Part 4 Theology

Chapter e43 The Presence of Christ

Preliminary Questions


Presence of the Risen Lord

Real Presence

How the Eucharistic Prayers Speak of the Change of the Elements

Eucharist in the Summa of Thomas Aquinas

The Council of Trent


Catechism of the Catholic Church

Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry

Osborne's Summary on Transubstantiation

Questions of "Real Absence"

Kilmartin on Presence

Nathan Mitchell on  Transubstantiation

Meaning of Words

Tips for Explaining Real Presence in Post-Modern America

To Think About

Preliminary Questions

What do we mean when we say "Christ is 'really' present in the Eucharist"?   How would you explain to a catechumen how the presence of Christ at the Eucharist is "real" but not "physical"?

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Recent links, books, and articles

The Statement of the USCCB, issued June 15, 2001 "The Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Sacrament of the Eucharist:  Basic Questions and Answers"  can be found at

Fink, Peter, S.J., "Perceiving the Presence of Christ," in Worship: Praying the Sacraments. Washington DC: Pastoral Press, 1991, pp 81-93.

Kenan B. Osborne, O.F.M., Sacramental Guidelines: A Companion to the New Catechism for Religious Educators. Mahwah, New Jersey: Paulist Press, 1995. ISBN 0-8091-3565-5  12.95

Mitchell, Nathan.  "The Amen Corner," Worship 74:2 (March 2000), pp 173-182.

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Classic Texts

Thomas Aquinas.  Summa Theologica   The works of St. Thomas Aquinas have been digitized and indexed on CD by the members of the Association for the Computerization of Lexicological Hermeneutical Analyses (CAEL), which sponsored the production of the Index Tomisticus, a complete glossary of the linguistic terms (some 9 million words) taken from St. Thomas´ works.  The completion of the Index Tomisticus in 2002 was due to the tireless work of Jesuit Father Roberto Busa, a pioneer in the computerization of human sciences.

Cabie, Robert. The Eucharist, New Edition 1986. Vol II of The Church at Prayer, G. Martimort editor. Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 1986, pp 127-148.

Deiss, Lucien.  It's the Lords Supper Eucharist of Christians, New York: Paulist Press, 1976. [The author gives a good summary of how the eucharist was celebrated from the time of early Christians up to the present.]

Dix, Gregory . The Shape of the Liturgy. London: Dacre Press, 1970, pp 434-612.

Hay, Leo. Eucharist: A Thanksgiving Celebration. Volume 3-A of Message of the Sacraments. Michael Glazier, Inc., 1989. ISBN 8-89453-280-4.

Jasper and Cuming. Prayers of the Eucharist: Early and Reformed. Third Revised Edition 1987. New York: Pueblo Publishing Company, 1987, #20-24, pp 147-173.

Edward J. Kilmartin, S.J., The Eucharist in the West, Edited by Robert J. Daly, S.J., Pueblo, 1998,

Martos, Joseph. Doors to the Sacred, New York: Image Books,1982. [Chapter 8 describes the history of the eucharist.]

Mitchell, Nathan.   Cult and Controversy: The Worship of the Eucharist Outside Mass. Collegeville: The Liturgical Press [A Pueblo Book], 1982, pp 66-200.

Mitchell, Nathan.  Real Presence:  The Work of Eucharist.  Chicago:  Liturgy Training Publications, 1998.  ISBN 1-56854-265-8.  $12.00. 

Osborne, Kenan.  The Christian Sacraments of Initiation (New York: Paulist Press, 1987), pp 190-211.

White, James. Introduction To Christian Worship, Nashville: Abington Press, 1980.

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Presence of the Risen Lord

Eucharist Jesus With Us #10, December 2005. Q1205

The following is a draft of a published article copyright 2005 by St. Anthony Messenger Press, 28 w. Liberty St., Cincinnati, OH 45202.  1-800-488-0488.  The article may not be reproduced or sold without written permission from the publisher. 

"Is Christ really present in the Eucharist?"  I am sure that you would answer "yes" to that question.  I can't imagine why you would be spending the time and effort needed to read this article if you were not already convinced of this central mystery of our Catholic faith.  Because you already believe this doctrine, I thought we might approach the subject in a slightly different way.  Let's talk about icebergs and shoeboxes.  


Several times in these newsletters I have used the metaphor of an iceberg.  I don't know how familiar you are with icebergs--I must admit I have never seen a real one myself --but all you need to know about icebergs to understand this article is that the biggest part of the iceberg (about 87%) lies unseen below the surface of the water.  The part that we see is literally only the "tip of the iceberg."  

Your understanding of the Real Presence is something like an iceberg. There is a conscious, reasoned, logical part which embraces all the things you "know" about the Eucharist--the things you have been taught in school, catechisms, the writings of the Popes, Sunday homilies, etc.  But all of these "facts" rest on top of a much larger body of experiences and meanings which--like the submerged part of the iceberg--lie unseen below the surface of our consciousness.  Sometimes we are not even aware of this vast body of memories, feelings and emotions.  Yet they are very important because of the way they support and interpret the "facts," the things we "know" about the Eucharist (the "top of the iceberg" part of our understanding). 

Recently I saw a spectacular photograph of a whole iceberg, top and bottom.  The picture was taken by a diver when the water was especially calm and the sun was almost directly over head.  The photo revealed not only the beauty of the iceberg as we normally see it, floating exposed on top of the water line, but also showed the great mass of ice hidden below the surface of the water.  In this article I invite you to put on your "theological wetsuit" and stick your head in the icy waters to take a look at the bottom of your "Eucharist Iceberg."  Together we will attempt to look at some of the meanings and images that lie "underneath" the statements we make about the Eucharist.   

As Catholics we believe that in the most blessed sacrament of the Eucharist our Lord Jesus Christ "is truly, really, and substantially contained."  (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1347)  This is a "top of the iceberg" type of statement:  conscious, reasoned, intelligible.  But what happens when we look "underneath" those words and try to see what they mean for you.  For example, when you say that Jesus is contained in the Blessed Sacrament, who is this "Jesus"?  What unconscious images and memories shape your understanding of Jesus? 

Imagining Jesus 

When I close my eyes and imagine "Jesus", the pictures that first come to my mind are images of Jesus of Nazareth, the man born of Mary.  Jesus looks something like the statue of the Sacred Heart that gazed down on me each morning at Mass during my grade school days at Saint Anthony's parish.

I know that Jesus was not only a human being; he was also truly God, the Word who "became flesh and made his dwelling among us." (John 1:14)  It's hard to "image" the Second Person of the Trinity.  I have seen frescos in old Spanish churches of the Trinity pictured as an old man, a younger man, and a dove arranged in a triangle, but that "image" can mislead me into thinking that there are three separate gods rather than one God in three Persons.  It's hard to "picture" God. 

Jesus of Nazareth, the historical Jesus -- truly God and fully human -- passed through death and is now our Risen Lord.  While I know that Jesus' risen body "is the same body that had been tortured and crucified" I also know that it now "possesses the new properties of a glorious body."  (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 645)  Jesus did not die and then simply come back to life like Lazarus (see John 11:43).  Jesus passed through death and is now "the man of heaven." (Catechism 646)   How do you picture this Jesus?   

We believe that Jesus, "the man of heaven" is truly, really, and substantially contained in the most blessed sacrament of the Eucharist.  How do you picture the Jesus present in the Eucharist?  Does he look like the host at Mass -- a small, round, white, piece of unleavened bread?  Or do you think of an image of the Last Supper and picture Jesus of Nazareth holding a loaf of bread? 

At Mass we pray that the Holy Spirit "gather all who share this one bread and one cup into the one body of Christ."  (Eucharistic Prayer IV)  How do you picture this Body?  When I close my eyes and imagine the Body of Christ that is the Church it sort of looks like a group of ordinary people.  It really doesn't look much like my other images of Jesus.  This brings us to the second metaphor:  shoeboxes


In my bedroom closet I have several pairs of shoes, each neatly put away in shoeboxes.  I have a pair of black dress shoes that I wear for Mass.  I have a new pair of sneakers I wear to the gym and an old pair I wear when working in the yard.  I have a pair of sandals and a comfortable pair of slippers for lounging around the house.  These "shoes" all have some things in common--they are all the same size, they all have a left and a right foot--but they don't "interact" one with the other.  They are five distinct pairs of shoes each in its own shoebox.  This is OK for shoes, but it is not OK for our "image" of Jesus.  Sometimes when I listen to Catholics talk about Jesus present in the Eucharist I am led to suspect that the speaker has five different "Jesus" operative below the surface of their "Eucharist Iceberg" and each is kept in its own separate shoe box.   

There is one Lord Jesus Christ.  The task of the mature Catholic is to work to get those "below the surface" images integrated into one, coherent, integrated understanding of the Body of Christ.   

Jesus' Eucharistic Body 

When I look back on my childhood days and examine my "under the iceberg" understanding of the presence of Christ in the Eucharist, I think that I imagined the historical Jesus making himself real small and getting into the host.  That is why I worried about hurting Jesus if I chewed the host.  And I wondered if Jesus was lonely in the tabernacle at night?  Only later did I finally "put together" the historical Jesus and Word made Flesh and come to realize that the Risen Lord is beyond suffering.  He reigns glorified at the right hand of the Father.   I can't physically hurt Jesus in the Eucharist.   

