- by Tim Colletti
One of the many disagreements between Protestants and Roman Catholics is on the subject of the Lord’s Supper (referred to as the Eucharist by the Roman Catholics). In this article, I will be discussing what the differences are between these two views, why the Roman Catholic Church believes what they believe and my refutation of their beliefs on this subject.
First, I would like to give the Protestant view on the Lord’s Supper. Protestants believe that Jesus Christ established the Lord’s Supper (also called Communion), and that Christians are to partake in it, which is done in remembrance of what the Lord Jesus did to make atonement for our sins (Matthew 26:26-28, 1 Corinthians 11:23-26). Sounds short and sweet, but the Lord’s Supper to a Protestant is just what Jesus intended it to be, a remembrance of what He did for us on Calvary, and that we are to continue on with that act of remembrance until the day of His return.
So, what does the Roman Catholic Church teach about the Lord’s Supper? Let’s take some actual quotes from Roman Catholic sources to find out:
The Catechism of the Catholic Church:
790 Believers who respond to God’s word and become members of Christ’s Body, become intimately united with him: “In that body the life of Christ is communicated to those who believe, and who, through the sacraments, are united in a hidden and real way to Christ in his Passion and glorification. “This is especially true of Baptism, which unites us to Christ’s death and Resurrection, and the Eucharist, by which “really sharing in the body of the Lord, …we are taken up into communion with him and with one another.”
1106 Together with the anamnesis, the epiclesis is at the heart of each sacramental celebration, most especially of the Eucharist: You ask how the bread becomes the Body of Christ, and the wine … the Blood of Christ. I shall tell you: the Holy Spirit comes upon them and accomplishes what surpasses every word and thought….Let it be enough for you to understand that it is by the Holy Spirit, just as it was of the Holy Virgin and by the Holy Spirit that the Lord, through and in himself, took flesh
From these two statements of the Catechism of the Catholic Church we can start to see what their view is on this subject. The Roman Catholic Church teaches that when Jesus established the Lord’s Supper, the elements of the Supper (the bread and wine) are to be understood as the “literal” body and blood of Jesus Christ, and we need to partake of it in order to obtain eternal life. So, what does the Roman Catholic Church say about those who do not hold to this view? Let’s look at one of the canons from the Council of Trent from the year 1545 to find out (the canons of this council have never been recanted by the Roman Catholic Church):
“lf any one saith, that Christ, given in the Eucharist, is eaten spiritually only, and not also sacramentally and really; let him be anathema.” (Chapter 8, Canon VIII)
As you can see, if you don’t hold to the Roman Catholic view that the bread and wine are the actual body and blood of Jesus Christ, you are anathematized (cut off from God, or damned) by the Roman Catholic Church. As a Protestant, the next questions you might be asking yourself is…”Okay, I see what the statements of the Roman Catholic Church are in reference to the Lord’s Supper and that we are anathematized by them because we don’t believe as they do, but where in the bible do they derive their view from?” Just as a side note…the reason why we as Protestants would ask a question like that is because we believe that the bible is our sole rule of authority on faith and doctrine…not any group, institution or organization.
The Roman Catholic Church does have a reference to scripture for what they believe, but are they applying these scripture verses correctly? The following (in John 6) is the scripture verses that are used by the Roman Catholics to support their view: 53So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves. 54″He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. 55″For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink. 56″He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. 57″As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats Me, he also will live because of Me.” (John 6:53-57)
If you look at the scripture verses above, you can see why a Roman Catholic might interpret this as the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper, which they believe to be the literal body and blood of Jesus Christ. The Roman Catholic will look at verse 55-56 in particular (55″For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink. 56″He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him.”) and say, “See, the bread and wine are to be taken literally as the body and blood of Christ and we are to partake of it in that respect…Jesus even said so”.
So how do we as Protestants answer this claim? Is John 6:53-57 even referring to the Lord’s Supper? Well, we must go to scripture of course, but when we do this we need to keep something very important in mind…context…context…context. Too many people like to quote scripture verses out of context and the Roman Catholic Church is no exception. We as bible believing Christians need to make sure that we look at the verses before, the verses after, and even sometimes the whole chapter that contain the verses being quoted. In the case of this subject we will look at the whole chapter in context to bring out the truth of the Roman Catholic claim.
