How Much Do Catholics and Protestants Really Disagree about the Eucharist?

In an overly simplified and I think ultimately unhelpful view of things, Catholics and Protestants are in fundamental disagreement about the Eucharist. According to this mindset, the lack of doctrinal unity prevents intercommunion between Catholics and Protestants except in extremely rare emergency situations.

This viewpoint has appeal for some – perhaps because it is easily understood. The division between Catholics and Protestants could be pictured thus:

There is a bit of overlap, to be sure – the blue circles are not entirely separated from each other. But there is a line dividing two ways of looking at Eucharist. There has been some convergence as a result of ecumenical dialogues, and some Protestants have come closer to the Catholic position – and of course Martin Luther emphatically affirmed the Real Presence and the transformation of bread and wine. The vertical line is dotted rather than solid. But the line is there. The large red arrows show that the basic thrust of each position goes in opposing directions.

There is a heated discussion just now among German Catholic bishops about the possibility of non-Catholic spouses in a mixed (or “confession-uniting”) marriage being permitted to receive Communion at Catholic Mass in individual cases. (Pray Tell  reported here and here.) I don’t claim to speak for bishops on either side of the German dispute. My concern is for English-language commentary on the issue that reflects the unhelpful view of Eucharist portrayed above.

In a piece on the German dispute at the Catholic Herald titled “German bishops at war” – I don’t necessarily hold the author responsible for the polemical title – freelance writer Jon Anderson writes this:

The more fundamental problem with intercommunion is that, even if the form is similar, different religious communities often have very different understandings of what Communion means. The same issue can apply with other sacraments like baptism or marriage. For example, the Catholic Church recognizes baptisms as valid if they are in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit – but, crucially, this has to involve an actual belief in the Trinity. The Church doesn’t recognize Mormon baptism, even though it uses the same words, because Joseph Smith’s theology denies the Trinity.

The same issue applies with Communion. Either the sacrament is the Body and Blood of Christ, or it is not. If it is viewed simply as a symbolic remembrance of Christ’s sacrifice, that is another thing entirely.

The problem with this commentary is that it blows all out of proportion the importance of doctrinal formulations coming from the very worst time for Christian unity – the sixteenth century. In response to Protestant reformers, the Council of Trent did not put forth a comprehensive view of the Eucharist. It condemned errors and defensively defined counter positions. The emphasis on all sides was on what divides rather than what unites. For Catholics, this meant emphasizing the Mass as a propitiatory sacrifice offered by a validly ordained priest in which bread and wine are transubstantiated.

The point is not that Trent was wrong. I accept that there is no error in Trent’s formulations. But even if what Trent said about sacrifice and real presence is true, that doesn’t mean that there isn’t more to say about Eucharist, that Trent can’t be put in a larger context, that Eucharist can’t be viewed today from a broader and more ecumenical attitude.

When people like Jon Anderson pluck a particular doctrine out of context and frame it in a black and white manner – “either it is or it isn’t” – one must ask just how important the doctrine really is in the whole scheme of things, just how unchangeable the doctrinal formulation is, and above all, what other, more important issues go missing in the focus on a historical doctrinal formulation.

For heaven’s sake, the Mass is so much more than a celebration of Catholic doctrine on real presence, sacrifice, and priesthood! What about Christ’s death and resurrection, his living presence in the church, our sharing in his life, our unity with others in Christ? What about the Kingdom of God and the heavenly banquet in which we share? What about conversion of life, discipleship, and the call to serve? What about gratitude (the literal meaning of “eucharist”) for the unearned gift of salvation?

Someone will say those things are all fine, but they’re “soft” and vague. The real meat, the substance, is in the doctrine. Nope. Nothing doin’. They’re the whole point. Read the above paragraph again. Why did God send his Son to earth, if it wasn’t for all those things? And here’s the good news for ecumenism: on the really important things, Christians are very much united.

I would attempt to picture the building blocks of a fuller view of Eucharist like this:

The difference in views between Catholics and Protestants is not denied. The differing views are still there – as small dots in the red shapes above. The differences aren’t the starting points, and they’re certainly not the most important points. They are historical understandings that are put within a much larger context shared by all Christians.

And this is important: the blue circle encompassing the whole is the common baptism shared by all Christians. (OK, not quite the Mormons, as Jon Anderson points out.)

At the Chrism Mass this year, Pope Francis said this:

“We must be careful not to fall into the temptation of making idols of certain abstract truths. They can be comfortable idols, always within easy reach; they offer a certain prestige and power and are difficult to discern.”

In our discussion of what unites and what divides Catholics and Protestants about Eucharist, let’s not make certain abstract truths into idols. Let’s look at the bigger picture. We might find that the differences between us are smaller and less important than we thought.




