I have been Catholic for many years but for some reason this week have been thinking extensively about transubstantiation which compelled me to do much reading on it, including the recent posts in this forum. I read three long articles: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transubstantiation, carm.org/transubstantiation, catholicculture.org/culture/library/view.cfm?recnum=1340, the last of which also found that 30% of Catholics believe in the true meaning of transubstantiation. I read John chapter 6 and the relevant sections in the Catechism.
In addition to the above articles, some passages that caught my attention were:
Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.”
Later, the disciples say
“This saying is hard; who can accept it?”
In direct response to their question, Jesus later says
“It is the spirit that gives life, while the flesh is of no avail. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life.”
I do not doubt that at the Last Supper, Jesus was giving the disciples His body and His blood, which He states. I also do not doubt that God can transubstantiate the bread and wine during the Eucharist. It is also not a question of faith for me, because there are things that we know are not true as Catholics that others have faith in; the important thing is what is true or not. And I will believe what science has no explanation for if it is correct.
But what gives me pause is that the above quotation uses the same word “flesh” as He used above, and then states that the flesh is not important, when the spirit is, and in addition He says He was speaking in spiritual terms, and this was in direct response to the questions of the disciples about eating His flesh. So the earlier passage could be interpreted to mean that we must eat His “spirit” and drink His “spirit.” And during the Last Supper, when He says, “Do this in remembrance of me,” His choice of the word “remembrance” is very unusual within the Catholic doctrine, because it really suggests that what we do in the Eucharist is not what He did, but something that we do “in remembrance” of that moment.
I believe that God is present in the Eucharist, but based on the Bible I don’t see the reason/explanation for the transubstantiation. When I look at the Catechism and the Catholic teaching on the subject, the best I could find from the above reading I linked to, was that transubstantiation was believed in by early Christians to the present day, with some challenges, and there was no reason to question it. This is already bad reasoning. But I find no explanation for how the Catholic Church arrived at this position. So what I am questioning is not God, but humans, and the early human interpretation that led to this position. In fact, even looking at the passages in the Bible of some of the early saints that persons are using now as evidence for transubstantiation, they do not seem to be referring to transubstantiation beyond God being present in the Eucharist.
Part of me thinks that this is semantics, because if God is present in the Eucharist, then I am eating the Body and Blood of Christ, and it is written in John: 6:54, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day.” But the catechism is very clear that God is not only present in the Eucharist, but the bread and wine become the body and blood. In any case, as I stated before I feel that I am questioning humans and not God. But would appreciate if anyone can clarify how we know that the Catholics who tried to interpret this are correct, and that transubstantiation does occur beyond God’s presence in the Eucharist. I will be praying for understanding on this issue.