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The Roman Catholic celebrates the Holy Eucharist in commemoration of the Last Supper in which during the celebration, Catholics believed that bread and wine are transformed into blood and body of Christ.

Now. What is the stand of the catholic church for eating the blood and body of Christ in the Holy Eucharist?

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    I edited the title to make it less offensive. Anyone can provide a better edit. – Mawia Jun 26 '14 at 9:16
  • Thank you for editing and adding communion and transubstantiation. I wanted to add those tags but I can't. – Ragnarok Jun 26 '14 at 9:23
  • I'm also very bad in asking questions. I usually get downvotes when I ask about Catholicism. He He :) – Mawia Jun 26 '14 at 9:39
  • @Zoe Please don't use comments to discuss/debate theological issues, they are just for dealing with issues to the post. This particular post happens to be focused on asking Catholisism's perspective. This makes it not a place to refute their views. – Caleb Jun 26 '14 at 12:29
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    @Zoe That would be a subject for another question, but you should lookup transubstantiation before asserting that there is a misunderstanding as that is a Catholic doctrine. Whether or not it it or is not in the Bible or what you think the apostles had to do is irrelevant as this is a question specifically about that Catholic doctrine. – Caleb Jun 26 '14 at 13:42
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Yes, Catholics do believe that the bread and wine are transformed into the body and blood. Sort of. The "sort of" is because the technicalities of it go back to Aristotelian philosophy, which greatly influenced Thomas Aquinas, who is still in many ways the preeminent theologian of the Catholic Church.

Before we get to Aquinas, though, let's look at the modern Catechism of the Catholic Church. This is a teaching document, not primarily a theological discussion, so it doesn't go into technical specifics the way we'll see that Aquinas did. But we see (numbers are paragraph numbers):

1333 At the heart of the Eucharistic celebration are the bread and wine that, by the words of Christ and the invocation of the Holy Spirit, become Christ’s Body and Blood. Faithful to the Lord’s command the Church continues to do, in his memory and until his glorious return, what he did on the eve of his Passion: "He took bread...." "He took the cup filled with wine...." The signs of bread and wine become, in a way surpassing understanding, the Body and Blood of Christ; they continue also to signify the goodness of creation.

1353 In the epiclesis, the Church asks the Father to send his Holy Spirit (or the power of his blessing) on the bread and wine, so that by his power they may become the body and blood of Jesus Christ and so that those who take part in the Eucharist may be one body and one spirit. ... In the institution narrative, the power of the words and the action of Christ, and the power of the Holy Spirit, make sacramentally present under the species of bread and wine Christ’s body and blood, his sacrifice offered on the cross once for all.

1374 The mode of Christ’s presence under the Eucharistic species is unique. It raises the Eucharist above all the sacraments as "the perfection of the spiritual life and the end to which all the sacraments tend." In the most blessed sacrament of the Eucharist "the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ and, therefore, the whole Christ is truly, really, and substantially contained." "This presence is called 'real'—by which is not intended to exclude the other types of presence as if they could not be 'real' too, but because it is presence in the fullest sense: that is to say, it is a substantial presence by which Christ, God and man, makes himself wholly and entirely present."

1375 It is by the conversion of the bread and wine into Christ’s body and blood that Christ becomes present in this sacrament. The Church Fathers strongly affirmed the faith of the Church in the efficacy of the Word of Christ and of the action of the Holy Spirit to bring about this conversion.

(emphases added, except epiclesis emphasized in original)

Now, what does Aquinas say about the technicalities of the situation? In other words, if the wine becomes the Blood of Christ, why isn't there hemoglobin in it?

Aristotelian philosophy made a distinction between what (in modern philosophical jargon) is called "substance" (from Latin substantia, the essence or nature of something) and "accident" (from Latin accidens, something that happens to be true of an entity). Aristotle of course used Greek, but Aquinas used the Latin. The substance of something is what makes it what it is: I am a human being because I am human "in substance"; that is, because I have "humanness". I look the way I do as a human because I have particular accidents—my eyes are a given color, my hair and skin, I'm a given height. Any of those things could change, or could have been different; that would change what I looked like, but not what I am (i.e. human).

The Catholic teaching on the Eucharist is that during the Eucharistic celebration, the substance of the bread and wine—what they truly are—is changed into the substance of the body and blood of Christ. But their accidents—what they look and act like physically—remain the same.

