This Catholic apologetic source is very interesting for the Eucharist since it quotes the very early church fathers. http://www.catholic.com/library/Real_Presence.asp. What do you think? - Tod Shuck
Yes, as early as the 2nd century the church fathers speak of the communion meal in surprisingly lofty terms. I noticed this when I started to read the patristics back in graduate school. How much of this is simply exalted language, liturgical usage, or hyperbole, and how much reflects a truly literal approach to the bread and wine, is hard to discern. When we read, for example, John 6, we can walk away with the same impression. And yet, as I have argued elsewhere, Jesus could not possibly have been speaking literally.
My own position is that the communion elements merely represent the body and blood of our Lord; they do not re-present them (in sacrifice). In sharp contrast, Real Presence holds that somehow Christ's body is present in the eucharist. There is a literal transubstantiation. This is to fail to appreciate the words of Jesus and the literature of the NT. If he meant that the bread is his flesh, did he also (literally) mean that the cup is the new covenant? Or does the NT teach that Christ is mystically (in substance, not in species) a lamb or a gate (John 6, John 10)? No, of course not.
That the 2nd century fathers tended to take some things too literally need not concern us. They took the Lord's Supper very seriously, and their sober and reverent attitude is quite different to our own:
* The Lord's supper was the climax of the weekly meeting, not just one of its components.
* Accordingly, the supper followed the sermon; it did not precede it.
* Only the baptized were allowed to take part.
* Church discipline sometimes included exclusion from communion, often for an extended period of time.
This is not to say, however, that they were right in everything they taught. Their teachings are illustrative, not authoritative.
For more, perhaps visit http://www.carm.org/catholic/transubstantiation.htm.