Catholic Culture News
Catholic Culture News

The Sacrament of the Eucharist

by Rev. G. D. Smith, D.D., Ph.D.


Covers the Eucharist in Dogma, Scripture, Tradition, Transubstantiation, The Eucharistic Presence, The Sacrament and Its Use and The Effects of the Sacrament

Larger Work

The Teaching of the Catholic Church (Vol. 2)



Publisher & Date

The Macmillan Company, 1950



The Eucharistic Dogma

The Eucharist in Scripture

The Eucharist in Tradition


The Eucharistic Presence

The Sacrament and Its Use

The Effects of the Sacrament


By sacrifice man offers himself and his life to God, his sovereign Lord and Creator; by the sacraments God gives himself, he gives a participation of his own divine life, to man. In sacrifice a stream of homage flows from man to the eternal Source of all being; by the sacraments grace, sanctification, descends in copious flood upon the souls of men. This twofold stream, from God to man and from man to God, flows swift and strong in the Eucharist, sacrament and sacrifice. As the culminating act in the life of Jesus Christ on earth was the sacrifice which he offered on Calvary to his eternal Father, so the central act of Catholic worship in the Church, the mystical body of Christ, is the Eucharistic sacrifice, the Mass, which he instituted to be a perpetual commemoration and renewal of it. Likewise, just as it was through the sacred humanity of Christ that God mercifully designed to transmit to us the divine life of grace, so the sacrament of the Eucharist, which truly contains that living and life-giving humanity, holds the principal place among the sacraments instituted by Christ for our sanctification.

Truly, really and substantially present upon the altar under the appearances of bread and wine, Christ our High Priest offers himself, the infinite Victim, to his Father through the ministry of his priests. This is indeed a sacrifice unto the odor of sweetness, in which Christ, God and man, offers to his Father an infinite adoration, a prayer of unbounded efficacy, propitiation and satisfaction superabundantly sufficient for the sins of all mankind, thanksgiving in a unique manner proportionate to God's unstinted generosity to men. And then, as if it were in munificent answer to this infinitely pleasing gift which through Christ man has made to God, there comes God's best gift to man: the all-holy Victim, divinely accepted and ratified, is set before men to be their heavenly food. Through Christ we have given ourselves to God. Through Christ God gives his own life to us, that we may be made partakers of his divinity. The victim of the Eucharistic sacrifice, offered to man under the form of food, is the august sacrament of the Eucharist.

"This sacrament," we read in the Catechism of the Council of Trent, "must be truly said to be the source of all graces, because it contains in a wonderful way Christ our Lord, the source of every heavenly gift and blessing and the author of all the sacraments; this sacrament is the source from which the other sacraments derive whatever goodness and perfection they possess." The unique place which the Eucharist occupies among the sacraments was clearly indicated in the early liturgy, and may still be seen even in the practice of the Church at the present day. It was the custom in the early centuries of the Church to administer the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation on the night of Holy Saturday just before the Easter Mass. The reconciliation of sinners with the Church by Penance took place on Maundy Thursday during the celebration of the Sacrifice. The sacrament of Matrimony—as well as Holy Order—has always been, and still is, solemnly administered during Mass; and it is during the Mass of Maundy Thursday that the oil used in Extreme Unction is consecrated. All the sacraments, therefore, in their administration are closely connected with the Eucharist, the .source from which all derive their efficacy.

Hence hardly anything that we might say to stress the importance of the Eucharist would be an exaggeration. The Eucharist is the centre of the Christian life as Christ is the central figure of the Christian religion. The priests of the Church are ordained, not primarily to preach the gospel, not merely to comfort the sick with the consoling truths of religion, not merely to take the lead in works of social improvement, but to offer the sacrifice of the Mass, to consecrate the Eucharist. If Catholics in the past—and in the present, too—have thought nothing in art, riches, and architecture too beautiful to lavish upon their churches, it is because the Catholic Church is the house of the king of kings, the home of Christ, truly present in the sacrament of the Eucharist. If Catholics, even the poorest, are ready to deprive themselves even of the comforts of life in order to support their clergy, it is because they believe that at all costs the sacrifice of the Mass must continue to be offered, the sacrament of the Eucharist, the food of Christian souls, must ever be administered. Devotion to the Eucharist is not an incidental pious practice of Catholics; it is of the very essence of the Catholic life.

The fundamental doctrine of the Eucharist is that Christ is truly, really, and substantially present therein, and to the doctrine of the Real Presence much of this short essay will be devoted. When once this has been grasped, the rest follows as a matter of course; the effects of the sacrament, its necessity, its constitutive elements, the reverence due to it, the Eucharistic practice of the Church, all this is but a necessary consequence of the stupendous truth that as a result of the words of consecration the living body and blood of Christ are present in this sacrament under the appearances of bread and wine.

Since at the present day—and it has ever been so—non-Catholics commonly use Catholic terms, giving them a meaning which is entirely subversive of Catholic truth, it will be well, before examining its scriptural and traditional foundation, to explain what is meant by the Catholic doctrine of the Real Presence. It will then be shown that this doctrine, as defined by the Council of Trent and taught by the Church today, is none other than the teaching of Christ himself and his Apostles, none other than the Eucharistic dogma which has been handed down to us infallibly by the Tradition of the Catholic Church. Necessarily involved in the doctrine of the Real Presence is the dogma of Transubstantiation, to which special attention will be devoted, because here we reach the heart of the Eucharistic mystery, and in this unique and wonderful conversion of the substance of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ is to be found the root of all that theologians tell us concerning the mysterious manner of Christ's presence in the Eucharist. The remaining sections will deal with the sacrament considered formally as such, with its reception and its effects.


The reader who has studied with attention the other essays of this work will have observed that, generally speaking, in the history of the doctrines of the Catholic Church three stages may be distinguished. There is first a period during which the truth is in serene and undisputed possession; then follows a period of discussion when the truth is attacked by heretics, a period which usually culminates in a solemn definition of the Church by which the meaning of revelation is put beyond all possibility of misunderstanding. The doctrine of the real presence had indeed been attacked before the sixteenth century, but never had it been so fundamentally and categorically denied as it was by the heretics of the Reform. Already St Paul had pointed out that the Eucharist is the symbol and the cause of ecclesiastical unity;1 St Ignatius of Antioch appealed on the same grounds to the Docetists of the first century to avoid schisms, and "to use one Eucharist, for one is the flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ and one the chalice unto the communion of his blood; one is the altar, and one its bishop together with the priests and deacons."2 It is not surprising, therefore, that the great schism of the Protestants should have been inaugurated by a vehement attack upon the sacrament of our Lord's Body and Blood. The Council of Trent3 in condemning the errors of the Reformers has given us a clear and unequivocal statement of the Eucharistic dogma, which we cannot do better than reproduce here, with appropriate commentary.

"In the first place the holy Synod teaches . . . that in the precious (almo)4 sacrament of the holy Eucharist, after the consecration of the bread and wine, our Lord Jesus Christ, true God and true man, is truly, really and substantially contained under the species of those sensible things." The three words, "truly, really and substantially," are used by the Council with a definite purpose of rejecting three Protestant views concerning the presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Zwingli held that his presence was only figurative: "Just as a man about to set out on a journey might give to his wife a most precious ring upon which his portrait is engraved, saying, 'Behold your husband; thus you may keep him and delight in him even though he is absent,' so our Lord Jesus Christ, as he departed, left to his spouse the Church his own image in the sacrament of the supper."5 As opposed to this figurative presence, the Council describes the presence of Christ as true. Others taught that Christ is present by faith; the sacraments, they held, have no other effect than that of arousing faith in Christ, especially, however, the Eucharist, since it is a memorial of what Christ did on the last night before his death. The Council excludes this view by calling the presence of Christ real, i.e. independent of the faith of the recipient of the sacrament. Finally Calvin taught that Christ is present in this sacrament virtually, that is, inasmuch as he exercises his sanctifying power in the Eucharist. As against this doctrine the Council teaches that Christ is substantially present in this sacrament.

The faith of the Church in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist rests upon the words which he used at the Last Supper, words which have ever been interpreted by Catholic Tradition in this sense. "For thus all our forefathers, as many as were in the true Church of Christ, who have treated of this most holy Sacrament, have most openly professed, that our Redeemer instituted this so admirable a sacrament at the Last Supper when, after the blessing of the bread and wine, he testified in express and clear words that he gave them his own very Body and his own Blood." From the words of Christ it follows not only that his presence in the Eucharist is real, but also that it is permanent. The body and blood of Christ are contained in this sacrament not only in the moment in which it is received by the faithful but independently of its administration. "The most holy Eucharist," we read in Chapter III of the Decree, "has indeed this in common with the rest of the sacraments, that it is a symbol of a sacred thing, and is a visible form of an invisible grace; but there is found in the Eucharist this excellent and peculiar thing, that the other sacraments have then first the power of sanctifying when one uses them, whereas in the Eucharist, before it is used, there is contained the Author of sanctity. For the Apostles had not as yet received the Eucharist from the hand of the Lord, when nevertheless he himself affirmed with truth that what he presented to them was his own body." The permanence of the presence of Christ is thus asserted by the Council against the error of Luther who, although he admitted the real presence, held that it began and ended with the reception of the sacrament by the faithful.

But from the fact that the Eucharist is called the sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ it should not be concluded that only his body and blood are contained therein. In this sacrament are present the living body and blood of Christ; therefore also his soul which gives them life, therefore also the divine nature which is indissolubly united with his sacred humanity. "This faith has ever been in the Church of God, that, immediately after the consecration, the veritable Body of our Lord and his veritable Blood, together with his soul and divinity, are under the species of bread and wine; the Body indeed under the species of bread and the blood under the species of wine by the force of the words; but the body itself under the species of wine and the blood under the species of bread, and the soul under each, by the force of that natural connection and concomitance by which the parts of our Lord 'who hath now risen from the dead, to die no more,' are united together; and the divinity furthermore on account of the admirable hypostatic union thereof with his body and soul. Wherefore . . . Christ whole and entire is under the species of bread and under any part of that species; likewise the whole Christ is under the species of wine and under the parts thereof."

What then has become of the bread, over which the words of consecration have been pronounced? Has the body of Christ mysteriously united itself with the bread and the wine? Has Christ permeated these substances with his own? Is he present in the bread or with the bread? The Council answers these questions in the negative. Luther taught the doctrine of consubstantiation or impanation, according to which the bread remains together with the body of Christ in the Eucharist. The Catholic doctrine—no less certain, no less a dogmatic truth than that of the real presence itself —is that the substances of bread and wine no longer remain after the words of consecration; they have been converted into the substance of our Lord's body and blood. Of the bread and wine there remain only the appearances, the species. "And because Christ, our Redeemer, declared that which he offered under the species of bread to be truly his own Body, therefore it has ever been a firm belief in the Church of God, and this holy Synod now declares it anew, that by the consecration of the bread and wine a conversion is made 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; which conversion is suitably and properly called by the holy Catholic Church transubstantiation."