In the Summa Theologica, Aquinas devoted several sections to this. The first one (Third Part, Question 75, Article 1) is titled "Whether the body of Christ be in this sacrament in very truth, or merely as in a figure or sign?" After looking at several objections, he concludes:

I answer that, The presence of Christ's true body and blood in this sacrament cannot be detected by sense, nor understanding, but by faith alone, which rests upon Divine authority. Hence, on Lk. 22:19: "This is My body which shall be delivered up for you," Cyril [i.e. Saint Cyril of Jerusalem] says: "Doubt not whether this be true; but take rather the Saviour's words with faith; for since He is the Truth, He lieth not." Now this is suitable, first for the perfection of the New Law. For, the sacrifices of the Old Law contained only in figure that true sacrifice of Christ's Passion, according to Heb. 10:1: "For the law having a shadow of the good things to come, not the very image of the things." And therefore it was necessary that the sacrifice of the New Law instituted by Christ should have something more, namely, that it should contain Christ Himself crucified, not merely in signification or figure, but also in very truth. And therefore this sacrament which contains Christ Himself, as Dionysius says (Eccl. Hier. iii), is perfective of all the other sacraments, in which Christ's virtue is participated.

Secondly, this belongs to Christ's love, out of which for our salvation He assumed a true body of our nature. And because it is the special feature of friendship to live together with friends, as the Philosopher says (Ethic. ix), He promises us His bodily presence as a reward, saying (Mat. 24:28): "Where the body is, there shall the eagles be gathered together." Yet meanwhile in our pilgrimage He does not deprive us of His bodily presence; but unites us with Himself in this sacrament through the truth of His body and blood. Hence (Jn. 6:57) he says: "He that eateth My flesh, and drinketh My blood, abideth in Me, and I in him." Hence this sacrament is the sign of supreme charity, and the uplifter of our hope, from such familiar union of Christ with us.

Thirdly, it belongs to the perfection of faith, which concerns His humanity just as it does His Godhead, according to Jn. 14:1: "You believe in God, believe also in Me." And since faith is of things unseen, as Christ shows us His Godhead invisibly, so also in this sacrament He shows us His flesh in an invisible manner.

In other words, he says:

  1. Given that we have faith in Christ, it's incumbent on us to have faith that when he says "This is my body", we are to believe that he is giving us the truth, and not just a signification.
  2. It is more characteristic of Christ's love for us that he would find a way to actually be with us, not just to be represented among us.

So, yes; Catholics believe that the bread and wine are substantially (in a couple of different senses) transformed into the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. This belief is part of a longstanding interpretation of Scripture, and writings of the early Church fathers. Catholics do not, however, consider themselves to be cannibals, because the "accidents" of the bread and wine (the ingredients, the flavor, the shape, and so on) are not those of Christ Himself.

I could go into the details of what potential objections to the belief Aquinas considers, and how he responds to them; but that would be matter for a different question.

  • Great answer but I had read some books which said that in some cases the bread becomes a "real meat". I have to research and find again this book. – Ragnarok Jun 27 '14 at 0:51
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    Thanks! That phrase reminds me of John 6:55, which the New American Bible (Revised Edition) translates, "For my flesh is true food, and my blood true drink" (other translations say "real" instead of "true"). – Matt Gutting Jun 27 '14 at 1:30
  • I understand that being labeled as cannibal isn't amusing. But if we go by your logic, it would mean cannibals could be cannibals simply by eating human accidents with the essence of bread. It is not the accidents that make it cannibalism, accidents are just visuals. Cannibalism is eating humans. If the accidents were not tied to humaness they would be just like ham or something else, frivolously being labeled whatever we desire. It is the essence which is humaness, not the accidents, we have only come to associate the accidents with the essence of humaness. @MattGutting – Destynation Y Aug 22 '18 at 3:28
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    The best way to make a distinction between the crime and the obligation would be to underline the fact that we eat of the flesh of a divine person, not a human person. That is an honest and straight forward distinction, no need to wait for aristotilian metaphysics at that point, although they are useful in their own right. Christ was human, but he was not a human person. – Destynation Y Aug 22 '18 at 3:37
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    @DestynationY I think you probably have enough meat for an answer. Would you please offer one? – KorvinStarmast Aug 22 '18 at 13:01
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The issue is "substance" which is a philosophical construct of the mind from Aristotelian times1.

It is not directly related to reality because substance is not physically verifiable as being anything other than the DNA of some kind of unleavened wheat. The same can be said of wine, and its DNA from some kind of grape.

It is a spiritual conjecture which cannot by its nature be physical--it is not physically verifiable. Catholics are spiritual "cannibals" at best (or at worst). Lastly, my statement does not mean Christ is not present for and to us, as in the liturgy of the Word and Eucharist. When we bless, break, and share bread we are in communion with one another as the body of Christ living today. We become the body of Christ when we receive both the "word" and the breaking of the bread. Thomistic teaching has really missed the point of communion.


1 This use of substance is related to a theological term: Greek Homoousian and Latin consubstantialis; the usage reaches back to the Early Church, and is how Jesus being of the same substance as the Father is described. Reference: Nicene Creed.

  • In re your last sentence: the Greek Orthodox would probably agree with you. ;) (though it's a bit of an opinion and does not seem to add to your answer). Welcome to Christianty.SE, Greg. I added a reference (in an edit) to point to the peculiar usage/meaning of substance. Please take the tour and visit the help center to get a feel for how SE Q&A sites work best. Thanks for joining in. – KorvinStarmast Aug 22 '18 at 13:10
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No, it does not make Catholics cannibals.

