Three Different Views Concerning the Eucharist
Most Christians would readily agree that the Eucharist is “the central act of Christian worship.” [The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, 2nd Edition, p. 475.] Unfortunately, those who profess to follow the teachings of Jesus differ greatly when it comes to the theology of the Eucharist. For example, we may ask: “What, if anything, happens to the bread and wine during the Eucharistic celebration?” Consider the following three positions:
- Transubstantiation – the conversion of the whole substance of the bread and wine into the whole substance of the Body and Blood of Christ, only the accidents (sense perceptions of the bread and wine) remaining. [ODCC, p. 1390.] This is the position of the Roman Catholic Church. Orthodox Christians hold essentially the same position, although they speak of “metousiosis” rather than “transubstantiation.” [ODCC, pp. 1290-1291.] The word “transubstantiation” literally means “change in substance.”
- Consubstantiation – the belief, especially associated with the name of Martin Luther, that, after the consecration, the substances both of the Body and Blood of Christ and of the bread and wine co-exist in union with each other. Luther illustrated this by the analogy of the iron put into the fire whereby both fire and iron are united in the red-hot iron and yet each continues unchanged. [ODCC, p. 340.] The word “consubstantiation” literally means “substances together.”
- Transignification – the belief that, in the Eucharist, there exists only the substance of bread and wine, endowed with a new meaning. This is the position of some Protestants. The word “transignification” literally means “change in meaning.”
As has been said, the doctrine of transubstantiation is the official Catholic position. The Roman Catholic Church teaches thus: “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: Denzinger-Schoenmetzer, 1640; 1651).” [Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd Edition, #1413.]
Note well: Of the three Eucharistic teachings mentioned above, only the Catholic position, i.e. transubstantiation, is a literal interpretation of Jesus’ words at the Last Supper. Our Lord said: “This is my Body. This is my Blood.” He did not say: “This is my Body, along with bread. This is my Blood, along with wine.” – consubstantiation. Nor did He say: “This is bread, but let us treat it as if it were my Body. This is wine, but let us treat it as if it were my Blood.” – transignification.
A Magical Analogy
Ever since the thirteenth century, much ink has been spilled over the subject of transubstantiation. This doctrine, defined by the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215, sets forth the official Catholic teaching on the Eucharist. Faithful Catholics believe that when the priest pronounces the words of consecration at Mass (viz. “For this is my Body.” “For this is the chalice of my Blood.”), the bread and wine of the altar are transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ, even though the sense perceptions (accidents) of the bread and wine remain unchanged.
Admittedly, at first sight, this is a strange teaching. I repeatedly tell Jesus that, if I had to invent a religion, I could not come up with a doctrine more puzzling than transubstantiation. We are dealing with deep mystery here. The best analogy I can use for it is this:
Suppose you engage the services of a well-known magician to come to your child’s birthday party and perform the famous tablecloth trick. You have a mahogany table covered with a linen tablecloth. On the table are various articles of china, linen, silver, and crystal. You hire the magician, at a very high cost incidentally, to grab two corners of the tablecloth and whisk the cloth off the table without disturbing a single item on it. The magician approaches the table, but what does he do? He simply says, “Hocus-pocus,” and walks away. “Wait a minute!” you protest. “I hired you to do the famous tablecloth trick, and you’ve done absolutely nothing.” “I’ve done nothing?” the magician asks. “Au contraire, mon ami!” He then proceeds to pick up one corner of the tablecloth, and you discover that the mahogany table has been transformed into solid gold! That is the best explanation I can give you of transubstantiation. The outward appearances remain exactly the same. The underlying substance has undergone a radical transformation for the better. Recall that the word “transubstantiation” means “change in substance.” The bread and wine of the altar are changed into the Body and Blood of Christ, even though the sense perceptions (the accidents) remain exactly the same.
Now this teaching of transubstantiation is so strange that Protestants during the English Reformation understandably accused the Catholic Church of advocating magic. As a matter of fact, as you may know, our word “hocus-pocus” was originally a slur on the Latin Hoc est enim corpus meum, i.e. “For this is my Body,” the very same words the priest says during the consecration of the Mass.
Although transubstantiation may at first appear to be a bizarre teaching, Roman Catholics believe it precisely because it is, as I have said, a literal interpretation of Jesus’ words at the Last Supper. Why, then, do Catholics take Jesus literally when it comes to the Eucharist?
