OCTOBER 30, 2020 BY REV. KENNETH M. DOS SANTOS, MIC
Is the Eucharist the Real Presence — Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity — of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, or is the Blessed Sacrament a mere symbol of the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ?
This question is central to the Roman Catholic Faith and yet we are aware of surveys and statistics which suggest that many self-professed Catholics believe that when they receive the Eucharist during the Sacred Mass, what they are receiving is merely a symbol and not the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity, of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Shouldn’t any belief we hold have a clear basis in Truth? And who among us professes to be Truth Itself? “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me.”1 Mindful of this fact, is it not proper to begin with the veracity of the One Who speaks these words to us?
Do we believe, in the depths of our hearts, that Jesus Christ is God — the Way, the Truth, and the Life — and, because He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, that no one comes to the Father but through Him? If we do, then we must necessarily believe in a First Principle or Universal Cause, the One True God from which all of creation emanated as St. Thomas Aquinas explains within the Summa Theologica, Prima Pars, q. 45, a. 1: “[W]e must consider not only the emanation of a particular being from a particular agent, but also the emanation of all being from the universal cause, which is God; and this emanation we designate by the name of creation. Now what proceeds by particular emanation, is not presupposed to that emanation; as when a man is generated, he was not before, but man is made from not-man, and white from not-white. Hence if the emanation of the whole universal being from the first principle be considered, it is impossible that any being should be presupposed before this emanation. For nothing is the same as no being. Therefore as the generation of a man is from the not-being which is not-man, so creation, which is the emanation of all being, is from the not-being which is nothing.”2
Here, it is important to realize that God exists outside of all time and creation. He simply exists — nothing created Him. Thus, God is the First Principle — He created the world, time and all matter that we experience around us ex nihilo (out of nothing). Men can indeed fashion and manipulate matter, or that which has been created by God, but they will always be unable to create something out of nothing.
This should move us to consider, where does the ability to discern with our intellect originate in the first place? The fact that we are able to discern anything — right from wrong, good from bad — necessarily means that this ability originates with a fullness, or source: God Himself. This points to a “spiritual principle,” or soul, created immediately by God and infused at our conception, after which the body becomes a living human being: “The Church teaches that every spiritual soul is created immediately by God — it is not ‘produced’ by the parents — and also that it is immortal: it does not perish when it separates from the body at death, and it will be reunited with the body at the final Resurrection”3 (cf. Pius XII, Humani Generis: DS 3896; Paul VI, CPG § 8; Lateran Council V (1513): DS 1440). “The unity of soul and body is so profound that one has to consider the soul to be the ‘form’ of the body: (cf. Council of Vienne (1312): DS 902) i.e., it is because of its spiritual soul that the body made of matter becomes a living, human body; spirit and matter, in man, are not two natures united, but rather their union forms a single nature.”4
Just as every human being is given life through the gift of a “spiritual principle” or soul, the human soul is uniquely rational, able to engage in activities such as understanding and volition which do not depend upon the physical body (matter). Also, a human soul is unique in that it persists (continues to exist) following the death of the body. Contrary to this, the soul of a brute animal has only sensitive, appetitive and locomotive faculties, and its soul ceases to exist when the animal perishes.