Hence wherever bread and wine are duly and validly consecrated, there is truly, really and substantially present the living Christ, the same Christ as was born of the Virgin Mary, who suffered and died for us, who now sits in Heaven at the right hand of the Father. "For these things are not mutually repugnant, that our Saviour himself always sits at the right hand of the Father in Heaven, according to his natural mode of existing, and that nevertheless he is in many other places sacramentally present, by a manner of existing which, though we can hardly express it in words, we can yet conceive, our understanding being enlightened by faith, and ought most firmly to believe to be possible to God."

In these few sentences the Council sums up the whole essence of the Catholic teaching concerning the mystery of the Eucharist. By virtue of the words of consecration the bread and wine cease to be bread and wine and, while still retaining the appearances of these, are changed into the body and blood of Christ. All else that theologians tell us of the mysterious presence of Christ in this sacrament is but a consequence of these fundamental truths, that Christ is truly, really and substantially present, and that he becomes present by the conversion of the substance of bread and wine into the substance of his body and blood, a conversion which is called by the Church Transubstantiation.


The sixth chapter of the gospel of St John relates a discourse of our Lord which we may well call the preparation of his disciples for their first communion. It was the day following the two miracles of the feeding of the five thousand and the walking of Christ upon the lake of Galilee, and the Jews, impressed by the wonders they had witnessed, had come in search of Jesus. Addressing his hearers in the synagogue at Capharnaum, Jesus began by upbraiding them for their unworthy motives in seeking him: "You seek me not because you have seen miracles but because you did eat of the loaves and were filled." The Jews had seen in the miracles of Christ, not a proof of his divine mission, but merely a source from which they might derive earthly profit and advantage. Christ would have them seek him for their spiritual nourishment, for "the meat which endureth unto life everlasting, which the son of man will give you." This is the theme which he then proceeds to elaborate throughout his discourse: a heavenly food which would give everlasting life.

The idea of receiving food from heaven was not unfamiliar to the Jews, who well remembered the story of the manna that their fathers had eaten in the desert. This, however, had been merely a type of the true bread that Christ himself had come to give. The manna had fed the Jews only; the bread of Christ would give life to the world. But it was useless for the Jews to ask for this food unless they had faith in Christ; like all the sacraments, the Eucharist could produce no effect, could not give the divine life which is its fruit, unless the recipient believed in what he was receiving. The Jews had seen many miracles worked by him and yet they did not believe that he was what he claimed to be. Did they not know his parents, Mary and Joseph? How could they believe that he had come down from heaven? But the knowledge that his hearers were so ill-disposed to believe him does not prevent Christ from explaining still more definitely the nature of the heavenly food that he promises them. "The bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world." The food that was to give eternal life was nothing else than his own body which was to be offered in sacrifice for the sins of the world. At these words the scepticism of his hearers becomes open disbelief. "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?" But their incredulity only calls forth a reiterated and still more explicit statement; it is as if Christ were determined to leave no loophole for misunderstanding: "Amen, amen, I say unto you; unless you eat the flesh of the son of man and drink his blood you shall not have life in you. He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood hath everlasting life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood abideth in me and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live by the Father, so he that eateth me the same also shall live by me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead. He that eateth this bread shall live for ever."

There could no longer be any doubt that Christ meant what he said; here was no metaphor, no parable; Christ intended to give his own flesh and blood as food and drink. "Many therefore of his disciples, hearing it, said, This saying is hard, and who can hear it?" Reading their thoughts, Jesus returns once more to the earlier subject of his discourse, the necessity of faith: "Therefore did I say to you, that no man can come to me unless it be given him by my Father." And his hearers then divided into two parties; some of them "went back, and walked no more with him"; the twelve Apostles remained, and, as at Caesarea Philippi, so here too it was Peter who made the great profession of faith: "Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life. And we have believed and have known that thou art the Christ the Son of the living God." St Peter seems to have had in mind the profession of faith that he had made on the previous occasion; he had then acclaimed Jesus as the "Son of the living God"; now he proclaimed his faith in the sacrament by which chiefly the Son of God proposed to infuse into the souls of men that divine life which should make them the adoptive sons of God. It is not merely of immortality, not merely of the unending existence of the soul, or indeed of the immortality of the risen body that he is thinking when he says that Christ has the words of eternal life. St Peter's words are an answer to Christ's declaration: "As the living Father sent me and I live by the Father, so he that eateth me the same also shall live by me. . . . The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life." The life which is the fruit of this living bread is the life which the Son of God lives, the life of God himself, the life which, when shared by man, is called sanctifying grace. Hence the discerning reader may find in this discourse of Christ a complete treatise upon the aim and purpose of the Incarnation. God sent his only begotten Son into the world that he might offer in sacrifice his "flesh for the life of the world," and the life that he came to give—or rather to restore—to the world is none other than a finite participation of the divine life which he, the Son of God, lives in common with the Father, the divine life of grace which had been given originally to mankind in Adam and by him had been lost. The fruits of that sacrifice were to be communicated to us principally through the sacrament of the Eucharist, in which we should eat his flesh and drink his blood, receiving as food that same living body which was to be the Victim of the sacrifice.

The promise thus made was fulfilled at the Last Supper. The moment had arrived to which during the whole of his life he had been looking forward with loving anticipation, the moment in which, about to give himself as a sacrifice for the sins of the world, he would institute this sacrament as the great pledge of his love: "With desire I have desired to eat this pasch with you before I suffer."6 The scene is described, with slight variations, by the three synoptic evangelists and by St Paul in his first epistle to the Corinthians. This is the account given by St Paul: "The Lord Jesus, the same night in which he was betrayed, took bread and giving thanks, broke, and said: Take ye and eat; this is my body which shall be delivered for you; this do for the commemoration of me. In like manner also the chalice, after he had supped, saying: This chalice is the new testament in my blood; this do ye, as often as you shall drink, for the commemoration of me."7

As, just a year previously, in preparing his disciples for their first communion, he had left no room for doubt as to the meaning of his words—"my flesh is meat indeed and my blood is drink indeed "— so here his words leave no possibility of misunderstanding. Wishing to indicate that he was giving his own flesh and blood to his Apostles under the form of food and drink, he could not have expressed himself more clearly. The sentence, "this is my body," is one upon which it is impossible to make any commentary without weakening its force. Searching in my mind for words more simple, more convincing, I can find nothing but circumlocutions, which would convey the same meaning only at the cost of long and involved explanations. Those who have related the incident have not thought it necessary to give any such explanation; feeling that any amplification of the words of Christ, far from clarifying, would only obscure their meaning, they have left them to speak for themselves. And if the writer of these lines consulted merely his own inclination he would do likewise. Nevertheless the attacks which have been made by Protestants consistently for the last three hundred years upon the literal interpretation of the words of Christ seem to call, if not for an express answer, at least for some remark.

The language of the decrees of oecumenical councils is usually measured and calm. But the attempts of the Protestants to interpret the words of institution in a figurative sense seem to have aroused in the Tridentine Fathers a holy indignation: "(Christ) testified in express and clear words that he gave them his own very Body and his own Blood; words which—recorded by the holy Evangelists and afterwards repeated by St Paul, whereas they carry with them that proper and most manifest meaning in which they were understood by the Fathers—it is indeed a crime the most unworthy that they should be wrested, by certain contentious and wicked men, to fictitious and imaginary figures of speech."8

And indeed it is difficult to see how the literal meaning of the words of Christ can be evaded. The solemnity of the occasion, the words used, the absence of any warning that a metaphor was intended, the very feebleness of the metaphor—if metaphor it was— all conspire to exclude the figurative sense of the words "this is my body." It is true that Christ had often used figures of speech, but they had either been so obviously such as to need no explanation, or else Christ had carefully explained them lest the Apostles, simple-minded men, should be misled.9 Nor was the occasion one which called for ambiguity; on the contrary, it was precisely the moment for plain speaking. It had been. necessary for him in the early days of his ministry to shroud his meaning under the form of parables, both to adapt himself to the minds of Iris hearers and in order to give an opportunity to men of good will to come and ask him to explain. But he was now at the last evening of his life on earth; he was surrounded, not by the suspicious Pharisees and Sadducees, but by his own faithful Apostles whom he trusted, to whom he spoke no more in parables, but plainly.10 If they failed to grasp his meaning now, they could not learn it from him on the morrow; for then he would be no more with them. He spoke plainly because he was instituting a new Testament, a new Law; and a testament, a covenant, is not formulated in figurative language. The Old Testament had been ratified by the blood of victims, and Moses had sprinkled the people with it; the New Testament was ratified by the blood of Christ, of whom those victims had been but a type. Was the reality to be less perfect than the figure, the shadow more real than the substance? It was therefore the real blood of Christ which the Apostles reverently drank, the blood which was shed for the remission of sins; it was the true body of Christ which they ate, the body which was given for them, the flesh that was given for the life of the world.

If this were a treatise of apologetics it would be my duty here to show that according to sound hermeneutical principles the words of Christ at the Last Supper cannot but be taken literally, and that the figurative interpretation put upon them by the Protestants is out of the question. This has been done exhaustively by Cardinal Wiseman in his well-known lectures on the Eucharist,11 so fully indeed that authors who have dealt with the subject subsequently have been able to do little but repeat the unanswerable arguments which he there sets forth. But the theologian, as distinct from the apologist, has another method of discovering the meaning of the words of Scripture. It has been shown elsewhere in these essays that the Church is the custodian of Scripture, and not merely of its letter but also of its sense.12 Hence the theologian as such does not treat the books of Scripture as a merely human document. If he wants to know the meaning of a particular passage he does not rely only upon his own understanding; he appeals to the living teaching of the Church; for him the sense of Scripture is the sense in which it has always been interpreted by the Catholic Church. We may therefore base our literal interpretation of the words of Christ upon the fact that the Fathers of the Church have always thus understood them, a fact which will become abundantly apparent in the following section.