  1. I really wish Rome would allow separate formulations that already exist to be categorized as such. I got into a mildly heated discussion with one of the staff members over at the Congregation for Christian Unity when I insisted that we Lutherans are not “Protestants” as used by Rome. He responded “Tell the Germans that!”. OK, so that is where we started, but clearly the Mass is celebrated in a more “catholic” manner in most Lutheran parishes each Sunday (and Saturday night, in increasing incidence.

    As you indicate in the body of your article, there is already significant convergence in our views of the Eucharist, and I appreciate you noting that. The problem from the conservative Lutheran side is that we have a more impossible stand than Rome does: The LCMS requires complete agreement in all areas of doctrine and practice, which means we have NO ecumenical fellowship in the USA.

    I pray daily for a renewed heart in ecumenism, not as a dirty word but as a mandate to do everything we can do to overcome the separation that exists in the Church! In my retirement, I am freer to work and am seeking to find partners in the Phoenix metro area who would like to meet, discuss, pray, and boldly go where the Holy Spirit it leading, even if our leaders are not in synch with us…..

  2. Point well-taken, Pastor Poedel. It did not mean to lump Lutherans in with Protestants above, but I guess I ended up doing that for the sake of brevity and convenience. I think you know, as a regular reader of Pray Tell, that I view Lutheranism as a reform movement within the catholic church. (I also view the Roman communion after Vatican II as that!)

    Certainly leaders and the faithful are in various places in your tradition and in mine. I’m not surprised to hear that comment from a Vatican official, though I’m saddened by it. I suppose we need people to step on the gas and people to push on the brakes in our journey forward, and we trust that the Holy Spirit is in all the wonderful ensuing confusion.

    I’m grateful that we now have a Pope who looks at the big picture and seems quite ready to demote historically-bound doctrinal formulations to the secondary (and tertiary) role that they deserve.


  3. I genuinely find your stance on ecumenism odd in light of your views on liturgy and the acceptance of Vatican II.

    1. Dear Jack,

      I always appreciate your thoughtful comments here.

      I think Vatican II was the beginning of an ecumenical journey, and I’d like to think that my ecumenical views are within the trajectory on which V2 put us when it gave us some initial statements and teachings on ecumenism.

      Regarding liturgy and ecumenism, I’ve come to believe that the reformed liturgy re-orients our priorities so deeply that it makes ecumenism both necessary and possible. The reformed liturgy does this very strongly – probably more so than the fathers of V2 realized when they approved a massive reform of the liturgy. If you make Scripture, community, comprehension, participation central – if you approve a reformed 3yr lectionary and a simplified ritual that strips away many of the developments of the high Middle Ages – you’ve created all the conditions for a re-thinking along the lines of my post.

      The fathers of V2 believed in the Real Presence, obviously. That V2 never uses the high medieval term ‘transubstantiation,’ but describes the eucharist and the liturgy with a wide variety of Scriptural images, is emblematic of the shift I’m talking about. V2 re-aligned the various pieces and parts of the tradition, emphasized and de-emphasized various parts of it, in a way that makes ecumenism possible and imperative.


  4. I love that, Fr Anthony.
    Would it be cheeky to throw in the idea of the Eucharist as food for the journey? It might have something to offer in the mixed marriage context where the couple are journeying together towards sharing in the heavenly banquet as is made explicit in the nuptial blessing..

    1. Oh yes indeed, Alan. There are many images one could put on the building blocks. I was aware I was being selective and any listing would be incomplete. Food for the journey – excellent.

    2. What a beautiful remark! Of course it is food for the journey – and most powerful as Christ fills us with his entire loving self through the eucharist! This transcends human imagination and is certainly beyond the narrow views so stubbornly defended in the present discussion.

  5. Not so fast. I think that you have the order of importance mixed up. It is not insignificant that the First Commandment has God, and not man, as its object. Our Lord also declared that it was the love of God, not the love of one’s neighbor, that was first and greatest commandment. As St. Thomas states:

    Whatever is directed to an end takes its goodness from being ordered to that end; so that the nearer it is to the end the better it is. Now moral virtues, as stated above (Article 5; II-II, q. 4, a. 7), are about matters that are ordered to God as their end. And religion approaches nearer to God than the other moral virtues, in so far as its actions are directly and immediately ordered to the honor of God. Hence religion excels among the moral virtues. (II-II, q. 81, a. 6)

    And to reverse your statement: Just because there is more to say about Eucharist than what Trent said about sacrifice and real presence, that doesn’t meant that what Trent did say is unimportant or of a secondary nature.

