Last month I wrote about a lively discussion with our parish priest about the Eucharistic Presence of Christ in the human person. He seemed to take the position that Christ’s Substantial Presence remains in the person beyond the existence of the accidents. The key word here is substantial, meaning the substance of Christ’s Body Blood Soul and Divinity. While I am confident he expressed a view contrary to Church teaching, it did cause me to further ponder the mystery.
It occurred to me that substance could not exist without accidents and, not being well versed on Thomistic philosophy, I began searching for someone who was in order to confirm my belief. An internet search turned up the Thomistic Philosophy Page by Joseph M. Magee, Ph.D, the Director of Campus Ministry at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas. He earned his Ph.D. from the Center for Thomistic Studies at the University of Saint Thomas, Houston, Texas, and is author of the book Unmixing the Intellect: Aristotle on Cognitive Powers and Bodily Organs. In his discourse on substance and accidents, he says the following:
One never finds any substance that we experience without some accidents, nor an accident that is not the accident of a substance.
So there! When transubstantiated at the Consecration, the substance of bread and wine no longer exists while the accidents remain. After consumption, the digestive process eventually destroys the accidents. Once the accidents appearing as bread and wine no longer exist, neither does the substance. If the substance were to continue in existence beyond this point, it would necessarily be under a different form. For the substance to remain, it would have to have accidents. (I rethink some of this next month -- see my February 24, 2008 entry)
Could God do this if He wanted to? Of course, but no such substantial transformation in the human person has ever been revealed or taught by the Church. Renowned Catholic author Frank J. Sheed says the following in an excerpt posted by EWTN from one of his writings:
Christ's body remains in the communicant as long as the accidents remain themselves. Where, in the normal action of our bodily processes, they are so changed as to be no longer accidents of bread or accidents of wine, the Real Presence in us of Christ's own individual body ceases. But we live on in his Mystical Body. -Taken from Theology for Beginners (c) 1981 by Frank J. Sheed, Chapter 18.
I would love to revisit this topic with our priest again, but our class has taken a new direction. Last week a parishioner brought her seventeen year-old granddaughter to our class. She wants to become Catholic and after an interview, our priest has determined she is sufficiently prepared to enter the Church this Easter despite getting a very late start in her catechesis. Mavis and I are blessed to serve as her catechists. We have only a few precious weeks to prepare her for the Sacraments of Initiation. During our session with her this evening, we discussed the distinction between substance and accidents. We want to make sure she understands.