The gospel of St John makes no reference to the institution of the Eucharist, and the epistles contain only brief and sparse indications of Eucharistic doctrine and practice. Nor is this surprising. St John seems to have had as one of his objects in writing his gospel to fill the lacunae left by the other evangelists; hence, having related fully the promise of the Eucharist, he thinks it unnecessary to add another account of its institution to the four already existing, the more so as the story must have been so familiar to his readers because it was embodied in the celebration of the Eucharist itself. As for the epistles, these, as is well known, were never intended to be theological treatises but were written to meet the various demands of the moment, and thus are hortatory rather than expository both in style and content. Nevertheless it happened on two occasions that St Paul made incidental reference to the Eucharist; once in connection with idolatry and again in connection with the behaviour of certain of his converts at Corinth during the Eucharistic assemblies. The Christians of Corinth, surrounded as they were by pagans and idolaters, many of them their own friends and relatives, had many difficulties to contend with, and not the least among them was the question of meats which had been offered to idols. St Paul gives them some practical advice on the matter in the eighth and tenth chapters of his first epistle to them. Evidently they must not take part in the sacrificial banquets of the pagans; this would be equivalent to the sin of idolatry. Might they buy in the market meats which had been used in pagan sacrifices and eat them privately at home? St Paul answers in effect that they might do this so long as all danger of scandal was eliminated. But the interest of the matter from our point of view lies in the reason which St Paul gives for prohibiting their attendance at the sacrificial banquets of the pagans. It was the belief of the pagans that by partaking of the sacrificial gifts they were put in communion with the divinity—in truth, as St Paul rather sardonically remarks, "with devils." How then, St Paul asks, can Christians dare to take part in these banquets, when in the Eucharist they have a sacrificial banquet wherein they are made partakers of the body and blood of Christ? It is to be remarked that he does not say simply that by drinking of the cup and partaking of the bread Christians are put into communion with God or with Christ', this is what we should have expected, to preserve the parallelism with the pagan sacrifices; to receive the Eucharist, according to the Apostle, is to be united with the body and blood of Christ. "The chalice of benediction which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? And the bread which we break, is it not the partaking of the body of the Lord? . . . You cannot drink the chalice of the Lord and the chalice of devils; you cannot be partakers of the table of the Lord and of the table of devils."13 It need hardly be remarked that this passage, besides indicating the doctrine of the real presence, contains an evident proof of the sacrificial character of the Eucharist.14

St Paul makes another interesting, though again an incidental, reference to the Eucharist in reproving the Corinthians for certain abuses which had crept into the Eucharistic gatherings.15 He takes the opportunity of impressing upon them the reverence with which this most holy sacrament should be received, and of warning them of the dire penalties attending a sacrilegious reception. The solemnity of the terms in which this admonition is expressed can hardly be understood except in the light of the real presence of the body and blood of Christ in the Eucharist. Having reminded them, in the words above related, of the manner in which Christ had instituted the Eucharist, he goes on: "For as often as you eat this bread and drink the chalice, you shall show forth the death of the Lord, until he come. Therefore whosoever shall eat this bread or drink the chalice of the Lord unworthily shall be guilty of the body and of the blood of the Lord. But let a man prove himself, and so let him eat of that bread and drink of the chalice. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily eateth and drinketh judgement to himself, not discerning the body of the Lord." Here, as in the passage previously quoted, it may be remarked that the sacrilegious communicant is not only said to be guilty of irreverence to the person of Christ who instituted this sacrament, but is said to be guilty of the body and of the blood of the Lord. He who receives unworthily will be punished because he fails to discern in this sacrament the body of the Lord. If the Eucharist is nothing else but a symbol of the body and blood of Christ surely the words of St Paul are excessively severe.

We may sum up the teaching of Scripture regarding the sacrament of the Eucharist quite briefly and simply. Christ, having previously promised his disciples to give them his own flesh as food and his own blood as drink, at the Last Supper took bread and gave it to his disciples telling them that it was his body, and took wine and gave it to them telling them that it was his blood. Neither in the account of the promise nor in that of the institution of the sacrament is there anything to indicate that Christ spoke figuratively; on the contrary, the circumstances, the power and the wisdom of Christ himself, the manner in which his words were understood by his hearers, all point to the literal meaning of those words as the only possible interpretation, an interpretation which is confirmed by the manner in which St Paul speaks of the Eucharist, and which appears in the constant teaching of the Church from the earliest times. "When the Lord," writes St Cyril of Jerusalem, "has said of the bread 'This is my body,' who shall dare to doubt? And when he has asserted and said, 'This is my blood,' who shall ever doubt that it is indeed his blood?"16


Not the least noteworthy feature of the Eucharistic literature of the early centuries is its extraordinary abundance; so that it is impossible to convey in this small space any but a very inadequate idea of the complete teaching of the Fathers of the first three or four centuries on this all-important dogma. Yet the very familiarity of Catholics with the Eucharist prevented them from giving us in their writings the clear and explicit testimony to their belief which to-day —from a controversial point of view, at any rate—would be so valuable and interesting. References to the Eucharist we find in great abundance; but set treatises on the subject are very rare. In fact, with the exception of the Catechetical instructions of St Cyril of Jerusalem—and to a certain extent the Apology of St Justin—I know of no writings in the very early centuries professedly devoted to a doctrinal exposition of Eucharistic belief. Nevertheless those numerous passages in which the Fathers refer incidentally to Eucharistic doctrine, treating it as well known and not requiring explanation, by the very absence of the intention to instruct become all the more instructive. So accustomed were the early Christians to frequenting the Holy Sacrifice and to receiving Communion, so intimately did the Eucharist enter into their daily lives, that their pastors did not deem it necessary to write books to teach them what must have been so familiar to them from their daily practice.

Already in the sub-apostolic age we find St Ignatius of Antioch arguing from the Eucharist to the necessity of unity in the Church. "See that you use one Eucharist," he writes,17 "for one is the flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ, and one is the chalice unto the communion of his blood; one is the altar, and one the bishop together with the priests and deacons." The argument is that of St Paul in his first epistle to the Corinthians:18 in the Eucharist you all partake of the one body of Christ and of his blood, you all assist at one and the same sacrifice; hence you should be one among yourselves. But here, as also in St Paul, the argument loses all its force unless the Eucharist is really and truly the one body and blood of Christ. Still more clearly is belief in the real presence implied in the martyr's epistle to the Smyrnaeans19 where, writing of the Docetists who denied the reality of the human nature of Christ, he says: "They abstain from the Eucharist and the prayer [i.e. probably the Eucharistic prayer or the Canon of the Mass] because they do not believe that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Saviour Jesus Christ which suffered for our sins and which the Father in his bounty raised up again." Clearly then, Catholics, as opposed to the Docetists, did believe that the Eucharist is the very body and blood of Christ.

Still more explicitly does St. Justin state the doctrine of the Real Presence when in his account of the celebration of the Eucharist he writes: "We do not receive these as ordinary food or ordinary drink; but, as by the Word of God Jesus our Saviour was made flesh, and had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so also the food which has been blessed (lit., over which thanks have been given) by the word of prayer instituted by him, and from which our flesh and blood by assimilation are nourished, is, we are taught, both the flesh and blood of that Jesus incarnate. For the Apostles in the accounts which they wrote, and which are called gospels, have declared that Jesus commanded them to do as follows: 'He took bread and gave thanks and said: This do in commemoration of me; this is my body. And in like manner he took the chalice and blessed it and said: This is my blood, and gave it to them alone.'"20 There can be no doubt of St Justin's meaning. He is explaining the doctrine of the Eucharist to pagans, not to Christians who might be presumed to have some previous knowledge of the subject, and therefore if the Eucharist were deemed to be nothing more than a mere symbol of the body and blood of Christ, the writer would certainly have made this clear. But of the symbolic meaning there is no indication whatever. St Justin says quite simply that the Eucharistic bread and wine are not mere bread and wine ("ordinary food"); they are the body and blood of Jesus Christ who became man for our salvation. In fact we may find more than a hint of the doctrine of Transubstantiation in the comparison made between the Incarnation and the Eucharist. Just as the Word of God is so mighty that he could unite a human nature to the divinity, so the words that he instituted at the Last Supper have the virtue of making the bread and the wine his own flesh and blood.

Many pertinent passages might be quoted from the Adversus Haereses of St Irenaeus in which this great controversialist uses the Eucharistic dogma to refute the tenets of the Gnostics. These held that matter was essentially evil. How could this be so, asked St. Irenaeus, if Christ used bread and wine in the Eucharist, elements which, "perceiving the word of God (i.e. through the power of God's word) become the Eucharist, which is the body and blood of Christ?"21 But the references to the Eucharist are so scattered that it would be impossible to quote them here at all adequately. One passage, however, is especially remarkable because of its similarity with that of St. Justin above quoted: "The bread that is taken from the earth, perceiving the invocation of God, is no longer ordinary bread, but the Eucharist, consisting of two things, an earthly and a heavenly."22

The temptation to idolatry which was a constant menace to Christians by reason of their close contact with pagans caused the Fathers of the third century to reiterate the warning already given by St. Paul23 against desecrating the Eucharist. So Tertullian has some very strong remarks about those Christians who engaged in the manufacture of idols; he speaks of the scandal caused by the sight of a Christian "passing from the idols to the church, from the shop of the enemy to the house of God, raising up to God the Father the hands that are mothers of idols .. ., applying to the Lord's body those hands that give bodies to demons. Nor is this enough. Grant that it be a small matter that from other hands they receive what they contaminate, but those very hands even deliver to others what they have contaminated: idol-makers are admitted even into the ecclesiastical order. O wickedness! Once did the Jews lay hands upon Christ; these mangle his body daily. O hands to be cut off! Now let them see if it is merely by similitude that it was said: 'If thy hand scandalise thee, cut it off.' What hands deserve more to be cut off than those in which scandal is done to the body of the Lord!"24

St Cyprian is no less vehement about the Christians who had fallen into idolatry during the fierce persecution of Decius (251). While he praises the fortitude of the many confessors of the faith, saying that "the noble hands that had been accustomed only to perform the works of God had resisted the sacrilegious sacrifices of pagans, the lips which had been sanctified with heavenly food, after the body and blood of the Lord, turned in disgust from the touch of things profane and the leavings of idols," he laments at the same time that many of those who had fallen into idolatry expected immediately, without having done penance, to be allowed to receive Communion: "Returning from the altars of the devil they approach the sacred thing of the Lord (sanctum Domini) with filthy and stinking hands; still belching the deadly food of idols, with their very breath still giving evidence of their crime . . . they assail (invadunt) the body of the Lord. . . . Violence is done to the body and blood of the Lord, and greater violence now with their hands and with their lips than when they denied the Lord."25

