Meaning of the Real Presence


Calvinists believe in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, but they hold that it is spiritual in nature. The bread and wine remain unaltered physically.

Catholics agree that Christ is spiritually present in the Eucharist, but they also believe in transubstantiation. Calvinists reject transubstantiation.

Transubstantiation explains how the real presence comes about. It holds that the substance of the bread and wine become the flesh and blood of Christ, while the accidents of the bread and wine retain their original nature.

It is my understanding that transubstantiation was not articulated until after 800 AD. Earlier church fathers always held to the real presence, but they never clarified how it actually occurred which is what transubstantiation does.

Is my assessment accurate? If this is the case, the debate is not really about whether the real presence exists in the Eucharist. The debate is about how it exists in the Eucharist.

Do you agree or disagree?

Please help me explore the real meaning of a change in the “substance” in the Catholic point of view. How does this really differ from saying that Christ is present spiritually? If we say that the accidents of bread and wine are unchanged, aren’t we really saying that it is unchanged physically?

P.S. I am aware that some Protestants hold that the Eucharist is merely symbolic or a memorium. I have no interest in discussing that view.


In the Holy Eucharist – the host (bread) as well as in the wine – are each transubstantiated into the Real Presence of Jesus.

Both the host (bread) and the wine become totally the Real Presence of Jesus – His Body, His Blood, His Soul, and His Divinity.

It’s really HIM.

Does that help you to understand?

P.S. It’s a mystery. Doesn’t mean that because it’s a mystery that it isn’t so. It IS so. It’s just beyond what any human can understand. Yet, we believe and know that it is true because Jesus, Himself, said so at the Last Supper.


[quote=Veronica Anne]In the Holy Eucharist – the host (bread) as well as in the wine – are each transubstantiated into the Real Presence of Jesus.

Both the host (bread) and the wine become totally the Real Presence of Jesus – His Body, His Blood, His Soul, and His Divinity.

It’s really HIM.

Does that help you to understand?

P.S. It’s a mystery. Doesn’t mean that because it’s a mystery that it isn’t so. It IS so. It’s just beyond what any human can understand. Yet, we believe and know that it is true because Jesus, Himself, said so at the Last Supper.

Thanks. I think you accurately set forth Catholic doctrine, but this does not help me with the issue I am grappling with.

If you removed the word “transubstantiated” from your post, I think a Calvinist could agree with everything you said.

The issue is not the real presence. Calvinists and Catholics agree that Christ is really present in the Eucharast.

The issue is whether the real presence is accomplished through transubstantiation. Does this make sense or do you disagree?


[quote=dts]Thanks. I think you accurately set forth Catholic doctrine, but this does not help me with the issue I am grappling with.

If you removed the word “transubstantiated” from your post, I think a Calvinist could agree with everything you said.

The issue is not the real presence. Calvinists and Catholics agree that Christ is really present in the Eucharast.

The issue is whether the real presence is accomplished through transubstantiation. Does this make sense or do you disagree?

Well, I don’t know anything about Calivinism, really.

However, I do know that only the Catholic Church has the belief/knowledge of the Real Presence (Body & Bood & Soul & Divinity) of Jesus being actually present in the here and now in the host and the wine that the priest has transubstantiated via his (the priest’s) grace from his ordination.

It’s actually JESUS who is doing the transubstantion. The priest is the vehicle through which Jesus does it.

The priest has to have been ordained via the apostolic succession. A Calvinist minister has not been ordained via the apostolic succession, and therefore cannot confect the Real Presence of Jesus in any communion wafer that he or she is handling.

I agree that Jesus’ Real Presence is, well, really present.

The method of confection is called “transubstantiation.”

Whether transubstantiation makes sense to me is beside the point. It’s a matter of faith, actually.

I do not understand so that I may believe; 
I believe so that I may understand.
- St Anselm


This might be helpful to you. This is the part of section concerning the Eucharist of the Official International dialogue between the Roman Catholic Church and the Reformed (Calvinist) Churches.

