Faith Featured Theology

Catholic Conversations: More than bread and wine

I remember the first few times that I went to Mass with my then girlfriend (now wife) Gail back in our high school days. There were some things that I grasped right away while others took me a bit of time. I enjoyed the music as it helped me to pray. I was always attentive to the priest’s homily since I found myself learning something new every week.

But that whole Eucharist thing?  It was a tad confusing to say the least.

I also remember Gail trying to explain to me the Catholic teaching and belief that Jesus is literally, not symbolically, truly present in the Holy Eucharist — body, blood, soul, and divinity — and that we are truly consuming His body and blood at Mass.

This was the first time I heard the word “transubstantiation” — the concept that, in the Eucharist, the substances of bread and wine are miraculously transformed into the substance of Christ himself: body and blood.

I recall Gail telling me: “It’s a mystery how it happens . . . that’s where faith comes in.”

The belief is rooted in scripture, for at the Last Supper Jesus said, “Take, eat; this is my body” (Matthew 26:26), and “Drink from it, all of you; for this is my blood” (Matthew 26:27-28). Catholics don’t believe that Jesus is speaking symbolically here.

In John 6, Jesus says, “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you will have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them” (John 6:53-56).

Many of the Jews didn’t like what they were hearing and began to question Jesus. Instead of softening His stance, He only reiterated His point. Some Jews began to leave Jesus, but He didn’t call them back. He stood firm.

As I wrote in the last issue, the Eucharist has both “substance” and “accidents.” During the Mass, the substance of the bread and wine turn into the body and blood of Christ. But the accidents don’t change; thus it remains the bread and wine in shape, smell, taste, feel, and colour. Usually, a change in substance results in a change in accidents. Not so with the Eucharist.

St. Thomas Aquinas, a theologian of the 13th century, stated that during transubstantiation, “the whole substance of the bread is changed into the whole substance of Christ’s body, and the whole substance of the wine into the whole substance of Christ’s blood.”

Catholics believe that transubstantiation occurs only by the power of God. How it actually happens at Mass is a true mystery, but we have faith in this invisible reality. After all, if God can raise the dead and create our world from nothing, He can turn bread and wine into His body and blood.

Flickr photo (cc) by Catholic Church (England and Wales)