Is Christ "Really" Among Us Today?
by Regis Scanlon
Previously, I mentioned: Joseph Cardinal Bernardin's statement that
"according to a Gallup poll only 30% of our faithful believe what the
Church teaches on the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist"; and the
campaign to eliminate kneeling during the entire Eucharistic Prayer
of the Mass. Now, I maintain that the cause of these phenomena can
be discovered if one examines the past and present Catholic theology
of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.
When Jesus told his disciples that "my flesh is real food and my
blood real drink" (John 6:55), his disciples took him and
said: "This sort of talk is hard to endure! How can anyone take it
seriously?" (John 6:60). Then St. John's Gospel reports: "Jesus was
fully aware that his disciples were murmuring in protest at what he
had said. 'Does it shake your faith?' he asked them. 'What, then, if
you were to see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before . . .
?'" (John 6:61-62). John then states that "From this
time on, many of his disciples broke away and would not remain in his
company any longer. Jesus then said to the Twelve, 'Do you want to
leave me too?"' (John 6:66-67). Unlike those that walked away, and
unlike "Judas" who deceived everyone, the Twelve stayed with Jesus
because they trusted his words (John 6:69-71).
Now, "Jesus was fully aware" that they understood his teaching
literally. Obviously, if Jesus had only meant that they would eat his
Body and drink his Blood and , he would
have said so before they walked away. Since he did not, he meant his
words literally and, of course, ,
This is certainly the way the Fathers of the Church of the 4th
century understood the teaching of Jesus Christ on the Eucharist. St.
Cyril, the Bishop of Alexandria states:
He said and in a demonstrative
fashion, so that you might not judge that what you see is Surely the word of Christ, who could make something
that did not exist out of nothing, can change things that do exist
into something they were not before. For it is no less extraordinary
to give new natures to things than it is to change nature.
So, it is quite clear from the fourth century Fathers of the Church
that the Eucharistic consecration "changes" the "nature" of the bread
and wine into the "nature" of Jesus Christ and that the Eucharist is
not just "a mere figure" of Jesus Christ but "truly" Jesus Christ
himself in his very "nature." This is precisely why the Eucharist can
be adored. Recall that St. Augustine states about the Eucharist: "no
one eats of this flesh without having first adored it . . . and not
only do we not sin in thus adoring it, but we would be sinning if we
did not do so."
No one seriously challenged this teaching on the Eucharistic Real
Presence of Christ until the 11th century. Then, Archdeacon
Berengarius of Tours held that in the Eucharist, Christ was present
only "as mere sign and symbol" and that "If bread is called the Body
of Christ" after the consecration, "then bread must remain." Thus,
Berengarius states: "That which is consecrated (the bread) is not
able to cease existing materially." In 1079 Berengarius recanted and
took the oath of Roman Council VI which stated that after the words
of the consecration the bread and wine were "substantially changed"
into the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, "not only through the sign
and power of the sacrament, but in its property of nature and in
truth of substance."
Church Doctors defended the Church's Eucharistic teaching against the
attack of Berengarius by explaining more clearly the doctrine on the
Eucharist. St. Thomas Aquinas calls "Berengarius . . . the first
deviser of this heresy," that the consecrated Bread and Wine are only
a "sign" of Christ Body and Blood. He also gave three reasons why
bread and wine cannot remain after the consecration: First of all:
. . . it remains that Christ's body cannot begin to be anew in this
sacrament except by change of the substance of bread into itself. But
what is changed into another thing, no longer remains after such a
change. Hence the conclusion is that, saving the truth of this
sacrament, the substance of the bread cannot remain after the
Secondly, because this position is contrary to the form of this
sacrament, in which it is said: This is My body, which would not be
true if the substance of the bread were to remain there; for the
substance of bread never is the body of Christ. Rather should one say
in that case: Here is My body.
Thirdly, because it would be opposed to the veneration of this
sacrament, if any substance were there, which could not be adored
with adoration of .