Evidence of early belief in the dogma of the Real Presence may be seen also in the outward reverence with which the sacrament was received. Origen thus impresses upon the faithful the need of reverence for the word of God: "You who are accustomed to assist at the divine mysteries know how, when you receive the body of the Lord, you hold it with every precaution and veneration lest any of the consecrated gift should fall. For you believe, and rightly believe, yourselves guilty if through your negligence any of it should be dropped. If you—justly—use such care to preserve his body, do you consider it a lesser sin to neglect his word?"26 A detailed description of the manner in which the Eucharist was received in the fourth century is given us by St Cyril of Jerusalem: "In approaching, therefore, come not with thy wrists extended or thy fingers spread, but make thy left hand a throne for the right, as for that which is to receive a King. And having hollowed thy palm, receive the body of Christ, saying over it 'Amen.' Then having carefully sanctified thine eyes with the touch of the holy body, partake of it, taking heed lest thou lose any portion thereof; for whatever thou losest is evidently a loss to thee as it were from one of thine own members. For tell me, if any one gave thee grains of gold, wouldst not thou hold them with all carefulness, being on thy guard against losing any of them and suffering loss? Wilt thou not then much more carefully keep watch that not a crumb fall from thee of what is more precious than gold and precious stones? Then after thou hast partaken of the body of Christ draw near also to the chalice of his blood; not stretching forth thine hands, but bending, and saying with worship and reverence 'Amen,' hallow thyself by partaking also of the blood of Christ. And while the moisture is still on thy lips, touch it with thy hands and hallow thine eyes and brow and the other organs of sense. Then wait for the prayer and give thanks to God who has accounted thee worthy of so great mysteries."27

With the Catechetical Instructions of St Cyril, from which this passage is taken, we enter into a new category of Eucharistic literature. In the works which have been quoted hitherto reference is made to the Eucharist only incidentally and indirectly; but St Cyril intends expressly to instruct his catechumens on the great sacrament which they are shortly to receive for the first time, and hence his teaching is much more clear and explicit. So striking is the similarity between his words and the terms in which at the present day we are accustomed to prepare children for their first Communion that, at the risk of overstepping the limits set for this section, I cannot refrain from quoting a few extracts: "Since he has said of the bread 'This is my body,' who shall venture to doubt? Since he has said and asserted 'This is my blood,' who shall ever doubt that it is his blood? He once changed water into wine, which is akin to blood; shall we not therefore believe when he changed wine into blood? When called to a bodily marriage he miraculously wrought that wonderful work; and on the 'children of the bridechamber' shall he not much more be acknowledged to have bestowed the enjoyment of his body and blood? . . . Consider therefore the bread and the wine not as bare elements, for according to the Lord's declaration they are the body and blood of Christ; for even though sense suggest this to thee (i.e. that they are merely bread and wine), yet let faith give thee firm certainty. Judge not the matter from the taste, but by faith be fully assured without doubt that the body and blood of Christ have been vouchsafed to thee. . . . The seeming bread is not bread, though sensible to taste, but the body of Christ; and the seeming wine is not wine, though the taste will have it so, but the blood of Christ."28

The need of faith in the Real Presence in order to overcome the apparently contrary suggestion of the senses is emphasized in almost identical terms by St John Chrysostom: "Let us then in everything believe God and gainsay him in nothing, though what is said may seem to be contrary to our thoughts and senses, but let his word be of higher authority than both reasonings and sight. Thus let us do in the Mysteries also, not looking at the things set before us, but keeping in mind his sayings. For his word cannot deceive, but our senses are easily beguiled. That hath never failed, but this in most things goes astray. Since the Word saith, 'This is my body,' let us both be persuaded and believe, and look at it with the eyes of the mind."29

I conclude this brief selection of texts from the Fathers with two more passages from St John Chrysostom:30 "How many now say, I would wish to see his form, his shape, his clothes, his shoes. Lo I thou seest him, thou touchest him, thou eatest him. And thou indeed desirest to see his clothes, but he gives himself to thee, not to see only, but also to touch and eat and receive within thee. . . . Look therefore, lest thou also thyself become guilty of the body and blood of Christ. They (i.e. the Jews who crucified him) slaughtered the all-holy body, but thou receivest it in a filthy soul after so great benefits. For neither was it enough for him to be made man, to be smitten and slaughtered, but he also commingleth himself with us, and not by faith only, but also in deed maketh us his body. . . . There are often mothers that after the travail of birth send out their children to other women to be nursed; but he endures not to do this, but himself feeds us with his own blood, and by all means entwines us with himself." A similar passage occurs in his 46th homily (on St John): "We become one body, and members of his flesh and of his bones. Let the initiated follow what I say. In order then that we may become this not by love only but in very deed, let us be blended into that flesh. This is brought about by the food which he has freely given us, desiring to show the love that he bears us. On this account he has mingled himself with us; he has kneaded his body with ours that we might become one thing, like a body joined to the head. . . . He has given to those who desire him not only to see him, but even to touch and eat him, to fix their teeth in his flesh and to embrace him and satisfy all their love. Parents often entrust their offspring to others to feed; 'But I,' he says, 'do not so. I feed you with my own flesh, desiring that you all be nobly born. ... For he that gives himself to you here much more will do so hereafter. I have willed to become your brother, for your sake I shared in flesh and blood, and in turn I give to you that same flesh and blood by which I became your kinsman.' "

These extracts from the writings of the Fathers of the first four centuries, though representative, are of course far from exhaustive, Moreover, passages have been selected in which the Fathers speak quite clearly of the real presence of the body and blood of Christ in this sacrament. It would be a mistake to suppose that they always speak so plainly; in fact passages may be found in the writings even of those whom we have seen emphasising the Real Presence, which at first sight would seem to favour the view of the Zwinglians, that the Eucharist is merely a figure of the body of Christ. An exhaustive treatment of their teaching would require all these texts to be considered individually in their context, so that their complete meaning might be made clear. Obviously such a procedure is out of the question in this short essay. But for those who desire to devote some time—and .it would be most profitably spent—to the study of the early Fathers on the Eucharist the following considerations may serve as some guide in the interpretation of their thought. In the first place it should be remembered that the Eucharist is a sacrament, i.e. a sacred sign. There is an external element in the Eucharist, the appearances of bread and wine, the proper function of which is to signify; and these are rightly called the sign of the body and blood of Christ. If, therefore, a writer who clearly believes in the Real Presence refers to the Eucharist as the sign of the body and blood of Christ, evidently he must be understood to mean that the appearances of bread and wine are the sign of the body and blood of Christ which are really, though invisibly, present beneath them. This consideration is of particular use in the interpretation of many texts in the works of St. Augustine.31

Moreover, the body and blood of Christ, although they are truly, really and substantially present in this sacrament, are nevertheless present with an extraordinary mode of existence, which we can only —for want of a better word—call sacramental. They are present invisibly, intangibly, so that our senses cannot reach them. Hence it need not surprise us to find some of the Fathers referring to a "spiritual eating" of Christ, in order to differentiate the sacramental eating of the flesh of Christ from the gross and materialistic sense in which the people of Capharnaum had understood his words. So St Cyril of Jerusalem, in the very same discourse from which we have selected the striking passages above quoted, laments the unbelief of the people of Capharnaum in that "they, not having heard his saying in a spiritual sense, were offended, and went back, supposing that he was inviting them to eat flesh." And yet in the previous paragraph he had said that "his body and blood are distributed through our members."

Finally, it is well known that the early Fathers delighted in symbolism. This is especially true of the great theologians of Alexandria, and also of St Augustine. Now the doctrine of the Eucharist lends itself in a special way to symbolical treatment. The connection between the mystical body of Christ and his physical body present in the Eucharist, already noticed by St Paul,32 was a frequent subject of allegorical speculation and caused some of the Fathers, to use phrases concerning the Eucharist from which we should carefully abstain at the present day. Not that statements which were true fifteen hundred years ago have now become false. It is not the truth that changes, but the manner of expressing it that varies according to the exigencies of popular devotion and of controversy. In days when the Real Presence was not impugned by heretics but was tranquilly believed by all Catholics there was no danger of such symbolical phrases being misunderstood. But since the denial of the Real Presence by the heretics of the Reform we should hesitate to use any expression concerning the Eucharist which might seem, in the changed circumstances, to exclude the reality by excessive emphasis upon the symbolism that surrounds it.

Of the numerous liturgical documents of antiquity and of the frequent references to the Eucharist in Christian epigraphy we have made no mention, nor does space allow us even to outline the evidence of early belief in the Real Presence which may be found in these sources. But even the little that we have seen of patristic teaching suffices to make it abundantly clear that the Church from the beginning has taught that the body and blood of Christ are truly, really and substantially present in this Sacrament.


No less essential to the doctrine of the Eucharist than the dogma of the Real Presence is that of Transubstantiation. The decree of the Council of Trent presents them as logically connected with each other: "And because Christ declared that which he offered under the species of bread to be truly his own body, therefore has it ever been a firm belief in the Church of God, and this holy Synod doth now declare it anew, that by the consecration of the bread and of the wine a conversion is made 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; which conversion is by the holy Catholic Church suitably and properly called Transubstantiation."33 In other words, it is only by such a total conversion of the substance of the bread and wine into the substance of our Lord's body and blood that his words, "This is my body; this is my blood," can be verified. Hence when the Jansenists at the synod of Pistoia laid down that it was sufficient to teach that Christ is truly, really and substantially present in this sacrament, and that the substance of bread and wine ceases, only their appearances remaining, omitting all mention of transubstantiation, Pius VI condemned this view. Transubstantiation, he added, must not be passed over in silence as if it were a mere scholastic question; it has been defined by the Council of Trent as an article of faith, and the word has been consecrated by the Church to defend her faith against heresies.

The subject may perhaps be best approached by considering the plain signification of the words of our Lord at the Last Supper: "This is my body." He held in his hands something which to all appearances was bread, but in reality was not bread; in consequence of the words he had uttered it was his own body. "The seeming bread," says St Cyril of Jerusalem, "is not bread, though sensible to taste, but the body of Christ; and the seeming wine is not wine, though the taste will have it so, but the blood of Christ."34 What, then, had happened? All the indications of sense pointed to the presence of bread as before; all that in the bread which is perceptible to the senses—what we call for the sake of convenience the "appearances" of bread—remained unchanged. Yet something was changed, something which lies deeper than the appearances, the "thing" which normally has those appearances, which through those appearances normally manifests its presence, which is the subject of the qualities and activities, the chemical and physical properties and reactions which we associate with bread, this "thing"—which we call the substance—had been changed into another substance, that of the body of Christ, the appearances alone of the bread remaining. This is what is meant by Transubstantiation. No other conclusion is consonant with the words of Christ. That he did not speak figuratively is abundantly clear from what has been said; nor is the theory of Luther reconcilable with the truth of the words "This is my body." If, as Luther claimed, the effect of the words of consecration is to render the substance of the body of Christ present in the bread (impanation) or side by side with the bread (consubstantiation), it is no longer true that this is the body of Christ; rather, in such an hypothesis, Christ should have said "here is the body of Christ." Rightly, therefore, does the Council of Trent present Transubstantiation as the logical outcome of the words of Christ at the Last Supper.

