SSPIRITUAL DARKNESS IN THE MIDDLE AGES #14
by Ralph Woodrow
DO PRIESTS HAVE power to change the elements of bread and
wine into the flesh and blood of Christ during the mass ritual?
Is this belief founded on the Scriptures?
The Catholic position is summed up in the following words
from The Catholic Encyclopedia: "In the celebration of the Holy
Mass, the bread and wine are changed into the body and blood of
Christ. It is called transubstantiation, for in the Sacrament of
the Eucharist the substance of bread and wine do not remain, but
the entire substance of bread is changed into the body of Christ,
and the entire substance of wine is changed into his blood, the
species or outward semblance of bread and wine alone remaining."
Support for this belief is sought in the words of Jesus when
he said of the bread he had blessed, "Take eat; this is my body"
and of the cup, "Drink ye all of it; for this is my blood" (Matt.
26:26-28). But forcing a literal meaning on these words creates
numerous problems of interpretation and tends to overlook the
fact that the Bible commonly uses figurative expressions.
When some of David's men risked their lives to bring him
water from Bethlehem, he refused it, saying, "Is not this the
blood of men who went in jeopardy of their lives?" (2 Sam.
23:17). The Bible speaks of Jesus as a "door", "vine", and "rock"
(John 10:9; 15:5; 1 Cor.10:4). All recognize these statements are
to be understood in a figurative sense. We believe that such is
also true of Christ's statement "this is my body ... this is my
blood." The bread and wine are symbols of his body and blood.
This does not detract at all from the reality of his
presence within an assembly of believers, for he promised, "Where
two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the
midst of them" (Matt.18:20). To reject the idea that he becomes
literally present in pieces of bread or inside a cup of wine is
not to reject that he is present spiritually among believers!
After Jesus "blessed" the elements, they were not changed into
his literal flesh and blood, for he (literally) was still there.
He had not vanished away to appear in the form of bread and wine.
After he had blessed the cup, he still called it "the fruit of
the vine" not literal blood (Matt.26:29). Since Jesus drank from
the cup also, did he drink his own blood? If the wine became
actual blood, to drink it would have been forbidden by the Bible
(Deut.12:16; Acts 15:20).
There is no evidence that any change comes to the elements
through the Romish ritual. They have the same taste, color,
smell, weight, and dimensions. The bread still looks like bread,
tastes like bread, smells like bread, and feels like bread. But
in the Catholic mind, it is the flesh of God. The wine still
looks like wine, tastes like wine, smells like wine, and if one
drank enough, it would make him drunk like wine! But this is
believed to be the blood of God. When the priest blesses the
bread and wine, he says the Latin words, "Hoc est corpus meus."
In view of the fact that no change takes place, we can understand
how the expression "hocus-pocus" originated with these words.
The poem on page 125 is not included to be unkind or to
ridicule what many sincere people consider a very sacred
ceremony. In spite of its crudeness, the poem does make a point.
The learned Council of Trent proclaimed that the belief in
transubstantion was essential to salvation and pronounced curses
on any who would deny it. The Council ordered pastors to explain
that not only did the elements of the Mass contain flesh, bones,
and nerves as a part of Christ, "but also a WHOLE CHRIST. The
Catholic Encyclopedia says, "The dogma of the totality of the
Real Presence means that in each individual species the whole
Christ, flesh and blood, body and soul, Divinity and humanity, is
The piece of bread having become "Christ," it is believed
that in offering it up, the priest sacrifices Christ. A curse was
pronounced by the Council of Trent on any who believed otherwise.
"If any one saith that in the Mass a trite and proper sacrifice
is not offered to God ... let him be anathema." In Catholic
belief, this "sacrifice" is a renewal of the sacrifice of the
cross. "Christ-commanded that his bloody
A ROAMN MIRACLE
A pretty maid, a Protestant, was to a Catholic wed;
To love all Bible truths and tales, quite early she'd been bred.
It sorely grieved her husband's heart that she would not comply,
And join the Mother Church of Rome and heretics deny.
So day by day he flattered her, but still she saw no good
Would ever come from bowing down to idols made of wood.
The Mass, the host, the miracles, were made but to deceive;
And transubstantiation, too, she'd never dare believe.
He went to see his clergyman and told him his sad tale.
"My wife is an unbeliever, sir; you can perhaps prevail;
For all your Romish miracles my wife has strong aversion,
To really work a miracle may lead to her conversion."
The priest went with the gentleman - he thought to gain a prize.
He said, "I will convert her, sir, and open both her eyes."
So when they came into the house, the husband loudly cried,
"The priest has come to dine with us!" "He's welcome," she
And when, at last, the meal was o'er, the priest at once began,
To teach his hostess all about the sinful state of man;
The greatness of our Savior's love, which Christians can't deny,
To give Himself a sacrifice and for our sins to die.