In keeping with this concept, and the previously discussed thought — that we receive all things from a fullness or source — the Truth must not only correspond with God; God must necessarily be Truth Itself: “[T]ruth is found in the intellect according as it apprehends a thing as it is; and in things according as they have being conformable to an intellect. This is to the greatest degree found in God. For His being is not only conformed to His intellect, but it is the very act of His intellect; and His act of understanding is the measure and cause of every other being and of every other intellect, and He Himself is His own existence and act of understanding. Whence it follows not only that truth is in Him, but that He is truth itself, and the sovereign and first truth.”5
Thus, if God is Truth Itself, and, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is God, then we must accept with firm belief the veracity of what He expresses through the Deposit of the Faith, through Scripture and Tradition. And, to recognize that Christ has sent us an Advocate: “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always, the Spirit of truth, which the world cannot accept, because it neither sees nor knows it. But you know it, because it remains with you, and will be in you.”6 “For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with might through his Spirit in the inner man, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have power to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fulness of God.”7
The Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks of these realities in paragraph 156: “What moves us to believe is not the fact that revealed truths appear as true and intelligible in the light of our natural reason: we believe ‘because of the authority of God himself who reveals them, who can neither deceive nor be deceived’ (cf. Dei Filius 3: DS 3008). So ‘that the submission of our faith might nevertheless be in accordance with reason, God willed that external proofs of his Revelation should be joined to the internal helps of the Holy Spirit’ (cf. Dei Filius 3: DS 3009). Thus the miracles of Christ and the saints, prophecies, the Church’s growth and holiness, and her fruitfulness and stability ‘are the most certain signs of divine Revelation, adapted to the intelligence of all’; they are ‘motives of credibility’ (motiva credibilitatis), which show that the assent of faith is ‘by no means a blind impulse of the mind’ (cf. Dei Filius 3: DS 3008-3010; cf. Mk 16:20; Heb 2:4).”8
Accordingly, when Christ institutes the Eucharist, His Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity, during the course of the Last Supper, and ordains the Apostles priests, we must concede that He is speaking the Truth: “And he said to them, ‘I have earnestly desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer; for I tell you I shall not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.’ And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said, ‘Take this, and divide it among yourselves; for I tell you that from now on I shall not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.’ And he took bread, and when he had given thanks he broke it and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ And likewise the cup after supper, saying, ‘This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. But behold the hand of him who betrays me is with me on the table. For the Son of man goes as it has been determined; but woe to that man by whom he is betrayed!’”9
And, in 1562, the Council of Trent definitively affirmed this Truth within its Twenty-Second Session: “CANON II. – If any one saith, that by those words, Do this for the commemoration of me (Luke xxii. 19), Christ did not institute the apostles priests; or, did not ordain that they, and other priests should offer His own body and blood; let him be anathema.”10
At the Last Supper, Jesus indeed ordained the Apostles priests to carry out His ministry, to confect, and offer, His Body and Blood for the good of all the faithful. Christ ordained men to the ministerial priesthood; it was His choice. But what can be said about the reasoning behind this decision?
Sr. Sara Butler considers this question in her book The Catholic Priesthood and Women. In fact, she begins with the thought of St. John Paul II within his Apostolic Letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis. Specifically, Butler highlights article 4 of the document in which St. John Paul II “pronounces a solemn judgment: ‘the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women,’” and that “this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church’s faithful.”11 Why does Butler begin here? To demonstrate that there can be no debate about this fact; the Roman Catholic Church has no authority to confer priestly ordination on women, period. This is the reality now, always and forever.
How can this be the case? St. John Paul II asserts that from the beginning, the Tradition of the Church has always been to reserve priestly ordination to men and that this priestly ordination: “hands on the office entrusted by Christ to his Apostles of teaching, sanctifying and governing the faithful.”12 This is to say that the choice or intention of Christ was to hand on the office of teaching, sanctifying, and governing, to men, specifically through priestly ordination. And not only can it be definitively said that Christ instituted the Sacrament of Holy Orders, but that His intention was that the priesthood be known through “the mission he gave the Twelve, and that this office is passed on in apostolic succession.”13 St. Thomas Aquinas affirms this fact, that God’s providence has determined what will be used for the sanctification of man: “In the use of the sacraments two things may be considered, namely, the worship of God, and the sanctification of man: the former of which pertains to man as referred to God, and the latter pertains to God in reference to man. Now it is not for anyone to determine that which is in the power of another, but only that which is in his own power. Since, therefore, the sanctification of man is in the power of God Who sanctifies, it is not for man to decide what things should be used for his sanctification, but this should be determined by Divine institution. Therefore in the sacraments of the New Law, by which man is sanctified according to 1 Cor. vi.11, ‘You are washed, you are sanctified,’ we must use those things which are determined by Divine institution.”14