But even more importantly, I don't think I "put together" the Eucharistic Body and Christ's Body the Church.   Integrating the way I treat the people around me with the way I understand the Eucharist came later in my faith journey.     

For Saint Paul it came first.  His very first encounter with the Risen Lord was in and through actual Christian people -- the people he was persecuting and sending to prison.  "On that journey as I drew near to Damascus, about noon a great light from the sky suddenly shone around me.  I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, 'Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?' I replied, 'Who are you, sir?' And he said to me, 'I am Jesus the Nazorean whom you are persecuting'" (Acts 22:6-8) 

Paul's conversion experience is the key to understanding why he is so insistent that we have one, integrated understanding of the Body of Christ. The vision taught him that the Risen Lord is so identified with his disciples that they cannot be separated.  This unity comes about through Baptism -- "For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body" (I Cor 12:13) and the Eucharist -- "Because the loaf of bread is one, we, though many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf." (I Cor 10:17)  

When Paul writes to the Corinthians regarding their conduct at the Eucharistic Supper he is not concerned about their reverence toward the Risen Lord.  He is concerned about their reverence toward the Body of Christ, the Church.  "I hear that when you meet as a church there are divisions among you ... for in eating, each one goes ahead with his own supper, and one goes hungry while another gets drunk."  (I Cor 11:18-22)  The Corinthians were celebrating the Eucharist without due regard for their fellow Christians, especially the poor and those on the margins of society.  Paul reproaches them for not "putting together" the Eucharistic Body of the Risen Lord and the Body of Christ the Church. 

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Stopping Short at the First Epiclesis 

Today, each time we gather to celebrate the Eucharist our petition (epiclesis) at the Eucharistic Prayer asks the Spirit to change the bread and wine into the Body of Christ and to change us into the Body of Christ.  The words change depending on the prayer, but the point of the request is always the same:  that we who feast on the Body of Christ, become the Body of Christ!   We must not limit our reverence and our concern so that they are directed only to the first part of the epiclesis (the change in the gifts, and the resulting presence of Christ in the Eucharist); we must follow through to the second part of the epiclesis (the change in us and the resulting concern for Christ in our neighbor).  

One day when Saint John Chrysostom (347-407 C.E.) was preaching on the parable of the sheep and the goats ("For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink ..." Mt 25:31-46) he told his congregation:  "You want to honor Christ's body?  Then do not neglect him when he is naked.  Do not honor him here [at Mass] with silk garments while you leave him outside perishing from cold and nakedness.  For he who said, 'This is my body,' and by his word confirmed the fact, also said, 'For I was hungry and you gave me no food,' and, 'Just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me'.  Here, [at the Eucharist] the body of Christ needs no clothing but pure souls; there, it needs great solicitude."   

As Catholics we believe that the Eucharist is truly the Body of Christ.  As Catholics we struggle to integrate our love for the Body of Christ present in the Eucharist and our love for the Body of Christ which we encounter day by day in the people with whom we live and work, pray and play.

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How can we tell is someone believes in the Real Presence?  (How can we tell if we believe in the Real Presence?) Belief is an interior thing -- it can only be evaluated by exterior manifestations:

1.  Actions:  our reverence...
1A.  Reverence shown toward the Blessed Sacrament.  (Note:  "reverence" is culturally conditioned:  country, age, etc.)
1B.  Reverence show toward the Body of Christ (especially the poor and those on the margins of society).  Note that it is important that there be a consistency between 1A and 1B.

2.  Words:  the words we use to talk about, explain, preach, catechize, etc. on the Eucharist
2A.  Note:  words have multiple meanings and are also, to an extent, culturally conditioned.
2B.  Note:  the Eucharist is a "unique" mystery.  Words used to explain it "crack."

* * *

The issue of "presence" or "real presence" is central to every liturgical action.  How do you explain the relation between the Eucharist and the once and for all event of Jesus death and resurrection?

"For Christ did not enter into a sanctuary made by hands, a copy of the true one, but heaven itself, that he might now appear before God on our behalf. Not that he might offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters each year into the sanctuary with blood that is not his own; if that were so, he would have had to suffer repeatedly from the foundation of the world. But now once for all he has appeared at the end of the ages to take away sin by his sacrifice. Just as it is appointed that human beings die once, and after this the judgment, so also Christ, offered once to take away the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to take away sin but to bring salvation to those who eagerly await him." (Hebrews 9:24-28 (Second Reading, 32nd Sunday of Cycle B)

For the scholastics, "The term substantial meant that Jesus himself, the one who sits at the right hand of the Father, was truly present.  But this is the very way Jesus is also present in a gathered community of Christians, in the proclamation of the word, etc.  In all of these situations, Jesus is present, not through some memento or reminder.  The two terms, real and substantial, are not that clearly differentiated, and certainly not differentiated in any officially defined way.  To date, there is no official teaching by the leadership of the Roman Catholic Church on the matter, precisely because this wider approach to the real presence is something quite new to Roman Catholic theology.  Consequently, theologians are still struggling to find a way to bring all these "real presences" into some sort of clarity.  Religious education teachers will, therefore, not have any "pat answer" to this issue. (Osborne Sacramental Guidelines page 75) 

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How the Eucharistic Prayers Speak of the Change of the Elements

Using the ancient maxim Lex orandi legem credendi constituit, examine the texts of the currently approved Eucharistic Prayers and see how the epiclesis describes the "change" in the bread and wine and the "change" in the people/Church. 

Eucharistic Prayer I (The Roman Canon) "Let it [= our offering] become for us the body and blood of Jesus Christ, your only Son, our Lord." -- "Then, as we receive from this altar the sacred body and blood of your Son, let us be filled with every grace and blessing." [ Note: There is no mention of the Holy Spirit effecting this change.]

Eucharistic Prayer II "Let your Spirit come upon these gifts to make them holy, so that they become for us the body and blood of our Lord, Jesus Christ." -- "May all of us who share in the body and blood of Christ be brought together in unity by the Holy Spirit."

Eucharistic Prayer III "We ask you to make them holy by the power of your Spirit, that they may become the body and blood of your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, at whose command we celebrate this eucharist." -- "Grant that we, who are nourished by his body and blood, may be filled with his Holy Spirit, and become one body, one spirit in Christ."

Eucharistic Prayer IV "Father, may this Holy Spirit sanctify these offerings. Let them become the body and blood of Jesus Christ our Lord as we celebrate the great mystery which he left us as an everlasting covenant." -- "Lord, look upon this sacrifice which you have given your church; and by your Holy Spirit, gather all who share this one bread and one cup into the one body of Christ, a living sacrifice of praise."

Eucharistic Prayer for Children I "We bring you bread and wine and ask you to send your Holy Spirit to make these gifts the body and blood of Jesus your Son." -- "Father because you love us you invite us to come to your table. Fill us with the joy of the Holy Spirit as we receive the body and the blood of your Son."

Eucharistic Prayer for Children II "God our Father, we now ask you to send your Holy Spirit to change these gifts of bread and wine into the body and blood of Jesus Christ, our Lord." -- "Send the Holy Spirit to all of us who share in this meal. May this Spirit bring us closer together in the family of the Church ...."

Eucharistic Prayer for Children III "Father, we ask you to bless these gifts of bread and wine and make them holy. Change them for us into the body and blood of Jesus Christ, your Son." [Note: There is no mention of the Holy Spirit.] -- Eucharistic Prayer for Children III "Father in heaven, you have called us to receive the body and blood of Christ at this table and to be filled with the joy of the Holy Spirit. Through this sacred meal give us strength to please you more and more."

Eucharistic Prayer for Reconciliation I "...send forth the power of your Spirit so that these gifts may become for us the body and blood of your beloved Son, Jesus the Christ, in whom we have become your sons and daughters." -- "Father, look with love on those you have called to share in the one sacrifice of Christ. By the power of your Holy Spirit make them one body, healed of all division."

Eucharistic Prayer for Reconciliation II "We ask you to sanctify these gifts by the power of your Spirit, as we now fulfill your Son's command."  ---  "Fill us with his Spirit through our sharing in this meal. May he take away all that divides us."

Eucharistic Prayer for Masses for Various Needs and Occasions  "Great and merciful Father, we ask you to send down your Holy Spirit to hallow these gifts of bread and wine, that they may become for us the body and blood of our Lord, Jesus Christ."  "Through the power of your Spirit of love include us now and for ever among the members of your Son, whose body and blood we share."

Eucharistic Prayer "A" "Father, let your Holy Spirit move in power over us and over our earthly gifts of bread and wine, that they may become the body and blood of Christ." -- "May his coming in glory find us ever-watchful in prayer, strong in love, and faithful to the breaking of the bread. Rejoicing in the Holy Spirit, your whole Church offers thanks and praise ... Then at last, will all creation be one and all divisions healed."