    As to Jon Anderson’s statement — “either it is or it isn’t” — it is of supreme importance. If the Eucharist is the Body and Blood of Christ (and not merely his presence among his people) then worship is a due to the Eucharistic species as to God himself; if is not, then such worship would be idolatry. If it is a true sacrifice instituted by Christ, then we must offer it.

    I would caution against labelling Catholics holding onto truths proclaimed by the Church as turning them into idols. Such a claim is quite condescending. Nor is the truth that the bread and wine at the Eucharist turn into the actual Body and Blood of Jesus Christ a mere abstraction, it is a concrete reality, even if it can only be held by faith. To hold that this is only an abstraction is to empty our Lord’s words of their meaning.

    It is all well and good to acknowledge and celebrate what Catholics and Protestants hold in common but this should not blind us to the real differences that separate us.

    1. What are the real differences between us?
      Do we rely only on 16th century formulations of those differences? We barely understand what they were saying then.
      Do we rely on current statements on he Eucharist? The ARCIC statements, last year’s From Conflict to Communion, and other documents portray stronger agreement between Catholics and some Protestants, particularly the Lutherans affected by the German bishops’ proposal.
      If the last several hundred years are allowed as evidence, it is very difficult to deny the reality of the Eucharist as it is experienced in Catholic or Protestant communities. When we go to describe the differences, when we abstract the reality into transubstantiation versus consubstantiation and the like, we should not lose sight of the reality that unites us. That I think is what Fr Anthony and Pope Francis are saying, that the reality of the Eucharist as experienced should not be denied because of cosmic or mystical abstractions about it. The Body and Blood of Christ, present in the Eucharist, is more important than calling it the Body and Blood of Christ.

      1. “It is very difficult to deny the reality of the Eucharist as it is experienced in Catholic or Protestant communities.”

        An important but less talked about part of this dilemma is that Lutheran clergy aren’t considered to be compatible with Catholic clergy (from the Catholic perspective). Basically, this means the Church doesn’t consider eucharist consecrated by a Lutheran pastor to be valid sacramental Eucharist with Real Presence, because valid Eucharist requires a priest with valid Holy Orders (which most Lutherans don’t see as a real sacrament in the same way Catholics do). This is also why former Anglican clergy who enter the Church as priests are always (re-)ordained. Without going down an apostolic succession rabbit hole, all I will say is that there are big dimensions to this matter that are by no means “cosmic or mystical abstractions.” I’m grateful that Catholic-Lutheran dialogue has advanced to this point, but on issues like sacramental clergy, there is still a massive chasm between the two sides that at this point precludes the possibility of Catholics and Lutherans celebrating the Eucharist at a common altar in the near future.

      2. Patrick, I know you’re replying to Jim Mckay, but seriously, did you read my post? Your comment shows active ignorance of it. You understanding of validity and Real Presence in the Lutheran Church an unhelpful caricature. Your statement about Anglican re-ordination is factually inaccurate. Every aspect of Eucharistic theology you allude to in your comment is more complicated than you seem to be aware. I’ll offer just one link, with an important comment from Ratzinger (Benedict XVI), to give you a taste of some theological conversations operating at a higher level of creativity and dambiguity than your overly clear and neat categories:


      3. Fr Ruff, I apologize if my comment came across as suggesting there is no grace present in Lutheran or Anglican sacraments, because I don’t believe that. I think a quote of Cdl Ratzinger in your other article is a good one: “Even a theology oriented to the concept of succession… need not in any way deny the salvation-granting presence of the Lord in a Lutheran Lord’s Supper,” and I agree with you and the late Pope that framing ecumenicism around this single issue isn’t helpful.

        I was hesitant to even broach this rabbit hole, because I know how much of a lightning rod it is in ecumenical discussions. But I don’t think it’s a nonissue either, if nothing else because our recent Popes have made it one (Apostolicae Curae), and thanks to JPII it’s up there with Marian Dogmas in terms of difficulty to row back. I’m sure the great ecumenicists of our time like Cdl Kasper or Br Roger were cognizant if it too. And just like reductions of ecumenical efforts to just issues of sacramental validly is counterproductive, so I think are suggestions that the remaining differences are just illusions, which I think are almost insulting to actual ecumenicists are doing this hard work in the higher echelons of our churches. Ecumenism is a complicated matter, like you say, and I don’t think the Church’s insistence that Anglican/Lutheran Holy Orders are incompatible (“invalid” is a harsh word…) with Catholic ones at this point in time necessarily excludes your (and the Pope’s) argument that the Holy Spirit is still present in them, which I think he is. I don’t get the sense that we fundamentally disagree on that much here so I’m willing to exit this rabbit hole if that helps the discussion.

