|Berengar of Tours|
II. THE THEOLOGY OF THE HOLY EUCHARIST
Although our Saviour has told us clearly that He is truly present in the Holy Eucharist, He has not explained fully the manner of His presence. Nevertheless, from a careful study of what He has told us, the Church and Catholic theologians under the guidance of the Church have compiled a systematic and fairly extensive explanation of the mode in which Christ is present in the Blessed Sacrament. We can divide the Church's doctrines and the teachings of theology on this subject into two classes — those concerning the manner in which our Lord becomes present, and those concerning the manner in which He remains present. Under the first heading the most important point is the doctrine, taught by the Catholic Church as an article of faith, that our Lord becomes present in the Holy Eucharist by that process of change of the bread and wine known as transubstantiation. We could imagine various ways in which the Real Presence could take place. Doubtless Christ could enter into the substances of the bread and wine and coexist with them, somewhat as fire exists in and with a mass of molten metal. This view of the sacramental presence, known as the doctrine of consubstantiation, was defended by Martin Luther, and is accepted by many present-day Lutherans. Or, perhaps the soul of Christ could be united to the substance of the bread or wine in each host or chalice, making out of each a body. But in this latter case our Lord would not have the same body in the Holy Eucharist that He has in heaven, but would have a new body wherever the Holy Eucharist would be consecrated. However, all such modes are excluded by the clear teaching of the Catholic Church that our Lord becomes present by transubstantiation—that is, the change of the entire substance of the bread and of the wine into the same body of our Saviour that was born of the Virgin Mary and is now in heaven at the right hand of the Father. Every material thing is made up of substance and accidents. The accidents are those elements which are perceived by our senses, such as color and taste and quantity. The substance is the thing beneath the accidents, supporting them in existence, yet itself imperceptible. Thus, we refer to the whiteness of the bread, the sweetness of the wine, the height of the tree, thus indicating that whiteness or sweetness or height is distinct from that which constitutes the substance of bread or wine or wood. Now, at the consecration of the Mass it is the substance of bread or wine that is changed into the body or blood of our Saviour, not the accidents. Moreover, the entire substance of bread or wine is changed, and thus this process differs essentially from any of the substantial changes that take place according to the laws of nature. For in the case of a natural substantial change—such as the change of wood into carbon or the change of hydrogen and oxygen into water— something of the previous substance is carried over into the ensuing substance, while only the element that determines each substance to be what it is differs in the two substances involved. The element common to both is called the matter, the distinctive element of each is called the form. Accordingly, a natural substantial change is called a transformation, because only the form of the previous substance passes away and only the form of the ensuing substance is new. But in transubstantiation both matter and form of the bread or wine pass away, the substance of our Lord‟s body or blood being entirely different. All this is implied in our Lord‟s own words: “This is My body.” For these words indicated that the substance of the bread was no longer present, but had been changed into the substance of Christ‟s body. Furthermore, it was a change of the entire substance of the bread, because what was then present was the identical body which the Apostles saw before them, and that differed both as to matter and as to form from the substance of the bread which Christ had taken from the table. The accidents of the bread and wine remain unchanged. These accidents—also called appearances or species—could not naturally continue to exist without a material substance to support them, but in the Holy Eucharist they are miraculously sustained in being by the direct power of the Almighty. There is no more difficulty involved in this than if God were to support a stone in the air without any created cause to hold it up. Consequently, the eucharistic species continue to act in the same manner as they would if the substance of bread or wine were still upholding them. Our senses perceive the color, the taste, the odor of bread and wine. When the Blessed Sacrament is consumed in Holy Communion, the same process of digestion and nutrition ensues as if bread had been eaten. All this is quite normal, since the accidents continue to exist unchanged. For a material substance is not of itself perceptible or active; it is perceived and it acts only through its accidents. Hence, the consecrated species, being preserved in existence by the power of God, function in the same manner as if the substances of bread and wine were still present. Under the doctrines