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"Concomitance" refers to the presence of Christ's Body and Blood under either consecrated bread or wine by virtue of the fact that a glorified living body cannot be divided; the presence of the Body of Christ in the eucharistic bread, together with the Blood, Soul and Divinity, because these are inseparable from the Body; the presence of Christ, whole and entire, in both species of the sacrament. (See Nathan Mitchell. Cult and Controversy: The Worship of the Eucharist Outside Mass. New York: Pueblo Publishing Company, 1982. page 94) 

Concomitance is the "fact of the presence of the body and blood of Christ presumes also the presence of the whole Christ under each species (i.e., concomitantly).  Consequently, the same effect results whether one receives one or both species.  To Luther, this argument seemed to be founded merely on human logic, not on the will of Christ. ...  The Commentary of Pope Gelasius on the necessity of reception of Holy Communion under both species is well known."  (Kilmartin, page157; for the condemnation of receiving sub una by Pope Gelasius, see page 157 footnote 2)

The wiktionary ( states that the earliest we find the word is in 1607 and comes through the French "concomitant" meaning "accompanying." 

History of concomitance in the Roman Church  (NOTE:  The following presumes that you are familiar with the history of the Eucharist and can put the following bits and pieces into their historical context. And it is the history of the "Roman" Church because in the other Catholic Churches Eucharist is celebrated with both bread and wine and concomitance is not an issue.)

1.  Stage one  Jesus says "this is my body, take and eat; this is by blood, take and drink."  That is what Christians do.

2.  Stage two  The Jesus of the Gospels becomes the German Pantocrator and moves from earth to heaven (transcendence overpowers immanence) [and the inter-mediating space is filled by Mary and the Saints].  Church separates into the "clergy" and the "merely baptized."  As Jesus is seen to be more transcendent, humankind is seen to be more sinful -- and hence unworthy to eat so great a gift.  The "merely baptized" are unworthy to receive the Eucharist.  [The clergy might be unworthy also, but they are forbidden to enter the Order of Penitence because they must say Mass.]  First the laity are denied the cup (except infants, who received only the wine) and then they are denied the cup and the bread and no one eats and drinks except the priest.

3.  Stage three  As there is no meal, Eucharist moves from "Holy Thursday"/meal and "Good Friday"/sacrifice to mainly [exclusively] "Good Friday"/sacrifice.  Eucharist is no longer a meal.  Action shifts from eating and drinking to looking -- looking at the host at the elevation following the "moment of consecration" and we have "ocular Communion" first of the host, and later of the host and cup.

4.  Stage four  The host is "exposed" as a relic of Jesus' body (not the wine/blood).  When people (rarely) receive Communion they receive only the Bread (not the cup).   To explain why this is possible, the theory of concomitance is elaborated. 

5.  Stage five  Some biblical scholars, theologians, and pastors begin to ask why we don't drink from the cup.  Luther, wishing to recover the values in Stage One, suggests that the laity receive from the cup.  The Pope is happy with the way things are.  Luther says the Pope should get with it.  The Pope is happy with the way things are.  Luther says that Christ said we should eat and drink, and therefore the Pope should change his mind.  The Pope is happy with the way things are.  Luther says that we have to drink because Jesus told us to.  The Pope says that he is the vicar of Christ and he says we are not going to drink.  The arguments shifts from liturgy and Eucharist to authority and power.  They fight.  Trent decides that the Pope has power over the rubrics and can say no if he wants to.  They part ways.  Lutherans drink, Papists don't.  For the Papists, concomitance rules the theological day!

6.  Stage six  Five hundred years later, things calm down a bit, and the liturgical movement (1900 -- 1960) suggests drinking from the cup.  Père Gy [then president of the ISL] told me that they asked the Institut Pasteur (who invented germs) if this was dangerous to do.  They said it was; but not as dangerous as handling money or riding the subway.

7.  Stage seven  The Vatican Council II says OK -- provided we remember the teachings of Trent (i.e. that the Pope has power over the sacraments.) 

"The dogmatic principles which were laid down by the Council of Trent remaining intact, communion under both kinds may be granted when the bishops think fit, not only to clerics and religious, but also to the laity, in cases to be determined by the Apostolic See, as, for instance, to the newly ordained in the Mass of their sacred ordination, to the newly professed in the Mass of their religious profession, and to the newly baptized in the Mass which follows their baptism."  (Constitution on the Liturgy, 55)

8.  Stage eight  As the sacramental vision of the Council begins to be elaborated, the Eucharist is present as "sacrament" / "visible sign" -- and the "sign" is a better sign when we all eat and drink.  The occasions when the Cup is permitted are extended until they become "always." 

9.  Stage nine  Some begin to incorporate "sign" and "meal" into their subconscious understanding of Eucharist.  Receiving from the cup becomes "normal" for them.  But a change in "facts" and "attitudes" does not necessarily result in a change in behavior, especially group behavior.  Many continue to only eat the host and bypass the cup -- they have been well taught that Christ is whole and entire body and soul, blood and divinity in even the tiniest particle of bread.  Concomitance still rules. 

I think this is where we are today -- some drink, some don't.  Some think meal, some think sacrifice.  Some think action, some think object.  Some think food for humankind, some think bread of angels.

10.  Stage ten  The Church will come to what Jesus wants.  This might happen shortly after he comes again in glory, but probably not before. 

The word concomitance is seldom used today because we approach Eucharist by way of sacrament/symbol rather than substance/thing.  However, there are times when the Church finds it is still a useful word.  For example in the US Bishops Committee on the Liturgy Newsletter of April-May 2000, regarding those Catholics who have Celiac-Sprue Disease: 

 "Given the need for total abstention from hosts containing gluten, the common advice given to Celiac-Sprue sufferers is to receive the Precious Blood alone. Priests are thus well advised to clearly teach the doctrine of concomitance, the Church's belief that under either species the whole Christ is received. Likewise, priests should recall the right which each Catholic in good standing has to receive Holy Communion (Canon 843). In the light of this right, the Precious Blood must be made available to sufferers of this disease who request it, even if it is not offered to the rest of the congregation."  [This response skirts the more important and fundamental issue of whether or not it is possible to receive the Eucharist by means of bread that is not made from wheat.]

Martin Barrack (on his website defending the traditional Catholic Faith) explains the word as follows:  "Concomitance is the doctrine that the whole Christ is present under the appearance of bread and also under the appearance of wine. Christ is indivisible. His body cannot be separated from His blood, His human soul, His divine nature, and His divine personality. So He is wholly present in each Eucharist."  Barrack then goes on to explain that "During the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the first consecration transubstantiates the bread into the substance of His body. His blood, soul, and divinity become present by concomitance, their inseparable connection with his body, not precisely because of the words of consecration.  The second consecration transubstantiates the wine into the substance of His blood. His body, soul, divinity, and personality become present by the same concomitance, not precisely because of the words of institution.  Therefore, if the priest validly consecrates the bread, but then for some reason does not validly consecrate the wine, neither is transubstantiated. God, who sees past, present and future all in one unbounded now, knows at the moment of the first consecration whether the second will be validly completed."  (Copyright 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004 by Martin K. Barrack,  All rights reserved) 

Some theologians and canonists would disagree with Barrack's last statement.  The supreme authority of the Church has never definitively ruled on this issue. That is why canon 927 does not say that it is invalid to celebrate Mass using only one element; it says: "It is absolutely wrong (nefas est) to do it."  Since there is a doubt of law here, legal obligations do not bind. So, if it were a Sunday when this Mass was celebrated, it would not be necessary for the people to return for another Mass that day.

If you understand "concomitance" correctly you should be able to solve the following pastoral cases:
Case A:   If you believe in concomitance, what theological reason do you have for not saying "The Body and Blood of Christ" when presenting the Eucharistic Bread for the communion of the faithful.

Case B:  The pastoral council at Holy Apostles Parish has asked their pastor to allow Holy Communion from the Cup as an option on Sundays but the pastor, Fr. George, told them that because of the traditional Catholic teaching on Concomitance there are no more graces received by receiving the Precious Blood than by receiving only the Bread -- and drinking from the cup is a good way to spread AIDS.  Consequently, as there are no reasons for drinking and many reasons against drinking [e.g. there is danger of spilling the Precious Blood and it is better that no one receives from the cup than permit the Precious Blood to be desecrated], there will be no Communion from the Cup at Holy Apostles.  Discuss the pastor's decision.

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Catechism of the Catholic Church

(Note:  these texts are reprinted here in accord with the "fair use" act.  All my students who will be using these paragraphs are presumed to have purchased their own copy of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.  These paragraphs are taken from the online version of the text.

