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Home : Faith/Spirituality : The Question Box
11/4/2015 9:22:00 AM
Transubstantiation at the Last Supper?

Deacon Owen Cummings

Q — When Jesus shared his last meal with his followers, did the bread and wine become Jesus in the same way we understand that it becomes Jesus today? 

One person put it this way — “Did transubstantiation take place at the last supper?”

A — The Syriac doctor of the church, St. Ephrem of Nisibis, was fond of emphasizing that we should not inquire too much into the mystery of God and the things of God. 

He probably had in mind the rationalizing inquiries that surrounded the heresy of Arianism in the early church. But his admonition could hold just as well about the Eucharist. 

There simply are matters of the faith in which speculation does not get you very far. Love of God, the church, the liturgy along with praising commitment are a better way to go. 

Having uttered this admonishment, as it were, how do we proceed with this question? 

“Did transubstantiation take place at the last supper?” The answer is “Yes,” albeit a somewhat qualified “Yes.” The Lord’s gift of himself — “This is my body, this is my blood, take and eat and drink” — is the gift of his entire self as he would be on “the third day,” the day of the resurrection. 

The gift of self on Holy Thursday anticipates the resurrected/glorified self of Easter Sunday. But a somewhat qualified “Yes”? Because the term transubstantiation in respect of the Eucharistic gifts does not occur in the first millennium. 

The fundamental conviction of what we have come to call “the real presence” is there from the beginning, but the linguistic and philosophical term dates from early scholastic theology at the beginning of the second millennium.

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