The Mystery of the Blessed Eucharist

Author: Cardinal Charles Journet


Cardinal Charles Journet

Christ, consecrated Priest by divine anointing, founds the worship of the new Law with the offering, once and for all, of the Sacrifice of his blood and the institution of his sacraments.

He leaves to his Church, when departing at the Ascension, the power to continuevalidly to the end of the world the worship he has inaugurated.

Until the end of the world, during Mass celebrated by the priest by virtue of the power received, in the sacrament of Orders and offered by him in the name of Christ and of the members of his mystical Body, the very Sacrifice of Calvary is made sacramentally present in our midst, as if the two thousand years that separate us were suddenly wiped out, in order that we might, in our turn, enter into personal participation with the redeeming drama, and that the mystery of our redemption may be present to us. "Opus nostrae redemptionis exercetur", the Liturgy says.

Until the end of the world, as at the Last Supper the bread and wine consecrated by the Lord were changed into the Body and Blood that were about to be offered on the Cross, so the bread and wine consecrated by the same words uttered by the priest are changed into the Body and Blood of the glorious Christ. It is he, the Lord of glory, who is present under the humble sacramental signs to give himself to us in nourishment and fully associate us, by this, fact, with the unity of his mystical Body,

Thus until the end of the world Christ in glory continues to touch us through the rays of. his blood-stained Cross. This is the point, the place, the centre where the heart of the Church beats; this is the supreme gift that with his corporal presence the Lord Jesus makes us. The Apostle writes that "the Lord Jesus, on the night when he was being betrayed, took bread, and gave thanks and broke it, and said, Take, eat; this is my body, given up for you. Do this for a commemoration of me" (I Con, XI, 23-24). A testament made to be preserved by love, not to be reinvented by men. And such, in fact, is the Faith of the Church in the West among Catholics and in the East among the Orthodox.


The Eucharist attracts and raises to itself, the whole worship ofthe Church. The Eucharist contains Christ substantially, the other sacraments let only a ray, of his love pass into us. Baptism, the. sacrament of initiation, is ordained to the Eucharist, the sacrament of consummation. Confirmation triumphs over our hesitations when we defer approaching it. Penance and Extreme Unction prepare us, unworthy as we are, not to receive it unworthily. Marriage is a kind of reflection projected on the spouses, of the union of Christ and of the Church which is made and effected in the Eucharist (St. Thomas, III, q. 65, a. 3)

And the Eucharist draws and raises to itself all the love of the Church. The charity that Christ pours out from on high and which is coloured passing through the sacraments, has as its secret law to direct Catholics towards the point where, here below, is its centre, its source, its home, in order that they may become more inflamed and eager at every new contact.


What happens in Protestant communions? We will not consider here the moment at which the break took place. We will consider them just as they present themselves to us in the full uprightness of their intentions and of their professions of faith. How will the Catholic theologian view them?

In most cases, they have kept the Baptism of Christ, which every person can confer validly. Then, too, the marriage that two baptized persons contract with each other is considered as sacramental from the Catholic point of view. It follows that two authentic sacraments of the new Law can continue to exist among Protestants. Consequently the charity of God which wills all men to be saved continues to be shed on them, passing through two sacraments, and will be, as it were, coloured by the latter, becoming, to an equal extent, more fully conforming to Christ. In the zones of progressive membership that Christ disposes around his one Church, those in which Baptism is validly conferred are nearest to the centre.


But in theProtestant communions the original faith in the eucharistic mystery collapsed right from the beginning. A new spirit appeared.

The Catholic and apostolic Faith confesses that the realism of the mystery of Incarnation is communicated by Christ to his Church, so that the latter, in the likeness of the Word become flesh, is at once divine and visible. According to the new belief, on the other hand, only the invisible kingdom is divine; the human and the visible are not part of its structure, its constitution; they remain exterior, extraneous, superimposed; they can only designate it, represent it from outside. The spiritualism of the apostolic Faith is fundamentally a spiritualism of supernatural transfiguration of matter by the Spirit, of the visible by the divine. The spiritualism of the new faith is fundamentally a spiritualism of the separation of matter and spirit, of the visible and the invisible, of the human and the divine.

Read in this second perspective, the narration of the Last Supper is transformed. What the Eucharist brings us under the sacramental signs, is no longer either the immediate reality of the bloody sacrifice of the Cross or the immediate reality of the corporal presence of the glorious Christ. It is the immediate reality of the bread and the immediate reality of the wine, that designate, that represent these mysteries and bring us to the latter through their mediation.

