Eucharist: Is vs. Signifies


I am looking seriously at the Church and expect to seek reception into her in the near future. So I’m not looking to debate the issue of the Eucharist, with which I agree. But I’m looking to best defend it from an apologetic standpoint. Of course the big divide b/w Catholics & Protestants on the Eucharist is the real presence versus a mere symbolic memorial practice. On this issue, I’ve been looking into the Reformation-era debate between, for instance, Luther & Zwingli. I read somewhere that one of Zwingli’s main points in defending the purely-symbolic view was to note that in the Greek, the word used for “is” in “This is my body,” was apparently commonly understood to also validly and accurately mean “signifies.” Now, I understand that Jesus spoke Aramaic, not Greek, and thus the Aramaic might exclude an a “symbolic” interpretation (I’m not sure what the Aramaic would be, but the translation of “Rock” certainly comes to mind as one area where proper translation helps one’s case).

In Zwingli’s case, however, he claimed to have dreamed of the Lord’s guiding him to the Septuagint Old Testament description of the Passover, and that the Lord apparently showed him that where the instructions were given for the Passover, the Israelites were implored to eat the lamb “in haste; it is the Lord’s passover.” Zwingli’s argument thus proceeded that either (a) if “it” refers to the lamb, then clearly the “it” must signify the passover rather than actually be the passover, because the lamb isn’t the event known as the passover, or that (b) if “it” refers to the event of the passover, then “it” still must signify the passover and cannot actually be the passover, since God passed over Egypt presumably after the lamb had been eaten. Can anyone offer any thoughts on this scheme of argument? Again, I don’t need to be convinced of the real presence, but I expect this to be an argument I may bump up against over and over again. My stock answer is that this is why we need an infallible guide such as the church and the papacy, because how else can we know with any certainty what Jesus meant? But I would appreciate some more specific thoughts on this “Greek word for ‘is’ also means ‘signifiies’” argument.


ve’ acholthem oto bi-hapzon Pesah hu li - YHWH
and you shall eat him in haste Passover him for the Lord

You’ve italicised a word that doesn’t appear in the Hebrew. Hebrew has no neuter. So hu could be “he” - the lamb, or “it”, the occasion.

The lamb’s blood was placed upon the doorposts to inform the angel that it was an Israelite house, and not to enter. Hence the lamb was the passover or signal.


Thanks, very helpful. Let me pursue this a couple of steps further:

(1) The passover was God’s act. I agree the lamb could be a signal, but I don’t know of any justification for the notion that the passover was anything other than God’s passing over. With that in mind,

(2) How would you translate this passage, since the Hebrew text you transliterated above was fairly jumbled and you’d probably have to understand Hebrew grammer principles to get the gist of the passage.

thanks again


The Bl. Eucharist*** is*** & signifies - these two aspects of it cannot be divided; let alone set against each other. Nothing merely “is” - certainly not the sacraments, whether this or any other; sacraments are “sign-ificant” by the very fact of being sacraments. :slight_smile: ##


Skipping over the Hebrew lesson that has been posted, if Zwingli was right and “signifies” was really a common understanding, then a great many Christians throughtout the ages before the Reformation would have made Zwingli’s argument. So where are they? Where are all the Zwinglis before 1520?


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