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THE REAL PRESENCE The Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist CHRIST IN THE EUCHARIST

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The Real Presence: Christ's Body

by Carol Breslin

Nearly every catechism or commentary on the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist informs us that it is the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ.  Since Vatican II there has been so much emphasis put on the Eucharist in relation to the Mystical Body of Christ that many have lost sight of the fact that it is Christ’s real Body and real Blood as well as His Soul and Divinity that comes to every altar at the moment of consecration.

The Incarnation

And the word became flesh and dwelt among us.

When Christ, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity became man he assumed our human nature by taking on the flesh of Mary.  He became man for four reasons:  1) to save us by reconciling us with God; [1] 2) that we might know God’s love; [2] 3) to be our model of holiness; [3] and 4) that we may be partakers of the divine nature. [4]  “He himself declared that the reason of His advent among men was this, that He might bring them the assured fullness of a more than merely human life.” [5

There are many heresies that developed in the early Church regarding the Incarnation.  Heresies that denied the divinity of Christ as well as heresies that denied the humanity of Christ were condemned by various councils of the Church.  The stated doctrine by the early councils of the Church is known as the hypostatic union:  the indivisible union of Christ’s divinity with His humanity. 

The early controversies on the Eucharist revolve around the same issues of the divinity and the humanity of Christ.  Berengarius of Tours, although not the first, was perhaps the first well-known proponent of false teaching on the Eucharist.  Similar to the errors of Gnostic Docetism, Berengarius held that:

“the Body and Blood of Christ are really present in the Holy Eucharist but that this presence is an intellectual or spiritual presence. [He also held that] the substance of the bread and the substance of the wine remain unchanged in their nature, but by consecration they become spiritually the very Body and Blood of Christ. This spiritual body and blood of Christ is the res sacramenti.” [6

This doctrine of Berengarius was condemned many times by the Church.  So it is not that Berengarius, true to his rationalistic and nomalist philosophy, said Christ was physically present but that it was only spiritually or by some mystery of the glorified body, but that it was not the body in substance, that it was a body without any organs, blood vessels, or bones for which the Church condemned him and his teachings.

However, the person who evidently influenced Berengarius into such erroneous thinking was Paschasius Radbertus, who lived in the ninth century.  He it is who claimed that Christ was only physically present.  In his plan to give the clearest and most comprehensible explanation of the Real Presence, “he made the mistake of emphasizing the identity of the Eucharistic Body of Christ with His natural (historical) body in such exaggerated terms that the difference between the two modes of existence was not sufficiently brought out.” [7]  His error was not just the emphasis of the physical but the assertion that Christ was only physically present and not sacramentally present.  Fr. Hardon, while teaching the Calcutta Missionaries of Charity in November of 1997 spoke extensively on the substance of the body of Christ and mentioned a bishop who wrote for a national magazine who neglected to mention that the Eucharist was also the Soul and Divinity of Christ when explaining the Real Presence.  Thus it is imperative that the humanity and the divinity of Christ must both be considered whenever we speak of the Real Presence.  While explaining one aspect we must also be mindful of the entire Christ: Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity.

The Fathers of the Church on the Incarnation and the Eucharist

The Fathers of the Church teach us that the teachings and doctrines of the Incarnation also relate to the Holy Eucharist.  St. Justin wrote, “Just as truly as God became man in Mary’s womb at the Incarnation, so the same Incarnate Jesus becomes present on the altar at the moment of consecration in the Mass.  In other words, the Eucharist is the Incarnation continued on earth until the end of time.” [8]  Pope Leo XIII in His Encyclical Mirae Caritalis :   

“The Eucharist, according to the testimony of the holy Fathers, should be regarded as in a manner a continuation and extension of the Incarnation.  For in and by it the substance of the Incarnate Word is united with individual men, and the supreme Sacrifice offered on Calvary is in a wondrous manner renewed  … all laws of nature are suspended; the whole substance of the bread and wine are changed into the Body and Blood of Christ.” [9]

St. Justin, the martyr also wrote,

“We call this food Eucharist, and no one else is permitted to partake of it except one who believes our teaching to be true and who has been washed … since Jesus Christ our Savior was made incarnate by the word of God and had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so too, as we have been taught, the food which has been made into the Eucharist by the Eucharistic prayer set down by Him, and by change of which our blood and flesh is nourished is both the flesh and blood of the incarnated Christ.” [10]