The presence of Christ by the power of his word and the Holy Spirit

1373 Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised from the dead, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us," is present in many ways to his Church:197 in his word, in his Church's prayer, "where two or three are gathered in my name,"198 in the poor, the sick, and the imprisoned,199 in the sacraments of which he is the author, in the sacrifice of the Mass, and in the person of the minister. But "he is present . . . most especially in the Eucharistic species."200

1374   The mode of Christ's presence under the Eucharistic species is unique. It raises the Eucharist above all the sacraments as "the perfection of the spiritual life and the end to which all the sacraments tend."201 In the most blessed sacrament of the Eucharist "the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ and, therefore, the whole Christ is truly, really, and substantially contained."202 "This presence is called 'real'--by which is not intended to exclude the other types of presence as if they could not be 'real' too, but because it is presence in the fullest sense: that is to say, it is a substantial presence by which Christ, God and man, makes himself wholly and entirely present."203

1375  It is by the conversion of the bread and wine into Christ's body and blood that Christ becomes present in this sacrament. The Church Fathers strongly affirmed the faith of the Church in the efficacy of the Word of Christ and of the action of the Holy Spirit to bring about this conversion. Thus St. John Chrysostom declares:

    It is not man that causes the things offered to become the Body and Blood of Christ, but he who was crucified for us, Christ himself. The priest, in the role of Christ, pronounces these words, but their power and grace are God's. This is my body, he says. This word transforms the things offered.204
And St. Ambrose says about this conversion:

Be convinced that this is not what nature has formed, but what the blessing has consecrated. The power of the blessing prevails over that of nature, because by the blessing nature itself is changed. . . . Could not Christ's word, which can make from nothing what did not exist, change existing things into what they were not before? It is no less a feat to give things their original nature than to change their nature.205

1376   The Council of Trent summarizes the Catholic faith by declaring: "Because Christ our Redeemer said that it was truly his body that he was offering under the species of bread, it has always been the conviction of the Church of God, and this holy Council now declares again, that by the consecration of the bread and wine there takes place a change 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 has fittingly and properly called transubstantiation."206

1377   The Eucharistic presence of Christ begins at the moment of the consecration and endures as long as the Eucharistic species subsist. Christ is present whole and entire in each of the species and whole and entire in each of their parts, in such a way that the breaking of the bread does not divide Christ.207

1378   Worship of the Eucharist. In the liturgy of the Mass we express our faith in the real presence of Christ under the species of bread and wine by, among other ways, genuflecting or bowing deeply as a sign of adoration of the Lord. "The Catholic Church has always offered and still offers to the sacrament of the Eucharist the cult of adoration, not only during Mass, but also outside of it, reserving the consecrated hosts with the utmost care, exposing them to the solemn veneration of the faithful, and carrying them in procession."208

1379  The tabernacle was first intended for the reservation of the Eucharist in a worthy place so that it could be brought to the sick and those absent, outside of Mass. As faith in the real presence of Christ in his Eucharist deepened, the Church became conscious of the meaning of silent adoration of the Lord present under the Eucharistic species. It is for this reason that the tabernacle should be located in an especially worthy place in the church and should be constructed in such a way that it emphasizes and manifests the truth of the real presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament.

1380  It is highly fitting that Christ should have wanted to remain present to his Church in this unique way. Since Christ was about to take his departure from his own in his visible form, he wanted to give us his sacramental presence; since he was about to offer himself on the cross to save us, he wanted us to have the memorial of the love with which he loved us "to the end,"209 even to the giving of his life. In his Eucharistic presence he remains mysteriously in our midst as the one who loved us and gave himself up for us,210 and he remains under signs that express and communicate this love:

    The Church and the world have a great need for Eucharistic worship. Jesus awaits us in this sacrament of love. Let us not refuse the time to go to meet him in adoration, in contemplation full of faith, and open to making amends for the serious offenses and crimes of the world. Let our adoration never cease.211

1381  "That in this sacrament are the true Body of Christ and his true Blood is something that 'cannot be apprehended by the senses,' says St. Thomas, 'but only by faith, which relies on divine authority.' For this reason, in a commentary on Luke 22:19 ('This is my body which is given for you.'), St. Cyril says: 'Do not doubt whether this is true, but rather receive the words of the Savior in faith, for since he is the truth, he cannot lie.'"212 

    Godhead here in hiding, whom I do adore
    Masked by these bare shadows, shape and nothing more,
    See, Lord, at thy service low lies here a heart
    Lost, all lost in wonder at the God thou art.

    Seeing, touching, tasting are in thee deceived;
    How says trusty hearing? that shall be believed;
    What God's Son has told me, take for truth I do;
    Truth himself speaks truly or there's nothing true.213

"Real Presence" must be explained in such a way that it leaves room for the "Real Absence"  See: Donald Gray, "The Real Absence: A Note on the Eucharist", p 190, Living Bread, Saving Cup: Readings on the Eucharist, edited by R. Kevin Seasoltz.

1. Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again. [Acclamation A]

2. Dying you destroyed our death, rising you restored our life. Lord Jesus, come in glory. [Acclamation B]

3. When we eat this bread and drink this cup, we proclaim your death, Lord Jesus, until you come in glory. [Acclamation C]

4. "Father, calling to mind the death your Son endured for our salvation, his glorious resurrection and ascension into heaven, and ready to greet him when he comes again, we offer you in thanksgiving this holy and living sacrifice." [Anamnesis, Eucharistic Prayer III]

5. "Deliver us, Lord, from every evil, and grant us peace in our day. In your mercy keep us from sin and protect us from all anxiety as we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ." [Embolism following the Lord's Prayer]

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[The following is the conclusion of an essay by Nathan Mitchell in Worship 74:2 (March 2000), "The Amen Corner," pp 178-182.]

But it is precisely such fears and obsessions [i.e. that American Catholics no longer have an orthodox belief in the real presence] that ultimately erode faith and endanger "traditional doctrine."

A case in point is transubstantiation itself, as that word has been used over the centuries by Catholic theologians and teachers. The Catechism of the Catholic Church has reasserted its use in a catechetical context (especially in #1413), but of course that same document also insists upon commitment to the poor as an essential condition for receiving "in truth the Body and Blood of Christ given up for us" (#1397). Nevertheless, because the language of transubstantiation is sometimes used today as a "text" [or "test"] to distinguish "Catholics who genuinely believe the truths of our tradition" from those who do not, it may be valuable to remind ourselves of what this familiar Catholic teaching does -- and does not -- mean.

1. It is widely -- and wrongly -- assumed by many that transubstantiation offers an "Aristotelian" explanation for the kind of "change" (or transformation, or "conversion") that happens to the elements of bread and wine in the Eucharist. In fact, of course, neither transubstantiation nor the Christian doctrine of creation would have made any sense to Aristotle. (See Herbert McCabe O.P., "Transubstantiation," in God Matters [London: Chapman 1987] 146-54.) For Aristotle, a "substantial change" is what happens when a dog dies or my body metabolizes a slice of bread. Clearly, these biochemical changes are not what we believe occurs at the Eucharist.

Moreover, as Aquinas held, transubstantiation is not strictly speaking a "change" at all. (Summa Theologiae III a, 75, 4, c: Nec continetur inter species motus naturalis and see McCabe's commentary, 147) Why? Because the entire system of language that seeks to explain change on the basis of natural phenomena breaks down when we attempt to say how Christ becomes present to us in the ritual food and drink of a meal. Transubstantiation is thus a perfect example of speech that literally "does not know what it is saying!" As Father Herbert McCabe puts it, to use words analogically (a strategy that theological language always requires) means paying a penalty, and "the penalty we pay is . . . that we do not, strictly speaking, know what we are talking about. . . . [We do not know what we are talking about when we speak of transubstantiation; it is a change which, rather like creation, takes place neither at the level of accident nor of substance but of existence itself." (McCabe, 149)

2. So in the Eucharist, Christ's presence is "substantial," but the change is not. What happens at Eucharist is not that one kind of "substance" (e.g., bread) is exchanged, through a divine sleight-of-hand, for another kind of "substance" (e.g., Christ's body). "Transubstantiation is not a matter of a masked, or camouflaged substantial change," writes McCabe; "it is not being said that what was bread has been substantially changed into human flesh (as it might be by metabolism) which is then miraculously concealed from us. The stupendous act that takes place in the consecration lies not in the concealment of the results of the change, but in the change itself. The notion of transubstantiation depends on the idea that there can be a kind of transformation in what it means to exist which is not simply a change in what it is that exists." (McCabe, 150. emphasis TRR) In other words, Thomas Aquinas (and others who used his ideas when speaking about the eucharistic presence) believed (that word is important!) that there is a kind of change -- a kind of "coming to be" -- that depends utterly upon God's power and is thus more fundamental, more radical, than anything Aristotle might have envisioned in the category of "natural" or "substantial" (what we might today call "biochemical") change. Quite simply, what occurs to bread and wine at Eucharist has no equivalent of any kind in the everyday, natural world.

But such a change -- unprecedented except for the possible parallel of God's creating a world by bringing non-existence into existence -- is beyond language and almost beyond intelligibility. That is why Thomists like McCabe warn against the careless assumption that when we use words like transubstantiation "we really know what we are saying." Transubstantiation, he wisely notes, is a difficult and dangerous term, for "it sounds as though we were concerned with a quasi-chemical change within the host, . . . that the Eucharist can be discussed in terms of an exact account of what happens within this piece of bread." (McCabe, 151) And that, of course, is precisely what cannot be done. "I myself would dissent," writes McCabe, "from the opinion of the Council of Trent that transubstantiation is a 'fitting and suitable' name for what happens in the Eucharist. I think it is a dangerous and misleading name, at any rate in our post-scholastic age." (Ibid.)