Why Catholics Take Jesus Literally When It Comes to the Eucharist
Jesus said, “I am the light of the world” (John 9:5). He also declared, “I am the door” (John 10:9). He even went so far as to say, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser” (John 15:1). Yet Catholics take none of these statements literally. Clearly, Christ is not electromagnetic radiation (light). Nor is He a literal door with hinges. He is certainly not a literal vine with roots and leaves. Yet Catholics do take Jesus literally when He proclaimed: “I am the bread which came down from heaven…. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed.” (See John 6:41+55.) Catholics also give a literal interpretation to Matthew 26:26-28. Here we are told that, at the Last Supper, Jesus took bread, blessed it, and said, “this is my body.” The passage goes on to say that Jesus took a cup of wine, gave thanks, and said, “this is my blood.” Why should Catholics take these latter passages literally when they fail to give a literal meaning to John 9:5; 10:9; and 15:1? [Karl Keating, Catholicism and Fundamentalism, pp. 235-236.] There are a number of good reasons. Here we shall discuss only three.
First: The statement “This is my body” is in no way a logical parallel to “I am the light” or “I am the door” or “I am the vine.” The image of light, the image of a door, and the image of a vine are all common-sense symbols which can be used to describe the activity of Christ. Jesus is indeed like light, because He enables us to see things as they are. Christ and light both do something in common: they aid our vision. Our Lord is also like a door, since it is through Him that we enter heaven. Jesus and a door both do something in common: they both give entrance. Finally, Christ is like a vine inasmuch as His strength sustains and nourishes the Church. Jesus and a vine both do something in common: they both give life to their members. Thus the statements “I am the light” and “I am the door” and “I am the vine” are all metaphors. They are not to be taken literally. Other examples of metaphors include: “My love is a red, red rose” and “She’s poison ivy!” Such metaphors are figurative language.
Now consider Our Lord’s statement: “This [bread?] is my body.” Almost immediately we can see that this statement is quite different from the metaphors discussed above. By no conceivable stretch of the imagination is a piece of bread like Christ’s Flesh. Nor is Christ’s Flesh like a piece of bread. Human flesh and bread do nothing whatsoever in common. Thus “This is my body” is not a figurative metaphor. It does not lend itself to a figurative interpretation. Therefore the statement must be taken literally. [Keating, p. 236.]
Second: When Jesus said, “he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life” (John 6:54), His audience understood Him to be speaking literally. His listeners were shocked. Even some of His own disciples forsook Him. Yet our Lord made no attempt to soften the literalness of His words. He did not say: “Don’t leave me! Come back! I wasn’t speaking literally when I said that you must eat my flesh and drink my blood. I was using symbolic language.” In no way did Jesus make an attempt to correct a misunderstanding. On the contrary, His audience had not misunderstood Him at all. He was indeed speaking literally. [Keating, pp. 232-234.]
Third: The Church has always understood Jesus literally when it comes to the Eucharist. Note the following quotations:
- St. Paul (d.c. 67): “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?” [1 Corinthians 10:16, cited in Paul Whitcomb, Confessions of a Roman Catholic, p. 40.] “Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself.” [1 Corinthians 11:28-29, cited in Whitcomb, p. 40.]
- St. Ignatius of Antioch (d.c. 107): “They [i.e. the heretics] have abstained from the Eucharist and prayer, because they do not confess that the Eucharist is the flesh of Our Saviour Jesus Christ.” [Epistle to the Smyrnaeans, 6,2, cited in Keating, p. 237, quoted in Whitcomb, p. 41.]
- St. Justin Martyr (d.c. 165): “We call this food Eucharist, and no one else is permitted to partake of it, except one who believes our teaching to be true and who has been washed in the washing which is for the remission of sins and for regeneration and is thereby living as Christ has enjoined. For not as common bread nor common drink do we receive these; but since Jesus Christ our Savior was made incarnate by the word of God and had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so too, as we have been taught, the food which has been made into the Eucharist by the Eucharistic prayer set down by him, and by the change of which our blood and flesh is nourished, is both the flesh and the blood of that incarnated Jesus.” [First Apology, 65, quoted in Keating, p. 237.]