We as human beings are able to control only what is within our own power. We do not have the authority to determine what is within the power of another. And since it is God Who sanctifies man, it is within His Power to determine that which should be used for man’s sanctification. This is determined by Divine Institution, and it is not within the power or authority of man to change what is determined by Divine Institution. Hence, if Christ has instituted the Sacrament of Holy Orders as being conferred only on men, it is not up to mankind or the authority structures of the Roman Catholic Church to change this. The Code of Canon Law validates this teaching within Canon 1024: “A baptized male alone receives sacred ordination validly.”15
Although it has been firmly established that Christ instituted the Sacrament of Holy Orders and it was His intention to reserve the Holy Priesthood to men, we will consider further theological and sacramental realities which ensure this assertion. The first thought Butler summarizes is found in a Declaration of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, entitled Inter Insigniores: “First, the priest acts ‘in the person of Christ’ (in persona Christi) in certain sacramental functions. Second, the formula in persona Christi implies that the priest is himself a ‘sign,’ as understood in sacramental theology. And third, because he is a sign of Christ, who was and remains a man (vir), it is fitting that the priest be a man.”16 This is to say, that the priest is a sign of Christ, who stands in persona Christi, with regard to a valid confection of the Eucharist and in giving absolution within the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Thus, it is most fitting that the priest be a man. This is because sacramental theology demands that the sign signify the reality that underlies it. Christ was and remains a man; therefore, a man must be the sign that signifies Him. Butler confirms this concept with the words of St. Thomas Aquinas: “‘Sacramental signs represent what they signify by natural resemblance…’ (cf. Inter insigniores, sec. 5). With St. Thomas, it assumes that the priest himself functions as a sign, and that natural correspondence of gender has a part to play in this signification. As a result of the properly celebrated sacramental rite, the man himself becomes a ‘sacrament,’ that is, a sign, ‘image,’ or icon of Christ.”17
That gender has a part to play in the signification coincides with what St. Thomas asserts in the Summa Theologica Supplement, question 39, article 1: “Certain things are required in the recipient of a sacrament as being requisite for the validity of a sacrament, and if such things be lacking, one can receive neither the sacrament nor the reality of the sacrament. Other things, however, are required, not for the validity of the sacrament, but for its lawfulness, as being congruous to the sacrament; and without these one receives the sacrament, but not the reality of the sacrament. Accordingly we must say that the male sex is required for receiving Orders not only in the second, but also in the first way.”18
What then are some of the requirements to receive the Sacrament of Holy Orders? That the candidate be a baptized male at least 25 years of age; that he be free from all of the impediments to ordination listed in the Code of Canon Law; that he accept the sacrament of his own free will; and that it has been established that he has successfully completed all of the required studies and preparations for ordination. What is absolutely essential to the sacrament, is that the ordinand be ordained by a bishop in the unbroken line of Apostolic Succession; that the bishop lay his hands on the ordinand’s head; and that he pray the Prayer of Ordination over him: “112 Through the laying on of hands by the Bishop and the Prayer of Ordination, the gift of the Holy Spirit for the priestly office is conferred on the candidates. The following words pertain to the nature of the reality effected and are consequently required for the validity of the act: ‘Grant, we pray, Almighty Father, to these, your servants, the dignity of the priesthood; renew deep within them the Spirit of holiness; may they henceforth possess this office which comes from you, O God, and is next in rank to the office of Bishop; and by the example of their manner of life, may they instill right conduct.’ Together with the Bishop, the priests present lay hands on the candidates to signify incorporation into the presbyterate.”19
As Christ speaks the truth concerning the Holy Priesthood, so also when He speaks of the Eucharist: “‘Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that a man may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.’ The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’ So Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me. This is the bread which came down from heaven, not such as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live for ever.’”20
Christ means exactly what He states and this is highlighted further in what precedes His statement: Truly, truly, I say to you. [U]nless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.
