MODERN MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT THE EUCHARIST
by Rev. Regis Scanlon, O.F.M. Cap.
Joseph Cardinal Bernardin stated that "according to a Gallup poll
only thirty percent of our faithful believe what the Church teaches
on the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist." Once more, there is
also a campaign to eliminate kneeling during the entire Eucharistic
Prayer of the Mass. The cause of these two related phenomena can be
discovered by examining past and present Catholic theology of the
Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Let's first look at
Scripture and Tradition Are Clear On Transubstantiation
When Jesus told his disciples that "my flesh is real food and my
blood real drink" (Jn. 6:55), his disciples took Him and
said: "This sort of talk is hard to endure! How can anyone take it
seriously?" (Jn. 6:60). Then St. John's Gospel reports: "Jesus was
fully aware that his disciples were murmuring in protest at what he
had said" (Jn. 6:61). 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?"' (Jn. 6:66-67). The Twelve (except for Judas) stayed with Jesus
because they trusted his words (Jn. 6:69-71).
Now, "Jesus was fully aware" that the departing disciples understood
his teaching literally. Obviously, if Jesus had only meant that they
would eat his Body and drink his Blood or
He would have said so before they walked away. Since
He did not, He meant his words literally and, of course, , but miraculously!
Some people become confused by what Jesus said after the disciples
complained that "This sort of talk is hard to endure! How can anyone
take it seriously'?" Jesus states: "It is the spirit that gives life;
the flesh is useless. The words I spoke to you are spirit and life"
(Jn. 6:63). They mistakenly think that this is proof that Jesus is
saying that He only means that the disciples will eat his flesh and
drink his blood spiritually and not literally. But it is illogical
that Jesus would say that is "useless" alter saying 'the
flesh of the Son of Man" gives "life" (Jn. 6:53). Rather, Jesus is
not talking about his flesh, but about Jesus is
telling the disciples that they cannot grasp or come to his teaching
on the Eucharist by their or their "flesh," which is
"useless" for this purpose, but only through faith or "spirit".
Now, the fourth century Church Fathers understood that the Eucharist
is really Jesus Christ Himself. St. Cyril of Alexandria states: "He
said and in a demonstrative
fashion, so that you might judge that what you see ." And St. Ambrose of Milan teaches about the Eucharist
that ". So, it is
quite clear from the fourth century Church Fathers 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.
This is precisely why 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".
This teaching on Christ's Eucharistic Real Presence was not seriously
challenged until the eleventh century (after a thousand years!).
Then, Berengarius of Tours held that Christ was present in the
Eucharist only "as mere sign and symbol" and that after the
consecration, "bread must remain". Berengarius stated: "That which
is consecrated (the bread) is not able to cease existing
materially." St. Thomas Aquinas (thirteenth century) calls
"Berengarius . . . the first deviser of this heresy," that the
consecrated Bread and Wine are only a "sign" of Christ's Body and
St. Thomas also gave a very good reason why bread and wine cannot
remain after the consecration: "Because it would be opposed to the
veneration of this sacrament, if any substance were there, which
could not be adored with adoration of ""." If bread and
wine remained, Catholics would be committing the sin of idolatry by
adoring it. So, physical bread and wine do not remain!
Thus, 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 (appearance) of the bread and wine only
remaining, a change which the Catholic Church most fittingly calls
let him be anathema."
Finally, in 196:S, Pope Paul VI taught most clearly that, after the
consecration at Mass, "nothing remains of the bread and wine except
for the (smell, taste, etc.)" and that Christ is (bodily)
present whole and entire in his 'reality,' corporeally
present, although not in the manner in which bodies are in a
place." So, the " that remains after the
consecration is Jesus Christ and not bread and wine.
New Theology or Old Heresy?
In 1966 the late Fr. Karl Rahner stated that "one can no longer
maintain today that bread is a substance, as St. Thomas and the
Fathers of the Council (of Trent) obviously thought it was". For
Rahner, the "substance" of a thing did not include its reality, but the "meaning and purpose" of the thing.
