In a previous article, we briefly discussed the Lord’s Supper, in substance, importance, and instruction, which is outlined in 1 Corinthians 11. We also examined Paul’s definition of what an unworthy practice of the Lord’s Supper is. Here we will examine the Roman Catholic doctrine of the Lord’s Supper, which in a general sense they refer to as the Eucharist (Greek, “thanksgiving”—thus, the action of thanksgiving to God).

 

The action of receiving the elements (i.e., the actual eating and drinking of the bread and wine) of the sacrament of the Eucharist is called the “Holy Communion”. However, as you will see, the Roman practice of the so-called Holy Communion is anything but a “Holy” Eucharist to God. It is a blasphemous practice that

1) rejects the biblical view that the “once for all time” atoning sacrifice of Christ alone was sufficient for salvation and was the very ground of justification (apart from man-works) and

2) the Roman doctrine of Transubstantiation, as explicated hereafter, deforms and dismembers the incarnation of Christ.

 

Transubstantiation

Rome holds to a distinctive doctrine called, Transubstantiation. In short, this Roman Catholic  theological position is where the  priests who preside at the Eucharist (or Lord’s Supper”), “consecrate the bread and the wine so [that these elements actually] become the Body and Blood of the Lord…. By the consecration the transubstantiation of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ is brought about” (Catechism of the Catholic Church [hereafter, CCC], 1411, 13).

 

So according to Catholicism, when Jesus said, “This is My body” (Matt. 26:26), and “This is My blood” (v. 28), and “Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19), He instituted the so-called Mass,[1] and gave the apostles, and thus, all future Catholic priests, the power to change (transubstantiate) the bread and wine into Jesus literal body and blood (New Saint Joseph Baltimore Catechism  [hereafter, BC], vol. 2, Q. 354, cf. also Q. 355). [2] But note, this so-called changing of the bread and wine into the actual and literal flesh and blood of Jesus did not, Rome argues, involve a change in appearance or taste. The BC (Q. 348) states: “After the substance of the bread and wine had been changed into Our Lord’s body and blood, they remained only the appearances of bread and wine.”

 
Theological Heresies of the Transubstantial Eucharist

 Rome’s doctrine of the transubstantial Eucharist, a) presents a perpetual re-sacrificing of Christ, and b) it deforms and confuses the incarnation of Christ.  

First, the notion of the Eucharist as an ongoing sacrifice clearly,   

 

  • Rejects any idea of a “once for all time” or “finished” atoning sacrifice accomplished by His perfect life and cross work.

 

  • Rejects the sufficiency of the glorious cross work of Christ for both the forgiveness of sins and the averting of wrath due to us because of our sin.

 

  • Rejects the notion that sinners are justified though the death of the Son and not according to works.  

 

Note for example, the repetitious way Rome uses the terms such as “sacrifice,” “re-presents,” “propitiation” defining the effects of the Eucharist:    

 

“The Mass is the same sacrifice as the sacrifice of the cross because in the Mass the victim is the same, and the principal priest is the same, Jesus Christ” (BC, vol. 2, Q. 360).

“The Eucharist is also a sacrifice” (CCC, 1365).

“The Eucharist is thus a sacrifice because it re-presents (makes present) the sacrifice of the cross” (CCC, 1366).

“The sacrifice of Christ and the sacrifice of the Eucharist are one single sacrifice,” (CCC, 1367).

 

The Eucharist, according to Rome, is propitiatory (i.e., forgiving sins and removing the wrath of God): “This sacrifice [Eucharist] is truly propitiatory” (CCC, 1367).

“The Church intends the Mass to be regarded as a ‘true and proper sacrifice’” (The Catholic Encyclopedia, “Sacrifice of the Mass”; emphasis added).

Clearly, Rome sees the Eucharist as a “sacrifice,” which is offered through the hands of the priests: “The sacrifice of Christ the only Mediator, which in the Eucharist is offered through the priests’ hands” (CCC, 1369, also cf. 1414).

 

The Roman system of the transubstantial Eucharist is an insufficient sacrifice that is offered continuously by sinful Roman priests. This, clearly controverts and attacks the biblical presentation of the once for all time atoning accomplishment of Christ, as He Himself affirmed—“It is finished.”

 

The Roman “Christ” is not able to save a sinner in and of Himself by grace alone through faith alone—apart from human efforts. Nor is the redemptive work of Christ in Romanism the very ground of the believer’s justification.

