Feast of Corpus Christi (the Body of Christ)
Instructions on Christian Doctrine: the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist
Jesus took bread, and blessed, and broke: and gave to His disciples, and said: … This is My Body. And taking the chalice… saying: … This is My Blood… (Mt. 26.26). St. Ambrose (“On the Sacraments”): “How can that which is bread be the Body of Christ? By consecration. Consecration by what words; by whose words? Those of the Lord Jesus. When the moment comes to consecrate [the bread and wine at the Mass], the priest will use the words of Christ. It is therefore the Word of Christ that consecrates. See then how wondrous in work is the Word: He spoke and they were made [Ps 33.9; 148.5; Jdt 16.17, DRV]. And so you have learned that the Body of Christ is made from bread; and the wine and water are mingled in the chalice, but that this becomes Blood by the consecration of the heavenly commands. [Other examples of the power of God’s words and commands on the order and course of nature: Ex 14.16; 15.25; Mk 4.39; Jn 2.7-9] See then in how many ways the words of Christ are able to change all things.”
He Who instituted the Sacrament of the Eucharist was none other than Our Lord Jesus Christ, Whose body and blood are present under the appearance of bread and wine. This is My Body… This is My Blood… These words are clear and direct, without any figures or metaphors. They state and should be thus understood that this is His true Body and Blood. The “Bible-only” sectarians would have “transubstantiation” (and other Catholic dogmas) literally written but this literal rational signification they reject simply because they take Our Lord’s words figuratively or metaphorically; but, by whose divine authority do they say that it must be taken as they would have it, where in their version is it literally written by the Evangelist: “Do not take the words to the letter”? Whoever would say otherwise would injure the Lord by not believing His words or by doubting His divine power.
I have received of the Lord that which I also delivered unto you, that the Lord Jesus, the same night in which He was betrayed, took bread… and said: Take ye, and eat: this is My Body, which shall be delivered to you: this do for the commemoration of me (St. Paul, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 11.23-24). The form of the Sacrament is the words which Our Lord pronounced over the bread and wine. This is My Body: This cannot mean “this is a sign of” [as heretics assert] as this would be in contradiction to the plain literal sense: My flesh is meat indeed (Jn 6.56). Nor does the bread remain together with the Body of Christ, for then the formula should have been “here is” not this is; nor is the substance or nature of bread annihilated, it would be unworthy of the Creator to annihilate anything He has made. Hence the Church solemnly teaches through the Sacred Council of Trent: “If anyone shall deny that in the Sacrament of the most Holy Eucharist is truly, really, and substantially, contained the Body and Blood together with the Soul and Divinity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, that is the whole Christ, but shall say that He is there only as a sign, or figuratively, or by His power, let him be anathema. If anyone shall say that in the most Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist the substance of bread and wine remains together with the Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and shall deny the marvelous and unique conversion of the whole substance of the bread into His Body and of the whole substance of the wine into His Blood, while only the appearances of bread and wine remain – a conversion which the Catholic Church most suitably calls Trans-Substantiation, let him be anathema” [Canons 1 and 2, Sess xiii, Oct 11, 1551].
The formula for the Institution of the Eucharist differs slightly in all the accounts given in the New Testament; hence St. Thomas Aquinas remarks: “It would seem more probable that the Consecration is only wrought by using those words which the Church, instructed by Apostolic tradition [cf. 2 Thessalonians 2.14], makes use of; for the [Apostle here] only meant to give us the Lord’s words from the historical standpoint, not as formulas were in the primitive Church kept secret because of unbelievers [cf. Numbers 4.20; Proverbs 25.9].”
The matter of the Sacrament is bread and wine. Why the Lord used the species of bread and wine, two principal reasons can be mentioned:
1. Bread sustains life and wine is good for the blood and gladdens the spirit.
2. Bread is made of many grains of wheat that have been crushed and made into one mass and wine is made of many pressed grapes.
By this the Lord wanted us to understand: the excellent effects which this Sacrament works in those who receive It worthily: the spiritual nourishment of the soul to sustain it to life everlasting, joy of conscience, the union of the Mystical Body [that is, the Church, cf. Epistle of St. Paul to the Ephesians, 1.22-23; 5.29-30; and, to the Colossians, 1.18], and the communication of all blessings and graces. And if anyone should ask why the Lord gave us His Body and Blood hidden in this way and not in a visible form, we answer that He did for two reasons:
1. to exercise our faith, which deals with invisible things
2. because of the horror we would experience of being offered human flesh [but it is already the flesh of the gloriously resurrected Body of the Lord, not of the passable body imagined by the Jews, cf. Jn 6.61-63].
Since the body and blood are not without the soul, and neither the one nor the other can be separated from the divinity of Our Lord, we say that although the words mention only the Body and Blood, Christ’s soul and divinity are also present by concomitance.
