What is transubstantiation?
Transubstantiation is a doctrine of the Roman Catholic
Church. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) defines this doctrine in Section 1376:
The Council of Trent (AD 1545-1563) summarizes the Catholic faith by
declaring: “Because Christ our Redeemer said that it was truly his body that he was offering under the species of bread, it has always been the conviction of the Church of God, and this holy Council now declares again, that by the consecration of the bread and wine there takes place a change of the whole substance of the bread into the substance of the body of Christ our Lord and other whole substance of the wine into the substance of his blood. This change the holy Catholic Church has fittingly and properly called transubstantiation."
St. John Chrysostom declares, “It is not man that causes the
things offered to become the body and blood of Christ, but he who was crucified for us. The priest, in the role of the Christ, pronounces these words of consecration, but their power and grace are God’s. This is my body, he says. This word transforms the things offered.”
St. Ambrose says about this conversion: “Be convinced that
this is not what nature has formed, but what the blessing has consecrated. The power of the blessing prevails of that of nature, because by the blessing, nature itself is changed.”
The Roman Catholic Church teaches that once an ordained priest
blesses the bread of the Lord’s Supper, it is transformed into the actual flesh of Christ (though it retains the appearance, odour and taste of bread), and when he blesses the wine, it is transformed into the actual blood of Christ (though it retains the appearance, odour and taste of wine).
There are some Scriptures that, if interpreted strictly literally, would lead to the “real presence” of Christ in the bread and wine.
Examples are John 6:32-58, Matthew 26:26, Luke 22:17-23 and 1 Corinthians 11:24-25.
The passage pointed to most frequently is John 6:32-58, and
especially verses 53 to 57: “Jesus said to them, ‘I tell you the truth, unless
you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life … For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him … So the one who feeds on me will live because of me.’”
Teaching spiritual truth
Roman Catholics interpret this passage literally and apply
its message to the Lord’s Supper, which they title “Eucharist” or “Mass.” Those who reject the idea of transubstantiation interpret Jesus’ words in John 6:53-57 figuratively or symbolically. How can we know which interpretation is correct? Thankfully, Jesus made it exceedingly obvious what he meant. In John 6:63 he declares, “The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life.” Jesus specifically stated that his words are “spirit.”
Jesus was using physical concepts, eating and drinking, to
teach spiritual truth. Just as consuming physical food and drink sustains our physical bodies, so are our spiritual lives saved and built up by spiritually receiving him, by grace and through faith. Eating Jesus’ flesh and drinking his blood are symbols of fully and completely receiving him in our lives.
The Eucharistic presence of Christ begins at the moment of
the consecration and endures as long as the Eucharistic species subsist. Christ is present whole and entire in each of the species, and whole and entire in each of their parts, in such a way that the breaking of the bread does not divide Christ.
What is consubstantiation?
The change from trans- to con- is the key to seeing the bread and wine as the body and blood of Jesus. The prefix trans- means “change,” and says that a change takes place: the bread actually becomes the body of Jesus and the wine actually becomes the blood of Jesus. The prefix con- means
“with,” and says that the bread does not become the body of Jesus but co-exists with the body of Christ, so that the bread is both bread and the body of Jesus. The same is true of the wine. It does not become the blood of Jesus, but co-exists with the blood of Jesus so that the wine is both wine and the blood of Jesus.
In this way, the makeup of the Host central to the worship service approaches reality, since the physical properties of the bread and wine
do not change. The bread tastes like unleavened bread, not flesh, and the wine tastes like wine, not blood. However, these two essential elements, the flesh and the blood, remain as co-existing elements with the bread and wine so that the teaching of Jesus in Matthew 26:26-28 and Mark 14:22-24 can be properly observed. Consubstantiation is held by some Eastern Orthodox churches and some other liturgical Christian denominations (Episcopal and Lutheran, for example).
Even among these groups, consubstantiation is not universally accepted.