After spending the past couple of months writing about the nature of the Real Bodily Presence of Our Lord in the Eucharist, I was ready to move on to another topic this month, but then I opened the February 10, 2008 issue of the Northwest Indiana Catholic to page 15 and read a column by Rev. John Dietzen. A Catholic from California posed a question about something said in her parish Scripture study. The lady in charge told the class that Christ is equally present in Scripture as he is in the Eucharist. The questioner was confused. “I was always taught that Christ is uniquely present, soul and divinity, in the Eucharist. Besides, isn’t the Eucharist our focal point as Catholics?”
I immediately thought of Jimmy Akin’s September 14, 2006 blog which I cited in my December 30th entry where he talks about “Flattening the Real Presence” by equating it to other modes of his presence mentioned in Scripture and theology. As Mr. Akin put it, “To do so speaks of either gross ignorance of the faith or an agenda of some sort that is so strong it overrides what is patently obvious.”
Still confounded by our pastor’s insistence that Christ is present in other people the same way He is present in the Eucharist, I was anxious to see how Father Dietzen responded to this question. Surely he would explain the difference between Our Lord’s mystical presence and the unique substantive Presence in the Eucharistic species. I was disappointed in his answer to say the least. I have read it several times and I am still not sure what he is saying.
In his reply, Father Dietzen says, “Any presence of God, of the Trinity or of Jesus in the Bible or in the Eucharist or anywhere else is ‘unique’ in the sense that it is different from all other presences.” “Unique does not necessarily mean it is better or superior, just that there is nothing more perfect of its kind or class.” He goes on to say, “We also cannot speak of there being ‘more’ of Jesus in one place or another. God is indivisible.” Father Dietzen then cites the Catechism of the Catholic Church (Nos. 1084-1090) in stating that in the sacraments, especially in the celebration of the Eucharist, our Lord is present in several ways. CCC 1088 specifically lists the ways Christ is present.
As I continued reading Father Dietzen’s answer, I again got this sense of flattening of the uniqueness of the Corporeal Presence in the Eucharist. Yes, he says our Lord is present “especially in the celebration of the Eucharist,” but he stresses Christ’s Presence in all these other ways, applying the word unique to describe them also. He goes on to say, “It is important to note that when the church speaks of the Eucharist in this context it does not mean primarily the simple presence of Christ in the Eucharistic species, as it is in the tabernacle, for example. It means most directly and essentially the sacrificial liturgy of the Eucharist, the celebration of Mass by the Catholic community.” That is not exactly what CCC1088 says.
CCC1088: “To accomplish so great a work” – the dispensation or communication of his work of salvation – “Christ is always present in his Church, especially in her liturgical celebrations. He is present in the Sacrifice of the Mass not only in the person of his minister, ‘the same now offering, through the ministry of priests, who formerly offered himself on the cross,’ but especially in the Eucharistic species. By his power he is present in the sacraments so that when anybody baptizes, it is really Christ himself who baptizes. He is present in his word since it is he himself who speaks when the holy Scriptures are read in the Church. Lastly, he is present when the Church prays and sings, for he has promised ‘where two or three are gathered together in my name there am I in the midst of them.’” (Sacrosanctum concilium; Matthew 18:20)
Is the presence of Christ in these other ways “unique” as Father Dietzen says? I suppose one could say His spiritual presence is “unique” since He is there in ways we cannot perceive with our five senses. But we can say fluoride is present in our water in ways we cannot perceive with our senses. I have trouble understanding the uniqueness of this presence when we also say God is present everywhere. Are there varying degrees of uniqueness? I do understand the “uniqueness” of the presence in the Holy Eucharist where the substance is specifically defined as the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus and the accidents are perceptible to the senses.
The Catechism says, “By his power he is present in the sacraments . . .” Water held back by a dam has potential energy. We cannot see the energy itself, but we can witness the effects of it when it is unleashed. Similarly, we cannot necessarily see the power of Christ in the sacraments, but we can know the effects. How this presence occurs is a mystery. Is it not better to leave it at that rather than confuse simple-minded lay people accustomed to a physical world where they can better grasp the truly unique substantial presence in the physical form of bread and wine?
