JMC : The Catholic Religion / by Charles Coppens, S.J.

The Holy Eucharist.

244. The history of its institution is briefly as follows. We have first the promise of Christ, narrated in the sixth chapter of St. John's Gospel: "I am the living Bread which came down from Heaven. If any one will eat of this Bread he shall live forever; and the Bread which I will give is My Flesh for the life of the world. Except you eat the Flesh of the Son of man, and drink His Blood, you shall not have life in you. . . . He that eaten this Bread shall live forever; etc." We have next the fulfilment of the promise, narrated by each of the other three Evangelists and by St. Paul in 1 Corinthians, Ch. XI. St. Luke says: "Taking bread, He gave thanks, and brake, and gave to them, saying, 'This is My Body, which is given for you. Do this for a commemoration of Me'. In like manner the Chalice also, after He had supped, saying, 'This is the Chalice of the New Testament in My Blood, which shall be shed for you'." (XXII, 19, 20). From the Greek word for "thanksgiving" (eucharistia) the word "Eucharist" is derived.

It is evident that what the Apostles then received had all the requirements of a Sacrament: 1. The outward sign; namely, the eating and drinking of what Christ distinctly called His Body and Blood, under the appearances of bread and wine. 2. The inward grace, an increase of spiritual life. 3. The institution of Christ. The command 'Do this in remembrance of Me' was the provision of Christ to have the same Sacrament perpetuated in the Church.

245. We shall next consider how the Holy Eucharist was understood and appreciated by the Apostles and the early Christians. St. Paul writes to the Corinthians "The Chalice of benediction which we bless, is it not the communion of the Blood of Christ? And the Bread which we break, is it not the partaking of the Body of the Lord?" (1 Cor. X, 16): Whoever shall eat this Bread or drink the Chalice of the Lord unworthily, shall be guilty of the Body and Blood of the Lord (ib. XI, 27). St. Ignatius, the disciple of St. John the Apostle, writes of the Docetae (n. 186) "They abstain from the Eucharist and prayer, because they do not confess that the Eucharist is Flesh of our Lord Jesns Christ, the Flesh that suffered for onr sins" (Ep, ad Smyrn. n. 7).

With regard to this great mystery especially, the early Church practised the discipline of the secret, disciplina arcani, because, as St. Clement of Alexandria explains, Christ has taught not to cast pearls before swine (Stroni. I, 12). Yet, as was to be expected, the heathens could hot be kept in entire ignorance of what was so solemnly shrouded in mystery. Their very misconceptions of it give us a glimpse of the real doctrine. For it was spoken of by them as the murdering and eating of a child. Tertullian refutes this calumny in his Apology (n. 2): "We are said to be the most accursed of men, as touching a Sacrament of child murder, and thereon a feast". Many Fathers speak of the same misrepresentation, and refute it; but never by denying the reception of the real Body and Blood of Christ. On the contrary, St. Justin, in his Apology, thinks it best to state the facts clearly, and says: "The Eucharistic food is both Flesh and Blood of the same incarnate Jesus". Considering the nature of that document, a solemn address to the Emperor, and the explicit statement here quoted, there can be no doubt left as to what the early Christians thought of the real presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist.

246. The Catholic doctrine on the subject is thus stated in the Creed of Pius IV: "I profess that in the Mass there is offered to God a true, proper, and propitiatory Sacrifice for the living and the dead; and that in the most Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist there is truly, really, and substantially the Body and Blood, together with the Soul and Divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ; and that there takes place a conversion of the whole substance of the bread into the Body, and of the whole substance of the wine into the Blood: which conversion the Catholic Church calls "Transubstantiation".

Luther did not deny the Catholic doctrine of the real presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist; but he perverted its explanation by teaching "consubstantiation" or the simultaneous existence of the Body of Christ and the substance of bread, a view still maintained by many German Protestants (n. 361).

The formularies of the English Church are ingeniously so worded as to admit of various interpretations. Yet in 1661, a note was added to the Communion service in the Book of Common Prayer, saying that by the kneeling during the service "no adoration is intended nor ought to be done, either unto the Sacramental Bread or Wine there received, or unto any corporal presence of Christ's natural Flesh and Body. For the Sacramental Bread and Wine remain there in their very natural substance, and therefore may not be adored; and the natural Body and Blood of our Saviour Jesus Christ are in Heaven and not here" (The Annot. Book of Com. Prayer, p. 399).

