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Protestantism and Non-Christian Religions

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Baptist-Catholic Dialogue

by Arthur B. Crabtree - Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.


After discussing the Baptist terminology for Eucharist, Crabtree outlines Baptist Eucharistic tradition. Presbyterian influence led to a monthly celebration, while Zwinglian and Calvinistic influence led to an emphasis on the commemoration and communion aspects of the rite. In the U.S. until recently, the Lord's Supper was thought of chiefly or exclusively as the commemoration of the death of Jesus. In my last thirty years, U. S. Baptists have reexamined their understanding of the Eucharist and, as a result, the concepts of “presence of Christ" and "sacrifice" have reentered the theological discussion. Crabtree believes all current Baptist terminology inadequate. In his view, any adequate Eucharistic theology must include considerations of mystery, acted gospel, liberation, celebration of covenant, participation in Christ, sacrifice, sacrament, and grace.

Hardon summarizes traditional Roman Catholic Eucharistic teaching on real presence, the sacrifice of the Mass, and communion. Regarding real presence, the Catholic Church has taught that the whole Christ is truly, really, and substantially present, that the term transubstantiation is an appropriate term to describe the change that takes place, that the whole Christ is present under each species and under each and every portion of each species, and, since this presence continues beyond the time of communion, that true adoration is to be given to the sacrament. As for the sacrificial aspect of the Eucharist, official church teaching has frequently asserted that in the Mass there takes place the application to humanity of the blessings of salvation won on the cross. After a primitive church custom of frequent reception of communion, there was a decline in the custom, leading eventually to annual communion prescribed in 1215. Pius X was instrumental in restoring the custom of frequent communion, a practice reinforced by Vatican II teaching.

Arthur B. Crabtree (American Baptist), B.A., B.D., University of Manchester, Dr. Theol., University of Zurich, is a Professor in the Department of Religious Studies at Villanova (PA) University. He is the North American Academy of Ecumenists' editorial liaison with the Journal of Ecumenical Studies, and a member of the Baptist Committee on Christian Unity. Author of The Restored Relationship, his most recent article is “Baptist Spirituality” in The Month (1976).

John A. Hardon, S.J. (Roman Catholic), A.B., John Carroll University, M.A., Loyola University (Chicago), S.T.L., W. Baden College (Indiana), S.T.D., Gregorian University (Rome), is a Professor of the Jesuit School of Theology in Chicago, on a visiting professorship at St. John's University in New York in the Institute for Advanced Studies in Catholic Doctrine (1974-76). A member of the Bishops Commission for Ecumenism and Inter-religious Affairs, he has written hundreds of journal and encyclopedia articles and several books, most recently The Catholic Catechism (Doubleday).

The Eucharist in Baptist Life and Thought

Arthur B. Crabtree

The purpose of this essay is mutual understanding and dialogue, which will probably be served best if I proceed by the following steps: first, a comment on Baptist terminology; second, a short survey of Baptist Eucharistic traditions; third, a revue of contemporary trends in Baptist eucharistic theology; fourth, an outline of my own eucharistic theology.

Baptist Terminology

Consonant with the Calvinistic tradition, Baptists customarily term the Eucharist the "Lord's Supper." The English Baptists, influenced apparently by the Anglican tradition, sometimes call it "Communion." The General Baptists called baptism and Eucharist "sacraments." The Particular Baptists termed them "ordinances." [1] Today there is a tendency, led by English Baptists, to return to the word "sacrament."

Baptist Eucharistic Tradition

There is some evidence, according to Horton Davies, [2] that the earliest Baptists celebrated the Eucharist every Sunday in conjunction with the liturgy of the Word. Soon, however, they began to follow the Presbyterians in celebrating it only occasionally, usually once a month. This is still the custom.

The manner of celebrating the Lord's Supper is relatively uniform. It is usually conducted by an ordained Baptist minister with the assistance of deacons (who are laypeople), sitting behind a table, facing the congregation. The words of institution are read from 1 Corinthians 11 or one of the Gospels, thanksgiving (that is, Eucharistic) prayers offered for the bread and wine, and bread and wine distributed by the minister and deacons, and eaten and drunk. A "fellowship offering" is contributed for the needy, and the Supper closes with a hymn and benediction.

The interpretation of the Lord's Supper has been influenced not by the Lutheran but by the Zwinglian and Calvinistic traditions. According to the Zwinglian tradition, which stresses the words "do this in remembrance (anamnesis) of me," the Supper commemorates the Lord's death, the bread and wine signifying, but not being, the body and blood of Christ, since Christ is now in heaven and not with us on earth. According to the Calvinistic tradition, the Supper is both commemoration and communion - a "witness of the union which we have with Christ, inasmuch as he not only died and rose for us once, but also feeds and nourishes us truly with his flesh and blood, so that we may be one in him, and that our life may be in common." [3]

The earliest Baptists, such as Smyth and Helwys, followed the Calvinist tradition of the English Separatists and Dutch Mennonites. This Calvinistic tradition was presented in the General Baptist Orthodox Creed of 1679 which affirms that the Supper means remembrance of Christ's sacrificial death, spiritual nourishment and growth in Christ, communion with Christ and one another, obedience to Christ, and thanksgiving to God for God's benefits. [4]

It similarly found expression in the Particular Baptist Second London Confession of 1677, which in 1742-1743 was adopted by Baptists in the United States as the Philadelphia Confession of Faith. This Confession declares that "the Supper of the Lord Jesus, was instituted by him... for the perpetual remembrance, and shewing forth the sacrifice of his death, confirmation of the faith of believers in all the benefits thereof, their spiritual nourishment, and growth in him... and to be a bond and pledge of their communion with him, and with each other." [5]

