As a Catholic, we believe that the Blessed Eucharist is the Sacrament. All other sacraments are enriched by it. It is the supernatural food given to us from heaven. Jesus said, “Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that a man may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh (John 6:49-51).” Because it is food, it is the one sacrament we can receive everyday. It gives the full meaning behind the petition in the Lord’s prayer, “Give us this day our daily bread.”
On Holy Thursday, the evening of the last supper meal with His 12 disciples, Jesus instituted the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist (His real body, blood, soul and divinity). It is also the day He instituted the sacrament of Holy Orders (priesthood). “By celebrating the Last Supper with his apostles in the course of the Passover meal, Jesus gave the Jewish Passover its definitive meaning. Jesus’ passing over to his father by his death and Resurrection, the new Passover, is anticipated in the Supper and celebrated in the Eucharist, which fulfills the Jewish Passover and anticipates the final Passover of the Church in the glory of the kingdom (Catechism of the Catholic Church #1340).”
When the Church gathers together to celebrate the Eucharist at Mass, the Bishop or the Priest is needed in order for the bread and wine to be transformed into Christ’s real presence. It is Jesus Christ, the Head of the Church, who acts in every celebration of the Eucharist. Jesus acts through the celebrant (Bishop or Priest) on the basis of their ordination, who stands in the place of Christ at the altar in persona Christi (Latin = in the person of Christ, the Head). The Holy Spirit changes the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ when the words of consecration are spoken. “The Eucharist is the memorial of Christ’s Passover…When the Church celebrates the Eucharist, she commemorates Christ’s Passover, and it is made present the sacrifice Christ offered once for all on the cross remains ever present…The sacrificial character of the Eucharist is manifested in the very words of institution: ‘This is my body which is given for you” and “This cup which is poured out for you is the New Covenant in my blood.’ In the Eucharist Christ gives us the very body which he gave up for us on the cross, the very blood which he “poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins (CCC #1362, 1363, 1365).”
The scholastic term used by the Catholic Church to describe the unique change of the Eucharistic bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ is “transubstantiation.” There are other faith traditions (mainly Lutherans) who use the term “consubstantiation” to describe the bread and wine. What is the difference?
“…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…(CCC #1376).”
So, after the words of consecration, the substance of the bread and wine has change into Jesus’ Body and Blood, but the accidents remain. For example, that which was wine and is now Christ’s blood, still has the taste, smell and intoxicating power of wine. But, the substance has changed.
Let’s look at the bread the priest uses in the Sacrament. The whiteness is not the bread. The same is true about the roundness, softness and the smell of the bread. These are simply properties of the bread. These properties are what is called accidents. Thus, the accidents may remain, but the substance has changed after consecration. “The accidents once held in existence by the substance of bread, and those others once held in existence by the substance of wine, are now held in existence solely by God’s will to maintain them (Frank Sheed, Theology for beginners, pg 157).”Jesus is fully present and remains present until consumed or that it is so changed to be no longer accidents of bread or wine.
In consubstantiation, the substance of the bread and wine remains the same, it doesn’t change. Instead, the substance of Christ becomes present along side the bread and wine. The bread and wine do not change. Also, once the worship service is over, Christ is no longer present.
So, what is a person truly receiving when they go to communion outside the Catholic Church? Is it truly Jesus just because someone believes it is, even if the Communion beliefs are correct theologically? Here is a quote that addresses this issue from Fr. Ray Ryland: “But in no non-Catholic church (excepting the Eastern Orthodox) can you receive Jesus Christ himself, Body and Blood, Soul and divinity. Because of the lack of apostolic orders for their ministers, none of the non-Catholic communion services is the Eucharist. Therefore, in no non-Catholic church can you be literally united with Jesus Christ. (“JESUS GIVES HIMSELF TO US: TRANSUBSTANTIATION” By Fr. Ray Ryland).”
Until next time, God bless.