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also known as
"The Eucharist" or
"The Lord's Supper"

Instituted by
Jesus Christ

Real Presence

Theologies contrasted

Important theologians
Paul ·Aquinas
Augustine · Calvin
Chrysostom · Cranmer
Luther · Zwingli

Related Articles
Catholic Historic Roots
Closed and Open Table
Divine Liturgy
Eucharistic adoration
Eucharistic discipline
First Communion
Infant Communion
Mass · Sacrament

Transubstantiation is the belief held by many Christian denominations that the Eucharistic elements of bread and wine are changed into the body and blood of Jesus during Consecration.


Theology of transubstantiation

Transubstantiation is generally understood to refer to the belief that at the moment of Consecration, the elements (or "gifts" as they are termed for liturgical purposes) of bread and wine are transformed (literally trans-substance-iated) into the actual Body and Blood of Christ. The terms "elements" or "gifts" are preferred, as it is theologically incorrect to refer to the "bread" or "wine" after they have been consecrated, as Catholics believe they are no longer bread and wine.

This doctrine holds that the elements are not only spiritually transformed, but are actually (substantially) transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ. The elements retain the appearance or "accidents" of bread and wine, but are indeed the actual Body and Blood of Christ, the actual, physical presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. For this reason, what remains of the sacrament after the Communion procession is reserved in the Tabernacle, where it can be used for later Masses, for private devotion and prayer, as well as for public Eucharistic adoration.

"Substance" as a philosophical term describes what a given object is, the properties of the object that are essential to "it" being "it." Without its substance, an object ceases to be what it "is." Accidents are non-essential properties; even without its accidents (such as color, taste, or shape), an object remains what it "is." For example, hair is an accident of humans, while being a mammal is substantial. If a human loses its hair, it is still human. If a human stops being a mammal, it is no longer a human, because being a mammal is essential to being human. At Consecration, the substance of the Eucharistic elements change; while the non-essential properties (shape, taste, color) remain the same, the essence of what it "is" changes into Christ's Body and Blood.


The Catholic Church holds that Christ directly instructed the Apostles in belief in the real presence, that the elements of the Eucharist become the body and blood of Christ. The Synoptic Gospels present the words of Christ concerning the bread and wine at the Last Supper: "This is my body... This is my blood" (Matthew 26:26-28).

The Gospel of John records that Jesus said: "Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood you have no life in you" (John 6:53). Many of those who heard Jesus's words appear to have taken them literally, as the majority were shocked and left him. Adherents to Jewish Law consider eating blood one of the worst transgressions of kashruth, the law of eating and drinking, and a violation of the noachide laws which apply to all people and not just Jews.

St. Paul implies an identity between the apparent bread and wine and the body and blood of Christ when he writes: "Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord" (1 Corinthians 11:27).

Catholic doctrine is that because Christ is Risen, His Body and Blood are reunited; therefore, not only is each Host both the Body & Blood, but each sip of Consecrated wine is also both the Body & Blood. The Council of Trent decreed that all of Christ, His Body, Blood, Soul, & Divinity are fully present in each species:

For we do not receive in the Sacred Host one part of Christ and in the Chalice the other, as though our reception of the totality depended upon our partaking of both forms; on the contrary, under the appearance of bread alone, as well as under the appearance of wine alone, we receive Christ whole and entire (cf. Council of Trent, Sess. XIII, can. iii).

Catholics use the term Real Presence to refer to Christ's actual presence in the Eucharist. Because of this belief, what remains of the sacrament after the Communion procession is reserved in the Tabernacle, where it can be utilized for later Masses, for private devotion and prayer, as well as for public Eucharistic adoration. Because Catholics believe the Eucharist is really and truly Christ Himself under the appearances of bread and wine, Catholics worship and adore the Eucharist. Catholics do not believe that this worship and adoration is idolatry, as they are worshipping what they truly believe to be Christ, not a mere commemoration or representation of Him.

The Catholic Church does not view the Eucharist of the Protestant communities to be valid, as under Catholic doctrine the Protestant ministers lack the sacramental power to confect transubstantiation, even if they claim to possess it.

Eastern Orthodoxy

The Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox Churches, like the Catholic Church, teach that the bread and wine truly become the physical Body and Blood of Christ. Orthodox theologians, however, have tended to refrain from philosophical speculations such as those of the scholastic theologians. Rather, they generally prefer to simply rely on the status of the doctrine as a "mystery", a doctrine known by Divine Revelation that could not have been arrived at by reason without revelation. They would prefer to say too little about the details and remain firmly within Holy Tradition, than say too much and possibly deviate from the truth. (Although the four-syllable word "metabole"/"metavole" may be loosely said to be "Greek Orthodox for 'transubstantiation'", it actually means "change" or "alteration". Greek for "transubstantiation" — as in "an alteration specifically of the fundamental substance or essence" in the Catholic sense — would be "metousiosis".). Nonetheless, the Roman Catholic Church recognises Orthodox communion as valid.