In England, however, according to Payne, "during the eighteenth century Zwinglian views seem to have become somewhat more general." [6] In the United States there was a similar Zwinglian trend. The New Hampshire Confession of 1833 says tersely that baptism is prerequisite to "the Lord's Supper, in which the members of the Church, by the (sacred) use of bread and wine, are to commemorate together the dying love of Christ; preceded always by solemn self examination." [7] During the late nineteenth and the early twentieth centuries, the New Hampshire Confession became immensely influential both among Northern (now American) and Southern Baptists. In 1925 the huge Southern Baptist Convention "worked over the Confession, adding ten new sections, and published it as the expression of the faith generally held by Southern Baptists." [8] We thus discern during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries both in England and in the United States a general shift from the Calvinistic to the Zwinglian tradition. For most Baptists, particularly in the United States, the Lord's Supper became until recently merely a commemoration of the death of Jesus.

Recent Thinking

By "recent" I mean the past thirty years. During this period the trend toward Zwinglianism has been reversed. The trend is now toward Calvinism-and even beyond it in the direction of Anglicanism and Catholicism. This recent trend began in England and is being followed in the United States.

In 1948, the Council of the Baptist Union of Great Britain and Ireland approved the following statement:

The Communion Service is more than a commemoration of the Last Supper and a showing forth "of the Lord's death until He comes." Here the grace of God is offered and is received in faith; here the real presence of Christ is manifest in the joy and peace both of the believing soul and of the community; here we are in communion, not only with our fellow-members in the Church, not only with the Church militant on earth and triumphant in heaven, but also with our risen and glorified Lord. [9]

In 1951, the Baptist Principals' Conference, at the request of the Council, published a fuller declaration entitled: The Lord's Supper, a Baptist Statement, which interprets the Communion or Supper in a sevenfold manner:

  1. First, "The Lord's Supper is a service of Remembrance."

  2. Second, "such remembrance embodies also a Proclamation" in which "we proclaim anew the eternal reality of His suffering and redeeming love."

  3. Third, it is "a service of self examination and repentance, of confession and judgment."

  4. Fourth, "when approached in this spirit, the service is truly a 'sacrament,' for then its actions and words become to us 'the outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace."'

  5. Fifth, "there is much help to be gained from the idea of Sacrifice, when used with due care. Baptists repudiate any notion of repeating, or adding to, the one perfect and all sufficient offering for the sins of mankind made by our Savior upon the Cross." Nevertheless, we remember at the Table "the eternal self offering of Christ to God on our behalf” and offer ourselves to God in such a manner that we so "identify ourselves by faith with Him in what He does on our behalf that even our imperfect offering is transformed, and being taken up into the perfection of His, is made acceptable and well pleasing to God."

  6. Sixth, the Lord's Supper is a "Covenant-rite" in which there is "a perpetual renewing of the Lord's covenant with His people, and so of our covenant with Him and with one another."

  7. Seventh, the Lord's Supper has universal and ecumenical significance, since it reminds us of "the bond that unites us in Christ with all the people of God, and not least with those who are sundered from us by distance or by ecclesiastical divisions."

In light of this bond, the Statement, while permitting "close communion" (that is, the restriction of Holy Communion to Baptists), recommends "open communion" (that is, the sharing of holy communion with non-Baptists). In other words, it recommends shared communion or intercommunion on the grounds that, though severed by ecclesial boundaries, we are united in Christ and recognize one another and collaborate with one another as brothers and sisters in Christ. "What right therefore have we to deny them access to the Table of the Lord?" [10]

In the British periodical, Baptist Quarterly, H. W. Trent, in 1957, emphasized three aspects of the Supper: retrospectively, it is a commemoration of the crucified Christ; presently it is participation (koinonia) in the risen Christ; proleptically, it is an anticipation of the consummation of the kingdom of God. [11]

In the United States the need for Baptist rethinking on the Eucharist was pointed out by Samuel H. Miller in 1958, when he wrote that in light of our modern understanding of symbol and sacrament, Baptists "may need a new doctrine in regard to the Lord's Supper." [12] A step in this direction was made by Thorwald W. Bender in an address delivered to the American Baptist Convention at Detroit in May, 1963. "The Communion Service," he said, "stands for far more than 'bare memorialism.'...We must recognize its sacramental dimension.... This remembrance looks backward to Calvary; it looks forward to the glorious, victorious return of Christ; and it takes place in the joyous awareness of the Risen Lord's present ministry." [13]

A further step was taken by Eric C. Rust, a former British Baptist now teaching in Southern Baptist Seminary, Louisville, Kentucky, in an article entitled "The Theology of the Lord's Supper" in a special issue of The Review and Expositor, Winter, 1969, devoted to the question of the Lord's Supper and edited by David Mueller. Rust begins by remarking that until recently Baptists have relegated the Supper to a minor place and interpreted it in the Zwinglian manner as merely a memorial meal. He now wishes to accord it to larger place and broader meaning. In particular, he stresses six aspects of the Supper:

  1. First, it is acted gospel, dabar in action, a proclamation of the death of the Lord.

  2. Second, it is living presence-the presence of Christ with his people-"the living presence of the Risen Lord."

  3. Third, it is Eucharist, that is, thanksgiving.

  4. Fourth, as Eucharist it is sacrifice, since "our thanksgiving is an offering, a sacrifice. Hence in the great church tradition, the Lord's Supper can be described as both Eucharist and Eucharistic Sacrifice.'' It is a sacrifice since "the once-for-all atonement on Calvary's hill is also an eternal reality.... Christ ever stands in the divine life offering eternally his sacrifice for us and for all men," and we join our sacrifice to his "not alone the sacrifice of our praise but also "the sacrifice of ourselves to his service."