The Fathers, likewise, do not conceive of the real presence of the body and blood of Christ in this sacrament apart from the conversion of the bread and the wine into them. The word transubstantiation did not come till much later, when theologians had had the leisure and opportunity to realise all that was involved in the Eucharistic miracle. But the essential truth that the bread, while still appearing to be bread, was changed into the body of Christ was seen by the early Fathers to be formally implied in the truth of the Real Presence. Thus they say that after the words of consecration the bread is no longer bread but the body of Christ; they speak of the bread and wine being changed, converted, transmuted into the body of Christ; they compare this change with creation: "If the word of God," says St John Damascene,35 "is living and efficacious . . . if the earth, the sea, the fire and the air . . . were made by the word of God . . . why should that word, then, not be able to make wine and water his blood?" They compare the Eucharistic conversion with the substantial change whereby the food a man eats is assimilated and changed into his own substance.36 We have seen, too, how St Cyril of Jerusalem compares it with the miraculous change of water into wine at the marriage feast of Cana.37 Clearly, then, the traditional teaching of the Church is that by virtue of the words of consecration the bread and the wine, although their appearances remain, undergo an intrinsic change, as a result of which they are no longer bread and wine, but become the true body and blood of Christ. Transubstantiation means nothing more than this.

In considering the dogma of transubstantiation it is well to re member what has been said more than once in the course of these essays, that the Church does not define any philosophical system being of faith. The objection has been made against the Catholic doctrine of the Eucharist that this is necessarily bound up with the scholastic view concerning substance and accidents, a view which is by no means universally accepted, and that the Council of Trent in defining the doctrine of transubstantiation exceeded its powers by making excursions into the field of philosophy. This, however, is not the case. It is true that the term "transubstantiation" is a philosophical one and is associated with the system of the Schoolmen; it is true that the scholastic view of the relation between substance and accidents has provided the basis of a wonderful synthesis of Eucharistic theology, brought to its perfection by St Thomas Aquinas. But the revealed doctrine which the term transubstantiation is intended to express is in no way conditioned by the scholastic system of philosophy. It is merely an expression in philosophical terms of the truth enunciated by St Cyril: "The seeming bread is not bread but the body of Christ." The inner reality of a thing, as opposed to what the senses perceive, was called by the scholastics "substance"; and therefore the change of the substance of the bread into the body of Christ was called transubstantiation.

Evidently, therefore, any philosophy may be reconciled with the dogma of transubstantiation which safeguards the distinction between "the appearances" of a thing and the thing in itself; and this is a distinction which any system of philosophy must safeguard if it is not to run counter to right thinking. It is a commonplace of experience that realities are either "things in themselves" or else modifications or qualities of things that exist in themselves. A man, a tree, copper, zinc, these are substances; they exist in themselves. On the other hand, thought, extension, colour, physical and chemical actions and reactions, are called in philosophical language accidents, because they require a subject, or a substance, in which to "inhere." Thought does not exist except in a thinking subject; there is no extension, colour, chemical activity, except in a corporeal substance. Substance and accidents, therefore, form a composite unity which is naturally indissoluble; yet, in reality as well as in thought, they are distinct from each other as that which exists in itself must be distinct from that which, in order to exist, requires a subject of inherence. Thus a bodily substance is not its size, its shape, its colour, its chemical or physical properties, nor is it the sum of these; it is that which possesses these properties, is located, acts and reacts by means of them, and through them manifests itself to the senses. The substance as such is impervious to the senses; if a body had no extension we could not touch it, if it had no colour we could not see it. Hence we commonly give to the accidents of material substances the name of appearances, since it is through these accidents, perceived by the senses, that the mind arrives at the knowledge of the substance.

The Eucharistic change, then, is one which transcends sense-perception, because what is changed is not the appearances but the substance. The senses of sight, touch, taste and smell reveal in the consecrated elements those properties which are naturally associated with bread and wine; subjected to physical or chemical analysis they will present the features of bread and wine; but the substance which is the natural subject of those properties and activities is no longer there: instead there is present the substance of the body and blood of Christ. We have seen how the Fathers use various analogies to explain the Eucharistic conversion; but it should be remembered that they are analogies and nothing more. There is no change, whether natural or miraculous, to which transubstantiation can properly be likened; this conversion, according to the Council of Trent, is not only miraculous (mirabilis) but unique (singularis). In the substantial changes with which we are familiar in the order of nature there is always a substantial element which remains common to either term;38 and this is true even of the miraculous conversion of water into wine which Christ operated at the marriage feast of Cana. Moreover, such changes always issue in a reality which is at any rate partially new; thus the food which we eat adds new tissue to our bodies, the wine into which Christ changed the water did not exist previously. But in transubstantiation the whole substance of the bread and wine is changed into the whole substance of the body and blood of Christ; and not into a new body and blood of Christ, but into that same which was born of the Virgin Mary, which suffered and died for us, and which now reigns glorious in heaven. Rightly, then, does the liturgy call this "the mystery of faith," for, more than any other miracle, it calls for the unhesitating belief of the human mind in the omnipotence of the Creator, whose hand, having made all things out of nothing, reaches to the very roots of being, and therefore can change his creatures at will.

From this fundamental truth, that by virtue of the words of consecration the substance of the bread and wine is converted into the substance of our Lord's body and blood, the rest of Eucharistic theology follows as a logical consequence. But with two points of that doctrine, since their immediate connection with transubstantiation is most evident, I must deal before concluding this section: they are "concomitance," and the permanence of the Eucharistic accidents without a subject. Transubstantiation is the conversion of substance into substance, and therefore the formal effect of the words of consecration pronounced over the bread is to convert the substance of the bread into the substance of the body of Christ. Now the principle of "concomitance" is that whereas the words by their sacramental virtue render present only the substance of our Lord's body, yet because that body is the real body of Christ therefore the substance (as such) of his body must be accompanied (concomitari) by all that is really united with it at the moment in which the words are pronounced. Hence under the appearances of bread by real concomitance together with the substance of our Lord's body are present also its accidents (its extension, colour and other properties), his blood, his soul and the divinity which is hypostatically united with his humanity. Likewise by real concomitance under the appearances of wine are present together with the substance of his blood its accidents, the body of Christ, his soul and his divinity. Two important consequences of this doctrine may be noted here. The first is that the separate consecration of the bread and the wine, although—as is shown in the essay on the Eucharistic sacrifice—it symbolises the death of Christ, does not operate any real separation of Christ's body and blood. The second, and practical, Consequence is that, the whole Christ being truly, really and substantially present under the appearances either of bread or of wine, the faithful who communicate only under the appearances of bread truly receive the whole Christ, no less than the priest who also partakes of the chalice.

There remains the question of the accidents of the bread and wine, which, in order to distinguish them from the accidents of the body and blood of Christ, we shall call the Eucharistic accidents. Experience testifies that, so far as sense-perception is concerned, the words of consecration have brought about no change: the appearance, the taste, all the properties of bread and wine remain as before. Are we to say that these are nothing more than subjective impressions to which no objective reality corresponds, so that the poetic expression of St Thomas: "visus, tactus, gustus in te fallitur," is to be understood quite literally? Are our senses deceived when they register the presence of a real quantity, a real taste of bread and wine? The traditional teaching of theologians—unchallenged until the end of the seventeenth century—leaves no room for doubt. Our senses are not deceived concerning what is within their competence, and the normal reaction of our sense organs is evidence of the presence of an external reality which stimulates them. After the consecration there is no longer present the substance of the bread or the wine, but there remains some objective element belonging to those substances which produces the sensory perception which we associate with bread and wine; and this sensible element is the sign of the real presence of the body and blood of Christ. That this is the teaching of the Church may be seen in the distinction constantly made by the Fathers, and applied in particular to the Eucharist, between the external or sensible element in the sacrament and the internal element, or the thing signified; in fact, in speaking of the Eucharist they refer explicitly to the earthly or sensible thing (or nature) therein contained, as opposed to the heavenly reality which underlies it.39 It was only with the philosophical system of Descartes that a school of theologians arose suggesting that "the appearances" of bread and wine were nothing else than subjective impressions produced by God in the senses of the observer, to the exclusion of any objective reality belonging to the bread and wine which should be their cause. In the view of Descartes there is no real distinction between a substance and its quantity; and hence he was constrained by the doctrine of transubstantiation to postulate the total disappearance of the accidents of the bread and wine together with their substance.

This view is rejected by all theologians, who, while they hesitate to stigmatise it as heretical, uniformly maintain as a certain theological conclusion that the accidents of the bread and wine remain really and objectively. But although all theologians are on common ground in admitting the real permanence of these accidents, not all are agreed as to the manner in which this comes about. Without entering into a discussion of the various views held by orthodox theologians on this matter, it will be sufficient for our present purpose to set out the explanation given by St Thomas40 and now generally accepted. It may be stated quite briefly in these terms: the substances of bread and wine having been converted into the substance of the body and blood of Christ, the accidents of bread and wine, since they no longer have a substance in which they may inhere, remain without a subject, God miraculously giving to the quantity—or mass—of the bread and wine respectively the power of sustaining the other accidents and of acting precisely in the same way as the said substances would have acted were they still present. That these accidents have no subject, St Thomas argues, is the inevitable consequence of transubstantiation. They cannot inhere in the substances of bread and wine, for they are no longer there; nor, clearly, can they belong to the substance of the body and blood of Christ, which is not susceptible of the accidents of another substance, nor, for a similar reason, can they inhere in the surrounding air or in the ether. Since no subject is assignable for them, they have no subject. Nevertheless, he goes on to point out, among the accidents of a corporeal substance quantity stands alone as having peculiar properties. It is in the mass or extension of a body that all its qualities, all its active and passive powers immediately reside. Thus quantity alone, says St Thomas, remains in the Eucharist without a subject, and in the quantity all the other accidents of the bread and wine inhere. After the consecration, therefore, quantity plays the role of substance with regard to the other accidents; it does not actually become a substance, but God miraculously exerts through quantity the activities which normally would be exercised by the substance. This principle provides the explanation how the Eucharistic accidents can nourish the body of the recipient, can act upon and be acted upon by other bodies, can be substantially changed—thus the host may become corrupt, the accidents of wine may turn to vinegar; this finally is the reason why physical or chemical analysis of the species—were any so blasphemous as to attempt it —would give only the normal reactions of bread and wine.

