Catholics defend their belief in the Eucharist by appealing to Christ’s words at the Last Supper. We argue that because Jesus said, “This is my body,” and not, “This represents my body,” he literally meant that bread becomes his body (and wine his blood).
A Protestant, however, might respond: “Ah, but Jesus couldn’t have meant for the substance in the chalice to be his real blood because after what Catholics call the words of consecration he says, ‘I tell you I shall not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.’ (Mark 14:22; Matt. 26:29; emphasis added). Why would Jesus call the substance in the chalice ‘this fruit of the vine’ if it were actually his blood?”
What should we make of this claim? Does it prove what it tries to? Let’s take a look.
The first thing to note is that the objection fails to consider that Luke puts these words before the consecration. It’s possible that Luke does this to clarify the sequence in Mark’s and Matthew’s account.
It was known in the first century that Mark did not write things in chronological order. A second-century Christian bishop named Papias records John the presbyter, an eyewitness of Jesus’ ministry, as saying, “Mark, having become an interpreter of Peter, wrote down accurately, though not in order, whatsoever he remembered of the things said or done by Christ.”
Luke tells us explicitly in the prologue to his Gospel that he set out “to write an orderly account” of the things accomplished among them, even though many before him, such as Mark, had already compiled such a narrative (Luke 1:1-3).
Therefore, it’s reasonable to conclude that Luke diverts from Mark’s order because he is clarifying Mark’s placement of Jesus’ statement. And if so, then the Protestant objection can’t even get off the ground.
But, let’s say for argument’s sake that Jesus did say these words after the consecration. It still wouldn’t necessarily follow that the substance in the chalice is merely wine.
The biblical authors are no strangers to describing things according to their appearance. Scholars call this phenomenological language.
We use it even today. For example, the weatherman says the sun will “rise” at 6 a.m. and “set” at 6 p.m. Should we conclude that the weatherman is an advocate of geocentrism? Of course not! He’s simply describing the phenomenon as we see it.
Similarly, the Bible often refers to death as “sleep.” For example, the prophet Daniel writes, “And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt” (Dan. 12:2). Daniel knew the difference between sleep and death; he’s just describing death by how it appears.
Even angels and God are described according to how they appear to the senses. The book of Genesis describes the Lord and his angels as men, since that is the form they took when they conversed with Abraham (Gen. 18:2; cf. 18:10, 19:1). Tobit does the same thing with reference to an angel in Tobit 5:2-4.
These authors were not trying to say that God and angels are actually men with bodies. They simply described phenomena as they were observed according to the senses.
A similar line of exegesis can be applied to Mark’s record of Jesus’ words at the Last Supper. It’s perfectly reasonable for Jesus to employ the phenomenological language of “wine” when referring to his precious blood, since that is how it appears to the senses. The mere reference to “wine” doesn’t prove that the substance in the chalice is wine.
Before and after
Another possible explanation is that it’s common for a biblical author to describe something according to its prior state. For example, Eve is called Adam’s bone (Gen. 1:23). Aaron’s rod is said to have devoured the “rods” of the magicians even though they were serpents (Exod. 7:12). The miraculous wine at Cana is called “water now become wine” (John 2:9).
This principle of describing something according to its prior state could serve as a possible rationale for why Jesus describes his blood as wine. He is simply referring to it according to what it once was. St. Paul does the same thing when he refers to the Eucharist as “bread” (1 Cor. 11:26).
We can admit that there is a mystery as to exactly what Jesus was referring to when he spoke of not drinking the fruit of vine until a future time. Was he referring to the eschatological banquet (Isa. 25:6-8; Rev. 19:9)? Was he referring to the cup of suffering he was to drink on the cross (Mark 10:38-39; Mark 14:36)? Perhaps he was referring to both, since the two are related.
Despite the mystery, one thing we do know is that these words don’t disprove the Catholic belief about the Eucharist. Our Protestant objector has to put this arrow back in the quiver.
 Eusebius, Church History 3:39:14-15; emphasis added.
This article was originally published on November 8, 2017 at www.catholic.com.