Q:Roman Catholicism believes in the "real presence" (of Jesus) in the bread and the wine taken during communion, while Protestant denominations hold that the Lord's Supper is merely symbolic of the third cup of the Passover celebration. Which is correct?
A:Your question concerns the meaning of the communion service and the concept of "real presence." I have often emphasized that many of the doctrinal problems in the church were the result of ignoring the Jewish frame of reference. The Catholic theology of transubstantiation and the Lutheran theology of consubstantiation are excellent examples. Not understanding the nature of the Jewish Passover, and not understanding the terminology of the Jewish Passover, they have misunderstood some basic words. The whole theology of both transubstantiation and consubstantiation is based upon Jesus saying, "This is My body." He never actually says, "This is My blood," but, "This is the cup of the New Covenant in My blood." This is a point that people often miss in these discussions. But based upon this phraseology, transubstantiation teaches that through the consecration by the priest, the bread actually turns into the real body of Christ and the wine actually turns into the real blood of Christ. Consubstantiation denies there is any change in the elements, but insists that the real body is present with the bread and the real blood is present with the wine. Nothing could be further from the truth and nothing shows a greater lack of understanding of the Jewish frame of reference than this. They totally misunderstand the use of Jewish metaphors. When Jesus said, "I am the door," it did not mean He literally became a door; it was used metaphorically, meaning He is the way. When Jesus said, "I am the sheepfold," he never literally became a sheep pen, which, if this view is consistent, they would have to believe. But in Jewish usage, this simply means "this represents that." In other words, the bread represents His body and the third cup represents His blood. The key word in the whole Passover observance is the word "remembrance." Throughout the Passover observance, there is one ritual after another, but with each ritual there is the teaching: "We do this to remember that" or "we do that to remember this." With both the bread and the cup, the key word Jesus used is the word "remembrance" and we are simply told we are to do this to remember His body and to remember His blood, not that we are actually partaking of His real body or His real blood. These things must be understood with the framework of the Jewish Passover.