  5. Fifth, it is a fellowship meal in which "we commune with one another and with God though his sacrifice.''

  6. Sixth, it is an eschatological feast which we celebrate "until he shall come, when the whole universe will display the glory of the Lord." [14]

Summarizing these trends, we may say that Baptist theologians are gradually recognizing that the Eucharist is not merely a memorial meal but also communion with Christ and Christians, a sacrifice of thanksgiving and of consecration to his service, a visible and acted word proclaiming the gospel of redeeming love, a sacrament which signifies and communicates God's grace to all who participate in faith, and an eschatological sign of the culmination of God's reign.

From this historical survey it becomes manifest that Baptist views of the Eucharist have varied and still vary. Today they are very much in flux. My own view is but one element in that manifold flux and should not be regarded as representative of all Baptists. It is written from the standpoint of an ecumenical Baptist who tries to take account of "the living tradition of the whole Church." [15]

A Personal Interpretation

  1. Terminology.

    All three names in common use are good: Eucharist, Holy Communion, Lord's Supper. Each expresses an important aspect of the rite: Eucharist, the aspect of thanksgiving; Holy Communion, the aspect of communion with God and one another; Lord's Supper, the aspect of a common meal in Christ. But neither singly nor in combination do they exhaust the meaning of this rite, which is essentially a mystery transcending comprehension and formulation.

  2. Eucharist Is Mystery.

    Actually everything is mystery. Reality transcends our grasp. Everything is marvelous. Mir ist alles Wunder (Schleiermacher). The marvel and mystery of reality leaves us "lost in wonder, love and praise" (Charles Wesley). The Eucharist is no exception. It is one of the "mysteries of Christianity" (Scheeben), unfathomable, ineffable, indefinable. Every attempt to formulate it, including the present one, is inadequate.

  3. Eucharist Is Sacrament.

    As the language of Western Christianity became Latin rather than Greek, the word mysterion was translated sacramentum rather than mysterium. What Eastern Christians called (and still call) "mysteries," Western Christians term "sacraments." "Sacrament" was understood by Augustine as a sign of the sacred and by Peter Lombard and the Scholastics as a sign of divine grace-a sign which both signifies and conveys grace when received in faith.

    To me the Eucharist is both mystery and sacrament - an ineffable divine human mystery which, through the sacramental signs of bread and wine, signifies and conveys grace when received in faith.

  4. Eucharist Is a Means of Grace.

    Such a sacrament is manifestly a means of grace-not automatically - but when received in faith, hope, love, penitence, and humility. Now grace is charis, the gracefulness and graciousness of God which graces us (charitein, Eph. 1:16) and evokes our gratitude (eucharistia).

  5. Eucharist Is Visible Word or Acted Gospel.

    Grace manifests itself in Christ and Christ meets us in the gospel. This gospel is communicated to us by the written word of Scripture, the spoken word of proclamation, and the acted word of Scripture, the spoken word of proclamation, and the acted word of the Eucharist (the verbum visibile of Augustine). "For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes" (1 Cor. 11:26). Participation in the Eucharist is proclamation of the gospel. Actions speak no less than words. (The Hebrew word dabar means both word and action.) The proclamation of the gospel begins in the liturgy of the Word and continues in the liturgy of the Eucharist. This continuity underlies the unity of Word and Eucharist in the Orthodox and Catholic liturgies-a unity which many Protestants have lost and need to recover.

  6. Eucharist Is Liberation, Salvation, Rectification, Reconciliation.

    Eucharist is essentially the Jewish Passover christologically interpreted. Passover means liberation from the bondage of Egypt; Eucharist, from the bondage of sin - both from its guilt and from its power. And liberation from sin is liberation for righteousness. It is redemption, salvation, rectification of our relationship with God and one another, reconciliation with God and one another, health, wholeness, fullness of life, shalom.

  7. Eucharist Is Covenant Celebration.

    This rectification of relationships with God and one another is called in the Scriptures a covenant, and covenant is associated with Eucharist (Mt. 26:28; Mk.14:24; 1 Cor. 11:25). Eucharist is accordingly a covenant celebration, a covenant of love and peace with God and all of God's creatures.

  8. Eucharist Is Commemoration.

    In this covenant celebration we commemorate the one who makes the covenant - Jesus Christ. "Do this in my remembrance (anamnesis)" was Christ's precept to his church (1 Cor. 11:25). Anamnesis is unforgetfulness, consciousness of Christ, commemoration of Christ, both of the dying Christ of Calvary and the living Christ who is present in our covenant celebration.

  9. Eucharist Is Communion.

    Our commemoration of Christ is at the same time communion with Christ. "The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a communion (koinonia) of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a communion (koinonia) of the body of Christ? Because there is one loaf, we who are many are one body, for we are all partakers of the same loaf" (l Cor. 10:16f.).

    Eucharist is a sacrament of unity in community - unity in Christ in the community of Christ's people. Eucharist is Holy Communion: communion with God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, in the mystical unity of the body of Christ - of that body of Christ which is both the bread and the church.

