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Watch 2022-2023 online sermons » Robert Barron » Robert Barron - The Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist

Robert Barron - The Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist

Robert Barron - The Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist
TOPICS: Eucharist, God's Presence

Well, thank you very much for that and good morning to everybody. Always a joy to be here in the arena. I first started coming to this congress back in 1997. I'm becoming a very old man. And it's always a joy to come back. It's one of the great events as you know in the whole year of the Catholic Church. So thanks for coming and thanks for coming for this specific talk. I wasn't intending to speak on my topic today. Even a few months ago, I had some other topic in mind, which frankly I forget. Then that Pew forum study came out that told us that 70% of Catholics don't believe in the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. 70% of Catholics, mind you, not the general population but Catholics— say that Jesus is only symbolically present in the bread and the wine. Well, when I read that survey, I called my assistant and said, "Call the Congress right away, tell them I'm changing my topic. I'm speaking on the real presence".

See, here's the thing, everybody. One of the two or three most famous one-liners of Vatican II is that the Eucharist is the "source and summit" of the Christian life. One of the great lines of the Second Vatican Council. It's the beginning and the end; there's a be-all and end-all quality to the Eucharist. It's where it all comes from, where it's all tending. If now, what fifty-some years after the end of the Council, 70% of our own people don't understand the meaning of the Eucharist, well, Anaheim, we have a problem. As I'm addressing this giant arena full of teachers and preachers and evangelists and catechists, something, everybody, has gone off the rails here. So that's why I wanted to address this issue today with you. Just in the brief time we have, I'll do a little sketch. First of all, a couple of images for you. This is all maybe ten years ago or so.

I was in Rome for Easter, and I went down to St. Peter's to concelebrate the great papal Mass. Somehow I thought this would be a little better organized. I was distributing communion to this huge crowd. I thought they'd say, "well, now you go right there and you stand". I remember I was sort of standing with the ciborium and the MC went like this. So off I sort of waded into this great crowd and I had the Blessed Sacrament. As I'm distributing, "Body of Christ", I think I was saying "Corpus Christi" because of all the different languages— "Corpus Christi, Corpus Christi," the hands began to stretch out to me and people began to shout, "Padre, per favore, per favore Padre," please, please.

Now, I'll grant you, some of this is Italian melodrama. It's no accident that the opera began in Italy. But nevertheless, I was always struck that gesture and that style is entirely appropriate. If we're just dealing with a bland symbol, who cares? But somehow those good people from all over the world sensed there's something here of crucial significance. There's a food here that I can't get anywhere else. So "please, please," like a starving person, best strikes me as an appropriate reaction to the Eucharist. Here's a second image from Ronald Knox, the great twentieth-century theologian and apologist. Knox said something which has always struck me. He said, let's face it, 99% of Jesus' commands are obeyed at best in the breach. So love your neighbor, love your enemy, pray for those who curse you, turn the other cheek. Let's face it, most of us disobey Jesus' commands most of the time.

But, Ronald Knox said, strangely, there is one command of Jesus that has been massively followed up and down the centuries. Despite our sin, despite our stupidity, despite all of our weakness and failure, somehow the command "do this in memory of me" has been followed, hasn't it? It's as though Christ himself realized that I just have to intervene and make sure these people do this. That this is so central to what it means to be a disciple of mine. Do this in memory of me. Despite everything, we do it. A third little vignette or little image, and I'm sure by now everyone knows this story. One of my great heroes, Flannery O'Connor, I think the greatest Catholic fiction writer of the last century, when she's a very young woman, is out for dinner with Mary McCarthy and other big-time New York writers. She was a young woman, shy by nature. She felt totally overwhelmed by this company. She said, "I felt like a dog who knows one trick but had forgotten it".

So the conversation is going on and Mary McCarthy, who was a lapsed Catholic but she was trying to draw O'Connor into the conversation (she knew she was a Catholic), she said to her, "I think the Eucharist is a wonderful symbol". To which Flannery O'Connor responded, as you well know, "If it's only a symbol, I say to hell with it". That qualifies her in my judgment as one of the great Eucharistic theologians of the twentieth century. Now, mind you, sometimes you'll hear people say, "people that say things like that don't understand the power of symbolism". Not in her case. Are you kidding? Flannery O'Connor, one of the great symbolic masters of the twentieth century. Read "A Good Man Is Hard to Find," read "Parker's Back," read "Revelation," read "Everything That Rises Must Converge," all her great novels and stories. She fully knows the power and import of symbolic language. She knows how to create symbols, how to use them. She knows the effects they have. She knew all about symbolism, and yet she says: if that's all it is, to hell with it.

She gives voice there, everybody, to something which is absolutely universal in our great tradition, across space and across time. There's something more in the Eucharist than the merely symbolic. So the 70% of people, of Catholics, in our Pew forum study, we got a problem if we're not teaching this truth. Okay, so here's what I propose to do in the brief time we have. I want to kind of walk us, it will be a quick enough walk, through some main points in our great tradition to try to show you that there is a golden thread that runs from the Bible up to our time affirming the reality of Jesus' presence in the Eucharist. I'm going to start as I think all theology should start: with the Bible.

