Reflection: Year of the Eucharist
Luther said that he recognized the Real Presence of Christ in the
Eucharist as explicit in Christ's words at the Institution; but he did
not accept the term "transubstantiation", which he perceived as an
interference by philosophy and human reason. Luther's "allergy" to
reason is well known.
Consequently, he also rejected the sacrificial character of the
Eucharist, recalling that the sacrifice that Christ offered on the Cross
unique and cannot be repeated.
no doubt that contemporary theology has recovered the biblical concept
of memorial. It had been neglected after the Council of Trent, for
the anxiety to respond to Protestantism, Post-Tridentine theology
developed a definition of sacrifice as applied to the Eucharist, which
it interpreted as being a sacrifice independent of the sacrifice of the
As stated, the notion of "memorial" made it possible to recover
the Letter to the Hebrews the assertion that Christ's sacrifice was one
and definitive, and to explain that this same sacrifice becomes present
on the altar.
The term "transubstantiation", however, presents greater difficulties
and has given rise to much perplexity at the level of faith. Does not
the concept of substance correspond to a philosophy, by now superseded?
So why not use more personal and relational concepts?
The truth, on the contrary,
that the new theories, developed with this end
view, were not only unconvincing but were rejected, especially by Paul
It does not suffice to state that there has been a change of meaning
or of relations, saying that all that remains
still only natural food. And according to this new theory, the
non-believer who understands only the natural meaning of food would be
eating and drinking no more than bread and wine.
But the Church has always maintained that non-believers also eat the
Body and Blood of Christ since there is no other objective reality in it
than that of the Body and Blood of Christ, in such a way that only the
species of the bread and wine endure.
The elegance of Trent
Contrary to current tendencies in the interpretation of Trent, an
objective study of the Acts immediately shows that Trent maintained
sobriety and fine elegance in the exposition of its doctrine. Yet very
few have studied these proceedings.
The Council's abstention, for example, from the use of the term
accidentes when speaking of transubstantiation deserves attention
because it did not consider its doctrine to be scholastic. It preferred,
instead, to use the term species.
And if the Council used the term substantia, it did so for two
reasons: a) because it is present in the tradition of St Ambrose and
Faustus of Riez, passing through Councils such as the Fourth Lateran; b)
because it was therefore used, well before the advent of hylomorphism in
Throughout the discussion of the Eucharistic sacrifice, the majority
of the Fathers accepted the sacrificial character of the Eucharist. The
fact remains that the Council did not espouse the theories that
explained this by following hypotheses such as that of representation or
of virtual immolation.
Although Tapper, Chancellor of the University of Louvain, did not
formulate his proposition at Trent, it was he who initiated a post-conciliar
current that explained the sacrificial nature of the Eucharist, not to
make the sacrifice of the Cross present but to affirm a new definition
of sacrifice: in the Eucharist Christ attains a new way of being, such
that he remains caught at the very moment in which he offers himself.
Thus, the Eucharist is a sacrifice independent of the sacrifice on
Trent did not take this route. Theologians of the intellectual level
of Cajetan had already maintained the continuity of the sacrifice of the
Cross with the Eucharist, and people of the stature of Laínez
and Carranza defended this same principle at Trent.
Furthermore, when the time came for the decision, the Fathers were
not unanimous in their opinions. But the Council did have at its
disposal a tradition concerning the theme that unified the opinion of
all and obviously, it opted for this.
The Church's tradition was the following: the Eucharist is the
memorial of the sacrifice of the Cross, which it makes present among us;
the Eucharist makes present Christ's sacrifice on the Cross and the
memory of him lives on among us (Denz., 1739-41).
The concept of repraesentatio should therefore be combined
with that of memorial. The Catechism of Trent (1566) says "instauratur",
"makes himself present once again".
The role of theology
The role of theology should consist only of clarifying faith. But the
contemporary theologian, through ignorance of the importance of
Scripture and Tradition, often prefers to satisfy the modern mindset.
There are other cultural and social pressures, moreover, which induce
the theologian to do so.
I have often met theologians who ask me: what is this substance?
Today, it is understood as meaning solely material reality, its
physical dimensions and the sense that human beings attribute to it.
Substance, however, is not the ultimate physical basis of things but
rather the ontological subsistence that God has infused in them through
creation. By virtue of this they are distinct from God and are not set
This substance can be perceived in all the things that surround me.
From the pencil I am holding I perceive, through my mind, that it is
something (aliquid, a being, a substance) and, since it possesses
specific physical traits, I call it a pencil. Otherwise, if I were not
aware that things existed I would neither be able to talk about them nor
to give them a name.
The first fact about them that I can understand is that they are
something, a being or substance: this is the key to realistic knowledge.
Animals, through their senses, perceive the physical dimension alone,
but they do not properly know that things exist.
Besides, if there is a concept in our philosophy that we cannot
overlook, it is that of substance, not only since we believe in creation
that enables things to subsist, but because we have a common awareness
Transubstantiation is due to the fact that God intervenes in the
Eucharist with his creative power. We do not consider this a miracle,
because a miracle requires the working of a tangible sign.
However, Christ intervenes here with the same creative force that he
used in working his miracles. St John, who places the multiplication of
the loaves in chapter six of his Gospel, says of Eucharistic doctrine:
the One who works the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves is the
One who says he gives his body to be eaten.
With reference to the Eucharistic sacrifice, the concept of memorial
is crucial. But not even this is a magic or irrational concept. The key
to everything is to be found in the Letter to the Hebrews, which
presents Christ's sacrifice as unique, definitive and eternal.
Christ offers himself to the Father on the Cross and the Father
accepts him and raises him. Thus, Christ enters the heavenly shrine with
his Body and his Blood, where he continues his offering for us before
the Father as victim and eternal priest.
What occurs in the Eucharist is that Christ, the heavenly and
glorious victim, becomes present on the altar under the appearances [of
bread and wine]. And Christ, the eternal priest, makes the celebrant
partake in his offering.
Consequently, we have on the altar the same victim and the same
priest who offered themselves [sic] on the Cross, and who are
eternally perpetuated in heaven. The Eucharist is possible thanks to the
The true Temple of Christ
Before concluding, I would like to mention another aspect of the
Eucharist that seems to me to be fundamental.
Yahweh's temple in Jerusalem is no longer standing: it was destroyed
by the Romans. On its site, the Arabs have built two mosques. If the
Jews wanted to rebuild it, there would be a world war.
We Christians, however, know that the temple is no longer there but
in the Eucharist. Indeed, when Christ said that he would destroy the
temple and rebuild it in three days, he was referring, as St John says
(cf. Jn 2:21), to the shrine of his risen Body present in the Eucharist.
This presence is not the same as Christ's presence in the other
sacraments in which he makes himself present through his grace or, in
other words, his love. Here in the Eucharist he is present with his
body, soul and divinity, as the Council of Trent recalls (cf. Denz.,
Yet there is something more: the Christ present in the Eucharist is
the risen Christ who gives us his Spirit. Let us not forget that in
Palestine Christ had not yet bestowed his Spirit, for he had not yet
risen (cf. Jn 7:39). Nevertheless, his presence is far more effective in
the Eucharist than it was in Palestine.
On the day when, starting with the theologians and priests, we all
begin to pray by ourselves before the tabernacle, the Church and the
world will change.