  10. Eucharist Is Anticipation.

    This Eucharistic unity is glorious, yet fleeting and imperfect, like all things in this mortal life. It is but a foretaste, an anticipation of that richer, fuller, more abiding communion still to come when the telos is reached and God is all in all (1 Cor. 15:24-28).

  11. Eucharist Is the Continuation of Christ's Priestly Work of Reconciliation.

    Christ's work has many facets: prophetic, priestly, kingly, ministerial, etc. Presently we are concerned alone with his priestly work, which began with the incarnation, which enabled Christ as the God-human to mediate between God and humanity and to reconcile us with God and one another (Eph.2:11-22). This incarnational ministry of reconciliation climaxed in the passion in which "he died once for all (hapax), the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God" (1 Pet. 3:18). This sacrificial offering in the blood of the cross was unique and unrepeatable. This unicity of Calvary was stressed by the Protestant Reformers, affirmed by the Council of Trent, [16] and reaffirmed in the recent bilateral conversations. [17]

    That does not mean, however, as the Protestant Reformers tended too readily to assume, that the sacrificial priestly work of Christ ended with the cross. It continues, as the Council of Trent rightly affirms, [18] in the Eucharist. It continues actually in the whole work of the church which, together with Christ, its living head (Eph. 1:22f.; Col. 1:18), is a "royal priesthood" (1 Pet. 2:9). It continues par excellence in the liturgy of the church, in the liturgy of the Eucharist no less than in the liturgy of the Word. How does it continue? By way of intercession, oblation, and reconciliation.

    1. Intercession: On the ground of this reconciling sacrifice offered once for all on the cross, Christ continually intercedes for us (Heb. 7:25), and in union with Christ we intercede for one another.

    2. Oblation: This intercession is a continuing oblation of Christ, a constant sacrificial consecration to his priestly work of reconciliation, an oblation offered no longer in the blood of the dying Christ but in the priestly ministry of the living Christ. And as Christ continually offers himself in sacrificial service, we who participate in his body and blood (1 Cor. 10:16) offer ourselves as a living sacrifice to God (Rom. 12:1).

    3. Reconciliation: The effect of this sacrificial priestly work of Christ, begun in the incarnation, climaxed in the cross, and continuing in the Eucharist, is reconciliation: reconciliation with God and one another in the mystical unity of the body of Christ (Eph. 2:11-22). In the sacrifice of the cross Christ was effecting reconciliation for us. In the Eucharist he is effecting reconciliation for us and with us, since we share with him in the ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:18).

  12. Eucharist Is Thanksgiving.

    For all the blessings of God's grace, for the common bread of our daily life and the eucharistic bread of our liturgical life, we raise our sacrifice of praise and thanks. Our response to charis is eucharistia. Eucharist is Eucharist, thanksgiving.

Catholic Response by John A. Hardon

I am happy to respond to the invitation of commenting on Dr. Crabtree's very lucid presentation of "The Eucharist in Baptist Life and Thought." It is surely a tribute to the grace of the Holy Spirit that we can calmly reflect on the Holy Eucharist, as Catholics and Protestants, and trust that with the help of the same Spirit we can speed the day when dialogue will give place to unity of faith in the Mystery of Faith. In my comments I wish to concentrate on the last part of Dr. Crabtree's essay, on what he calls "A Personal Interpretation."

For a Catholic the Eucharistic sacrifice certainly is liberation, celebration of covenant, and participation in Christ. But it is all of these with a reality and literalness that Dr. Crabtree's interpretation does not declare. Since Christ is really, truly, and substantially present in the Eucharist, Catholics believe the Mass is correspondingly a true sacrifice. It is not merely a commemoration of the sacrifice accomplished on the cross. It is a true propitiatory sacrifice which truly benefits not only those who physically assist at Mass but all the faithful and, in fact, the whole human race.

It was heartening to read how Dr. Crabtree explains his understanding of how the Eucharist means sacrifice. He says that the Eucharist does not repeat the sacrifice made once for all. The Catholic Church likewise teaches that the Mass is not a new or separate sacrifice which is independent of the cross. On the contrary, all the efficacy of the Mass derives from the cross since in the Mass we have the same priest and victim now on the altar as shed his blood on Calvary. We now receive a share in the graces he merited for us on the cross. It is at this crucial juncture of his explanation that Dr. Crabtree states what I consider to be so encouraging. After stating that in the Eucharist we recall or remember Christ's sacrifice on the cross, he adds these other meanings to the Eucharist as sacrifice:

  • Christ who continues the priestly work of interceding for us is present with us to heal and bless.

  • We so identify with Christ's sacrifice that we present ourselves a living sacrifice, being transformed by the renewing of our mind that we might discern and do the will of God.

We, too, believe that in the Mass Christ continues the priestly work of healing and blessing humanity. This enables us to identify with Christ's sacrifice by presenting ourselves as a living sacrifice in union with Christ's. But all of this, as the Catholic Church believes, is no mere symbolism, nor mere commemoration, nor mere recollection or remembrance. Christ does here and now truly continue the priestly work of interceding for us through the Mass. There is a real causal efficacy, instrumental no doubt but real, by which the blessings of Calvary are channeled to us through the Eucharistic sacrifice.

The reason for being encouraged by what Dr. Crabtree declares is his recognition that Christ instituted the Eucharist as an "outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace," in fact that "it signifies and effects grace when received in faith, hope, and love."

