Body and Blood of Christ
I believe the consecrated bread and wine of the Eucharist (last supper / communion) to be literally the body and blood of Christ. The apostolic and early Church clearly believed this, and the Bible clearly teaches it. When partaking in faith with sins confessed, Jesus blesses.
The ingredients of the Eucharist...
Catholics often make it sound like the only way to unite with Christ is via the Eucharist. But there are other ways...
I reject Catholic transubstantiation because I reject Aristotelian philosophy upon which it is based. The eastern Orthodox Churches also reject it, so I'm in good company. I absolutely reject the fundamentalist evangelical Protestant view that communion is merely symbolic, a corporate act of remembering Christ's work.
Catholics and others make much of the necessity of having an institutional Church with the sacrament of Holy Orders in order to have priests capable of confecting the Eucharist. Neither the apostles nor the early church taught this, so I reject it.
Factors of the Eucharist in the very early church...
These factors didn't appear until later...
Conclusion: The Eucharist was passed-down by the apostles and it was more than merely symbolic (as many Protestants teach).
The key to understanding how the Eucharist works is to consider the ingredients of life and being.
My human body is not me. When we die, no one keeps our body around thinking it is us. (We honor the bodies of the dead but not because we think they are the person.)
My soul attaches to my body via the senses and the motor connection points allowing me to move around. During life, my body is me, because my soul is intimately united to it. The various attributes of the body become part of me during life. Thus I have senses, I can run (but not fly), I am quite smart, I speak and ponder, I worship God and sense his presence when out in the great outdoors.
In like manner, during the Eucharist, Christ unites with the consecrated bread and wine. His Spirit attaches to these.
Bread and wine are not nearly as complex as the human body, thus the connection points are fewer and simpler. The consecrated bread and wine do not become human nor do they become deity. The attributes of consecrated bread and wine are: (1) they can be recognized as bread and wine, (2) they are food and drink and can nourish us when we consume them.
We worship Christ in the consecrated bread and wine by worshipping his Spirit attached to them. We interact with the consecrated bread and wine by seeing they are bread and wine, and most importantly, by consuming them.
Humans have vastly more ways to interact with other humans than with consecrated bread and wine; of course this is true because humans are vastly more complex than bread and wine.
In consuming the consecrated bread and wine, for one with faith, who believes in the Eucharist, Christ's Spirit intersects with our soul; they occupy the same spiritual space.
When you place the consecrated bread and wine in your mouth, one of three things happens...
In consuming the consecrated bread and wine, we do not become Christ. His Spirit does not attach to our body. Rather, his Spirit mingles with our soul in some way. He blesses us. We experience a form of unity with deity (there are other forms of unity with deity, the Eucharist is just one of these).
I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world. Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?" Jesus said to them, "I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your forefathers ate manna and died, but he who feeds on this bread will live forever". (John 6:51-58)
Critics dispute the meaning of the references to bread and wine in these passages. But it is hard to explain why the apostolic church as well as the very next generation of Christians after this believed in the Eucharist if these New Testament passages don't refer to the Eucharist as the literal body and blood of Christ.
There are many references in the very early church fathers which support the idea that the church practiced the Eucharist from the very beginning. And the passage above from 1 Corinthians is very compelling. But we should expect to find additional references to the Eucharist in the letters of the New Testament (and we do).
The Levitical priesthood has no right to eat at the altar (Hebrews 13:10) of the Christians. This altar sounds very much like the Eucharist and the mass of the Catholic Church. The sin offering (Leviticus 4:27-29) of the Old Testament provides a way for the people to be forgiven for their sins. In the sin offering the priests eat portions of the animal (Leviticus 5:13) that is offered. In the passage in Hebrews, Jesus is both the high priest (Hebrews 2:17) and the sin offering. Therefore, it is fitting that in the Eucharist we should eat Christ's body (John 6:54).
Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf. Consider the people of Israel: Do not those who eat the sacrifices participate in the altar? . . . No, but the sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons, not to God, and I do not want you to be participants with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too; you cannot have a part in both the Lord's table and the table of demons. (1 Corinthians 10:16-18, 20-21)
Those who partake of the Eucharist are united in the one body of Christ. Baptism also unites us in the body of Christ so the Eucharist is an extension of our baptism. By partaking of the Eucharist we are confessing our faith by our actions.
Paul exhorts them to "flee from idolatry". (1 Corinthians 10:14) He equates the Eucharist with food offered to demons in pagan sacrifices. Just as pagans are united with the demons when they eat the food offered to demons, just so, Christians are united with Christ when they partake of the Eucharist.
He also equated the Eucharist with the animal sacrifices of the Old Testament in which those who offer the sacrifice and then eat part of the offered animal participate in the sacrifice. Just so, those who partake of the Eucharist are partaking in the sacrifice of Christ. Therefore, the mass is a sacrifice in which Christ is offered (re-presented) as a sacrifice on our behalf.
For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes. Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. . . . When we are judged by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be condemned with the world. So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for each other. If anyone is hungry, he should eat at home, so that when you meet together it may not result in judgment. (1 Corinthians 11:26-34)
In partaking of the Eucharist, we are proclaiming Christ's sacrificial death. Because of the significance of Christ's action, we must partake in a worthy manner or we will be insulting Christ and his sacrifice on our behalf. We should recognize Christ's body in partaking. People have gotten sick and died for not doing so as judgment from God. One of the things they were doing which was unworthy was being so hungry that they acted inappropriately during the Lord's supper.
The context of this passage is that the people who were miraculously fed the previous day have followed Jesus across the lake and are insistently pleading with him to feed them again. He attempts to instruct them that the manna of the Israelites in the desert was physical but that he is the true spiritual manna. They refuse to hear the message so he tells them that they must eat him to have life. They abandon him because their hearts are focused on the material benefits they received rather than on the spiritual blessing of having life in Christ.
The Catholic Church interprets this passage to refer to the Eucharist in which the bread (wafer) and wine are literally transformed into the body and blood of Christ (transubstantiation).
This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me. . . . This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me. (1 Corinthians 11:24-25 Also, Matthew 26:26-28)
In the context of the Jewish Passover meal the bread and wine symbolically represent God's promise to free his chosen people from the bondage to the Egyptians and the redemption of the nation of Israel by Moses. These statements by Christ at the Last Supper reflect that Christ is the redeemer who frees us from the bonds of sin by his sacrificial death.
When taken literally, this passage provides the basis for the Eucharist.