The Body of Christ

The Fathers of the Church

Thus there are many documents from the early days of the Church that attest to the relationship of the Incarnation to the Eucharist.  Christ not only became man to die for us but he also became man that as man He would be with us here on earth as a channel of grace, a source of our sanctification, and that we may be partakers in the divine life.  Just as Christ’s human and divine natures are united in the hypostatic union, so in the Eucharist are His human and divine natures united in the Eucharistic hypostatic union.  It is the same Jesus who grew up and lived in Nazareth, taught the disciples, and cured the sick who is in every tabernacle of the world.  His body, whole and entire is there.  We know this because it is Church teaching.  We know this because of many Eucharistic miracles that confirm it.  But most importantly we know this because Christ Himself taught the multitudes about the Bread of Life in the Gospel of John, Chapter 6.  Christ repeatedly speaks about eating His flesh and drinking His Blood in order to have eternal life.  The Eucharist “can be none other than His true Flesh and Blood to be really eaten and drunk in Holy Communion.  This is why Christ was so ready to use the realistic expression ‘to chew’ (John 6:54,56,58)  when speaking of this…Consequently, eating and drinking are to be understood of the actual partaking of Christ in person, hence literally.” [11]

The fact that many of the Jews left Him without Jesus making any effort to make His teaching more palatable underscores the reality of the Eucharist being the substance of His Body and Blood, including His organs, muscles, and bones in their glorified state.  “Yet far from repudiating this construction as a gross misunderstanding, Christ repeated them in a most solemn manner.” [12]  Furthermore, Our Lord was speaking to simple fisherman who listened so raptly to every word Christ uttered.

“Those who heard the words of Institution were not learned Rationalists, possessed of the critical equipment that would enable them, as philologists and logicians, to analyze an obscure and mysterious phraseology…they were simple uneducated fisherman from the ordinary ranks of the people, who with childlike naivete hung upon the words of their Master and with deep faith accepted whatever He proposed to them.” [13]

The Fathers of the Church further expound on these words of Christ. 

“The bread is by a mystical benediction conveyed in utterable words, and by the indwelling of the Holy Ghost, transmitted into the flesh of Christ. But why see we not the flesh?  Because, if the flesh were seen, it would revolt us to such a degree, that we should be unable to partake of it.  And therefore in condescension to our infirmity, the mystical food is given to us under an appearance suitable to out Minds.” [14]

Augustine clarifies what, or better, who we received in the Eucharist – some receive the fullness of all of Christ:  Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity.  However, he distinguishes the real substance of Christ’s body from the sacramental presence when he considers apostates who receive Holy Communion:

“…there is a certain mode of eating that flesh, and drinking that blood, in which he that eateth and drinketh, dwelleth in Christ, and Christ in him.  That is to say such an one eateth the body and drinketh the blood of Christ not in the sacramental sense, but in the reality.” [15]

The great apostle of the Eucharist, St. Peter Julian Eymard, blessed with great eloquence, preached many retreats on the Real Presence.  Not a few times he has taught on the Body of Christ as the substance of a body, Christ’s glorified Body and all it contains:

“In the Most Holy Eucharist, Jesus hides not only His Divinity but also His Sacred Humanity.  Not a ray of His glory shines forth, as on Tabor, there is no divine external manifestation of His power; His voice, so tender and ravishing is silent; His beautiful eyes are not seen, alight with goodness and love; His Body is veiled; His         beneficient hands are hidden.  Jesus is annihilated, He is far more closely hidden than at Nazareth.” [16]

Later in the same retreat he returns to this theme:

“It is a veiled state…all the virtues, all the actions of Jesus in His divine Sacrament have this characteristic. Though His goodness lavishes upon all souls the gifts and graces of His love, He hides the Hand that gives them and even the Heart that offers them.” [17]

Fr. Michael Muller, in The Blessed Eucharist quotes several more Fathers of the Church on this very subject.  Regarding the Apostles’ faith in the Eucharist:

“They believe the words of their Master, without the least hesitation they receive His words in that sense in which the others had refused to receive them; they receive them in their obvious meaning, as a promise that He would give them His real Flesh to eat and His real Blood to drink; they believe with a full faith, simply because He is ‘the Christ, the Son of God,’ too good to deceive, and too wise to be deceived; too faithful to make vain promises, too powerful to find difficulty in fulfilling them.” [18]

He goes on to quote to St. Ignatius, Bishop of Smyrna, who lived in the first century.  He wrote to the faithful in Smyrna, “Because the heretics refuse to acknowledge that the Holy Eucharist contains the same flesh which suffered for our sins and was raised again to life by God the Father, they die a miserable death and perish without hope.” [19]  He then quotes another great saint known for his “golden tongue.”

“’Who’ asks St. John Chrysostom, ‘will give us of His flesh that we may be filled?’ This Christ has done, allowing Himself not only to be seen, but to be touched too, and to be eaten, so that our teeth pierce His Flesh, and all are filled with His love …             Moreover, as in Him the human nature was inseparably united to the divine, He Himself — His whole humanity and divinity — was contained under that outward appearance of bread.” [20]

Finally, St. Thomas Aquinas wrote extensively on the Eucharist and he wrote so well that the Lord bestowed on him special blessings.  Thomas Aquinas is well known for composing the hymns and liturgy for the Feast of Corpus Christi.  Of particular note is a stanza in the sequence for this feast:

“This the truth each Christian learns,
Bread into His flesh he turns
To His precious blood the wine,
Sight has failed, nor thought conceives
But a dauntless faith believe,
Resting on a power divine.”

Catechism of the Catholic Church

The most recent catechism quotes extensively from the Council of Trent that resulted in the publication of the Roman Catechism.  It is clearly stated in both the English and the official Latin version of the Catechism of the Catholic Church that the Eucharist is the total and entire Christ:

“In the most blessed sacrament of ‘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.’  This presence is called ‘real’ — by which is not intended to exclude other types of presence as if they could not be ‘real’ too, but because it is     presence in the fullest sense:  that is to say, it is substantial presence by which Christ, God and man, makes himself wholly and entirely present.”  (Emphasis in original). [21]

Furthermore, the catechism also states:

“The Council of Trent summarizes the Catholic Faith by declaring: ‘Because Christ our Redeemer said that it was truly his body that he was offering under the species of bread, it has always been the conviction of the Church of God, and his holy Council now declares again, that by the consecration of the bread and wine there takes place          a change of the whole substance of the bread into the substance of the body of Christ our Lord and of the whole substance of the wine into the substance of his blood. This change the holy Catholic Church has fittingly and properly called transubstantiation.’” [22]  

Pope Paul VI also emphasized in Mysterium Fidei that the body of Christ is the “whole and entire” body of Christ as described in the next section of the Catechism of the Catholic Chruch:  “Christ is present whole and entire in each of the species and whole and entire in each of their parts, in such a way that the breaking of the bread does not divide Christ”. [23]

Miracles of the Eucharist

There are a great number of Eucharistic miracles to attest the reality of Christ presence in the Holy Eucharist.  Although we could sight the miracles of Bolsena and Orvieto in 1263 where the hosts actually dripped blood, we will limit ourselves to the miracle of Lanciano in Italy.  A monk who doubted the presence of Christ in the Eucharist, praying for faith in it, was stunned to see the host turn into real flesh and the wine turn into real blood:

“A Basilian monk, having suffered doubt in the physical presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, prayed for relief…What he beheld as he consecrated the bread and wine caused his hands to shake, indeed his whole body…he slowly turned around to the     people…The host had turned into flesh, the wine had turned into blood.” [24]

This miracle is still ongoing and present in the reliquary in Lanciano.  In 1970 extensive tests were done on the flesh and blood finding that the flesh is the muscular tissue of the heart (myocardium).  The blood type is the same blood type found on the Shroud of Turin, AB positive.  How can it be said that the Body of Christ in the Eucharist does not contain organs when this miracle clearly contains the flesh of an organ, the most important organ of the body, the heart.  How loving of our Lord to show us a piece of His Most Sacred Heart.