So, "the substance of bread never is the body of Christ." Thus, one
says "this" is Christ, and not that Christ is or
"Here" (in this place) is Christ. St. Thomas also says that, if bread
remained after the consecration, we would be guilty of idolatry by
giving mere creation the act of " () . . . which
is proper to divine nature alone." So, it does not remain!
St. Thomas taught that the "substance" of a thing is its "." Now, when St. Thomas speaks of the "matter and form" of a
really existing individual man, he says that "matter" belongs to the
"substance" of this particular man because "it belongs to the notion
of this particular man to be composed of this soul, of this flesh,
and of these bones." Thus, the substance of an individual existing
man or piece of bread includes its matter and, therefore, its
. So, it must always be remembered that the
is . It is part of the man, the bread,
the wine, the Jesus Christ, the Presence.
The Council of Trent (1545-1563), in harmony with St. Thomas,
If anyone says that in the sacred and holy sacrament of the Eucharist
there remains the substance of bread and wine together with the body
and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, and denies that wonderful and
singular conversion of the into the
Body, and of the into the Blood, the
species of the bread and wine only remaining, a change which the
Catholic Church most fittingly calls transubstantiation: let him be
And, Paul VI taught that it is wrong to discuss the conversion of the
whole substance of the bread and wine into whole substance of the
Body and Blood of Christ "as if they involve nothing more than
'transignification,' or 'transfinalization' as they call it."
Furthermore, the Pope said:
As a result of transubstantiation, the species of bread and wine
undoubtedly take on a new signification and a new finality, for they
are no longer ordinary bread and wine but instead a sign of something
sacred and a sign of spiritual food; but they take on this new
signification, this new finality, precisely because they contain a
new "reality" which we can rightly call . For what now
lies beneath the aforementioned species is not what was there before,
but something completely different; and not just in the estimation of
Church belief but in reality, since once the substance or nature of
the bread and wine has been changed into the body and blood of
Christ, nothing remains of the bread and wine except for the
species-beneath which Christ is present whole and entire in His
physical "reality," corporeally present, although not in the manner
in which bodies are in a place.
So, Paul VI says that, after the consecration, "nothing remains of
the bread and wine except for the species." Now, "species" is not an
essence, a substance, or a which exists outside the mind of
the person. Rather, it is an impression upon our senses caused by the
thing, which the intellect uses to judge (categorize) what kind of
thing exists outside the mind. Species exists in the mind as a
of the thing. "Species," therefore, has "being" in the
mind, but it does not have being "outside the soul." Thus, St.
Thomas says: "species is one of the accidents that follow upon the
nature because of the being it has in the intellect." So, when Paul
VI says that "nothing remains of the bread and wine except the
species," he is saying that bread and wine exist only in the mind
(intellect and senses) of the communicant, and, therefore, the
reality outside his mind, which he handles and eats, is not
bread and wine!
But, obviously, there is something physical outside the mind of the
communicant after the consecration, or he could not handle and eat
the Eucharist. What is this something which is physical? Paul VI
gives us the answer when he states: "Christ is present whole and
entire in His physical 'reality' corporeally present, although not in
the manner in which bodies are present in place ()."
Therefore, when the Church teaches that the "whole substance of
bread" and the "entire substance of wine" is changed into the whole
substance of Jesus Christ, she is saying that transubstantiation
involves a change in "matter" and "body," which is a change in the
"physical" order of reality. The "physical reality" which exists
outside the mind and after the consecration is Jesus Christ and not
bread and wine.
Karl Rahner's transfinalization (or transignification)
But today a so-called new theology of the Real Presence has
developed. The basis for this new Eucharistic
theology most likely came from the deceased German Idealist, Karl
Rahner, S. J., who denied that the is or part of a
thing's . Rahner states:
The mental event as such is the individually occurring real and
actual event. The fact that besides this there is
with activities, but not present to itself in its own awareness,
The physical must be regarded as a deficient mode of that
being and reality which is immanently present to itself and precisely
thereby brings its own ontological nature as an objective datum
While it is true that "physical being" is not the "real"
being, Rahner is saying here that to be "physical" does not mean to
be "real" at all, i.e., "physical being" is not "real" being.