- St. Irenaeus (d.c. 200): “Vain above all are they who … deny the salvation of the flesh and reject its rebirth, saying that it is not capable of incorruption…. [For] … just as … the grain of wheat, falling into the ground and there dissolved, rises with great increase by the Spirit of God, who sustains all things, and then by the wisdom of God serves for the use of men, and when it receives the Word of God becomes the Eucharist, which is the body and blood of Christ — so also our bodies which are nourished by it, and then fall into the earth and are dissolved therein, shall rise at the proper time, the Word of God bestowing on them this rising again, to the glory of God the Father.” [Against Heresies, V, 2,2-3, quoted in Cyril C. Richardson, ed., Early Christian Fathers, pp. 387-388.] Note: St. Irenaeus defends the Christian doctrine of the resurrection of the dead by appealing to the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. He argues that we Christians shall rise from the dead precisely because, during our lifetime, we partook of the Eucharist, the Body and Blood of Christ. Consider Fr. Ezaki’s crazy magnet-and-iron-filings analogy: If you were to ingest a substantial amount of iron filings, I might possibly be able to lift you off the ground with a very powerful electromagnet, just as I might lift a steel beam or an iron rod. In that case, what you had eaten would determine your whereabouts. St. Irenaeus argues in a similar fashion. He says that if, during your lifetime, you receive Holy Communion, the Body and Blood of Christ, then, after you die, God the Father will raise you out of your grave, just as He raised Jesus. Whom you have eaten will determine your whereabouts on the Last Day.
- St. Athanasius (d. 373): “You shall see the Levites [i.e. priests] bringing loaves and a cup of wine and placing them on a table. So long as the prayers of supplication and entreaties have not been made, there is only bread and wine. But after the great and wonderful prayers have been completed, then the bread is become the Body, and the wine the Blood, of our Lord Jesus Christ.” [Sermon to the Newly Baptized, quoted in Keating, p. 238.]
- St. Cyril of Jerusalem (d. 386): “Do not, therefore, regard the Bread and Wine as simply that; for they are, according to the Master’s declaration, the Body and Blood of Christ. Even though the senses suggest to you the other, let faith make you firm. Do not judge in this matter by taste, but be fully assured by faith, not doubting that you have been deemed worthy of the Body and Blood of Christ.” [Catechetical Lectures, 22,6, quoted in Keating, p. 238.] “Since then He [i.e. Christ] has declared and said of the bread, ‘This is my body,’ who after that will venture to doubt? And seeing that He has affirmed and said, ‘This is my blood,’ who will raise a question and say it is not His blood?” [Whitcomb, pp. 41-42.]
- St. John Chrysostom (d. 407): “It is not man that causes the things offered [at Mass] to become the Body and Blood of Christ, but he who was crucified for us, Christ himself. The priest, in the role of Christ, pronounces these words, but their power and grace are God’s. This is my body, he says. This word transforms the things offered.” [De proditione Judae, 1,6, quoted in CCC, #1375.]
An Objection: The Word “Transubstantiation” Does Not Appear in the Bible
Some Protestants object to the doctrine of transubstantiation by pointing out that the word “transubstantiation” does not occur in the Scriptures. How can we answer this objection?
If a particular word does not occur in the Bible, this does not necessarily mean that the word is unsuitable for use in the formulation of Christian doctrine. The word “Trinity,” for instance, cannot be found in the Scriptures. Yet Catholics and Protestants alike have recourse to the term in their efforts to understand something of the mystery of the Godhead. This is because the doctrine of the Trinity is rooted in the Bible. Similarly, the doctrine of transubstantiation must not be rejected simply because the term “transubstantiation” does not appear in the Scriptures. If the Catholic Church defends the doctrine of transubstantiation, she does so because she is convinced that the doctrine is firmly rooted in Sacred Scripture.
An Objection: The Doctrine of Transubstantiation Was Not Defined by the Church until the Year 1215
Some Protestants point out that belief in transubstantiation as an explicit article of faith (de fide) was not defined until the year 1215, when the Fourth Lateran Council imposed the doctrine on the whole Church. Thus they object to the doctrine of transubstantiation as an obvious innovation. Such an objection, however, is very misleading.
If the Church solemnly defines a particular doctrine at a given time, this in no way implies that the doctrine was not a part of the Church’s teaching prior to that time. Here again, the doctrine of the Trinity provides an excellent illustration. The doctrine of the Trinity was not formally defined by the Church until the year 325. It was then that the Council of Nicea first set forth the doctrine in its simplest outlines. But few would be so foolish as to claim that the Council of Nicea invented the Church’s Trinitarian dogma. A rudimentary doctrine of the Trinity was part of the Church’s teaching from the very beginning. Then why, after three hundred years, did the Church find it necessary to define the doctrine of the Trinity? Because it was just at this time that the doctrine of the Trinity was being fiercely challenged by heretical groups within the Church. The Church defined her teaching regarding the Trinity only when that teaching began to be questioned. Prior to that time, there was no need for a formal definition of the Trinity because the Church’s acceptance of the divinity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit had been all but taken for granted.
