Sacraments & Sacramentals

A man sent a challenge that the Fathers of the Church claim the Eucharist is a symbol and therefore NOT the Real Presence of Christ. Is that true? My friend Gary Michuta answers the question.

Thanks for including me in on this conversation. Brian, there are three issues that commonly trip up non-Catholics when they read the early fathers on the Eucharist.

 The first obstacle is their inability to understand the difference between a complimentary statement and a contradictory statement. For example, the two following statements can be complimentary (that is both true in the same manner and time):

1) This ball is red
2) This ball is round.

 A contradictory statement cannot be true in the same manner and at the same time. for example:

1) This ball is red
2) This ball is NOT red

 When an early father says that Eucharist is a symbol, it is not necessarily contradictory since the Eucharist can be both a symbol and the reality of Christ’s body and blood. A statement that would contradict Catholic teaching would be The Eucharist is ONLY a symbol.

 This brings up the second stumbling block. Catholic teaching on the Eucharist is much more complex than saying it is Christ’s body and blood (as you know). It is a Sacrament, which is a visible sign (symbol, type, figure) that points to an invisible reality (Christ Himself). Many non-Catholics are surprised that the Catholic Church teaches that the Eucharist is a symbol (in regards to the Sacramental species or its outward appearances). 

 The Council of Trent, for example, said, “This, indeed, the most Holy Eucharist has in common with the other sacraments, that is a “symbol of a sacred thing and a visible form of an invisible grace (DS 1639). It elsewhere says that Christ “offered to the Father His own body and blood under the species of bread and wine, and under the symbols of those same things gave to the apostles… so that we might partake.” (DS 1740). The old Roman Catechism (the Catechism of the Council of Trent) speaks in the same way. When the early Fathers speak of the Eucharist in terms of its species (mode in which it is given to us), it is correct to use terms like symbols, figures, types, and the like. However, when one is speaking about the invisible reality of the Eucharist (Christ Himself) we cannot speak of it as a symbolic (see DS 1651). 

 The third stumbling block, which this author seems totally oblivious, is the fact that the early Fathers interpreted Scripture according to a four-fold sense (literal, allegorical, moral and  anagogical). Protestantism recognizes only one sense of Scripture, the literal (ala  the Westminster Confession, 1, 9). There were schools in the ancient Church that specialized on these different senses. Antioch was known for its literal interpretations. Alexandria was known for its allegorical interpretations.

It’s not surprising that the two examples the author gives as being most surprising to Catholics are Clement and Origen. What a shock! They both taught in Alexandria and both are known for their allegorical interpretation. The quotes he gives shows very clearly that they are not talking about the literal sense of Christ’s words, but the allegorical (or perhaps moral / spiritual sense). But this sense tells us nothing about what the Eucharist truly, literally, is.

The Eucharist is both a symbol and IS what it symbolizes. 

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Tears welled up in my eyes — again — at Mass last Sunday. It was not always so. As a former Baptist I used to think the Catholic Mass was a sacrilege and an abomination. How could anyone worship a piece of bread? Really!

However, last Sunday I was overcome with emotion while sitting in an older Catholic church in a relatively poor area of town during a “normal” Sunday Mass. Why? Let me explain.
Dad reading
(Picture: Me on the right with the best dad in the world and brother David after going to Joy Road Baptist Church)

But first I have to take a step back in time to my delightful childhood.

The door of our Baptist church opened and the early arrivers stepped in with well-worn Bibles under their arms and colorful ties snugged up tight around the neck. Children with cute bow ties and frilly dresses were herded in and dropped off at Sunday School. Women adjusted their hats and smiled at all their friends.

It was always the same — enter the church with chattering friendliness accompanied by the organ or piano to set the mood. Everyone takes their place in the padded pews. The pastor steps up to the front and welcomes everyone, especially any visitors. They are asked to fill out the “Visitor Card” in the pews in front of them.

Then we all stand as he opens in a solemn and often wordy prayer.  A number is called out and we all grabbed our hymnal and proved we were real Christians by belting out the song, not just the first verse, but verses 1, 2 and 5.

For the rest of the story, click here.