John chapter 6. Then I'm going to move forward to a very brief look at some of the Church Fathers, from the second to the fifth centuries. Then I'm going to skip to the eleventh century and the debate around Berengarius. I'll get there, it's very important to understand our own time. Then I'll skip forward two more centuries to St. Thomas Aquinas and his account of the Eucharist. Then a brief look, three centuries later, at the Council of Trent. Then finally, I'll go to the twentieth century to St. Pope Paul VI and his ringing affirmation of the real presence that took place during the last session of the Second Vatican Council. Then at the very end what I'll do, having seen the steadiness of this teaching, try to give you a framework for understanding it.

Now, as you can sense from this, we're going to do a little intellectual work this morning. You know what? Catechists and teachers and preachers, we need to do some intellectual work on this thing. There are a lot of reasons for this 70% tragedy, there are. But at least one of them is we have not been very effective at explaining, laying out this great teaching. So let's do a little work this morning. water there is Okay, let's start with the Bible. The great text that seems to me in the New Testament on our issue is John chapter 6. John chapter 6, as you know, is a kind of masterpiece within the masterpiece. Just as, for example, Luke 24 I think is a little gem within the overall masterpiece of Luke's Gospel, so the sixth chapter of John I think has that quality.

What do we hear first? We hear of the compelling and magnetic power of the presence of Jesus. Listen, "Jesus went across the Sea of Galilee. A large crowd followed him because they saw the signs he was performing on the sick". "Padre, per favore, please, please give me the Body and Blood of Christ". There's something, everybody, always compelling about the authentic Christ and we see it here. What comes next? Jesus goes up on a mountaintop. Now, any biblically alert person knows when we're talking about mountains, we're talking about a place of intense encounter. When we go up, God comes down. The mountain is the meeting place of divinity and humanity. What's being described here at the beginning of John 6 but the Mass, that place of most intense encounter between us and the Lord. Jesus on the holy mountain sits down, and his disciples gather around him. Sitting, in the ancient world, was the posture of a teacher, wasn't it?

So we think of a teacher standing at a podium like this, but in the ancient world, the teacher would sit and the students would literally be at his feet. That's where that comes from. So Jesus sitting on the holy mountain is Jesus now teaching. When does this happen? Every time we gather for the Liturgy of the Word. Is Jesus, the teacher, once again, gathering his disciples at his feet and teaching them. But what comes next? We hear that Jesus looks up and he sees this great hungry crowd. So he asks the disciples, famously, what do you have? They bring this little pittance forward and then Jesus multiplies it unto the feeding of that giant crowd. What's this but the Liturgy of the Eucharist? Jesus wants to teach us, yes indeed, but more profoundly he wants to feed us. How's he do it? Beautifully, by taking the little pittance that we have.

Think of the gifts coming up at the offertory. This little tiny bit. If you set that in front of someone as physical food, it would maybe be a light meal for one person. But yet when that little pittance is given to him, he can elevate it and multiply it under the spiritual feeding of the world. There's the Liturgy of the Eucharist, Jesus feeding us with his Body and Blood. Then as we know, beautifully, the twelve baskets of fragments left over, the twelve tribes of Israel, the twelve months of the year. Twelve is a number of fulfillment, of completion. This is the food that will satisfy the hunger of the world. That's the point. Also, the gathering up of the fragments is reminiscent of the liturgical celebration.

So a beautifully laid out kind of icon of the Mass, the Liturgy of the Word, the Liturgy of the Eucharist. Jesus then walks on the water, we can say a lot more about that. But he comes to the town of Capernaum, enters the synagogue there, and the people come after him because they're so taken by the multiplication of the loaves. Then he begins to teach again about the meaning of this spiritual food. What do we find? He says, "Don't hunger for these passing loaves of bread from yesterday but rather hunger for the food that lasts for eternal life".

It's John 6: 27. Echoing, of course, two chapters previous in John 4, the story of the woman at the well. "You come to this well every day, you drink, and you get thirsty. I want to give you water bubbling up in you to eternal life". So it's echoed here in John 6, hunger for the bread of eternal life. Then this, John 6: 35: "I am the bread of life, those who come to me will never be hungry. Those who believe in me will never be thirsty". Then making it even more explicit. Listen, now, everybody. "I am the living bread come down from heaven. If you eat this bread, you will live forever. The bread that I will give you is my flesh for the life of the world". The bread that I will give you is my flesh for the life of the world.

Now, lest you think controversy about the Eucharist is a new thing, right away the crowd balks at this language. Listen, "how can this man give us his flesh to eat"? Now, mind you, there's good reason for balking at this teaching if you're a first-century Jew. Because scattered throughout the Old Testament, I could show you numerous texts— are prohibitions against the eating of an animal's flesh with blood. Blood is life and so you don't eat the flesh with blood. It was strictly verboten, strictly forbidden. This man is saying eat my flesh and my blood? This is not only gross, it's theologically objectionable to the highest degree. Hence, they balk. Given, therefore, every opportunity to soften his teaching, to propose a more symbolic or metaphorical reading, what does Jesus say? "Amen, Amen, I say to you". So in other words, don't miss this. Amen, Amen, I say to you, this is serious stuff coming.