      4. This rabbit hole may not be as much of a problem as you think. During the Donatist controversies, the rigorist demand for priests to be holy gave way to a view emphasizing that Christ is the one who acts in the Eucharist. That in turn probably promoted an emphasis on credentialing of priests to ensure another type of holiness, the presence of the Holy Spirit through ordination. (all within the context of sacramental ordination, a mystery that we still grapple with) I don’t know how this will be resolved this time, but the fact that the Church survived the Donatists suggests there is hope.
        With that hope, and relying on Christ, our high Priest, we have to keep in mind the basic context of this discussion is matrimony, and how that sacramental union relates to the sacramental communion in the Eucharist. That is complicated, particularly given texts like:
        “For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband.“ 1 Cor 7:14

        If we take that seriously, how do we exclude two believers, united as a couple, from sharing in the Eucharist?

  6. Thank you indeed Fr Anthony!
    When I saw “Common Baptism” on your diagram, I immediately thought “One Lord, One faith, One God who is Father of us all.” (Ephesians 4:5) A paralell diagram occurred to me, that substituted “Our Father” for baptism, and listed hallowed be thy name, thy Kingdom, forgive us, etc. Your diagram is an image of how we were taught to pray.

  7. Thank you for your article, Father Anthony. What would role do you think that correct doctrine plays in the life of the church? Also, why do you think that churches should care at all about the distinction between more and less correct understandings of what the Eucharistic change is as the Catholic Church has historically done (e.g. Paul VI with his Credo of the People of God just after Vatican II)?

  8. Trent articulated an authoritative teaching about the Real Presence using the philosophical language of Aristotle and Thomas. Among people who have any kind of notion about substance and accidents the teaching is instructive and helpful. But for the vast majority of Catholics and others who know little or nothing about the latter, the teaching is mystifying. Many of them suggest it sounds more like magic. May I suggest, not as a scholar but as a mere pastor, that while practicing Catholics clearly affirm the doctrine of Real Presence they are are unable to say much more than “I believe…amen. I believe that this paucity of understanding is based on the legacy of the TLM which certainly made it appear that the Mass exists solely for the consecration and to highlight the special powers of those in holy orders. Without challenging that priests are set apart for sacred duties and that the Mass without a consecration would be no Mass at all, the celebration/offering of the Eucharist goes way beyond these realities. It was precisely to broaden the meaning of the Eucharist as both a sacrifice of praise and a sacred meal that anticipates The Supper of the Lamb that the Fathers of VII in union with the Pope addressed themselves in SC. That document makes clear that while the Real Presence of Christ in the consecrated elements is preeminent, the Lord is also truly present in the assembled worshippers, in the proclamation of the Word, and in the ministry of the priest. Traditional-ists seem nervous or even hostile to this expansion of the meaning of Real Presence and even scoff at the notion of full, conscious, and active participation as called for in the reformed Roma Rite. So is this not the faith of the church: Jesus Christ, our Lord and God, is truly present in our sacred worship so that he can transform us into disciples who increasingly commit ourselves to becoming intentional and missionary disciples?

    1. Nothing is more obvious, or more necessary to ordinary mental processes, than the distinction between substance and accident. It’s hiding in plain sight inside the saying, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” It’s why we can recognize a friend as the same person even though he’s shaved off his beard. It’s a distinction exploited by every con man.

      It’s even employed unwittingly by those who attack 16th-century theology, but assert that they are part of the same Church as those 16th century theologians.

      And that’s why I find it difficult to believe that the alleged intelligibility of Aristotelian metaphysics has anything to do with the rejection, or to put it more politely, the bypassing, of the traditional understanding of the Eucharist.

      No. I think the reason must be elsewhere.

  9. It’s interesting that the gathering circle of “Common Baptism” relies on a sacramental understanding of Baptism that is arguably not much less specifically Catholic than Catholic understandings of the Eucharistic sacrament, an understanding of baptism that is definitely not shared by important vital swaths of the Protestant world. (Likewise looking eastward at the Orthodox and Oriental churches…)

  10. If the qualification for receiving communion were an exact undrrstanding and agreement with Trent I wonder how many Catholics would qualify.
    My second thought is about seeing the Eucharist as a thing that can be pinned like a dead butterfly by our definitions rather than an activity of Christ that we participate in.
    The third thought is something about the futility of attempting to limit the abundant grace of God.

  11. I wish I were more artistic and computer/tech-savvy so I could create a gif or piece of animation in which the components of the second diagram are in continual movement, changing in size and color, much like what you see when looking through and turning a kaleidoscope.

