MODERN MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT THE EUCHARIST
by Rev. Regis Scanlon, O.F.M. Cap.
Joseph Cardinal Bernardin stated that "according to a
only thirty percent of our faithful believe what the Church
on the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist." Once
more, there is
also a campaign to eliminate kneeling during the entire
Prayer of the Mass. The cause of these two related
phenomena can be
discovered by examining past and present Catholic theology
Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Let's first look
Scripture and Tradition Are Clear On Transubstantiation
When Jesus told his disciples that "my flesh is real
food and my
blood real drink" (Jn. 6:55), his disciples took
Him <literally> and
said: "This sort of talk is hard to endure! How can
anyone take it
seriously?" (Jn. 6:60). Then St. John's Gospel reports:
fully aware that his disciples were murmuring in protest at
had said" (Jn. 6:61). John then states that "From
this time on, many
of his disciples broke away and would not remain in his
longer. Jesus then said to the Twelve, 'Do you want to leave
too?"' (Jn. 6:66-67). The Twelve (except for Judas)
stayed with Jesus
because they trusted his words (Jn. 6:69-71).
Now, "Jesus was fully aware" that the departing
his teaching literally. Obviously, if Jesus had only meant
would eat his Body and drink his Blood <figuratively>
<symbolically,> He would have said so before they
walked away. Since
He did not, He meant his words literally and, of course,
sensibly or cannibalistically>, but miraculously!
Some people become confused by what Jesus said after the
complained that "This sort of talk is hard to endure!
How can anyone
take it seriously'?" Jesus states: "It is the
spirit that gives life;
the flesh is useless. The words I spoke to you are spirit
(Jn. 6:63). They mistakenly think that this is proof that
saying that He only means that the disciples will eat his
drink his blood spiritually and not literally. But it is
that Jesus would say that <his flesh> is
"useless" alter saying 'the
flesh of the Son of Man" gives "life" (Jn.
6:53). Rather, Jesus is
not talking about his flesh, but about <their flesh.>
telling the disciples that they cannot grasp or come to his
on the Eucharist by their <senses> or their
"flesh," which is
"useless" for this purpose, but only through faith
Now, the fourth century Church Fathers understood that the
is really Jesus Christ Himself. St. Cyril of Alexandria
said <This is my body> and <this is my blood> in
fashion, so that you might <not> judge that what you
see <is a mere
figure>." And St. Ambrose of Milan teaches about
that "<nature itself is changed through the
blessing">. So, it is
quite clear from the fourth century Church Fathers that the
Eucharistic consecration "changes" the
"nature" of the bread and wine
into the "nature" of Jesus Christ and that the
Eucharist is not just
"a mere figure" of Jesus Christ but
"truly" Jesus Christ Himself.
This is precisely why St. Augustine states about the
one eats of this flesh without having first adored it . . .
only do we not sin in thus adoring it, but we would be
sinning if we
did not do so".
This teaching on Christ's Eucharistic Real Presence was not
challenged until the eleventh century (after a thousand
Then, Berengarius of Tours held that Christ was present in
Eucharist only "as mere sign and symbol" and that
consecration, "bread must remain". Berengarius
stated: "That which
is consecrated (the bread) is not able to cease existing
materially." St. Thomas Aquinas (thirteenth century)
"Berengarius . . . the first deviser of this
heresy," that the
consecrated Bread and Wine are only a "sign" of
Christ's Body and
St. Thomas also gave a very good reason why bread and wine
remain after the consecration: "Because it would be
opposed to the
veneration of this sacrament, if any substance were there,
could not be adored with adoration of
"<latria>"." If bread and
wine remained, Catholics would be committing the sin of
adoring it. So, physical bread and wine do not remain!
Thus, the Council of Trent (1545-1563), in harmony with St.
"If anyone says that in the sacred and holy
sacrament of the
Eucharist there remains the substance of bread and wine
the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, and denies
wonderful and singular conversion of the <whole
substance of the
bread> into the Body, and of the <entire
substance of the wine> into
the Blood, the species (appearance) of the bread and
remaining, a change which the Catholic Church most
<transubstantiation:> let him be
Finally, in 196:S, Pope Paul VI taught most clearly that,
consecration at Mass, "nothing remains of the bread and
for the <species> (smell, taste, etc.)" and that
Christ is (bodily)
present whole and entire in his <physical> 'reality,'
present, although not in the manner in which bodies are in a
place." So, the "<physical" thing>
that remains after the
consecration is Jesus Christ and not bread and wine.
New Theology or Old Heresy?
In 1966 the late Fr. Karl Rahner stated that "one can
maintain today that bread is a substance, as St. Thomas and
Fathers of the Council (of Trent) obviously thought it
Rahner, the "substance" of a thing did not include
its <material and
physical> reality, but the "meaning and
purpose" of the thing.
