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BITE-SIZE THEOLOGY (139) – What’s special about the Real Presence?

July 30, 2021

Rev José Mario O Mandía
jmom.honlam.org 

The CCCC (282) teaches us that “Jesus Christ is present in the Eucharist in a unique and incomparable way. He is present in a true, real and substantial way, with his Body and his Blood, with his Soul and his Divinity. In the Eucharist, therefore, there is present in a sacramental way, that is, under the Eucharistic species of bread and wine, Christ whole and entire, God and Man.”

SUBSTANTIAL AND SACRAMENTAL PRESENCE

In order to understand what we mean by “substantial presence,” we need to understand the terms “substance” and “accidents.” According to Aristotelian and Thomistic philosophy, every created being is a composite of two principles: substance and accidents. The substance is the thing itself. Simply put, when we ask, “What is it?” we want to find out what the substance is. When we ask, “Can you describe it or point out its characteristics?” we want to find out its accidents. So when we say that Christ is substantially present, it means Christ “with his Body and his Blood, with his Soul and his Divinity … whole and entire, God and Man” (CCCC 282) is there. 

His presence, moreover, is “sacramental.” What does that mean? Remember that a sacrament is defined as a visible sign of an invisible reality. In the Eucharist, Jesus Christ is the invisible reality. He is substantially present, but His presence is not shown through His physical appearance or accidents, but through two visible signs: the accidents (or “species” or appearances) of bread and wine. What we see, smell and taste are the color, odor and taste  of bread and wine. We don’t see the accidents (or appearances) of Christ’s human body. It is for this reason that the Church does not say that it is a “physical” presence, but a sacramental presence. We might say that Jesus “pretends to be” or  “disguises” Himself as bread and wine. He does not use His own physical appearance to show Himself to us, but borrows the appearances of bread and wine.

The fact that Christ’s presence is sacramental explains why the physical breaking of the Consecrated Host does not result in the physical breaking of Christ, precisely because Christ’s presence is not physical but sacramental.

HOW DOES THIS SACRAMENTAL PRESENCE COME ABOUT? 

It comes about during the consecration at Mass, when the celebrant pronounces the words: “This is My Body,” and “This is the cup of My Blood” (cf CCC 1377). At that moment, transubstantiation happens. 

What is transubstantiation? The CCCC (283) explains: “Transubsantiation means the change of the whole substance of bread into the substance of the Body of Christ and of the whole substance of wine into the substance of his Blood.” 

The power to bring about this change was given by Christ to the apostles during the Last Supper when he told them, “Do this in remembrance of me” (I Corinthians 11:24) The same point of the CCCC adds, “However, the outward characteristics of bread and wine, that is the ‘Eucharistic species,’ remain unaltered.”

After the consecration, the bread and wine disappear. But their characteristics remain. This phenomenon is one of its kind. In nature, when something changes into another thing (substantial change), the appearances also change (accidental change). Not in this case. 

The CCC (1377) teaches us further that the Lord’s Eucharistic presence “endures as long as the Eucharistic species subsist.” So when we receive Him in communion, as long as the characteristics of bread remain, the Lord Jesus is truly, really, substantially and sacramentally present in our bodies. We are, in those few most precious moments, living Tabernacles!