    At any eucharistic celebration, there is bound to be some variation in congruence/overlap of belief or understanding, and I think the more we are willing to admit this and allow for it, the easier the ecumenical path to the eucharistic banquet—here and hereafter—will be.

    Twas God the Word that spake it,
    He took the Bread and brake it:
    And what that Word did make it,
    That I believe and take it.

  12. It’s clear to me from many conversations with ordinary parishioners (First Communion Parents’ evenings, study days with my own people, casual conversations) that they construe ‘substance’ like a modern scientifically oriented person would, as in chemical or physical substance. So ‘Transubstantiation’ is a mystery to them, and not always in a good sense.

    Overwhelmingly people speak of the ‘host’ but also of ‘the wine.’ Perhaps that is because in our practice the ‘host’ bears only the faintest resemblance to anything like bread.

    But I have also noticed that more people are making a gesture of reverence before receiving, usually a bow, before putting out their hands (or tongue). In order for them to do this, the minister must allow time and not distribute the Sacrament at a pace more resembling a machine gun than a reverent administration. The fact that some people get their ‘Amen’ out before the minister has said ‘The Body of Christ’ is significant.

    I have no doubt that, at the moment of communion, most people are conscious of, and are expressing, a sense of great reverence in their own way, which is (we are British!) often understated but no less authentic.

    I have often recommended people take time to read, study and contemplate the Corpus Christi Sequence Lauda Sion. I think that great hymn says it all.


    1. It took me me nearly a years’ worth of conversations with a very reverent deacon who would speak of the presence as a physical presence – he could not (or would not, depending on the day) grasp immaterial substantiality.

  13. Anthony and Alan, from my feminine lens, i wholeheartedly concur. From diagram 2, Eucharist gathers all believers into at-onement with the Incarnate One Who instituted It. Who or what other ritual gathers and holds the entire Mystical Body of Christ together in communio with Christ, and ergo the Trinity?

    And then there is the efficaciousness of Eucharist. Either it draws us closer to Christ, knitting the Mystical Body closer to Christ and each other, or It does not…in which case all the purity of doctrine and dogma is useless.

    Pastor Poedel, thank you for affirming the ELCA/World Council of Churches joint accords (LCMS does indeed need prayer, wink; but many of their own stand with you, they simply cannot yet afford to do so in public, but some of their young seminarians may yet help the turn, with the Grace of the Holy Spirit).

    Thomas Aquinas is not the Incarnate Word, his writings have and do serve us well, but (heavens forbid this Dominican says…) they are not inviolable.

    The Trinity as Divine Dance is not static, nor is the Mystical Body, why insist that Eucharist be?

  14. Working in adult faith formation at the parish level, I am always amazed at how quickly any discussion of Eucharist, sacramentality, or ecumenism (or any number of subjects) turns to discussing the doctrinal differences in eucharistic understanding discussed here. My experience resonates with Fr. Ruff. For many Catholics (including virtuous ones, with deep faith), doctrinal differences have become an idol in reflecting on eucharistic practice, spirituality, vocation, and mission. Doctrinal language – used within the context of division and difference – ends up masking reflection that could lead to deeper internalization of eucharistic spirituality or mystagogical conversion for discipleship.

    Even within contexts like RCIA or ecumenical encounters (like shared social events with neighboring churches) – I often hear Catholics quickly turn to talking about such doctrinal differences. This is reinforced by the fact that our practices at ecumenical events are non-eucharistic – sure, we may eat and pray together, but none of this can be eucharistic because – of course – “they” don’t “have” the eucharist. It is “church lite.” (And any resonance with meal sharing? Surely not even important enough to mention.)

    I am convinced that the way forward must involve explicit mutual eucharistic practice (even if not inter-communion) and reflection. What if Catholics were to pray eucharistically with, say, Disciples of Christ, or Lutheran, or Methodist communities with deep eucharistic practice and spirituality? And vice-versa. And then to mystagogically reflect on it? And also to engage in koinonia and service/mission together, and do the same? Catholic parishes are eucharistic in a whole network of practices that go beyond our liturgical celebrations – what if we were to expand that network outward (and have it mutually extended outward to us.)

    The doctrinal distinctions would remain, and perhaps in a way that remained a barrier to inter-communion. But our eucharistic spirituality and eucharistic discipleship would be strengthened.

    1. What percentage of American Catholics do you sense would have an appetite to attend Mass and attend a eucharistic liturgy of a Protestant church on a given Sunday?

      (If the answer assumes the nature of the Catholic obligation to attend Mass would be changed so that attendance in the eucharistic liturgy of a Protestant church would fulfill that obligation, then we have a feedback loop.)