First, let’s read on through to verse 63 of John chapter 6 so that we can start to gain some insight on the context of this chapter: 58″This is the bread which came down out of heaven; not as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live forever.” 59These things He said in the synagogue as He taught in Capernaum. 60Therefore many of His disciples, when they heard this said, “This is a difficult statement; who can listen to it?” 61But Jesus, conscious that His disciples grumbled at this, said to them, “Does this cause you to stumble? 62″What then if you see the Son of Man ascending to where He was before? 63″It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life.” In reading these verses, you can see that the disciples were finding Jesus’ words difficult to listen to, but I would have to say that verse 63 would stand out as an important verse in explaining how Jesus was trying to convey his thoughts to the people who were there: 63″It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life.” Jesus said that his words were words of spirit…So should we take the words of Jesus literally that He says were meant to be taken spiritually? I would say NO, but let’s look at John chapter 6 more in depth to find out the context of what leads up to verses 53-57.
The theme of the verses given by the Roman Catholic are talking about Jesus being the “bread of life”. Even in verse 58, which is just after the proof text verses of the Roman Catholic, Jesus is still talking about himself as the “bread of life”. This theme is the connection to figuring out the spiritual meaning behind what Jesus was talking about in verse 53. In order to do that, we will have to go further back in John chapter 6 to find out. In verses 1-14 John records the feeding of the five thousand with five barley loaves and two fish. After that John records the event of Jesus walking on water in verses 15-21. Starting at verse 22, according to John, is where Jesus as the “bread of life” starts to come into view. Jesus converses with the crowd about how they were seeking Him only because He fed them. The crowd’s response to Jesus was that God had fed their forefathers with bread out of heaven. To this, Jesus proclaims Himself to be the “true bread out of heaven”. The next verse that I believe is the most important verse in making the spiritual connection to verses 53-57 is this:
Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst.” (John 6:35)
With the statement from Jesus above, let’s see if we can make that connection between verse 35 and verses 53-57. In verse 35 Jesus starts out by saying that He is the “bread of life”. Right after that he says, “he who comes to Me will not hunger.” Jesus here equates coming to him as satisfying one’s hunger. Likewise, Jesus also uses the same analogy when he says, “he who believes in Me will never thirst.”
Now, let’s try to put all this together so we can show the Roman Catholic what is truly meant in verses 53-57. According to Jesus in verse 35, coming to Him is how we satisfy our hunger, but how do we as human beings satisfy our hunger?…by eating. Believing in Jesus is how we satisfy our thirst, but how do we as human beings satisfy our thirst?…by drinking. With that understanding, let’s go back to the verses that the Roman Catholics bring up. When Jesus tells us that we cannot have eternal life unless we eat His flesh or drink His blood, He is not talking in a literal sense, but in a spiritual sense. Eating His flesh (coming to Jesus) will satisfy our hunger. Drinking His blood (believing in Jesus) will satisfy our thirst. Coming to Jesus and believing in Him is what gives us eternal life, not eating a wafer and drinking some wine. Jesus was applying a human aspect to a spiritual understanding. This is the meaning behind eating the flesh and drinking the blood of Jesus, but unfortunately the Roman Catholic doesn’t get it.
In conclusion, it is my contention that John chapter 6:53-57 is not talking about the Lord’s Supper at all, but is a spiritual example given by Jesus Christ on how we are to come to and believe in Him for eternal life. The Lord’s Supper was not established in John chapter 6, but was established much later in Jesus’ ministry (see Matthew 26:26-28, Mark 14:22-24 and Luke 22:17-19). The Roman Catholic Church needs something scriptural to make a connection to what they believe about the Lord’s Supper, and this is their attempt at doing that, which in my opinion, fails miserably. My hope in writing this article is to give bible believing Christians a more accurate interpretation of John 6:53-57 that is not bound by a religious system that takes a preconceived belief and reads it back into the scriptures to suit their own needs. The next time you have a discussion with a Roman Catholic about this topic, and John 6:53-57 comes up, you will have a better understanding of Jesus’ words and hopefully will be better equipped to defend the faith against the inaccurate and false teaching of the Roman Catholic Church.