The Mystery of the Eucharist
by Father Paul A. Duffner, O.P.
Our Blessed Lord celebrated the First
Mass at the Last Supper, the Night before He Died.
By His Divine Power He changed Bread and Wine into His Own Body and Blood,
so that He might Institute a Sacred Rite whereby the
Sacrifice that He was to Offer to the Father, on
Calvary the Following Day, could be Renewed through the Centuries,
in a Sacramental Way.
In order that His Sacrifice on
Calvary be Perpetuated, during that same Meal He Conferred on the Apostles the Power to Effect
that same Miraculous Change. "Do this in Memory of Me" (Luke 22:19).
The Liturgy refers to the Eucharist - which is both a
Sacrifice and a Sacrament - as a "Mystery of
Faith". We can attempt to explain what Christ did at the Last Supper, as described in the Gospels, but
it will still remain a Mystery that we Believe, because of our Faith
in His Word. In no way can we come up with a Natural Explanation of this
Miraculous Change, and of His Abiding Presence which results from it. Nowhere in Nature do we
find a Change, similar to this. We will Examine Briefly the Church's Teaching on this Central
Doctrine of our Faith.
Doctrine of the Church
Martin Luther admitted the Real Presence of Christ in the
Eucharist. However, he Rejected the
Doctrine of Transubstantiation, and
Taught that the Glorified Body of Christ is Present in the Eucharist,
along with the Bread and Wine (Consubstantiation); and he Restricted
the Real Presence to the Moment of Receiving Communion. Other
Reformers held that the Body of Christ is Present only as a 'Sign'; that the
Words of Christ are to be taken in a 'Figurative' or 'Symbolic' Sense, not in their 'Literal' Meaning.
Confronted with these Challenges to the Traditional Catholic Teaching on the
Eucharist, by the Protestant Reformers, the Council of Trent issued an Authoritative Teaching on this Change of the Substance of the Bread
and Wine at the Consecration of the Mass.
"Because Christ our Redeemer declared that what He Offered under the Species of Bread was Truly His Body, it has always been
the Faith of the Church of God (and this Holy Synod now states it again) that by the Consecration of the Bread and Wine, a Change takes place in which
the Entire Substance of the Bread is Changed into the Substance of the Body of Christ our Lord, and the Entire Substance of the Wine into the Substance
of His Blood. This Change, the Holy Catholic Church, Fittingly and Properly calls Transubstantiation"
- (Sess. 13, ch.4).
We are dealing here with something that cannot be Verified or even Examined by Natural Science. The Nature of the Change, brought about in the
Eucharist, as taught by the Church, lies beyond what Chemistry,
Physics or Biology are able to establish. We have it on the Clear Words of
Our Lord, and we can only Assent to it through the Supernatural Light of Faith. But it will
be helpful to Examine a bit, in Detail, various Aspects of this Doctrine of the Church.
Nothing Remains of the Substance of the Bread and Wine
Five External Senses -
Four Internal Senses -
Sentient Consciousness/ Imagination/ Sentient Memory/Estimation
One thing that might be a Source of Confusion, in this Matter, is that the Church, in the Expression of
this Doctrine, uses the word "Substance", as it is understood in Philosophy. In Everyday Communication, we
speak of a 'Substance' as something we can See, or Feel, or
Taste, etc. However, in Philosophy, a Distinction is made between what a thing is in itself
(its 'Substance'), and the Perceptible Qualities or Characteristics which exist in that 'Substance' (its 'Accidents').
So, in discussing the Question of the Eucharist, Theologians make the Distinction between what they call
the 'Substance' of the Bread and Wine, i.e. the Reality underlying all its Visible,
Tangible, Measurable Qualities of the Bread and Wine, but which in itself is not
Visible, or Tangible, or
Measurable - for it has no Extension in Space; and the 'Accidents' or 'Appearances' of the Bread and Wine - in which are included all
those 'Outward' Characteristics which can be Perceived by the Five (5) External
Senses of Sight, Taste,
Touch, Smell and Hearing. All such
Characteristics, as we said, in Philosophical Language, are referred to as 'Accidents' (not to be Confused with the Common Meaning of that Word).
When at the Consecration of the Mass the Words are Pronounced "This is My Body",
in an Instant, the Underlying 'Substance' of the Bread is changed into the BODY,
BLOOD, SOUL and DIVINITY of
Christ. By the Power of the Words of Consecration,
the 'Substance' of the Bread is changed into the Body of Christ. However,
Christ cannot be Divided. The Living God-Man becomes Present, at those Words. There can
be no Physical Separation of the Body of Christ from the Blood
that flows in His Glorified Body; nor can there be a Separation of His
Body from the Human Soul that gives Life to that
Body; nor can that Human Body and
Soul be Separated from the Divine Word with which it was United at the Moment of the
Incarnation. For this Reason, the Whole Christ
(Body, Blood, Soul
and Divinity) is Present "by Reason of Concomitance", as Theologians call
it, at the Instant, the Words of Consecration are Pronounced.
