts that suggest anything more than this mental act of memory.

CATHOLIC: That’s where we disagree. I would include the mental act but I would not limit it to a mental act. The words of the eucharistic prayers remind us of this mental act when they say, “Calling to mind the death you Son endure for our salvation.” It also means more than a mental act. In fact, it is the greater meaning of doing this meal in memory of Christ that makes sense of the mental act by individual Christians.

OBJECTOR: I don’t see any “greater meaning” in our Lord’s words. The Greek word Paul used for “memory” or “remembrance” is anamnesis. The phrase is always the same (eis ten emen anamnesin) no matter how differently it may be translated. It occurs 1 Corinthians 11:24–25 and in Luke 22:19. Verse 26 is important for understanding the meaning of the words “Do this in remembrance of me.” It says, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” This verse shows that the remembrance involved is a proclamation of the gospel. When we eat and drink, we are reminded of the first Last Supper.

CATHOLIC: You’ll notice that in the passage quoted the word for begins verse 26 just after the phrase containing the term anamnesis. Verse 26 explains the meaning of doing this in memory. It says that anamnesis involves a proclamation of the Lord’s death in this act of consecration. But how does eating and drinking proclaim the Lord’s death as verse 26 says? Proclaiming a message usually involves preaching, teaching or speaking in some form. But recall the old saying that “actions speak louder than words.” I suggest that it is through anamnesis that the Lord’s death is proclaimed. The eucharistic actions of the Church proclaim the Lord’s death by making the Lord present to the worshiping community of faith.

OBJECTOR: Yes, by making the Lord’s death present to our minds.

CATHOLIC: In Greek culture, anamnesis was a term used to denote the movement of an abstract idea into this material world. Plato, for example, used it as one of his key ideas. For him, knowledge was an act of anamnesis, or “remembering,” whereby the realities of the world of forms (ideas) came to people in this world. So, anamnesis meant more of a process in which something in another world came to be embodied in this physical world.

OBJECTOR: You can’t use Greek culture to interpret the Bible. No matter what Plato meant, that doesn’t mean Paul was using Plato’s meaning.

CATHOLIC: The Corinthians lived in a Greek culture and it would have been natural for them to understand anamnesis as describing this transfer from the heavenly world to the material world. Even more importantly, if Jesus used Hebrew or Aramaic at the Last Supper, Paul (or whoever first translated the words of consecration into Greek) chose the term anamnesis. By doing so, he was allowing that anamnesis could have the meaning that Greek-speaking people associated with that term, namely, a transfer from the heavenly world to this earthly, material world.

OBJECTOR: It could have that meaning in Greek culture, but that’s no proof that Paul or Jesus intended it the way you say.

CATHOLIC: Remember that Paul was a Jewish Pharisee (cf. Phil. 3:5), and very possibly a rabbi (cf. Acts 22:2) before his conversion. All this means that when he used anamnesis, he may have used it with a Hebrew meaning as well as a Greek one. The Hebrew word for “memorial” is zikaron and it has a similar connotation to anamnesis in Greek culture. It is more than mental recollection. The celebration of the Passover was believed to involve a participation in the original exodus from Egypt. The purpose of this being an annual and perpetual event for the children of Israel was that every generation could experience the liberation from slavery that the first generation in Egypt had experienced. Thus, zikaron connotes a participation in an event of the past rather than simply a mental recollection of that event.

OBJECTOR: I agree that in celebrating the Passover the Jews were reliving the original event. That is what we non-Catholics do when we celebrate the Lord’s Supper in our churches. We relive the event by remembering Jesus’ death on the cross for our sins. It’s like a Civil War reenactment (with a much more profound meaning, of course).

CATHOLIC: Whether you approach this question from the Greek or Hebrew side, the result supports the notion of the Real Presence. When Paul quotes Jesus as saying eis ten emen anamnesin, he understands the meaning both in Greek and Hebrew senses. When Jesus said, “do this eis ten emen anamensin,” he was not saying to simply remember him. He was telling his twelve apostles to perform the same actions that he did in order to bring the reality of him back to this world.

OBJECTOR: I’m sorry, but I don’t see all this “greater meaning” in this word. It just means “memory” or “remembrance.”

CATHOLIC: That’s because you are still reading the Bible through its English meanings rather than delving into the language and culture in which it was originally written. Another text in 1 Corinthians 10:16–17 points to the Real Presence: “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” Now ask yourself: What must the cup and the bread be to make possible this participation in the blood and body of Christ? The most obvious and logical answer is that the bread and cup of wine must really be the body and blood of Christ.

OBJECTOR: I don’t think that is necessary at all. It could mean that we participate in the body and blood of Christ that are in heaven.

CATHOLIC: So you agree that verse 16 speaks of a real participation in Christ’s humanity? Notice that now you have moved from a pure mental recollection to a communion with Christ.

OBJECTOR: Yes, but I would say that it is a spiritual communion because Christ’s body can be only in heaven.

CATHOLIC: Where does the Bible say that Christ’s body can be only in heaven? I don’t know of anything in the Bible that teaches this limitation. Read verse 17 carefully. Paul says that partaking of the one bread makes many different people into one body. The explanation for how there can be only one mystical body of Christ is that everyone receives the same bread. This is a kind of mystical unity that would be impossible if the bread and wine were not the true body and blood of Christ. Ordinary bread and wine simply cannot unite people into the body of Christ, but bread and wine transformed into Christ himself can.

OBJECTOR: But I thought Catholic doctrine taught that it was no longer bread after the consecration. You see that Paul uses the word bread, so it can’t be a change into Christ’s body the way you claim.

CATHOLIC: Paul is speaking according to the appearances. It appears to be bread but, as I said, ordinary bread could not make people one in Christ’s mystical body of the Church. When Jesus instituted the Eucharist at the Passover, he made the Eucharist our salvation meal. This meal surpasses the Passover because it contains what it signifies. In fact, that is the definition of a sacrament. The bread is called the body of Christ because it contains that body. So the Eucharist contains our salvation and forgiveness because it contains our Savior Jesus Christ. He teaches us this Real Presence when he used the words “Do this in remembrance [or memory] of me.”

Did you like this content? Please help keep us ad-free
Enjoying this content?  Please support our mission!