Wednesday, June 22, 2005
The Eucharist

The Catechism of St. Pius X summarizes the doctrine of the Eucharist well: “The Eucharist is a sacrament in which, by the marvelous conversion of the whole substance of bread into the Body of Jesus Christ, and that of wine into His precious Blood, is contained truly, really, and substantially, the Body, the Blood, the Soul and Divinity of the same Lord Jesus Christ, under the appearance of bread and wine as our spiritual food.”  Plainly stated, the Most Holy Eucharist is the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ under the mere appearance of bread and wine.

The Institution of the Eucharist

Our Redeemer instituted the Sacrament of His Body and Blood on the night before His Passion and death. That the Eucharist was instituted by Jesus Christ Himself at the Last Supper is affirmed by the Catechism of the Council of Trent:
“That its institution was as follows, is clearly inferred from the Evangelist. Our Lord, having loved his own, loved them to the end. As a divine and admirable pledge of this love, knowing that the hour had now come that He should pass from the world to the Father, that He might not ever at any period be absent from His own, He accomplished with inexplicable wisdom that which surpasses all the order and condition of nature. For having kept the supper of the Paschal lamb with His disciples, that the figure might yield to the reality, the shadow to the substance, He took bread, and giving thanks unto God, He blessed, and brake, and gave to the disciples, and said: "Take ye and eat, this is My body which shall be delivered for you; this do for a commemoration of Me." In like manner also, He took the chalice after He had supped, saying: "This chalice is the new testament in My blood; this do, as often as you shall drink it, in commemoration of Me"
Bread & Wine

The Sacramental matter for the Holy Eucharist is two-fold: wheat bread and wine. Turning to the Catechism of the Council of Trent (also known as the Roman Catechism) we read: 
“There are, however, various sorts of bread, either because they consist of different materials, such as wheat, barley, pulse and other products of the earth; or because they possess different qualities, some being leavened, others altogether without leaven. It is to be observed that, with regard to the former kinds, the words of the Savior show that the bread should be wheaten; for, according to common usage, when we simply say bread, we are sufficiently understood to mean wheaten bread. This is also declared by a figure in the Old Testament, because the Lord commanded that the loaves of proposition, which signified this Sacrament, should be made of fine flour.” 
An interesting question arises on whether the Sacrament must be confected from unleavened or if leavened wheat bread is equally valid. On this point, the Catechism makes clear that the Eucharist “was consecrated and instituted by Him on the first day of unleavened bread, on which it was not lawful for the Jews to have anything leavened in their house.” However, the sacred authors continue, “This quality of the bread, however, is not to be deemed so essential that, if it be wanting, the Sacrament cannot exist.” 

Thus, we see a difference between the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Rites of the Church in the character of the bread since the Latin Rite uses unleavened bread whereas the Eastern Rites use leavened bread. Despite such a difference, all else being equal, the matter is valid in both instances, though it would be illicit – but not invalid – for a Roman Catholic priest to consecrate leavened bread at Mass.

Along with wheaten bread, wine constitutes the other required component for the matter of the Sacrament. The wine is not optional and may not be replaced by any other liquid, for any reason, in virtue of our Lord’s own command:
“That in the institution of this Sacrament our Lord and Savior made use of wine has been at all times the doctrine of the Catholic Church, for He Himself said: ‘I will not drink from henceforth of this fruit of the vine until that day’. On this passage Chrysostom observes: He says, ‘Of the fruit of the vine,’ which certainly produced wine not water; as if he had it in view, even at so early a period, to uproot the heresy which asserted that in these mysteries water alone is to be used.” 
During Mass, the priest will add a drop of water into the chalice along with the wine. Why? The Roman Catechism explains: “First, because Christ the Lord did so, as is proved by the authority of Councils and the testimony of St. Cyprian; next, because by this mixture is renewed the recollection of the blood and water that issued from His side.” But the Catechism appropriately clarifies: “But although there are reasons so grave for mingling water with the wine that it cannot be omitted without incurring the guilt of mortal sin, yet its omission does not render the Sacrament null.”  

Therefore, wine along with wheaten bread constitutes the matter for the Sacrament as summarized by the Catechism: “These, then, are the only two elements of this Sacrament; and with reason has it been enacted by many decrees that, although there have been those who were not afraid to do so, it is unlawful to offer anything but bread and wine.” The gifts of bread and wine are presented to Almighty God during the offertory of the Mass and from that moment forward may only be offered in divine worship. They may not be used for any other purpose aside from the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

The Words of Consecration

“Hoc Est Enimen Corpus Meum” (This is My Body) are the exact words required for the consecration of the bread into our Blessed Lord. The words “Take and eat” immediately before “This is My Body” should by “all means to be pronounced by the priest… But they are not necessary to the validity of the Sacrament.”

“We are then taught by the holy Evangelists, Matthew and Luke, and also by the Apostle, that the form consists of these words: ‘This is My body;’ for it is written: Whilst they were at supper, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake, and gave to His disciples, and said: ‘Take and eat, This is My body.’” 