      1. I was not suggesting Catholics attend non-Catholic eucharistic celebrations weekly, or even in a patterned way. (I am sorry if my comment was confusing in that regard.)

        What I AM suggesting is that Catholics (and non-Catholics) need to become more familiar with and actually attend eucharistic celebrations/practices outside their own tradition. And church leaders should intentionally facilitate this. Having experienced each other’s eucharistic celebrations/practices, THEN we can reflect (together and separately) on our eucharistic theologies and spiritualities – including (but not only) the doctrinal distinctions we have.

      2. Justin

        I didn’t assume you meant weekly (hence, “on a given Sunday). Rather, I was wondering if you thought about how many American Catholics would likely *ever* want to do it, given the obligation they have already to attend Mass for Sunday. (The most likely situation would be for the Catholics to attend Mass on Saturday evening and then attend another church’s worship on Sunday morning – or Wednesday evening prayers as is common in some denominations; still, seriously, what do you imagine is the real level of appetite out there?)

      3. Karl:

        You bring up a good point about Catholics’ appetite (willingness, desire, time, etc.) to participate in Eucharist at their Catholic parish, and then also attend eucharist in other community.

        Your use of eucharistic “obligation” is useful here. I would say we are not simply obligated to attend Mass, but also that the Eucharist obligates us [obviously, I didn’t come up with this phrase] to live our mission – which includes the ecumenical dimension of mission. “The love of Christ compels us” to do this (to use the theme from – I think – 2017’s week of prayer for Christian unity, 2 Cor 5:14)

        And perhaps that is what I am getting at: can we as parish leaders inspire our parishioners to want to encounter others’ eucharistic celebrations, and also facilitate such gatherings. Perhaps the week of prayer for Christian unity might be a time to do this. Perhaps we might partner with another Christian community that week, and celebrate eucharistically at both during the course of that week, and do some mystagogical reflection around it.

        Alternatively: Catholic parishes typically have a number of Masses on the weekend – why not put a group together to attend eucharist at a neighboring community one morning, and then come back for Sunday evening Mass that night (or Saturday evening the night before)? Even create a eucharist retreat around it?

        Will all Catholics do this? No, of course not. But what about those who invest their time in adult faith formation gatherings anyway, including ecumenical gatherings with neighboring communities? This is the population that maybe we should start with.

        I think it is not enough to say Catholics don’t have the “appetite” for this [though I don’t fault you four putting it in that realistic way]. I think church leaders would do well to intentionally whet that kind of appetite.

    2. “Doctrinal language – used within the context of division and difference – ends up masking reflection that could lead to deeper internalization of eucharistic spirituality or mystagogical conversion for discipleship.”

      My translation: what you say, which I disagree with, is doctrine and therefore bad. We need to get beyond doctrine, teaching that I disagree with. So to do so, the people that I disagree with should give up their opinions and join me in my opinions, which can be described as “reflection that could lead to deeper internalization of eucharistic spirituality or mystagogical conversion for discipleship.”

      And then, we’ll all agree.

      1. Christopher: I don’t share your interpretation of my words. I don’t necessarily disagree with the doctrinal statements that parishioners are expressing in the adult faith formation experiences I am referencing. (I might feel they are being interpreted too narrowly, or that other aspects of our Church’s eucharistic teaching, wisdom, language, and history are being left out… but I don’t necessarily disagree with them.) And in most cases, I think that such theological statements really do deepen that person’s faith.

        But: when the conversation gets stuck in ONLY discussing theological differences between Catholics and other Christians around the Eucharist… well, yes, I think that masks what could be deeper and more meaningful reflection.

  15. Call to Service – that is the ecumenical focus and a key to understanding eucharist….and yes, need to re-emphasize VII Eucharistic theology. Present in table, community, scripture, etc. vs. minimal real presence as a scientific substance. Need to get away from focus on tabernacle; use eucharist of that celebration vs. tabernacle; move away from hosts; etc.
    Finally, lots of work around separating early church understanding of *sacrament of orders* and clerics – that might help with the *succession* rabbit hole.

      1. Fr. Anthony,
        I took Bill’s comment as encouraging us to focus on the experiences and encounters that can foster ecumenical growth and appreciation, not as a discounting of Catholic teaching. If it is read as a response to Justin’s comment (which is how he posted it), I think it becomes clear that he is contrasting activities and paradigms that are more helpful in parish-level ecumenical efforts with those that are less helpful in this context.

