No Communion for You!

This is one of those “deep” pieces for Christians only dealing with Catholic and Protestant relations. If you’re prone to anger, just stop here. Also, if you need fluff and unicorns and rainbows, stop here.

Communion has always been a touchy subject, even for those shepherds in all denominational pews with finesse and people skills. While most Protestant denominations take a “Come as you are as long as you believe in Jesus” approach, Catholics are a demanding crowd. You must be in union with the teachings of the Church, you must be free of all mortal sin (serious, premeditated decision to commit a major sin), you should not (notice I didn’t say cannot) receive Communion in any denominational pew but your own.

Latin rite Catholics are not permitted to receive with any Protestants or with Greek Orthodox Catholics, but may in the absence of a local parish receive with Russian Orthodox or Polish Catholics. Feel like you need a flowchart diagram or decision tree yet?

Why is this? Why is it that the one moment when we should have the most unity and love for each other and for our Lord that we fall apart?

Aside from the work of the enemy of our souls and pride, it has to do with interpretation of Scripture. Two passages are in focus here: John 6:25-59 and 1 Corinthians 11:23-32. I prefer to use the New International Version, Complete Jewish Bible, and a Catholic version of the Bible to get a full flavor of the passages. I would encourage you to do the same before continuing.

Our Catholic brothers and sisters believe that Communion literally is the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus. The priest prays a prayer calling down the Holy Spirit, and in that moment with those words, the bread and wine mystically and substantially become the Real Presence of Jesus through the work of the Holy Spirit (this is transubstantiation). Since God can tolerate no sin, you’re supposed to approach the altar for Communion only if you accept and genuinely try to live Catholic teaching. Literally, Catholics eat Jesus in hopes of growing closer to Him and His teachings.

Lutherans have a similar belief.  However, Lutherans tend to believe that the believer’s faith plays a part (consubstantiation).

I believe (but have not had deep training) that most other Protestants see Communion emblems of bread and wine as just symbolizing the Body and Blood. Figuratively, as we eat, we are to be humbling ourselves before God and choosing unity with our Christian brothers and sisters.

What do I personally believe? I don’t know.

As a writer, I understand both the figurative and literal perspectives. I can’t imagine something that is just a symbol making anyone so sick they would die. And yet, I accept that Jesus could act just the way Catholics believe He does with transubstantiation without wanting to call them vampiric cannibals for following Jesus’ commands.

Without falling into legalism, I want to believe whatever Jesus wants me to believe. He’s left His Word. To know what I should believe, I would have to understand the Greek and Aramaic of the day. I would have to understand tense and language structure to know whether like English the decision about figurative and literal is based on the rhetorical situation and context.

If figurative and literal were based in tense with language structure, I would assume the scholars would have figured that out by now. If not, maybe I’ve given some ancient linguistic PhD candidate his or her doctoral dissertation project.

If figurative and literal language are contextually based on the environment and culture of the day, then I will have to pray and take it on faith that if I make the wrong decision I have done so with a clear conscience and will be covered in mercy, grace, and Christ’s Blood.

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3 thoughts on “No Communion for You!

  1. Pastor Ken

    I think you’ve misunderstood what “transubstantation” and “consubstantation” are. Both are greek metaphysical frameworks to describe how the bread and wine become Jesus Christ’s body and blood.

    Brief overview: in this model of understanding the structure and nature of the universe, everything that is has a “substance” and “accidents”. The substance is what a thing truly and really is while the accidents are all the ways in which we perceive it.

    So take bread for example. Bread has a substance of, say, “bread-ness” that is what makes it bread. Its accidents are all the ways we can perceive it: its taste, texture, appearance, smell, it’s chemical makeup–every possible way we can describe bread. We can’t describe or perceive the substance, the “bread-ness”, but we can identify bread by its accidents.

    Transubstantiation is the belief that in the bread of the Lord’s Supper, the substance, the “bread-ness” of the bread is replaced by the substance, or “Christ-ness” of Christ. It absolutely ceases to be bread at that moment and is only and completely Christ. However, the “accidents” remain–in every way we can perceive it, it still appears to be bread, down to the taste, texture, chemical makeup, everything. But it is not bread at all, because the substance of bread, what makes it actually bread, has been totally replaced by the substance of Christ. This is how the Roman Catholic Church explains what happens in Communion and why the bread and wine are not bread and wine at all, but the body and blood of Christ.

    Lutherans, if we accepted that greek metaphysical framework, would indeed by consubstantiationists, for we say that the bread and wine in Communion are -both- bread and wine -and- the body and blood of Christ. However, Lutherans do not accept that this has to be explained using greek metaphysics, preferring instead to say that the real presence of Christ is in Communion and there’s no reason to try and explain exactly how that happens. We simply accept that both Christ’s body and blood as well as the bread and wine are present fully and completely.

    ————-

    I too don’t know the numbers of Protestants who believe which eucharistic theology. I suspect however, given what little I know and what numbers I have seen, that the majority of Protestants would hold to a memorial/symbol theology, though Prostestants who believe that Christ is somehow present in Communion wouldn’t be too far behind.

    ————-

    It’s not just the theology about what happens during Communion that separates churches. For the Roman Catholic Church, for example, even if one believes in transubstantiation, one still may not be admitted to the table because in that church, Communion is also seen as a visible sign of the unity of the church. Therefore those separated from that union (half of all Christians regardless of belief) are not permitted to the table. It truly is a complicated matter! I’m glad you’re doing some deep thinking about it, as all Christians should.

    Reply
      1. Pastor Ken

        I’m sorry it was as long as it was! I didn’t realize it until after I posted it just how long it was. There may be differences regarding the role of the celebrant and the faith of the person, but I don’t think there’d be many–both Lutherans and Roman Catholics accept the first seven ecumenical councils, and the Lutheran belief about the role of both seems to come from those. Truthfully, we believe very very similar things about Communion. But, I would have to dig in and do more reading to give a better answer. Either way, it doesn’t have to do with the words trans/consubstantiation though.

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