The Biblical Basis:

Reflection on the celebration of the Eucharist must start from the biblical sources, i.e.:

  • from the celebration of the Lord’s Supper in the primitive Church,

  • from the celebration of the Last Supper of Jesus,

  • from the Old Testament background, particularly the Jewish Passover.

If this background is taken seriously, new possibilities of mitigating the traditional confessional quarrels emerge from the understanding of the New Testament accounts of the institution: for example,

In the words of institution the emphasis is on the fact of the personal presence of the living Lord in the event of the memorial and fellowship meal, not on the question as to how this real presence (the word “is”) comes about and is to be explained. The eating and drinking and the memorial character of the Passover meal, with which the New Testament links Jesus’ last meal, proclaim the beginning of the new covenant.

*]- When Christ gives the apostles the commission ‘Do this in remembrance of me!’ the word “remembrance” means more than merely a mental act of “recalling”.

  • The term “body” means the whole person of Jesus, the saving presence of which is experienced in the meal.

[/list]The concept of koinonia stresses not only fellowship with the exalted Lord Jesus Christ, but beyond this and precisely because of this also the fellowship of all who partake of the meal and are called together into the community of the Lord (1 Cor 10:17).

Reflection on the Supper of the primitive Christian community must not contemplate the past in retrospect and seek to restore it; on the contrary, it must liberate us for a new priestly ministry (1 Petr 2:9), which the Church has to perform in relation to the world of today.


The Paschal Mystery of Christ and the Eucharist:

Christ sends us into the world with the message of a new life and a new common life in fellowship with him. In our speaking and acting he bears witness to himself. His Gospel gathers, protects and maintains the koinonia of his disciples as a sign and beginning of his kingdom. He himself constantly calls this community to the memorial of his death; he himself comes into its midst as the living One through his word and causes this word to take shape in the celebration of the Supper in which he deepens and seals (cf. Jn 15:4f, 6:56f, 1 Cor 10:16) his fellowship with us and in which the new life of fellowship of Christendom is represented to the world (1 Jn 1:3). The presidence of the commissioned church office bearer at the celebration of the Meal effectively represents this unique role of Christ as the Lord and Host. The commissioned office-bearer is there to show the assembled community that it does not have disposal itself over the Eucharist but simply carries out obediently what Christ has commissioned the Church to do.In its joyful prayer of thanksgiving, “in the Eucharist”, when the Church of Christ remembers his reconciling death for our sins and for the sins of the whole world, Christ himself is present, who “gave himself up on our behalf as an offering and sacrifice whose fragrance is pleasing to God” (Eph 5:2). Sanctified by his Spirit, the Church, through, with and in God’s son, Jesus Christ, offers itself to the Father. It thereby becomes a living sacrifice of thanksgiving, through which God is publicly praised (cf. Rom 12:1; 1 Petr 2:5).

The validity, strength and effect of the Supper are rooted in the cross of the Lord and in his living presence in the Holy Spirit. Far from bypassing us, they are fulfilled in our faith, love and service.

The witness, celebration and fruits of the Eucharist are crystallization of the Church’s proclamation and fellowship. They are therefore sustained by every movement in which the eternal Father for Christ’s sake and through him, accepts and recreates the lost world in the Holy Spirit.


The Presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper

As often as we come together in the Church to obey our Lord’s command to “do this in anamnesis of me”, he is in our midst. This is the presence of the Son of God who for us men and for our salvation became man and was made flesh. Through the offering of his body we have been sanctified and are made partakers of God. This is the great mystery (Sacramentum) of Christ, in which he has incorporated himself into our humanity, and in partaking of which the Church is built up as the Body of Christ. This is the same mystery dispensed to us in the eucharistic celebration, for when we bless the cup it is the communion of the blood of Christ, and when we break the bread it is the communion of the body of Christ (I Cor 10:16). The realization of this presence of Christ to us and of our union and incorporation with him is the proper work of the Holy Spirit, which takes place in the eucharistic celebration as the Church calls upon the Father to send down his Holy Spirit to sanctify both the worshiping people and the bread and wine. How Christ is present in the Eucharist, we may apprehend to a certain extent by looking at the work of the same Holy Spirit, e.g. in the birth of Jesus of the Virgin Mary and in his resurrection in body from the grave - although as acts of God they are explicable only from the side of God and not from the side of man.