Even though Karl Rahner states that the "'substance' of bread"
changes to the "substance of the body of Christ" by means of
"transubstantiation" at the consecration of the Mass, he later states
that "it is not quite clear what '' (substance of
bread) means." Rahner says that "one can no longer maintain today
that bread is a substance, as St. Thomas and the Fathers of the
Council obviously thought it was." He says that we can no longer
accept the "thought" or meaning of substance "as the '' (as the 'being through itself and in itself')." Thus,
Rahner rejects the Thomistic-Tridentine view of ontology, that the
"substance" of a thing (like bread) is its " "
including its being or reality. But, obviously, Rahner
could not reject the Thomistic-Tridentine meaning of "substance"
without also rejecting of Trent's dogma of
tran--tiation (change of ).
So, what new meaning does Rahner give to "" in the
concept, transubstantiation? This new meaning can be found in
Rahner's , which he edited and . This work states about the Eucharistic
The more recent approaches suggest the following considerations. One
has to remember that the words of institution indicate a change but
do not give any guiding line for the interpretation of the actual
process. As regards transubstantiation, it may then be said that
substance, essence, of the bread are identical.
But the meaning of a thing can be changed without detriment to its
The continues by discussing what happens after the
. . . the meaning of the bread has been changed through the
consecration. Something which served profane use now becomes the
dwelling-place and the of Christ who is present and gives
himself to his own. This means that an ontological change has taken
place in the bread.
For Rahner, then, "substance" is now identified with the "meaning"
and "purpose" of the thing rather than the "form and matter" of the
thing. And, an "" change (change in being) is a change
in the "" of the thing, rather than a change in
its physical being. Thus, for Rahner, the consecration changes the
"meaning and purpose" of the bread and wine, but not its form and
matter or physical being. Strictly speaking it is the of the
bread and wine, and the of the celebrant and Christian
community, which is changed and not the bread and wine, itself.
According to this view, one can speak of Christ as being , since the bread and wine are a symbol of Christ for
the community of worshipers.
But what exactly is the presence of Christ in the Eucharist as
"symbol?" First, Rahner's defines the
meaning of symbol in the context of transubstantiation:
In a general way, three classes of symbols may be distinguished. The
first type are effects which actually point to their cause, like
smoke and fire. The third type of symbol do not by nature
designate any given object either actually or potentially. They only
become signs through human convention, like the colors of traffic
Next, Rahner's states that the bread, as a symbol of
Christ in the context of transubstantiation, should be understood in
"the second type" of symbol. Continuing, Rahner's
explains the new understanding of the nature of bread and of Christ's
presence as symbol in the Eucharist, along with the new meaning of
The bread should be included in the second type of symbols, since the
fact that it is food makes it naturally apt to symbolize spiritual
nourishment and union. But the consecrated bread possesses the
further property of signifying that the Lord who offers himself as
food is not just at a distance but is present . By
virtue of this consecrated symbolism, the bread becomes the
sacramental manifestation of the presence of Christ. Hence
transubstantiation means and being in the
bread and wine, because they are raised to being
who is present there and invites men to spiritual union.
So, transubstantiation must now be understood as "" The bread is only a "symbol" of Christ. For
Rahner, the bread is not Christ, himself, but rather Christ is "in
the bread" spiritually and symbolically.