"Unless you eat the flesh of the son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you". Then just to rub it in, "for my flesh is real food, my blood is real drink". Now, the scholars point out to us something really interesting about this. The usual Greek word for the way human beings eat is phagein. Means to eat like the way you'd gather around a table to eat. Jesus doesn't use that verb. Now, remember, he's been challenged. People say this is gross what you're saying, it's objectionable. He's got every opportunity to soften the language but instead he turns up the heat. Unless you, and the verb he uses is trogein. You know what trogein means in Greek? It means to gnaw. Trogein is the way an animal eats. Gnaw Unless you gnaw on the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you've got no life in you. My flesh is real food, my blood is real drink.

This is serious stuff here. This is something really strange going on. Now, you're a first-century Jew, you're aware of the great scriptural tradition. What are you aware of? Symbolic talk. There's symbolic talk all through the Scriptures. In the Psalms and in the prophets, think even of the symbolic actions of the prophets. When God tells Ezekiel or Hosea or Jeremiah to do some funny thing and then he explains the spiritual meaning of it. They knew all about symbolism. So if all he's saying here is, "well, yeah just that you take in bread and wine, so you kind of take in my teaching or you take in my inspiration. It's like that, it's a symbol". Who wouldn't get that? Who wouldn't find that easy to understand? But when he lays this thing out the way he does, what do we hear? "Because of this, many of Jesus' followers turned back and would not go with him anymore".

Then that moment, I think it's something almost frightening to me about this moment, "So he asked the Twelve, ‘And you, would you also like to leave?'" This is a kind of standing and falling point, isn't it? This teaching is like a watershed. It has been from John 6 until the Pew forum study, a stumbling block, a point of division. A kind of either-you're-with-me- or-against-me moment, isn't it? Now, as many point out, is this just a weird coincidence or a strange bit of providence? What verse is that, that I just read? It's John 6: 66. It's John chapter 6, verse 66. Again, we didn't have chapter verse when this thing was written, but that's the way it worked out.

My point is if this was just symbol talk, I don't see why anybody would be all that upset about it, why they'd storm away and protest. But see, Jesus doesn't compromise or soften it or give in. He says yeah, okay. Are you going to leave me too? That's John 6. I think, everybody, along of course with the institution narratives, it's the great ground for the Catholic insistence upon what we call the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. This is not some later invention. The roots of it are right here in the Gospel of John. So from the first century, let's do a very, very rapid, just a few minutes. I'm going to present to you a little series of texts from the Church Fathers. Lest we're tempted to say, "oh, this real presence stuff, that's later, medieval theology, but the early church people didn't believe that".

Take a look at St. Ignatius of Antioch. Of course, very early figure, the Catholic insistence year 35 died, in 108. So here's someone that knew the apostles at the earliest level. Here's what he says in his Letter to the Smyrnaeans. "[The Docetists] abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they do not admit that the Eucharist is the flesh of our savior Jesus Christ. The flesh, which suffered for our sins, and which the father in his graciousness raised from the dead". I don't know if it gets any clearer than that. How about St. Justin The Martyr? Just a little bit later, he dies in the year 165, and I've got kind of a longer quote. I'll just read a little bit of it. Justin says, "For not as common bread nor common drink do we receive these (the Eucharistic elements). But since Jesus Christ our savior was made incarnate by the word of God and had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so that as we have been taught, the food which has been made into the Eucharist by the Eucharistic prayer and by the change in which our blood and flesh is nurtured, both the flesh and blood of that incarnated Jesus are present".

Now, I'll grant you, that's not a really elegantly formulated sentence. But you get the idea of the dense reality of the Eucharistic change. Let me skip to Origen of Alexandria. So we're now in the early third century and that lovely quote from his homily on the Book of Exodus. He says, "You're accustomed to take part in the divine mysteries. So you know how when you've received the body of the Lord you reverently exercise every care lest a particle of it fall and and lest anything of this consecrated gift perish". Why would someone treat a mere symbol with that kind of attention? Yeah, he might show respect to a symbolic object, but that kind of almost obsessive care about the particular crumb falling from the Eucharistic species? That's someone that believes in the reality of the presence.

How about this now from the great Gregory of Nyssa. "The bread again is at first common bread. But when the mystery sanctifies it, it is called and actually becomes the body of Christ". How about this from St. John Chrysostom. "What is the bread but the body of Christ. What do they become who partake of it? The body of Christ, not many bodies, but one body". Now, that's a beautiful thing, everybody, in all the Church Fathers you can see it. The Eucharist is the means by which we are Christified. They mean that in both a body and soul sense. Our minds and hearts and souls are Christified, yes, but our bodies are Christified. Our lowly bodies are prepared for heaven by our contact with the reality of the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist.

Okay, that's just a little, little tiny glance at the Church Fathers to show you that what commences in John 6 is borne by the early church in an unambiguous way. With that, I'm going to leap forward now a few more centuries to the eleventh century. I'm now moving into France and specifically the town of Tours, central France, kind of Southwest of Paris. I want to look at this figure Berengarius of Tours. Not a household name, and yet, trust me when I tell you, 70% of our own Catholic brothers and sisters interviewed by that Pew forum study were basically hanging on to a Berengarian understanding of the Eucharist. So it's important for us to go back and take a look at this view. Berengarius was the head of the Cathedral School of Tours.