Needless to say, I consider this statement a reflection of the faith of the ancient, undivided church, notably the declaration that the Eucharist effects grace. So it does, and so the Catholic Church has always believed to be the meaning of the sacrament of the altar.

There is one important proviso, however, that must be added, and it pertains to the essence of the mystery of the Eucharist. True enough, the Eucharist confers grace on those who receive it in faith, hope, and love. But their faith, hope, and love do not make Christ present in the Eucharist. He is there, once the words of consecration have been pronounced by a duly ordained priest. He is duly ordained if he derives his priestly powers ultimately from the Last Supper through the historical episcopate that comes down to us from Christ when he first ordained the priests of the New Covenant.

Consequently, while I respect Dr. Crabtree's closing observations about intercommunion, I must dissociate myself from what he concludes, that "there are good theological and practical reasons for shared Eucharist." Like him, I hope that one day all Christians will share in the one communion of Christ's body and blood. But it should be evident that not all Christians believe the same about what this communion means. For Catholics it is Christ himself present under the sacramental species, no less truly than when he walked the streets of Palestine. For many others it is bread and wine signifying, but not being, the body and blood of Christ. How can we speak of a "shared Eucharist" when that which is proposed to be shared is not the same Eucharist?

The Holy Eucharist in the Catholic Church

John A. Hardon

The Holy Eucharist is the center of life and worship in the Catholic Church. Lavish titles have been given to this mystery, of which the best known is the Eucharist, or thanksgiving, either because at its institution Christ "gave thanks," or by the fact that this is the supreme act of Christian gratitude to God. Other familiar names are the Lord's Supper, the Table of the Lord, the Holy Sacrifice, the Holy of Holies, the Blessed Sacrament, or simply the Liturgy. Each of these and similar names concentrate on one or another of the three main aspects of the eucharistic mystery, as real presence, as the sacrifice of the altar, or as the sacrament of Holy Communion.

Building on the biblical foundation, the Catholic Church has ever kept the faithful mindful of their great privilege in possessing the Holy Eucharist and their duty to avail themselves of the graces which Christ intends to confer through this treasury of his mercy.

Real Presence

When Catholic Christianity affirms, without qualification, that "in the nourishing sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, after the consecration of the bread and wine, our Lord Jesus Christ, true God and true man," is present "under the appearances of those sensible things," it rests its faith on the words of Scripture and the evidence of sacred Tradition. [19]

The beginning of this faith comes from the discourse recorded by St. John. Christ had already worked the miracle of multiplying the loaves and fishes. He had also spoken at length about the need for faith in Him and His words as a condition for salvation. Then Jesus continued:

I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the desert and they are dead; but this is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that a man may eat and not die. I am the living bread which has come down from heaven. Anyone who eats this bread will live for ever; and the bread that I shall give is my flesh, for the life of the world (Jn. 6:48-51).

The evangelist explains that Christ taught this doctrine in the synagogue, but that after hearing it “many of his followers said, ‘This is intolerable language. How could anyone accept it?’ Jesus was fully aware that his followers were complaining and, in fact, asked them, "Does this upset you?" But he took nothing back. Rather he insisted that "The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life. But there are some of you who do not believe." At the same time he explained that such faith is not of human making, since "no one could come to me unless the Father allows him."

Following this animated dialogue, we are prepared for the statement that, "After this, many of his disciples left him and stopped going with him." Then, to make absolutely certain there was no mistaking what he was saying, Jesus said to the Twelve, "What about you, do you want to go away too?" To which Simon Peter replied, "Lord, who shall we go to? You have the message of eternal life, and we believe" (Jn. 6:59-68).

The church's decisive revelation on the Real Presence is in the words of institution, "This is my body - This is my blood," whose literal meaning has been defended through the ages. They were thus understood by St. Paul when he told the first Christians that those who approached the Eucharist unworthily would be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.

The first serious ripples of controversy came in the ninth century A.D., when a monk from the French Abbey of Corbie wrote against his abbot, St. Paschasius (785-860). Ratramnus (died 868) held that Christ's body in the Eucharist cannot be the same as Christ's historical body once on earth and now in heaven, because the eucharistic body is invisible, impalpable, and spiritual.

Within two centuries the issue had reached such a point of gravity that a formal declaration was evoked from the Holy See. In 1079, the archdeacon Berengar of Tours, who favored Ratramnus' position, was required by Gregory VII to accept the following declaration of faith in the Eucharistic presence:

I believe in my heart and openly profess that the bread and wine placed upon the altar are, by the mystery of the sacred prayer and the words of the Redeemer, substantially changed in the true and life-giving flesh and blood of Jesus Christ our Lord. [20]

In the sixteenth century, the controversy over the Church's traditional teaching was revived. Theories ranged from complete symbolism to some kind of spiritual presence. It was to meet this new and more serious challenge to the historic faith that the Council of Trent defined the real presence in a series of four canons that covered the major aspects of the faith that were being called into question.

  1. Responding to the claims of merely symbolic or spiritual presence, the Church condemned "anyone who denies that 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 in the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, but says that Christ is present in the sacrament only as a sign, or figure, or by his power." [21]

    The expression whole Christ proved to be decisive. Since the whole Christ is present in the fullness of his divine and human natures, this implies that he is present under the sacramental appearances with the totality of his divine attributes as well as his human properties.