Edward Schillebeeckx's transignification
This understanding, that the of the bread and wine (rather
than the physical reality of the bread and wine) is changed during
the Eucharist into the of Jesus Christ (rather than the whole
Christ including his physical reality), has been promoted throughout
the Church primarily by Fr. Edward Schillebeeckx, O. P., who gets his
basic thought from Piet Schoonenberg. Schillebeeckx, quoting
Schoonenberg intermittently, states:
"The Eucharist begins with a . . . and its aim is
to make this presence more intimate." Indeed, anyone who denies this
context is bound to misunderstand transubstantiation and make it too
"objective." The "real presence" that is peculiar to the Eucharist is
thus confined to the category of . "It is
interpersonal-the host mediates between the Lord (in his Church) and
me (in the same Church). who is
offering his reality, his body, to me through the host." The host is
Christ's gift of himself, and Christ's presence is that of the giver
in the gift, as J. Moller and, later, L. Smits have argued. The gift
here is food and drink, but these are not a gift from an
man, but from Jesus, the Christ, and they are therefore the
nondeceptive, but irrevocably authentic gift of Christ himself. It
is, of course, true that Christ also gives himself in other
sacraments. But his gift of himself is realized in the most supreme
way in the Eucharist-the bread and the wine become fully .
"What takes place in the Eucharist is a change of sign."
Transubstantiation is a transfinalization or a transignification, but
at a depth which only Christ reaches in his most real gift of
himself. Bread and wine become (together with the words of
consecration) the signs which realize this most deep gift of Christ
So, "The Eucharist begins with a ." From this it
is quite clear that the " (real presence)" is
already there .
Schoonenberg and Schillebeeckx are not talking about the "host" as
being the Real Presence of Christ, but rather it is "" which is the real presence of Christ. Thus, Schillebeeckx
states: "The signs of the eucharistic bread only imply a presence as
an offer, " And,
this real presence of Christ in the assembled community only becomes
"more intimate" as the Eucharistic liturgy progresses.
Schoonenberg and Schillebeeckx also say about the Eucharist: "'It is
interpersonal-the host mediates between the Lord (in his Church) and
me (in the same Church). who is
offering his reality, his body, to me through the host."' But what do
they mean by: "I kneel, not before a Christ . . . in the host . . .
but before the Lord himself." They must see a difference between "the
host" and "the Lord himself." For these men, "the host" and "the Lord
himself" are not the same thing or . "The host" only
"mediates" an interpersonal relationship between the person and "the
Lord himself." "The host" is only "food" and "drink" being offered to
the person as a gift from no ordinary man. Clearly, neither men
believe that "the host" is "the Lord himself." The only change
involved after the consecration, therefore, is a change in the
"" of the bread and wine. The physical bread and wine still
remain after the consecration.
United States theologians favor transignification
While this theory of transignification has thoroughly permeated
theology in the United States, we will only look at a few examples
here. Monika K. Hellwig, a Georgetown University professor who
dedicated her earlier book, , to Piet
Schoonenberg, states about Jesus and the Eucharist:
In breaking it and giving it to them, he says: "Take and eat, for
this is my body." It has generally been assumed that this was
intended to mean, "This bread is my body," and that the task of
interpretation was concerned with what is meant by equating the two.
Scholars have, however, suggested that it more probably was intended
to mean that his action of blessing, breaking, sharing and eating in
such an assembly in his name and memory was to be seen as the
embodiment of the presence and Spirit and power of Jesus in the
Thus, Monika Hellwig says that Jesus' intention was to spiritually
change the people or community, rather than the bread and wine, into
his Body and Blood.
And, Anthony Wilhelm, leaves nothing to interpretation in (which boasts of "2 million copies sold") when he says:
When we say that the bread and wine "become Christ" , nor are we practicing some
form of cannibalism when we take this in communion. , here and now,
in a special way-, as if condensed into a
wafer. Somehow his presence has "taken over" the bread and wine, so
that, , it is no longer merely bread that is
present, but Christ himself.
But, no one in the United States sums up the position of the
so-called new theology of the Real Presence more succinctly than Tad
W. Guzie, S.J. of Marquette University, who says:
The "change" in the bread and wine can be understood as a change at
the second level of looking at reality (Symbol): as a very
change, but not one that has to do with the physical order. . .