So the great Cathedral Schools of Paris and Chartres and Tours and other places were the root of most of the medieval universities. We're now in the early stage of the middle ages, and Berengarius is the director of this prominent School of Tours. Like a lot of his medieval colleagues, Berengarius is very interested in questions of language and logic and rhetoric. So you see this coming up through people like Thomas Aquinas later, is a hyper-concern for getting the language right. Again, we shouldn't despite that, that's part of our great tradition. As people are reflecting intellectually on the implications of faith, they make these distinctions and clarifications. So we shouldn't eschew that as though that's something wrong. Berengarius is trying to be clear about the Eucharist.

So here's the position he lays out. There is a difference, he says, between the historical body of Jesus, born of the Virgin and now reigning in heaven, and the "body" that appears sacramentally in the Eucharist. The latter must be a sort of symbol or figure of the former. Okay, pretty clear. There's the body of Jesus, born of Mary, crucified, died, risen from the dead, ascended, now in heaven. There's that body. Then there's this "body" that appears eucharistically, and it's best construed as a symbol, a sign or a figure of the heavenly body of Jesus. Yeah, clear. There's something always attractive about it because it's kind of common, that experience. What's his scriptural warrant? It's Paul's claim in Second Corinthians: "Even if we have known Christ according to the flesh, henceforth we know him no more".

So all right, way back when people knew him in the flesh and his body, and I guess now in heaven maybe the angels know him in his body, but we don't know him that way anymore. We have signs and symbols of his presence. Hence, Berengarius says, when the priest says at Mass "hoc est enim corpus meum" (this indeed is my body), the "hoc" in question (the "this") remains the bread, and something is added to it. Namely, a sort of spiritual or symbolic significance, making it a sign of Jesus' body. Okay, yeah, clear, I get that. That's clear symbolic sort of talk. One can say, Berengarius goes on, that Christ is really present because I just mean he's spiritually present. Now, this view was propagated by Berengarius. It was much debated. Many people joined him, but there was a fellow who opposed him. Again, not a household name. His name was Lanfranc of Bec.

Now, Lanfranc was the teacher of someone who is a household name, namely St.Anselm. So you see the period we're in. So Lanfranc was a teacher of Anselm. Like Anselm, he was Archbishop of Canterbury at the end of his life. Anyway, Lanfranc listened to Berengarius and he said no, that's not enough. That's not a sufficient account. Grounded as he was in the Fathers, grounded as he was in John chapter 6, Lanfranc of Bec said no, that's not an adequate account of the Eucharistic presence. So there were a series of councils and gatherings. The debate went on and finally in 1059... By the way, Berengarius is eleventh century, born about 1010, dies 1088, just to give you the time period.

In 1059, a council is held. Berengarius' view is condemned and he's made to swear this oath. Here's part of it: "The bread and wine, which are placed on the altar are, after the consecration, not only a sacrament, but the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ". So Berengarius himself is made to swear that oath. This, everybody, is a neuralgic point, and it's a point of demarcation in this great debate. What are we talking about after the consecration? As we look at the elements on the altar, what are we talking about? Do you ever have this experience, you go to a parish and the ministers are taking the ciborium saying, "I'm going to go to bread station four"? "I've got wine station three".

That's what Berengarius would've said. This is bread and wine now with an added symbolic significance. But listen again to the oath. "The bread and wine, which are placed on the altar are, after the consecration, not only a sacrament, but the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ". There's something else. They've changed at a level so fundamental that it's no longer proper to call them bread and wine. Many years ago when I was in the parish, I distributed communion. I was back in my chair, my eyes piously closed in prayer, and I hear this voice. It was the twelve-year-old server saying, "Father, there's a lot of blood over there". What? I thought something cut someone. What he meant was there were a lot of chalices of consecrated wine.

So after the Mass, I congratulated him on his very healthy Catholic sensibility. He was absolutely right. It's not correct to refer to the consecrated species as wine, but indeed, "Father, there's a lot of blood over there". That goes right back to the Berengarian oath. Here's something else from Berengarius. His opponents who won the day insisted there's something more going on in the Eucharist than in the other sacraments. Again, it's not to denigrate in any way the other sacraments. But the claim here is that Berengarius' account might make sense of the other sacraments, Baptism, Confirmation, and so on, when a spiritual virtus or power is added to material elements. But I don't say when I put oil on the forehead of a kid at a Confirmation, I don't say this is no longer oil.

When I pour the water on a child at Baptism, I don't say afterwards this is no longer water. But I do say that in regard to the Eucharistic elements: this is no longer bread, no longer wine, something has changed. So first century, John 6, second to fifth century, those Fathers I looked at. Eleventh Century, the Church says no to Berengarius. Now, let's go two centuries after that, to the thirteenth century, and to my great intellectual hero St.Thomas Aquinas. We can overstate Thomas' importance. He's one voice among many, not more than that. Nevertheless, he's called by the Church the Dr. Communus, the common doctor. He's the doctor we all have in common, because there's something about the depth and breadth of Thomas' reflection that is of permanent importance in the life of the Church.

So it's important for us to pause and look at Thomas' text on the Eucharist. First of all, maybe a word about his personal relationship to the Eucharist, which was profound and intense. They say Thomas would typically celebrate two Masses a day. So the first one he presided at, the second one his assistant presided and Thomas assisted. But they say that he hardly ever got through Mass without shedding copious tears. Now, you're not going to sense that from Thomas' text that can seem very dry and scholastic. But he had this vividly personal relationship to the Eucharist. I've always loved this; his assistant at his canonization proceedings some decades after his death said that Thomas benefited far more from prayer than from study when it came to writing his theology. He said that Thomas would frequently go into a chapel and he would rest his head against the tabernacle begging for inspiration.

