The Magic Cookie?

My brother in law Jim said recently, “I find it hard to believe that the Catholics are the only ones with the magic cookie.”

Overlooking the frivolity of the language, he expresses a common misunderstanding amongst non-Catholics. I guess what he means by his statement is that he thinks that the Lord is also really present within non-Catholic Eucharists.

On the same day I had an email question from a Catholic who is engaged to an Episcopalian woman who is about to convert to the Catholicism. She claims that her female woman priest in the Episcopal church also ‘converts the bread and wine to the Body and Blood of Christ.’

On the one hand, it is wonderful to see non-Catholics desire a deeper and more real Eucharistic experience. On the other hand, it is confusing. Just what do non-Catholic Christians believe about the sacraments? Can a good Evangelical continue to deny that the sacraments are effective and also be annoyed when Catholics say that their non-Catholic sacraments are not effective? Do Evangelicals believe in the efficacy of sacraments or not? If they do, then in what way are they effective? If not, then why be annoyed at Catholic claims?

Of course, there are a whole range of opinions in the non-Catholic world about the Eucharist. Here’s a list from the ‘lowest’ to ‘highest’

1. Fellowship Meal – the Eucharist is a meaningful fellowship meal of Christians to thank God for Jesus’ death.
2 Symbolism
– the bread and wine remain symbols of Christ’s body and blood and therefore his death on the cross. The Eucharist is a ‘memorial service’ with symbols
3. Individual Sentimentalism – the bread and wine remain symbols of Christ’s body and blood, but through the prayers and worship an individual may feel ‘closer to Jesus’. This subjective experience indicates a special gift of grace that has come through the worship.
4. Biological Receptionism – the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ as the faithful individual receives them into his or her body. The transformation happens as the bread and wine are transformed into the faithful person’s body and blood through the natural biological processes.
5. Spiritual Receptionism – the bread and wine are transformed spiritually into the Body and Blood of Christ as the faithful receive in repentant faith.
6. Corporate Receptionism – the Church as the Body of Christ transforms the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ as the whole Church (led by the minister) celebrate the Eucharist. Consecration is not limited to one moment, but is a whole action of the whole church within the whole Eucharist, and within all Eucharists. As the whole Church celebrates this action the bread and wine become the Body of Christ–which is the Church
7. Consubstantiation – the spiritual presence of Christ is with or next to the physical species of bread and wine.

Individuals and denominations may hold to one or more of these views in various combinations. There may be other non-Catholic understandings of the Eucharist. What have I left out?

To my knowledge the Catholic Church doesn’t actually say what happens at a non-Catholic Eucharist. We just say what doesn’t happen. We say what non-Catholics themselves say about their Eucharist: “This is not a Catholic Mass. Transubstantiation does not take place here.” What does happen is an open question.

The question I would put to my non-Catholic friends is, “You tell me what happens at your Eucharist. What do you believe and why?”

For more on this check out my article on the Real Presence:

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  • Anglicanism teaches the doctrine of the Real Presence in the Eucharist, as of course you know. But I’ve been doing some reading on the history of Anglicanism and of Anglican theology recently, and what I’ve found is that although Anglicans in general would historically affirm the Real Presence, what various flavors of Anglican have actually meant by that term has included all of the meanings you list above, except possibly also including transubstantiation.This tendency of Anglicans to arbitrarily redefine agreed-upon terms like so many Humpty Dumpties was not a comforting discovery.

  • Thanks for commentingMy I recommend my article on this which I’ve linked to in the original post. I think you may enjoy reading it.

  • “Can a good Evangelical continue to deny that the sacraments are effective and also be annoyed when Catholics say that their non-Catholic sacraments are not effective?”That’s what I wish I had said when a Protestant relative astonished me some months ago by first denying that the Real Presence occurs at his pastor’s communion service and then becoming angry when I agreed with him!

  • CL

    1. Church teaching clearly indicates that since Protestants do not have validly ordained priests, a Protestant Eucharist is illicit and “not valid.” Can we confidently say that means transubstantiation certainly never occurs in a Protestant church? Moreover, is it certain that there is no sacramental grace at all in a Protestant Eucharist? Or has the Church left any room for any possibilities?2. If a Catholic priest leaves the Church, becomes a Protestant minister, and pronounces the words of consecration in his Protestant church, is that a valid Eucharist? Or not, since he’s left the bishop and the RC hierarchy?

  • CL

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  • I don’t think the Catholic Church makes an opinion on Real Presence in Protestantism. She in stead prefers to speak about what it is in the Church. The catechism states that all who profess Christ as Lord and Savior are considered Christians, and hence, are assured the promises of Christ. They contain portions of truth as far as they can agree with the Catholic Church which contains the fullness of truth. While the spirit of truth may only reside in the Church, the Holy Spirit does not. So as far as I can detect, the Church sees Real Presence in other denominations as being in the mind and heart of the beholder, though not through Transubstatiation-the presider not a representitive of Christ, presenting an unbloodied sacrifice.The difficult question is that if a person who is not Catholic, while at a Catholic Mass believes that this is the true Body and Blood of the Savior, and is so moved to come to the alter of God and receive Christ, should the Church deny them the previledge? I could not be a priest because I could never deny Christ to anyone that came forward. I woud probably be a bishop’s nightmare.

  • This reminds me of a Jack Chick tract with exactly that title!

  • Father,You could have told your brother-in-law that Catholics don’t believe that we are the only ones with the “magic cookie,” as he so infelicitously put it. We believe that all of our Orthodox brothers and sisters, in Churches with valid orders and valid sacraments, have “the magic cookie” (and theirs doesn’t even look like a cookie!). What the Orthodox have is the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of our Lord present on their altars when they celebrate the Divine Mysteries, just as is our great privilege as Catholics.I agree with your frustration: “Can a good Evangelical continue to deny that the sacraments are effective and also be annoyed when Catholics say that their non-Catholic sacraments are not effective?” Couldn’t this be called denying the “Magic Cookie” and wanting to eat it too? Just a thought…Fr Brian, OP