We must now turn our attention to the mysterious manner in which the body and blood of Christ are present in this sacrament, a subject which, by reason of its special difficulty and complexity, must be treated in a separate section.


The council of Trent, referring to the manner of Christ's presence in the Eucharist, says that "whereas our Saviour always sits at the right hand of the Father in heaven according to his natural mode of existing, yet he is also in many other places sacramentally present to us in his own substance, by a manner of existing which, though we can scarcely express it in words, yet we can conceive with the understanding illuminated by faith, and ought most firmly to believe to be .possible to God." To try to explain how this mysterious mode of presence is to be conceived according to the principles of scholastic theology is the purpose of the present section.41

The beauty of the Thomistic synthesis of Eucharistic theology is what a French theologian has called its "economy in the miraculous." Not that the Angelic doctor attempts in any way to attenuate the stupendous marvels of the Eucharistic miracle; but according to St Thomas the Eucharistic miracle is one, and one only, namely transubstantiation; all else happens as a necessary consequence of this. The basic principle of his explanation of the manner of Christ's presence in the Eucharist is that, since Christ becomes present in this sacrament by transubstantiation, that is by the conversion of "substance into substance," this same miracle conditions the mode of his Eucharistic presence. Having become present by the conversion of substance into substance, he is present after the manner of a substance. Let us see, as far as we are able to conceive it, what is involved in this substantial mode of presence.

It is essential to the proper understanding of this difficult matter to bear in mind first of all the real distinction between corporeal sub-stance as such and the accidents—quantity, qualities and various activities—through which the substance as such manifests itself to our senses, acts upon, and is acted upon by, other substances. The substance as such is not perceptible to the senses; it is only through its extension or its quantity that it is tangible and occupies space, only as extended and coloured that it is visible, only through its various chemical and physical properties that it acts and thus manifests its distinctive nature to the observer. Precisely as such the substance is discernible only to the intellect. In this matter the imagination is apt to lead us astray; for, every thought being accompanied by a sense-image, we are inclined to confuse the substance, formally and intellectually considered, with the properties and activities which are the object of our sense-experience. If in addition to this important distinction the reader will also remember the principle of real concomitance which has been explained in the previous section, the following statements, though difficult to conceive, will be seen to be the logical consequence of the miracle of transubstantiation.

In the first place, then, the whole Christ—his body, blood, soul and divinity—is present, not only under either species, but under every part of them. Thus when Christ, having consecrated the wine in the chalice, gave it to his disciples to drink, each of them received the whole Christ truly present under the appearances of wine, although the quantity of wine consecrated had been divided. The same truth may be seen implied in the ancient practice of breaking the host after consecration in order to give communion to the faithful. The reason is that Christ is present under the species after the manner of a substance, that is, in the same manner in which, before consecration, the substances of bread or wine were present under their respective accidents. Now, before consecration the whole substance of bread formally considered was present in the whole of its mass, or quantity, and also under every particle thereof. When bread is divided, it is not the substance as such which is divided, but the substance as modified by the accident of quantity; the substance formally as such is indivisible; it abstracts from dimensions or extension. Hence the body of Christ, into which the substance of the bread has been converted, is indivisible and undivided, notwithstanding the division of the species under which it is present.42

But it must not be thought, because the body of Christ is present in this sacrament after the manner of a substance, that it is on that account deprived of its own dimensions. It is here that our imagination is likely to play us false. When we are told that the body of Christ is present under the dimensions of a small host we are tempted to think of that sacred body as reduced to infinitesimal proportions or even as devoid of extension altogether. This would be an error. It has been seen that the whole Christ is present under the appearances of bread and wine. It is true that only the substance of his body becomes present in virtue of the Eucharistic conversion formally considered, but by real concomitance there is present also all that is actually and really united with that substance, and therefore the natural dimensions of his body. As St Thomas puts it, the dimensions—and the other accidents—of our Lord's body are present in this sacrament quasi per accidens, i.e. not as the formal effect of transubstantiation, but by reason of their real union with that which is formally present. They are present, if we may say so, because the substance has brought them with it. And here follows a rather attractive piece of reasoning on the part of St Thomas: because the dimensions of the body of Christ are present in the Eucharist only by reason of their real concomitance with the substance, those dimensions have, so to speak, to accommodate themselves to the manner of existence of the substance as such. One thinks of the courtiers of a prince, forced by their attachment to his royal person to content themselves with any lodging that their master may choose. Thus the dimensions of Christ's body, being present by reason of their real concomitance with the substance, exist in this sacrament, not in their natural manner, but after the manner of the substance which they accompany.

To try to picture to oneself such a mysterious mode of presence is fatal to the understanding of it. We always think of quantity as that by which a substance occupies a particular portion of space; and this is indeed one of the normal effects of quantity. But actual extension in a place is not of its very essence. The essential effect of quantity in a corporeal substance is to give it parts, to make it intrinsically divisible.43 Now the body of Christ has all its natural parts and dimensions; each part of his body is situally distinct and relatively to the other parts has its proper and normal position; but those dimensions are not extended relatively to the surrounding body, or place; they are not circumscribed by the place in which they are present. Briefly, in the normal course of events a corporeal substance occupies a place by means of its quantity; in the Eucharist the contrary is the case: the quantity of the body of Christ is present by means of, and therefore in the manner of, the substance.

Some theologians have found it convenient to explain this very difficult point by saying that the body of Christ is present in this sacrament after the manner of a spirit, as the soul is present in the human body. The analogy is useful inasmuch as it enables one to conceive a presence which is not conditioned by quantitative dimensions; but I have purposely refrained from using it because it may so easily be misunderstood. The presence of a spirit is not conditioned by quantity precisely because it has no quantity: it is immaterial. But the body of Christ—I repeat at the risk of being wearisome—has its own natural dimensions. It is not present in its normal way; but this is not because the body of Christ has been dematerialised, spiritualised, but because its dimensions exist in this sacrament after the manner of a substance as such; and a substance considered formally as such abstracts from dimensions and extension.44

Hence when we say that the body of Christ is present in a particular place, in the ciborium, in the tabernacle, in the mouth of the recipient, we mean that in the place occupied by the dimensions of bread (or wine) there is really and truly present the body of Christ, with its dimensions and other accidents, with his blood, his soul and his divinity, present, however, after the manner of a substance as such. It follows that there is no intrinsic impossibility in the simultaneous presence of Christ in heaven and in many places on earth. The multilocation of a body is shown in philosophy to be impossible only because of the limitations imposed by quantitative dimensions; these, however, as we have seen, do not condition the presence of Christ in this sacrament. There is no multiplication of the body of Christ, no division, because these again are associated with quantity; it is one and the same body of Christ, present in heaven according to his natural mode of existence, and present upon innumerable altars throughout the world after the manner of a substance.

It is a further logical consequence of the Eucharistic presence that the body of Christ in this sacrament—apart from a further miracle, of which we have no evidence in revelation—cannot do or undergo any action which requires quantitative contact with external bodies; hence he cannot be seen, felt or heard. Nor, apparently, apart from a special miracle, has Christ the exercise of his senses in this sacrament, because his body has not that contact with external bodies which is required for it. St Thomas, so far as I know, does not raise the question; but the strict application of his principles would lead one to deny that any such special miracle takes place. Nevertheless, many theologians maintain as a pious opinion that Christ miraculously assumes a power which the sacramental presence would normally not permit.45 Moreover, no violence can be done to the body of Christ in this sacrament; external agencies, be they natural or artificial, willful or innocent, cannot result in any harm to the sacred humanity of Christ in the Eucharist; these can reach only the appearances of bread and wine, beneath which the body and blood of Christ, present in the manner of a substance, remain undisturbed and inviolate.

The same principles govern the permanence of the body of Christ beneath the sacramental species. The Real Presence lasts as long as the substance of bread or wine would have remained if transubstantiation had not taken place, that is, as long as the accidents and properties of bread or wine remain. As soon as such a change has been brought about—whether quantitatively or qualitatively—in the sacramental species as would normally be evidence of a substantial change, then the body of Christ ceases to be present. The reason may be put quite simply in this way: the Sacrament of the Eucharist is the body and blood of Christ really present under the appearances of bread and wine; if the appearances of bread and wine cease to be present, then the sacrament no longer exists, and so the Real Presence ceases.46

Such, in brief outline, is the Thomistic explanation of the Eucharistic presence. More, perhaps, than any other abstract truth of our religion, this requires the resolute banishing of pictures suggested by the imagination and the complete concentration of the mind upon intellectual concepts. If in treating this subject some of the greatest of saints and theologians have failed to attain the ideal, then perhaps we need feel no surprise that our minds are at a loss before the contemplation of this mystery of faith. But if we lament the impotence of our minds, let us also adore the omnipotence of God.


The intimate connection of the Sacrament of the Eucharist with the Eucharistic sacrifice has been sufficiently explained in the introductory section; the sacrament which we receive is none other than the all-holy victim which through the priest we have offered to God. We must here consider the essential elements of the sacrament, and also certain important matters relating to its use and administration.

That the Eucharist merits the name of sacrament—that it is a sign permanently instituted by Christ and an instrumental cause of man's sanctification—that indeed, by reason of the sacred Body of Christ which it really contains, it is the greatest of all the sacraments, is apparent in all that has hitherto been said. But it is not only in its super-eminent dignity that the Eucharist differs from the other sacraments; it is unique in that it is permanent. The other sacraments exist only in the moment of their performance and administration; in fact, they are performed when they are administered. When the two elements of the sacramental sign—e.g. the pouring of water and the saying of the words—are joined together and applied to the recipient, in that moment the sacrament exists, produces its effect—and ceases. The Eucharist, on the contrary, exists as a sacrament independently of its administration; when the form—the words of consecration—has been pronounced' over the matter—bread and wine—the sacrament of the Eucharist exists in its complete perfection, even though none may ever receive it; and it continues to exist as long as the sacramental species remain incorrupt.

In consequence of the peculiar nature of this sacrament it is necessary to proceed somewhat differently when we seek to designate its essential elements. We must distinguish two stages: the sacrament, so to speak, in the making, and the sacrament in its completed state; and it is only in the first of these stages that we are able properly to discern the two parts that constitute the sacramental sign. The matter of the sacrament is bread and wine, the form consists of the words of consecration; but these are present only in the moment of the confection of the sacrament. After the consecration, of the bread and wine there remain only the appearances, while the form remains only virtually, that is to say, in the permanent effect of transubstantiation. An accurate treatment, therefore, of the sacrament requires that we consider it separately under these two aspects, in the moment of its confection and in its state of completion.

