Summary: Examining the doctrine of the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist
In the name of the +Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
This morning, I want to speak of the core of this Mass, of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, and what we understand by receiving the Body and Blood of Christ In the Blessed Sacraments.
The Real Presence is the teaching of the Church that Jesus Christ is present at and in this Eucharistic Celebration. He is here in the form of bread and wine, in the form of his body and blood, in the form of his humanity and his divinity.
The New Testament attests that Christ is present in and to his Church in a variety of ways. As the risen Lord, he is no longer bound by the constraints of a particular time and place and thus can be present when his disciples – then as now – gather to pray, invoke his name for healing, proclaim his Gospel, forgive sins, suffer for his sake and assemble to remember that Last Supper with his disciples. Fundamental to the recognition of this presence was the Church’s experience of the power of the Holy Spirit, transforming a group of fairly ordinary people into a community of faith – the body of Christ – the Church.
The Real Presence of Christ therefore cannot exist outside of the Church, and Christ can only truly be made present for us with the context of his Church. I do not, of course, mean the Church as building, but the Church as the ecclesia – the people who form the true Church.
The accounts of the Last Supper in the three synoptic Gospels (Matthew 26:26-30, Mark 14:22-26 and Luke 22:14-20) as well as Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians (11:23-25) and the Bread of Life Discourse in the Gospel of John (John 6) attest to the celebration of the Mass in the earliest NT church. Paul and John also speak of the bread and wine in terms strong enough to evidence the belief of the first century Church in the presence of the Body and Blood of Christ: Paul speaks of sharing in the Body and Blood of Christ (1 Cor 10:16-17; 11:27) and John speaks of eating the flesh of Christ and drinking his blood (John 6:52-56).
Throughout the first millennium, the faith of the Church in the presence of the body and blood of Christ went relatively undisturbed. Diverse terminology was used to describe the change of the bread and the wine into the body and blood of Christ and theologians sought to relate this presence of the body and blood of the Lord to his historical and risen body as well as to his ecclesial body. Some controversy erupted in the 9th Century and developed further in the 11th Century between extreme positions which saw the bread and wine and mere signs or as totally changed even in their physical elements. Out of these controversies came the Church’s doctrine of transubstantiation which held that the internal nature of this bread and wine had been transformed by the act of consecration even though clearly their physical external form remained constant: a process which is mysterious and of the nature of God. It is the Greek work Mysterium which translates to the latin word Sacramentum from which we get Sacrament.