There have been headlines recently about what Catholics do or don’t believe about Jesus’ presence in the Eucharist.
It is Catholic teaching that in the celebration of Mass the bread and wine presented by the Church at the altar becomes truly Christ present, a Sacrifice re-presented to the Father, and shared with the Church in Holy Communion.
The truth of this teaching is one deeply loved by Catholics, but it is a hard one for us to explain. Controversy in the early Middle Ages led to some important definitions of doctrine, but the implications of the technical terms of that age, and the subsequent exploration of them by such as St Thomas Aquinas, are themselves challenging to understand and explain. This is no surprise. How could we think that such a Mystery, such a miraculous gift, can be easily explained and demonstrated?
Of course the basic facts of faith are clear. Jesus said ‘Take eat, this is my Body; and take drink, this is my Blood. Do this in memory of me.’
This we have learnt and we believe that this is so, even now, when the Church at Mass does this in memory of him.
Yet when we think of it, our belief is be challenged by what we see, touch and taste. It looks like nothing changes: we start with bread and wine, do we not end with bread and wine also?
As Thomas Aquinas put it in the Tantum Ergo:
Præstet fides supplementum
What our senses fail to register, faith supplies.
And we struggle to put into words what our faith supplies.
The presence of Jesus is real, true but it is a sacramental presence. It is real presence, but not physical presence. It is spiritual presence – substantial and real presence of the real Jesus, fully human, fully divine – given us as food and drink to help us live out our communion with him.
The recent headlines publicise a response to a survey where 69% of US Catholics in the United States say that they consider it to be more true to say that the Eucharistic food and drink are symbols of the body and blood of Christ, rather than that they actually become the body and blood of Christ, or that they are not sure what the truth is…
The United States journal, National Catholic Register, has published a helpful commentary on the survey and our Eucharistic faith. It suggests that the questions are not helpfully phrased, and so miss something of the nuance with which Catholic Theology speaks of the Eucharistic Mystery.
Have a read, and see what you make of it…