XIV: The Real Presence

Q: What do Lutherans mean by the words “Real Presence?”

A:   The words of institution in the Eucharistic Prayer clearly state that in eating and drinking the Sacramental bread and wine of the Holy Communion we receive the true Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. These words are explained for us in 1 Corinthians 10:16 and 11:23-26.

At the time of the Reformation, the Roman Catholic Church affirmed the Real Presence solely in terms of the doctrine of transubstantiation, which states that in the eucharistic rite the substance or basic reality of the bread and wine are changed into the Body and Blood of Christ, while the outward appearance are not affected. Thus, the bread is no longer bread, and the wine no longer wine.

Lutherans have been falsely accused of advocating either the doctrine of consubstantiation, which is this: after the consecration the substances of both the Body and Blood of Christ and of the bread and wine coexist with each other, or the notion of impanation, which is the theory that Christ's Body and Blood are in the eucharistic elements, but hidden in such a way that they are received without changing the substances of the bread and wine.

Christians in the Reformed tradition deny that the words of institution should be taken in a literal sense and teach, instead, the real absence of Christ's Body and Blood in the Sacrament. This is done by making “is” mean “represents” or “body” mean “the sign of my body.” In this false teaching, “presence” is not brought about by the Word of Christ, but by the faith of the communicant

The doctrines mentioned above are philosophical arguments which attempt to explain exactly how Christ's Body and Blood are present in the Eucharist. Lutherans have always resisted philosophical arguments and merely assert the mystery of faith “that the true Body and Blood of Christ are really present in the Supper of our Lord under the form of bread and wine and are there distributed and received” (Augsburg Confession, Art. 10). Believing and trusting the words of Christ we affirm that He is truly, really, and substantially present in the Holy Communion without attempting to explain exactly how this happens.

Adapted from About Being Lutheran © Lutheran Liturgical Renewal 1991. Used by permission.