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Pastor Bob Preaches From The Word
By Steve Ray

Josh left Sunday services full of excitement, anxious to discuss Pastor Bob’s sermon with his sister Jennifer who had recently converted to the Catholic Church. The pastor had explained how salvation was by “faith alone” and not by rituals and works. He was anxious to discuss this with his sister; he was irked by her conversion to the “traditions of men” and “salvation by rituals.” How could she leave a Bible-believing Church to join the Catholics? Armed with Pastor Bob’s verses, he met his sister for lunch.

After ordering grilled salmon, Josh got right to the point. “Sis, I am dismayed that you have abandoned the Bible to follow Rome. Last Sunday Pastor Bob preached about Baptism right straight from the Word of God. I wish you could have heard him.” Jennifer smiled. Josh continued, “He showed how the Catholic Church ignores the Word of God.”

Josh pulled out his black leather Bible. “Baptism does not save you, Sis. Look at this verse.” After quite a few verses he turned to Genesis 15:6 which said that ‘Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness’. “Where do you see anything about Baptism?” After listening patiently for a while Jennifer interrupted the litany of out-of-context proof texts with a sisterly word of advice.

“You know Josh, you flip through that Bible with very little regard for the context. You treat the Bible as though it were a book of numbered quotations randomly collected and unrelated to each other. Did you know that the chapter and verse divisions were not part of the original text of Scripture?” Josh was more interested in finding the next verse than in listening to Jennifer.

“Remember Josh, even in Hebrews, when quoting the Old Testament the writer says that “one has testified somewhere, saying” (e.g., Heb 2:6) because there was no easy way of refer to the passage. The Old Testament Scriptures were written on huge scrolls that had to be unrolled-just straight text with no divisions. The New Testament writings were handwritten on papyrus or parchment. For more than 1500 years verse divisions, which we take for granted, did not exist.”

“Come on Sis, what does that have to do with Baptism? Verse numbers make it easier to use the Bible. I just gave you a lot of verses that prove my view of baptism, and you give me a history lesson.”

Jennifer smiled, “My point exactly Josh! Chapter and verse divisions have made it easier to abuse the Bible since people too often view the Bible as a collection of “sayings” divided numerically into bite-sized sound bits. You are a good example-just look at your list of proof-texts about Baptism. You treat the Bible as though it were a collection of unrelated, numerically arranged sentences to pluck out at will. The Bible is actually made up of whole writings to be read in context. Remember that ‘A text without a context is a pretext’. “

“Sis, let’s get back to Baptism. How can you believe that Baptism is necessary for salvation when the Bible says we are saved by faith alone? Read John 3:16 and you’ll see that ‘whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.’ Do you see anything about baptism in that verse? Only faith!”

“You’re right Josh, you cannot find the word “Baptism” in that particular verse. But are you willing to set aside the practice of “proof-texting” and look at the whole context? You don’t start reading Gone with the Wind in the middle of the book and then skip around willy-nilly reading individual paragraphs do you? Of course not! Then why misuse the Bible that way. Let’s stop for a minute and look at the whole picture-what is St. John saying in context?”

Josh protested, “Jennifer, I have more verses about salvation by faith without mentioning baptism than you have that mention Baptism.” “Really,” said Jennifer, “so you feel we can ignore verses-cut them out-if they don’t fit our theology to balance the verses that do? Come on Josh, that’s not honest. Jesus doesn’t divide it into either faith or baptism. as you do; rather, He proclaims salvation through both faith and baptism. Don’t divide what God puts together. Let’s take a look at what the New Testament actually says.”

Josh agreed and they sat for almost an hour reading the text of St. John and comparing it with the other New Testament writings. Fortunately for us, they took good notes which we are able to pass on to you. Let’s see what they discussed.

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Biblical Context:

John 3: What does one have to do to avoid perishing and gain eternal life (Jn 3:16)? How are faith and sacraments both necessary, not mutually exclusive (CCC 161; 1236)? How does one become a child of God (Jn 1:12-13)? How does Jesus explain birth from God to Nicodemus (Jn 3:3)? What must take place for one to “see the kingdom of God” (Jn 3:3)? How does Nicodemus misunderstand Jesus (Jn 3:4)? In order to be “born from above”, what two elements are necessary (Jn 3:5; CCC 720; 1215)? Does Jesus describe “faith alone” as the means of New Birth (Jn 3:5)? How does the Catholic Church continue Jesus’ teaching (CCC 1238; 1257)?