The Substance, Whole and Entire of the Body of Christ

Although we may read the words that the entire and whole substance of the Body of Christ is present in the Eucharist, in keeping with the pedagogy of Fr. Hardon it is absolutely necessary to understand as clearly and as thoroughly as possible what these terms mean.  In the Latin, the Church says Totus Christus and Corpus Christi.  The meanings of these words are quite obvious. Nevertheless, a clarification from a Latin Dictionary may be useful for totus and corpus.  Totus means all, the whole, entire, wholly.  While corpus means body, substance, flesh. [25]  So the totus Christus is the entire Christ, His physical properties, His intellect, His will, both human and divine, His entire divine self as the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity.  The Corpus Christus means the entire substance of His flesh, not just part of it, or a shell of it but the entire substance.

To further delve into the meaning and essence of the substance of the Eucharist and what it really is direct quotations from the Advanced Catechists Course will be most helpful:  “The Eucharist is the Incarnation continued here on earth until the end of time.” [26]  “The living, glorified Christ is really present in the Eucharist.” [27]

“It cannot be too often emphasized that Christ must be really, truly present on the altar in order to have a true Sacrifice of the Mass. Of course, Christ is now glorified. He can no longer die nor suffer…The essence of sacrifice is not in the capacity to suffer, it is in the capacity to be willing to suffer.” [28]

Essentially, there must be a body, with all its parts in order for there to be a victim and the victim must have a will with which to choose to suffer.  That is why there must be the total and entire Christ — nothing less. 

In clarifying the nature of the humanity of Christ, Father Hardon then explains, that the humanity of Christ is a channel of grace from Christ to the world.

“Christ in His infinite goodness, He decided to remain man through all eternity. More than this, not only did Christ choose to remain man — the God-man — for the eternal future, He chose to remain on earth as man in the fullness of His human   nature.  This is the Eucharist.  It is this same humanity now glorified, which is on earth in the Holy Eucharist.” [29]

This still does not get to the heart of the Eucharist.  He explains the essence of the substance in such eloquent and clear terms that he must be quoted again.

“Transubstantiation corresponds with meta ousiasis [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….The substance of bread and wine becomes everything which makes Christ, Christ…everything which is Christ, the whole Christ…Does this include the physical properties of Christ? Yes. Does it include the physical organs? Yes. It is Christ, whole and entire.” [30]

Finally, we conclude with this quote, “When we pray before the Blessed Sacrament, we are adoring Christ in the fullness of His human nature, including His physical properties, which include His heart of flesh, now glorified but living and, we may add, pulsating out of love for us.” [31]  It is important to note here that Fr. Hardon was not saying it is just human nature but that it is the fullness of His human nature as well as the fullness of His Soul and Divinity.  Why did he emphasize this aspect of the Real Presence?  Perhaps he did so because too many people have lost their faith in the Real Presence; or perhaps he did so because so much emphasis has been place on the Mystical Body of Christ that people have forgotten or ignored the real Body of Christ, the Real Presence.  Perhaps they have forgotten how truly close our Lord is to each and every one of us in all of the tabernacles of the world.

In conclusion, when we say that it is the Body and Blood and Soul and Divinity of Christ, we must believe that it includes the whole and entire Christ.  Why?  We must believe for many reasons.  First of all because Christ said so. Secondly, because the Fathers of the Church have taught so.  Thirdly, because many Church documents such as encyclicals and catechisms have taught so.  Fourthly, because many Eucharistic miracles have proven so.

The erroneous Docetists claimed that Christ only appeared human but was not really man.  Dare we say that the Eucharist is the Body of Christ but not really the body of a man?  Yet we know that it is not the body of Christ before his resurrection but the glorified body of Christ which has an agility and an ability to be in many places at one time, no longer held to the bondage of the mortal bodies we inhabit here on earth.  The Body of Christ in the Eucharist is the same glorified body that passed through the closed doors of the upper room to be with the terrified apostles.  It is the same body with which Christ ate fish on the seashore when Jesus asked Peter if he loved Him.  It is the same glorified body of Christ into which Thomas was invited to place his fingers and hand.