concerning the manner in which our Lord remains present in the Holy Eucharist comes first the truth of His permanent abiding. This means that after the consecration Christ remains present under the sacramental species as long as they retain the appearances proper to them as the accidents of bread and wine. It is only when the process of digestion or disintegration produces such a change in the consecrated species that they no longer have the taste, color, etc., of bread and wine that the Real Presence ceases. Some ancient writers held that Christ leaves the sacred host when it is given in Communion to a sinner; and the Lutherans believe that our Lord is present only during the Communion service. The Catholic Church on the contrary teaches the permanence of the Real Presence in the sense just explained. This doctrine is the basis of the many devotions practiced in the Catholic Church in honor of the Holy Eucharist outside the time of Mass and Holy Communion, such as Benediction, the Forty Hours‟ Devotion and visits to the Blessed Sacrament in the tabernacle. Another Catholic doctrine explanatory of the manner of Christ‟s presence asserts its totality. This means that our Lord is present in His entirety—that is, with His body, blood, soul and divinity—under each of the two consecrated species. It is true, the words of consecration spoken over the bread signify and effect of themselves the presence of His body only; but since the body that becomes present is the same body that is now enthroned in heavenly glory, and that body is inseparably united to the blood, the soul and the divine personality, the entire Christ becomes present under the accidents of bread. In theological language we say that the body of our Lord is present in the host by the power of the words of consecration, while His blood, soul and divinity are present by concomitance. Similarly we conclude that under the accidents of wine the blood of Christ is present by the power of the words of consecration, while His body, soul and divinity are present by concomitance. Moreover, Christ is entirely present in each portion of the consecrated host and of the consecrated species of wine. We cannot, of course, fully understand how a complete human body can be truly present in so small a compass, and can be simultaneously present in many thousands of consecrated hosts and chalices; yet we can acquire a limited conception of these marvels by analyzing the idea of quantity. When we think of a body as having quantity, the first thing we attribute to it is a number of parts, each related to the others and distinct from them. This aspect of quantity we call internal extension. Next we conceive the body as occupying a definite space, so that the whole body fills the whole space, and each part fills a distinct part of the space. This we call external extension. Now, we believe that while our Lord‟s body in the Blessed Sacrament has the first element of quantity, it does not possess the second in relation to the place occupied by the consecrated species. The various parts of His body—head, trunk, limbs, etc.—are present in their full perfection and proportion, entirely distinct from one another. But, by a miracle, His body is not contained in the place where the Blessed Sacrament is present in such wise that each part of the body occupies a different part of the place, as is the case with our bodies. On the contrary, it is present somewhat after the manner in which a person‟s soul is present in his body—wholly and entirely in every part. And since our Lord‟s body is not restricted by the space-boundaries of any particular host, it can exist simultaneously in any number of consecrated hosts throughout the entire world. Since the body of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament is the same body that is present in heaven, it performs on the altar the same actions that it is eliciting with its faculties in the kingdom of the blessed — for example, gazing on the radiant beauty of our Lady and speaking to her. The question naturally arises, whether our Lord with His bodily eyes sees those who kneel in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament and with His bodily ears hears their prayers and hymns of praise. It seems that He does not, since His senses have no external extension in the Holy Eucharist, and so are not adapted to receive impressions from what goes on around them. Doubtless by a miracle His body could be rendered capable of such sense-perception, but such a miracle is not called for, since in the vision of the divine nature which His human intellect always possesses Christ dearly beholds the thoughts and actions of all men. And so, when we kneel before the Blessed Sacrament we can be assured that our every act of adoration and of love, our every manifestation of devotion, are perfectly known by Him whom we venerate beneath the Eucharistic species. And the realization of the wonderful miracles wrought by divine omnipotence to give us the living Christ for our strength and consolation should prompt us to exclaim from the depths of our hearts: O Sacrament most holy, O Sacrament divine, All praise and all thanksgiving be every moment thine.