It is in this light that we may understand something of the specific presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist, which is at once sacramental and personal. He comes to us clothed in his Gospel and saving passion, so that our partaking of him is communion in his body and blood (John 6:47-56; 1 Cor 10:17). This presence is sacramental in that it is the concrete form which the mystery of Christ takes in the eucharistic communion of his body and blood. It is also personal presence because Jesus Christ in his own person is immediately present, giving himself in his reality both as true God and true Man. In the Eucharist he communicates himself to us in the whole reality of his divinity and humanity - body, mind and will, and at the same time he remains the Son who is in the Father as the Father is in him.

The Reformed and Roman Catholics are convinced of the centrality of this common christological confession. The specific mode of Christ’s real presence in the Eucharist is thus to be interpreted as the presence of the Son who is both consubstantial with us in our human and bodily existence while being eternally consubstantial with the Father and the Holy Spirit in the Godhead (Jn 17:21-23). It is important to see that Calvin’s Christ ology was mainly inspired by the theology of St. Cyril of Alexandria and of St. Athanasius. It would be easy to be misled by the term “extra Calvinisticum” which arose out of early 17th century polemics among Protestants; and even the Calvinist teaching then was that after the incarnation the eternal Word, fully joined to the humanity in the hypostatic union, was nevertheless not restricted to, or contained within the flesh, but existed “etiam extra carnem”. This doctrine, that the logos is at the same time incarnate and present in the whole world, is not a Calvinist speciality, but is common to the Christology of pre-Chalcedonian as well as post-Chalcedonian orthodoxy, East and West. What clearly matters is the fully trinitarian context which is guarded by this doctrine and the Christological presuppositions on which there are no fundamental disagreements between Roman Catholic and Reformed traditions.


Eucharist, Liturgy and Dogma

The Eucharist is an expression of the Church’s faith. That faith is expressed in part in its liturgical life, according to the principle “lex orandi, lex credendi”. It is an essential function of liturgy to hand on the Gospel in the formulations of its prayer, and also in the forms of ritual practice.

In the course of history certain formulae have been taken up in dogmatic and liturgical usage, primarily as protective devices to safeguard the faith against misinterpretation. These formulae have been usually developed from a context of controversy, from which the passage of time has tended to detach them. Such formulations need to be re-examined in order to see whether they are still adequate as safeguards against misunderstanding, or have themselves become sources of misunderstanding, especially in the ecumenical situation.

There is therefore a pastoral responsibility on the churches to see that such formulae contribute to the genuine communication of the Gospel to the contemporary world.

General Comment

While we are aware of the serious discrepancy between our claims to common theological understanding and our actual practices, we gratefully acknowledge the way our investigations and discussions have resulted in a greater appreciation of the richness in our respective eucharistic doctrines and practices. We believe we have reached a common understanding of the meaning and purpose and basic doctrine of the Eucharist, which is in agreement with the Word of God and the universal tradition of the Church. We also believe that the way is clearly opening out before us on which remaining misunderstandings and disagreements about the Lord’s Supper can be cleared up. The terminology which arose in an earlier polemical context is not adequate for taking account of the extent of common theological understanding which exists in our respective churches. Thus we gratefully acknowledge that both traditions, Reformed and Roman Catholic, hold to the belief in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist; and both hold at least that the Eucharist is, among other things:
*](1) a memorial of the death and resurrection of the Lord;

(2) a source of loving communion with him in the power of the Spirit (hence the epiclesis in the Liturgy), and

(3) a source of the eschatological hope for his coming again.



