What Do We Mean by the ‘Real Presence’?

These few weeks at Mass we’re going through the famous sixth chapter of John’s gospel–the Bread of Life passage. An increasing number of Catholics have been taught that the Eucharist is only symbolic. Many people refer to the term ‘the Real Presence’ to refer to the presence of Christ in the Eucharist. The problem is, this term is used by many non-Catholic Christians too. So what is the history of the term ‘Real Presence’ and what do non Catholics mean by it and what should Catholics mean by it?

I wrote this longer article some time ago explaining what we mean by the term ‘Real Presence.’ Why not take time to read it as a meditation for this Sunday? Go here.

  • Matt R

    Fr Longenecker,
    There’s no link to another article…

    • Matt R

      Whoopsies! Found it….

  • http://recoveredcatholic.com Christina

    Thanks for re-posting this. My Protestant Evangelical mother-in-law seemed confused when we told her about the “real presence” before our conversion to Catholicism last spring. She kept saying things like “Well I believe in the real presence too!” We were really confused. This article will help us better explain the Catholic position in the future.

  • Glenn Juday

    Dear Father Longenecker,

    A necessary topic and well done in the link you provided to the longer version. Thank you.

    In addition, I always suggest going back to the Jewish origin of the Church – everything in the Christian life has to check out that way precisely because it is foundational. The typological principle is very helpful here. There are persons, places, institutions in the Old Testament that point to the person and saving work of Christ. And because of this there must always be a greater fulfillment in their realization in the New Testament. Jesus is the new Adam, but without sin. He is the New Moses, but he leads the people to a superior promised land. Jesus is the new Temple which cannot be destroyed. Jesus is the new paschal sacrifice, and the new lamb without blemish looking as though it had been slain, but this Passover sacrifice is once for all, and achieves our eternal, not just temporal, redemption and freedom from the slavery, the worst slavery, the slavery to sin if we apply it to our lives. These things should not be controversial to the non-Catholic Christian in America.

    Now, Jesus is also the new manna, the Bread came down from Heaven. Even though the people of God on their exile journey were given a miracle bread, the people ate it and still eventually died. “Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died.” John 6: 49

    The new manna needs to be something greater in the New Testament through the action and in the person of Christ. And John tells us exactly that. “This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that a man may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.” John 6: 50-51

    If the Eucharist is merely a symbol, even if it is catalyst for God to come down spiritually and be with his people, it fails the test of fulfilling and infinitely surpassing the previous character of the manna. Ask them how the Eucharist can meet this test if it remains merely symbolic, or purely spiritual. The people had those things in the Old Testament. Ask them what makes the Bread of Life come down from Heaven greater in the New Testament?

  • Amy H.

    Dear Father and Glenn,
    Loved your history of the terms used, Father, and how important it is to be clear in our terminology; and you taking it one step further, Glenn, by showing all the ways that Jesus Christ not only fulfilled but surpassed the Old Testament foreshadowings is such a brilliant way of explaining the beauty and uniqueness of transubstantiation. Thank you both so much!

  • john cronin

    Why has the Pope got a butler??? I thought they were supposed to take a vow of poverty. I can’t afford a butler, any more than I could afford to pay off these millions in compensation for child abuse. Where did all the money come from|? Archbish Marcickus’s personal account?

    • Arnold

      Popes do not take vows of poverty nor do regular priests or bishops unless members of a religious order. Given his extremely taxing schedule and advancing age, why do you begrudge him the help of a butler or valet? Your criticism seems petty to me.

    • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

      How silly you are. The ‘butler’ is his personal assistant. Is he allowed one of those?

    • Bernard

      John, your remark shows how much you know, or should I say how much you don’t know.

  • http://deleted john cronin

    Pope Benedict XVI has said that in special cases, such as that of prostitutes trying to prevent HIV infection, condoms could be justified under Catholic ethical thinking, especially if their use leads to an awareness that engaging in such a “banalization of sexuality” is morally harmful.

    Many reports portrayed the pope’s statements as a stunning reversal for the church, although Benedict was actually articulating longstanding Catholic tradition on the morality of preventing HIV and was not approving condoms for birth control. But his remarks were important for the extent of their explanation of this complex matter — and because they come from the pope, which makes them more authoritative than other church proclamations.

    Benedict’s views on condoms were among the many controversial and revealing comments contained in a new book-length interview titled “Light of the World: The Pope, the Church and the Signs of the Times.” The book is the result of a series of conversations the pope had last July with a German journalist he trusts, Peter Seewald, and it reads like a brief for the defense of Benedict’s gaffe-prone reign — a defense that seems to be the main goal of the project.

    The book is to be published on Tuesday but the Vatican newspaper ran excerpts on Saturday and news outlets began reporting the contents of the volume.
    In the book, the pope also confirms that gay men, even if chaste, cannot be priests and says they should not reveal their sexual orientation if they have already been ordained. He also discusses the clergy sexual abuse crisis at length though without criticizing bishops who covered up the abuse and thereby allowed it to fester.

    Regarding the furor last year over Benedict’s decision to lift the excommunications of four right-wing schismatic bishops, one of whom — Richard Williamson — is a Holocaust-denier, Benedict says that if he had know about Williamson’s views he would have separated him out from the papal pardon. “Unfortunately,” Benedict says, “none of us went on the Internet to find out what sort of person we were dealing with.”

    But he defends the decision to lift the excommunications, saying that whatever their views on a range of topics he had no choice under canon law but to rehabilitate them since the bishops wrote him a letter formally recognizing his authority — the issue that had originally led to their expulsion. The media, he said, were just waiting for an excuse to ambush the pope — they displayed “a readiness for aggression” — which he blamed for causing much of the public relations debacle for the Vatican.

  • Charles E. Mac Kay

    He is there 100% in the form of bread and wine. The only person who can do it is the priest. When he says the words thats it. Its 100% faith. I cannot see that you are a believer if you cannot accept that. If you do not then you are accepting Luther’s views on the sacrament. When the Fransiscans came to our island one of the questions they were asked by my ancestors was what happens to the bread and wine when the priest says the words.They answered correctly. Its one of the marks of faith. P.S. Thank Oliver Plunkett for the Franciscans

  • Barbara B.

    Today at the Lutheran parish where I work as music director, there was a visiting minister who gave the homily. He emphasized the Real Presence aspect – not clearly defining what it was, but rather what it was not. He said that they(ELCA) don’t believe literally (emphasis) that the bread is the body and blood of Christ, like our brothers and sisters, the Roman Catholics. That would make us (ELCA) cannibals and vampires(he really said that — twice for emphasis. They also don’t believe it is just a symbol. Rather it is a sign.

    Just about everyone in the congregation knows I’m Catholic, but he didn’t. I was pretty shocked at the characterization – which is a throw-back to early Christianity in hostile times. He went on to say that we (ELCA) believe as the saints of old.

    I guess I’m used to hearing what the fundys believe, and some of the other mainline churches. I’m not easily shocked but I have to admit I was today. If I were one of the members of the congregation, I’d be pretty confused by what he said and meant by Real Presence. I’m glad that I read this when you first posted it Father, because when he talked about Real Presence, I knew it was a relatively new term that denies transubstantiation. It made me think about the Jews’ response to Jesus’ words, “this is a hard saying. Who can accept it?”


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