In view of the prominent place given the mass (and the concept of the Eucharist) in the present day Roman Church, it is of particular interest to find that it was unknown in the early Church, that it was first proposed by a Benedictine monk, Radbertus, in the ninth century, and that it did not become an official part of Rome’s doctrine until so pronounced by the Lateran Council of 1215 under the direction of pope Innocent III.
It was reaffirmed by the council of Trent, in 1545. So we can say that it’s concept is quite removed from that of scripture.
It is based on the assumption that the words of Christ, “This is my body,” and “This is my blood,” Mt. 26, must be taken literally. The accounts of the institution of the Lord’s supper, both in the Gospels and in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, make it perfectly clear that He spoke in figurative terms.
I have often shown a friend a photograph of a family member, and said, “This is my wife”; “This is my son”’ This is my daughter.” Such language is readily understood in ordinary conversation. Nobody take such words literally.
I believe that the real meaning of Christ’s words can be seen when they are compared with similar figurative language which He used in John 4:13. There, speaking to the woman at Jacob’s well, he said, “Every one that drinks this water shall thirst again, but whosoever drinks of the water I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water I shall give him shall become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.”
On other occasions he used similar language. He said, “I am the door (Jn.10:7) but of course He did not mean that He was a literal wooden door with lock and hinges.
He also said, “I am the vine” (Jn. 15:5) but no one understood Him to mean that he was a grapevine. When He said, “I am the good shepherd” (Jn.10:14) He did not mean that He was actually a shepherd. He was a carpenter.
When He said, “You must be born again, (Jn.3:7) he referred not to a physical birth but to a spiritual birth. When he said, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (Jn.2:19) He meant His body, not the structure of wood and stone.
When He said, “He that eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, (Jn.6:54) He was speaking of a spiritual relationship between Himself and his people in terms of the Old Testament type, that is, eating the Passover lamb and drinking the Passover wine;
But His Jewish hearers, being literalist, as are many Roman Catholic leaders, misunderstood His words, he said, “You are the salt of the earth” Mt. 5:13, and “You are the light of the world” Mat. 5:14. He spoke of the “leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees” Mt. 16:6.
James said, “The tongue is a fire (3:6) and again, “You are a vapor that appears for a little time, and then vanishes away. (4:14)
Moses spoke of “the bread of affliction” (Deut. 16:3) and Isaiah spoke of “the bread of adversity and the water of affliction. (30:20)
None of these statements is true if taken literally. The disciples had no trouble understanding Jesus’ figure of speech. Similarly, the expressions, “This is my body,” and This is my blood,” are clear enough for all except those who will not see, or those who merely follow medieval theologians.
It is unreasonable in the extreme to take these two expressions literally while taking the others figuratively.