What we eat or drink doesn't "make" us something. Jesus himself said in Matthew

15:16-17 16 “Do you still not understand?” Jesus asked. 17 “Do you not yet realize that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then is eliminated? 18 But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these things defile a man."

Jesus clearly teaches that the heart produces sin or faith. What we believe about who Christ is what saves us. What we eat or drink only represents our heart belief. The call to consume Jesus' body and blood is spelled out in considerable detail in the bread of life discourse (John 6:22-59), and the command to do so is in each of the synoptic Gospels (Last Supper narrative), and also in Paul's letter to the Corinthians. (1 Corinthians 11:24-5).

As for Catholic teaching, consuming the body and blood during a Eucharistic celebration cannot be called Cannibalism, unless one simply wishes to insult Catholics.

1331 .. because by this sacrament we unite ourselves to Christ, who makes us sharers in his Body and Blood to form a single body. We also call it: the holy things (ta hagia; sancta) - the first meaning of the phrase "communion of saints" in the Apostles' Creed - the bread of angels, bread from heaven, medicine of immortality, viaticum...

It doesn't makes us Cannibals, since eating of mundane flesh does not "unite ourselves with bacon" nor with a potato. Neither is bacon, nor a potato, "medicine of immortality."

In contrast, it can't save us either unless we remain in communion with Him.

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    The question specifically asks for what the Catholic Church teaches about the matter. Can you show that this is indeed what the Catholic Church teaches? – Matt Gutting May 16 '18 at 17:45
  • @MattGutting , that looks similar to what I hear from the pastor during a homily now and again ... – KorvinStarmast May 16 '18 at 19:13
  • Mel, I added an edit to accommodate Matt's request to tie this to Catholic teaching. Please review the edit to make sure it is consistent with your answer's original intent. – KorvinStarmast Aug 22 '18 at 13:24
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I answered a related question a few years ago. It was about celiac disease (gluten intolerance), but most of it applies equally to cannibalism.

And it avoids the confusing term "substance" given in a few of the other answers here. In common English, "substance" means what something is physically made of, while in those answers it means the exact opposite.

For non-Catholics, the quick answer is no.

For Roman Catholics, who believe in transubstantiation, the answer is also no, but understanding why requires some explanation.

Communion is based on Luke 22:19-20 and other gospel accounts of Jesus's last meal: "And he took bread, and gave thanks, and brake it, and gave unto them, saying, This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me. Likewise also the cup after supper, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you."

Most Christian denominations have a ceremony in which small amounts of bread and wine are consumed. Some perform this only once a year, on the anniversary of that final meal; many celebrate the event at weekly services; and others, Roman Catholics in particular, offer communion more frequently.

For most denominations, the bread and wine are purely symbolic, serving as a reminder of what Jesus sacrificed, having no special power, and being no different from ordinary bread and wine.

Lutherans believe in consubstantiation, in which Jesus becomes present within the bread and wine. The bread does become special, yet it reamins bread.

But Catholics, who regard communion as one of their basic sacraments, consider is my body to be literally true. During the communion sacrament, the bread and wine take on special powers and actually become Jesus's body and blood.

But understanding what that really means, again requires some explanation.

When describing things using formal logic, the term essence refers to attributes that are fundamental to the object, while accident refers to attributes that aren't.

A table could be made of wood, of metal, of plastic, or of some other substance. Which material is used is considered accident, not essence. Which specific material that tables are made of has nothing to do with the state of being a table.

Similarly, a wooden table and the inside of a tree are composed of the same substance, but one would not consider the table to be a tree. Being made of wood is essence when it comes to defining a tree, but accident when defining a table.

The same situation applies to bread (and wine). During the communion sacrament, the bread turns into Jesus's body just as a piece of wood can be turned into a table.

In the same way that the table is no longer a piece of wood, so too, the sacrifice is no longer a piece of bread. The table may be physically composed of the same thing that trees are composed of, but it is not a tree; wood is an essence of tree, but accident of table. A sample taken from the table would be indistinguishable from a sample taken from a tree, but that doesn't mean that the table is a tree. Similarly, this aspect of the body of Christ may be physically composed of flour, but it is no longer bread; flour is an essence of bread, but accident of Christ's body.

A piece of wood starts as essence with respect to tree and becomes accident with respect to table. The wood itself is there, but it has nothing to do with the table's essence.

Gluten starts as essence with respect to wheat bread and becomes accident with respect to the body of Christ. The flour itself is there, but it has nothing to do with the body of Christ's essence.

A table might sometimes be made of wood, but its essence is table, not wood. The body of Christ might sometimes be made of flour, but its essence is Christ, not flour.

The bread transforms into the body of Christ, but that does not mean that flour turns into meat any more than transforming a tree into a table turns it into metal or plastic.

So just to be sure: transubstantiation does not make communion safe for people with celiac disease or wheat allergies.

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