By: Jerome of Navarre
As Catholics we know that the mystery of the Eucharist is called transubstantiation. That mystery occurs every day when the priest says the Eucharistic prayers consecrating the host. This prompts us as we kneel to gaze at the host in wonder. The host suddenly is transformed into the Body and Blood of Jesus. Jesus speaks to this miracle in Luke’s gospel when He says “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I tell you, I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” (Luke 22: 15-16) Our savior goes on to break the bread and distribute it stating “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me (Luke 22:19).”
To explain this mystery, the Catholic Church uses the term transubstantiation. It is a term never uttered in the Bible; however it is the closest understanding we can have of this mystery. The Council of Trent, nearly 500 years ago sought to explain this 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 this 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 (ccc1376).”
The Council went on to explain that under this transubstantiation of bread and wine “Christ himself, living and glorious, is present in a true, real and substantial manner: his Body and his Blood, with his soul and his divinity (ccc1413).” To bring the new and connect it to the old to fulfill the law, we need to understand that this all goes back the time God provided Manna for the Israelites in the dessert shown in Exodus 16:4. We can make the connection from the old to the new when Jesus feeds the five-thousand as told in Luke 9:16. While this is a connection to the miracle of feeding the hungry and giving them sustenance to carry forward, it is also an institution established of the sacrament of the Eucharist that sustains us spiritually and gives us eternal salvation. Without a doubt the apostles believed this.
In Acts we see Paul practicing the sacrament as he references “On the first day of the week, when we meet to break bread… (Act 20:7).” In his first letter to the Corinthians Paul challenges them, rhetorically asking about the blessed cup and bread “is it not the communion of the blood of Christ… is it not the communion of the Body of Christ? (1 Cor 10:16).” He went on to remind the Corinthians that Christ instituted the sacrament of the Eucharist at the last supper (1 Cor 11:23). If we have any question at all about this real presence, or transubstantiation, I cannot think of any better reference than 1 Corinthians 11 27:29 when Saint Paul states unequivocally:
“Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be answerable for the body and blood of the Lord. Examine yourselves, and only then eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For all who eat and drink without discerning the body, eat and drink judgment against themselves.”
While we ponder Saint Paul’s words we harken back to the Gospel of John 6:53, where Jesus doubles down on the Eucharist and our call to partake, stating for a second time to His skeptics “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man an drink his blood you have no life in you.” That life, of course meant eternal life with God, the real life we are designed for. That is how important the Eucharist is to us. That mystery of transubstantiation, and the charge by God himself, is why it is at the center of our worship. The source and summit of our faith. For me, I deepen myself into the mystery every time I am in His presence
As I kneel and gaze the Eucharist in wonder and awe, I receive the gift of the Spirit. Looking closely I can see after the consecration, the thickness of the body of Christ in the host appear and thickens in depth and substance. As my gaze deepens into the host when the priest holds for all to see, the body of Christ appears as a thickness of flesh and blood (even with a red tint). Then as the host is broken in half, a small corner broken off and added to the wine I reflect on the wedding at Cana account in John 2: 1-10. I see each of the pieces assume the real presence. The half piece is again broken in half and the new pieces are filled with total substance of the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ. After the priest lays down the host I continue to gaze even deeper while he consumes Christ and the reflection of the paten glistens on his face. The reflection moves with the Host as the priest raises it towards his mouth and I can now see the fleshy depth in the appearance of a dark red tinted spot, the body and blood of Jesus Christ.
The other parts of the concentrated host then expand outward to assume the full substance of the piece of host and I know the body and blood of Christ is poured out for us. The four parts of the host now suddenly are the living body and blood of Christ. The living bread touches each piece, transforms each host into the Body of Christ. This is the mystery explained for me. Transubstantiation explained for me. I recommend to all to reflect deeper on the mystery of transubstantiation. The word is big for sure, but its intent is to bring you deeper into the mystery, the source and summit.
Note: For more information on the Eucharist please see the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops website where they answer the typical questions about the Eucharist in a straight forward way. See: http://www.usccb.org/prayer-and-worship/the-mass/order-of-mass/liturgy-of-the-eucharist/the-real-presence-of-jesus-christ-in-the-sacrament-of-the-eucharist-basic-questions-and-answers.cfm