"We believe that, as the bread and wine consecrated by Our Lord
at the Last Supper were changed into his body and blood soon afterwards
to be offered for us on the Cross, in the same way the bread and wine
consecrated by the priest are changed into the body and blood of Christ
gloriously reigning in
Credo of the People of God
The change brought about in the Eucharist is taught by Christ himself
in both his action and his words at the Last Supper. It is recorded by
the Synoptics (Mk. 14, 22-24; Mth. 26, 26-27; Lk. 22, 19-20) and by St.
Paul (I Cor. 11, 23b-25) that Jesus took bread and giving it to his
disciples said: "This is my body". Then he took a chalice of
wine and offering it exclaimed: "This is my blood".
Jesus meant to say that what he held in his hand, the bread and the
wine, was his body and his blood. He is the Word incarnate, the
Redeemer; he is man but he is also God. Therefore in his positive
statements he cannot err, but always expresses the exact truth. Given
that his statement does not correspond to the reality, then the reality
itself is changed to correspond identically with what Christ has said.
Therefore, since Christ took into his hands the common bread and wine
which were on the table, in order that his words be true we must
conclude that these words changed the objective reality, that is to say
changed the bread into the body of Christ and the wine into his blood,
whilst what was apparent to the senses remained unchanged, as the
immediate experience of those present bore witness.
Thus the words of Christ effect a mysterious but true and real
change. On the altar are the body and blood of Christ; the bread and
wine no longer exist but have been totally changed into the body and
blood of the Saviour by means of a true though mysterious conversion.
As St. Thomas observes (S. Th. III q. 75, a. 2), a thing can be where
it was not before either because it is transported there or else when
something else is changed into it. In the Holy Eucharist Our Lord's body
cannot be transported from paradise by local motion, as is evident;
therefore it is not possible to think of the presence of Christ's body
under the consecrated species except by the conversion of the bread into
Again, the Council of Trent lays down that "just as Christ...
declared to be truly his body that which was offered under the species
of bread, so the Church has always believed that by the consecration of
the bread and wine there comes about the conversion of the whole
substance of the bread into the substance of the body of Christ... and
of the whole substance of the wine into the substance of his blood"
Thus the Pope's thought echoes that of St. Thomas and the Council of
Trent, but expresses it in contemporary language insofar as he avoids
the word "substance", unacceptable to many today, while
maintaining the fulness of the tridentine teaching.
In the conversion that takes place in the Eucharist the appearances
remain, that is the physico-chemical properties of the bread and wine
perceptible by the senses, called the "species" in the
"A WONDROUS CONVERSION"
This mysterious conversion is indicated by the Council of Trent in
the particular name given to it—"transubstantiation",
insofar as in it the sensible appearances remain and only the
ontological reality of the bread and wine changes, that reality which
scholastic theology, following along aristotelian lines, called
substance. According to this latter terminology, in the eucharistic
conversion the substance of the bread is changed into the substance of
the body of Christ—"substantia transit in substantiam";
hence the word transubstantiation repeated by Paul VI. Here
consequently, the word "substance" is not to be understood in
its technical philosophical sense but in its common, popular meaning, as
the reality which makes bread bread, as distinct from and opposed to
what is immediately apparent to the senses.
"Transubstantiation" is a wondrous and unique
conversion, as the Council of Trent has it (Sess. XIII, can. 2; Ds.
1652); that is to say, it is a true conversion insofar as the
bread truly becomes Our Lord's body and the wine his blood. But it is
something wondrous and unique, that is to say, mysterious
and to that extent not comprehensible by our intelligence, in the sense
that an existing reality (bread and wine) becomes another reality
already complete in itself and in its own existence (the body and blood
of Christ), which in no way changes because of that conversion: it
neither increases nor alters but remains as it was before. One
individual thing becomes identical with another; this one becomes that
one, as St. Thomas puts it (Cont. Gent. L IV, c. 63).
The bread and wine are not annihilated, reduced to nothing, but are
truly changed into the body and blood of Christ, that is to say, into
Christ who remains as before without actual change; Christ does not
increase corporally by reason of the conversion brought about in the
Mass, nor does he grow less by the consuming of the Eucharist in Holy
* * *
This most ancient doctrine of the Church, divine in origin, is
presented again by Paul VI in his Act of Faith. Therefore this is what
all the faithful of Christ must believe.
Those who, as is well known, in order to render the eucharistic
mystery more comprehensible to the men of today, attempt a different
presentation of the same for pastoral ecumenical purposes, changing the
terminology or even making use of modern mental classifications drawn
from present-day philosophy or other sciences, must maintain the
revealed truth. That is to say, they must truly and sincerely believe
that after the consecration the reality of the bread and wine ceases to
be, whilst "in objective reality and independently of our
mind", under the sacramental species are, in a mysterious way, the
body and blood of Christ "truly, really, substantially".
Because there is, on the part of the man of today, a lack of
understanding of the thought and terminology of medieval scholasticism,
various theologians have attempted to re-interpret the eucharistic dogma
taught by Christ, transmitted by Fathers and scholastics, and defined by
the Councils, particularly by Trent, using the categories of signification
and finalization. Whence they have declared that in Holy Mass
the bread and wine no longer signify ordinary food but the love of
Christ totally given to man in food and to the Father in sacrifice.
Consequently in the consecration there occurs a change of meaning and of
purpose, that is (as they say) a transignification and a
In his Encyclical Mysterium Fidei, Pope Paul points out that,
with transubstantiation, the species certainly acquire a new
signification and purpose, precisely because they no longer indicate
ordinary food but the body and blood of Christ, the spiritual
nourishment of the soul (A.S.S. 57, 1965, p. 766).
The German episcopate also point out, in para 45 of a collective
pastoral letter containing the best of the eucharistic theology which
has appeared since Mysterium Fidei, that the concept of
" transubstantiation" can be elaborated and perfected in such
a way as to present this mystery under other aspects. The two modern
theories of "transignification" and "transfinalization"
have precisely such a scope and in that sense can be accepted.
The terms are indeed new, say the German bishops, but their content
is old: the one emphasizes the fact that the natural bread becomes
spiritual bread, the other that this new food is food for eternal life.
The basis of the whole doctrine is that the bread and wine are truly
changed into the body and blood of Christ.
Therefore, the German bishops conclude, the doctrine of
transubstantiation can be elaborated in terms of transignification and
transfinalization, but not replaced by these. That is to say that the
new doctrines are acceptable only insofar as they presuppose the
tridentine dogma, even though the latter is now expressed and elaborated
in a more modern fashion. In that sense they represent a true progress
in eucharistic theology to the extent that they bring out aspects which
were formerly given less consideration.