The Council of Trent has defined Transubstantiation to be an article of faith, and has condemned consubstantiation, by declaring that the substance of bread does not remain with the Body of Christ in the consecrated Host (Sess. 13, can. 2). It thus teaches three things: 1. That Christ is present ; 2. That the species only, and not the substance of bread and wine are there; 3. That the change is called by the Church "Transubstantiation". This term was first used by the opponents of Berengarius in the eleventh century, and was adopted by the Fourth Council of Lateran, in 1215, as most apt to express the Catholic doctrine.

That there was truly a change of substance at the Last Supper is clear from the words of the Evangelist: "Taking bread He gave thanks and brake, saying, 'This is My Body, etc.' " No words could be clearer. What He took was bread, a well known substance; what He gave them to eat was, He said, His Body: "This is My Body". Then He bade them do the same for a commemoration of Him. When on another occasion He said to them: "I am the vine, you the branches" (Jo. XV, 1-6), He explained the meaning of the figure. Here we have no hint of any figure; nor was any figure thought of till the time of the Reformation.

247. Difficulties in understanding so great a mystery, and all that is connected with it, are of course numerous: but the most learned men have found in them no reason to entertain the slightest doubt on the doctrine. We will briefly touch on the principal objections.

1. Our doctrine involves the simultaneous presence of the same Body in various places, say in each of the Apostles when they had "eaten". We answer that God can do all that involves no contradiction; and philosophy cannot prove that multilocation involves a contradiction.

2. How can the Body of a Man exist within the small compass of a Host? We answer that the relation of matter to space is one of the most obscure questions in philosophy, as those who are conversant with the subject are most thoroughly convinced. Is then the omnipotence of God to be limited by our ignorance?

3. Are not our senses deceived in the perception of the color, shape, taste, etc. in the Holy Eucharist? Not at all: the color, shape, etc. are really there, and these accidental forms are the proper objects of sense perception. If we judge that these sensible qualities naturally belong to bread, we judge rightly; but if we say that God cannot, and did not at the Last Supper, miraculously separate them from the substance of bread, we speak like the unwise. All this does not prevent us from judging that in every case but this, such accidents belong to real bread.

4. Cannot the sacred Host decay, be burned, digested, etc., just like bread? Such changes affect the sacred species; and the Divine presence ceases when these species are corrupted. When the substance of the Body of Christ ceases to be in the corrupting Host, it is replaced by that of corrupting bread, and all goes on henceforth as if there had been no consecration.

5. Does not Christ thus expose himself to sacrilegious insults? He does; just as He did when, for love of man, He humbled Himself unto death.

6. "This saying is hard". So the Jews said to Christ; and many "walked no more with Him". And yet Christ did not call them back to correct their misunderstanding of His words. "Then Jesus said to the twelve: 'Will you also go away?' And Simon Peter answered Him: 'Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life' " (Jo. VI, 67-69). The Church agrees with St. Peter.

248. The Council of Trent explains in detail what is contained under each species: "It has always been believed in the Church of God that, immediately after the Consecration, the true Body of our Lord and His true Blood exists under the species of bread and wine, together with His Divinity; the Body under the species of bread, and the Blood under the species of wine, by force of the words; but the Body under the species of wine, and the Blood under the species of bread, and the Soul under both, by the force of the natural connection and concomitance by which the parts of the Lord Jesus Christ, who rose from the dead to die no more, are linked together: and the Divinity, by reason of Its hypostatic union with the Body and Soul. Wherefore it is most true that there is as much contained under either species as under both; for Christ exists whole and entire under the species of bread, and under every part of the species, whole too and entire under the species of wine and under its parts" (Sess. 13, ch. 3). Thus when Christ allowed the Apostles to drink of the Chalice, the species was divided but not the substance. So it is to-day; when the sacred Host is broken, and, therefore, even before it is broken, the whole substance of Christ's Body is under every part; else the mere breaking would multiply the presence. The mixing of a small quantity of water with the wine is an ancient rite, and reminds us of the union of the Divinity with the humanity of Christ.

The Council of Trent condemns the opinion current among the Lutherans that the Real Presence is confined to the time when the Eucharist is used as a Sacrament. The words of the institution give no reason for this distinction; and it is clearly against Tradition, as the early Church used to preserve the sacred Species for long periods of time.

It is evident from all these considerations that the sacred Host is to be adored with the supreme worship of Latria; for it is Christ Himself.

249. From Christ's promise in St. John's Gospel (n. 244) it is evident that this Sacrament gives grace; and from St. Paul (1 Cor. XI, 27), that it must be received in a state of worthiness, which can mean nothing less than a state of grace. St. Justin, in his Apology, declares this explicitly (I, 66), saying: "None may partake of it but they who believe our teaching to be true, and who have received remission of sin and regeneration in Baptism." The outward sign of food and drink shows that it produces an increase of spiritual life; this consists in sanctifying grace, the infused virtues, and the gifts of the Holy Ghost.

