Eucharist--I thought we went beyond "real presence"

Hi. I teach Studies of Religion in a Catholic high school in Australia.
In a textbook, we were recently reading that “Catholics believe in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist.”
I challenged the book, telling students it was not actually incorrect, but that it only went part of the way; that Catholics really believe the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ–that the substance changes, miraculously, in spite of the fact that it looks, tastes and feels like bread and wine (transubstantiation, to use the big word).

I think I was right in saying this…?
If not, please correct my error, preferably with something from Catholic law, the Catechism, etc.

My thinking is this: there are some Protestant religions that believe in the Real Presence, but not in transubstantiation. The difference is a fundamental one: the substance changes or it doesn’t. And while the Real Presence is a fine theology, it is not the same as transubstantiation.

Any other ideas?

It would be a problem if the text read “the Real Presence of Christ in the bread” or some such phrasing.

Yes, the single sentence itself requires a lot more explanation. I think it depends upon just how much information the textbook is trying to convey. What I mean by that is, if we have a textbook that simply provides a few “bullet points” on different religions of the world, with very little detail, then it would suffice.

As a teacher, of course you should go beyond the simple sentence and explain further to your students, but I don’t see any problem with the sentence itself.

The thing is, we’re looking at the major variants within Christianity (Catholic, Anglican, Protestant, Orthodox and Pentecostal) in a “survey” manner. It’s a sweeping examination of beliefs and theology, and has to be done very quickly in class (like, one lesson per variant–how rigorous is that?!).
Thanks for the reply.

The book seems to be entirely correct, but completely vague. The way you explained it was much better (the substances change, the accidents stay the same).

Real Presence IS the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Christ in the appearance of bread and wine in the Eucharist. I don’t see why you think the book only went part of the way. What else could the Real Presence mean?

I never heard anyone say that Protestants believe in the Real Presence, regardless of whatever meaning is attached to it. They certainly don’t believe that the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ, and I’ve never heard of any other meaning for that phrase.

Actually many Anglicans and Lutherans do believe in the Real Presence. They don’t have the Latin Catholic concept of transubstantiation however. And Catholics naturally don’t believe they have the Real Presence (unless for some reason a particular Anglican or Lutheran priest/minister has valid orders and consecrates using proper form and matter.)

For that matter, I don’t think most Eastern Catholics consider the Latin concept of transubstantiation to be a dogma either.

‘Real Presence’ is also a term used by Anglican’s, Episcopalian’s, and some Lutheran’s to denote consubstantiation, which is the belief that Christ is present with the bread and wine, instead of in place of the bread and wine.

I think it is correct to say that the Catholic Church recognizes the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Some of your confusion may be in thinking of the word “Eucharist” as basically meaning “bread and wine,” so you mentally translate the sentence as claiming that Catholics believe in “the real presence of Christ in the bread and wine,” which would not be a correct statement, since, as you know, we believe that when the gifts are transubstantiated (or “eucharisted”) there is no more bread and wine. The Catechism provides this explanation:

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."199 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."200 "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."201

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. Thus St. John Chrysostom declares:

[INDENT]It is not man that causes the things offered to become the Body and Blood of Christ, but he who was crucified for us, Christ himself. the priest, in the role of Christ, pronounces these words, but their power and grace are God’s. This is my body, he says. This word transforms the things offered.202

and St. Ambrose says about this conversion:

Be convinced that this is not what nature has formed, but what the blessing has consecrated. the power of the blessing prevails over that of nature, because by the blessing nature itself is changed… Could not Christ’s word, which can make from nothing what did not exist, change existing things into what they were not before? It is no less a feat to give things their original nature than to change their nature.203

1376 The Council of Trent summarizes the Catholic faith by declaring: "Because Christ our Redeemer said that it was truly his body that he was offering under the species of bread, it has always been the conviction of the Church of God, and this holy Council now declares again, that by the consecration of the bread and wine there takes place a change of the whole substance of the bread into the substance of the body of Christ our Lord and of the whole substance of the wine into the substance of his blood. This change the holy Catholic Church has fittingly and properly called transubstantiation."204

1377 The Eucharistic presence of Christ begins at the moment of the consecration and endures as long as the Eucharistic species subsist. Christ is present whole and entire in each of the species and whole and entire in each of their parts, in such a way that the breaking of the bread does not divide Christ.205[/INDENT]

Yes, I have another idea! My idea is that your students are quite blessed indeed to have a teacher with such a devotion to the Eucharist. Whereby the text book was correct but incomplete, as others had noted, you offered them the full picture. Keep up the good work and may God bless you in your teaching ministry… teachccd :slight_smile:

Well, transubstantiation is a sub-class of belief in the real presence. There are several others as well.

But the problem you are having I think is with the word “substance”. You are using it in its common sense, but when speaking of transubstantiation it is used in a very narrow, philosophical sense - pretty much the way Aristotle used it. IN that way of thinking, substance is matter and form together.

Catholics, Anglicans, Lutherans, and the Orthodox all believe in the Real Presence, and so I think do some Methodists. They believe that the bread and wine turn into the real body and blood of Christ, as the Church has believed from the beginning.

Catholics since the medieval period are required to also affirm transubstantiation, which describes very specifically how this change happens.

The other groups are not required to affirm this, though some are allowed to believe it on a personal level. Many Anglicans believe in transubstantiation, for example. But in general, all agree that it is a mistake to try to pin down as doctrine just how this change happens. The Orthodox in particular seem to me to be quite adamant that to try to do so is a very bad thing and likely to lead to spiritual issues.

