Protestants reject transubstantiation, and so do many Catholic scholars. The average Catholic is vague concerning the nature of the Eucharistic presence of Christ, and one can sympathize with him, in view of the lack of clear teaching about the Most Blessed Sacrament.
The basic objection to the Catholic doctrine of the real presence is not that it is against Scripture, but that it is against reason. The words of Jesus seem plain enough. “This is my body.” This is my blood.” “Unless you eat the flesh of the son of man and drink his blood, you do not have life in you.” “My flesh is real food, my blood is real drink.” When some of his disciples complained, “This is a hard saying; who can accept it?”, he didn’t explain that he had not been speaking literally in saying he would give his body to eat and his blood to drink. Instead he let them go. As St. John tells us, many left him because they would not accept this teaching.
Our Lord’s words are not interpreted non-literally because that is the obvious way to interpret them, but because a literal interpretation seems to be repugnant to reason. The conservative Protestant theologian Louis Berkhof, in his famous work Systematic Theology, insists that the Roman teaching “. . . violates the human senses, where it asks us to believe that what tastes and looks like bread and wine, is really flesh and blood; and human reason, where it requires belief in the separation of a substance and its properties and in the presence of a material body in several places at the same time, both of which are contrary to reason.”1
Among Catholics firmly committed to all that the Church teaches, one finds much confusion and various misunderstandings regarding Christ’s Eucharistic presence. Take these questions: Do we receive (for instance) Christ’s head and arms and feet? If the accidents of bread were removed, would we see the substance of his body, as though a curtain had been drawn back? Are the bread and wine converted into his soul and divinity? Attempted answers to these questions show up the confusion existing in the minds of most Catholics.
Then there is the grave situation of those Catholics who think transubstantiation is against reason. Common sense and science, they believe, demand its rejection. It is an impossible theory based on the erroneous natural science of Aristotle.
This denial is extremely serious, for the Church teaches infallibly that Christ is present through transubstantiation. As the Council of Trent says, and the Catechism of the Catholic Church repeats: “. . . 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.”2 Trent pronounces an anathema against those who deny transubstantiation.3