  16. I could agree with the 2nd diagram but in my opinion those dots would be significantly bigger. On an aside, I am 33 now and I have a significant number of protestant friends who range from the mid twenties to slightly older. And there is no real desire for eucharistic sharing among them. Or ecumenical drive. They come from both liberal and conservative perspectives on many issues such as women’s ordination, gay marriage, etc but they are all considerably low-church. Even the ones who attend Lutheran or Episcopal services have no real connection with the denominations and their Eucharistic understanding.

    A good friend who works in Intervarsity student ministry notes that among the college age and young adults, the main line traditions are dead. So this is an age gap on the importance of this debate.

  17. View from the Pew
    Regarding: “In our discussion of what unites and what divides Catholics and Protestants about Eucharist, let’s not make certain abstract truths into idols. Let’s look at the bigger picture. We might find that the differences between us are smaller and less important than we thought.”
    – This is a very good article. It graphically illustrates that what we as church do is just as important as how we say what we believe.
    – The Eucharist, is never diminished, that is made less Christ, when consumed by someone who is perhaps not fully aware of the all that the Eucharist means and everything that it is. If indeed it becomes less than Christ, then all of that we say and do is not the body of Christ. Nothing that we say or do can make the Eucharist any more or less Christ as Christ is already.
    – The Body of Christ, the church, is never made less by a spouse who is not in union and communion with the successor of Peter. If so, then the sacrament of matrimony could not apply to a marriage where a spouse is not in communion and union with the church which is the body of Christ.
    – Resolution is more than likely ‘both, and’; not one or the other, or even first this, then that. So, how does the church, in all of its models, celebrate the Eucharist and not diminish the sacrament of matrimony by excluding a spouse?
    – Both spouses, as heads of a domestic church, together receive the Eucharist. As the Eucharist strengthens the spouses, and their family, so to the church’s marriage to Christ is strengthen.
    – We believe that the Eucharist is the summit / sum up of all that we believe. The Eucharist can not be used to subtract something from itself like a spouse who comes to the body of christ first by the sacrament of matrimony.

    1. “The Eucharist, is never diminished, that is made less Christ, when consumed by someone who is perhaps not fully aware of the all that the Eucharist means and everything that it is. ”
      That is why I have always been bothered by the epiclesis: “Make holy, therefore, these gifts, we pray, by sending down your Spirit upon them like the dewfall, so that they may BECOME FOR US the Body and Blood of our Lord, Jesus Christ.”
      How can they become the Body and Blood of Christ for us but not for others? If I receive communion, I consume the Body of Christ, but if somebody from the outside comes in a takes a host, it then is not the Body of Christ? How can that reality be relative to the person receiving?
      It had always struck me as a bizarre line in the EP, until once day — last year, I think — it occurred to me that another possible meaning of “become for us” might be “become for our sake”. Mystery solved!

      1. I have always taken “that they may become for us” to mean something like “that we may recognize them as”.

  18. One of the disputed points is the necessity of baptism prior to Eucharist. Some non-Catholics believe it is, some that it isn’t. Catholics, of course, require this.

    I point this out as an illustration of how the issues change. While we are thinking about Trent, issues that never surfaced then are arising in our faces. We have to be careful not to assess today’s situation by the assumptions of yesterday’s protagonists.

  19. Given many of the comments, perhaps the title could also be “How Much Do Catholics and Catholics Really Disagree about the Eucharist?”

  20. I am struck again by how many Catholics think that the Real Presence is a physical presence. It’s the attitude of If it’s only a symbol, then it’s nothing. ” It would be more accurate to say “If it isn’t a symbol, then it’s nothing.”

    1. Perhaps because the vernacular meaning of symbol may raise more questions than it answers for many ordinary English-speaking people. It would hardly be the first or last thing on the long list of Things We Don’t Want To Talk At You About Because Your Patience With Us Is Obviously Limited. Flannery O’Connor, who was despite her relative Catholic erudition not a traditionalist stick-in-the-mud by any meaningful measure by the standards of her day (she was not in the anti-Chardin team of her time, shall we say), may have had a reasonable bead about this in context (her bead certainly animates many Catholics who are familiar with it to this day), though it would be interesting to hear her take on the issue in a specialists’ context – understanding that she’d have a sharp take on any verbal three-card monty.

  21. The sacraments, it seems to me, are mysteries, and we quickly run aground when we reduce discussion of them to “It’s just X.” For many (particularly in America), the Eucharist is effectively an ordinance — a powerful, important one, as Zwingli might say, but an ordnance that we do because Jesus told us to do so, full stop. It’s not connected to the Paschal Mystery in any meaningful sense.