What is sometimes confusing is that you will occasionally see someone say that Christ is “really” present in a “spiritual” sense. Catholics tend to assume that means that it isn’t the real Body and Blood, that it is a kind of cop-out statement. But that isn’t usually what the person means (unless he is ignorant). Usually he is using the term in the same way that St Paul uses it when he says our bodies will be raised as spiritual bodies, and of course those bodies we understand to be even more real and complete than our bodies are now.

I think it is so awesome that you shought the “true” answer and did not give your student’s some broad generalization, filled with incorrect assumptions and rationale. I hope your student’s appreciate your dedication.

The author would have done better by fully explaining the Catholic belief. As I recalled, Lutherans believe Christ is present in the bread, but in a different way from Catholics, and do not believe in transubstantiation. And as it turns out, some Lutherans do not believe Christ is present then at all. For all this, I found an earlier thread on Catholic Answers, at

Some Anglicans and the Orthodox believe as Catholics do in the eucharist, and the Orthodox actually have the Eucharist, though Protestants do no.

What a wonderful teacher you are and you’re absolutely correct! I think problem is the wording. Many faiths believe in the “real presence”; being that Christ is present through the bread and wine.

As Catholics, however, we believe a step further in that, not only is Christ present in our communion, but that the bread and wine ***physically and literally *** miraculously change and become his body and blood.

This is incorrect. It is not physcially, it is sacramentally. The word “literally”, while a little better, is still not entirely correct.

Physically means he is actually there with hair, toes, and eyes.

He is sacramentally present


But does that mean Christ doesn’t have hair, toes, or eyes?



Are you being serious? Really? When you take the Eucharist, are you chewing on a toe? No. He has the accidents of bread.


Yes, I am being serious. I know it is somewhat of a confusing topic, but I think it a valuable one.

It isn’t true to say that Christ has the accidents of bread – there are a few reasons why this can’t be so. That’s something to discuss, if you are interested.

But, as far as hair, etc. see the Roman Catechism (The Catechism of the Council of Trent), under The Mystery of the Real Presence:

Here the pastor should explain that in this Sacrament are contained not only the true body of. Christ and all the constituents of a true body, such as bones and sinews

Or, see St. Thomas:

By the power of the sacrament there is contained under it, as to the species of the bread, not only the flesh, but the entire body of Christ, that is, the bones the nerves, and the like. (ST III, 76, 1, reply obj. 2)


There are Protestants that DO believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.

The presence of the Lord in the Eucharist is par excellence…not as if other kinds of presence were not real, but in a way whose reality may not be surpassed. Our ability to sense that reality with our eyes or ears or touch might be increased, it is conceivable that Our Lord Jesus could choose to make himself more obvious to our senses, as He was to his Apostles, but the reality itself cannot be increased.

He is physically–that is in the substance of the matter, and not only on the spiritual plane–spiritually, really, substantially and in every way more “there” than those of us who are more obviously there for one another “hair, toes, and eyes”. Our ability to sense is not par excellence, so we may deceive ourselves by trusting how the appearance seems rather than by being guided by faith as we are intended to do, but his presence is par excellence. On top of that, we, by sin, may be there to another human being only in “hair, toes, and eyes”, and yet be a million miles away and impermeable to one-to-another presence in every other way, in spite of pretenses we make to the contrary. We can, may the Lord forgive us, even be impermeable to the presence of Our Lord and the other members of His Body during Holy Communion in the same way. We can choose to be present at Mass and during Holy Communion “only in the apparent accidents”. If we had the power to be as bodily removed as we are in every other way, to leave only the accidents visible, falsely attesting to our “real” presence, let’s face it: some days, we’d be out of there even that way. As members of the Body of Christ, how humbled and repentant we ought to be made by that contrast!

Is this not a great paradox of faith, then? Depending on whether or not one has the gift of faith, it is both possible to believe the truth of the Lord’s presence in our midst without the aid of the senses and possible to disbelieve when everything the senses have to say points to the reality! As St. Thomas Aquinas wrote in Pange Lingua: “Word made flesh, by Word He maketh Very bread his flesh to be; Man in wine Christ’s Blood partaketh, And if his senses fail to see, Faith alone the true heart waketh, To behold the mystery.”

He said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe.” Thomas answered and said to him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, "Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” John 20:27-29 The act of faith of St. Thomas was still an act of faith. Another person could have seen the form of a man he knew well and put his hands in the wounds and yet refused to believe. Yet the Lord said, “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” It is a blessing to have faith in a reality that our eyes cannot attest to, simply because the Holy Spirit has attested to the reality. St. Thomas spoke because of the testimony of the Holy Spirit. His eyes alone would have been insufficient.

The usual laws of nature do not bind Our Risen Lord, any more than death binds him. I remember our pastor once remarked during a homily for a First Holy Communion Sunday that Our Lord in the Eucharist is more present to those who receive him than he (the homilist) could ever be present to them, for the homilist’s presence was limited, while the Risen Lord is both physically present and in every way unbound by the limitations of nature that apply to the rest of us. We have to remember to recalibrate what it means to be a human with “hair, toes, and eyes”, for Our Lord is truly risen, and all the human beings we know with obvious accident attesting to their bodily presence are not. We must not project what we think we know about human bodies onto his.

I agree with this, and would never want to say anything against church teaching…

but I still believe there is a difference between what is commonly understood as “physical” and “sacramental”. I don’t think my statement about not chewing on a toe goes against St. Thomas’ statement or catechism. It is still the accidents of bread and wine. If it was a physical presence, then the Eucharistic miracles that took place wouldn’t need to, because there was a change from what it looked like (bread) to what it became (heart tissue, etc).

I’ve used the “physical” term before, and been corrected several times (not here).

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