As food restores vigor, so the Holy Eucharist works the forgiveness of those venial sins which correspond spiritually to the daily waste of the body. It does so, partly by its direct effects, partly by exciting us to actual fervor of charity. It also remits temporal punishments, and strengthens against temptations by curbing concupiscence and securing actual grace. St. Ignatius the Martyr calls it an antidote against sin and a pledge of future glory.

250. The necessity of receiving the Holy Eucharist is thus declared by Christ: "Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the Flesh of the Son of Man, and drink His Blood, you shall not have life in you" (Jo. VI, 54). There is not, however, a necessity of means, but one of precept only; and the precept is addressed to those who can understand it, and therefore it is not binding on infants. Moralists hold that the precept certainly obliges those in danger of death; and it obliges all once a year by distinct command of the Church. Apart from cases in which priests celebrate two or more Masses in one day. and some other rare occasions, it is not allowed to receive Holy Communion more than once a day. For the rest, it is left to Confessors to determine what frequency of Communion is expedient for each penitent. The Jansenists inculcated a false reverence, requiring for this Sacrament the pure love of God, free from admixture; they thus deterred the faithful from approaching the Holy Table frequently: large districts have not yet recovered from the mischief done by this baneful teaching. St. Thomas directs the confessor to consider, on the one hand, the penitent's desire for union with Christ, which points towards daily Communion; and, on the other, reverence for the Sacrament, which withdraws from this frequent reception. Experience will show what frequency will, in the particular case, increase love of God without lessening reverence (3. Dist. 12, Qu. 4).

In early ages, Communion under the species of bread alone was certainly held to be valid; for we read of its being thus carried to confessors of the faith in prison. In the fifth century, when the faithful were at liberty to receive under one or both kinds, some secret Manicheans refused to accept the species of wine, because they taught that wine was the creature of an evil being. Pope St. Leo branded such refusal as a mark of heresy, and required the use of the two species. Afterwards the mode was again left optional; but the greater convenience of receiving the species of bread alone caused this mode to prevail exclusively, although not commanded. We find this state of things in England in 616. But when the Hussites attacked it as opposed to a Divine ordinance, the Council of Constance, to brand their error, made the practice obligatory. True, Christ commands us to eat His Flesh and drink His Blood; but we do this under one species (n. 248). He says: "If any one eat this Bread, he shall live forever" (Jo. VI, 52), and the change made by Protestants of or into and in St. Paul's first Epistle to the Corinthians (XI, 27), is indefensible (n. 52). As to the law of receiving Holy Communion fasting, it is very ancient; for Tertullian speaks of it as familiar in the second century (Ad Ux. II, 5).


251. It is natural to man to show forth his inner sentiments by outward acts. Thus an obvious and usual way for subjects to express their loyalty to their sovereign is by making offerings to him. And though God has no need of our offerings for His use, yet most nations in all ages have felt the propriety of offering Him of their best, as to their highest Sovereign; and they have testified to His supreme dominion over life and death by the total or partial destruction of victims in His honor. This is what is meant by "sacrifice", the offering of a victim in recognition of God's supreme excellence and dominion. It is therefore an act of supreme adoration, or latria; and victims can be sacrificed to God alone. While adoration is the first purpose of sacrifice, thanksgiving and impetration of favors are obviously suitable purposes.

St. Thomas of Aquin remarks that, even if man had not sinned, sacrifice would still have been his appropriate worship of God (2a. 2ae., Qu. 85, a. 1). But a sinful race has a special reason to find sacrifice appropriate. The sinner deserves destruction, and he offers the victim in his own stead. This vicarious atonement becomes the more suitable, because God has mercifully determined to offer Himself in satisfaction for the sins of men; thus the victims sacrificed become types of His own Passion and Death. This meaning of sacrifices was no doubt revealed to our first parents after their fall; for we find the practice was at once adopted: "Cain offered of the fruits of the earth gifts to the Lord; Abel also offered of the firstlings of his flock and of their fat" (Gen. IV, 3, 4). All ancient nations practised sacrifice as the chief of their sacred rites. The Chosen People did so every day by the direct command of the Lord. Up to the time of the Reformation the world generally offered sacrifice.