It is true both that to have life within, one must receive the Body and Blood of Christ, and that he who receives in Faith the Body and Blood of Christ has Eternal Life. But what does this mean in all truth? Just as there is a proper matter required for the reception of the Sacrament of Holy Orders, there is also a proper matter required for the Sacrament of Holy Communion. St. Thomas speaks about these requirements in ST III, q. 74, a. 1: “Some have fallen into various errors about the matter of this sacrament. Some, known as the Artotyrytae, as Augustine says (De Haeres. xxviii), offer bread and cheese in this sacrament, contending that oblations were celebrated by men in the first ages, from fruits of the earth and sheep. Others, called Cataphrygae and Pepuziani, are reputed to have made their Eucharistic bread with infants’ blood drawn from tiny punctures over the entire body, and mixed with flour. Others, styled Aquarii, under guise of sobriety, offer nothing but water in this sacrament. Now all these and similar errors are excluded by the fact that Christ instituted this sacrament under the species of bread and wine, as is evident from Matth. xxvi. Consequently, bread and wine are the proper matter of this sacrament.”21
St. Thomas asserts that because Jesus Christ the Son of God instituted the Eucharist using the species of bread and wine, these have become the proper matter of the Sacrament. Again, it is not for man to decide what things should be used for his sanctification. Yet St. Thomas goes further in ST III, q. 74, a. 3, ad. 4 to specify what can be considered proper matter as it concerns the wheaten bread used for the Eucharist: “Sometimes there is such corruption of the bread that the species of bread is lost, as when the continuity of its parts is destroyed, and the taste, color, and other accidents are changed; hence the body of Christ may not be made from such matter. But sometimes there is not such corruption as to alter the species, but merely disposition towards corruption, which a slight change in the savor betrays, and from such bread the body of Christ may be made: but he who does so, sins from irreverence towards the sacrament. And because starch comes of corrupted wheat, it does not seem as if the body of Christ could be made of the bread made therefrom, although some hold the contrary.”22
Here, it is clear that a specific substance, wheaten bread, is required for a valid confection of the Eucharist, and that this substance must be pure, free from all foreign substances. Not only is this well-defined, but it is also established that the wheat used for the bread must itself be free of corruption.
St. Thomas goes further to specify the matter, or wine, which must be used in order to validly confect the blood of Christ: “This sacrament can only be performed with wine from the grape. First of all on account of Christ’s institution, since He instituted this sacrament in wine from the grape, as is evident from His own words, in instituting this sacrament (Matth. xxvi. 29): I will not drink from henceforth of this fruit of the vine. Secondly, because, as stated above (A. 3), that is adopted as the matter of the sacraments which is properly and universally considered as such.”23 The Code of Canon Law corroborates what has been stated above in Canon 924: “§1. The most holy eucharistic sacrifice must be offered with bread and with wine in which a little water must be mixed. §2. The bread must be only wheat and recently made so that there is no danger of spoiling. §3. The wine must be natural from the fruit of the vine and not spoiled.”24
If this level of specificity has been maintained since the institution of the Church Itself —first, concerning the Sacraments, all of which Christ instituted Himself, and second, concerning the proper matter required to validly receive the Sacraments — obligations are implied for us. We must recognize that it is equally important for the validly ordained priest or bishop not only to have the proper “intention” in mind — that the Sacrament be brought about as the Church intends — but also that he prays the corresponding form or (prayer) associated with the proper matter of that Sacrament. I.e., as concerns the Sacrament of Holy Orders, there must be the laying on of hands by the bishop followed by the Prayer of Ordination (form), prayed over the ordinand a man (matter). And, as concerns the Sacrament of the Eucharist, we need the Words of Institution (form), prayed by the validly ordained priest over the bread and wine (matter) during the Sacred Mass.
Why is the Roman Catholic Church so specific as concerns the Sacraments? Precisely because through the Sacraments God’s grace is imparted to us. The Sacrament of the Eucharist is confected. The Blessed Sacrament is not just a symbol of the Body and Blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, but, through Transubstantiation, the elements become His Real and True Presence — Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity: “The Council of Trent summarizes the Catholic faith by declaring: ‘Because Christ our Redeemer said that it was truly his body that he was offering under the species of bread, it has always been the conviction of the Church of God, and this holy Council now declares again, that by the consecration of the bread and wine there takes place a change of the whole substance of the bread into the substance of the body of Christ our Lord and of the whole substance of the wine into the substance of his blood. This change the holy Catholic Church has fittingly and properly called transubstantiation’ (cf. Council of Trent (1551): DS 1642; cf. Mt 26:26 ff.; Mk 14:22 ff.; Lk 22:19 ff.; 1 Cor 11:24 ff).”25
How could this change take place, the whole substance of bread into the Body of Christ and the whole substance of wine into the Blood of Christ, if the priest did not validly receive the Sacrament of Holy Orders? If there is no validity within the Sacrament of Holy Orders, there will not be validity in the Sacraments which require a ministerial priest — Sacraments that, through the ministry of the Church, lead us to our final end, beatitude with God in Eternal Bliss. Without the grace mediated to us by God through the cooperation of the validly ordained priest, we would not have the help we need to attain salvation.