Then, of course, I took my motto as a bishop from this, the famous scene toward the end of his life. Thomas had just written the great treatise on the Eucharist from the Summa. He felt, even though it's a masterpiece, Thomas felt it's not done justice to this great sacrament. So he dramatically places that text, the text about the Eucharist, at the foot of the cross. If you go to Naples, they have his cell still there and they have the icon they think that he put the text in front of. Then the wonderful story is that a voice came from the cross, "Thoma, bene scripsisti de me," "Thomas, you've written well of me". Jesus speaking Latin, of course, to Thomas Aquinas. "Thomas you've written well of me. What would you have as a reward"?

Then what he responded to is what I took as my motto as a Bishop, "Non nisi te Domine," "I'll have nothing except you Lord". That's Thomas' relationship to the Eucharistic Christ. Okay. If you're looking for this treatise, it's questions 73 through 83 of the third part of the Summa of Aquinas. So the first part of the Summa is about God and creation. The second part is about the human being and our moral life. The third part is about the Incarnation, Christ, and the sacraments. So Thomas never finished that third part. One of the last things he wrote were these questions on the Eucharist, 73 through 83. I'm going to look just at two places in it for our purposes, something from question 73 and something from question 75.

Okay. In one of the articles in question 73, Thomas asked, Is the Eucharist a sacrament? In his development of his answer, he says some wonderful things. First of all, he says, the Eucharist is best understood as alimentum spirituale. That means spiritual food. Remember, "Padre, per favore". Remember that iconic photo of Bishop Kicanas when the people are reaching through the fence at the border at Mass. They're reaching through like they need this for life. So Thomas says the Eucharist is best understood as alimentum spirituale, it's spiritual food. He says this: Just as Baptism is generatio, it's the generation of spiritual life, as Confirmation is augmentum, that means growth in the spiritual life, so the Eucharist is alimentum, food for the journey. Necessary?

Last time I checked food is necessary for physical life. So this food, necessary for the life of the soul. I had an experience many years ago with a friend, I did a bike trip from Paris to Rome. I was younger in those days. We would do like 70 or 80 miles a day. On that trip, I had my first experience of what they call hitting the wall. I'd read about it but never experienced it. That's when you're going, and then it's not like you're just getting tired, it's like you can't go on. You're so depleted that you can't move. That happened to me somewhere in the south of France and I just had to stop. We always had these big French baguettes in the back of the bike there. I ate one of those and drank water and then was able to go on. That's always stayed vividly in my mind. Alimentum, food for the body, necessary.

So alimentum spirituale, necessary. "Padre, per favore," for the life of the soul. His next observation, I think also good for catechists and for teachers as you present the Eucharist. He says, the Eucharist has three names depending upon its relationship to the dimensions of time. If we look back in time, the Eucharist is called sacrificium, sacrifice, because it embodies the sacrifice of the cross. You look around the present time, Eucharist is called communio because right now it's a communion with Christ and with each other, members of the Mystical Body of Christ. If we look to the future, the Eucharist is called viaticum, because it's food that will take us on our final journey into heaven. Then the great name, he says, is indeed Eucharistia, thanksgiving. Why? Because that's the whole life of heaven. When we are totally Christified in heaven, all we will do is give thanks and praise.

So sacrifice, communion, viaticum, Eucharist, these great names, beautiful stuff. I love this. Is it convenient? Thomas asked. It's a favorite word of his, by the way, just means fitting. Is it fitting that Jesus established the Eucharist? His answer, of course, is yes, just as the emperor, he says, leaves behind his imago in statues and on coins to remind the people of his presence even when he's absent, so Jesus now in heaven, in a way absent from us, leaves behind his great imago, his great image, his great sign of his presence. I love this too and I try to think of it actually whenever I say Mass. Thomas says what someone says and does in the ultimate moments of his or her life is of tremendous power and significance. Let's say you're gathering with someone and they know they're going to be executed the next day. You're gathering with this beloved friend who's facing death. Wouldn't you find written in your heart whatever that friend did and said that night? So, Aquinas says, we attend to everything Jesus said and did but with a very special, intense attention. We watch what he did and said the night before he died, leaving us this imago of himself. Beautiful stuff.

Now, just a glance at question 75. In some ways here, everybody, we're coming to the heart of the matter. John 6, through the Fathers, the anti-Berengarian position. Now, Thomas Aquinas, this great theological mind expressing the Church's faith about the Eucharist. Here's the question he poses. "Whether the body of Christ be in this sacrament in very truth, or merely as in a figure or sign"? Very important now. Think Berengarius, go right back to John 6, and look forward to Flannery O'Connor. If it's only a symbol, I say to hell with it. Listen to Aquinas again. Whether in this sacrament, the Body of Christ is there secundum veritatem, according to truth, or only according to figure or as in a sign. His answer, of course, is he's there secundum veritatem. He's there according to truth. How do we explain it?

Well, here Thomas uses language that I think we shouldn't run from, I think we should love and reverence. He's borrowing it but he's adapting it like crazy. But borrowing it from the Aristotelian philosophy of his time. Thomas speaks here of transubstantiation. I don't know if you have any Simpsons fans here? There's a famous Simpsons episode where Homer becomes a Catholic briefly. Remember he's in catechism class and he's written on his arm, like for the cheat-sheet, "transubstantiation". I've always appreciated that. He also wrote, by the way, "God good, devil bad". He was clear on the basics. But he also had transubstantiation. Okay, what's substance? Can I just propose I think an altogether valid but maybe somewhat easier way to understand this distinction? Substance is the deepest and core reality of something. When I speak of substance, I mean the deepest and core reality of something. What something is, that's the substantia, what stands under.

Now, what does it stand under? It stands under what Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas call accidents. Just a fancy way of saying appearances. That's why later we'll speak of the species, same thing. Species is like the word "spectacle," it means what you see. So Thomas says, in the great act of consecration, the substance of the bread and wine, that is to say their deepest and core reality, change into the Body and the Blood of Jesus, even as the appearances, accidents, species of the bread and wine remain. So what are we talking about after the consecration? Not of bread and wine. We made a grammatical error, a logical error if we refer to them that way. Their core reality has changed, even as their appearances remain unchanged. That's transubstantiation.

What I'm hoping we can all see here is that this is not some alien imposition but rather it's an attempt to articulate what was sensed from John 6 on. The density and reality of what we're talking about. Here's a quick thing I'm going to add here. Thomas asked the question, Well, isn't there a deception involved in the Eucharist and it wouldn't this be unworthy of God to be deceiving us? You say, well, heck, it looks like bread and wine, it tastes like bread and wine, and reacts like bread and wine. So isn't God deceiving us here? His answer is no, there's no deception whatsoever because the senses indeed take in what's there. The accidents, the species, the senses are seeing correctly what's there. But the senses have to be informed by a judgment shaped by faith.

Now, I'll get to some of this at the very end of my talk. I'll try to explain how we can make sense of this. But the point is the senses aren't deceived. Sometimes in my internet ministry when this issue comes up, skeptics of the Catholic position will say, "look, just take the Eucharisti take the host, and put it under a microscope and see what you find out. Has it changed into the flesh of a human being"? Well, anything that can be observed empirically is not what we're talking about here. That's the level of the accidental or of the appearance level. The changes happen at the level of substance, transubstantiation. Here's another image, maybe. Think of the disciples on the road to Emmaus.

Seeing the risen Jesus, taking him in, listening to him, indeed led by him, revealing they know all the data about him. He's a prophet, mighty in word and deed, loved by the people. The elders turned against him, he was crucified. Some say he rose from the dead. They're seeing everything but they're not getting it. They're seeing what's there to be seen but they're not getting to the core reality of who he is. It's only and, of course, how wonderful, that it's in the breaking of the bread that they get, they see who he is. I can't let a talk go by without quoting Bob Dylan. Bob Dylan said, "All he believes are his eyes, but his eyes they just tell him lies". True sometimes. If all we believe are our eyes, all we take in of reality, the species, the appearance level, often we don't get the core reality. The Eucharist operates there. Here's one too of any Bob Dylan fans. There's a super obscure song by Bob Dylan but contains this little line. "I never could learn to drink that blood and call it wine".

Think about that one for a second. Okay. John 6, Church Fathers, the Church saying no to Berengarius. Thomas Aquinas giving a kind of magisterial expression with his language of transubstantiation. Now, go forward three more centuries to the sixteenth century. The great century now of the Protestant-Catholic debates. Martin Luther never liked the doctrine of transubstantiation. Didn't like Thomas Aquinas' approach to it. Luther said the bread and wine are bread and wine after the consecration. But the presence of Christ has been somehow added to them. This is called more technically the impanation or companation theory. This means "in the bread" or "with the bread". That somehow along with the bread has come the presence of Jesus.

That's why more conservative Lutherans to this day will say, "no, we believe in the real presence". They don't believe in transubstantiation. Do you know in the song, it's not one of my favorite songs, but in "Gather Us In," there's a perfectly Lutheran Eucharistic theology. When the line says "the bread that is you". Remember that line? We're addressing the Lord and we say "the bread that is you". But see that's a Lutheran sensibility; but see Catholics, no we balk at that. It's not bread, it's changed. It's not bread to which something has been added, a significance has been added. There's been a change at the most fundamental level.

Think here along with Luther of Ulrich Zwingli, one of the great reforming figures. Zwingli goes right back to Berengarius, it seems to me. Zwingli says look, we're dealing with bread and wine, which take on a symbolic significance. I think if you look at many of the Protestant churches to this day, they'd follow more of that Zwingli and Berengarian approach to it. So the Council of Trent gathers to address the issues raised by the reformers. Can I make a little fervorino in favor of the Council of Trent? When I was coming of age, Vatican II was the cool council and Trent was kind of the uncool council. That's not helpful. I spent many years teaching the Council of Trent when I was in the seminary work. There's this marvelous text on original sin, justification, the sacraments, the Eucharist.

These are people who read the reformers very carefully. They knew Luther and Calvin and Zwingli and the other reformers, and they really engaged them creatively. So don't turn away from Trent. Well, Trent gives us a very pointed teaching on the Eucharist, and it's summed up in what they call eleven canons. I'm just going to look at two of them with you. So these canons are kind of summary statements of the teaching of Trent on the Eucharist. Here's Canon One. "If anyone were to deny that the body, blood, soul, and divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ is contained vere, realiter et substantialiter [truly, really, and substantially] in the sacrament of the most Holy Eucharist but is there only in sign or figure (signo vel figura aut) let him be condemned".

Now, I know we're in post-Vatican II, we don't do things like "let him be condemned," but get to the heart of the teaching. I'll put it in positive terms. We are to say as Catholics that the body, blood, soul, and divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ is contained truly, vere, really, realtier, et substantially, substantialiter in the sacrament of the Most Holy Eucharist, and is not only in sign or figure. Now Flannery O'Connor was saying exactly that. If it's only a sign or figure, that's not what we're talking about. Real, true, and substantial. Here's Canon Two. "If anyone were to say that in the most holy sacrament of the Eucharist the substance of the bread and wine remains with the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ and would deny the marvelous and unique conversion of the entire substance of the bread into the body and of the entire substance of the wine into the blood, the species of bread and wine nevertheless remaining, a conversion that the Catholic Church most aptly calls transubstantiation," anathema sit, "let him be condemned".

So again, this should be familiar from Thomas Aquinas. I'll state it positively. Catholics must hold that the entire substance of the bread and wine are changed, they don't remain. You see what are they going after here but Luther's impanation or companation theory, as though something is added to the bread and wine. No, the bread and wine are no longer there substantially, they've been changed. Trent says aptissime, it's "most aptly" called transubstantiation, this change. Now, mind you, can we come up with another word for it? Yeah, sure. If some very clever theologian can find a way to express this idea, okay. But Trent says aptissime, most aptly it's called transubstantiation.

Now, one more step in this little historical survey, and then I'll get to just an attempt to understand what this is about. First century John 6, two to five the fathers, eleventh Berengarius, thirteenth Thomas Aquinas, sixteenth Council of Trent. Now, twentieth century and St.Pope Paul VI. I had the great privilege, by the way, during the youth synod, I was over there for that. The canonization of Paul VI was a great a thrill to be part of. Remember now we're in the middle of the twentieth century, we're actually during Vatican Council II. There was a very theory at the time that was trying to explain the Eucharist in a way that was more accessible to modern people. Theologians began to speak of trans-signification and trans-finalization rather than transubstantiation. What do I mean? Trans-signification, the significance of the bread and wine change. So now they come to signify the Body and Blood of Jesus.

Trans-finalization means their purpose changes. Their purpose is not now just to nourish the body. Their purpose is to show forth the presence of Jesus. Trans-finalization, trans-signification, two very prominent theories in the 1950s and ‘60s. Paul VI, right during the Vatican Council, said, I got to say something about the Eucharist. He writes a letter called Mysterium Fidei. Comes out, by the way, in the fall of 1965. So just as the final session of Vatican II is underway. Somehow the great pope of Vatican II felt reaffirming the great teaching of the Church on this score was of great importance. Let me give you just one little insight from this letter.

Pope Paul talks about the various modes of Christ's presence to the church. So first of all, nodding vigorously toward the conciliar documents themselves, Paul says, "Christ is present in His church when she prays, since He is the one who ‘prays for us and prays in us and to whom we pray: . . . as our God.'" Beautiful. Whenever we gather to pray, Christ is among us, Christ is present to us. Wherever two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them. So beautiful, Christ is present to the Church when it prays. Secondly, "He is present in the Church as she performs her works of mercy". It's Christ performing those works through the church, terrific. When the church does his great work with the poor, it's Christ who's present, Christ who's active. Yes, indeed. More to it. "He is present in the Church as she preaches," since the Gospel is preached through the authority of Christ.

I used to tell my students at Mundelein that the preacher is not someone talking about Christ. That's a teacher, maybe, professor. The preacher is someone who's become so conformed to Christ that Christ can now preach through him. Right. Authentic preaching is Christ himself addressing his people. Quoting again, "Christ is present in His Church in a still more sublime manner as she offers the Sacrifice of the Mass in His name administers the sacraments". Right, when the priest baptizes or the minister baptizes, it's Christ who baptizes. When the bishop confirms, it's Christ confirming, the anointing of the sick, it's Christ who heals. Quite right. The Mass is Christ acting, Christ speaking, Christ sharing his life. Good. But now, listen to Pope Paul. However, there is a still higher, more sublime, and indeed unsurpassable manner in which Christ is present to his Church. This is the Eucharistic presence.

Listen now. "This presence is called real the real presence by which is not intended to exclude all other types of presence as if they could not be real too, but because it is present in the fullest sense that is to say substantial presence and through it Christ becomes whole and in entire present". Thank you on behalf of the Lord, Jesus Christ. Good. Now, think about this for a second, everybody. This is I think a very helpful framework. Think of someone maybe who has read an article that I wrote twenty years ago. That person is going to sense my presence but in a very sort of mitigated way. They'll sense something of what I was thinking about twenty years ago. Now, think of someone who's listened to an audio of me giving a talk. Well, that's a more intense sense of my presence.

Now, someone watches a video and they see an image of me as I talk, that's an even more intense. Then there's someone that comes in person and sees me talk. Now, they're sensing the real presence of me, right, there I am. Well, so Pope Paul is saying we have these levels of intensity of Christ's presence. But the unsurpassable one is the Eucharistic presence, really, truly, and substantially present. Okay, now I'm going to close but I see everybody... I wanted to lead us and I hope it wasn't too tedious a journey. But my purpose in that was to show the consistency of this teaching from John 6 to Paul VI, from the first century to the twentieth century, the consistency of this teaching of the real presence. Okay. How can we begin to make sense of it?