"I will return tomorrow, lass, prepare some bread and wine; The
sacramental miracle will stop you soul's decline."
"I'll bake the bread," the lady said. "You may," he did reply,
"And when you've seen this miracle, convinced you'll be, say I."
The priest did come accordingly, the bread and wine did bless.
The lady asked, "Sir, is it changed?" The priest answered, "Yes,
It's changed from common bread and wine to truly flesh and blood;
Begorra, lass, this power of mine has changed it into God!"
So having blessed the bread and wine, to eat they did prepare.
The lady said unto the priest, "I warn you to take care,
For half an ounce of arsenic was mixed right in the batter, But
since you have its nature changed, it cannot really matter."
The priest was struck real dumb - he looked as pale as death.
The bread and wine fell from his hands and he did gasp for
breath. "Bring me my horse!" the priest cried, "This is a cursed
home!" The lady replied; "Begone; tis you who shares the curse of
The husband, too, lie sat surprised, and not a word did say.
At length he spoke, "My dear," said he, "the priest has run away;
To gulp such mummery and tripe, I'm not for sure, quite able;
I'll go with you and we'll renounce this Roman Catholic fable."
sacrifice on the Cross should be daily renewed by an unbloody
sacrifice of his Body and Blood in the Mass under the simple
elements of bread and wine." Because the elements are changed
into Christ, he "is present in our churches not only in a
spiritual manner but really, truly, and substantially as the
victim of a sacrifice." Though the ritual has been carried out
millions of times, attempts are made to explain that it is the
same sacrifice as Calvary because the victim in each case is
The very idea of Christ "flesh and blood, body and soul,
Divinity and humanity" - being offered repeatedly as a "renewal"
of the sacrifice of the cross, stands in sharp contrast to the
words of Jesus on the cross, "It is finished" (John 19:30). The
Old Testament sacrifices had to be continually offered because
none of them was the perfect sacrifice.But now "we are sanctified
through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ ONCE for all.
For every priest standeth daily ministering and offering
oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins:
but this man (Christ), after he had offered ONE sacrifice for
sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God...for by ONE
offering he perfected for ever them that are sanctified " (Heb.
Catholic doctrine says the sacrifice of Christ on the cross
should "be daily renewed", but the New Testament sets the idea of
"daily sacrifices" in contrast to the ONE sacrifice of Christ. He
was not to be offered often, for "as it is appointed unto men
once to die ... so Christ was ONCE offered to bear the sins of
many" (Heb.9:25-28). In view of this, those who believe the
sacrifice of the cross should be continually renewed in the Mass,
in a sense, "crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put
him to an open shame" (Heb.6:6).
After the bread has been changed into "Christ" by the
priest, it is placed on a monstrance in the center of a sunburst
design. Before the monstrance Catholics will bow and worship the
little wafer as God! This practice, in our opinion, is similar to
the practices of heathen tribes which worship fetishes. Is it
scriptural? Notice what The Catholic Encyclopedia says: "In the
absence of Scriptural proof, the Church finds a warrant for, and
a propriety in, rendering Divine worship to the Blessed Sacrament
in the most ancient and constant tradition..." This reasoning
brings to mind the words of Jesus, "...making the word of God of
none effect through your tradition" (Mark 7:13).
Adopting the idea that the elements of the Lord's Supper
become the literal flesh and blood of Christ was not without its
problems. Tertullian tells us that priests took great care that
no crumb should fall - lest the body of Jesus be hurt! Even a
crumb was believed to contain a whole Christ. In the Middle Ages,
there were serious discussions as to what should be done if a
person were to vomit after receiving communion or a dog or mouse
were by chance to eat God's body! At the Council of Constance, it
was argued whether a man who spilled some of the blood of Christ
on his beard should have his beard burned, or if the beard and
the man should be destroyed by burning. It is admitted on all
sides that numerous strange doctrines accompanied the idea of
In the New Testament church it is evident that Christians
partook of both the bread and the fruit of the vine as emblems of
Christ's death (1 Cor.11:28). This The Catholic Encyclopedia
admits: "It may be stated as a general fact, that down to the
twelfth century, in the West as well as in the East, public
Communion in the churches was ordinarily administered and
received under both kinds," a fact "clearly beyond dispute." But,
after all these centuries, the Roman Catholic Church began to
hold back the cup from the people, serving them only the bread.