On the consecration of the wine, the Catechism similarly explains: 
“We are then firmly to believe that it consists in the following words: ‘This is the chalice of my blood, of the new and eternal testament, the mystery of faith, which shall be shed for you and for many, to the remission of sins.’ Of these words the greater part are taken from Scripture; but some have been preserved in the Church from Apostolic tradition.” 
The double consecration of both the bread and wine must occur at Mass. Should a priest die after the Consecration of the bread but before the Consecration of the wine, a different priest must, as soon as possible, resume the Holy Sacrifice. Canon 927 in the Code of Canon Law promulgated in 1983 affirms that it is absolutely forbidden, even in cases of necessity, for a priest to consecrate only one of the two necessary species. The Sacrifice, once it has begun, must be accomplished.

Transubstantiation - The Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist

The changing of the bread and wine into the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ is known as Transubstantiation. The substance of bread and the substance of wine give way to the substance of our Lord Himself when the words of consecration are said.

At the moment of this divine act accomplished through the words of a validly ordained priest, each participle of bread and each particle of wine become the entire Christ. The former wine is not only the blood of Christ, and likewise, the former bread is not only the Body of the Lord. Each particle of the Eucharist is the fullness of the God-Man. On this point, the Baltimore Catechism teaches:
“Jesus Christ is whole and entire both under the form of bread and under the form of wine. After the substance of the bread and wine had been changed into the substance of the body and blood of our Lord there remained only the appearances of bread and wine. By the appearances of bread and wine I mean the figure, the color, the taste, and whatever appears to the senses. This change of the bread and wine into the body and blood of our Lord is called Transubstantiation.” 
The Fathers of the Council of Trent affirm in Canon III in the Thirteenth Session: “If any one denieth, that, in the venerable sacrament of the Eucharist, the whole Christ is contained under each species, and under every part of each species, when separated; let him be anathema.” And the Roman Catechism likewise teaches: “This conversion, then, is so effected that the whole substance of the bread is changed by the power of God into the whole substance of the body of Christ, and the whole substance of the wine into the whole substance of His blood, and this, without any change in our Lord Himself. He is neither begotten, nor changed, not increased, but remains entire in His substance.” 

Likewise, in this Sacrament the fullness of Christ, including His Divinity, is present. The Eucharist does not only contain the admirable flesh and blood of the Savior. Jesus Christ, the God-Man, who possesses both a complete human nature and a complete divine nature, can never be separated from His Divinity. Consequently, the Catechism admonishes: “hence it would be impious, to suppose that the body of Christ, which is contained in the Sacrament, is separated from His Divinity.” As a result, in Holy Communion, when we receive the Sacred Host that was consecrated on the altar, we receive not only the sacred humanity of our Redeemer but also His Soul and His Divinity. We receive God.

The Lord plainly said to His disciples: “Take ye and eat. This is My body” (Matthew 26:26).  St. Cyril of Jerusalem succinctly remarks on these words: “Since Christ Himself has said, ‘This is My Body’ who shall dare to doubt that It is His Body?” St. Augustine likewise declares: "Christ held Himself in His hands when He gave His Body to His disciples saying: 'This is My Body.' No one partakes of this Flesh before he has adored It.” 

St. Ignatius of Antioch, who lived during the time of the Apostles, remarks, "The Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ which suffered for our sins, which the Father raised up by His goodness." That the Eucharist is God is attested to by the Scripture, the Apostles, and the entire Early Church. To claim the contrary is to believe in a complete fabrication that has no basis in Early Christianity.

The Accidents

After the consecration, the only elements of bread and wine remaining are the accidents. While the bread and wine cease to exist, we refer to the species of bread or the species of wine remaining. On the term “species”, Fr. John Hardon’s Catholic Dictionary defines them as: “Appearances, especially those of bread and wine, after the Eucharistic consecration.” Father Hardon continues, “The term ‘species’ is used by the Council of Trent to identify the accidents, i.e., the size, weight, color, resistance, taste, and odor of bread, which remain exactly the same after transubstantiation. They are not mere appearances as though these physical properties were unreal. But they are appearances because after the consecration they lack any substance that underlies them or in which they inhere.” 

To summarize, when a validly ordained priest speaks the proper words of Consecration and uses proper matter, transubstantiation occurs. Bread and wine become our Blessed Lord and remain as such as long as the species of bread and wine remain. The only properties of bread and wine remaining are the accidental properties (i.e. the species) perceivable by our senses.  Thus, when we affirm our belief in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, we truly affirm in the words of the Roman Catechism: “that the true body of Christ the Lord, the same that was born of the Virgin, and is now seated at the right hand of the Father in heaven, is contained in this Sacrament.”

Several times in history the accidents themselves have vanished and the appearance of the Eucharist has become the flesh and blood of God. These Eucharistic miracles have been studied by science which continues to find them unexplainable, in further divine proof that the Eucharist is truly God.