    Because it’s a mystery, and not in the whodunit sense, but in the “endless depths of dialectic tension” sense, we cannot simply hover over any one part of it. We must hold the whole thing in tension. Put another way, if meditating on the sacrament doesn’t lead us to Christ stepping into the heavenly Holy of Holies and offering Himself to God, we’ve rather missed the point. Similarly, we cannot stay in the Holy of Holies, either, because Jesus didn’t stop there. He sent the Holy Spirit and grafted us into His body to go out and do things. And yet we cannot just go do things; we must consider the mechanisms He has chosen to do that in their own right, and so we once again examine how Christ on the altar, Christ the sacrificial feast, empowers us to do all the other things. That’s the way of things: deeper and deeper, with each piece informing the rest of the whole. None of these parts are an end unto themselves.

    If we conclude we’ve got it, we most assuredly haven’t. That’s not a dodge. It’s not a feint to avoid discussion. It is rather an invitation to wrestle with the rest of the mystery and not just the parts that we’re comfortable discussing or which suit our purposes.

    1. Our parish is hosting a series of talks on the Eucharist at the moment. Last Sunday our retired bishop spoke on the Eucharist and prayer. His insight that has stuck with me is that maybe we should start thinking about the Eucharist as a dynamic process, something that draws us into the life of the Trinity, rather than as a thing.
      I am still pondering that.

      1. I like the notion that the Eucharist by its very nature draws us into something deeper. Sacraments, by their very nature, are of course efficacious, but they also point to something beyond themselves and are not an end unto themselves. Baptism, for example, is the entry point to the sacramental life. We don’t just stop there. Matrimony doesn’t simply unite husband and wife, but points us to the Cross and the relationship of Christ with His Bride. And so on. The Eucharist is not simply a daily or weekly box to check, but something that should lead us somewhere beyond it. It’s more of a green light than a stop sign, as it were.

  22. I guess what concerns me about the way that this article talks about Trent on the Eucharistic is that it risks actually seeing it as in a vacuum, that is, as a response to a historical situation and so without reference to magisterial statements that came after it. Whereas since Vatican II, magisterial documents have again and again affirmed the permanent and binding nature of what Trent said. Off the top of my head I can think of the following:
    Mysterium Fidei, Credo of the People of God, General Instruction of the Roman Missal, Eccelsia de Eucharistia, Mane Nobiscum Domine, Sacramenum Caritatis, the New Catechism, Francis’ catechesis on the Mass.
    There’s also the continued emphasis on adoration of the reserved sacrament by all of the post Vatican II popes (Francis says that his favorite time of prayer is before the reserved sacrament and that it is “the secret to knowing Jesus”), the rubrics that require genuflection, and showing of the host and chalice, bells remaining as a legitimate option. Watching Francis look at the host or chalice while showing it to the people, I can’t imagine that he does not believe that the words of institution affect the change at that moment.

    1. Alex, could you give me a reference for Pope Francis and prayer before the Blessed sacrament. It would be useful ammunition in arguments with his detractors.

      1. Sure. Here is a quote from his interview with Anthony Spadaro published on September 30th 2013:

        “I pray the breviary every morning. I like to pray with the psalms. Then, later, I celebrate Mass. I pray the Rosary. What I really prefer is adoration in the evening, even when I get distracted and think of other things, or even fall asleep praying. In the evening then, between seven and eight o’clock, I stay in front of the Blessed Sacrament for an hour in adoration. But I pray mentally even when I am waiting at the dentist or at other times of the day.”

        Then he sent this message to the Eucharistic Congress in Genoa on February 1st 2016:

        “Moreover, I want to encourage everyone to visit – if possible, every day – especially amid life’s difficulties, the Blessed Sacrament of the infinite love of Christ and His mercy, preserved in our churches, and often abandoned,”

        Also in an address to priests on July 7 2016 he said the following:
        “To be close like Jesus, to know how to “put a foot in the door” like Jesus to prevent the door [of Mercy] from closing, it is essential to know Jesus. I would ask: how much time have you spent before the Tabernacle each day? One of the questions I always asked priests, even good priests, everyone, was: at night, how do you go to bed? And they didn’t understand: “What are you asking me?” — “Yes, yes! How do you go to rest? What do you do?” — “Oh yes, I come back tired. I have a bite to eat and then I go to bed…. I watch television…. I relax a bit….” — “Ah, that’s nice. But do you not greet ‘the One’ who sent you to the people? At least spend a moment at the Tabernacle” — “Ah yes, it’s true! But I fall asleep…”. Blessed be the Lord! What is more beautiful than falling asleep before the Lord?… Please, do not leave the Lord! Do not leave the Lord alone in the Tabernacle.”

        I think Francis models how it’s possible to be both intensely ecumenical without sidelining practices such as adoration of the host, devotion to Mary, personal confession, veneration of…

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