When Mary conceived by the Holy Spirit and visited St. Elizabeth, Elizabeth exclaimed, “Who am I that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”(Luke 1:43). Knowing Mary’s love it is not much of a mystery.  Knowing Mary is a channel of God’s love it is not such a mystery that she would go to Elizabeth.  The real mystery for me is that if Elizabeth was amazed that Mary, the mother of our Lord would come to her, what a much greater mystery it is not so much that Christ would contain himself in the host but that He would come to me.  Like Elizabeth, I wonder, “Who am I that God Himself would so annihilate Himself to come to me, a sinner in the Holy Eucharist.”

[1] Catechism of the Catholic Church, (CCC) 457.

[2] Ibid., 458.

[3] Ibid., 459.

[4] Ibid., 460.

[5] Pope LeoXIII, The Great Encyclicals Letters of Pope Leo XIII (Rockford, IL; TAN Books and Publisher, Inc., 1995): pg. 520.

[6] The Catholic Enclopedia, “Berengarius of Tours”, Vol. II, (New York, NY Robert Appleton Co., 1907) pg. 488

[7] Ibid., “Paschius Radbertus”, Vol. XI, pg. 518.

[8] Hardon, John A., With Us Today: On The Real Presences of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. (Ypsilanti, MI: Ave Maria Communications, 2000). Pg.15.

[9] Pope Leo XII, The Great Encyclical Letters of Pope Leo XIII. Pg. 524.

[10] Keating, Karl, Catholicsim and Fundamentalism, (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1988).  Pg 237.

[11] Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. V, Pg. 574

[12]  Ibid. Pg 574

[13]  Ibid. Pg. 575

[14] Aquinas, Thomas, Commentary on the Gospels, Vol. IV, (Albany:  Preserving Christian Publications, Inc., 1993). Pg. 240.

[15] Ibid. pg. 244

[16] Eymard, St. Peter Julian, Eucharistic Retreats,(Cleveland:  Emmanuel Publications, 1947).  Vol. 3, Pg. 80

[17]  Ibid. Pg. 149.

[18] Muller, Fr. Michael, The Blessed Eucharist:  Our Greatest Treasure, (Rockford, IL:  TAN Books and Pubishers, Inc,. 1995).  Pg. 5

[19]  Ibid. Pg. 8

[20]  Ibid.  Pg. 9

[21] CCC 1374; In Latin: In Sanctissimo Eucharistiae Sacramento continentur vere, realiter et substantialiter corpus et sanguis una cum anima et devinitate Domini nostri Iesu Christi ac proinde totus Christus.  Quae guidem praesentia ‘realis’ dicitur non per exclusionem, quasi alied ‘reales’ non sint, sed per excellentiam, quia est substantialis, qua nimirum totus atque integer Christus, Deus et homo, fit praesens. Emphasis in original.

[22]  CCC 1376.  In Latin:   “Concilim Tridentinum fidem catholicam in synthesim redigit declarans:  ‘Quoniam autem Christus Redemptor noster corpus Suum id, quod sub specie panis offerebat, vere esse dixit, ideo persuasum semper in Ecclesia Dei fuit, idque nunc denuo sancta haec Synodus declarat:  per consecrationem panis et vini conversionem fieri totius substantiae panis in substantiam corporis Christi Domini nostri, et totius substantiae vini in substantiam sanguinis Eius.  Quae conversio convenienter et proprie a sancta catholica Ecclesia transsubstantiatio est appellate.’”

[23]  CCC 1377.

[24] Lord, Bob and Penny This Is My Body, This Is My Blood, Miracles of the Eucharist;   (Westlake Village, CA; Journeys of Faith, 1986).  Pg. 20.

[25]  Woodhouse, S.C. Latin Dictionary,  (London:  Routledge & Kegan Pau, 1913)  Ppg. 187 and 42.

[26] Hardon, John A. Advanced Catechists Course, Explanations of Questions, Vol II: The Sacraments; Kensington, MD, Inter Mirifica, 1994.  Pg 66 #4.

[27]  Ibid. #24.

[28]  Ibid. #24.

[29]  Ibid. #25.

[30] Ibid. #28.

[31]  Ibid. Pg. 84.  #61.

Published in the "Homiletic and Pastoral Review"

Copyright © 2005 by Carol Breslin

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