Little needs to be said here of the matter and the form of the Eucharist. The matter consists of bread and wine. With regard to the bread, the dispute between East and West as to the use of leavened or unleavened bread is well known. In all probability Christ himself used unleavened bread in instituting the Eucharist;47 but it cannot be established with any degree of certainty that in apostolic or sub-apostolic times there was uniformity of usage. It. was not until the eleventh century that the question was raised by the Eastern dissidents, led by Michael Cerularius, as to the validity of the use of unleavened bread; having raised it they answered it in the negative, thus asserting the invalidity of the consecration in the Roman rite. The attitude which the Catholic Church had maintained since the beginning is embodied in the statement of the Council of Florence —the Decretum pro Armenis—that "the body of Christ is truly confected in wheaten bread, whether it be leavened or not, and priests of the Eastern or Western Church are bound to consecrate in either according to the respective custom of each rite." The wine used in the Eucharist must be wine of the grape,38 though in certain circumstances a little alcohol may be artificially added for purposes of preservation. The ritual of adding a few drops of water to the wine at the Offertory has probably an historical basis in the act of Christ himself at the Last Supper, and its symbolism is beautifully expressed in the prayer which the priest recites as he adds them: "O God who in creating human nature hast wonderfully dignified it and still more wonderfully formed it again; grant that by the mystery of this water and wine we may be made partakers of the divine nature of him who vouchsafed to become partaker of our humanity, namely, Jesus Christ our Lord, thy Son."49

The form of the sacrament consists of the words used by Christ himself in instituting the Eucharist: over the bread, "This is my body"; and over the wine, "This is the chalice of my blood of the new and eternal testament—mystery of faith—which shall be shed for you and for many unto the remission of sins." What words may be omitted without affecting the validity of the consecration is a question discussed by moral theologians, and as not being of general interest may be disregarded here. It is held by the Eastern dissidents that the prayer called the Epiclesis, which in certain liturgies follows the consecration, is essential to the effect of transubstantiation. A more detailed treatment of this matter will be found elsewhere;50 suffice it to state here that according to Catholic teaching transubstantiation is operated solely by the words of institution.

Turning now to consider the sacrament in its completed state we are confronted by the preliminary question of what constitutes the "sacrament" properly so called. Is the sacrament of the Eucharist the body of Christ only, or is it merely the species of bread and wine, or is it both together? Subtle theological discussion as to the precise meaning to be attached to the word "sacrament" has caused various answers to be given to this question. If, however, we abstract from «such subtleties, we may reply quite simply that the sacrament of the Eucharist is the body and blood of Christ really present, after the manner of a substance, under the appearances of bread and wine, and destined to be our spiritual and supernatural food. Hence not only the body of Christ really present constitutes the sacrament, not only the consecrated species, but both the body of Christ and the species together; for the former without the latter is not a visible sign, and the species without the body of Christ present under them are not the cause of grace.

The Eucharist, being a sacrament, is destined to be received by the faithful. But, as the fathers of the Council of Trent point out, "it is not the less on this account to be adored by them."51 The practice of the Church of paying to the Eucharist the worship which is due to God alone is but a logical consequence of her belief that therein is permanently present the living Christ, true God and true man. The Feast of Corpus Christi, processions of the Blessed Sacrament, Benediction, are merely the devotional expression, sanctioned or even commanded by the Church, of this traditional faith in the Real Presence. Likewise connected with that belief, and with the sacramental character of the Eucharist, is the custom of reserving the Blessed Sacrament with a view to its administration to the sick. Hence the Council of Trent anathematises those who "say that it is not allowed to reserve the Eucharist in the tabernacle, but that it must be administered to those present immediately after the consecration, or that it may not be carried with honour to the sick."52 A providential aspect of the practice of reservation is the opportunity thus afforded to the devout faithful of paying those private visits to the Blessed Sacrament which are so fruitful a source of grace and so edifying a feature of Catholic devotional life.

For the proper reception of the sacrament two conditions are necessary, the state of grace and the natural fast from the preceding midnight. We have seen how vehemently St Paul insists upon the worthy reception of the Eucharist53 and throughout Tradition we hear the echo of his words. Suffice it to quote two well-known passages: "This food," writes St Justin,54 "is called the Eucharist, of which none is allowed to partake unless he believes our teaching to be true and has been washed in the laver which is unto the remission of sins and regeneration, and so lives as Christ has commanded." And the Eucharistic prayer of the Didache (a document of the second half of the first century) concludes with the solemn warning: "If anyone be holy let him approach; otherwise let him do penance." The reason why the state of grace is necessary in the recipient of this sacrament is to be sought not only in the reverence due to the body and blood of Christ, but in the purpose for which this sacrament was instituted. The Eucharist is the divinely appointed food whereby the supernatural life of grace is to be sustained in our souls; and food is not given to the dead but to the living. Those who arc dead in sin must rise to newness of life in baptism, the sacrament of regeneration, those who have allowed themselves again to become subject to the captivity of Satan must be loosed from their sins in the sacrament of Penance,55 before they can partake of the food of life.

Of the second disposition required for the reception of the Eucharist—the natural fast—St Augustine gives the following explanation: "It is clear," he writes,56 "that when the disciples first received the body and blood of the Lord they did not receive fasting. . . . Later, however, it pleased the Holy Spirit that, for the honour due to so great a sacrament, the body of Christ should enter the mouth of a Christian before any other food; and therefore throughout the whole world this custom is observed." An earlier trace of this law is to be found in Tertullian's Ad uxorem,57 where he refers to the custom of receiving the Eucharist privately at home "before taking any food."

It was the ordinary rule in the early Church that the faithful, well as the priest who offered the sacrifice, should receive communion under both species. But that on occasion, when convenience or necessity required it, the faithful partook only of one species is evident from numerous documents of early Christian times. Tertullian, in the passage to which reference has just been made, witnesses to the custom of receiving the Eucharist at home under the species of bread only, and it was fairly common to give communion under one species —either of bread or of wine only—to the sick. Young children, to whom the Eucharist was then generally administered, received under the species of wine only, and an indication of the early belief that one species was sufficient for the proper reception of the sacrament may be seen in the very ancient liturgy of the Mass of the Pre-sanctified, where the priest receives under the species of bread alone. Evidently, therefore, the use of both species by the faithful is not of divine precept or institution, since otherwise the above-mentioned practices could never have been introduced without arousing comment and opposition. It was only in the fifteenth century that the Hussites—followed in this by many of the Reformers of the succeeding century—insisted upon the necessity of communion under both species. The whole matter cannot be better summarised than in the words of the Council of Trent: "Holy Mother Church, knowing her authority in the administration of the sacraments, although the use of both species has from the beginning of the Christian religion not been infrequent, yet, that custom having in the progress of time been widely changed, induced by weighty and just reasons,58 has approved of this custom of communicating under one species, and decreed that it was to be held as a law. . . . This synod moreover declares that although, as has already been said, our Redeemer at the Last Supper instituted and delivered to the Apostles this sacrament in two species, yet it is to be acknowledged that Christ whole and entire, and a true sacrament, are received under either species alone; and that there-fore, as regards the fruit, they who receive one species alone are not defrauded of any grace necessary for salvation."59

One further question, that of the necessity of the Eucharist for salvation, remains to be treated. But as the elements for its solution are provided by the consideration of the effects of the sacrament it will find place more conveniently in the succeeding section.


As the Eucharist is the greatest of all the sacraments, so it is particularly fitting that the words in which Christ himself has described its effects should have been preserved for us in the Scriptures with the greatest completeness and detail. In an earlier section reference has been made to the discourse, related by St. John,60 in which our Saviour prepared his disciples for their first communion. From the beginning of this discourse to the end it is clear that the effect of the Eucharist is life. The Eucharist is "the bread of God . . . that giveth life to the world"; it is "the bread of life . . . the living bread that came down from heaven . . . the bread . . . that if any man eat of it he may not die . . . if any man eat of this bread he shall live for ever"; in fact it is the food which is indispensable for life, for "except you eat the flesh of the son of man and drink his blood you shall not have life in you; he that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood hath everlasting life and I will raise him up at the last day. . . . He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood abideth in me and I in him. As the living Father hath sent me and I live by the Father, so he that eateth me, the same also shall live by me. . . . He that eateth this bread shall live for ever." St Peter could not have expressed more appropriately his faith in his Master's teaching than by saying: "Thou hast the words of eternal life."

And what is this life which is so evidently the proper effect of the Eucharist? The words of Christ leave no room for doubt. It is the divine life, the life of God himself; the life which the Son, the second Person of the Blessed Trinity, lives in common with the Father, and of which he, through this ineffable sacrament, communicates to us a finite participation. It is the same life to which we are "born again of water and the Holy Ghost," in virtue of which, being made partakers of the divine nature and receiving the Spirit of adoption, we become the adopted sons of God. It is this community of the divine life which makes all Christians to be one; as the Father is in Christ, and he in the Father, so all who partake of this life are one in them; "I in them," says Christ after the Last Supper, "and thou in me; that they may be made perfect in one."61 This is the reason why Christ promises that he who receives the Eucharist will abide in Christ as Christ abides in him. By receiving this sacrament we become members of his mystical body, and thus are vivified by the vital principle of that body, which is none other than the divine life of sanctifying grace, the life to which Christ is referring when he lays, at the Last Supper, "I am the vine; you the branches; he that abideth in me and I in him, the same beareth much fruit; for without me you can do nothing."

"The effect of this sacrament," says St Thomas, "is union with the mystical body of Christ,"62 union with Christ by sanctifying grace and union with all the members of his mystical body. "We being many," says St Paul, "are one bread, one body, all that partake of one bread."63 "Just as this bread," prayed the Christians of the first century,3" was once dispersed upon the hills and has been gathered into one substance, so may thy Church be gathered together from the ends of the earth into thy Kingdom." None of the Fathers has so dearly expressed this fundamental Eucharistic truth as St Augustine. "The faithful," he writes,64 "know the body of Christ if they do not neglect to be the body of Christ. Let them become the body of Christ if they wish to live by the Spirit of Christ. Only the body of Christ lives by the Spirit of Christ; and therefore it is that St Paul, explaining to us the nature of this bread, says: 'We being many are one bread, one body.' O sacrament of piety! O symbol of unity! O bond of charity! He who wills to live has here the place to live, has here the source of his life. Let him approach and believe, let him be incorporated, that he may receive life."65

In order to understand what is meant by this union with Christ which is the proper effect of the Eucharist it is important to distinguish between the actual reception of the Sacrament and the effect of the reception. The very act of receiving Holy Communion involves a union between the body of Christ and ourselves, inasmuch as that Sacred Body, under the appearances of bread and wine, is truly, really and substantially present within our own bodies until the species have become corrupt. But this is not the union with Christ of which we speak as the effect of the Eucharist. The union which the Eucharist effects is a spiritual, supernatural union with Christ by means of sanctifying grace and charity, a union which may appropriately be described as "vital," since it consists in the communication to our souls of the supernatural life of grace, the life of the mystical body of Christ. Just as during his life on earth the healing touch of his body gave sight to the blind and healed all manner of bodily diseases, so his life-giving humanity, sacramentally received by us, gives to our souls the life which makes us members of him and partakers of the divine nature.