In recent years theologians have brought into play concepts like
"transignification" which strive to emphasize that the change is not
a physical one. I have heard teachers say that contemporary theology
is simply attempting to "translate" transubstantiation and make it
meaningful to our age.
But, Guzie continues by stating that he does not agree with these
teachers who say that "transignification" is a translation of
"transubstantiation." Rather, Guzie says that it is . He
thinks that transubstantiation is really the translation of
transignification. Guzie says that today we are returning to the
important symbolic meaning of the Last Supper (transignification),
for this is what Jesus originally intended for us to do by
celebrating the Eucharist.
Facing some uncomfortable facts
Some obvious conclusions can be drawn from the above discussion on
the Real Presence. First of all, Rahner, according to his own words,
rejected the Council of Trent's "thought" or "meaning" of
"substance." But, obviously, it is impossible to reject Trent's
meaning of "" without also rejecting the meaning of
Trent's infallible dogma on "" And, because
Rahner's maintains that the "meaning" of a
thing is its "substance," one would have to say that Rahner rejected
the "substance" of Trent's infallible teaching on transubstantiation.
But, to reject the "substance" of Trent's infallible teaching (dogma)
on transubstantiation and the Real Presence, is to reject . Once more, by rejecting Trent's "thought" or meaning of
"substance" and "transubstantiation," Rahner also rejected the First
Vatican Council's dogmatic teaching, which states that the
"understanding of its sacred dogmas must be perpetually retained" and
that "there must never be recession from that meaning." So, Rahner
also clearly rejected the First Vatican Council's infallible
definition that a "meaning" cannot be given to the dogmas "different
from that which the Church understood and understands."
Rahner, therefore, denied at least two infallible teachings (dogmas)
of the Church, one being the central dogma of the Catholic faith on
the Eucharist. But, it is impossible to deny the dogma on the
Eucharist and "believe," even if you are Rahner and don't walk away
Secondly, Rahner and Schillebeeckx's new theology of the Real
Presence, "transignification (or transfinalization)," is really just
a resurrection of the thousand year old heresy of Berengarius of
Tours, which views the Eucharist "as a mere sign or symbol" of
Christ. This so-called new theology of the Real Presence was
published in English in 1966 and it has been taught in seminaries and
universities of the United States for the past quarter of a century.
Because seminarians and students often learn and believe what they
are taught, no one should be surprised if 70% of our faithful today
do not know or believe in the Church's (Trent's) teaching on the Real
Finally, a question remains. We know that the Eucharist is valid
("") when it "is celebrated " But, Rahner, Schillebeeckx, and probably
many others, have " and therefore
the "" of the Council of Trent's teaching on
transubstantiation in favor of their own notion of transubstantiation
(i.e., transignification or transfinalization). So, are their
Eucharists valid? And, what about the priests who have studied their
works in theology and the seminarians who are now studying? This
question about the validity of the Eucharists celebrated in the
United States involves a most serious matter of justice to the
faithful. For the faithful have a right to know whether they are
offering, receiving, and adoring Jesus Christ, or just bread and
When our bishops meet, they will probably discuss the new
, posture at Mass, etc., perhaps even women's
leadership roles in the Church. But, shouldn't they first consider
the more serious question: Whether Christ is "really" among us today
in the Eucharist?; and, if he is not, how can we bring him back? Just
as the Real Presence is a central dogma of the Catholic faith, so the
Eucharist is the heart of the Church's life. So, whenever there is
division in the Church, especially over liturgical matters, there is
always a misunderstanding about the Eucharist at the bottom of it
all. Once people in the Church today return to the unity of the faith
in the Real Presence as taught by Scripture and Sacred Tradition,
these other questions will take care of themselves. Indeed, some
questions might be tabled permanently!
1 Regis Scanlon, "Kneeling and faith in the Eucharist," (Aug.-Sept., 1994), 14, 16.
2 St. Cyril, Bishop of Alexandria, 26, 27; PG 72, 451,
found in Paul VI, , No. 50, , Vol.