If Christ cannot be “more” present one way or another, what does it mean when the Church says He is “especially” present in the Eucharistic species. The Corporeal Presence of Jesus under the appearances of bread and wine transubstantiated is what makes this form of His Presence truly unique. CCC 1374 addresses this issue, but Father Dietzen does not make reference to it in his reply.
CCC1374: The mode of Christ’s presence under the Eucharistic species is unique. It raises the Eucharist above all the sacraments to “the perfection of the spiritual life and the end to which all the sacraments tend.” In the most blessed sacrament of the Eucharist “the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ and, therefore, the whole Christ is truly, really, and substantially contained.” “This presence is called ‘real’ –by which is not intended to exclude the other types of presence as if they could not be ‘real’ too, but because it is presence in the fullest sense: that is to say, it is a substantial presence by which Christ, God and man, makes himself wholly and entirely present.”
Father Dietzen does not use any form of the word substance is his entire reply. How can anyone explain the uniqueness of the Eucharist Presence without talking about transubstantiation? I would love to speak to the person who posed the original question in the article to see whether he or she thought Father Dietzen’s answer was clearly stated. I found it confusing, ambiguous and serving to further “flatten” the Real Presence, as Jimmy Akin put it.
All of this brought me back to my questions about the nature of the substantial presence which I have been pondering for the past couple of months. A handout the priest gave us in our Faith Enhancement class last week listed various statements by St. Thomas Aquinas, the great thirteenth century philosopher of the Church. Some of his words made me revisit my view of substance and accidents that I wrote about last month.
I am not sure where these particular ideas attributed to St. Thomas Aquinas on the handout originated. Perhaps they are found in the Summa Theologiae. Assuming they were reproduced accurately, he defined Substance as “that which has an essence to which it belongs not to exist in a subject – is made to be by its causes.” The Accident is “that to whose essence it belongs to exist in a subject – does not have its own existence.” (Not having the actual sources, I should emphasize that I do not know whether the statements on this handout were actual Thomistic quotes or someone’s summarization of his work.)
In trying to understand substance, several other statements caught my attention. “Man exists and operates as one substance, an individual man has but one substantial form, and this is his rational soul.” “The human soul is both an intellectual substance and by its nature the form of the body.” “The human soul is a spiritual substance with its own being – incomplete in essence – incorruptible and immortal.”
When I wrote last month about the nature of Christ’s presence in the person following the corruption of the accidents, I reasoned that the substantial presence would cease because it could not exist without the accidents. Therefore, the substantial presence would have to cease after fifteen minutes or so when the accidents are corrupted. Reading these statements attributed to St. Thomas Aquinas raised further questions in my mind.
If the human soul is a substance, it can exist after death without an accidental form, right? So, substance would not necessarily have an accidental form? The Thomistic handout says, man is a composite, comprising both soul and body. The soul and body share the same being. So, what happens when the body and soul are separated? Since the Eucharist is the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus, is it somehow possible after the corruption of the accidents that the spiritual substance of Jesus remains with the person?
At this point, my head was spinning. I am not a philosopher. I am not well-read. Thomistic philosophy interests me, but I get lost quickly in trying to understand much of what he says. I decided to write down the question that started this whole discussion, and pose it to someone qualified to give me a simple answer. EWTN’s website has an Ask an Expert section where philosophy questions can be submitted. I posted the following question last week and within minutes, had my answer.
Christ's Substantial Presence
Question from Richard A. on 2/18/2008:
During a Faith Enhancement Class, our parish priest spoke of seeing “Eucharist” in other people as members of the Body of Christ. This led to questions about the Eucharistic Presence in the person following the reception of Holy Communion. Our priest stated that the Eucharistic Presence remains in the person as long as the person remains in a state of grace. It was my belief that Christ remains present in some mystical way, but the substantial Presence remains only until the accidents are corrupted by the digestive process, approximately 15 minutes after consumption. The priest vehemently disagreed saying that Christ’s Presence in the human person continues to be a substantial Presence beyond the corruption of the accidents.
I have been searching this site and a number of other sources, including Thomas Aquinas, looking for clarification on this, and I find myself still confused. If the Eucharist is the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ (substance), and substance does not require accidents to exist (i.e. the soul), is it correct to say the Christ’s ongoing Presence in the human person is substantial? If so, what actually ceases to exist after the corruption of the accidents?
Answer by Richard Geraghty on 2/18/2008:
You were right and the priest was wrong.