Eucharist in Protestant churches: Transubstantiation or totally meaningless?

I understand that the Catholic church teaches transubstantiation, and the mass revolves almost entirely around this sacrament. I was wondering what happens during a protestant mass when they (sometimes) do the lords supper? They SAY that it’s symbolic, or consubstantial, or whatever… but what is really going on? Is it transubstantial or not? or does God ignore the proceedings in that particular service entirely, letting the bread and wine simply remain as bread and wine regardless of what the non-catholic congregation believes. Is it all just pomp and circumstance? Is this one of those questions where only God knows the answer?

My motivations for asking are pretty much because all of my mates are protestant and obviously I would like someone to tell me that they’re all good and going to heaven/living the christian life as close as can be given their circumstances :stuck_out_tongue: But I’d much prefer to be challenge and listen to other perspectives.

I’ll put it a bit more concisely: If my Anglican mate participates in an Anglican lords supper whilst believing that it’s all just symbolic and a way to remember what Jesus did… Does the bread and wine still become the body and blood of Christ regardless? Or is it all just a meaningless ceremony?

Thanks :slight_smile:

Protestants do not have mass.



It is not contingent on what the congregation believes. Confecting the Eucharist requires valid Holy Orders, valid form, and valid matter. These items are lacking in non-Catholic ecclesial communions. They are present in Orthodox Churches.

Most non-Catholic ecclesial communions make no claim of the Real Presence. Whatever the case, these are people of good will with sincere beliefs, and it is not our place to use pejorative terms such as “pomp and circumstance” when discussing their religious services. It is rude to do so.


We, of course, can tell you no such thing. We don’t know your friends.


I would not call it meaningless. It means very much to them.

It’s exactly what they say it is: A ritualistic reenactment of the Last Supper, and nothing more.

Such a ritual does not completely lack merit, but it’s not to be compared with Eucharist.

thanks for a quick response

curious follow up question: why are holy orders necessary for the transubstantiation to occur?

From our point of view some, but relatively few, Protestant clergy may have valid apostolic succession (e.g. from certain Old Catholic lines), and therefore the ability really to confect the Holy Eucharist; however, there are other essential ingredients to make it a valid Mass (i.e. the Sacrifice as defined by Trent).

As to why holy orders is necessary … the Mass is the sacrifice which Jesus Christ offers to His Father, through the ministry of priests. To confer on chosen men this ministerial priesthood, He instituted the sacrament of holy orders (at the Last Supper), which mystically configures the priest to Christ.

God ignoring the proceedings?
A meaningless ceremony of pomp and circumstance?
No! No!



For all sacraments.

Holy orders for all ss except baptism and matrimony

Faculty for confession.

Because Jesus gave the instruction to “Do this…” only to the apostles. The Mass is the sacrificial offering of the New Covenant. “…This cup…is the new covenant in my blood.” Lk 22:19-20; 1 Cor 11:25

Even in the Old Covenant rites it was the priests who offered the sacrifice.

There can be no transubstantiation without an ordained minister. It’s unclear the extent to which holy orders exists in the Anglican Church, since the Vatican has not studied the issue since the reintroduction of holy orders there by the Bonn Agreement, which saw validly ordained Old Catholic bishops ordaining Anglican bishops. But that consideration has to be counterbalanced by the total collapse in liturgical discipline in the Anglican Church, since, to ordain a man validly, he must be baptized, and many Anglicans are not baptized validly, having been baptized with a wet thumb.

But suppose that a particular Anglican priest is validly ordained, but disbelieves in transubstantiation. Does he, then, in the course of an Anglican liturgy in which the words of institution are spoken, validly confect the Eucharist?

The answer is absolutely and unreservedly yes.

My understanding is that the Anglican Church changed the ordination rite and the Catholic Church no longer recognizes their ordinations as valid. Thus, an Anglican priest would not be considered to be “validly ordained”.
Also, (I think) for transubstantiation to take place, a validly ordained priest must intend what the Catholic Church intends.

Anglican orders are invalid, so no, the bread and wine are not changed.

But just because this is so does not make their rite devoid of meaning. These seemingly “meaningless” ceremonies have been occasions of actual grace that led many Anglicans to the Catholic Church. God works even through the imperfect.