252. Since the sacrifices of the Old Law prefigured the Sacrifice of the Cross, they were of course to cease with the accomplishment of the figure. But it had been distinctly prophecied that they would be replaced by a purer Rite, commemorative, instead of prophetic, of the Atonement. This is one of the most remarkable predictions in Holy Writ, and it was made through the latest of the Jewish Prophets, Malachias, about 400 years before Christ. He first predicts the end of the old sacrifices, and then announces the new and purer Rite: "I have no pleasure in you, says the Lord of Hosts; and I will not receive a gift at your hand. For from the rising of the Sun even to the going down, My name is great among the gentiles, and in every place there is Sacrifice, and there is offered to My name a clean oblation" (I, 10, 11). That this Sacrifice of Christ was to be celebrated under the appearances of bread and wine, had been predicted by the Psalmist, who thus addressed the expected Messias: "Thou art a Priest forever according to the order of Melchisedech" (Ps. 109). Now the sacrifice af Melchisedech was of bread and wine (Gen. XIV, 18). Christ offered His Sacrifice in the same unbloody manner on the eve of His bloody Death, and bade His Apostles to continue the same rite in commemoration of Him (n. 199). It is the one Sacrifice of the Cross, by which He offered Himself "an unspotted victim unto God" (Hebr. IX, 14).

The Apostles, immediately after the Descent of the Holy Ghost, began to celebrate this sacred Rite of the Mass, "Breaking Bread from house to house" (Acts II, 46). St. Paul speaks of a Christian "Altar" (Hebr. XIII, 10), and an altar is a place of sacrifice. St. Justin writes: "Of the Sacrifice which we offer in every place, that is of the Bread and Chalice of the Eucharist, Malachias had prophecied" (Dial. cum Tryph. n. 41). In the manuscript recently recovered of a still earlier work, "The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles", we read: "Being assembled on every Lord's day, break Bread and give thanks, after confessing your sins, that your Sacrifice may be a clean one; for it is the Sacrifice of which the Lord has said: In every place, at every time, a clean Oblation shall be offered to My name" (c. 14). St. Irenaeus whose master, St. Polycarp, was a disciple of St. John the Evangelist, says: "Christ took that creature bread, and gave thanks, saying, 'This is My Body'. And in like manner He confessed the Cup -- which, according to us, is a created thing -- to be His Blood, and taught the new Oblation of the New Testament; which the Church receiving from the Apostles, throughout the world offers to God. . . . Respecting which Malachias, one of the twelve Prophets, thus predicted", etc. (Adv. Haer. LIV. c. 17).

253. It is is evident from all this, that the Holy Mass is not a mere prayer, but the great act itself of the Death of Christ mystically renewed. On Calvary, Christ offered Himself to His Father as a bloody Victim for the sins of men; and, to provide the Sacrifice instituted at the Last Supper, He offered at the same time the same Victim to be sacrificed in an unbloody manner in all Masses till the end of time. From that one Offering all Masses have their efficacy. As St. Chrysostom expresses it: "This word ('This is My Body') changes what is before Him (the bread and wine); and as that other word, 'Increase and multiply', was said once, but still gives power of generating to our nature for all time: so this word ('This is My Body') once spoken, makes a perfect Sacrifice in all churches, on every table (altar-table), to our time and to the time of His coming" (Ap. Franz. De Sacr. Th. XV). At the Mass the same words, "This is My Body This is the Chalice of My Blood . . . present His Body as if separated from His sacred Blood, in the state of a Victim for sin. This takes place at the Consecration, which therefore is most commonly considered as the moment of the Sacrifice, and as constituting its very essence. Still the Oblation immediately following, and the breaking of the sacred Host, and the Communion, are all integral parts of the Mass.

254. The effects of the Mass are the same as those for which all sacrifice is intended (n. 251), namely, adoration; thanksgiving, impetration, atonement, and pardon for the living and the dead. These effects are produced by the Sacrifice itself, ex opere operato; yet so that the forgiveness of sin is obtained by compliance with the actual graces procured for the living by the Sacrifice, and may be prevented by their want of compliance. The value of any one Mass is infinite in itself; but its effect applied to men is dependent on God's good pleasure, which is not revealed to us. This effect as applied to men is called the fruit of the Mass; it is produced by Christ ex opere operato, by the act done; and by the priest ex opere operantis, by his own devotion; in the latter respect the fruit may be more or less, as in other prayers.

The fruit of the Mass is applied variously to different classes of people: a) The general fruit benefits all the members of the Church, yet especially those present, and still more those ministering at the Mass. b) The special fruit goes to those for whom the Mass is offered. Most probably when the Mass is offered for many, since its value is infinite, each receives the same benefit as if it were offered for himself alone; still this is doubtful, for it depends on the free-will of God, which is not revealed to us. The application of this special fruit is made by the will of the priest. c) The most special fruit belongs to the priest himself as a private person doing the good work; probably he cannot give this to another person.

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