It is important, then, not to become so obsessed by a term (even one hallowed by long use) that we are more concerned about its potential as a test of "ideological purity" than about its actual meaning for people today. In the Eucharist, bread and wine indeed "suffer a revolutionary change" -- not because they "change into something else" but because "they become more radically food and drink," just as, in his resurrection, Christ becomes "not less but more bodily than he was before." (McCabe, "Transubstantiation and Real Presence," in God Matters, 116-29; here 125-26) At Eucharist, Christ -- the food and drink of the future world -- becomes the food and drink of our own, for "Christ has a better right to appear as food and drink than bread and wine have. Why? . . . Because food and drink have a role of bodily communication . . . . At every level from the milk I receive from my mother's breast to the martini I receive from my host, food and drink is a communication of life. Food is a medium in which we communicate, come together, become more human. It is for this reason that Christ can say that he is the true bread that comes down from heaven; since he is the medium in which we finally meet each other, in which we are finally able to communicate ourselves to each other, he is more intensely food than meat and drink can be!' (Ibid., 127)

3. The ultimate goal of Eucharist, then, is not to change bread but to change people, to transform the celebrating assembly into what it receives, viz., the body of Christ. As McCabe puts it, in a succinctly evocative sentence, "Christ is present to us because our language has become his body." ("Transubstantiation and the Real Presence," 117) Because the Risen Christ has now become "more bodily than he was when he walked in Galilee," we have a new and unprecedented way to experience him. "The way in which we encounter . . . Christ, the way we come into his bodily presence, the way, in your life, in which his body touches ours, is through a transformation of the extension of our bodies which we call our media of communication -- in shorthand, through a transformation of our language!" (Ibid.) Language here should not be confused with the endless stream of verbiage that pours out of garrulous talk-show hosts. To say that Christ is "present to us because our language has become his body" is to say, in a way that is intelligible to men and women of our time, that Christ's body is "present to us 'sacramentally' . . by being our sign." (Ibid., 117-18) Here is how McCabe summarizes the point: "[T]he effect of the resurrection is that Christ (the bodily Christ) can be present to all men and not just to a few . . . just because of his increased or deepened bodiliness he is more available than he was . . . . There are certain things we want to say about Christ in the Eucharist because he is the Risen Christ, and certain things we want to say about him because he is the sacramental Christ and we should be careful not to muddle these up. Thus the reason why Christ cannot be damaged by anything we do to the Eucharist is not precisely because Christ being risen is beyond being damaged (though this is true) but because his body is present sacramentally, as sign, as language." (Ibid., 118)

To say that Christ is sacramentally present to us "as sign, as language" is in no way to render that presence "merely subjective" or "unreal." There is, after all, no such thing as purely private meaning; meaning "belongs to language itself." (See H. McCabe, "The Eucharist as Language," Modern Theology 15:2 [April 1999] 131-41; here 134) There is, then, an objectivity to language, a "symbiotic relationship between language and society; one cannot exist without the other." (Ibid., 134) The sacraments, centering on Eucharist, are the language that makes a certain kind of society possible. That society, in turn, makes sacramental language both meaningful and distinctive precisely because "the society in question is the mystery of the People of God." (Ibid.) This people of God is not simply a random collection of misfits (though misfits we may be!), but is rather the outcome of God's "personal covenantal love, the Holy Spirit, so that we are children of God sharing by grace in . . . divine life. The sacramental language is the language granted to us in which this mystery is to be expressed and lived out in human and material terms." (Ibid.)

Consequently, to treat sacramental language as though it were merely a "litmus test of orthodoxy" is manipulative, cynical and little short of sacrilegious. For the language in question is itself God's gift to a pilgrim people. The language of the Eucharistic Prayer is not a platform for proclaiming dogmas; it is doxology whose goal is praise of the God "who lives in unapproachable light, Source of life and goodness." (EP IV) The goal of eucharistic activity is thus not to change bread but to transform both gifts and people through "the efficacy of the Word of Christ and of the action of the Holy Spirit," to quote a formula found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (#1375). What happens to our gifts of bread and wine happens precisely in order to make us "one body, one spirit in Christ." As McCabe admirably sums it up, "[T]he Eucharist is the Word of God and not the word of man. We make, as well as being made by our human language, but we do not make the meaning of the Eucharist. . . . What the bread and wine have become is . . . Christ himself, and him crucified, the only one who can reconcile the opposites, who can bring life out of death. A church which celebrates the Eucharist while ignoring what we should nowadays call 'the fundamental option for the poor' is 'eating and drinking judgment upon herself,' as Aquinas thought; it is using the language of God to tell a lie." (McCabe, "The Eucharist as Language," 140)

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Meaning of Words

What do the words we use with regard to the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist mean in ordinary speech?  Which means apply here and which do not?  Note that these words all "crack" when applied to the Eucharist.  None of them fit 100%.  This is as we would expect as words are "common terms" and the Eucharist is a "unique" event.

Note:  these definitions and meanings are taken from Merriam-Webster Online available at

1.  essential nature, essence, a fundamental or characteristic part or quality
2.  ultimate reality that underlies all outward manifestations and change
3.  physical material from which something is made or which has discrete existence
4.  material possessions

1. Material, corporeal, gross, objective, phenomenal, physical, sensible, tangible
2. Important, big, consequential, considerable, material, meaningful, momentous, significant, weighty
3. Prosperous, comfortable, easy, snug, well, well-fixed, well-healed, well-off, well-to-do

1. an unforeseen and unplanned event or circumstance
2. an unfortunate event resulting especially from carelessness or ignorance
3. a nonessential property or quality of an entity or circumstance

1. of or relating to fixed, permanent, or immovable things
2. Not artificial, fraudulent, illusory, or apparent.
3. capable of being detected (compare: virtual)

1. Corporeal, gross, objective, phenomenal, sensible, substantial, tangible (Antonym: spiritual)
2. Bodily, carnal, corporal, corporeal, fleshly, somatic

1. Relating to, consisting of, or affecting the spirit; incorporeal
2. Relating to sacred matters
3. Concerned with religious values
4. Related or joined in spirit
5. Of or relating to supernatural beings of phenomena

1. The fact or condition of being present
2. The part of space within one's immediate vicinity; the neighborhood of one of superior especially royal rank
3. One that is present; the actual person or thing that is present; something present of a visible or concrete nature
4. The bearing, carriage, or air of a person, especially stately or distinguished bearing; a quality of poise and effectiveness that enables a performer to achieve a close relationship with an audience
5. Something (as a spirit) felt or believed to be present

1. Now existing or in progress
2. Being in view or at hand; existing in something mentioned or under consideration
3. Constituting the one actually involved, at hand, or being considered
4. Of, relating to, or constituting a verb tense that is expressive of present time or the time of speaking

Mode (Latin: modus = measure, manner)
1. An arrangement of the eight diatonic notes or tones of an octave according to one of several fixed schemes of their intervals
2. Mood
3. The modal form of the assertion or denial of a logical proposition
4. A particular form or variety of something
5. A possible, customary, or preferred way of doing something
6. A manifestation, form, or arrangement of being; a particular form or manifestation of an underlying substance
7. The most frequent value of a set of data
8. any of various stationary vibration patterns of which an elastic body or oscillatory system is capable

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Tips for Explaining Real Presence in Post-Modern America

1.  Modes of Real Presence When explaining Christ's presence under the Eucharistic species it is important to teach that it is not the only "real" presence but at the same time it is unique.  Article 7 of the Constitution on the Liturgy is a key statement of the magisterium regarding "Christ's presence".   It states:  "To accomplish so great a work, Christ is always present in his Church, especially in its liturgical celebrations. He is present in the sacrifice of the Mass, not only in the person of his minister, 'the same now offering, through the ministry of priests, who formerly offered himself on the cross,' but especially under the eucharistic elements. By his power he is present in the sacraments, so that when a man baptizes it is really Christ himself who baptizes. He is present in his word, since it is he himself who speaks when the holy Scriptures are read in the Church. He is present, lastly, when the Church prays and sings, for he promised: 'Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them' (Mt 18:20)." (DOL 7)   Christ becomes truly present in the assembly, the word, the meal, but these are different modalities of presence.  

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (1374) states:  "The mode of Christ's presence under the Eucharistic species is unique. It raises the Eucharist above all the sacraments as "the perfection of the spiritual life and the end to which all the sacraments tend."  (St. Thomas Aquinas, STh III,73,3c)  In the most blessed sacrament of the Eucharist "the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ and, therefore, the whole Christ is truly, really, and substantially contained." (Council of Trent [1551]: DS 1651)  "This presence is called 'real'--by which is not intended to exclude the other types of presence as if they could not be 'real' too, but because it is presence in the fullest sense: that is to say, it is a substantial presence by which Christ, God and man, makes himself wholly and entirely present" Paul VI, MF 39, emphasis added). 

2.  Faith / Science  Real Presence is a faith event.  A good catechist makes it clear that belief in real presence must be understood in such a way that it can never be scientifically proven. Becoming does not here imply material change.  Nor does the liturgical use of the word "change" imply that the bread and wine become Christ's body and blood in such a way that in the eucharistic celebration of his presence is limited to the consecrated elements.  It does not imply that Christ becomes present in the eucharist in the same manner that he was present in his earthly life. It does not imply that this becoming follows the physical laws of this world.  What is affirmed is a sacramental presence in which God uses the realities of this world to convey the realities of the new creation: Bread for this life becomes the bread of eternal life.  Before the eucharistic prayer, to the question "What is that?"  the believer answers "It is bread."  After the eucharistic prayer, to the same question the believer answers: "It is truly the body of Christ, the bread of Life."

