All references to and citations from Scripture come from the Douay-Rheims Challoner Revision ©1899.
All references to and citations from the Liturgy come from the Traditional Latin Mass, specifically, the New Roman Missal by Fr. Francis X. Lasance ©1947.
On January 31, 2023, the National Catholic Reporter published an article titled, “The Eucharist is About More than the Real Presence.” As a so-called “Catholic” publication this is extremely irresponsible journalism, considering less than 30% of Catholics today believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Father Thomas Reese, SJ, states in his article, “I believe in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, I just don’t believe in transubstantiation.” Transubstantiation is how Christ makes Himself present in that tiny little host. Part of Father Reese’s argument is that modern Catholics do not or cannot understand Aristotellian metaphysics. No one is asking anyone to try and grasp Aristotle. The Church, over the centuries, has done a fantastic job of describing the process.
First and foremost, transubstantiation is the mysterium fidei (the mystery of faith) spoken of by the priest in the words of institution when he consecrates the chalice and says, “Hic est enim Calix Sanguinis mei, nobi et aeteri testamenti: mysterium fidei, qui pro nobis et pro multis effundetur in remissionem peccatorum” (For this is the Chalice of My Blood, of the new and everlasting testament: the mystery of faith, which for you and for many shall be shed unto the remission of sins). It is the mystery of faith, through which Christ makes Himself present on the altar and through which He makes Himself food for our physical and spiritual nourishment.
While the word transubstantiation was not first used until Hildebert de Lavardin, the Archbishop of Tours, used it in the 11th century, the process has been used and described since the earliest days of the Church. Jesus said “This is My Body” (Mt. 26:26, Lk. 22:19, Mk. 14:22, 1 Cor. 11:24). In John. 6:26-71, in what is known as the “Bread of Life Discourse,” Jesus told those who were with Him that His flesh was real food, and His blood was real drink. He said, “Amen, amen I say unto you: Except you eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, you shall not have life in you. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath everlasting life: and I will raise him up in the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed: and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, abideth in me, and I in him. As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father; so he that eateth me, the same also shall live by me” (Jn. 6:54-58). When He said this, many of those who were with Him accused Him of promoting cannibalism. He didn’t correct them. He meant what He said - His body would become real food, and His blood would become real drink.
How does this happen? While the actual process of transubstantiation is the mystery of faith, the concept is actually not hard to grasp. The word transubstantiation is a combination of two Latin words:
trans = change/transform
substantiatio = substance
When the bread and wine, upon the altar, become the Body and Blood of Christ, they transform from the substance of bread and wine into the substance of Christ’s Body and Blood, yet they continue to maintain the accidents, or outward appearance of bread and wine. Accident, in this case, is another Latin word, which means: a property or quality not essential to a substance or object. Christ veils Himself in the host and in the chalice. It is much easier for us to receive Him under the appearance of bread, than it is to receive Him as a lump of flesh.
The Council of Trent, which was called in response to the rise in heresy following the Protestant Reformation, stated in Chapter IV of the Thirteenth Session of the Council, “But since Christ our Redeemer declared that to be truly His own body which He offered under the form of bread, it has, therefore, always been a firm belief in the Church of God, and this holy council now declares it anew, that by the consecration of the bread and wine a change is brought about 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 properly and appropriately calls transubstantiation.” Furthermore, Canon 2 regarding the Holy Eucharist from the Council of Trent states, “If anyone says that in the sacred and, holy sacrament of the Eucharist the substance of the bread and wine remains conjointly with the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, and denies that wonderful and singular change of the whole substance of the bread into the body and the whole substance of the wine into the blood, the appearances only of bread and wine remaining, which change the Catholic Church most aptly calls transubstantiation, let him be anathema.” Anathema is another Latin word, which means a formal curse by a pope or a council of the Church, excommunicating a person or denouncing a doctrine. By stating that he does not believe in transubstantiation, Father Reese is anathematizing himself, essentially excommunicating himself.
When a Church Council declares something anathema, that is a very serious thing. To be anathema is to be participating in the very thing we have been told not to do under penalty of excommunication. In the case of transubstantiation, we are not required to understand it, however, we are required to believe in it. We do not understand every little nuance of the Trinity, yet we believe in it. Why should we not also believe in transubstantiation?
Father Reese believes that the concept of transubstantiation and all the Latin words are too difficult for modern Catholics to understand. All of these words and concepts can be easily understood with just a little bit of work. He underestimates our intelligence. I ask you to join me in praying for Father Reese that he may come to believe in transubstantiation. I also ask you to pray for any of the faithful who happen to be unfortunate enough to fall under Father Reeese’s pastoral care.