by Rev. Matthew T. Long
Following the resurrection of the Lord, Christ appeared to and taught the apostles numerous times over a 40-day period. When it was time for him to return to the right hand of the Father, he commissioned the apostles to go out into the world and teach all he had taught them and he ended his teachings with these words “And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20). This promise made by Christ was a promise not only to those gathered around him, but to all the faithful who would heed his teachings. As a result of this promise most people are aware of the many ways the Lord is present to us. We recognize his presence in the alien, the marginalized and the forgotten. We recognize his presence where two or more are gathered in his name. We recognize his presence in creation. We recognize his presence in the priest, in the Word proclaimed and in the assembly gathered at Mass. He is present to us in the love of a husband and wife, a parent and child and within the Christian Community. Christ is present to us in many other ways as well. The most important way he is present to us, however, is in the Eucharistic species, the bread and wine transformed into something extraordinary by the Word spoken and the power of the Holy Spirit.
Christ’s presence under this mode is unique. It is unique because, “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.” St. Thomas Aquinas, STH III, 73, 3c.
We usually refer to this presence as “Real.” This is not to in any way diminish the other ways Christ is made present to us. What this signifies is that under the Eucharistic species Christ is present in the fullest sense as both, God and man, he makes himself wholly and entirely present. CCC 1374.
St. John Chrysostom gives an excellent explanation of how bread and wine are converted into the Body and Blood of the Lord.
“It is not man that causes the things offered to become the Body and Blood of Christ, but he who was crucified for us, Christ himself. The priest, in the role of Christ, pronounces these words, but their power and grace are God’s. This is my body, he says. This word transforms the thing offered.”
As is evident it is through the Word that ordinary bread and wine become something extraordinary. This same Word spoke the universe into being from nothing. This same Word calmed the storm. This same Word redeemed and saved us by his saving work on Calvary. It is through the Word that Christ becomes really present to us under the Eucharistic species.
The Church has used the word ‘transubstantiation’ to define this changing of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of the Lord. The Council of Trent summarized it best when it stated, “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.” CCC 1736.
This means that although every one of our senses tells us it is bread and wine, it is truly the Body and Blood of the Lord. St. Thomas Aquinas reminds us it “cannot be apprehended by the senses but only by faith, which relies on divine authority.” This divine authority comes from Christ’s own words spoken at the Last Supper and preserved by the Sacred Tradition in Sacred Scripture, “This is my body.” St. Cyril admonishes us, “Do not doubt whether it is true, but rather receive the words of the Savior in faith, for since he is truth, he cannot lie.”
Christ becomes present in the Eucharist at the moment of the consecration when the priest speaks the words that Christ spoke 2,000 years ago. This presence continues and is whole and entire under both species and in each part, in such a way that by breaking the bread or pouring the wine cannot divide Christ. CCC 1377.
We acknowledge the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist every time we enter a Church where the Eucharistic species is reserved in the tabernacle. We do this by genuflecting before we enter our pew or each time we pass before the tabernacle. We also do it when we approach the altar of God to receive communion by making a simple bow. We do this as well when we kneel during the consecration, after the Agnes Dei, and after receiving communion. These are acts we often do not think about, but by doing them we acknowledge the real presence of God.
We are blessed in an amazing way as Catholics that the Lord we follow and serve makes himself truly and really present to us as we make this pilgrim journey upon earth. All of us can acknowledge our belief in the real presence and increase our faith in it by simply giving our time to the Lord. He is reserved in every one of our Churches signaled by the vigil lights burning throughout our diocese. The God of all creation is waiting patiently for us to come and spend a few moments with him. I urge all of you to make your way to church and spend a few minutes or hours praying before the tabernacle, acknowledging Christ’s real presence and at the same time bolstering your own faith as you draw ever nearer to the one who saves.