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by Rev. Regis Scanlon, O.F.M. Cap.



Joseph Cardinal Bernardin stated that "according to a Gallup poll

only thirty percent of our faithful believe what the Church teaches

on the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist."[1] Once more, there is

also a campaign to eliminate kneeling during the entire Eucharistic

Prayer of the Mass.[2] The cause of these two related phenomena can be

discovered by examining past and present Catholic theology of the

Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Let's first look at



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: "Jesus was

fully aware that his disciples were murmuring in protest at what he

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 company any

longer. Jesus then said to the Twelve, 'Do you want to leave me

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 disciples understood

his teaching literally. Obviously, if Jesus had only meant that they

would eat his Body and drink his Blood <figuratively> or

<symbolically,> He would have said so before they walked away. Since

He did not, He meant his words literally and, of course, <not

sensibly or cannibalistically>, but miraculously!


Some people become confused by what Jesus said after the disciples

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 and life"

(Jn. 6:63). They mistakenly think that this is proof that Jesus is

saying that He only means that the disciples will eat his flesh and

drink his blood spiritually and not literally. But it is illogical

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.> Jesus is

telling the disciples that they cannot grasp or come to his teaching

on the Eucharist by their <senses> or their "flesh," which is

"useless" for this purpose, but only through faith or "spirit".


Now, the fourth century Church Fathers understood that the Eucharist

is really Jesus Christ Himself. St. Cyril of Alexandria states: "He

said <This is my body> and <this is my blood> in a demonstrative

fashion, so that you might <not> judge that what you see <is a mere

figure>."[3] And St. Ambrose of Milan teaches about the Eucharist

that "<nature itself is changed through the blessing">.[4] 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 Eucharist: "no

one eats of this flesh without having first adored it . . . and not

only do we not sin in thus adoring it, but we would be sinning if we

did not do so".[5]


This teaching on Christ's Eucharistic Real Presence was not seriously

challenged until the eleventh century (after a thousand years!).

Then, Berengarius of Tours held that Christ was present in the

Eucharist only "as mere sign and symbol" and that after the

consecration, "bread must remain".[6] Berengarius stated: "That which

is consecrated (the bread) is not able to cease existing

materially."[7] St. Thomas Aquinas (thirteenth century) calls

"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 cannot

remain after the consecration: "Because it would be opposed to the

veneration of this sacrament, if any substance were there, which

could not be adored with adoration of "<latria>"."[9] If bread and

wine remained, Catholics would be committing the sin of idolatry by

adoring it. So, physical bread and wine do not remain!


Thus, the Council of Trent (1545-1563), in harmony with St. Thomas

infallibly taught:


"If anyone says that in the sacred and holy sacrament of the

Eucharist there remains the substance of bread and wine together with

the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, and denies that

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 wine only

remaining, a change which the Catholic Church most fittingly calls

<transubstantiation:> let him be anathema."[10]


Finally, in 196:S, Pope Paul VI taught most clearly that, after the

consecration at Mass, "nothing remains of the bread and wine except

for the <species> (smell, taste, etc.)" and that Christ is (bodily)

present whole and entire in his <physical> 'reality,' corporeally

present, although not in the manner in which bodies are in a

place."[11] 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 no longer

maintain today that bread is a substance, as St. Thomas and the

Fathers of the Council (of Trent) obviously thought it was".[12] For

Rahner, the "substance" of a thing did not include its <material and

physical> reality, but the "meaning and purpose" of the thing.[13]

So, according to Karl Rahner, transubstantiation meant that, after

the consecration of the Mass, the physical bread remained physical

bread but it now had a new "meaning" of spiritual food because it was

now a "symbol" of Jesus Christ.[14]


Fr. Edward Schillebeeckx agreed with Fr. Karl Rahner that the

physical bread and wine were only a "sign" of Christ.[15] 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">.[16] This is why Schillebeeckx says that "<I

kneel, not before a Christ who is, as it were, condensed in the host,

but before the Lord himself> who is offering his reality, his body, to

me through the host."[17]


This same theory of the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist was

accepted by some theologians in the United States. Thus, Tad W.

Guzie, S. J. of Marquette University, says that the change in the

bread and wine taking place through the consecration of the Mass is

"not one that has to do with the <physical> order'."[18] And,

Georgetown University professor, Monika K. Hellwig, suggests that

Jesus' words at the Eucharist were not meant to identify the "bread"

with his body, but that the "community" was the "embodiment . . . of

Jesus".[19] 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 that the

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 . ."[20]


It is most unfortunate that the errors of Berengarius are still with

us today. They are to be found at the center of a maze of subtle,

obfuscating theological language. It should come as no surprise then,

that so many of today's Catholics are ignorant of the Church's

teaching on the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. However, we

have great hope that the light of Truth will dispell the Berengarian

mists through the laity's loyal act of kneeling in Eucharistic

Adoration at the Liturgy and the constant teaching of the

Magisterium, exemplified by Pope John Paul's excellent <Catechism of

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

During Eucharistic Prayer," Position Statement 1990 C 2.853, <FDLC

Newsletter> (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:

Ignatius Press, 1988), p. 97.


7. Berengarius, <De Sacra Coena Adversus Lanfrancum>, A. F. Vischer

and F. T.  Vischer, eds. (Hildesheim: Georg Olms Verlag, 1975), p.

91. English translation taken from James T. O'Connor, p. 102. My

parenthesis and emphasis.


8. St. Thomas Aquinas, <Summa Theologica>, IIIa, q. 75, art. 1. My



9. St. Thomas Aquinas, <Summa Theologica> llla, q. 75, art. 2.

Partially my emphasis


10. <Denz.> no. 884, 30th edition. My emphasis and parenthesis. For

translation of "species" with "appearance" see <Denz.>, no. 874, and

English translation 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,

"Transubstantiation," <Encyclopedia of Theology: The Concise

Sacramentum Mundi> 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.


14. Engelhert Gutwenger, pp. 1754-1755. My emphasis.


15. Edward Schillcbeeckx, O. P. <The Eucharist>, (New York: Sheed and

Ward, 1968), p. 120.


16. Edward Schillebeeckx, O. P.. p. 120. My emphasis.


17. Edward Schillebeeckx, O. P., p. 120. My emphasis.


18. Tad W. Guzie, S. J., <Jesus and the Eucharist> (New York: Paulist

Press, 1974), pp.  67-68. My parenthesis and my emphasis.


19. Monika K. Hellwig, <Understanding Catholicism> (New York: Paulist

Press, 1981), p. 139.


20. Anthony Wilhelm, <Christ Among Us>, 5th revised edition (San

Francisco: Harper Collins Pub., 1990), the cover and p. 216.


(c) The Blue Army, reprinted with permission from SOUL Magazine.


This article was taken from the January - February 1996 issue of SOUL

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