 

Biblically, a sinner is “declared” righteous before God not through works such as water baptism, nor through the sinful hands of the Roman priests in their representing the sacrifice of Christ at the Mass; rather it is through faith alone. Paul rightly says: “just as David also speaks of the blessing on the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works” (Rom. 4:6) “Through the [one time] obedience [atoning work] of the One the many will be made righteous” (Rom. 5:19).

 

Neither the church, Mary, Roman priests, nor anything or anyone can mediate between God and man. Only the two-natured person (God-man), Jesus Christ is able to be the Mediator:

“For there is one God, and one Mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time” (1 Tim. 2:5-6).   

 

To emphasize the infinitely completed redemptive propitiatory work of the Christ, the author of Hebrews uses the Greek term ephapax (ἐφάπαξ) which means “once for all” (from epi, “upon” + hapax, “once, one”). Thus (lexically), “Taking place once and to the exclusion of any further occurrence, once for all, once and never again (BDAG), or “upon one occasion only” (Thayer).

 

The author of Hebrews (and Paul in Rom. 6:10) teaches that the sacrifice of Christ as the eternal priest was ephapax (“once for all time”)—for all other OT priestly systems (Aaronic and Levitical) were lesser, imperfect, and obsolete (Heb. 7:11, 23-28). Note the following passages:   

“who does not need daily, like those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the sins of the people, because this He did ephapax [‘once for all time’] when He offered up Himself (Heb. 7:27).

“and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place ephapax [‘once for all time’] having obtained eternal redemption (Heb. 9:12).

“By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ ephapax [‘once for all time’!].11 Every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins; 12 but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, SAT DOWN AT THE RIGHT HAND OF GOD, 13 waiting from that time onward UNTIL HIS ENEMIES BE MADE A FOOTSTOOL FOR HIS FEET. 14 For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified” (Heb. 10:10-14). 

 

The ephapax [“once for all time”] and Paul’s doctrine of justification through faith alone, shows in and of itself that the Roman Mass where the Eucharist is a repetitive propitiatory sacrifice of Jesus Christ is an offensive attack on Christ and His one-time finished atoning work.        

    

The second theological heresy of Rome’s doctrine of Transubstantiation is the deformation of the incarnation of Christ. The Roman Church happily agrees that Jesus became flesh. However, in Romanism, the “flesh” that Jesus became is anything, but normal human flesh and likeness. Because, as Rome teaches, the elements in the Eucharist (bread and wine) actually transubstantiates (viz. changes into the non-figurative literal flesh and blood of Christ). Hence, wherever in the world Catholics are receiving the Eucharist (“Holy Communion”) at the Mass, the literal body and blood is being sacrificed at the hand of the priests. This clearly implies that Jesus’ physical body is ubiquitous—namely, its able to be in multiple places simultaneously!

 

A ubiquitous anomalous human nature sharply counters the biblical teaching that the eternal Word became the perfect representation of man—not a “hyper-flesh” ubiquitous fleshly body: “The Word became flesh…. being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man” (John 1:14; Phil. 2:7-8).

 

Rome’s doctrine of the transubstantial Eucharist is an idolatrous practice that mocks and rejects both the substitutionary work of Christ as the alone means of justification and manipulates the biblical view of the incarnation of the Son—who “emptied Himself, taking the form [real nature] of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men [not in the likeness of a unusual ubiquitous man]. Being found in appearance as a [normal] man” (Phil. 2:7-8).          

 

Those who partake in the Roman Eucharist are

1) proclaiming the Jesus of Rome who did not take the nature of normal humanity, and

2) proclaiming the impotent Jesus of Rome whose atoning work was neither sufficient nor perfectly completed. Thus, they would be celebrating that which Paul condemned as anathema (cursed) in Galatians 1:8, 9 (viz. the faith + works system of the Judaizers).

 

Christians, in stark contrast, proclaim the Jesus of the NT: “Through the obedience of the One [Christ] the many will be made righteous” (Rom. 5:19); “having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God”! (Heb. 10:12; cf. Rom. 5:1; Eph. 2:8-9).      

“Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” 

 

Sola Gratia, Solo Christo, Sola Fide, Sola Scriptura, Soli Deo Gloria

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NOTES

[1] In Catholicism, the Mass is a celebration of the Eucharist, where Catholics participate together in “Holy Communion.”     