3.  Dynamic / Static Real Presence is a dynamic reality.  A good catechists speaks of the eucharistic presence as a dynamic reality rather than a merely static reality.  It is helpful when explaining real presence to move more in the direction of "verbs" rather than "nouns."    Real presence in the Eucharist should be explained in the context of Holy Communion.  The Eucharist is essentially orientated toward meal sharing.  "Take and eat..."   The epiclesis asks to change the elements and to change those who eat and drink the changed elements.

4.  A "unique" Presence  When speaking of the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, it is helpful to remember that we are speaking of a "unique" event.  Whenever we use a noun (a "name" word), the noun refers to the elements the object named has in common with other objects in the same category. We can call a table a "table" because of the common characteristics it has with other tables.  When speaking of the Eucharistic Presence of Christ we are speaking of a unique event.  There is nothing else quite like it.  We have no other experience of this modality of presence. Consequently, our language is not always shaped or adapted to meet the task. For example, is Christ "in" the bread? "Under" the bread? "Through" the bread?   St. Thomas reminds us that Christ's true body is in this sacrament, but it is not "contained therein as in a place."  Summa, Part 3, Question 75, Article 4.

5.  Real / Symbolic  One problem today is that contemporary Americans often identify "real" with "physical" and they take "symbolic" to mean "unreal."   

6.  Arguments from Authority.  Today we are often tempted simply to quote the Pope, the Catechism, the Council of Trent, etc.   For many contemporary Americans, the argument from authority is not always convincing.  (How often do you believe what a teacher says simply because of the teacher's authority?)  Today we must not only clearly explain what must be believed but we must do it in such a way that one would want to believe!   It is important that Church teaching be not only accurate, but also compelling. Your explanation of real presence should contain within it motives for wanting to believe in real presence.

7.  Personal Presence  Eucharistic Presence more than simply objective presence; it is a personal, intentional presence. There is a big difference between saying "Christ is present in Holy Communion" and saying "Henry is present in the kitchen." Belief in the real presence of Christ requires surrender, not mere intellectual accent.

8.  Trinitarian Context  Real Presence is best understood in its liturgical and Trinitarian context.  In the Creed we pray: "by the power of the Holy Spirit he was born..." We ask the Father that the Son become present by the power of the Holy Spirit to transform us to the glory of the Father. "The glory of God is humanity fully alive." [Irenaeus] We can become the image of God fully alive in Christ only in the Sprit. "Our communion with Christ is the Holy Spirit." [Irenaeus] In all this, the epiclesis is the key to explaining the eucharistic presence of Christ.

9.  The Body of Christ  To explain Eucharistic Presence, one must not simply equate the Risen Christ with the historical Jesus of Nazareth but must take account of the Resurrection event.  Jesus has passed through Death and Resurrection and has become the Risen Lord.  He as given us his Spirit so that we are taken up into his Body.  As Saint Augustine explained: "It is your sacrament that reposes on the altar. There you are on the altar. There you are in the cup. Be what you receive. Receive what you are."

10.  Transubstantiation   When explaining the change in the elements with the use of the word transubstantiation, it is important that the word be used correctly.  For example the word substance in transubstantiation refers to "that by virtue of which a thing has its determinate nature."  This is not the contemporary usage of the word.  For example the American Heritage Dictionary (2002) defines substance as: 1a. That which has mass and occupies space; matter. b. A material of a particular kind or constitution. 2a. Essential nature; essence. b. Gist; heart. 3. That which is solid and practical in character, quality, or importance: a plan without substance. 4. Density; body: Air has little substance. 5. Material possessions; goods; wealth: a person of substance.

Meaning number one refers to what the scholastics would call an accident.  Meaning number two carries something of the scholastic notion of substance but post-modern people do not tend to think metaphysically.  Furthermore, the word "substance" as commonly used today is closer to what the scholastics meant by "accident." 

Nathan Mitchell says above:  "It is widely -- and wrongly -- assumed by many that transubstantiation offers an "Aristotelian" explanation for the kind of "change" (or transformation, or "conversion") that happens to the elements of bread and wine in the Eucharist.  In fact, of course, neither transubstantiation nor the Christian doctrine of creation would have made any sense to Aristotle.  For Aristotle, a "substantial change" is what happens when a dog dies or my body metabolizes a slice of bread. Clearly, these biochemical changes are not what we believe occurs at the Eucharist".

In transubstantiation, the substance is changed but the accidents remain.  Consequently, the consecrated bread is still called bread.  "The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because the loaf of bread is one, we, though many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf" (1 Corinthians 10:16-17). "For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes. Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord. A person should examine himself, and so eat the bread and drink the cup" (1 Corinthians 11:26-28).

In Eucharistic Prayer IV we pray:   "Lord, look upon this sacrifice which you have given your church; and by your Holy Spirit, gather all who share this one bread and one cup into the one body of Christ, a living sacrifice of praise."  And in the Memorial Acclamation "C" we pray:  "When we eat this bread and drink this cup, we proclaim your death, Lord Jesus, until you come in glory."  

Thomas Aquinas explains:  "It is evident to sense that all the accidents of the bread and wine remain after the consecration. And this is reasonably done by Divine providence. First of all, because it is not customary, but horrible, for men to eat human flesh, and to drink blood. And therefore Christ's flesh and blood are set before us to be partaken of under the species of those things which are the more commonly used by men, namely, bread and wine. Secondly, lest this sacrament might be derided by unbelievers, if we were to eat our Lord under His own species. Thirdly, that while we receive our Lord's body and blood invisibly, this may redound to the merit of faith.  Summa, Book III, Question 35, Article 5. 

And again Thomas Aquinas says that "in this sacrament, after the change, something remains the same, namely, the accidents of the bread, .... these expressions may be admitted by way of similitude, namely, that 'bread is the body of Christ,' or, 'bread will be the body of Christ,' or 'the body of Christ is made of bread'; provided that by the word 'bread' is not understood the substance of bread, but in general 'that which is contained under the species of bread,' under which species there is first contained the substance of bread, and afterwards the body of Christ."  Question 75, Article 8.

In any case, the doctrine of transubstantiation should not be equated with belief in the real presence of Christ.  For example, Eastern Rite Catholics believe in Real Presence without a doctrine of transubstantiation.  And until the eleventh century the Latin Church itself professed its belief in the real presence of Jesus in the eucharist without a doctrine of transubstantiation.

Contemporary Christians should not be expected to be familiar with scholastic thought patterns. The scholastics explained things ontologically or metaphysically. The average catechumen today is not big on ontology! We describe our lives in terms of experience. Reality is not experienced as "substance and accidents."  

An attempt...  [taken from Chapter 4 of The Sacraments: How Catholics Pray, by Thomas Richstatter, O.F.M. © St. Anthony Messenger Press, Cincinnati OH, June, 1995.]

Non-Catholics often wonder just what it is that Catholics believe. I have had many people ask me about worshiping statues and relics, praying to the Pope, and buying indulgences. Needless to say, these are not at the center of Catholic belief (indeed they are not at all a part of what Catholics believe).

The best way to answer the question "What do Catholics believe?" is to look carefully at the prayers Catholics pray at the Eucharist. Although the words are a little different in each of the Eucharistic Prayers, the central idea is the same. At each Eucharist, we call upon our loving God and remember the great works of creation and salvation. We remember the life-giving acts of Jesus; we remember how "on the night before he suffered he took bread and wine..." and we petition God to "let your Spirit come upon these gifts to make them holy, so that they may become for us the body and blood of our Lord, Jesus Christ" so that "all who share in the body and blood of Christ may be brought together in unity by the Holy Spirit."

At every Eucharist, we ask God to send the Spirit to do two things: 1) to transform the bread and wine so that, 2) we who eat the one bread and drink the cup may become one body. These two petitions go together: the transformation of the elements and the transformation of the communicants. "Look upon this sacrifice which you have given to your Church; and by your Holy Spirit, gather all who share this one bread and one cup into the body of Christ, a living sacrifice of praise." (Eucharistic Prayer IV) "Grant that we, who are nourished by his body and blood, may be filled with his Holy Spirit, and become one body, one spirit in Christ." (Eucharistic Prayer III)

When I was a child it seemed as though the emphasis was placed on the first transformation. To be a Catholic I had to believe that the bread and wine became the Body and Blood of Christ. There were many ways to explain how this happened. Transubstantiation was one explanation (based on medieval physics and scholastic philosophy) of how this change took place.

