My brother in law Jim said recently, “I find it hard to believe that the Catholics are the only ones with the magic cookie.”

Overlooking the frivolity of the language, he expresses a common misunderstanding amongst non-Catholics. I guess what he means by his statement is that he thinks that the Lord is also really present within non-Catholic Eucharists.

On the same day I had an email question from a Catholic who is engaged to an Episcopalian woman who is about to convert to the Catholicism. She claims that her female woman priest in the Episcopal church also ‘converts the bread and wine to the Body and Blood of Christ.’

On the one hand, it is wonderful to see non-Catholics desire a deeper and more real Eucharistic experience. On the other hand, it is confusing. Just what do non-Catholic Christians believe about the sacraments? Can a good Evangelical continue to deny that the sacraments are effective and also be annoyed when Catholics say that their non-Catholic sacraments are not effective? Do Evangelicals believe in the efficacy of sacraments or not? If they do, then in what way are they effective? If not, then why be annoyed at Catholic claims?

Of course, there are a whole range of opinions in the non-Catholic world about the Eucharist. Here’s a list from the ‘lowest’ to ‘highest’

1. Fellowship Meal – the Eucharist is a meaningful fellowship meal of Christians to thank God for Jesus’ death.
2 Symbolism
– the bread and wine remain symbols of Christ’s body and blood and therefore his death on the cross. The Eucharist is a ‘memorial service’ with symbols
3. Individual Sentimentalism – the bread and wine remain symbols of Christ’s body and blood, but through the prayers and worship an individual may feel ‘closer to Jesus’. This subjective experience indicates a special gift of grace that has come through the worship.
4. Biological Receptionism – the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ as the faithful individual receives them into his or her body. The transformation happens as the bread and wine are transformed into the faithful person’s body and blood through the natural biological processes.
5. Spiritual Receptionism – the bread and wine are transformed spiritually into the Body and Blood of Christ as the faithful receive in repentant faith.
6. Corporate Receptionism – the Church as the Body of Christ transforms the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ as the whole Church (led by the minister) celebrate the Eucharist. Consecration is not limited to one moment, but is a whole action of the whole church within the whole Eucharist, and within all Eucharists. As the whole Church celebrates this action the bread and wine become the Body of Christ–which is the Church
7. Consubstantiation – the spiritual presence of Christ is with or next to the physical species of bread and wine.

Individuals and denominations may hold to one or more of these views in various combinations. There may be other non-Catholic understandings of the Eucharist. What have I left out?

To my knowledge the Catholic Church doesn’t actually say what happens at a non-Catholic Eucharist. We just say what doesn’t happen. We say what non-Catholics themselves say about their Eucharist: “This is not a Catholic Mass. Transubstantiation does not take place here.” What does happen is an open question.

The question I would put to my non-Catholic friends is, “You tell me what happens at your Eucharist. What do you believe and why?”

For more on this check out my article on the Real Presence: