After the consecration at each Mass, the priest invites those gathered to celebrate “proclaim the mystery of faith”. This mystery is, of course, the real presence of the risen Lord in the Eucharistic bread and wine that has been transformed into his body and blood. This is a truth that only the mind of God can fully understand. We believe in the real presence as a matter of faith because it is contained in the word of God in Scripture and Tradition. Jesus said, “this is my body…this is my blood” and “my flesh is real food, my blood in real drink”. Many of his disciples found this a hard saying, but Jesus did not moderate his teaching. The Fathers and Doctors of the church have confidently proclaimed the real presence century after century in spite of objections and misconceptions. In 1551 the council, of Trent gave a full exposition of the Catholic doctrine of the Eucharist that remains normative today. The recently published Catechism of the Catholic Church is content to quote it verbatim. In describing Christ’s presence, the council uses three adverbs, “truly, really and substantially”. The Council used the work “truly” to repudiate the view that the sacrament is a mere sign or figure pointing away from itself to Christ’s body in heaven. No, the Council said, Christ’s body is truly here. The word “real” was used to indicate that Christ’s presence in the sacrament is objective, that is, it does not depend on the thoughts or feelings of the priest or the community. The body and blood of Christ are present, in other words, by reason of the promise and power of Christ. The faith of the people does not make Christ present. Faith acknowledges His presence but does not cause it. Finally, the word “substantially” means that the basic reality of the sacrament is the person of Christ himself. For example, in baptism Christ uses water to give us his life, but the water does not become Him. In the Eucharist, however, the bread and wine are transformed into His very person. In summary, Christ is present and active in the Church in many ways, but His presence in the Eucharist is totally unique and surpasses all the others.
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