"Real presence" is the term used to describe the Christian belief that Jesus Christ is in some way present in the Eucharist, the memorial of the Last Supper (also known as Holy Communion and the Lord's Supper).
There are many different views of the Eucharist, ranging from a total transformation of the Eucharistic elements of bread and wine into the body and blood of Jesus (transubstantiation - the view of the Catholic Church) to that recognizing simultaneously the body and blood of Christ in the bread and wine (sacramental union - the view of the Lutheran Church), to a totally symbolic view found largely in Anabaptist, Restorationist and nondenominational Christian circles.
Specific Eucharistic Doctrines
Roman Catholic: the Catholic Church believes in transubstantiation, the doctrine that the whole substance of the bread and wine is transformed into the whole substance of Jesus Christ—His body, blood, soul, and divinity. This church believes that the service is more than a memorial, and also that the Eucharist (and thus the Mass) is a re-presentation of Christ's eternal once for all sacrifice in the Upper Room and on the Cross made present as the supreme sacrifice-offering-up of worship and thanksgiving (Greek "eu-charistia") in union with him to God the Father. Those perspectives are not, however, part of the doctrine of the Real Presence.
Anglican: The Anglican churches officially believe in the Real Presence received only in a non-carnal way and explicitly reject the doctrine of transubstantiation. Those Anglicans of "Anglo-Catholic" churchmanship affirm the corporeal presence of Christ in the Eucharist.
Lutheran: Luther and Lutherans today believe in the Real Presence of Christ's body and blood in the Eucharist, with their doctrine of this belief being termed a "sacramental union". However, rather than holding that the whole substance of the bread and wine is transformed (i.e. transubstantiation), they consider the body and blood to exist alongside the bread and wine--"In, with, and under the forms of bread and wine." (This is often miscalled "consubstantiation", which is a Lollardist doctrine).
Methodist: The United Methodist Church and most of the smaller Methodist bodies believe in the Real Presence but reject transubstantiation and consubstantiation. The UMC refers to Christ's presence in the Eucharist as a "Holy Mystery," and prefers not to explain the details of Christ's presence.
Moravian: The Moravian Church teaches that doctrine of the "sacramental presence of Christ in the Eucharist". According to this teaching, "Christ gives his body and blood according to his promise to all who partake of the elements. When we eat and drink the bread and the wine of the Supper with expectant faith, we thereby have communion with the body and blood of our Lord and receive the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. In this sense, the bread and wine are rightly said to be Christ's body and blood which he gives to his disciples."
Reformed: The Reformed tradition (which includes the Continental Reformed, Presbyterian churches, Anglican, and Reformed Baptist denominations) generally believe in a "pneumatic" or spiritual presence of Jesus in the Eucharist; there is still a Real Presence of Jesus which the people experience during the celebration of the Lord's Supper.
Anabaptist, Restorationist and Nondenominational Christianity: The Lord's Supper is simply a symbol and a memorial of the Last Supper by which worshipers remember Christ's body and blood given up on the Cross. It is not a re-presentation of the sacrifice of the Cross—which is believed to have been accomplished once—nor is it a literal sharing in Christ's physical body or blood, soul and divinity "partakers of the divine nature" 2 Peter 1:4 KJV.
Real Presence gradations of understanding within the Catholic, Lutheran and Orthodox traditions
The Roman Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation was formulated by the teachings of St. Thomas Aquinas during the thirteenth century. Aquinas taught that after the prayer of consecration or blessing at the Altar, the bread and wine were no longer bread and wine, though they appear to be so to the senses. His teaching is based on the distinctions that Aristotle made between essence or substance of things, and the appearance of things. Every thing has an essence and an outer manifestation which he called the "accidents". Thus. according to Aquinas, although after the prayer of "invocation", or calling on the Holy Spirit on the elements of bread and wine, these elements still taste, feel, smell, like bread and wine, they are in reality, because of the word of Christ and the Scripture, His body and blood.
The Orthodox and Aramaic Churches, as well as some modern derivatives, hold to the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist but do not subscribe to transubstantiation, or, consider transubstantiation to be only one possibility for explaining His presence. These churches formulate their position in this manner: It is clear from Scripture and the way the earliest Christians after the New Testament believed and wrote, that His life is imparted at the Eucharist in a real way. They most often point out that Christ said "This is my body" and "This is my blood". Further, it is pointed out that in John, Chapter six, "eat my flesh" and "drink my blood" is to be understood "eucharistically" as is shown by the non-inclusion of the Last Supper account and the "words of institution"—"This is my body..." and "This is my blood"—in the Gospel of John. By contrast, they appear in the other three Gospels. There was no need to include them as it had already been dealt with in John 6.
The Lutheran teaching on Christ's presence in the Eucharist is known as the sacramental union, in which there exists a union between the body and blood of Christ with bread and the wine. The physical body and blood of Christ, as well as the bread and the wine, are both simultaneously present in the Sacrament of the Altar.
Some of the Orthodox and Aramaic Churches understand the Real Presence of Christ in assumptionist terms rather than by transubstantiation. The assumptionist understanding is analogous to the way the Son of God took on human flesh in the Incarnation, a doctrine called impanation. When the Son of God became man, He did so, not by obliterating the humanity by His divinity but rather "taking up" or assuming humanity into Himself. Thus He became truly the Son of God and the Son of Man—a true unity of Deity and Humanity. They hold a similar view with regard to the Eucharist. After the consecration of the bread and wine, Jesus' real presence is there, His body and blood with all the attendant life, strength and grace. This has been done without the obliteration of bread and wine, but, as in the words of Ireaneaus, plain bread has become "heavenly bread" by being assumed into the more dominant flesh of the Son of God, and so also with blessed wine.
- Ex opere operato and ex opere operantis
- Aramaic Church
- Passover Seder
- Gospel reading in the Church: the Turgama
- Berengar of Tours
- Ulrich Zwingli
- Lears, T. J. Jackson (1981). Antimodernism and the Transformation of American Culture, 1880-1920. University of Chicago Press. ISBN 9780226469706. “Many folk tale enthusiasts remained vicarious participants in a vague supernaturalism; Anglo-Catholics wanted not Wonderland but heaven, and they sought it through their sacraments, especially the Eucharist. Though they stopped short of transubstantiation, Anglo-Catholics insisted that the consecrated bread and wine contained the "Real Objective Presence" of God.”
- Neal, Gregory S. (19 December 2014). Sacramental Theology and the Christian Life. WestBow Press. ISBN 9781490860077. “For Anglicans and Methodists the reality of the presence of Jesus as received through the sacramental elements is not in question. Real presence is simply accepted as being true, its mysterious nature being affirmed and even lauded in official statements like This Holy Mystery: A United Methodist Understanding of Holy Communion.”
- Atwood, Craig D. (1 November 2010). Community of the Cross: Moravian Piety in Colonial Bethlehem (in English). Penn State Press. ISBN 9780271047508. “In the eighteenth century, the Moravians consistently promoted the Lutheran doctrine of the real presence, which they described as a "sacramental presence."”
- (2005) Growing Consensus II: Church Dialogues in the United States, 1992–2004 (in English). Bishop's Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. ISBN 978-1574555578.
- Sacramental Union. Concordia Publishing House (2000).
- Impanation is condemned as a heresy by the Catholic Church. See Impanation - Catholic Encyclopedia (newadvent.org)