So, according to Karl Rahner, transubstantiation meant that,
the consecration of the Mass, the physical bread remained
bread but it now had a new "meaning" of spiritual
food because it was
a "symbol" of Jesus Christ.
Fr. Edward Schillebeeckx agreed with Fr. Karl Rahner that
physical bread and wine were only a "sign" of
Christ. In fact,
for Schillebeeckx, the "real presence" of Christ
in the Eucharist was
not the consecrated bread and wine, but the presence of
Christ in the
<"assembled community">. This is why
Schillebeeckx says that "<I
kneel, not before a Christ who is, as it were, condensed in
but before the Lord himself> who is offering his reality,
his body, to
me through the host."
This same theory of the real presence of Christ in the
accepted by some theologians in the United States. Thus, Tad
Guzie, S. J. of Marquette University, says that the change
bread and wine taking place through the consecration of the
"not one that has to do with the <physical>
Georgetown University professor, Monika K. Hellwig, suggests
Jesus' words at the Eucharist were not meant to identify the
with his body, but that the "community" was the
"embodiment . . . of
Jesus". Finally, Anthony Wilhelm, author of
<Christ Among Us> (a
catechism with "two million copies sold"), stated:
"When we say that the bread and wine 'become Christ'
<we are not
saying that bread and wine are Christ . . . What we mean is
bread and wine are a sign of Christ present>, here and
now, in a
special way - <not in a mere physical way>, as if
condensed into a
wafer . ."
It is most unfortunate that the errors of Berengarius are
us today. They are to be found at the center of a maze of
obfuscating theological language. It should come as no
that so many of today's Catholics are ignorant of the
teaching on the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.
have great hope that the light of Truth will dispell the
mists through the laity's loyal act of kneeling in
Adoration at the Liturgy and the constant teaching of the
Magisterium, exemplified by Pope John Paul's excellent
the Catholic Church>.
1. Cardinal Joseph
Bernardin, in Gianni Cardinale, "Clinton and Us,"
<30 Days>, no.
12, 1992, p. 32.
2. FDLC (Federation
of Diocesan Liturgical Commissions), "Posture
Prayer," Position Statement 1990 C 2.853, <FDLC
(October 1990), 35.
3. St. Cyril, Bishop
of Alexandria, found in Paul VI, <Mysterium
Fidei>, no. 50,
<The Pope Speaks>, vol. 10, no. 1 (Summer-Autumn
1965), D. 322.
Partially my emphasis.
4. St. Ambrose,
Bishop of Milan, found in Paul VI, no. 51, p. 322. My
5. St. Augustine of
Hippo, found in Paul VI, no. 55, p. 323.
6. C. E. Sheedy,
"Berengarius of Tours," <New Catholic Encyclopedia>,
vol. 2, p. 321;
James T. O'Connor. <The Hidden Manna> (San Francisco:
1988), p. 97.
<De Sacra Coena Adversus Lanfrancum>, A. F. Vischer
and F. T.
Vischer, eds. (Hildesheim: Georg Olms Verlag, 1975), p.
translation taken from James T. O'Connor, p. 102. My
8. St. Thomas
Aquinas, <Summa Theologica>, IIIa, q. 75, art. 1. My
9. St. Thomas
Aquinas, <Summa Theologica> llla, q. 75, art. 2.
no. 884, 30th edition. My emphasis and parenthesis. For
"species" with "appearance" see <Denz.>, no. 874,
from Paul VI, no. 45, p. 321.
11. Paul VI, no. 46,
p. 321. My emphasis and parenthesis.
12. Karl Rahner, S.
J., <Theological Investigations>, vol. IV, trans.
by Kevin Smyth
(Baltimore: Helicon Press, 1966), p. 307. My
13. Karl Rahner, S.J.,
p. 307; Engelbert Gutwenger,
<Encyclopedia of Theology: The Concise
edited by Karl Rahner, (New York: The Seabury
Press, 1975), p.
1754; St. Thomas Aquinas, On Being and Essence,
chap. 2, no. 1, pp.
34-35. My emphasis.
Gutwenger, pp. 1754-1755. My emphasis.
Schillcbeeckx, O. P. <The Eucharist>, (New York: Sheed and
Ward, 1968), p. 120.
Schillebeeckx, O. P.. p. 120. My emphasis.
Schillebeeckx, O. P., p. 120. My emphasis.
18. Tad W. Guzie, S.
J., <Jesus and the Eucharist> (New York: Paulist
pp. 67-68. My parenthesis and my emphasis.
19. Monika K.
Hellwig, <Understanding Catholicism> (New York: Paulist
Press, 1981), p.
20. Anthony Wilhelm,
<Christ Among Us>, 5th revised edition (San
Collins Pub., 1990), the cover and p. 216.
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