Today the second transformation, the transformation of the communicants into the Body, is the more difficult for contemporary American Catholics. Our American culture places a high value on the individual, on independence, and freedom from obligations to one another. I hear people saying "I have to own a gun because no one is going to protect me but me. The police can't even protect themselves." "I work hard for my money. I am not going to let the government take my money and waste it on welfare." If a culture is infected with by racism or sexism, the Christians who are formed by that culture will find it difficult to express their devotion at a Eucharist which proclaims that "there is no longer Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female." (Galatians 3:28)

In the promises of our Baptism we renounced Satan. We renounced Satan by whatever names he bears today: racism, sexism, and exaggerated individualism. At baptism we are born into Christ Jesus, and each time we approach the Eucharist we renew that baptismal promise.

As Catholics come to the church for Eucharist, they dip their hand in the baptismal water and renew their baptismal vows, making the sign of the cross. Each time we get up and go to Holy Communion we give sign to the community that we are committed to all that the Eucharist stands for -- that we are committed to "do this" in memory of Jesus -- to live as he lived, to live no longer for ourselves but for his Body so that the world can say of us today as they said of the first Christians, "See how they love one another! There is no one poor among them!" This is the ultimate meaning of the sacrament of the Eucharist.

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In his book The Eucharist in the West, Edward J. Kilmartin, S.J. makes the following remarks with regard to the Eucharist and Sacrifice of Calvary.  The application of the verb transsubstantiare to this process of change is first found in the middle of the twelfth century in the Sententiae of Rolando Bandinelli (b. ca. 1105), the later Pope Alexander III (1159-1181).  In time the term came into common usage and eventually it received official approval at the Fourth Lateran Council (1215).

"...transsubstantiatis pane in corpus, et vino in sanguinem potestate divina"--DS 802.

1.  "What is described as salvation history is the history of the divine offer of personal communion to human beings and the free response of the creatures. The effect of the divine offer of "self-communication" is attained to the extent that it provokes the response of the human being. The human response cannot be described as a "self-communication," but rather as the "offering of self" to receive the meaning of one's life from God; or, more precisely, as the freely chosen openness to the divine gift which alone gives ultimate meaning to human existence."  Edward J. Kilmartin, S.J., The Eucharist in the West, Edited by Robert J. Daly, S.J., Pueblo, 1998, Page 356.

2.  "The response of trust, hope, and love made by the Incarnate Word in his humanity was a response of faith: of trust, hope and love: dispositions engendered by the Holy Spirit. This response of faith by Jesus, carried on through the whole of his life, can be described as the progressive upward growth of his humanity toward the goal of the highest possible embodiment of the acceptable response to the covenant initiative of the Father in him. This goal was attained in the event of the death of Jesus on the cross."  Edward J. Kilmartin, S.J., The Eucharist in the West, Edited by Robert J. Daly, S.J., Pueblo, 1998, Page 357.

3.  "The effect of participation in the New Covenant is the integration into the single "transitus" of Jesus to the Father, a gradual process that takes place through response to the concrete situations of the life that are conformed to the attitudes of the Jesus of history in virtue of the unconfirmed to the attitudes of the Jesus of history in virtue of the inspiration of the Spirit working in the believing disciples of Christ. The integration of the believer into the single "transitus" of Jesus takes place through the action of the Holy Spirit transmitting the appropriate attitudes of Christ conformed to the concrete situations of the life of Christians that require a response of faith. Such a transmission is of Christians that require a response of faith. Such a transmission is always offered by the holy Spirit, but it is only bestowed on willing subjects who freely ac it under the movement of th Spirit. In other words, the action of the Spirit attains its goal when, under the movement of the Spirit, there occurs a free response of saving faith on the part of the believer."  Edward J. Kilmartin, S.J., The Eucharist in the West, Edited by Robert J. Daly, S.J., Pueblo, 1998, Page 358.

4.  "The Eucharist can be described as the corporate act of the ecclesiastical community by which it actively participates in the mystery of God in Christ, namely, the New Covenant. This participation takes place on the side of the response of faith of the incarnate Son to what the Father has accomplished in him for the salvation of humanity. The participation in the response of Christ consists in the self-offering of the members of the community of faith of the incarnate Son to what the Father has accomplished in him for the salvation of humanity." Edward J. Kilmartin, S.J., The Eucharist in the West, Edited by Robert J. Daly, S.J., Pueblo, 1998, Page 360.

5.  Every time we celebrate the Eucharistic meal, we celebrate in the presence of the risen Lord.  Just as every Eucharist is the celebration of the risen Lord whether these celebrations take place during Lent or even Advent.  It seems as though below the iceberg some Catholics think that they are getting a baby Jesus in Christmas, a dead Jesus on Good Friday, a risen Jesus on Easter Sunday, etc.  When the Holy See allowed "invitations" at the Mass to be made, "in these or similar words" they perhaps unknowingly allowed many priests to give voice to their "below the surface of the iceberg" presuppositions.  For example I have heard priests invite people to communion with the words:  "Behold the baby born for us at Nazareth, now lying in the crib this Christmas day."  And no one seemed to object theologically to the invitation. 

After reading the class postings June 2009

1.  The Christian Scriptures express the conviction that when we share the Eucharistic meal we eat and drink the body and blood of Christ and we, who are his body, become his body.   All Christians believe this biblical truth.  We can "see" this belief in its consequences:  Christians' love for all that God has created -- indeed the love of Christ for Creation.

2.  The words of the liturgy, especially the Eucharistic prayer, express this belief.   The epiclesis attributes this mystery to the Holy Spirit.

3.  In the middle ages, when philosophers began to use their categories and vocabulary to explain "how" this takes place, the word "transubstantiation" is coined to give some metaphysical insight into the mystery of faith.

4.  Certain prominent schools of Catholic thought have found the word useful.  For a thousand years, Christians believed in the Eucharist without explaining it in these terms; and many Christian Churches today continue to do so.

5.  The term presupposes an understanding of the Aristotelian categories of substance (the "whatness" "end" "meaning" "purpose" of something and its accidents (material, physical, qualities).  The substance (in the metaphysical meaning of the word) becomes Christ, but the substance in the ordinary sense of the word (the way people who are not philosophers use it), is bread (e.g. "When we eat this bread..."  "Because the bread is one..."   "He who eats this bread..." )   As contemporary catechists have so much to teach in so little time, many judge it best to avoid these difficulties and simply use other words. 

6.  While the word transubstantiation may indeed be "apt" -- it has its insufficiencies also. 

A) It draws our attention to the bread and can distract us from what happens to the Church  (e.g. can tempt us to stop short at the first part of the epiclesis).

B) It can cause us to focus on the object and Eucharist becomes a noun rather than a verb.

C) It requires the catechist to first give a philosophy lesson explaining this very special meaning of "substance"  -- today "substance" is something material, the substance out of which something is made -- without this philosophical background the student can come to an idea of some kind of physical change and/or physical presence.  (Martos: "For the change which was known as transubstantiation was not conceived as a physical change but a metaphysical change.)

D)  The focus on the object can tempt us to focus on a "moment" of consecration and void the meaning of the Eucharistic prayer.  (Note:  The scholastic theologians did not have the historical information regarding the Eucharistic Prayer that we have today; it is understandable if they do not give proper weight to the epiclesis; it is not understandable for a contemporary catechists to do so.)

E)  The narrow focus on the bread can lead us to a narrow focus on the bread becoming the Historical Jesus.  The Mass:  A Guided Tour examines the "who" of real presence.   In reading the essays, while I cannot tell what you believe, from the words you put on the page it seems that sometimes "presence" is identified merely (only) with the historical Jesus (without his body the Church).  [Note the difference between "the whole Jesus" and "the whole Christ."  -- How do you see yourself as part of "transubstantiation"?]

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Reflections on the students' postings 2003

A few of my thoughts after reading the twenty-two postings the assignment "Post a list of what you would consider to be the five teachings about the Eucharist that are in most need of catechesis in parishes today in this country."

1. I was rather surprised at the variety of answers; there is a wide range of opinion about what needs to be done pastorally and catechetically.  Though I don't know why I was surprised at this. Seminarians are representative of the Church, and there is a wide range of opinion about what needs to be done pastorally and catechetically in the Church at large. All the more reason to take seriously Osborne's warning about being aware of "what is brought to" the course.

"Before you turn another page, remember you are entering the area of sacramental theology with major presuppositions.  Presuppositions about God, Jesus, Church, Religion, and the Meaning of Life.  You also have a complex personal background of human experience -- human experience about relationships, self-identity, self-image, self-determination, the meaning of male/female."  (Osborne, pp 18-19)

2. Several persons mentioned in first place: " We must teach people that Jesus is really present in the Eucharist." Some quoted a survey which concluded that a certain percentage of Catholics do not believe in Christ's real presence at the Eucharist.

3. When reading the results of any survey one should ask how the survey was conducted. Who directed the survey? What questions were asked? If a "survey" finds that 95% of people prefer Coke to Pepsi, and I find that the "survey" was not conducted by an independent agency but was conducted by the Coca-Cola company, I would question the survey results because the people asking the questions knew what answers they wanted to receive. No responsible company would do such a thing or they would be sued by the competition. With regards to the "belief in real presence" survey one must ask if those asking the questions had a vested interest in the outcome.

