Skip to comments.The Catholic Doctrine of the Real PresenceCatholic Caucus)
Posted on 04/26/2007 8:55:20 AM PDT by stfassisi
The Catholic Doctrine of the Real Presence REV. KENNETH BAKER, S.J.
According to Catholic belief the Holy Eucharist is both a sacrament and a sacrifice. The aspect of the sacrament which I will consider now is what is known as the "Real Presence".
By this expression is meant that the true Body and Blood, soul and divinity of Christ are really and substantially present under the Eucharistic species, that is, the appearances of bread and wine which remain on the altar after the Consecration. "Presence" is one of those basic realities which we all experience and all know, but which is difficult to describe and define. Basically it means "being at hand", "being in front of"; when it is said of persons, often it also has the added meaning of "being for" or "being with", in the sense of accompanying someone.
A moment's reflection will reveal that God is present to us in a number of ways. By his power he is present in all of creation, since he conserves everything in its being. He is present in the souls of the just by his sanctifying grace. He is present in his Church which is the New Israel, the holy people of God. He is present in bishops and priests in a special way by reason of their consecration in Holy Orders. He is present, in a different way, in Holy Scripture and in the proclamation of his holy Word. These are some of the various ways in which God is present to his people.
But when the Church says that the glorified Jesus is really present in the Holy Eucharist, she is talking about a different and very special kind of presence. She means that, by the almighty power of God, a stupendous miracle has taken place, namely, the substance and reality of bread and wine have been changed into the substance and reality of the Body and Blood of the resurrected Jesus Christ who is now seated at the right hand of the Father in heaven. Therefore, since Jesus Christ is God and God is worthy of adoration, it follows that the Lord, truly present under the appearances of bread and wine, is worthy of adoration in the Holy Eucharist. For this reason the Church surrounds the Mass and the Eucharist with various gestures of adoration, such as incense, bows, genuflections, silence, candles, formal liturgical clothing and so forth.
It is not difficult to show from history the unanimity of belief in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist for the first 1500 years of the Church. Occasional doubts about it, such as those of Berengarius of Tours (d. 1088), caused an instant uproar - which attests to the universal acceptance of the Real Presence. This unanimous belief of 1500 years is itself an argument for its truth. For it is impossible that the Holy Spirit could leave the Church in error over a long period of time about one of the central doctrines of Christianity.
Widespread doubts about, and denials of, the Real Presence appeared in the sixteenth century. The Protestant Reformers were unanimous in rejecting transubstantiation and the sacrificial character of the Eucharist, but they did not agree on the question of the Real Presence. Thus, Luther admitted it but then added that it occurred only during the celebration of Holy Communion. Zwingli, along with many others, simply denied the Real Presence and claimed that the bread and wine are mere symbols of the Body and Blood of Christ. Calvin (later joined by Melanchthon) rejected the substantial or real presence of the Body and Blood of Christ and taught a presence of "power", that is, through the Eucharist a power proceeds from the glorified Body of Christ in heaven and is conferred on the faithful.
Because of the denials and doubts of the Protestant Reformers about the Mass, the Eucharist and the Real Presence, the Council of Trent (1545-1563) took up each of these questions and laid out for all the official, infallible teaching of the Church. Thus, in response to Zwingli, Calvin and their followers, the Council declared: "If anyone denies that 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 in the sacrament of the most holy Eucharist, but says that Christ is present in the Sacrament only as in a sign or figure, or by his power: let him be anathema" (Denzinger-Schönmetzer 1651).
I would say John 6 makes a pretty compelling argument for the “Real Presence.”
Flannery O’Connor, once famously remarked during what seemed to her a fatuous discussion of eucharistic symbolism, “If it’s only a symbol, I say to hell with it.”
And the reflection on that with the RSV translation:
From: John 6:44-51
The Discourse on the Bread of Life (Continuation)
44-45. Seeking Jesus until one finds Him is a free gift which no one
can obtain through his own efforts, although everyone should try to be
well disposed to receiving it. The Magisterium of the Church has
recalled this teaching in Vatican II: “Before this faith can be exercised,
man must have the grace of God to move and assist him; he must
have the interior help of the Holy Spirit, who moves the heart and
converts it to God, who opens the eyes of the mind and makes it
easy for all to accept and believe the truth” (”Dei Verbum”, 5).
When Jesus says, “They shall all be taught by God”, He is invoking
Isaiah 54:13 and Jeremiah 31:33ff, where the prophets refer to the
future Covenant which God will establish with His people when the
Messiah comes, the Covenant which will be sealed forever with the
blood of the Messiah and which God will write on their hearts (cf. Isaiah
53:10-12; Jeremiah 31:31-34).
The last sentence of verse 45 refers to God’s Revelation through the
prophets and especially through Jesus Christ.