The Church’s solemn proclamation of a given doctrine almost always arises out of a pressing need to affirm that doctrine in the face of heresy. It is never the result of imaginative innovation. John Cardinal Newman (1801-1890) likened the Church’s teachings to a flowing stream. As long as the path of a stream is unobstructed by obstacles, the water flows quietly and gently along. However, as soon as the stream encounters rocks, the water becomes noisy (and sometimes even violent) in its efforts to maintain its course. Similarly, as long as the Church’s teachings are met with little or no opposition, the Church remains relatively silent. Yet as soon as these teachings are met with the obstacles of heresy and unorthodoxy, the Church’s silence is broken by the formal definition of doctrine. [New Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. 10, p. 416.] Thus the Church’s solemn definition of transubstantiation in the year 1215 in no way implies that the Church did not teach the doctrine of the Real Presence prior to that time. On the contrary, if anything, it implies that the doctrine had been universally accepted from the very beginning!
The Holy Eucharist: Definition
The Holy Eucharist is a sacrament and a sacrifice. In the Holy Eucharist, under the appearances of bread and wine, the Lord Jesus Christ is contained, offered, and received. The whole Christ is really, truly, and substantially present in the Holy Eucharist. Note: The word “Eucharist” means “Thanksgiving.” [Baltimore Catechism, Question #343, p. 200.]
When Did Christ Institute the Holy Eucharist?
About a year before the Last Supper, Our Lord promised to give us the Holy Eucharist. See John 6:48-59. The fulfillment of this promise took place at the Last Supper. It was then that Christ instituted the Holy Eucharist. See Matthew 26:26-28; Mark 14:22-24; Luke 22:19-20; 1 Corinthians 11:23-29. [Baltimore Catechism, Question #344, pp. 200-201.]
Why Did Jesus Give Us the Holy Eucharist?
Jesus gave us the Holy Eucharist because He wanted to stay close to His followers until the end of time to teach us, comfort us, strengthen us, and make us holy. [Basic Catechism, p. 88.]
Christ gives us His own Body and Blood in the Holy Eucharist: first, to be offered as a sacrifice commemorating and renewing for all time the sacrifice of the cross; second, to be received by the faithful in Holy Communion; third, to remain ever on our altars as a proof of His love for us, and to be worshipped by us. [Baltimore Catechism, Question #356.]
How Is the Eucharist Different from All the Other Sacraments?
The Eucharist is different from all the other sacraments because, under the appearances of bread and wine, Jesus is completely present as both God and Man. In the other sacraments, He is present only by His power and its effects. [Basic Catechism, pp. 88-89.] Hence the Holy Eucharist is often referred to as the Most Blessed Sacrament. [Instructions in the Catholic Faith, p. 93.]
In the Eucharist, Jesus gives the gift of Himself, all that He has, and all that He is. St. Augustine (d. 430) says of the Holy Eucharist: “Though God is all powerful, He is unable to give more; though supremely wise, He knows not how to give more; though vastly rich, He has nothing more to give.” [http://www.acfp2000.com/Sections/sec6.htm.]
The other six sacraments are like letters, phone calls, e-mails, and text messages from Christ. The Eucharist, however, is nothing less than a personal visit from Jesus Himself.
Is Jesus Christ Whole and Entire Both Under the Appearances of Bread and Under the Appearances of Wine?
Jesus Christ is whole and entire both under the appearances of bread and under the appearances of wine. The whole Christ is present under each part of the sacred appearances and remains present as long as the sacred appearances remain. [Baltimore Catechism, Question #351, p. 202; cf. CCC, #1377.] Thus St. Thomas Aquinas (d. 1274) proclaimed: “Man cannot understand this, cannot perceive it; but a lively faith affirms that the change, which is outside the natural course of things, takes place. Under the different species, which are now signs only and not their own reality, there lie hid wonderful realities. His [i.e. Christ’s] body is our food, his blood our drink. And yet Christ remains entire under each species. The communicant receives the complete Christ – uncut, unbroken, and undivided. Whether one receives or a thousand, the one receives as much as the thousand. Nor is Christ diminished by being received…. Last of all, if the sacrament is broken, have no doubt. Remember there is as much in a fragment as in an unbroken host. There is no division of the reality, but only a breaking of the sign.” [Lauda, Sion, Sequence for the Feast of Corpus Christi, 1970 Lectionary, p. 265.]
