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Real Presence and Freaky Friday

Two hands transferring a chalice from one to another, like Jesus with his disciples

Bear with me.

The following piece was written at a time in my life when I was trying to embrace the teaching of the Catholic Church when it comes to the Sacrament of Holy Communion. It isn’t scholarly (nothing that I write should be considered that anyway.) It’s kind of fun and a little silly, but if it’s not completely inaccurate (I’m absolutely not an expert on the definitions of accident and substance) maybe it can help us slightly better understand the philosophy of transubstantiation. At least, as I write in the piece, I hope it doesn’t hurt. (Comments to better educate me are always welcome!)

May 28, 2005

I, a person of faith, am also a logical human being.  I know that, after the consecration, the Body and Blood of Christ still look like bread and wine.  If they were looked at under a microscope, they would still have all the physical properties of bread and wine.  The size, shape, weight, color, texture, smell and taste of bread and wine are not changed after the consecration — but the essence, the substance, is changed.  This is what medieval theologians meant by the term “transubstantiation.”  The physical properties, or accidents, of bread and wine remain, but the true identity, the substance, is changed into the Body and Blood of Christ.

Given this explanation, I confess, my intellectual understanding still asks to be satisfied.  I do not, however, fear my limited intellect and understanding, I know that I should, instead, ask for the Holy Spirit.  Even the Faithfull can ask, “How?”  The Holy Virgin Mother herself asked this very question to the Archangel Gabriel when he told her that she was to conceive and bare the Messiah.  We should not fear the question of how and neither should we fear the answer.  Faith opens the door to the realm of the unseen, even while our brains are demanding, “Show me!”  This hunger of our minds makes the Magisterium of the Church so important. 

At different periods in history, Church Councils are held to bring further clarification with modern understanding to unchanging truths, the “how’s” of the doctrines of faith.  This is what occurred at the Council of Trent with the definition of transubstantiation, used to make more intellectually understandable the Real Presence of Our Lord in the Eucharist, a spiritual fact of reality that the Faithfull had always believed. 

In the spirit of modern explanations to timeless truth, and, I pray, with the protection of the Holy Spirit to keep me from error and sin, I modestly put forth this little thought about transubstantiation.  It’s a thought that I don’t credit to myself, though it is simple and silly enough.  If it does not help, then I pray, at least, it does not hurt.

Have you, reader, ever seen one of those movies where two people switch bodies?  I’ve seen one where a father and son, by some freak accident, swap places.  Now, the grown man, let’s call him Joe, is in the body of the little kid, whom we’ll call Billy, and vice versa.  The little kid still looks like Billy after the change.  He has the same height, weight, eye color, hair color, skin color, even voice, that little Billy had.  All of his statistics, if you will, (or accidents) are the same.  If you checked his DNA, it would even tell you that it’s Billy.  People passing by him would say, “Hey, there’s Billy.”  (And if the “little boy” told them otherwise, who would believe him?)  The problem is that the little boy isn’t really the little boy anymore, he’s the grown man, Joe. 

Only the people who are truly familiar with Joe, with the essence of who Joe is, only those who have intimate knowledge of him (and the ability to believe the seemingly fantastic) have any chance of knowing who the little kid really is now.  They know in their hearts that, though all the physical statistics are Billy’s, the person is Joe.

The statistics of Holy Eucharist say bread and wine, but the true identity of Holy Eucharist is Jesus.  “This is my body… my blood… do this in remembrance of me… My flesh is true food… my blood is true drink… Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood you have no life within you… the one who feeds on me will have life because of me… [i] whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.[iii]”  As a Christian, I must believe what Christ says and do what Christ tells me to do.

A true believer and true follower of Christ knows that the Tabernacle contains the Body of Christ, the most substantially real presence of Jesus, the God-Man.  To say this, I know, is to offend many Christians.  If, they may say, this is true, why don’t all the good Christians of the world know it?  “How can they know if they are not told?”[iv]  Even after being told, one must make a great leap, there’s no doubt about that.  Catholics are told about the Real Presence and, yet, not all of us really believe.  A leap of faith is needed.  Taking the leap, by the Grace of God and power of the Holy Spirit, knowledge and understanding will be given.  The gift of faith is available to all.  “Ask and you shall receive; seek and you shall find; knock and the door shall be opened to you.”[v]  But, be warned.  Jesus says, “My yolk is easy and my burden light.”[vi]  However, Jesus also says that we must love the Lord our God with all our hearts, souls, minds, and strength, and we must love our neighbors as ourselves.  If we do not have true love, then the yolk will be extremely difficult and the burden terribly heavy, and we might not make it through the opened door.

Belief in the Real Presence should never be reduced to superstition by believers.  The belief must be practiced.  We who receive Christ in his sacred Body and Blood must fall to our knees in humble gratitude for the abundance of life that we have received, for the outpouring of Christ’s heart that has filled us.  We are blessed to be able to partake in the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Our Lord, and to have the life of the Resurrected Lord within us.  We must allow ourselves to be consecrated by the power of the Holy Spirit, we must allow the substantial presence of Jesus to substantially change our hearts. 

In the words of St. John Chrysostom (347-407):

“You have tasted the Blood of the Lord, yet you do not recognize your brother. . . . God freed you from all your sins and invited you here, but you have not become more merciful.”

May this never be said of us.  Lord, may this never be said of me.

For the sake of copyright © 2023 Christina Chase

Feature Photo by Jametlene Reskp on Unsplash

[i] John 6


[iv] John 5:47

[v] John 5:57

[vi] John 5:51

Christina Chase View All

Although crippled by disease, I'm fully alive in love. I write about the terrible beauty and sacred wonder of life, while living with physical disability and severe dependency. A revert to the Catholic faith through atheism, I'm not afraid to ask life's big questions. I explore what it means to be fully human through my weekly blog and have written a book: It's Good to Be Here, published by Sophia Institute Press.

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