Why do Catholics believe that Jesus is really present in the bread and wine, and why do Anglicans differ? It comes down how we interpret Christ’s words at the Last Supper when, in refence to the bread and wine, he said “this is my body” and “this is my blood”. While Catholics teach that we should take these words literally, there are good reasons to understand Jesus as using a metaphor.
First, it’s difficult to comprehend how Jesus can refer to the bread and wine as his literal body when he is physically in the room at the same time. A truly human Jesus cannot recline at the table while also being in the cup and on the plate.
Secondly, we note the setting of the Last Supper was a Passover meal. No Israelite ever thought that the lamb they were eating somehow embodied the original lambs that were sacrificed on the first Passover – the meal was a symbolic way of remembering God’s act of salvation. In both Luke (22:19) and 1 Corinthians (1 Cor 11:24), we are told that at the supper Jesus said “do this in remembrance of me”. It seems that Jesus was instructing his disciples in a new meal of remembrance, this time with his sacrifice as the focus. The bread and wine are not to be an extension of his body, but a way of remembering what he did through his body.
But there’s more to Holy Communion than simply remembering. We’ll continue next week.