  2. By the thirteenth century the term transubstantiation had come to be used to identify the change that occurs at the time of consecration of the Eucharistic elements. At the Fourth Lateran Council, this term was part of the conciliar creed professing belief in the Eucharist. But Trent went a step further. It not only used the term but declared the fitness of the expression. The reason was that some were ready to admit a real presence, even a corporeal one, but claimed that Christ was present along with the elements of bread and wine. Not so, the council held, as though "the substance of bread and wine remains in the holy sacrament of the Eucharist together with the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ." This would be to deny "that wonderful and extraordinary change of the whole substance of the bread into Christ's body and the whole substance of the wine into His blood, while only the species of bread and wine remain, a change which the Catholic Church has most fittingly called transubstantiation." [22]

  3. Again what may seem to have been a refinement actually touched on the essence of the sacrament, namely, the double question of whether Christ was entirely present under the form of bread or wine, and to what extent. Hence the Church's affirmation that "in the venerable sacrament of the Eucharist the whole Christ is contained under each species and under each and every portion of either species when it is divided up.” [23] Communion under both species had been customary everywhere, and was then the practice in the Eastern rites. But in the sixteenth century, the strong insistence that the chalice be given to everyone occasioned this definition, which was also the doctrinal foundation for receiving only under the form of bread.

  4. Still another theory was the notion that the real presence is to be identified with the liturgical action. This was explained with different nuances, but at their center was the denial of an objective reality that is independent of the faith or piety or devotion of the participants. The Church countered from every angle. Thus one cannot say that the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ are "present only in the use of the sacrament while it is being received, and not before or after, and that the true body of the Lord does not remain in the consecrated hosts or particles that are left over after Communion."

Given this perdurance of Christ's presence as long as the species remain, it was only logical for the Church to worship the Blessed Sacrament as it would the person of Jesus himself. As a result, he is to be adored "in the holy sacrament of the Eucharist with the worship of latria, including the external worship." Concretely this means that the sacrament is to be "honored with extraordinary festive celebrations" and "solemnly carried from place to place" and "is to be publicly exposed for the people's adoration." [24]

The teachings of Trent ushered in a renascence of faith in the real presence that affected many facets of the Catholic liturgy. Notable among these was the renewed impetus it gave to the worship of the Blessed Sacrament reserved in the tabernacle or exposed in a monstrance on the altar.

The International Eucharistic Congress in Philadelphia (August, 1976) is an expression of this faith in Christ's abiding presence in our midst today, no less than he was truly present to his contemporaries in first century Palestine.

Sacrifice of the Mass

At the Last Supper, Christ made it plain to the apostles that what he was there enacting and what he would complete on Calvary was a sacrifice, which he wanted them to continue in his memory. In Judaism bread and wine were familiar sacrificial elements. The words Jesus used at the institution, when he spoke of the New Covenant, of his body that would be given up, of his blood that would be poured out, of doing this in memory of Him - all have deep sacrificial implications.

In apostolic times the Church had no doubt that, while the sacrifice of the cross was certainly adequate for the redemption of the world, Christ intended to have this sacrifice perpetuated in a ritual manner until the end of time. This was one of the principal themes of the Letter to the Hebrews, which assumed that Christ had offered himself once to God the Father upon the altar of the cross, but went on to affirm that his redemption was an enduring event. Christ's priesthood "remains for ever." It continues "since he is living for ever to intercede for all who come to God through him" (Heb. 7:24-25).

Christ's own association of what he did at the Last Supper with what he was do on Good Friday has been the Church's own norm for intimately relating the two. The sacrifice of the altar, then, is no mere empty commemoration of Calvary, but a true and proper act of sacrifice, whereby Christ the high priest by an unbloody immolation offers himself a most acceptable victim to the eternal Father, as he did on the cross. "It is one and the same victim; the same person now offers it by the ministry of his priests, who then offered himself on the cross. Only the manner of offering is different."

The priest is the same, namely, Jesus Christ whose divine person the human minister represents at the altar. "By reason of his ordination, he is made like the high priest and possesses the power of performing actions in virtue of Christ's very person. [25] The victim is also the same, namely, the Savior in his human nature with his true body and blood. Worth stressing is that what makes the Mass a sacrifice is that Christ is a living human being with a human will, still capable of offering (hence priest) and being offered (hence victim), no less truly today than occurred on the cross.

However, the critical question still remains. Just how is the Mass related to Calvary? It is related in several ways, but mainly as effective application of the merits gained by Christ by his death on the cross. During the period of the Reformation, this was one of the most vexing issues that faced the Church whose priests were told they were wrong to claim that Masses were a source of divine grace. The dilemma seemed insoluble: Either Christ died once for all and his death is sufficient for the redemption of humanity or, in spite of his death, Masses must be said to somehow shore up what was presumably inadequate in the passion of the Savior.

The Council of Trent addressed itself to the issue in a memorable statement that summarized fifteen centuries of Catholic belief on the efficacy of the Mass, but an efficacy that depends entirely on Calvary. [26]

What the church teaches is that, while the blessings of salvation were merited for humanity on the cross, they are still to be applied to us, principally through the Mass. Between the two ideas of merit and application stand the towering facts of faith and human freedom: faith to believe that God wants us to use such channels as the Mass, and freedom to humbly unite ourselves in spirit with Christ's self-immolation - He on the cross which He endured, and we on our cross which Christ bade us to carry daily if we wish to be his disciples.

