I was alarmed to hear an altar server say to our parish priest, after a conversation about alcohol, that “we’re all used to drinking wine” and clearly referring to wine used for the holy sacrament of the Eucharist. I was horrified at first, and whispered in his ear that we consume the ‘blood of Christ’ not the ‘wine of Christ’ but this conversation left me wondering about the vital impact that attending a Catholic school had had on my understanding of transubstantiation and the important significance this intrinsic Catholic belief plays in my life.
The Collins online dictionary defines transubstantiation as;
“the doctrine that the whole substance of the bread and wine changes into the substance of the body and blood of Christ when consecrated in the Eucharist”.
In simple terms, as Catholics we believe that through the power of the Holy Spirit the bread and wine, offered on the altar, become the living Body and Blood of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.
In his comprehensive compendium of theological teachings, Summa Theologica, St Thomas Aquinas comments that;
“The presence of Christ’s true body and blood in this sacrament cannot be detected by sense, nor understanding, but by faith alone, which rests upon Divine authority. Hence this is not a formal, but a substantial conversion; nor is it a kind of natural movement: but, with a name of its own, it can be called “transubstantiation.”
I feel just as connected to this commentary on Catholic belief from the 13th Century, as I do with the 20th Century’s Catechism of the Catholic Church which defines Christ’s presence in the Eucharist as;
“By the consecration the transubstantiation of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ is brought about. Under the consecrated species of bread and wine Christ himself, living and glorious, is present in a true, real, and substantial manner: his Body and his Blood, with his soul and his divinity.”
So, what does this belief really mean to me? I suppose the hardest thing to describe is the overwhelming feeling I get when I just stop and think about what the real physical and spiritual presence of Christ in the Eucharist actually means. I have been brought to tears in many a situation, feeling overjoyed by the obvious love that God has shown me by allowing his only Son to be sacrificed for my sin – and I’m not alone in this feeling.
Having been fortunate enough to attend two World Youth Days; Sydney (2008) and Madrid (2011) I was eager to follow the fantastic coverage of the same event taking place during this summer in Rio de Janeiro. One standout moment for me was Matt Maher’s performance of ‘Lord, I Need You’ during the Eucharistic Adoration at the Vigil Service. There on Copacabana beach as the sun set, amongst the millions of Catholics gathered; Christ was felt all around. From the tears falling from pilgrims faces who had travelled from every corner of the earth, to the Bishops and Archbishops who humbly knelt together and those, like me, connected through social media; we all experienced Christ that night, through the sacrament of the Eucharist.
Going to a Catholic school doesn’t necessarily infuse you with this deep relationship with the presence of Christ in the Eucharist but it does provide you with the tools to better understand what it actually means to be a Catholic and to connect with Christ on a physical, spiritual and personal level. That’s not to say that you can’t have this bond if you didn’t go to a Catholic school, I have many friends who share fully in the joys of their faith and yet did not have this education; but it does highlight the issue that in some cases, children and adults alike are not always aware of the specialness of this sacrament and its significance as the heart of Catholic worship.
Using the words of Matt Maher’s lyrics as inspiration, let us all remember to take time to really listen to our hearts to prepare ourselves for the Real Presence of Christ;
“Lord, I come, I confess, Bowing here I find my rest, Without You I fall apart, You’re the One that guides my heart”.
Please note: The video is copyrighted material from Rome Reports. See here for more information.