10, No. 1 (Summer-Autumn 1965), p. 322. Partially my emphasis.
3 St. Ambrose, bishop of Milan, 9, 50-52; PL 16,
422-424, found in Paul VI, , No. 51, p. 322. My
4 St. Augustine of Hippo, , 9; PL 37, 1264, found in
Paul VI, , No. 55, p. 323.
5 C. E. Sheedy, "Berengarius of Tours," ,
Vol. 2, p. 321; James T. O'Connor, (San Francisco:
Ignatius Press, 1988), p. 97.
6 Berengarius, , A. F. Vischer
and F. T. Vischer, eds. (Hildesheim: Georg Olms Verlag, 1975), p.
91. English translation taken from James T. O'Connor, p. 102. My
7 , No. 355, 30th edition. My emphasis.
8 St. Thomas Aquinas, , Illa, q. 75, art. 1. My
9 St. Thomas Aquinas, , Illa, q. 75, art. 2.
Partially my emphasis.
10 , No. 302, 30th edition.
11 St. Thomas Aquinas, , Ch. 2, No. 1,
translated by Armand Maurer, C. S. B. (Toronto: The Pontifical
Institute of Medieval Studies, 1968), pp. 34-35.
12 St. Thomas Aquinas, , Ia. q. 75, art. 4.
13 No. 884, 30th edition, My emphasis.
14 Paul VI, , No. 11, p. 312.
15 Paul VI, , No. 46, p. 321.
16 St. Thomas Aquinas, , Ch. 3, No. 9, p. 50.
18 Paul VI, , , Vol. I VII
19 Karl Rahner, (New York: Herder & Herder, 1965), pp.
81-82. My emphasis.
20 Karl Rahner, S.J., , Vol. IV, trans.
by Kevin Smyth (Baltimore: Helicon Press, 1966), pp. 299, 307. My
21 Ibid., p. 307.
23 St. Thomas Aquinas, , Ch. 2, No. 1, pp.
24 Engelbert Gutwenger, "Transubstantiation," , edited by Karl Rahner, (New
York: The Seabury Press, 1975). p. 1754. My emphasis.
25 Ibid. My emphasis.
26 Ibid. My emphasis.
27 Ibid., pp. 1754-1755. My emphasis.
28 Ibid., p. 1754.
29 Edward Schillebeeckx, O. P., , (New York: Sheed and
Ward, 1968), p. 120. Partially my emphasis.
30 Monika K. Hellwig, (New York: Paulist
Press, 1981), p. 139; Monika K. Hellwig, (Wilmington, Delaware: Michael Glazier, Inc., 1983), p. 5.
31 Anthony Wilhelm, , 5th revised edition (San
Francisco: Harper Collins Pub., 1990), the cover and p. 216.
32 Tad W. Guzie, S. J., (New York: Paulist
Press, 1974), pp. 67-68. My parenthesis.
33 Ibid., p. 68.
34 No. 1800, 30th edition.
35 No. 1818, 30th edition.
36 John Paul II, , No.
1128. My emphasis; Also see: Nos. 794 & 1352, 29th ea.: Nos.
424 & 715, 30th ed. Here the Church teaches that, for a valid
consecration of the Eucharist, it is necessary to have "the faithful
intention of the one offering (),"
and the priest must say the words of consecration "with the intention
of effecting the offering ()";
, No. 1611, 29th ea.: No. 854, 30th ed. Here the Church
teaches that a sacrament is valid if the minister has "the intention
at least of doing what the Church does ()"; No. 2328, 29th ea.: No. 1318, 30th
ed. Here the Church condemned the following proposition: "Baptism is
valid when conferred by a minister who observes all the external rite
and form of baptizing, but within his heart resolves, I do not intend
what the Church does ("
This article appeared in the October 1995 issue of "The Homiletic &
Pastoral Review," 86 Riverside Dr., New York, N.Y. 10024,
212-799-2600, $24.00 per year.