Note: Even though “Christ remains entire under each species,” the Church encourages the faithful to receive Communion under both kinds. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal, #240, says this: “The sign of communion is more complete when given under both kinds, since in that form the sign of the eucharistic meal appears more clearly.”
The Components of the Sacrament
The form of the Eucharist consists in the words of Consecration as set forth in the Roman Sacramentary (i.e. Missal). [Fr. Francis A. Carbine, Archdiocese of Philadelphia, seminary notes on the sacraments, p. 7; cf. CCC, #1412.] All the priest would really have to do to say Mass would be to say the words of Consecration: “This is My Body. This is My Blood,” over the bread and wine. The Church has added many beautiful prayers to the Mass, but these added prayers are not really required in order to have the Eucharist. Thus if there were a persecution and the priests were in hiding, they would not have to say all the prayers of the Mass, only the words of Consecration. [ICF, p. 99.]
The matter of the Eucharist is bread and wine. The bread must be made solely from wheat and be unleavened (without yeast). No other ingredients (e.g. honey) are to be added to the wheaten flour and water. The bread should appear as actual food regarding its consistency. The wine is to be natural and genuine grape wine. A small amount of water is mixed with the wine at the time of the Offertory. No other substances (chemical preservatives, for instance) are to be added to the wine. [Carbine, p. 7; cf. CCC, #1412.]
Minister: Only validly ordained priests (and bishops) have the power of changing bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ. When they consecrate, they act in the Person of Christ (Latin in persona Christi), through the power received in the sacrament of Holy Orders. [Baltimore Catechism, Question #353, p. 203; cf. CCC, #1411.] With regard to the distribution of Holy Communion, the bishop, priest, or deacon is the ordinary minister of the Eucharist. When circumstances warrant, an approved layperson may act as an extraordinary minister of the Eucharist. [Fr. Frederick J. Loeper, sacraments chart.] Note: The faithful are never permitted to communicate themselves. Communion is a gift of the Lord. The gift is given to the faithful through the minister appointed for this purpose. It is not permitted that the faithful should themselves pick up the consecrated bread and the sacred chalice; still less that they should hand them from one to another. [Carbine, p. 8.]
Throughout the history of the Church, God has occasionally deigned to provide objectively verifiable evidence of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. The most noteworthy instances of this have been the Eucharistic miracles of Lanciano and Bolsena.
In the city of Lanciano, Italy, around the year 700, there once lived a monk who doubted the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. He prayed to God very earnestly, asking that his doubts be resolved. One day, while celebrating Mass, this monk found that his doubts were becoming increasingly severe. Nevertheless, he continued with Mass. But after he had said the words of Consecration over the bread and wine, he and those present saw to their utter amazement that the bread had turned into real flesh and that the wine had turned into real blood. Both the flesh and the blood have been preserved in the Church of St. Francis in Lanciano, and they can be seen to this day. In 1972, extensive scientific tests were conducted. The flesh, which had formed around the edges of the Host, was shown to be perfectly preserved human heart muscle. The blood (now dried into five pellets) was shown to be real human blood. [A booklet on the Eucharistic miracle of Lanciano.]
Concerning the Eucharistic miracle of Bolsena, The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (2nd Edition, p. 186) says this: “The traditional story, familiar through Raphael’s paintings in the Vatican stanze, has it that when a German priest on pilgrimage to Rome was once celebrating Mass in the Church of St. Cristina in the little Umbrian town of Bolsena, he was disturbed by doubts about the transubstantiation of the bread and wine, which were suddenly resolved when he saw Blood issue from the Elements and bathe the corporal. It is also narrated that when Pope Urban IV [d. 1264] had been shown the corporal, which had been conveyed to Orvieto where he was staying, he at once determined to institute the Feast of Corpus Christi and also enjoined work to begin on the cathedral of Orvieto to enshrine such a precious relic.” Note: Each year on the Feast of Corpus Christi, the blood-stained corporal of Bolsena is still carried in joyous procession through the streets of Orvieto, a sight well worth seeing.
Roman Catholics are not required to believe in these or similar Eucharistic miracles, but these marvels do present material for reflection and prayer. They are, to say the least, food for thought.