All of John: What had previously happened to Jesus that was still fresh on the mind of Jesus’ listeners and John’ readers (Mk 1:9-1; Jn 1:29-34)? How were “water” and “Spirit” involved in Jesus’ baptism? After speaking with Nicodemus about being born again through Baptism, what does Jesus begin doing immediately (Jn 3:26; 4:1)? What did “believers” in Jesus do to obey Him and be born again (Jn 4:1)? How does this “framework” of John three explain St. John’s meaning about being born again, believing, and being baptized? (For more on the context of St. John, see Crossing the Tiber.)

 The New Testament: How does Peter conclude the first Gospel message (Acts 2:38)? Does he mention “water” and “Spirit”. What did Ananias tell Paul to do after Jesus confronted Paul-when were his sins washed away (Acts 22:16)? How does Paul later describe this experience of “water and Spirit” (Titus 3:5; CCC 1215)? According to Peter, what saves us now (1 Peter 3:21; CCC 1219)? What does Mark say (Mk 15:16)? How would the Jews have understood the Prophets on this matter (Ez 36:25-27)? Is context important (CCC 109-114)?

For more on this, see my article “Are You Born Again?”

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Context from History and the Fathers and even Martin Luther

Historical Note on Chapter Divisions: Archbishop Stephen Langton (d. 1228). Verse divisions: Robert Stephens in 1551. First Bible with chapter and verse divisions: 1555 edition of the Latin Vulgate.

 Tertullian (c. 160-c. 225)
“Happy is our sacrament of water, in that, by washing away the sins of our early blindness, we are set free and admitted into eternal life” (On Baptism).

Tertullian (c. 160-c. 225)
“Now this heresy of yours does not receive certain Scriptures; and whichever of them it does receive, it perverts by means of additions and diminutions, for the accomplishment of it own purpose; and such as it does receive, it receives not in their entirety; but even when it does receive any up to a certain point as entire, it nevertheless perverts even these by the contrivance of diverse interpretations. Truth is just as much opposed by an adulteration of its meaning as it is by a corruption of its text” (Prescription against Heretics, 17).

Justin Martyr (martyred AD 165)
“They are brought by us where there is water, and are regenerated in the same manner in which we were ourselves regenerated. For, in the name of God, the Father . . . and of our Savior Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit, they then receive the washing with water. For Christ also said, ‘Except ye be born again, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven’. . . . And for this [rite] we have learned from the apostles” (First Apology).

Origen (c. 185-254)
“Let us remember the sins of which we have been guilty, and that it is not possible to receive forgiveness of sins without baptism.”

Origen
“The Church received from the Apostles the tradition [custom] of giving Baptism even to infants. For the Apostles, to whom were committed the secrets of divine mysteries, knew that there is in everyone the innate stains of sin, which must be washed away through water and the Spirit. 

 St. Augustine (354-430)
“Who is so wicked as to want to exclude infants from the kingdom of heaven by prohibiting their being baptized and born again in Christ?” (On Original Sin).

Martin Luther
“This fountain might well and properly be understood as referring to Baptism, in which the Spirit is given and all sins are washed away” (Luther’s Works, ed. Jaroslav Pelikan [St Louis: Concordia, 1973], 20:331).

 

 Martin Luther
“If the world last long it will be again necessary, on account of the different interpretations of Scripture which now exist, that to preserve the unity of the faith we should receive the Councils and decrees [of the Catholic Church] and fly to them for refuge” (Letter to Zwingli).

Catechism of the Catholic Church
“In order to discover the sacred authors’ intention , the reader must take into account the conditions of their time and culture, the literary genres in use at that time, and the modes of feeling, speaking and narrating then current· Be especially attentive ‘to the content and unity of the whole Scripture.’ Different as the books which comprise it may be, Scripture is a unity by reason of the unity of God’s plan·” (110, 112).

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Infant Baptism

November 26, 2014

Infant Baptism is discussed and argued about quite a bit in some circles. I, of course, was raised Baptist and taught that Infant Baptism was a man-made tradition invented by the heretical Catholics who abandoned the Word of God to follow ill-advised tradition. (Picture: My granddaughter Elizabeth Arabella Rose Ray is baptized.) But not all [...]