[quote=dts]Calvinists believe in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, but they hold that it is spiritual in nature. The bread and wine remain unaltered physically.

I am not sure what Calvinists mean by Christ’s presence being “spiritual in nature.” I think that they mean something like “where 2 or 3 are gathered together in my Name, there I am with you.”

In that case, the presence might be said to be “real” only in a metaphorical sense. Or perhaps more likely, they mean something more “real” --in the sense that Christ is “present” to us by his Grace.

But Catholic belief is that Christ is totally present–both physically and spiritually–that is, that he is present in both body and soul, and being a divine Person, his divine nature is also present.

We believe that the substance of the bread is entirely gone, but we cannot discern it, because the “appearances” of bread (and wine) are those things which are perceptible to our senses, and thus those things which appear as “physical” presences.

Jesus Christ, in turn, does not assume the appearance of the bread and wine. He is, rather, entirely present but hidden “beneath” those appearances.


protestants who deny the Real Presence in their communion services are actually theologically correct. since they have severed themselves from the authority of the Catholic Church, and it is only through that apostolic authority, conferred by Christ himself, through the power of the Holy Spirit whom Christ sent to protect and guide His Church, that the Eucharist is confected, then they cannot be said to have the Real Presence in their sacramental or ordained communion ritual at all. It follows that, having separated from the Catholic Church, they also have no basis or credibility in commenting on the Catholic doctrine and practice regarding the Eucharist.


I am in RCIA learning about the Catholic faith, and I was posed a question by a fundamentalist regarding the Real Presence for which I had no answer.

What if someone slips arsenic or some other poison into the wine prior to consecration? What happens after consecration if the wine is no longer wine? Is the poison still there?



First off, if someone puts poison into the wine, it is no longer purely wine and is not valid matter for consecration, thus no consecration takes place.

Second, they seem to misunderstand that transubstantiation changes the substance but the appearances remain. The appearances are everything perceptible to the senses. No one could tell consecrated from unconsecrated wine by any physical means. It retains all it’s ‘physical’ properties, because those *are * the appearances of wine.


Thanks JimG,

I don’t completely understand transubstantiation yet in terms of valid matter, so I must say that was really stumped. I am beginning to understand the sacrament, just not the reasons that substance has to be a certain way, if that makes any sense.

Thanks for your help!!


There have been a lot of beliefs that started in the Early Church that must have been just accepted in Faith. As time passed theologians and philosophers applied human reason to some of these beliefs and some of the mystery was dissipated. Transubtantiation became a philosophical explanation of the Eucharest when St, Thomas Aquinas using ideas derived from Aristotles metaphysics put forth an explanation of what happened during the consecration. In metaphysics there is in all things a substance that underlies or carrys all those physical properties, called accidents, which are apprehendable by the human senses. The explanation then is not that the accidents or the physical reality changes, but that the substance which carries the accidents changes. In this case into the substance of Jesus’s body, blood, soul, and divinity. Correctly stated, the Eucharest is not a physical presence of Jesus, but rather a substantial one. Many modern folks understand substantial and physical as being equivalent, whereas in metaphysics they are not.The Real Presence is a substantial presence. I am a chemist by training and in modern science substance has an entirely different meaning so it is easy to be confused. If Jesus were present only spiritually there would be no body and blood as a spirit by definition is not material or matter. Many of us experience no other miracles in our lives, but all of us have the opportunity to experience the miracle that underlies the consecration taking place at Mass. :thumbsup:


Here is my issue. If the host and wine truley become the body and blood of our Lord, in completness, then why does the wine tast differntly from church to church. I would think the taste would be universal. I know it sounds simple, but I just don’t get it.

It seems, either is is changed or is isn’t, But how can something be changed yet remain the same. Body and blood are real things and, I think, have taste.

Please help.




By transubstantation, the Church teaches that the substance of the bread and wine are changed, but the accidents remain the same. That means that the reality of what appears to be bread and wine is no longer bread and wine; the reality is that it is the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ.