Yet we must not become so fascinated with the miracles of Lanciano and Bolsena that we fail to appreciate fully the Real Eucharistic Presence of Christ at every Mass. As the classicist Dr. John Senior has observed: “God for His reasons has enriched the Church with prophecies and other extraordinary graces – but always for the purpose of leading souls to heaven by converting them back to the ordinary things. The extraordinary is for the sake of the ordinary – not the other way around…. Once a priest who doubted the Real Presence was given the miraculous grace of conversion when at his Mass the Sacred Host bled on the corporal right in front of him, repeating the famous miracle of Bolsena in Italy which began the worldwide celebration of Corpus Christi. The congregation was amazed. One of them immediately ran across the city and found the King [viz. St. Louis IX of France], where he often was, sitting alone before the tabernacle in his private chapel. When the messenger blurted out the news, the King sat still. ‘Sire,’ the man said, ‘will you not come at once to see this great vision?’ Saint Louis replied, ‘I am grateful for this grace; it is a blessing to the priest, the congregation and our city. But as for myself, I must confess – Deo gratias – I have so far had the greater grace to have no need of such events to believe Our Blessed Lord dwells behind that little golden door there on the altar. Blessed are they who see and believe, but more blessed are those who believe not having seen [cf. John 20:29].'” [“The Angel of the Storm,” Angelus, 25 September 2006.]
Christ Is the Divine Pelican
According to legend, the pelican wounds herself with her beak in order that she might nourish her young with her blood. Thus the image of the pelican has been widely used in Christian symbolism to typify the Lord’s redeeming work, especially as mediated in the Blessed Sacrament. A well-known instance of this is the sixth stanza of Adoro te devote, a hymn by St. Thomas Aquinas (d. 1274): “Pie Pellicane, Jesu Domine, me immundum munda tuo sanguine, cujus una stilla salvum facere totum mundum quit ab omni scelere.” // “Good Pelican, Lord Jesus, cleanse filthy me by your Blood, of which one drop is enough to save the whole world from every sin.” [Archbishop Fulton Sheen, Audiocassette #314, side 2; ODCC, p. 1059; The St. Gregory Hymnal, p. 320.]
It should be noted that the vampire bat is the traditional symbol of heresy. Just as the vampire bat sucks blood from its victims, so heresy drains life from the Church. [Fr. Michael J. Chaback.] Thus the pelican and the vampire bat symbolize opposing realities, and, not surprisingly, Count Dracula cannot abide the presence of the Eucharist.
Three Questions [Fr. Stefano Manelli, Jesus: Our Eucharistic Love, pp. 72-73.]
“How is it possible,” an educated Mohammedan asked a missionary bishop, “that bread and wine should become the Flesh and Blood of Christ?”
The bishop answered, “You were small when you were born. You grew big because your body changed the food you ate into flesh and blood. If a man’s body is able to transform bread and wine into flesh and blood, then God can do it far more easily.”
The Mohammedan then asked: “How is it possible for Jesus to be wholly and entirely present in a little Host?”
The bishop answered, “Look at the landscape before you and consider how much smaller your eye is in comparison to it. Now within your little eye there is an image of this vast countryside. Can God not do in reality, in His Person, what is done in us by way of a likeness or image?”
Then the Mohammedan asked, “How is it possible for the same Body to be present at the same time in all your churches and in all the consecrated Hosts?”*
The bishop said, “Nothing is impossible with God – and this answer ought to be enough. But nature also answers this question. Let us take a mirror, throw it down on the floor and let it break into pieces. Every piece can carry the same image that the whole mirror formerly reproduced. Likewise, the self-same Jesus reproduces Himself, not as a mere likeness, but as a reality, in every consecrated Host. He is truly present in each One of Them.”
*Our Lord’s complete and simultaneous presence in all the Tabernacles throughout the world is somewhat easier to comprehend if we consider the phenomenon of cyberspace. The internet makes it possible for countless people all over the world to have simultaneous and full access to one and the same website. Similarly, because of the Eucharist, Catholics everywhere can have simultaneous access to the complete Christ. Awesome! [Msgr. Andrew R. Baker, Diocese of Allentown.]
Devotion to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament Outside of Mass
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1377, “The Eucharistic presence of Christ begins at the moment of the consecration and endures as long as the Eucharistic species subsist.” In other words, once the bread and wine have been changed into the Body and Blood of the Lord Jesus, our Savior remains present as long as the appearances of bread and wine remain intact. [If, for instance, a sudden fire were to destroy the sacred hosts in the tabernacle, Jesus would not be burned. The appearance of bread would be changed into ashes, and Jesus would be gone. When, after Holy Communion, our digestive processes have destroyed the appearance of bread within us, Jesus is no longer bodily present; only His grace remains.] Thus Jesus is present in the Holy Eucharist, not just during Mass, but as long as the sacred hosts consecrated at Mass continue to retain the appearance of bread. This means that we owe to the Holy Eucharist the adoration which is due to God, since the Holy Eucharist contains the Son of God Himself. We adore the Holy Eucharist with the worship of latria, the type of worship which may be accorded only to God. [Leo J. Trese, The Faith Explained, pp. 301+303; cf. CCC, #1418.]
