Is the Eucharist Merely a Symbol?

By pintswaquinas February 29, 2024

Many Protestants believe that the Eucharist is merely a symbol of Christ, not our Lord Himself. (Some believe in a modified version of the Real Presence that is weaker than the Catholic Church’s.)

In this, they stand in opposition to the early Church. Let’s see what some voices from the past said about the Holy Eucharist.

The Church Fathers believed that the Eucharist is Jesus.
St. Ignatius of Antioch, Letter to the Smyrnaeans [A.D. 110]
“Take note of those who hold heterodox opinions on the grace of Jesus Christ which has come to us, and see how contrary their opinions are to the mind of God. . . .They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer because they do not confess that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, flesh which suffered for our sins and which that Father, in his goodness, raised up again. They who deny the gift of God are perishing in their disputes.”

St. Justin Martyr, First Apology [A.D. 151]
“For not as common bread nor common drink do we receive these; but since Jesus Christ our Savior was made incarnate by the word of God and had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so too, as we have been taught, the food which has been made into the Eucharist by the Eucharistic prayer set down by him, and by the change of which our blood and flesh is nurtured, is both the flesh and the blood of that incarnated Jesus.”

St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies [circa A.D. 180]
“He has declared the cup, a part of creation, to be his own blood, from which he causes our blood to flow; and the bread, a part of creation, he has established as his own body, from which he gives increase unto our bodies.”

Before moving on to some later Church fathers, notice how early the dates are on the above quotes. St. Ignatius of Antioch purportedly knew the Apostle John. He certainly learned much of the faith from others who knew Christ and the Apostles.

The dates are significant since some Protestants say that the Catholic Church was invented around the time of Constantine in the fourth century. These Church fathers show that Catholic beliefs go all the way back to the early days of the Church.

St. Athanasius, To the Newly Baptized [early fourth century]
“This bread and this wine, so long as the prayers and supplications have not taken place, remain simply what they are. But after the great prayers and holy supplications have been sent forth, the Word comes down into the bread and wine — and thus is His Body confected.”

St. Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures [circa A.D. 350]
For just as the bread and the wine of the Eucharist before the holy invocation of the adorable Trinity were simple bread and wine, but the invocation having been made, the bread becomes the Body of Christ and the wine the Blood of Christ.

Many more quotes from the early Church could be given, but then this post would go on for pages. As we see, the early Church had a clear understanding that the Eucharist is really Christ’s body and blood. Protestants today should re-examine their beliefs in light of the teaching of those who sat at the feet of the Apostles and their early successors.


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