The priest drank the wine. One argument was that someone might
spill the blood of Christ. But was it not possible that the early
disciples could have spilled the cup? Christ did not withhold it
from them on this basis! Serving only half of what Jesus had
instituted called for certain "explanations." It was explained
that "communion under one kind", as it was called, was just as
valid as taking both. The people would not be deprived of any
"grace necessary for salvation" and that "Christ is really
present and is received whole and entire, body and blood, soul
and Divinity, under either species alone ... holy mother the
Church ... has approved the custom of communicating under one
kind ... Not only, therefore, is Communion under both kinds not
obligatory on the faithful, but the chalice is strictly for
bidden by ecclesiastical law to any but the celebrating priest"
After many centuries, this law has now been relaxed. Some
Catholics are allowed to partake of both bread and cup, but
customs vary from place to place.
Did the idea of transubstantiation begin with Christ? The
historian Durant tells us that the belief in transubstantiation
as practiced in the Roman Catholic Church is "one of the oldest
ceremonies of primitive religion." In the scholarly work
"Hasting's Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics," many pages are
devoted to an article "Eating the god." In these pages, abundant
evidence is given of transubstantiation rites among many nations,
tribes, and religions. Such rites were known in pagan Rome as
evidenced from Cicero's rhetorical question about the corn of
Ceres and the wine of Bacchus. In Mithraism, a sacred meal of
bread and wine was celebrated. "Mithraism had a Eucharist, but
the idea of a sacred banquet is as old as the human race and
existed at all ages and amongst all peoples," says The Catholic
In Egypt a cake was consecrated by a priest and was supposed
to become the flesh of Osiris. This was then eaten and wine was
taken as a part of the rite. Even in Mexico and Central America,
among those who had never heard of Christ, the belief in eating
the flesh of a god was found. When Catholic missionaries first
landed there, they were surprised "when they witnessed a
religious rite which reminded them of communion ... an image made
of flour ... after consecration by priests, was distributed among
the people who ate it ... declaring it was the flesh of the
Hislop suggests that the idea of eating the flesh of a god
was of cannibalistic inception. Since heathen priests ate a
portion of all sacrifices, in cases of human sacrifice, priests
of Baal were required to eat human flesh. Thus "Canna-Bal", that
is, "priest of Baal," has provided the basis for our modern word
During Mass, members of the Romish church in good standing
may come forward and kneel before the priest who places a piece
of bread in their mouths which has become a "Christ." This piece
of bread is called "host", from a Latin word originally meaning
"victim" or "sacrifice." The Catholic Encyclopedia says that the
host "has been the object of a great many miracles" including the
bread being turned to stone and hosts which have bled and
continued to bleed.
Hosts are made in a round shape, this form first being
mentioned by St.Epiphanius in the fourth century. (The
illustration shows the way the "host" appears in a Catholic
picture dictionary.) But when Jesus instituted the memorial
supper, he simply took bread and brake it. Bread does not break
into round pieces! Breaking the bread actually represents the
body of Jesus which was broken for us by the cruel beatings and
stripes. But this symbolism is not carried out by serving a
round, disk shaped wafer completely whole.
If the use of a round wafer is without scriptural basis, is
it possible that we are faced with another example of pagan
influence? Hislop says, "The 'round' wafer, whose 'roundness' is
so important an element in the Romish Mystery, is only another
symbol of Baal, or the sun." We know that round cakes were used
in the ancient mysteries of Egypt. "The thin, round cake occurs
on all altars." In the mystery religion of Mithraism, the higher
initiates of the system received a small round cake or wafer of
unleavened bread which symbolized the solar disk, as did their
In 1854 an ancient temple was discovered in Egypt with
inscriptions that show little round cakes on an altar. Above the
altar is a large image of the sun. A similar sun-symbol was used
above the altar of a temple near the town of Babain, in upper
Egypt, where there is a representa - before which two
priests are shown worshipping. (See illustration).
This use of the sun-image above the "altar" was not limited
to Egypt. Even in far away Peru, this same image was known and
worshipped. If there is any doubt that the shape of the
host was influenced by sun-worship, one may simply compare the
sun-image before which the heathen bowed with the monstrance
sunimage - in which the host is placed as a "sun" and before
which Catholics bow - and a striking similarity will immediately
Even among the Israelites, when they fell into Baal worship,
sun-images were set up above their altars! But during the reign
of Josiah, these images were torn down: "And they brake down the
altars of Baalim in his presence; and the images (margin,
sunimages) that were on high above them" (2 Chron.34:4). An
accompanying old woodcut illustrates some of the strange images
that they worshipped, including two sun-images at the top of
The photograph on the next page shows the altar of St.
Peter's and huge canopy (the baldachinum)--ninety-five feet
high-which is supported by four columns, twisted and slightly
covered by branches. At the top of the columns - "on high above"
the most important altar in Catholicism--are sun-images like
those that were used in pagan worship. High on the wall, as the
photograph also shows, is a huge and elaborate golden sunburst
image which, from the entrance of the church, also appears
"above" the altar. A large sun-image also appears above the altar
of the Church of the Gesu, Rome, and hundreds of others.