Again, I'll keep this brief, I promise. Here's a line from the Council of Trent that I have always loved. How does Christ become really present, how? The answer, vi verborum, Trent's Latin for "by the power of the words". "by the power of the words". Words, they can be descriptive. So someone says to me tomorrow, "Hey, what was it like at the LA Congress"? "It was great. I give a talk in the arena, there were, I don't know, five thousand people there. This happened, that happened". My words there are just describing reality. Reality's out there and it's impressing itself on me. Now I'm describing it with my language. However, language can also be active and transformative. You're in a baseball game and the runner comes around second base and slides headfirst into third. You're in the stands and you go "safe"!

Well, that's just you expressing your point of view. But there's an umpire in front of you on the field, deputized by the national league, who says "you're out". Well, like it or not, that runner is out. That language "you're out" was not just expressive or descriptive, it was transformative. It changed reality. Think of a parent who when you were a little kid said something that was so encouraging that it changed your whole life. That reached into your heart in such a way that you started living your life differently because of that language. That was not just descriptive language, That was creative and transformative language. It changed your being. Flip it around, we've all had this. Someone said something so cruel to you, so hurtful that it changed you in a negative way for years. Am I right? That's not just descriptive, that's deeply transformative language.

Okay. So our little language, our little words can change reality. They really can. But now, think of God's word, vi verborum, by the power of the words. How does God make the world in the great symbolic language of the book of Genesis? God makes the world through an act of speech: "Let there be light," and there was light. "Let the earth come forth," and so it happened. "Let the land appear," and so on and so forth. "Let it teem with living things," and so it happened. God's word is not descriptive, it's creative. God speaks the world into being. Now, if you want to get a little more theologically exact about that, it means that God imbues all of things with their intelligible structure, God speaks them into being. How does the Prophet Isaiah express this?

"As the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there until without watering the earth. So my word goes forth from me and is not returned in vain". God's word changes, it effects, it makes happen. Now, who's Jesus? How important, everybody, to go back not to John 6 but to John chapter 1? "In the beginning was the Word," the Word by which God makes all reality. That Word becomes flesh. Therefore, are we surprised that Jesus' word has a transformative power? How beautiful that story of the little girl get up, the daughter of Jairus? They keep the Aramaic of Jesus. I love that because they clearly remember that so vividly: "Talitha cumi," "Talitha cumi," "little girl, get up". And she got up. Why? Why? What God says is. "Lazarus come out," and the dead man came out. Why? What God says is. "My son, your sins are forgiven you".

How scandalous that was, by the way, right? Who does he think he is? What God says is. "Pick up your mat and walk," and so it happened. See, everybody, if Jesus is just one spiritual teacher among many, he's one great religious figure. Okay, fine. But there's a thousand of those. The claim of the Church is he's not just one human figure among many but is the Word made flesh. The very embodiment of God's transformative and creative word. Okay. The night before he dies, that Jesus took bread, the Passover bread, and said, "This is my body". Taking the cup later in the meal, "This is the chalice of my blood". If that's a human being, a great hero, a philosopher, a social reformer saying it, you can say all right, great, he's using symbolic talk.

But who's saying that? The Word made flesh, the Word whose speech, listen now, constitutes reality at the deepest level. Just as God spoke you into being, so Jesus speaks his presence into being under the appearances of bread and wine. Joseph Ratzinger put it this way: The Word seizes the bread and wine at the very root and core of their being and changes them into his Body and Blood. Here's an interesting moment. Now, priests in the room, we can get too routine about the Mass sometimes. It's a very interesting thing that happens in the institution narratives. The night before he died, Jesus took bread, etc. Notice how we're in the third person, we're describing what happened. But then a transition takes place. Jesus took bread, broke it, gave it to his disciples, saying… Priests now listen.

We move into his very identity at that point. We now commence to speak in the first person, saying, "take this all of you and eat of it, for this is my Body which will be given up for you". We speak in persona Christi. We speak in the very words of Jesus, which is why they have the transformative power that they have. If it was just Robert Barron telling the story of Jesus from long ago, who cares? But now, speaking the very words of Jesus as someone ordained to operate in persona Christi, that's why the Church claims those words have the transformative power that they do.

Okay, I'm going to bring it to a close. There's, obviously, an infinity more we could say about this great sacrament, the chief of the sacraments. But maybe I'll give a final word to a philosopher I don't like but he said something kind of cool. Namely, Ludwig Feuerbach, the founder of modern atheism. But Feuerbach said, "You are what you eat". "Der mensch ist was er isst". It's a little pun in German too, the man is what he eats.

Well, that's true, isn't it? The Church Fathers got this; the Church Fathers, as I mentioned, got this in their bones. If we are what we eat, then as we eat and drink the Body and Blood of Jesus, not just vague symbols of our own concoction. If it's only that, to hell with it, but if we eat and drink the very Body and Blood of Jesus, we become what we eat. We become conformed to him. We become Christified. That's why the doctrine of the real presence matters so much and why especially people in this room should make it a very high priority to teach it and teach it and teach it to the next generation. God bless everybody. Thanks for listening today.
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