In like manner, when at the Consecration of the Mass, the words are Pronounced "This
is My Blood", by the Power of the Words, there is
present the Precious Blood of Christ. Yet, "by Reason of Concomitance",
that is, by Reason of the Necessary Unity of Christ, there is Present the
Body, Blood, Soul and
Divinity of Jesus.
This is why the Faithful who Communicate only under the 'Species' of the Bread, receive the Whole
Christ, no less than those who Partake also of the Chalice. To Receive
Communion under both Species, might for some, Symbolize or Express more Vividly, the Sacrifice
of Christ, in which His Blood was Shed; but in itself, it does not
bring more Grace. The Grace of the
Sacrament depends more on the Openness of Heart to the
One Received, i.e. Detachment of Soul from those things that tend to
Enslave the Heart.
No Parallel in Nature
In spite of the fact that there is a Complete and Total Change of 'Substance' of the Bread and Wine at the Words of
Consecration, the Appearances or Perceptible Characteristics, (the 'Accidents') remain the same. What we
See and Touch and Feel, etc., our
Senses would tell us, is Bread and Wine. But the Reality beneath those Appearances, our
Faith tells us, is the Person of Jesus, Body,
Blood, Soul and Divinity.
The 'Outward' Visible Characteristics of Bread and Wine, Truly continue to Exist, so our Senses do not
Deceive us. However, by the Power of God, those 'Outward' Characteristics are Sustained in Existence, without
the 'Substance' in which they Formerly Existed - to Serve as an 'External Sign' for the Sacrament of the Eucharist.
Pope Leo XIII spoke of this in his Encyclical
"This Miracle is the Greatest of its kind . . . for here, all the Laws of Nature are Suspended; the Whole Substance of the
Bread and Wine are Changed into the Body and Blood; and the Species of Bread and Wine are Sustained by the Power of God, without the Support of any
Saint Thomas Aquinas gives Three (3) Reasons why it is fitting that God
Intervenes in this Miraculous Way (III, 75, 5).
- Because it is not Customary, but Horrible for Men to eat
Human Flesh and drink Human Blood; hence Christís Flesh and
Blood are given to us under the 'Species' of those things more Commonly Consumed by Men.
- Lest this Sacrament might be Derided by
Unbelievers, were we to eat the Flesh and Blood of Jesus
under His own Proper 'Species'.
- That while we receive Our Lord's Body and Blood Invisibly, this may Redound to the
Merit of Faith.
Hence there is no Parallel to this in all of Nature, where there is a Complete Change of 'Substance', while there is no Change in the
External Sense-Perceptible Characteristics of the Original Substance. In fact, every time the Priest at
Mass, Pronounces the Words of Consecration, there is a
Double Miracle wrought by the Power of God, a Miracle
not Witnessed-by the Senses, but Known only by the Light of
- The Miraculous Change of the 'Substance' of the Bread and Wine, into the 'Substance' of
Christ's Body and Blood;
- The Miracle by which God Sustains in Existence, the
Perceptible Qualities or Characteristics of the Bread and Wine, although the Underlying 'Substance' no
longer exists. Saint Thomas wrote so beautifully of this Mystery in the
Eucharistic Hymn sung at Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament:
"Praestet fides supplementum sensuum defectui"
(Faith supplies what the Senses cannot Perceive)
In What Manner is Christ Present?
As we have pointed out, when we receive Holy Communion, we receive
Jesus, the God-Man, Who
Suffered, Died and Rose for us.
Our Divine Savior is not only Present in Each and Every Consecrated
Host, but in every-Part of each Host. Just as before the
Consecration, each-Part of the Host was Bread, and every-Drop in the Chalice was Wine, so after
the Consecration, every smallest Particle of the Consecrated Host
contains the Whole Christ, and every-Drop of the Contents of the Chalice contains the Whole
Christ, Body, Blood,
Soul and Divinity. Consequently Christ
is not Divided by the Breaking-of the Host.
We must be Careful, however, about Imagining how Christ could be Present in the Small
Host, or in a Tiny Part of it. First of all, Jesus is not Present in the
Sacred Host in Miniature, or in a Condensed Manner. As Saint Thomas Aquinas explains,
"Christís Body is in this Sacrament 'by Way of Substance' , not by Way of Quantity"
(III,76,1,ad 3) that is, not by Extension in Space. The Whole
Christ is present in this Sacrament with all the Faculties and Characteristics of
His Glorified Body; but it is an entirely Supernatural
and Unique Presence, made possible by the Power of God, and Discerned only by the
Eyes of Faith. As Saint Ambrose reminds us, "The Word of Christ, which could make out of nothing that which did not
exist, can it not change things already in existence, into that which they were not?"
Christ is present in the Eucharist as
He exists now in Heaven, that is, in His Glorified
Body. When Our Lord changed the Bread and Wine into His Body and
Blood at the Last Supper, it was His Mortal Body, for He
had not yet Died and Risen with His
Glorified Body, that was Immortal. If there are on-Record, Miraculous
Cases where the Sacred Host has Bled, that does not change the fact that the Presence of
Christ in the Eucharist is the
Glorified Christ. Our Lord could Manifest this Mark of
His Passion in this way, to Emphasize the fact that the
Eucharist is a Sacrifice (Spiritually Renewed
at Mass), as well as a Sacrament. Pope Leo XIII adds another Reason:
"In order that Human Reason may more willingly Pay its Homage to this Great Mystery, there have not been Wanting, as an aid
to Faith, certain Prodigies wrought in His Honor, both in Ancient Times, as in our own, of which in more than one place there exists Public and Notable
Records and Memorials".