Since the twelfth century, when adoration of the Holy Eucharist outside of Mass began to spread, two devotional practices have become universal in the Church: Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament (also called Solemn Exposition) and the Forty Hours Devotion. [Trese, p. 304.]
Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament [Baltimore Catechism, p. 217.]
Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament is a ceremony in which the sacred Host is exposed for a time on the altar, usually in the monstrance. During Benediction the priest blesses the people with the sacred Host.
The monstrance, or ostensorium, is a large vessel in which the Host is exposed to view through a glass-covered opening in the center.
The long cloak-like vestment worn by the priest at Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament is called a cope. The humeral veil is placed over the priest’s shoulders before he gives the blessing.
The Forty Hours Devotion [Trese, p. 305.]
The Forty Hours Devotion was first introduced in Milan, Italy, in the sixteenth century. Originally it was actually forty continuous hours of adoration before the Holy Eucharist solemnly exposed, in memory of the forty hours during which the sacred Body of Jesus lay in the tomb. In our part of the world, the Forty Hours Devotion is usually spread over three days, with no adoration during the night hours, and with the total time of adoration often less than forty hours. The Forty Hours Devotion is held in every parish and house of religion once each year. The bishop assigns the dates to each parish and religious community so that every week, some place in the diocese (unless it be a very small diocese), the Forty Hours Devotion is being held. Thus a continuous year-round adoration is offered to Jesus in the Most Blessed Sacrament.
Visits to Jesus
If an angel were to come to you from heaven and tell you, “Jesus in person is in such and such a house and is waiting for you,” would you not at once leave everything in order to hasten to Him? You would interrupt any amusement or anything that occupied you; you would count yourself fortunate to be able to make a little sacrifice in order to go and be with Jesus. Now be sure, and do not forget, that Jesus is in the tabernacle, and He is always waiting for you, because He wants to have you near and desires to enrich you greatly with His graces. [Manelli, pp. 79-80.]
This is how St. Maria Faustina Kowalska (d. 1938) described the time she spent before the tabernacle. She obviously enjoyed great intimacy with Jesus: “I go out to meet Him, and I invite Him to the dwelling place of my heart, humbling myself profoundly before His majesty. But the Lord lifts me up from the dust and invites me, as His bride, to sit next to Him and tell Him everything that is on my heart. And I, set at ease by His kindness, lean my head on His breast and tell Him of everything. In the first place, I tell Him things I would never tell to any creature. And then, I speak about the needs of the Church, about the souls of poor sinners and about how much they have need of His mercy. But the time passes quickly. Jesus, I must go to carry out the duties that are awaiting me. Jesus tells me that there is still a moment in which to say farewell. A deep mutual gaze, and we seemingly separate for a while; but, in reality, we never do. Our hearts are constantly united.” [Diary, #1806.]
Let us get started and be faithful in making at least one visit a day to Our Lord Who is fondly waiting. Then let us try to increase these visits according to our ability. If we have no time to make long visits, let us make “stop-ins,” that is, let us enter the church every time we can and kneel down for a few moments before the Blessed Sacrament, saying affectionately, “Jesus, Thou art here. I adore Thee. I love Thee. Come into my heart.” This is something simple and short, but, oh, so profitable! Let us always remember these consoling words of St. Alphonsus Liguori (d. 1787): “You may be sure that of all the moments of your life, the time you spend before the divine Sacrament will be that which will give you more strength during life and more consolation at the hour of your death and during eternity.” [Manelli, pp. 80-81.]
Pope John Paul II (d. 2005) had this to say: “The Church and the world have a great need for Eucharistic worship. Jesus awaits us in this sacrament of love. Let us not refuse the time to go to meet him in adoration, in contemplation full of faith, and open to making amends for the serious offenses and crimes of the world. Let our adoration never cease. ” [Dominicae cenae, 3, quoted in CCC, #1380.]
|Whenever I go past a Church,|
I always make a visit,
So when at last they wheel me in,
The Lord won’t say: “Who is it?”
