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It is difficult to see how anyone's appreciation of the Eucharist could be enkindled by belief in the doctrine of transubstantiation, as insisted upon by John Young ("The Church's dogma of transubstantiation", May AD2000).
It is not taught by Our Lord in the Gospel accounts dealing with the Eucharist, that is, in John Chapter 6 and the Last Supper narratives in Matthew, Mark and Luke. St Paul shows no sign of awareness of it and it is unknown to the early Christian writers. It is not a truth revealed by God. So Christians for centuries loved and adored the Eucharist without having heard of such a doctrine. They did believe in the Real Presence - the truth that the consecrated bread and wine are the body and blood of Jesus.
To this day the Orthodox and Oriental Churches believe in the Real Presence without subscription to transubstantiation. I suspect that most Catholics who do not doubt the Real Presence have never heard of the doctrine. Like the Orthodox and Orientals, they have no need of it and are none the wiser when they do hear of it.
John Young is correct when he says we have no way of detecting the change in the bread and wine except "by faith", that is, by believing Jesus when he said that the bread and wine are his body and blood. We have no other ground for believing this than our trust in Jesus.
The same applies to the other sacraments. That Baptism brings about the forgiveness of sins is not observable: we trust the early apostles and disciples who were authorised by the Lord when they say, as recorded in the New Testament, that Baptism washes away sins.
Early Christian writers argued that if Jesus could change water into wine, as he did at the marriage feast of Cana, then he would have no trouble changing bread and wine into his body and blood. But they felt no urge to believe that the substance of water was replaced by the substance of wine that is, that the miracle involved transubstantiation.
In the Middle Ages Catholic theologians developed an obsession with explaining the inexplicable. This resulted in the promulgation of the doctrine of transubstantiation, one which is scarcely comprehensible though true. This judgment applies to many of the truths discovered by scientists, truths which are of little use to most of us. Do we really care whether the Big Bang began when the "singularity" began to accelerate one ten million trillion trillion trillionths of a second after it popped into existence? Acceleration at "an unimaginable speed" will do us.
The Agreed Statement on Eucharistic Doctrine (1971) of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission contains an apt expression of the Real Presence which is comprehensible and all that we need: "Before the eucharistic prayer, to the question, 'What is that?', the believer answers: 'It is bread.' After the eucharistic prayer, to the same question he answers, 'It is truly the body of Christ, the Bread of Life'."
FRANK MOBBS (DR)
Reprinted from AD2000 Vol 25 No 6 (July 2012), p. 14
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