Consubstantiation Condemned

Transubstantiation is not to be confused with the Lutheran teaching of consubstantiation, a belief that the bread and wine continue to also exist alongside the Lord’s Body and Blood. The Roman Catechism states: “The substance of the bread and wine does not continue to exist in the Sacrament after consecration.”

Lutherans and Anglicans, unlike most other protestant denominations, generally believe in the presence of Christ in the Sacrament of the Altar. Other sects tend to view the Eucharist as only a symbol and neither a Sacrament nor Christ’s Body and Blood, directly contrary to two millennia of doctrine. However, both Lutherans and Anglicans do not have valid holy orders and thus do not have valid priests. As a result, they can not confect the Holy Eucharist so the Sacrament that they propose to their followers does not actually contain Christ’s presence. It remains only bread and wine. However, as to their theology, they believe it to be both Christ’s Presence in addition to remaining bread and wine. Such a view is called consubstantiation, which is in direct contradiction to transubstantiation and of which the Council of Trent unwaveringly condemned:
“If any one saith, that, in the sacred and holy sacrament of the Eucharist, the substance of the bread and wine remains conjointly with the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, and denieth that wonderful and singular conversion of the whole substance of the bread into the Body, and of the whole substance of the wine into the Blood-the species Only of the bread and wine remaining-which conversion indeed the Catholic Church most aptly calls Transubstantiation; let him be anathema.” 
The Eucharist is a Sacrifice

After the Consecration, the priest who acts in persona Christi offers to the Eternal Father the Sacrifice of Jesus Christ. During the Canon of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, Jesus Christ acting through the priest offers Himself present on the altar to His Father in Heaven. The Mass is therefore the very same Sacrifice of Christ on the Cross which is made present again on the altar. Our Lord is not sacrificed again before us; rather, we are mystically present before the one and selfsame Sacrifice. This all holy reality is beautifully expressed in the words of the Roman Catechism:
“We therefore confess that the Sacrifice of the Mass is and ought to be considered one and the same Sacrifice as that of the cross, for the victim is one and the same, namely, Christ our Lord, who offered Himself, once only, a bloody Sacrifice on the altar of the cross. The bloody and unbloody victim are not two, but one victim only, whose Sacrifice is daily renewed in the Eucharist, in obedience to the command of our Lord: Do this for a commemoration of me. 
“The priest is also one and the same, Christ the Lord; for the ministers who offer Sacrifice, consecrate the holy mysteries, not in their own person, but in that of Christ, as the words of consecration itself show, for the priest does not say: This is the body of Christ, but, This is my body; and thus, acting in the Person of Christ the Lord, he changes the substance of the bread and wine into the true substance of His body and blood.” 
Holy Communion at Mass

To those Catholics who are in the state and who have observed the Eucharistic Fast, they may approach the Holy Altar to partake of the Sacrifice and receive our Lord in Holy Communion. But the point of Mass is not Communion. It is the worship of God in the manner He established for His worship. We are present before that Sacrifice. And the partaking of this Sacrifice can only be shared by those who are Catholics. If we are Catholics and in the state of grace, we are thus in Communion with both our Lord and each other in the Mystical Body of Christ. It is for this reason that the Holy Eucharist is often called "Holy Communion."

To the Most Holy Eucharist be all honor and glory world without end. Amen!

Common Questions:
  1. What are the parts of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass?
  2. Why did Jesus institute the Holy Eucharist?
  3. What are the conditions on receiving Our Lord in Holy Communion?
  4. What is Holy Communion?
  5. Does the Sacred Host also contain Christ's Blood?
  6. What are Eucharistic Miracles?
  7. Can Holy Communion ever be denied?
  8. How many times a day can we receive Communion?
  9. What is Intinction?
  10. What is the Eucharistic fast and how long is it?
  11. How often is one required to receive the Eucharist?
  12. What is a Eucharistic Procession?
  13. What is Eucharistic Adoration?
Related Websites/Encyclicals:
  1. New Advent, Catholic Encyclopedia
  2. Real Presence Association
  3. Mirae Caritatis, Encyclical of Leo XII on May 28, 1902

3 comment(s):

del_button July 23, 2005 at 6:31 PM
Anonymous said...

The Eucharist is Christ's body, blood, soul, and divinity. At the point in the Mass known as the transubstantiation (the part of Holy Communion) the ordinary minister - typically a priest - will say "This is my Body, which will be given up for you" and "This is my Blood..."

I think their is a minor discrepencey in that. Transubstantiation is not a part of mass, but the actual transferal from bread and wine to body and blood

del_button June 15, 2006 at 12:50 PM
Matthew said...

Exactly. Transubstantiation is the act that occurs during the consecration.

del_button August 14, 2006 at 12:23 PM
Jennifer said...

Another great post.
Catholic communion is totally different than other religions and you explain things so well.

You'll make a great Priest!

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