Holy Communion

The Consummation of the Eucharistic liturgy is the reception of Holy Communion, in which the body and blood of Christ are received and by which we are intimately united with the incarnate Son of God. Already in apostolic times, the faithful were accustomed to receive the Eucharist every week. Thus in the first century Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, the people were admonished that, "having come together on the Lord's Day, you are to break bread and give thanks, after you have confessed your sins, so that your sacrifice might be undefiled. But anyone who is estranged from his friend should not join us, until both have become reconciled, lest your sacrifice be polluted." [27]

From the end of the second century there are indications that many priests and laity received Holy Communion every day. Tertullian mentions that Christians daily extend their hands, according to the prevalent custom, to receive the body of Christ. [28] St. Cyprian states that in Africa "we who are in Christ, daily receive the Eucharist as the food of salvation." [29]

From the beginning of the ninth century we see a notable decline in the frequentation of the sacraments. Instead of improving, however, the situation became worse, until finally in 1215 the Fourth Lateran Council enjoined at least annual Communion at Easter time: "Everyone of the faithful of both sexes, after reaching the age of reason, should in private faithfully confess all his sins at least once a year…reverently receiving the Sacrament of the Eucharist at least at Easter time." [30]

Finally in 1551 the Council of Trent passed a decree on the Holy Eucharist, urging "all who bear the Christian name …mindful of the boundless love of our Lord Jesus Christ…that they may believe and venerate these sacred mysteries of his body and blood, with such constancy and firmness of faith, with such piety and worship, that they may be able to receive frequently that super substantial bread." It went on to specify that this meant "at every Mass they attend." [31] These documents placed in the hands of the church's pastors the authority they needed to propagate frequent Communion among the faithful, not only in private correspondence but officially, on as wide a scale as their resources permitted.

As so often happens in the history of the church, there was a strong reaction, with Jansenism presenting the best organized opposition. The Jansenists argued against frequent reception on the score that the Eucharist is rather a reward for virtue already possessed than a source of grace for virtue still to be achieved. The condemnation of Jansenistic rigorism in the seventeenth century did not make an appreciable difference in the general practices of the people, except for putting a check on the extremists. For the next century, Rome kept encouraging bishops and priests to permit more frequent Communion, but the seeds of Jansenism had taken too deep a root in Catholic piety to be eradicated easily. Credit for the final eradication is due to Pius X.

St. Pius X drew on the teachings of the Council of Trent to bring out the fact that the Eucharist is by divine intention the food of which Christ spoke in the Gospel of John and which he instituted at the Last Supper as the sacrament of unity, because its special purpose is to increase the practice of charity:

The desire of Jesus Christ and of the Church that all the faithful should daily approach the sacred banquet is directed chiefly to this end, that the faithful, being united to God by means of this sacrament, may thence derive strength to resist their sensual passions, to cleanse themselves from the stains of daily faults, and to avoid those graver sins to which human frailty is liable. [32]

The stress on the Eucharist as a sacred banquet, or in more prosaic terms, a holy meal, has been popularized since the Second Vatican Council. [33] Its foundations are biblical and its purpose is precisely that, functional. No less than ordinary food is meant to nourish the body, give it strength, and bring a certain amount of pleasure, so partaking of Christ's body and blood has been given to us as nourishment for the spirit, through the infusion of divine love; as a source of strength to cope with our weakness, especially our proneness to selfishness and greed; and as a cause of our joy in the service of the Lord, by giving us satisfaction in the performance of what human nature (without this grace) would consider burdensome duties.

But the word "banquet" has one more implication today that was not so obvious even in the days of Pius X, namely, the notion of togetherness which our lonely urban civilization makes us realize we so desperately want. It is not too much to say that, in an age when family meals are becoming increasingly rare because family life has been gravely impaired, Holy Communion will obtain the grace for communities everywhere to recover their identity through the reception of him who prayed, "May they all be one, Father, may they be one in us" (Jn. 17:21).

Baptist Response by Arthur B. Crabtree

I am grateful for this opportunity to respond to Fr. John Hardon's lucid historical presentation of the Eucharist in the Catholic Church. One of the inestimable blessings of God in this ecumenical age is the opportunity to discuss Christian doctrine in candor and love, and one of the happy surprises of such discussion is the discovery of unexpected agreements. My major impression in comparing Fr. Hardon's understanding of the Eucharist with my own is that we have immense areas of complete agreement.

Our agreement includes the following: the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist; the sacrificial nature of the Eucharist as a continuation of Christ's priestly work on the basis of his once-for-all suffering on the cross; the communal nature of the Eucharist as communion with Christ and one another; the communal and commemorative aspects of the Eucharist as a sacred banquet; and the communicative nature of the Eucharist as the communication to us of the benefits of his passion, forgiveness of sins, and newness of life as a sacrament is received in faith.

It is within the context of this comprehensive agreement that I would like to discuss two matters arising from our articles. One is the place of the Eucharist in the liturgy; the other is the doctrine of transubstantiation.

Regarding the place of the Eucharist in the liturgy Fr. Hardon writes: "The Holy Eucharist is the center of life and worship in the Catholic Church." This would seem to imply that the Eucharist is central and the liturgy of the Word peripheral. Would it not be better to think of the Word and sacrament as coordinate, like two foci in an ellipse, while recognizing that the Word reaches a certain culmination in the sacrament?

Regarding the relation of the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist and the doctrine of transubstantiation, I rejoice that we are in complete agreement on the doctrine of the presence. The doctrine of transubstantiation is one way of describing this presence, a way which gradually became dominant in the eleventh and twelfth centuries and found expression in the Fourth Lateran Council of 1215. I do not reject it, as the Protestant Reformers did, and as my fellow Baptist, Eric Rust, still does. I regard it as a legitimate way of describing the mystery of the presence. But I do not regard it as the only legitimate way.