This is the way in which Christ fulfills the promise recorded at the end of the Gospel of Matthew, wherein He assures us that He will be with us until the end of time. He remains with us through the power of the Holy Spirit, sacramentally, through His Real and True Presence in the Eucharist, and with the grace that comes through all of the Sacraments:
That in this sacrament are the true Body of Christ and his true Blood is something that “cannot be apprehended by the senses,” says St. Thomas, “but only by faith, which relies on divine authority.” For this reason, in a commentary on Luke 22:19 (‘This is my body which is given for you.”), St. Cyril says: “Do not doubt whether this is true, but rather receive the words of the Savior in faith, for since he is the truth, he cannot lie” (cf. St. Thomas Aquinas, STh III, 75, 1; cf. Paul VI, MF 18; St. Cyril of Alexandria, In Luc. 22, 19: PG 72, 912; cf. Paul VI, MF 18).
Godhead here in hiding, whom I do adore,
Masked by these bare shadows, shape and nothing more,
See, Lord, at thy service low lies here a heart
Lost, all lost in wonder at the God thou art.
Seeing, touching, tasting are in thee deceived;
How says trusty hearing? that shall be believed;
What God’s Son has told me, take for truth I do;
Truth himself speaks truly or there’s nothing true.
(cf. St. Thomas Aquinas (attr.), Adoro te devote; tr. Gerard Manley Hopkins).26
- Catholic Biblical Association (Great Britain). The Holy Bible: Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition, Translated from the Original Tongues, Being the Version Set Forth A.D. 1611, Old and New Testaments Revised A.D. 1881-1885 and A.D. 1901 (Apocrypha Revised A.D. 1894), Compared with the Most Ancient Authorities and Revised A.D. 1952 (Apocrypha Revised A.D. 1957). Catholic ed. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1994. Jn. 14:6.
- Thomas, and Dominican Province, Summa Theologica: First Complete American Edition in Three Volumes (New York: Benziger, 1947), ST I, q. 45, a. 1.
- Catholic Church. Catechism of the Catholic Church: Revised in Accordance with the Official Latin Text Promulgated by Pope John Paul II. 2nd ed. Vatican City. Washington, DC: Libreria Editrice Vaticana; United States Catholic Conference, 1997., p. 366.
- Catechism of the Catholic Church, p. 366.
- Thomas, vol I., ST I, q. 16, a. 5.
- Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Catholic Church, United States Catholic Conference, and Catholic Book Publishing Co. 2011. Saint Joseph Edition of the New American Bible, Jn. 14:16-17.
- RSV, Ep. 3:14-19.
- CCC, p. 156.
- RSV, Lk. 22:15-22.
- Council Fathers. 1562. Council of Trent. Twenty-Second Session. On the Sacrifice of the Mass. Canon II. Papal Encyclicals Online. www.papalencyclicals.net/councils/trent/twenty-second-session.htm.
- Sara Butler, The Catholic Priesthood and Women: a Guide to the Teaching of the Church (Chicago: Hillenbrand Books, 2006), 2. Quoting Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, a. 4.
- Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, a. 1.
- Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, a. 1.
- Thomas, vol II., ST III, q. 60, a. 5.
- Canon Law Society of America, 2012. Code of Canon Law: Latin-English edition. Washington, D.C.: Canon Law Society of America, can. 1024.
- Butler, The Catholic Priesthood and Women, p. 79.
- Butler, The Catholic Priesthood and Women, 81. Inter insigniores. Sec. 5., as quoting Saint Thomas, In IV Sent., dist. 25 q. 2, quaestiuncula 1a ad 4um.
- Thomas, vol III., ST Suppl. q. 39, a. 1.
- Catholic Church, Rites of ordination of a bishop, of priests, and of deacons (Washington, D.C.: United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2003), p. 112.
- RSV, Jn. 6:47–58.
- Thomas, vol. II, ST III, q. 74, a. 1.
- Thomas, vol II., ST III, q. 74, a. 3, ad. 4.
- Thomas, vol II., ST III, q. 74, a. 5.
- CIC, can. 924.
- CCC, 1376.
- CCC, 1381.
About Rev. Kenneth M. Dos Santos, MIC
Rev. Kenneth M. Dos Santos, MIC, is a member of the Congregation of Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception and was ordained a priest in 2010. He is currently serving as Provincial Secretary for the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of Mercy Province, located in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. He holds a BA in Philosophy from Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio, and an MDiv from the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, DC.