The bread signifies His Body in a special way and the wine especially symbolizes His Blood, and yet the Blood of Christ is also contained under the appearance of bread and the body of Christ is likewise present under the appearance of wine. The whole Christ is present under each species, for St. Paul says that Christ is not divided [cf., 1 Cor. 1.13). Hence, although the priest receives both species during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass while the faithful receive only the species of bread, there is no reason for the latter to feel slighted, but to take care that they receive the Sacrament worthily. Therefore whosoever shall eat this bread, or drink the chalice of the Lord unworthily, shall be guilty of the Body and Blood of the Lord. But let a man prove himself: and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of the chalice. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh judgment to himself [how could a mere “figure” cause those tragic effects of v. 30 in a soul, much more eternal life, cf. Jn 6.55,?] not discerning the Body of the Lord. Therefore are there many infirm and weak among you, and many sleep [that is, dead](St. Paul, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 11.27-30).
Reasonable foundation for the Catholic belief in the Real Presence of the Lord on the Altar. Nothing more is required than to show that the Lord could have instituted this Sacrament and that He really desired to do so. As to the first, which pertains to the power of God working through the ministry of the priest to effect the change from one substance to another, there is no great deal to be said. It is a greater thing to make something from nothing [God’s creative power] than to change one substance to another. The bread that we eat each day is changed into our flesh. Is it remarkable that what can be done in the natural order could not be done by God in the supernatural order, changing bread into His Body? He who changed the water into wine at the marriage feast at Cana can also change bread into His sacred Flesh.
This change and conversion should not surprise us; what should amaze us is the thousands of Masses that are being offered throughout the world [in fulfillment of the words spoken by God through the Prophet Malachi: 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 (1.11)] at a given hour, in which the power of God is present, so that as the words of consecration are completed by the priest the change is effected by God. It is not effected by the priest, but by God. Looking at it from a human point of view, it means that God is en-charged with being present in many places without failing in a single point.
The pagan Cicero wisely observed that it is difficult to separate the intellect from the use of the senses, which always try to measure divine things by human standards. Hence, the greatest obstacle that men have in knowing God is that they want to measure Him by themselves. But that the readers may know that the great number of Masses at the same hour does not work a hardship on God, consider the following doctrine from Scholastic Psychology. The Philosopher [as St. Thomas Aquinas would refer to Aristotle] says that man’s intellectual soul does not proceed from the material of the body, because the human body is a corporeal substance [that is, an organism composed of material parts] and the human soul is spiritual. Therefore, if the human soul was not produced by a material substance, it must have proceeded from something outside the human body. Faith and the Christian religion teach, in addition to what Aristotle taught, that God creates each human soul and infuses it into the fetus. Consider the size of the world and the billions of people that inhabit the earth and you will realize that night and day human souls are being infused into human bodies. But if God is occupied night and day with the creation of human souls, what is to prevent Him from doing the same in regard to the changing of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of the Lord?
But how is it possible that the sacred Body and Blood of the Lord can be contained in such a small Host? St. Augustine replies that we must concede that God can do things that are beyond the grasp of our understanding, because in many of His works his omnipotence is at work. The humble Christian should be content with this without asking more, for this is the source of the merit of faith, which is to believe what we do not see. It is a greater service of our will to love that which is naturally repugnant to us, for the love of God; so also it is a greater service of the intellect to believe truths which require that we subject our intellect [as it is madness for a patient to contend with his physician over his ailment and cure and to go so far as to contemplate to take it upon himself the business of competent medical diagnosis and treatment, excusing that physicians, anyway, either can not prevent themselves from suffering also as their patients do or can not even cure themselves from certain diseases and infirmities].
Proof that God desired to institute the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. We need but recall that it is the nature of goodness to communicate itself to others. The greater the good, the greater the tendency to be diffused to others. St. Paul wished to be anathema for those he wished to save. This being the case, what shall we say of infinite goodness? As God is a greater good beyond compare than all created good, greater also is His desire to make all things good and holy as He is Himself. God wants to make us like Himself and to communicate His gifts according according to the capacity of our nature. So Our Lord seeks all those who withdraw from Him and begs them not to abandon Him. Not content with this, He tenderly tolerates those who delay in their coming, inviting them with His promises and luring them with His gifts. Therefore, what is more in conformity with infinite goodness than to have instituted a sacrament so powerful that it makes us share in His sanctity and goodness?
The institution of the Holy Eucharist is so properly the work of God than the creation of the world. That work is more worthy of God which results in His greater glory and is more profitable to men. What little profit men have derived from the created universe (although it is their own fault) can be seen by considering the sins in the world; but the Holy Eucharist, on the other hand, has been one of the principal causes of holiness of martyrs, confessors, and virgins, because it was the primary source of their courage and strength in overcoming the world, the flesh, and the devil. Moreover, the Holy Eucharist reveals much more the goodness of God. And do not be surprised that we insist time and again on the goodness of God, because the basis of all His works is His immense goodness. This is the best and surest way to philosophize about the works of God – to reduce all to His infinite goodness.
Consequently, it was God’s goodness that prompted Him to leave us this most precious jewel of His Body and Blood. With It, He has enriched and decorated His Church. In this Sacrament He remains with His Church to comfort her in tribulations, do defend her in time of danger, to encourage her for all good works, to enlarge her good desires, to make her burn with love for heavenly things, to make her disdain the things of the world, to incorporate her with Himself, to make her share in the sufferings and merits of His Passion, and to give her a sure pledge of eternal life.