Too, one might wonder how long does the Bodily Presence of Christ in
His Physical Reality (i.e. His Sacramental Presence) remain with us, after we receive
Him in Holy Communion.
He remains with us in His Sacramental Presence as-long-as the Species of Bread and Wine retain
their True Characteristics of Bread and Wine. Just as True Bread and Wine can Corrupt, or undergo Chemical Change, so that it is no longer Bread or Wine,
so can the Species of Bread and Wine in the Eucharist, undergo such a Change, as happens when we receive
Holy Communion. When the 'Species' of Bread in the Consecrated Host
Changes within the Body, so that it no longer has the Characteristics of True Bread, then the Sacramental Presence of Jesus
ceases. The same is True of the 'Species' of Wine, if one received this Sacrament under that Form,
as-well-as receiving the Consecrated Host (St. Thos. III,77,4).
The Reason for this is that the Sacrament of the Eucharist is the Body and Blood
of Christ, Really Present under the 'Species' or Characteristics of Bread and Wine. If the Characteristics of Bread and Wine, Cease to be
Present, the Sacrament no-longer exists, and the Sacramental Presence of
Christ ceases. However, His Spiritual Presence, through
Grace, not only Remains, but has been Increased through the Reception of the Sacrament.
The Real Presence
Although Christ ascended-into Heaven, depriving Mankind of
His Visible Presence, He remains with us, Hidden Beneath the
Veil of the Eucharistic Host, to Continue-on the Work of Redemption,
making Intercession for us before the Father, through the Renewal of His
Sacrifice and His Abiding
Presence. Faith alone, makes us Aware of His Presence,
for 'Reason' cannot Comprehend it. Yet 'Reason' knows that what is of Divine Faith and
Divinely Revealed, is Infallibly Certain. Christ is Present in the
Eucharist, with all the Perfections of His Humanity,
together with the Infinite Grandeur of His Divinity, both of which are
Hidden under the Appearances of Bread and Wine, as Saint Thomas expresses so Beautifully in the Hymn "Adoro Te":
"In Cruce latebat sola Deitas,
At hic latet simul et Humanitas"
(On the Cross was hidden only His Divinity,
But here lies Veiled also His Humanity)
Our Savior, present in the Eucharist, is Identical-with the
Jesus Christ of History, with the Jesus before
Whom the Angels and Saints of
Heaven, Worship in Awe. He is the same
Jesus, Whom Mary Brought-forth into the World,
Whom the Shepherds found Wrapped-in Swaddling Clothes in a Manger . . . the same
Jesus, Who Taught the Multitudes . . . Who
Cured the Leper, the Blind, the
Lame, and Raised the Dead . . .
the same Jesus, Who was Transfigured on Mount Tabor . . . the same
Jesus, Who received the Kiss of the
Traitor, was Scourged, Crowned with Thorns,
Spat-upon and Treated-as a Fool . . . the same Jesus, Who was
Crucified to Redeem us, Rose
from the Dead, and is Seated-at the Right Hand of His Father.
And to think that at times, Kneeling before the Tabernacle, we cannot think of anything to say!
While our Reflection of Christ in the Eucharist, centers
Mainly around His Sacred Humanity, it is a Divine Person that
we receive in Holy Communion, the only-Begotten Son of the
Father. Yet, the Divine Word is never Alone, for the
Father Abides-in the Son, and the
Son in the Father, and both are United-in the Holy Spirit,
all Possessing the same Divine Nature (John.14:11). Thus the Divine Trinity of
Persons, of Whose Vision is the Beatitude of Heaven,
Abides-with the Word in the Eucharist Host.
Yet, our Primary Attention to Christ in the Eucharist, will
always be Centered-on Him in His Sacred Humanity, precisely
because He took on our Human Nature, to Live and Suffer the
Torturous Death that He did - to show us the
Love of the Father for Mankind, and to Teach us by Word and
Example, how to Return that Love. In receiving this Sacrament,
we receive Him Who is Infinite Love, and all the
Gifts and Blessings of the
Incarnation and Redemption, are made available to us in the Measure that is Proportionate-to
our Eagerness to receive them. That is to say, the Love (not necessarily an
Emotional Disposition) with which we receive our Eucharistic Lord, will determine the
Extent to which this Sacrament Produces its Principally Intended Effect, namely, Transforming the
Soul into the Likeness of Christ. Father M.M. Philipon, O.P.
speaks of this:
"By Producing in the Soul all the various Effects of a Fervent Love, the Eucharist Transforms us into Christ, so that all the
Thought and Aspirations of the Word Incarnate toward His Father and toward Men, also become ours. It Eliminates, step-by-step, all Attachment to Sin; it
Bestows an Increase of Grace; it Helps us to Progress in every Virtue".
dated 17 April 2003 - Holy Thursday