[2] In support of their erroneous doctrine of Transubstantiation, Catholics appeal to John 6:53-54. However, Jesus had already defined what He meant here back in verse 35, where Jesus refers to Himself as the “Bread of Life” – “he who comes to Me will not hunger [thus, coming to Him is equivalent to ‘eating His flesh’], and he who believes in Me will never thirst [thus, believing in Him is equivalent to ‘drinking His blood’].” Further, unlike the Synoptics, the Gospel John never even records Jesus’ institution of the Last Supper. Further, the historical time frame of the institution of the Lord’s Super would have been not until John 13, which was a different context than that of chapter 6, and at least one year later! In his Commentary on John, Calvin pointed out, “Indeed, it would have been inept and unreasonable to preach about the Lord’s Supper before He had instituted it.”               

 

Matthew 26:26-28: “While they were eating, Jesus took some bread, and after a blessing, He broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, ‘Take, eat; this is My body.’ 27 And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you; 28 for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins.’”

 

In the NT, there are two Sacraments (or Ordinances), water baptism and the Lord’s Supper, both are signs and seals of the covenant of grace. Both are holy and biblically mandated for the church.[1] Jesus Christ first initiated the Lord’s Supper, and in 1 Corinthians 11, Paul provides some important details and instructions. Unfortunately and sadly, in far too many churches, the theological significance and spiritual value of these perpetual and sanctified ordinances have been radically cheapened and biblically mottled. Because of inaccurate teachings, the Lord’s Supper is practiced in a dishonorable and unworthy fashion before God eliciting unfavorable judgments, as we will see.

 

Fundamentally, the Lord’s Supper is (in brief)

  1. A Corporate Church Event. Paul’s instructions for partaking in the Lord’s Supper in 1 Corinthians 11 presupposes that the Lord’s Supper is taken in the church—not in private: “For, in the first place, when you come together as a church. . . .” (1 Cor. 11:18). This, and other reasons, also shows that the Lord’s Supper is clearly restricted to believers who share in Jesus’ atonement as heirs of the “election of grace” (Rom. 11:5).

“Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ? Is not the bread, which we break a sharing in the body of Christ? 17 Since there is one bread, we who are many are one body; for we all partake of the one bread” (1 Cor. 10:16-17).

 

  1. A Memorial Ceremony. In 1 Corinthians 11:23-25, Paul describes the Sacrament as a time to remember the glorious and substitutionary atoning cross work: “This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me. . . . This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me” (vv. 24-25). The elements (bread and wine) “are holy signs and seals of the covenant of grace, immediately instituted by God, to represent Christ and His benefits” (WCF, 27:1).[2] They signify Christ and His benefits—especially in sharing in His body and blood (1 Cor. 10:16).

As seen, the NT church tradition of the Lord’s Supper begins in 1 Corinthians 11:23. Note in verses 24 and 25 that Paul uses the term “remembrance” twice. First, referring to the remembrance of Jesus’ body, and then, the memorial of His blood in the new covenant. This Holy Supper is a memorial of His great and glorious sacrificial cross work. As we will see in the following passages, partaking in the memorial celebration without devotion and solidarity of His atoning sacrifice is partaking in an unworthy manner—“guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. . . . For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number asleep” (vv. 27, 30).

  1. A Proclamation Event. After Paul cites the Lord Jesus in 1 Corinthians 11:23-25, Paul indicates that the Lord’s Supper is a declaration of the sacrificial death of Christ: For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes” (1 Cor. 11:26). 
  1. A Perpetual Event. As cited above, Paul instructs that the Lord’s Supper is to be continuously declared “until He comes.”

 

“Unworthy” Behavior

 There are many Christians today who take the Lord’s Supper in a disrespectful and “unworthy manner.” Similarly to those in the first century, 1 Corinthians 11:18 states: “When you come together as a church, I hear that divisions exist among you; and in part I believe it” and continuing in the following verses:

 19 For there must also be factions among you, so that those who are approved may become evident among you. 20 Therefore when you meet together, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper, 21 for in your eating each one takes his own supper first; and one is hungry and another is drunk. 22 What! Do you not have houses in which to eat and drink? Or do you despise the church of God and shame those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you? In this I will not praise you.

Some Corinthians were actually coming for the purpose of merely eating the food and/or drinking the wine to get drunk turning this holy Sacrament into a secular and unholy activity. No wonder Paul equates this kind of disrespect with despising the church.

Earlier, Paul had just expressed the holiness of the Lord’s Supper for the church saying: “Is not the cup of blessing which we bless sharing in the blood of Christ? Is not the bread which we break a sharing in the body of Christ?” (1 Cor. 10:16).