The term "transubstantiation" arose, as Father Hardon indicates, during the medieval Eucharistic controversies involving Radbertus, Ratramnus, Lanfranc, Berengar, and Gregory VII. The term itself seems to be no older than the twelfth century. [34] That means that for more than a thousand years theologians expressed the mystery of the presence in other ways. During the middle ages other terms were used, such as impanation, consubstantiation, companation, mutation, conversion. [35] Even Thomas Aquinas in his Summa Theologiae uses the term "conversion" more often than the term "transubstantiation." [36] Duns Scotus experienced much difficulty with the term "transubstantiation." He had difficulty, as I do, in conceiving how the qualities (accidents) of bread and wine can persist after the substance has been changed into the substance of the body and blood of Christ. He accordingly, like Luther, preferred consubstantiation to transubstantiation, and only accepted transubstantiation on the understanding that it is a transsubstantiatio adductiva, a transubstantiation, that is, in which the substance of the body of Christ is added to the substance of the bread and the substance of the blood of Christ is added to the wine. This Scotist view seems to me preferable to the Thomist, and deserves, I think, renewed attention by both Catholic and Protestant theologians.

Why should not bread remain bread after consecration and be illumined by the body of Christ, just as a mountain remains a mountain after sunrise and is illumined by the light? Why should not consubstantiation be acceptable as well as transubstantiation? Or why should transubstantiation not be understood Scotistically as transsubstantiatio adductiva? Or why should we not, like the Orthodox, be content to speak of a change without defining too narrowly the nature of the change?

In any Case, the real saving presence of Christ in the Eucharist and our participation in that saving presence are more important than our doctrine of the precise nature of that presence.

[1] Cf. Norman H. Maring and Winthrop S. Hudson, A Baptist Manual of Polity and Practice (Valley Forge: Judson Press, 1963), p. 125.

[2] Quoted by John W. Brush, “Baptists and the Lord’s Supper,” Foundations (October, 1958).

[3] French Confession of Faith, 1559, composed by Calvin and his pupil Chandieu. Phillip Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom, III (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1877), p. 380.

[4] William L. Lumpkin, Baptist Confessions of Faith (Philadelphia: Judson Press, 1959), p. 321.

[5] Ibid., p. 291.

[6] Ernest Payne, The Fellowship of Believers (London: Carey Kingsgate Press, 1948),

[7] Lumpkin, Baptist confessions, p. 366.

[8] Ibid., p. 361.

[9] Quoted in The Lord’s Supper, A Baptist Statement (London: Carey Kingsgate Press, 1951), p. 9.

[10] Ibid., p. 34.

[11] H. W. Trent, “Ourselves and the Ordinances,” Baptist Quarterly (January, 1957).

[12] Samuel H. Miller, “Reducing the Reality of the Lord’s Supper,” Foundations (October, 1958).

[13] Thorwald W. Bender, “A Theological and Functional Understanding of the Ordinances,” a paper presented to the American Baptist Convention meeting in Detroit, 1963.

[14] All quotations are from Eric C. Rust, “The Theology of the Lord’s Supper,” Review and Expositor (Winter, 1969): 36ff.

[15] Vatican II, Document on Revelation, 12.

[16] Is igitur Deus et Dominus noster, etsi semel se ipsum in ara crucis, morte interdedente, Deo Patri oblaturus est…(Denziger, Enchiridion Symbolorum, 1740).

[17] Ehrenström and Gassmann, Confession in Dialogue ( Geneva: World Council of Churches, 1972), p. 123.

[18] Denziger, Enchiridion Symbolorum, 1743.

[19] Council of Trent, Decree on the Most Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist, I, H. Denziger, Enchiridion Symbolorum (Freiburg, 1953), n. 1636.

[20] Fourth Roman Council, The Most Holy Eucharist, Denzinger, no. 700.

[21] Council of Trent, Canons on the Most Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist, Canon 1, Denzinger, no. 1651.

[22] Ibid., Canon 2, Denzinger, no. 1652.

[23] Ibid., Canon 3, Denzinger, no. 1653.

[24] Ibid., Canon 6, Denzinger, no. 1656.

[25] Pius XII, encyclical Mediator Dei, II, 68-69.

[26] Council of Trent, the Doctrine on the Most Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, II, Denzinger, no. 1743.

[27] Didache, XIV, 1.

[28] Tertullian, De Idololatria, 7.

[29] St. Cyprian, De Dominica Oratione, 18.

[30] Fourth Lateran Council, The Sacraments, Denzinger, no. 812.

[31] Council of Trent, Decree on the Most Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist, VIII, Denzinger, no. 1649; Council of Treat, The Doctrine of the Most Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, VI, Denzinger, no. 1747.

[32] St. Pius X, Decree Sacra Tridentine Synodus, Denzinger, no. 3375.

[33] Second Vatican Council, The Church in the Modern World, I, 38.

[34] R. Seeberg, Lehrbuch der Dogmengeschichte (Basel: Benno Schwabe, 5th ed., 1953), vol. III, p. 215, footnote 2.

[35] Ibid., pp. 214-218

[36] Summa Theologiae, III, q.75, a.1-4

Journal of Ecumenical Studies
Vol. 13 - #2, Spring, 1978, pp. 105-124

Copyright © 1998 by Inter Mirifica

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