(Illustration on page 132). Interestingly enough, the great
temple at Babylon also featured a golden sun-image.
Sometimes the circular sun-image is a stained glass window
above the altar or, as is very common, above the entrance of
churches. Some of these central circular windows are beautifully
decorated. Some are surrounded with sun rays. In Babylon there
were temples with images of the sun-god to face the rising sun
placed above the entries. An early Babylonian temple built by
king Gudea featured such an emblem of the sun-god over the
entrance. It was a custom for Egyptian builders to place a solar
disk (sometimes with wings or other emblems) over the entrance of
their templesto honor the sun-god and drive away evil spirits. We
are not suggesting, of course, that the round designs in use
today convey the meanings they once did to those who went to
heathen temples. Nevertheless, the similarity seems significant.
The circular window that has been so commonly used above the
entrances of churc is sometimes called a "wheel" window. The
wheel design, as the wheel of a chariot, was believed by some of
the ancients to also be a sun symbol. They thought of the sun as
a great chariot driven by the sun-god who made his trip across
the heavens each day and passed through the underworld at night.
When the Israelites mixed the religion of Baal into their
worship, they had "chariots of the sun" - chariots dedicated to
the Circular stained glass sun-god (2 Kings 23:4-11). An
image in the form of a chariot wheel is placed over the famous
statue of Peter in St.Peter's. A tablet now in a British museum
shows one of the Babylonian kings restoring a symbol of the
sun-god in the temple of Bel. The symbol is an eight pointed
cross, like a spoked wheel. A similar design marks the pavement
of the circular court before St.Peter's. (See page 43).
Romish pictures of Mary and the saints always feature a
circular sun-symbol disk around their heads. The Roman tonsure is
round. Round images are seen above the altars and entrances. The
monstrance in which the round host is placed often features a
sun-burst design. All of these uses of sun symbols may seem quite
insignificant. But when the over-all picture is seen, each
provides a clue to help solve the mystery of Babylon modern.
The round wafers of the Mass are often pictured as circles
marked with crosses. We can't help but notice how similar these
are to the round wafers seen in the drawing of an Assyrian
monument which we have reproduced below.
In this scene, one man is bowing before a priest-king and
beneath a sun-image. The second man from the right is bringing an
offering of round wafers marked with crosses!
When Jesus instituted the memorial supper, it was at night.
It was not at breakfast time, or at lunch time. The first
Christians partook of the Lord's supper at night, following the
example of Christ and the types of the Old Testament. But later
the Lord's supper came to be observed at a morning meeting. To
what extent this may have been influenced by Mithraism, we cannot
say. We do know that the Mithraic rites were observed early in
the morning, being associated with the sun, with dawn. For
whatever reason, it is now a common custom among both Catholic
and Protestant churches to take the Lord's "supper" in the
A factor that may have encouraged the early morning Mass
within the Catholic church was the idea that a person should be
fasting before receiving communion. Obviously early morning was
an easier time to meet this requirement! But to require such
fasting cannot be solidly built on scripture, for Jesus had just
eaten when he instituted the memorial supper! On the other hand,
those who sought initiation in the Eleusinian mysteries were
first asked: "Are you fasting?" If their answer was negative,
initiation was denied. Fasting itself is, of course, a Biblical
doctrine. But true fasting must come from the heart and not
merely because of a man-made rule. Of such, God says, "When they
fast, I will not hear their cry" (Jer.14:12). The Pharisees were
strict about fasting on certain days, but neglected the weightier
matters of the law (Matt.6:16). Paul warned about certain
commandments to "abstain from meats" as being a mark of apostasy
In commenting on the Mass and its elaborate ritualism,
Romanism and the Gospel says: "It is a spectacle of gorgeous
magnificence - lights, colors, vestments, music, incense, and
what has a strange psychological effect, a number of drilled
officiants performing a stately ritual in entire independence of
the worshippers. These are indeed spectators, not participants,
spectators like those who were present at a performance of the
ancient mystery cults." A noted work on Catholicism summarizes
the mechanical performance made by the priest during Mass: "He
makes the sign of the cross sixteen times; turns toward the
congregation six times; lifts his eyes to heaven eleven times;
kisses the altar eight times; folds his hands four times; strikes
his breast ten times; bows his head twenty-one times; genuflects
eight times; bows his shoulders seven times; blesses the altar
with the sign of the cross thirty times; lays his hands flat on
the altar twenty-nine times; prays secretly eleven times; prays
aloud thirteen times; takes the bread and wine and turns it into
the body and blood of Christ; covers and uncovers the chalice ten
times; goes to and fro twenty times. Adding to this complicated
ritualism is the use of highly colored robes, candles, bells,
incense, music, and the showy pageantry for which Romanism is
known. What a contrast to the simple memorial supper instituted
We shall conclude Woodrow's work with his notes of reference -