 

As stated, in 1 Corinthians 11: 27-30, Paul warns of the severe judgment that results from partaking in the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy way. Note that the first word in verse 27 is a Greek conjunction hōste (“therefore”) indicating that Paul is referring to his previous statements beginning in verse 18 regarding the inappropriate behavior at the Lord’s Supper. So, the reference of partaking in the Lord’s Supper in an “unworthy manner” in verse 27 contextually refers back to verses 18-22, where Paul provides a description of what an unworthy Lord’s Supper looks like:

  1. There were divisions and factions existing among them (vv. 18-19),  
  2. They were not waiting for one another, which impeded some from partaking (v. 21), and  
  1. Some were coming to get drunk (v. 21).

Paul sees anyone that takes the Lord’s Supper inappropriately as despising the church (v. 22). They were not partaking in the Lord’s Supper in a reverent and earnest way, that is, in remembrance of the Lord’s sacrifice. In verses 27-28, Paul clearly warns the church, “Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. 28 But a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup.” Again, partaking of the Lord’s Supper in an “unworthy manner” is a sin “guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord” (v. 27).

Since Paul’s command in verse 28 (“But a man must examine himself”) prior to participating. This command is contextually linked to Paul’s definition of taking the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner. Therefore, the self-examination involves the participant’s intention and mindset. In other words, is the intention and motivation of the person preparing to take the Lord’s Supper on the memorialization and proclamation of the atoning sacrifice of the Lord Jesus? Any other view of Paul’s commandment of self-examination would be a pretext.

 

This point must be stressed to many Christians (and esp. pastors) who misdefine the “unworthy manner” of taking the holy Sacrament as some other unspecified (out of context) sin such as unconfessed sin or a defect in one’s Christian behavior. These actions are sinful, but they are not the particular sins that Paul pointed to with regard to the Lord’s Supper and taking it in an “unworthy manner.” The result of this improper unworthy behavior is divine judgment:

 29 For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly. 30 For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number asleep. 31 But if we judged ourselves rightly, we would not be judged. 32 But when we are judged, we are disciplined by the Lord so that we will not be condemned along with the world.

Paul then concludes in verse 33-44: “So then, my brethren, when you come together to eat, wait for one another. 34 If anyone is hungry, let him eat at home, so that you will not come together for judgment. The remaining matters I will arrange when I come.”

In conclusion, foreseeing His substitutionary death on the cross, Jesus Christ initiated the Lord’s Supper as recorded in the Gospels. As with baptism, this Supper is a high and holy Sacrament, not to be degraded and despised by inappropriate/unworthy behavior at this memorial. This Supper represents a “holy “sign and seal” of the covenant of grace, immediately instituted by God, to represent Christ and His benefits” (WCF, 27.1).

The Lord’s Supper is for us to remember and proclaim the Lord’s death. It is not a mere Sunday morning activity with no understandable devotion and remembrance of the vicarious cross work of the Lord on behalf of sinners, as many practice today. It is a holy and divine Sacrament surrounding the broken body and spilled blood of Christ. Too many pastors treat the Lord’s Supper in a cavalier fashion, rushing through it, providing no meaningful definition or warning of the judgment for partaking in an unworthy way—even going so far as to allow non-believers to partake. If pastors allow their church members to do exactly what Paul rebuked the Corinthians for doing – is that not highly sinful?!

 Proper participation in the Lord’s Supper should move us to a deep and genuine thanksgiving for the proclamation of the redemptive work of Christ Jesus. It should bring us to a constant and devout worship of the triune God in spirit and biblical maturity and truth. The Lord’s Supper reminds us of our eternal life. It reminds us that Christ incarnated Himself becoming obedient to death on a cross (Phil. 2:6-8) providing a real propitiation (1 John 2:2) on our behalf (Rom. 8:32; Eph. 5:25).

The Lord’s Supper reminds us that-

“While we were still helpless …  Christ died for the ungodly.”

“While we were yet sinners … Christ died for us.”

“While we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son….” (Rom. 5:6, 8, 10).

Jesus Christ, and what He infallibly accomplished, is worthy to be remembered. His cross work is worthy to be proclaimed. He is our Savior in which we remember at the Lord’s Supper.

 

“Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. . . . ” (1 Cor. 10:31).

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Notes

[1] The Roman Catholic Church distorts the biblical teachings of these two Sacraments both in substance (arguing Transubstantiation and baptismal regeneration) and, in effect (making them a necessity for salvation).      

[2] Westminster Confession of Faith.