So, TIK, have we answered your question ?

Yes! Thanks to all :slight_smile: (And thanks for the stream of reminders about having respect and politeness for non-Catholics, I didn’t even consider that…)

It’s a tricky issue. Edward VI issued a new ordinal which lacked sacramental form and reflected his intention to “de-sacramentalize” the Anglican priesthood; the defect in form wasn’t corrected for over a century, by which time the hierarchy in England had become extinct. So, yes, as of the late 19th century, Anglican orders were indisputably invalid, as Pope Leo XIII declared in Apostolicae Curae (which is a fascinating read).

The problem is that in the 1930s the Anglicans forged an agreement with the Old Catholics that saw Old Catholic bishops co-consecrating Anglican bishops, or even acting as principal consecrators. Since Old Catholics indisputably possess apostolic succession, it seems as though succession was reintroduced into the Anglican Church. Presumably, Anglican bishops who were validly ordained thereby went on to validly consecrate new bishops and validly ordain priests of their own.

Of course we don’t know the extent to which valid holy orders “trickled down” into the Church. We also know that the fact that the Anglican liturgical books indisputably now possess valid sacramental form isn’t evidence that any particular Anglican bishop or priest is validly ordained and consecrated, since the collapse in liturgical discipline has introduced all manners of novelties into their liturgies. There are even many cases of invalid “wet thumb” baptisms reported, and since an unbaptized person cannot be ordained… well, the issue is confused, indeed.

There has been at least one case of an Anglican bishop who converted to Catholicism being ordained conditionally instead of absolutely because he was able to prove, with sufficient certainty, that he was ordained in the lineage of an Old Catholic bishop; so there are already some signs that Rome knows its policy is maybe outdated, even if she has yet to formally study the issue in depth.

Re: intention, that’s an interesting issue, too. What qualifies as intention? If I am mistaken about the nature of what baptism is, does that mean I cannot baptize, or that I cannot be baptized? But that cannot be the case, because of course schismatics and heretics of various sorts harbor mistaken ideas about the Sacraments and we accept at least some of them as valid. The reason for this is that Sacraments have a symbolic character, and they have a symbolic character precisely because we cannot fully exhaust the doctrinal content of the Sacrament – there is always going to be something about them that we don’t understand or can’t express. That’s why they’re mysteries. So it cannot be the case that the “intention to do as the Church does” necessitates understanding of what the Church does or even agreement with what the Church does. It suffices that it be trust that one is doing what one trusts to be the Church does, so that one cannot invalidate a Sacrament merely by having some wacky, crackpot, heretical, schismatic, or even atheistic belief. Hence even atheists can baptize other atheists!

If a properly informed intention is the intention to do what one believes the Church to be does, than what would be an example of a malformed intention? One example might be didactic demonstration. If my parish priest demonstrates the Sacrament of Confession by staging a mock confession, with the mental reservation that he does not intend to absolve the actor, then the actor is not absolved. Acting out a Sacrament in a movie would also qualify, as would parody, etc.

Without a validly ordained priesthood, Protestant communion remains bread and wine REGARDLESS of whether the person believes the Body and Blood of the Lord are present or not.

Now, how God views the situation is another matter. If the person believes that Jesus is really present - even though He is not - God can still be pleased that the person is sincerely trying to receive the Lord’s Supper properly. God understands that person’s ignorance.

On the other hand, if a person believes (rightly it turns out) that they are receiving a symbol, well, God can still be pleased that the person is worshiping with a sincere heart.

Finally, there are CATHOLICS who may be ACTUALLY receiving the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus in a valid Eucharist, but they reject that truth and simply view it as a symbol. THAT person may have more to account for before God - though He may see that they, too, are acting out of ignorance.

No…the bread and wine do NOT become the body and blood.
It is a symbolic meal commemorating the last supper.
Therefore it is also NOT meaningless to them.