Therefore, it follows, the celebrant no longer needs a mysterious power of a supernatural order and conferred by the Bishop's laying on of hands, in order to change the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ. It is enough that he should be designated by the community—or that he should designate himself—in order to present to the Lord, on behalf of the community, the bread and wine that are signs of the Body and Blood of the Saviour. We wish to stress this point: the characteristic sacramental powers of Baptism, Confirmation, Orders, are conferred only by consecration, never by delegation, farless by the mere desire to possess them and exercise them.


Such is Communion reconstituted by Protestant piety. The scriptural accounts, detached from their first traditional context and transposed to the context of a spiritual experience that was innovating, will continue nevertheless to make something of their exceptional solemnity felt. The celebration of Communion is represented to us, by those who speak of it with most fervour and emotion, as the privileged moment in which the Christian community beseeches the Lord to appear in their midst, at their table, as he appeared on Easter Sunday to console them and assure them of his forthcoming return (Oscar, Cullmann, "Christologie du Nouveau Testament", page 183). How could we be indifferent in the presence of such a faith when, in another order, we feel respect for the celebration of the Jewish Passover, even today?

Similar celebrations have, in our view, the value, not indeed of the sacraments of the new Law, but of what theology calls sacramentals. By reason of the light they contain, they direct souls, unconsciously, no doubt—but here is the secret of Jesus—towards the point where, as once in his Incarnation, he comes in the Eucharist to touch the world bodily.


To accept intercommunion between the Catholic Church on the one hand and the Protestant communions on the other is—let us be quite clear about it—to accept the equivalence of the Catholic Eucharist and of the Protestant Communion.

In complete good faith, the Protestants in favour of intercommunion will say they believe what we believe and that they can therefore be admitted to our Eucharist. The reason is that they regard all that distinguishes us from one another when we speak of the real presence of Christ, as secondary, incidental, destined to disappear one day, and therefore negligible in practice. If they really believed in this real presence as we affirm it, they would come to it, they could no longer bear even for a moment to be separated from it. But they do not think of it, they desire reciprocity, and that the celebrations of Communion be recognized as equivalent everywhere.

A little book "Le pain unique", published at Taizé and distributed by the "Editions du Swuil", sums up in three key words three ways of understanding the real presence: "transubstantiation (the Council of Trent), consubstantiation: (Luther), concomitance (Calvin).

"According to the doctrine of transubstantiation, the substance of the bread and wine, that is 'what makes bread and wine be what they are as earthly nourishment', this substance is changed and becomes a new being: the body and blood of Christ; there is a change of substance.

"For the doctrine of consubstantiation, the substance, the deep being of bread, and wine continues to exist, but is closely united with the substance, the deep being, of the body and blood of Christ, as in the case of molten iron the metal and the fire are closely connected.

"For the doctrine of concomitance, the bread and wine remain what they are, but, on the occasion of the Eucharist and of communion they become a vehicle of the real presence of Christ. The body and the blood of Christ, his humanity and divinity, are united in the act of eating the bread and drinking the wine of the Eucharist.

"This last conception has sometimes evolved to the extent of separating the real presence of Christ from the species of the bread and wine, in such a way that often, in Protestantism, holy communion has become a kind of agape on the occasion of which the presence of Christ was affirmed. In this case one can no longer see what difference there is between Christ's promise: If two orthree are gathered in myname, I am in their midst and Christ's words at the Supper: This is my body... this is my blood".

Immediately before this exposition of the conceptions of Luther, of Calvin, of the Council of Trent, the author writes:

"We can note here the essential agreement of these three positions: Christ is really present in the Eucharist. Nevertheless, there is a divergency in the conception of the way and manner in which this real presence takes place" (p. 59).

The Catholic Church will never accept the essential equivalence between the doctrine of the Council of Trent and the conflicting doctrines—at variance also with each other—of Luther and of Calvin. The day on which the Church were to accept it, she would cease to exist, she would become Protestant. For the Church there will always be a gulf between this eucharist which, under the sacramental signs, brings us immediately the redeeming Sacrifice and the body itself of Christ, now risen, and the other eucharist which proposes to us immediately bread and wine, taking us back to the memory of Christ and his mysteries.

All attempts—however generous they may be supposed to be, and even if they are as happily ecumenical as they appear it first sight or presumably authorized, is it is claimed—all attempts to proclaim the essential objective equivalence of the apostolic Eucharist received from the Saviour and handed down in Scripture and of the Eucharist re-interpreted after long centuries in the context of an innovating and divergent spiritual experience, are radically invalidated in advance by reason of the very nature of things.

The Eucharist of the one Church of Christ—however numerous may be the children who belong to her without yet knowing her and without the Church herself being able to recognize them fully—is divine. It is untouchable and adorable.  

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
30 March 1969, page 9

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