The Eucharist and Our Neighbor
A critic may say: “OK, you’ve made your point. I understand well enough that you Catholics claim that Jesus Christ is really and truly present in the Eucharist. All well and good. But what does this pie-in-the-sky theology have to do with every-day life down here on earth? For example, Christians are supposed to love their neighbor. Does your faith in the Real Presence have any bearing on how you treat your fellow human beings? In other words, how can the doctrine of transubstantiation help you to love other people?” A very good question! Here is at least a partial answer.
When a man falls deeply in love with a woman, he sees the face of his beloved in everything around him that is even remotely reminiscent of the woman he loves. The restaurant where he first met her will for ever after remind him of her charm. The old song says it best: “I’ll be seeing you in all the old familiar places that this heart of mine embraces all day through: in that small cafe, the park across the way, the children’s carrousel, the chestnut trees, the wishing well. I’ll be seeing you in every lovely summer’s day, in everything that’s light and gay. I’ll always think of you that way. I’ll find you in the morning sun. And when the night is new, I’ll be looking at the moon, but I’ll be seeing you.” As a matter of fact, the more the gentleman loves his sweet-heart, the more he will cherish the restaurant, and the more he will love the cafe, the park, the carrousel, the chestnut trees, the wishing well, the sun, and the moon. The more the man loves the woman, the more he will treasure everything that bears even the faintest trace of her.
Now it’s just like that when it comes to the Eucharist and our neighbor. If we truly love Christ in the Most Blessed Sacrament, if we take joy in worshipping Jesus’ divinity hidden under the appearances of bread and wine, then we shall certainly love our neighbor, who, after all, is made in the image and likeness of God. In fact, the more we love the Eucharist, the greater will be our love for our fellow man precisely because we see in him the very imprint of Christ Himself. C. S. Lewis says this: “Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses. If he is your Christian neighbor, he is holy in almost the same way, for in him also Christ vere latitat – the glorifier and the glorified, Glory Himself, is truly hidden.” [The Weight of Glory, p. 19.]
If we really love Our Lord present in the Eucharist, then we cannot help but love our neighbor!
The Eucharist and the Pro-Life Movement
It should come as no surprise that belief in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist goes hand in hand with the struggle to end abortion. Note this remarkable footnote taken from the book, In Sinu Jesu: When Heart Speaks to Heart–The Journal of a Priest at Prayer by a Benedictine Monk:
“The category of substance does not admit of degrees: a given substance is either fully what it is (e.g., a man, a horse, a dog) or not that thing at all; it cannot be half-man, half-horse, half-dog. This is the basis of the pro-life position: either the embryo is human or not human, and if human, it has the same dignity and deserves the same honor as any human person, regardless of what the accidents—the size, shape, color, weight—may be. Similarly, because the substance of Jesus Christ is present in the Blessed Sacrament, and substance does not admit of degrees, the essential reality of Our Lord is there, neither more nor less real than it was for His apostles. Although His accidents do not appear to us and we see, hear, taste, and touch those of bread, the very same Person, in His divinity and humanity, is present in our midst, under the sacramental veil.”
If we can recognize Jesus’ Presence in the Most Blessed Sacrament and give that Sacrament all the reverence that belongs to God, then we shall have little difficulty recognizing a human embryo as a full human person with all the dignity and rights that belong to humanity.
The Eucharist: More than a Sign
A teacher asked the children in catechism class: “What is the difference between a crucifix and the Holy Eucharist?” A child answered correctly when she said: “On the crucifix, we see Jesus, but He is not there. In the Eucharist, we do not see Jesus, but He is there.” [http://www.truecatholic.us/pope/honor.htm.] A crucifix is a mere sign. The Holy Eucharist is Christ Himself.
There is an old story about St. Francis (d. 1226) which goes like this: One day, when St. Francis was very hungry, he happened to see a shop in the distance with a large sign. The sign said, “FRESH BREAD BAKED DAILY.” Francis eagerly ran to the shop and entered. “Could I please have some bread?” he asked. The shopkeeper at first looked puzzled, and then he began to laugh. “Oh, you’ve seen the sign!” he exclaimed. “My good friar, you are sadly mistaken. We don’t sell bread here. We sell signs!” [Fr. James T. McGuinn.]
How unfortunate! St. Francis hungered for real bread, but he found only a sign for bread. We, in like fashion, hunger for the Real Presence of Christ. How unfortunate we would be if the Eucharist were merely a sign of Christ’s presence and not Christ Himself!