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Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith Official Affirms Teaching on Absolution, Communion for the Remarried

November 14, 2014

Catholic World News – November 14, 2014 In a letter written three days after the conclusion of the recent Synod of Bishops, the secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith affirmed St. John Paul II’s teaching on absolution for those who have remarried outside the Church. Asked by a French priest whether [...]

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My Updated Article on Infant Baptism

October 29, 2014

Even among Evangelical Protestants there is much debate about Infant Baptism. My old Baptist tradition rejected it as a Catholic tradition of men. Dr. Francis Schaeffer, my favorite Evangelical Presbyterian theologian wrote a booklet entitled Infant Baptism in favor of the practice – my wife Janet was raised Presbyterian and baptized as an infant. It [...]

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Are You Born Again?

August 18, 2014

Here is a short segment of one of my talks at Franciscan University of Steubenville. Hope you enjoy it. During the talk I mention Logos Bible Software which you can test drive at www.Verbum.com/Steve  How does one get born again? Catholics are born again the “Bible way”! Doing a Bible Study on what “water and [...]

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Interesting Explanation of Baptism from Protestant Dictionary – “baptism…in itself is unimportant”

August 18, 2014

I was looking up Greek definitions of the word baptism and found this interesting “definition.” This dictionary is usually very good but I found this summary of biblical passages on baptism very intriguing and disingenuous. Take a look at this definition and think about it for yourself. Analyze it and the verses used. Notice how they [...]

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Did Jesus Contradict the Old Testament’s Prohibition on Drinking Blood?

June 30, 2014

Leonard Alt debates an anti-Catholic named Phil. He writes: I have a choice: I can listen to the Evangelicals who confuse the blood of animals, with the blood of Christ and choose not to eat the Flesh and drink the Blood of Christ, or, I can listen to Jesus who said; “Whoever eats my flesh [...]

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Can Relics and Sacramentals Relay the Power of God?

May 31, 2014

Some might claim that Catholic teaching on relics and Sacramentals is unbiblical. Really? Check out these biblical passages: “So extraordinary were the mighty deeds God accomplished at the hands of Paul that when face CLOTHS or aprons that touched his skin were applied to the sick, their diseases left them and the evil spirits came [...]

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Amazing! Pope will Celebrate Mass in the Upper Room

March 27, 2014

This is quite incredible since it has not been done since Pope John Paul II received permission from Israel to celebrate Mass there on his visit to the Holy Land. Pope Francis will do the “not allowed”–he will celebrate Mass in the Upper Room. Seems odd, eh, that the place where the first Eucharist was [...]

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What Does God See When He Opens His Eyes?

March 8, 2014

Recently we went to Mass with two Protestants.  As we walked in the door — there it was, as big as life — a CRUCIFIX with the Body of Our Lord hanging over the altar. I knew what the Protestants were thinking — I used to think the same – ”CATHOLICS ARE WRONG, JESUS IS NO LONGER [...]

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What Does “Water and Spirit” Mean?

February 3, 2014

A while ago a Protestant friend tried to prove that Born Again by “water and Spirit” did not mean baptism. Here is one paragraph that he sent me: In John, chapter 3, Jesus told Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews and a Pharisee, that one must be born ‘from above’ (Gr. anothen) in order to enter the [...]

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Amazing Miracles still Happen and the Use of Sacramentals

December 9, 2013

From my friend Leonard Alt: He had been in a coma for ten days, no speech, no voluntary movements of the body. His condition was such that the only question was whether he would live. There was no question of recovering from what was diagnosed as permanent and inoperable brain damage… I was about to [...]

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White Bread and Shot Glass of Grape Juice: But Now I am Home!

September 25, 2013

Elizabeth wrote:  I grew up Catholic, left off practice of my faith, then wandered around several churches before coming back.  It just seemed like the preaching I was hearing treated the Bible like Ann Landers, and people wanted to be soothed rather than challenged.  There would be preaching and singing but no Eucharist.  It’s like [...]

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Massively Busy and Exciting Day in Israel, Day 4

September 4, 2013

Today we had a long and very eventful day. I only have the morning and the homily. I will have to post the afternoon video tomorrow, so stay tuned. We started the day by visiting the ancient boat from the 1st century. Was Jesus on this boat? We don’t know, but if he wasn’t it [...]

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