4. One must examine how the survey was conducted. What questions were asked? Were the questions about "real presence" actually about physical movement, as: "John was in the bedroom but he got up and went into the kitchen. Is John in the kitchen?"  Did Jesus go into the host the same way that John is in the kitchen? I can answer "no" to this question and still believe in the real presence. One must carefully, theologically, examine the question that was asked.  [In the surveys I am aware of, the question was asked very differently in each survey with different results.]

5. While belief in the Real Presence is certainly important, it is ultimately deeds [the actions that flow from that belief] that are determinative. Recall how Matthew describes the end time (Matthew 25:31-46): "When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne, and all the nations will be assembled before him. And he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. Then the king will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. ... [he does not then say] "For you were able to understand and teach Transubstantiation." The passage reads: " I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me." Thomas Aquinas says that the RES SACRAMENTI of the Eucharist [id quod significatur, the reality of the Eucharist, the Grace, that which is beyond experience] is the sacramental unity of the Body of Christ reflected by our response to the love of Christ. (Summa Theologiae III, q. 73, a. 3.). 

Even here in the class room the above holds true. 

6. If the surveys are indeed true, and years and years of teaching abut the Eucharist using "transubstantiation" language has not worked, might it be time for a new approach that would speak to contemporary Christians about this central mystery of our Faith?

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To Think About

1.  Some years ago I was in Chicago attending a course on "What Anglo Seminary Professors Need To Know about Hispanic Seminarians".  One day during a break an Anglican priest and I were walking and discussing the seminar.  At one point he said to me, "You know Tom, there are Anglicans who believe in the Real Presence and Anglicans who don't.  There are Anglicans who believe in women priests and Anglicans who don't.  There are Anglicans who believe in same sex marriage and Anglicans who don't.  There are Catholics who believe in the Real Presence and Catholics who don't.  There are Catholics who believe in the women priests and Catholics who don't.  There are Catholics who believe in same sex marriage and Catholics who don't.  There are Presbyterians who believe in the Real Presence and Presbyterians who don't.  There are Presbyterians who believe in the women priests and Presbyterians who don't.  There are Presbyterians who believe in same sex marriage and Presbyterians who don't.  Perhaps it is time to re-divide the pie.  The issue is not so much who is Anglican, or Catholic, or Presbyterian.  We live in a "post-denominational age".  Denomination has become simply which baptismal record our parents inscribed us into."  -- Do you agree with this priest's assessment?  Does it meet with your lived ministerial experience?  Why? Or why not?

2.  What is your favorite Sunday activity?   What is the difference between what Catholics do in church on Sunday and what Protestants do?

3.  What does St. Paul mean when he says "yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me" (Galatians 2:20).  How is this brought about by the Eucharist?

4.  If a catechumen asked you "I was reading a book explaining the Mass and it talked about 'transubstantiation'. What is this 'transubstantiation' anyhow?" What would you tell the catechumen?

5.  If  the Lord is truly present in the Eucharist, what does it mean to await his coming again?

6.  If you believe in concomitance, what theological reason do you have for not saying "The Body and Blood of Christ" when presenting the Eucharistic Bread for the communion of the faithful.

Observations after reading student papers on this topic (Spring 2015)

1.  Good catechesis

Before we wring our hands in despair over "the percentage of Catholics who do not believe in the real presence" we need to 1) examine who these people are and 2) examine the way we have explained this mystery to them and then 3) analyze the questionnaire to which they are responding. 

It should be obvious that the majority of Catholics are not Aristotelian philosophers.  For the most part, we are speaking to them in a foreign language, and then test them on their ability to translate our explanation into daily life.

What would Jesus do?  It seems that the synoptic Gospels tell of a Jesus who spoke the language of the people, explaining the kingdom in parables taken from everyday life.  He spoke their language and the test of their understanding not grading their intellectual belief but their "translation" of His teaching in day-to-day living: "I was hungry ... "

(Last week I read in our provincial newsletter that in the parishes where we serve as Franciscan pastors we are not speaking to university professors and grad students.  For example, in Hazard Kentucky 80.5% of the people have no college education and in Detroit where we minister 47% of the people are functionally illiterate.  We have to ask if Jesus only came for the scribes and Pharisees and those educated in theology.)

2.  Lex orandi, legem credendi. 

We do theology out of our worship experience.  In the early church, when we experience the Eucharist by sitting around the table with a loaf of bread which we break in memory of the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus; we break off a piece of the bread, pass the loaf to our neighbor, chew the bread, and wash it down with a cup of wine, and realize that the sharing of this meal has formed us into a community of disciples -- our understanding of real Presence is going to be expressed differently than when our experience is simply looking at an elevated host for several seconds.

Once the idea of purgatory comes to the fore and we need multiple Masses by multiple priests celebrating privately at their individual altars where no one goes to Communion that it is rather natural that are theological discussion shifts from what happens to the community as they share this meal to simply focus on "what happens to the host."

It seems to me that it is still out of this experience of the "gaze that saves" that some of us elaborate our theology of the Eucharist--Even though we have recently started receiving Communion once again and should return to that earlier theology of common meal transforming the community-- especially as our prayers since 1970 include the epiclesis to change the church.

Perhaps one of the major differences between Eastern Catholics and Western Catholics with regard to understanding the Eucharistic presence can be explained by the fact that in the East Eucharist has always been seen as a meal and that the participation of the faithful in Holy Communion is always formed a part of their experience and consequently a part of their theology.  Whereas in the West with the discovery of purgatory and the need to celebrate multiple private masses at which no one received communion this experience naturally led to a very different theology which centered on the host and not the meal or the community.  The fact that there was no epiclesis over the community probably also played a role.

3.  Is it really about belief in real presence? 

It would seem that any Christian who professes belief in the New Testament also believes in the real presence.  In the early church there were no major controversies over "real presence".  It only became an issue when we began to attempt to explain the mystery. 

It is not really helpful to accuse Protestants of not believing in the real presence.  One might ask what kind of presence they believe it?  Unreal presence?  When I attend Eucharistic services in the UCC Church or in the Presbyterian Church here in Tell City, and see the devotion of the people, and see how it transforms them into the body of Christ, it seems evident to me that they believe in the real presence.  It is obvious from how they act.  I've lived in the midst of these people for the past 30 years and I can testify that there are many holy, dedicated individuals among them.  Apparently God hasn't restricted real presence to St. Paul's parish.

And when I compare their devotion with what I see in Catholic churches where there is often little or no experience of community meal and the bread is receive kneeling or with genuflections and not received in the hand like adults receive bread but the entire concentration is on the divine presence, I wonder if maybe it is the Protestants who actually understand what Jesus intended!  And was this not the major objection at the time of the Reformation?

The Protestant teaching is much more in line with St. Augustine, who emphasized the connection between Christ and Christ's body, the Church.  That dimension is not emphasized when discussing Transubstantiation.

4.  What is a symbol?

The word "symbol" has several meanings.  Often in our everyday speech, a symbol is something that is less than real, a mere token. 

Theologians and psychologists use the word in a very different sense-- symbol is something that is more real than the physical, something that touches us in a more human way than something merely physical can.

In the first sense one might say of the Eucharist:  It is not "symbolic".  In the second sense of the word one might say of the Eucharist:  It is symbolic.

Sacraments are symbolic acts.

In the document "Environment and Art in Catholic Worship," published by the United States Bishops' Committee on the Liturgy, we read:  A culture which is oriented to efficiency and production has made us insensitive to the symbolic function of persons and things. Also, the same cultural emphasis on individuality and competition has made it more difficult for us to appreciate the liturgy as a personal-communal experience. As a consequence, we tend to identify anything private and individual as "personal." But, by inference, anything communal and social is considered impersonal. For the sake of good liturgy, this misconception must be changed. (EACW 16).

A couple of side issues:

1.  I found it interesting that the catechism still speaks of the transformation taking place by the words of institution, at least they have some recognition of the epiclesis, but they have not yet moved to an understanding of the function of the Eucharistic prayer.

2.  When giving a quote, it is always better to give the most authoritative source.  For example Council documents are much more important and more authoritative than the Catechism.  For example when quoting the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy article 7 it is better to quote the Council document them by giving the reference as Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 1088.

3.  Also, as we discussed in class, Dom Odo Casel's rediscovery of liturgical anamnesis is best put into English by "our becoming present to the event" rather than "re-presentation" for that is the word that cause the Reformation.  "Re-presentation" for many people means doing the action over another time.  For example: "Because of the snow Thursday evening many people could not attend the presentation of Hamlet at Tell City High School.  Consequently the play will be re-presented next Thursday at 7 PM."  This is not anamnesis.

4.  When we speak of "daily Mass" or receiving Communion daily, we are speaking of a devotional exercise for a pious few Roman Catholics.  The great majority of Roman Catholics, and all other Catholics and Christian Churches gather weekly on the Lord's Day.  Also: in the prayer "Our Father", the petition "Give us this day our daily bread" is not a reference primarily to the Eucharist. 

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Copyright: Tom Richstatter.  All Rights Reserved.  This page was created by Fr. Thomas Richstatter, O.F.M.  Every effort has been, and is being made to acknowledge sources when the ideas are not my own.  Any failure to comply with the United States Copyright Act (Title 17, United States Code) will be corrected immediately should I become aware of it.  This site was updated on 03/20/15.  Your comments on this site are welcome at