The Eucharist (continued)
One of the primary motivations for the Eucharistic Revival has been the results of surveys among Catholics of all ages and backgrounds, suggesting that perhaps 50-75 percent of Catholics do not believe in the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist.
Surveys always require interpretation and some of the numbers may reflect not so much actual disbelief as misunderstanding or confusion about this Presence. Nonetheless, the need for deeper understanding in the Church’s faith is clear.
We believe that Jesus is present in the Mass in four ways:
• in the assembly gathered in his Name. They are members of his Mystical Body, and he himself said that “wherever two or three are gathered in My name, there am I in their midst” (Matthew 18:20).
• in the Scriptures as they are proclaimed. Jesus is the Word of God made flesh. Thus, all the words of the Scriptures somehow refer to him, and Christ speaks through them to his people. “God's word is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword” (Hebrews 4:12). Thus the proclamation of the Scriptures, the inspired Word of God, is integral to the celebration of the Mass. No other writings, no matter how eloquent or moving, can be substituted for the very Word of God.
• in the person of the priest, ordained to public ministry of the Church. In the liturgy, the priest acts not on his own behalf, but in persona Christi capitis (“in the person of Christ the Head”). Thus the priest can be said to bring Christ to the people, and the people to Christ, in the exercise of his ministry in the Eucharistic celebration.
• in the Eucharistic species in a pre-eminent way: Christ is present truly, really, and substantially through the miracle called “transubstantiation.” The very substance of the bread and wine are changed into Christ's Body and Blood. Christ is present whole and entire, from the consecration of the species until the forms of bread and wine no longer subsist, in each of the species and in each of their parts. This real presence is not a local presence, as if Jesus were here and nowhere else; rather, the whole Christ is present in every consecrated Host and in every tabernacle throughout the world. Nor is it the same kind of physical presence as we are present in our bodies. The breaking of the bread does not somehow “divide Christ.”
This is a mystery of which the Council of Trent confessed: “We can hardly find words to express this way of existing.” Pope Paul VI explained it in these words: “After the change of the substance or nature of the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ, nothing remains of the bread and wine but the appearances, under which Christ, whole and entire, in His physical ‘reality’ is bodily present, although not in the same way as bodies are present in a given place” (Paul VI, Mysterium fidei, §45).
The presence of Christ in the Eucharist is not merely symbolic, nor does it depend upon the belief or will of the congregation. Rather, this presence manifests the fidelity of the Lord who promised to be with us until the end of the world (Matthew 28:20). Thus the glorified body of the risen Lord is truly and personally present, having transcended all boundaries of space and time. In this way, the same Christ is present everywhere the Blessed Sacrament is. This Real Presence is a mystery beyond human comprehension. But it is given to us in the certitude of faith by the One Who plainly said: “This is My body; this is My blood” (Mark 14:22-24 and parallels).