46. Men can know God the Father only through Jesus Christ, because
only He has seen the Father, whom He has come to reveal to us. In
his prologue St. John already said: “No one has ever seen God; the only
Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has made Him known” (John
1:18). Later on Jesus will say to Philip at the Last Supper: “He who has
seen Me has seen the Father” (John 14:9), for Christ is the Way, the
Truth and the Life, and no one goes to the Father except through Him
(cf. John 14:6).
In other words, in Christ God’s revelation to men reaches its climax:
“For He sent His Son, the eternal Word who enlightens all men, to dwell
among men and to tell them about the inner life of God (cf. John
1:1-18). Hence, Jesus Christ, sent as `a man among men’, `utters the
words of God’ (John 3:34), and accomplishes the saving work which the
Father gave Him to do (cf. John 5:36; 17:4). To see Jesus is to see
His Father (cf. John 14:9)” (Vatican II, “Dei Verbum”, 4).
48. With this solemn declaration, which He repeats because of His
audience’s doubts, (cf. John 6:35, 41, 48), Jesus begins the second
part of His discourse, in which He explicitly reveals the great mystery
of the Blessed Eucharist. Christ’s words have such a tremendous
realism about them that they cannot be interpreted in a figurative way:
if Christ were not really present under the species of bread and wine,
this discourse would make absolutely no sense. But if His real
presence in the Eucharist is accepted on faith, then His meaning is
quite clear and we can see how infinite and tender His love for us is.
This is so great a mystery that it has always acted as a touchstone for
Christian faith: it is proclaimed as “the mystery of our faith” immediately
after the Consecration of the Mass. Some of our Lord’s hearers were
scandalized by what He said on this occasion (cf. verses 60-66). Down
through history people have tried to dilute the obvious meaning of our
Lord’s words. In our own day the Magisterium of the Church has
explained this teaching in these words” “When Transubstantiation has
taken place, there is no doubt that the appearance of the bread and the
appearance of the wine take on a new expressiveness and a new
purpose since they are no longer common bread and common drink,
but rather the sign of something sacred and the sign of spiritual food.
But they take on a new expressiveness and a new purpose for the
very reason that they contain a new `reality’ which we are right to call
“ontological”. For beneath these appearances there is no longer what
was there before but something quite different [...] since on the
conversion of the bread and wine’s substance, or nature, into the
body and blood of Christ, nothing is left of the bread and the wine but
the appearances alone. Beneath these appearances Christ is present
whole and entire, bodily present too, in His physical `reality’, although
not in the manner in which bodies are present in place.
For this reason the Fathers have had to issue frequent warnings to the
faithful, when they consider this august Sacrament, not to be satisfied
with the senses which announce the properties of bread and wine.
They should rather assent to the words of Christ: these are of such
power that they change, transform, `transelement’ the bread and the
wine into His body and blood. The reason for this, as the same Fathers
say more than once, is that the power which performs this action is the
same power of Almighty God that created the whole universe out of
nothing at the beginning of time” (Paul VI, “Mysterium Fidei”).
49-51. The manna during the Exodus was a figure of this bread—Christ
Himself—which nourishes Christians on their pilgrimage through this
world. Communion is the wonderful banquet at which Christ gives
Himself to us: “the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is
My flesh”. These words promise the manifestation of the Eucharist
at the Last Supper: “This is My body which is for you” (1 Corinthians
11:24). The words “for the life of the world” and “for you” refer to the
redemptive value of the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. In some
sacrifices of the Old Testament, which were a figure of the sacrifice
of Christ, part of the animal offered up was later used for food,
signifying participation in the sacred rite (cf. Exodus 11:3-4). So, by
receiving Holy Communion, we are sharing in the sacrifice of Christ:
which is why the Church sings in the Liturgy of the Hours on the
Feast of Corpus Christi: “O sacred feast in which we partake of
Christ: His sufferings are remembered, our minds are filled with His
grace and we receive a pledge of the glory that is to be ours”
(”Magnificat Antiphon”, Evening Prayer II).
Source: “The Navarre Bible: Text and Commentaries”. Biblical text from the
Revised Standard Version and New Vulgate. Commentaries by members of
the Faculty of Theology, University of Navarre, Spain.
Published by Four Courts Press, Kill Lane, Blackrock, Co. Dublin, Ireland, and
by Scepter Publishers in the United States.
I gather the Protestant problem was the association of substance with physicality. Why they should think this after the Church had refined “substance” in the process of stating the doctrine of the Trinity is something I do not understand. In any case, the doctrine of transubstantiation is not dependent on any acceptance of either antigue or modern physics. But maybe the Reformers were dependent on nominalist philosophy and associated the doctrine with a crude materialism.
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