There is a huge point of contention among Christians. Is Communion symbolic or is it real? And what do we mean by real?
Protestants belief that partaking of the bread and wine/grape juice/grape flavored drink is a symbolic remembrance. This is done because Jesus said, “Do this in memory of me.” Sometimes it is, not kidding, left in a bucket in the back of the church for those “who are into that sort of thing”. Sometimes it is not even done at all, because it is only a symbol. Doesn’t really matter.
The Catholic and Orthodox views require a little more explanation. Catholics and Orthodox, along with a few other churches, believe that the communion is the body and blood of Christ as real as when He gave it to His disciples at the Last Supper. This is called Transubstantiation. The difference is that Catholics and Orthodox believe that when we ask the Holy Spirit to change this bread and wine into Jesus’ Body and Blood, just like at the Last supper, it is a miracle. It is not a re-sacrifice, as some Protestants have been led to believe. All Christians believe that Jesus’ One Sacrifice was plenty! The confusion is because it is called the Sacrifice of the Mass. This is two fold. We are acknowledging His sacrifice as the ever-present miracle that it is and we are, through prayer and participation in the Mass, sacrificing ourselves to Him, with Him.
Now, the stumbling block between the Protestants and the Catholic/Orthodox, is whether or not it was just symbolic. Protestants, the bread and wine do not turn into some cannibal feast, as you also have been lead to believe. The reasons that the Catholic and Orthodox Churches believe that it is not symbolic is because of John 6:30–70.
30And so they said to him: “Then what sign will you do, so that we may see it and believe in you? What will you work? 31Our fathers ate manna in the desert, just as it has been written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’ ”
32Therefore, Jesus said to them: “Amen, amen, I say to you, Moses did not give you bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. 33For the bread of God is he who descends from heaven and gives life to the world.”
34And so they said to him, “Lord, give us this bread always.”
35Then Jesus said to them: “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. 36But I say to you, that even though you have seen me, you do not believe. 37All that the Father gives to me shall come to me. And whoever comes to me, I will not cast out. 38For I descended from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me. 39Yet this is the will of the Father who sent me: that I should lose nothing out of all that he has given to me, but that I should raise them up on the last day. 40So then, this is the will of my Father who sent me: that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him may have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”
41Therefore, the Jews murmured about him, because he had said: “I am the living bread, who descended from heaven.”
42And they said: “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? Then how can he say: ‘For I descended from heaven?’ ”
43And so Jesus responded and said to them: “Do not choose to murmur among yourselves. 44No one is able to come to me, unless the Father, who has sent me, has drawn him. And I will raise him up on the last day. 45It has been written in the Prophets: ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has listened and learned from the Father comes to me. 46Not that anyone has seen the Father, except he who is from God; this one has seen the Father. 47Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes in me has eternal life. 48I am the bread of life. 49Your fathers ate manna in the desert, and they died. 50This is the bread which descends from heaven, so that if anyone will eat from it, he may not die. 51I am the living bread, who descended from heaven. 52If anyone eats from this bread, he shall live in eternity. And the bread that I will give is my flesh, for the life of the world.”
53Therefore, the Jews debated among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”
54And so, Jesus said to them: “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you will not have life in you. 55Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. 56For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. 57Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. 58Just as the living Father has sent me and I live because of the Father, so also whoever eats me, the same shall live because of me. 59This is the bread that descends from heaven. It is not like the manna that your fathers ate, for they died. Whoever eats this bread shall live forever.”
60He said these things when he was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum.
61Therefore, many of his disciples, upon hearing this, said: “This saying is difficult,” and, “Who is able to listen to it?” 62But Jesus, knowing within himself that his disciples were murmuring about this, said to them: “Does this offend you? 63Then what if you were to see the Son of man ascending to where he was before? 64It is the Spirit who gives life. The flesh does not offer anything of benefit. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 65But there are some among you who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the beginning who were unbelieving and which one would betray him.
66And so he said, “For this reason, I said to you that no one is able to come to me, unless it has been given to him by my Father.”
67After this, many of his disciples went back, and they no longer walked with him.
68Therefore, Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you also want to go away?”
69Then Simon Peter answered him: “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words of eternal life.
70And we have believed, and we recognize that you are the Christ, the Son of God.”
Okay, so when Jesus said that He would give His flesh and blood, Protestants say that He was speaking symbolically. However, when Jesus said that He was the vine and you are the branches, people knew he was speaking symbolically. No one said, But Jesus you aren’t a vine. When Jesus said that He was the gate, people knew he was speaking symbolically. No one said, But Jesus you aren’t a gate, you’re a person. So, judging by the reactions of the people in the Biblical account here, we know that the people did not think that He was speaking symbolically. They tried to get Him to explain it, Jesus re-clarified what He said. Jesus did not say, “Oh no. That’s not what I meant.” He repeated Himself with more convection, again and again! So, when the Last Supper came and He told them that this IS My Body and this IS My Blood, He meant it! It is the Spirit that gives life. And it is the Spirit that turns the bread and wine into the Spiritual body and blood of Jesus Christ, so that when we eat of His body and drink of His blood then…
57Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. 58Just as the living Father has sent me and I live because of the Father, so also whoever eats me, the same shall live because of me.
Protestants, you can look at the Catholic/Orthodox communion as sort of Time travel. We are participating in the Last Supper, through God’s grace. That is the difference between communions between the churches. Some believe what Jesus said, and some don’t. Sorry, if that sounds harsh, but sometimes the truth is hard. For some:
“This saying is difficult,” and, “Who is able to listen to it?” 62But Jesus, knowing within himself that his disciples were murmuring about this, said to them: “Does this offend you? 63Then what if you were to see the Son of man ascending to where he was before? 64It is the Spirit who gives life. The flesh does not offer anything of benefit. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 65But there are some among you who do not believe.”
Peace be with you.