Anglican Churches generally use the term "real presence" without necessarily being more precise. Some Anglicans hold views nearly indistinguishable from transubstantiation, while others hold views closer to consubstantiation or other Protestant views.

The Anglican wideness of view has its roots in the sometimes violent controversies on religion during and after the reign of Henry VIII. During the reign of Elizabeth I, a more inclusive (some would say fuzzy) approach was adopted. Elizabeth's own response when questioned on this during the reign of Mary I is often quoted:

Christ was the word that spake it.
He took the bread and brake it;
And what his words did make it
That I believe and take it.

Some Anglicans disavow the idea that the real presence is bodily. In 1684, Archbishop John Tillotson went as far as to speak of the "real barbarousness of this Sacrament and Rite of our Religion." For him, it was a great impiety to believe that people who attend Holy Communion "verily eat and drink the natural flesh and blood of Christ. And what can any man do more unworthily towards a Friend? How can he possibly use him more barbarously, than to feast upon his living flesh and blood?" (Discourse against Transubstantiation, London 1684, 35.)


Lutherans subscribe to a form of the doctrine of the Eucharistic Real Presence, believing the body and blood of Jesus Christ are offered with the bread and wine of the Lord's Supper. They do not endorse any particular view of how this takes place, and regard attempts to explain in terms of philosophical metaphysics how the Eucharist "works" as disrespectful of the Sacrament's miraculous and mysterious character. This refusal to endorse such explanatory doctrines, particularly transubstantiation, is sometimes interpreted by non-Lutherans as denial of the Real Presence. Non-Lutherans also sometimes describe the Lutheran doctrine as consubstantiation, an incorrect understanding of Lutheran teaching, since, like transubstantiation, consubstantiation is rejected by Lutherans as a misguided attempt to philosophically categorize a divine mystery.

Lutherans often say that the body and blood of Christ are "in, with and under" the bread and wine, in an attempt to adequately express their understanding of Christ's presence in the Eucharist, as opposed to Transubstantiationist and Sacramentarian positions. Though Christ's body and blood are believed to be physically present with the elements (given his words, "this is my body", and "this is my blood") during the eucharistic ceremony, through the faith of the congregation, they cease to be present afterwards and revert to their former state of bread and wine. Lutherans therefore do not offer Eucharistic adoration, as they see Christ's injunction to Christians as to "take and eat" and "take and drink"; thus that is their proper, divinely ordained use.

Other Christian denominations

In contrast to the Catholic view, many Protestant churches hold that Holy Communion merely symbolically commemorates or memorializes Jesus' Last Supper with the disciples; this belief is known as "symbolism", "commemoration", or "transignification". Some fundamentalist Protestants see any doctrine of the real presence as idolatry, worshipping mere bread and wine as if it were God. Similarly, Andrew Lortie, a leading Huguenot theologian and author, wrote a great deal against transubstantiation.

Other Protestant sects, such as most Presbyterian denominations, profess belief in the real presence, but offer other explanations than transubstantiation. In the case of the Presbyterian Church (USA), when the Formula of Agreement was signed with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, both churches reaffirmed their mutual general belief that Christ is truly present in the sacrament.

Historical perspectives

Transubstantiation of the Eucharist was already well established in the Early Church. St. Ignatius of Antioch appears to have accepted the concept; in AD 106, he criticized those who "abstain from the Eucharist and the public prayer, because they will not admit that the Eucharist is the self-same Body of our Savior Jesus Christ, which [flesh] suffered for our sins, and which the Father in His goodness raised up again" (Epistle to the Smyrnaeans 6, 7). Similarly, St. Ambrose of Milan countered objections to the doctrine, writing "You may perhaps say: 'My bread is ordinary.' But that bread is bread before the words of the Sacraments; where the consecration has entered in, the bread becomes the Flesh of Christ" (The Sacraments, 333/339-397 A.D. v.2,1339,1340).

Scholastic theologians in the early Middle Ages, influenced by Aristotelianism inquired philosophically into how and in what way the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ. It was during this period that 'transubstantiation' was used to explain the belief. Eventually, the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215, and again the Council of Trent (1545-1563) officially defined transubstantiation as the dogmatic belief of the Church.

In the twentieth-century, some modernist Catholic theologians sought to interpret transubstantiation as only a change of meaning and not a change of substance. This was again rejected by Pope Paul VI in 1965. His 1968 "Credo of the People of God", reiterated that any theological explanation of the doctrine must hold to the two-fold claim that after consecration (1) Christ's Body and Blood are really present and (2) bread and wine are really absent, and this presence and absence is real and not merely something in the mind of the believer, a reiteration of conciliar dogma of the 13th Century.

In literature, the controversy between Consubstantiation and Transubstantiation was satirically described in Jonathan Swift's "Gulliver's Travels" as war between Lilliput and Blefuscu.

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