The Real Presence - John Calvin (4)
You all know, of course, that John Calvin broke with the practice of the medieval Roman Catholic Church with respect to the celebration of Holy Communion. The medieval Mass - and by the way - the actual word came into being accidentally - being associated with the blessing or benediction at the end of the service which sent the people home - was a far cry from the practice evident in the New Testament. It is clear from the Book of Acts and Paul’s writings that Holy Communion took place every day in the early Church and often as part of meal times, perhaps echoing the Passover Meal of Judaism in that respect.
For Roman Catholics, "The mass is the sacrifice of the new law in which Christ, through the Ministry of the priest, offers himself to God under the appearances of bread and wine. The mass is the sacrifice of Christ offered in a sacramental manner...the reality is the same but the appearances differ." "A sacrifice is the offering of a victim by a priest to God alone".
According to Roman Catholicism, Christ instituted the Mass when he said, "This is my body," (Matt. 26:26) and "This is my blood," (Matt. 26:28). Furthermore, Roman Catholicism teaches that when Jesus said "Do this in remembrance of me," he gave the apostles and hence his future priests the power to change bread and wine into his body and blood, therefore, during the ceremony of the Mass during the part of the liturgy known as the consecration, the priest changes bread and wine into Christ's body and blood. This is not Jesus being sacrificed over and over again. It is a representation of Christ’s sacrifice by the priest.
Transubstantiation is the teaching that during the Mass at the consecration in the Lord's Supper (Communion), the elements of the Eucharist, bread and wine, are transformed into the actual body and blood of Jesus and that they are no longer bread and wine, but only retain their appearance of bread and wine. The "Real Presence" is the term referring to Christ's actual presence in the elements of the bread and the wine which have been transubstantiated.
Catholics summarise their faith by declaring: "Because Christ our Redeemer said that it was truly his body that he was offering under the species of bread, it has always been the conviction of the Church of God, and this holy Council now declares again, that by the consecration of the bread and wine there takes place a change of the whole substance of the bread into the substance of the body of Christ our Lord and of the whole substance of the wine into the substance of his blood. This change the holy Catholic Church has fittingly and properly called transubstantiation.”
Transubstantiation states that the substance of the elements are miraculously changed, even though their appearance is not. In other words, the bread and wine will appear as bread and wine under close scientific examination, but the true substance is mystically the Body and Blood of Christ. Where transubstantiation is the process of the change, the real presence is the result of that change. In other words, the doctrine of the real presence states that the bread and wine contain the actual presence of Christ in bodily form as a result of the process of transubstantiation. Roman Catholicism states that the incarnation of Christ itself where Jesus was a man, but contained an invisible divine nature, is analogous to the doctrine of the real presence.
But this is just medieval philosophy and sophistry. It has no Biblical basis and is just an attempt to explain something hidden from the human eye.
Today different philosophical or scientific ideas would be used like sub-atomic particles or some other name for the invisible micro structure of existence. The point is that Jesus Christ does not change but human ideas do. Transubstantiation is a human idea. The Real Presence is Jesus Christ actually present.
Both Martin Luther and John Calvin rejected this theology of Holy Communion. But they did hold to The Real Presence. They held that Jesus Christ is really present in the sacrament. That is what it means to touch and handle the bread and wine.
One of our Communion Hymns begins with the words,
Here, O my Lord, I see thee face to face;
Here would I touch and handle things unseen,
Here grasp with firmer hand the eternal grace
And all my weariness upon the lean.
Here would I feed upon the bread of God,
Here drink with thee the royal wine of heaven;
Here would I lay aside each earthly load,
Here taste afresh the calm of sin forgiven.
What did John Calvin mean by ‘The Real Presence?’
By faith and in the Holy Spirit, the partaker beholds God incarnate, and in the same sense touches him with hands, so that by eating and drinking of bread and wine Christ's presence penetrates to the heart of the believer more nearly than food swallowed with the mouth can enter in. So - it is your personal relationship with Jesus Christ that ensures that you apprehend the Real Presence. That is what makes sharing in Holy Communion real. It is your faith and commitment that allows Jesus to be present in your life. St Paul recognised that some people took Holy Communion unworthily. Calvin too, was concerned with this issue. Robert Burns wrote about the same problem in The Holy Fair.
'Here some are thinkin on their sins
An' some upo' their claes
Ane curses feet that fyl'd his shins
Anither sighs an' prays'
For many church goers, Holy Communion is a struggle and a time of anxiety. The logic of tying membership to attendance at Holy Communion defeats the best intentions of the teaching of Jesus Christ. Nominal and occasional appearance at Communion does not suggest Christian seriousness. But - for convinced and faithful Christians, sharing in Holy Communion is spiritually rewarding, inspiring and healing. It links Jesus on earth with our own Christian life here this morning in a direct connection. It opens our inner beings out to the Risen Jesus and so His Real Presence fills our souls.
Because we do not accept transubstantiation, the elements we use are disposed of without ceremony, as they are not changed in an objective physical sense and, as such, the meal directs attention toward Christ's "bodily" resurrection and return. So - there is no ‘reserved sacrament’ kept in the sanctuary and there is no bowing to the elements as in Roman and Anglican tradition.
Reformed theology has also historically taught that when the Holy Communion is received, not only the spirit, but also the true body and blood of Jesus Christ (hence "real") are received through the Spirit, but these are only received by those partakers who eat worthily (i.e., repentantly) with faith.
"In the Lord's Supper the risen Christ imparts himself in body and blood, given up for all, through his word of promise with bread and wine....we proclaim the death of Christ through which God has reconciled the world with himself. We proclaim the presence of the risen Lord in our midst. Rejoicing that the Lord has come to us, we await his future coming in glory....Both of our communions, we maintain, need to grow in appreciation of our diverse eucharistic traditions, finding mutual enrichment in them. At the same time both need to grow toward a further deepening of our common experience and expression of the mystery of our Lord's Supper.” (Institutes Book II Chapter 17 paragraph 5f)
Why do we have Holy Communion? Because our Lord Jesus asked us to do so in remembrance of Him. Because the first Christians found that Holy Communion was not just a funeral service re-enacted but an actual uniting with the Risen Jesus Christ whom they found to be present in the Sacrament. John Calvin simplified our understanding and he used people’s ordinary language to include them, doing away with ecclesiastical Latin which excluded most of them.
It was his wish that we should have Holy Communion every week. In our particular tradition that has not been practised. But the Brethren have their Breaking of Bread and Roman Catholics have their weekly Mass. Anglicans too have a weekly parish Eucharist - their name for Holy Communion.
It would surely change the character of our congregation if we were to have Holy Communion every Sunday. As it is - it is special and wonderful. It is physical confirmation of the truth of our faith in Jesus Christ our Lord.