The accidents remain, however. The accidents are those physical and sensible characteristics of the species. It still looks like bread and wine, it still tastes like bread and wine, it still smells like bread and wine, it breaks like bread, it pours like wine.

The accidents – those characteristics which are perceptible to our senses – remain, but the substance – the reality – is changed.


This is not the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church. Separating itself from the See of Rome, whether over political or theological reasons (or both), does not mean that the group no longer has valid sacraments. If that were the case, the Orthodox, Old Catholic, various other groups would not be recognized by the Holy See as having valid sacraments. If the group maintains a validly ordained clergy and uses an acceptable formula for the Eucharistic liturgy, they do indeed have the Real Presence of Christ in their consecrated elements.


Just as an interesting aside, no one (not Roman Catholics, not the Orthodox, & not Anglicans) “believe” in transubstantiation… we believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Transubstantiation is only the Aristotelian way the RCC has tried to explain how it all happens. This may be a fine point, but I just wanted to clarify the reality that we (Catholics, Orthodox, Anglicans, & Lutherans) believe in the Real Presence, and that transubstantiation is the best way to describe how that real presence has come about.

I think we sometimes get wrapped up in the nuts and bolts of things, rather than looking past explanations to the larger reality of the situation. In this case, the reality is that (as we Anglicans believe) when we receive the Eucharist, we are receiving the Resurrected Christ- the Whole Christ, not just a piece of bread, not just a piece of flesh, but the entire resurrected Body of Christ. To say that we believe we are receiving the whole Body of Christ is to say that we believe we are receiving and communing with the entire Church and all who participate in that Christ as well.


I just know this, Jesus is present in all of His Sacraments, and the Eucharist/Holy Communion is HIM, He Himself, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity. His Real Presence. Just as at the last supper He was there with them physically and Sacramentally, He is still with us now. How is it that those men recognized Him in the breaking of the bread after His resurrection if they didn’t understand it then?


The matter (accidents) do not change, but the substance does. The taste of the wine is the personal choice of the parish. At the Cathedral, we use Angelico wine; at my parish it is red wine. So long as the wine meets with the requirements of the Church, that is all that matters.

Here is what the Catechism notes:

The signs of bread and wine

1333 At the heart of the Eucharistic celebration are the bread and wine that, by the words of Christ and the invocation of the Holy Spirit, become Christ’s Body and Blood. Faithful to the Lord’s command the Church continues to do, in his memory and until his glorious return, what he did on the eve of his Passion: “He took bread. . . .” “He took the cup filled with wine. . . .” The signs of bread and wine become, in a way surpassing understanding, the Body and Blood of Christ; they continue also to signify the goodness of creation. Thus in the Offertory we give thanks to the Creator for bread and wine,154 fruit of the “work of human hands,” but above all as “fruit of the earth” and “of the vine” - gifts of the Creator. The Church sees in the gesture of the king-priest Melchizedek, who “brought out bread and wine,” a prefiguring of her own offering.155

1334 In the Old Covenant bread and wine were offered in sacrifice among the first fruits of the earth as a sign of grateful acknowledgment to the Creator. But they also received a new significance in the context of the Exodus: the unleavened bread that Israel eats every year at Passover commemorates the haste of the departure that liberated them from Egypt; the remembrance of the manna in the desert will always recall to Israel that it lives by the bread of the Word of God;156 their daily bread is the fruit of the promised land, the pledge of God’s faithfulness to his promises. The "cup of blessing"157 at the end of the Jewish Passover meal adds to the festive joy of wine an eschatological dimension: the messianic expectation of the rebuilding of Jerusalem. When Jesus instituted the Eucharist, he gave a new and definitive meaning to the blessing of the bread and the cup.

Something else to remember is that the prophets foretold that when the Messiah appeared, there would flow wine. Jesus’ first miracle at the Wedding at Cana gave us the first sign. Wine is the drink of gladness.

I hope that this helps.

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