The Broadcasting Complaints Commission of South Africa (BCCSA) was recently called on to make a judgement on the second season of the award-winning documentary Shoreline. When discussing cannibalism, one of the presenters said the following:
In other cases, eating people might be a way of gaining access to some special element, some special essence of the victims. Christians for example eat the blood and the body of Christ so they can absorb some of his purity and godliness.
This evoked a number of complaints with complainants saying that the show was factually incorrect as the ritual of Communion was a purely symbolic act. When the broadcaster responded it agreed that communion was purely symbolic, even in the case of Catholic transubstantiation (the only time it was mentioned) and said that the offending sentence will be removed from future rebroadcasts. The BCCSA accepted this as a genuine error and, with future broadcasts being edited, saw no reason for an apology or further measures to be taken. (Full judgement available here.) Unfortunately this judgement is incorrect as, for many Christians, Communion is not merely symbolic.
Although the BCCSA judgement includes the introduction to the Wikipedia entry on the Eucharist it still claims that the bread and wine are purely symbolic. If you continue down the page you will eventually come to some more interesting lines regarding Eucharistic theology.
Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Oriental Orthodoxy, and the Church of the East teach that the reality (the “substance”) of the elements of bread and wine is wholly changed into the literal body and blood of Jesus Christ, while the appearances (the “species”) remain.
The reality of it literally becomes the body and blood of Jesus! This is exactly the opposite of what the BCCSA are saying and perfectly in line with Shoreline. So despite one of the complainants assertion that only “some “Christian Cults”” believe it is literally the flesh and blood of Christ it turns out that that is the official position of Catholicism, approximately half of Christianity. This is all dealt with in more detail on the Wikipedia page for Transubstantiation.
This isn’t just a distortion by Wikipedia, as one might be tempted to argue. If you read about the Eucharist on the Vatican’s own web page you will find a number of interesting passages, completely ignored by the BCCSA. Some examples:
1374 The mode of Christ’s presence under the Eucharistic species is unique. It raises the Eucharist above all the sacraments as “the perfection of the spiritual life and the end to which all the sacraments tend.”201 In the most blessed sacrament of the Eucharist “the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ and, therefore, the whole Christ is truly, really, and substantially contained.”202 “This presence is called ‘real’ – by which is not intended to exclude the other types of presence as if they could not be ‘real’ too, but because it is presence in the fullest sense: that is to say, it is a substantial presence by which Christ, God and man, makes himself wholly and entirely present.”203
1376 The Council of Trent summarizes the Catholic faith by declaring: “Because Christ our Redeemer said that it was truly his body that he was offering under the species of bread, it has always been the conviction of the Church of God, and this holy Council now declares again, that by the consecration of the bread and wine there takes place a change of the whole substance of the bread into the substance of the body of Christ our Lord and of the whole substance of the wine into the substance of his blood. This change the holy Catholic Church has fittingly and properly called transubstantiation.”206
1413 By the consecration the transubstantiation of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ is brought about. Under the consecrated species of bread and wine Christ himself, living and glorious, is present in a true, real, and substantial manner: his Body and his Blood, with his soul and his divinity (cf. Council of Trent: DS 1640; 1651).
This all means that the BCCSA was wrong. For the majority of Christians in the world, during Communion the bread and wine literally become the body and blood of Jesus. If it is believed that they literally become flesh and blood and it is not merely a symbolic gesture then it is not necessarily incorrect to describe it as cannibalism. The original version seems to me to be an accurate, for some, description of what occurs.