So, according to Karl Rahner, transubstantiation meant that, after
the consecration of the Mass, the physical bread remained physical
bread but it now had a new "meaning" of spiritual food because it was
now a "symbol" of Jesus Christ.
Fr. Edward Schillebeeckx agreed with Fr. Karl Rahner that the
physical bread and wine were only a "sign" of Christ. In fact,
for Schillebeeckx, the "real presence" of Christ in the Eucharist was
not the consecrated bread and wine, but the presence of Christ in the
. This is why Schillebeeckx says that " who is offering his reality, his body, to
me through the host."
This same theory of the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist was
accepted by some theologians in the United States. Thus, Tad W.
Guzie, S. J. of Marquette University, says that the change in the
bread and wine taking place through the consecration of the Mass is
"not one that has to do with the order'." And,
Georgetown University professor, Monika K. Hellwig, suggests that
Jesus' words at the Eucharist were not meant to identify the "bread"
with his body, but that the "community" was the "embodiment . . . of
Jesus". Finally, Anthony Wilhelm, author of (a
catechism with "two million copies sold"), stated:
"When we say that the bread and wine 'become Christ' , here and now, in a
special way - , as if condensed into a
wafer . ."
It is most unfortunate that the errors of Berengarius are still with
us today. They are to be found at the center of a maze of subtle,
obfuscating theological language. It should come as no surprise then,
that so many of today's Catholics are ignorant of the Church's
teaching on the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. However, we
have great hope that the light of Truth will dispell the Berengarian
mists through the laity's loyal act of kneeling in Eucharistic
Adoration at the Liturgy and the constant teaching of the
Magisterium, exemplified by Pope John Paul's excellent .
1. Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, in Gianni Cardinale, "Clinton and Us,"
<30 Days>, no. 12, 1992, p. 32.
2. FDLC (Federation of Diocesan Liturgical Commissions), "Posture
During Eucharistic Prayer," Position Statement 1990 C 2.853, (October 1990), 35.
3. St. Cyril, Bishop of Alexandria, found in Paul VI, , no. 50, , vol. 10, no. 1 (Summer-Autumn
1965), D. 322. Partially my emphasis.
4. St. Ambrose, Bishop of Milan, found in Paul VI, no. 51, p. 322. My
5. St. Augustine of Hippo, found in Paul VI, no. 55, p. 323.
6. C. E. Sheedy, "Berengarius of Tours," ,
vol. 2, p. 321; James T. O'Connor. (San Francisco:
Ignatius Press, 1988), p. 97.
7. 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
parenthesis and emphasis.
8. St. Thomas Aquinas, , IIIa, q. 75, art. 1. My
9. St. Thomas Aquinas, llla, q. 75, art. 2.
Partially my emphasis
10. no. 884, 30th edition. My emphasis and parenthesis. For
translation of "species" with "appearance" see , no. 874, and
English translation from Paul VI, no. 45, p. 321.
11. Paul VI, no. 46, p. 321. My emphasis and parenthesis.
12. Karl Rahner, S. J., , vol. IV, trans.
by Kevin Smyth (Baltimore: Helicon Press, 1966), p. 307. My
13. Karl Rahner, S.J., p. 307; Engelbert Gutwenger,
"Transubstantiation," edited by Karl Rahner, (New York: The Seabury
Press, 1975), p. 1754; St. Thomas Aquinas, On Being and Essence,
chap. 2, no. 1, pp. 34-35. My emphasis.
14. Engelhert Gutwenger, pp. 1754-1755. My emphasis.
15. Edward Schillcbeeckx, O. P. , (New York: Sheed and
Ward, 1968), p. 120.
16. Edward Schillebeeckx, O. P.. p. 120. My emphasis.
17. Edward Schillebeeckx, O. P., p. 120. My emphasis.
18. Tad W. Guzie, S. J., (New York: Paulist
Press, 1974), pp. 67-68. My parenthesis and my emphasis.
19. Monika K. Hellwig, (New York: Paulist
Press, 1981), p. 139.
20. Anthony Wilhelm, , 5th revised edition (San
Francisco: Harper Collins Pub., 1990), the cover and p. 216.
(c) The Blue Army, reprinted with permission from SOUL Magazine.
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