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Defending the Faith
by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.
The term "transubstantiation" depends upon an outdated concept of medieval scholastic philosophy. Today, we must speak of "transfinalization" or "transignification" of the bread and wine. The meaning or sign of the bread and wine changes, but not the matter.
Somewhere near the center of the crisis in the Catholic Church today is confusion about the meaning of the Real Presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist. Pope Paul VI recognized this crisis before the close of the Second Vatican Council. He identified the two principal errors about the Real Presence that were already current in his day. The errors were capsulized in two words, "transfinalization" and "transignification."
Transfinalization is the view of Christ's presence in the Eucharist that the purpose or finality of the bread and wine is changed by the words of consecration. They are said to serve a new function, as sacred elements that arouse the faith of the people in the mystery of Christ's redemptive love.
Transignification is the view of Christ's presence in the Eucharist which holds that the meaning or significance of the bread and wine is changed by the words of consecration. The consecrated elements are said to signify all that Christians associate with the Last Supper; they have a higher value than merely food for the body.
Both transfinalization and transignification were condemned by Pope Paul VI in the encyclical Mysterium Fidei which he published in 1965.
Transubstantiation is not an outmoded concept of medieval scholastic philosophy. It is an article of faith defined by the Council of Trent as the "wonderful and singular conversion of the whole substance of the bread into the body, and the whole substance of the wine into the blood" of Christ.
The term transubstantiation is taken from the Latin words trans (change) and substantia (substance). This term was incorporated into the decree of the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215. However, its antiquity goes back to the early Greek Fathers of the Church who used the word meta-ousiosis. Literally meta means change of one ousia or being, that of bread and wine, into another ousia or being, that of Christ's living body and blood.
As understood by the Catholic Church, transubstantiation means that the whole substance of bread and wine ceases to exist at consecration at Mass. What we must be very clear about is that it is the whole substance of bread and wine which becomes the whole humanity of Christ. It is not only that the substance of bread and wine becomes the substance of Christ's body and blood. No. The substance of bread and wine becomes everything which makes Christ Christ.
Normally we speak of the substance of anything as that which makes a thing what it is. With transubstantiation , however, the substance of bread and wine becomes everything which Christ is. After transubstantiation, the physical properties of bread and wine remain. But the "witness" or "thingness" of bread and wine ceases to exist. What had been the substance of bread and wine now becomes the whole Christ, in the words of the Council of Trent the totus Christus. Is Christ, therefore, present in the Holy Eucharist with everything that makes Him who He is? Yes. In other words, it is not just the substance of Christ's humanity which becomes present on the altar through transubstantiation. It is Jesus Christ whole and entire.
Copyright © 1998 Inter Mirifica
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