You make an interesting point about how ignorance factors into things. I’ve been wondering about this myself.
Is ignorance a sin? Is it mortal or venial? It could easily lead to Universal salvation theology if you start saying God forgives people outside of the church because they are ignorant, although it does sound fair to me.
I guess you can distinguish between actual ignorance and ignorance which proceeds from a hard heart. For example when I talk to my protestant friends about what Catholics believe, a lot of them are incredibly dismissive just because it is a catholic opinion, and so by default it must be wrong. They wouldn’t actually say that they do this, but they certainly behave like it…

But yes, ignorance. Does the parable of the talents relate? For example if in mainland China there is a small village and some Mormon missionaries rock up talking about Jesus and God and salvation and whatnot, there are going to be both hints of truth and hints of falsehood mixed together, but the fact remains that the people in that Chinese village have just heard a significant part of the Gospel. This is like the servant who was given only one talent/coin. (whereas the Pope is more like the servant who has been entrusted with 20 coins). So even if they haven’t been given the whole entire truth, they’ve been given something, so will God judge them based on what they do with that little truth which they DID receive?
(in this example I am assuming that Catholicism is correct and Mormonism is wrong. However only God can say for sure)

This again relates back to the original question, and many of the answers I’ve read in this thread: Assuming that Catholicism is correct and Protestantism is close, but missing the mark. God will surely forgive a protestant who has never heard of Catholicism and is sincerely trying to live for Christ as best he knows how??? In the case of Eucharist, if that person has been taught it’s symbolic, and they out of love for Christ and his sacrifice treat it as such, then I can imagine on the final day God will say “you have done well with the talents I trusted you with”. And then imagine that person’s retrospective amazement when they realise that they were eating the real body and drinking the real blood of Christ the whole time!

again, so many other factors come into it (eg, holy order prerequisites, parable of the wide and narrow path, where the ignorance of Catholicism flows from etc) , and God can do as he pleases.

Big issues

True ignorance is not sinful. Sin (whether mortal or venial) requires knowledge, which is the opposite of ignorance.

I don’t recognize such a thing as deliberate ignorance - I call that obstinance, which can be sinful.

It could easily lead to Universal salvation theology if you start saying God forgives people outside of the church because they are ignorant, although it does sound fair to me.

You’re talking about the doctrine of invincible ignorance, which is WAAAYYYYY different than the idea of universal salvation. The Church teaches that it is POSSIBLE for an ignorant person to be saved apart from Christian Baptism. The Church does NOT teach that all ignorant people are saved, only that it is possible. The Church does not know if anybody has ever actually been saved this way, or if anybody ever will.

That’s why evangelism is so important. Christian Baptism offers a 100% guarantee.

And a guarantee is always better than a possibility.

Follow up question:

If someone has holy orders, do they need to follow a particular rite or ritual in order for Eucharist to be valid?Or can they just go “hey guys, it’s time to come up and eat the body of Jesus and drink his blood now” and it is still legit? Forgive the irreverence, I mean no disrespect. I’m just thinking in the context of taking the gospel to a way-out village in tibet for example, not really knowing the language very well but scoring some converts and wanting to let them share in communion.

another example: in an emergency (eg bomb threat, earthquake, sinking ship, whatever) could someone with holy orders do a rapid distribution of bread and wine and hear peoples confessions? Does it have to be those little wafers or will any loaf of bread do?

There is a required form (and form is one of the five requirements of a Sacrament). It is the words of institution, first spoken by Our Lord Jesus ("This is my Body…). Any Catholic priest/Bishop knows this, and knows what (very brief) words constitute sufficient form.

another example: in an emergency (eg bomb threat, earthquake, sinking ship, whatever) could someone with holy orders do a rapid distribution of bread and wine and hear peoples confessions?

Here is your answer:

If the danger of death is present or other grave necessity, in the judgment of the diocesan bishop or the conference of bishops, Catholic ministers may licitly administer these sacraments to other Christians who do not have full Communion with the Catholic Church, who cannot approach a minister of their own community and on their own ask for it, provided they manifest Catholic faith in these sacraments and are properly disposed (CIC 844 § 4)

Does it have to be those little wafers or will any loaf of bread do?

Your mention of “little wafers” indicates your disdain. Any bread made from wheat is satisfactory matter for Eucharist. The shape is irrelevant. Many parishes use compressed bread because it is less likely to leave crumbs.

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