The attentive reader will have observed that this effect—union with Christ by sanctifying grace and charity—which the sources of revelation represent as the proper effect of the Eucharist, is none other than the effect which is common to all the sacraments of the New Law; for all these produce sanctifying grace in our souls. And it is this fact, more than any other, that enables us to understand the unique place which the Eucharist holds among the sacraments. For the Eucharist, says St Thomas, "has of itself the power of giving grace." "This sacrament," says the Catechism of the Council of Trent, "is the source from which the other sacraments derive whatever perfection and goodness they possess."

While it is true, then, that all the sacraments produce sanctifying grace, yet the Eucharist alone produces it as its own proper effect— ex seipso, says St Thomas. The other sacraments produce grace only in virtue of their essential relation to the Eucharist. And if we consider each of the sacraments we shall see the truth of the words of St Thomas: "The Eucharist is the end of all the sacraments, for the sanctification given in all the sacraments constitutes a preparation either for the reception or for the consecration of the Eucharist." By Baptism, according to the well-known teaching of St Paul,66 we die to sin in order that we may live to Christ; the mystical death that we undergo in this sacrament is but the preparation for the mystical life that we live in Christ through the Eucharist. By Confirmation we are armed against the dangers which threaten the unity of Christ's mystical body, a unity which, as we have seen, is the proper effect of the Eucharist. Penance removes the actual sins committed after baptism, sins which are an obstacle to union with Christ by charity, while Extreme Unction removes those last relics of sin, that spiritual weakness which results from sin and handicaps the soul in its endeavour to live for God alone. The relation of the Sacrament of Order to the Eucharist is too obvious to need explanation; while Matrimony, as signifying the union of Christ with his spouse the Church, is a type of that intimate union of the faithful with Christ which is the proper effect of the greatest of all the sacraments.

The Catechism of the Council of Trent, in the passage already quoted more than once, compares the Eucharist to the source or fountain-head; and the similitude may be found useful in order to explain more fully the effect of the sacrament. The water that flows at the source has a characteristically stimulating effect. So too, although all the sacraments produce sanctifying grace, yet the grace which is given in the Eucharist has that especially stimulating and invigorating quality which we associate with water that flows fresh from the source. Each sacrament, as is well known, besides giving sanctifying grace, produces an effect—called sacramental grace— which is peculiar to itself. This sacramental grace, says St Thomas,67 "adds to grace commonly so called and to the virtues and gifts a certain divine help to attain the end of the sacrament." Now the end of the sacrament of the Eucharist is union with Christ by charity; the sacramental grace of the Eucharist, therefore, is a special help for the attainment of that union which St Paul calls "the bond of perfection"; theologians call it "the fervour of charity."

The matter is so important that no apology need be made for devoting some little space to the explanation of this effect of the Eucharist. The virtue of charity is that supernatural habit68 infused together with sanctifying grace, which enables us to love God for his own sake above all things. One who has the virtue of charity has such a habit of mind that he regards God as the last end to which he must direct all his actions, to which his whole life must be subordinated. It is true that he is not always thinking of God; he does not, as theologians say, always "actually" direct all his actions to God's glory; but he is "habitually" so constituted in regard to God that if any action presented itself to his mind as incompatible with God's friendship he would reject it, because he loves God above all things. Such a state is called "habitual charity." But there are times in our lives when the thought of God is strong within us, when we realise more fully that God is the sovereign Good, that all that we have is ours only because it comes from God, and therefore must be given back to him. In such moments we live "actually" for God; all that is ours we actually refer to him, the source of all good; then we have some small understanding of what St Paul meant when he said: "I live, now not I, but Christ liveth in me," and perhaps we feel "our heart burning within us" as did the disciples on the way to Emmaus, so that to God we cry with the Psalmist: "How sweet are thy words to my palate! more than honey to my mouth."69

This actual and conscious referring of our actions to God is called the "fervour of charity." Some of the saints have reached the stage of perfection in which this fervour of devotion is alive constantly within them; but with the majority of mankind such moments are comparatively rare. In time of retreat, perhaps, during prayer and as a result of humble and unremitting effort, in the church, and above all after Holy Communion, we may be filled with that actual realization of all that God is and of the little that we are in his sight, and we may be fired with that zeal for the service of God, with that fervour of charity that makes us say with St Paul: "The charity of Christ presseth us on."70

This, then, is the special fruit of the Eucharist. Just as daily contact with Christ during his life on earth must have aroused in the hearts of his disciples an ardent and enthusiastic love for his divine Person, so he who drinks living waters of the fountains of the Saviour, deriving grace from the intimate touch of his life-giving humanity, breaks into fervent acts of divine love, acts which increase71 and establish more firmly in him the virtue by which he adheres to God the Sovereign Good. And so it is seen how truly this sacrament is called the food of the soul, and how appropriately the body and blood of Christ are given to mankind under the outward form of bodily food. For "all those effects which material food and drink produce in regard to bodily life are produced in respect of the spiritual life by this sacrament; it sustains, it gives increase, it repairs (the ravages of disease) and it gives delight."72

That this sacramental food sustains and invigorates the life of the soul is clear from what has been said. But it does not give that life in the first instance; before the soul may be nourished with the heavenly food of the Eucharist it must first have been born to the supernatural life through the sacrament of regeneration; the life-giving virtue of the Eucharist must first have been applied to the soul through the intermediary of baptism, by which man dies to sin that he "may walk in newness of life";73 and if by mortal sin he should have become a dead member of Christ's mystical body, that same life-giving power must be applied to him through the sacrament of reconciliation before he can be nourished again by the sacrament of unity.74 But, just as bodily food repairs the effects of a disease which is not mortal, although it cannot give life to a dead body, so the Eucharist has the effect of remitting venial sin, inasmuch as it arouses in the soul the fervour of charity, to which alone venial sin is opposed.75 Indirectly, too, such fervour remits the temporal punishment due to sin.

In strengthening the supernatural life of the soul the Eucharist also preserves it from future sin, because the fervour of charity which is the special fruit of this sacrament renders the soul less susceptible to the attractions of the devil, the world, and the flesh, and more prompt in its obedience to the will of God.

A final analogy between the food of the body and the Eucharist, the spiritual food of the soul, is to be found in the pleasure or delight which accompanies its reception. This effect in the case of the Eucharist takes the form of a certain alacrity and spiritual joy in the fulfilment of the divine will, which is characteristic of the fervour of charity. But it is to be noted that, just as one who, being in indifferent health, approaches his meal listlessly and without appetite, will fail to relish his food, so he who approaches this divine sacrament with his mind distracted, with his will not fully detached from the things of earth, will not perceive that spiritual sweetness to which the Psalmist invites us with the words: "O taste and see that the Lord is sweet."76 On the other hand this spiritual responsiveness to the will of God, which is the normal effect of Holy Communion received with good dispositions, should not be confused with that sensible devotion and feeling of religious exhilaration which God sometimes grants as a special and extraordinary grace, but which is by no means an essential accompaniment to the fervour of charity.

It would be a neglect of the express words of Christ himself, as well as of the constant teaching of the Fathers, to omit all mention of the effect of the Eucharist on our bodies. Christ promises the glorious resurrection as one of the fruits of the Eucharist: "He who eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood hath eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day." So St Ignatius of Antioch calls the Eucharist the "medicine of immortality,"77 and St Irenaeus defends the doctrine of the resurrection against the Gnostics on the ground that our bodies have been nourished with the body and blood of Christ: "How can they assert that our flesh will be corrupted and never again be revived, when it has been nourished with the body and blood of Christ? . . . Our bodies having received the Eucharist are no longer corruptible, but have the hope of the resurrection."78 This is not to be understood as if the Eucharist produced any physical quality in the body by reason of which it will rise in glory,79 but rather in the sense that it is supremely appropriate that the body, which has been sanctified by contact with this most blessed Sacrament of the body and blood of Christ, should be a partaker of Christ's glorious resurrection. The Eucharist, in the words of St Thomas, is "a pledge of glory to come." Hardly less general among the Fathers is the attribution, to the Eucharist of a virtue protective against the attacks of concupiscence. This, likewise, is probably not to be interpreted in any physical sense, except so far as the fervour of charity produced by the sacrament enables the soul more efficaciously to resist the temptations of the flesh.

In the light of what has been said concerning the effects of the Eucharist it may be possible now to answer the question as to how far the Eucharist is necessary for salvation. A proper understanding of the matter requires a preliminary definition of terms. In the first place, a thing may be necessary for salvation either as an indispensable means or merely because it is a precept which must be observed. In the former case even the inculpable omission of it would prejudice salvation, whereas if it is a matter of precept evidently only willful disobedience is imputable. Moreover, a thing may be necessary for salvation either in actual fact, or it may be that the desire of it only is necessary for salvation. Thus Baptism, at least by desire, is necessary as an indispensable means for salvation. It is asked, then, is the Eucharist necessary for salvation?

Of the divine precept to receive Holy Communion there can be little doubt in view of the words of Christ at the Last Supper: "Do this in commemoration of me," and of his express warning, "except you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood you shall not have life in you."80 The command of the Church, rendering more definite the precept of Christ himself, that the faithful shall receive the Eucharist at least once a year at Paschal time81 is no less indubitable and emphatic. Moreover, it is admitted by all that the divine precept does not oblige those who, being either infants or otherwise ignorant of the precept, are incapable of obeying it, and further that the commandment of the Church binds only those children who have arrived at the age at which they are able to distinguish the Eucharist from ordinary food.

But may one go further, and assert that the Eucharist is necessary, not only because its reception is commanded, but as an indispensable means for salvation? It is quite certain, in view of the condemnation by the Council of Trent82 of the contrary opinion, that the actual reception of the Eucharist is not necessary for the salvation of infants; it is certain also that an adult who, through no fault of his own, .died without ever receiving the sacrament, would not on that account be lost. Clearly, then, the actual reception of the Eucharist is not necessary as an indispensable means for salvation. Is the desire of it necessary? The majority of theologians at the present day content themselves with asserting the divine and ecclesiastical precept, denying that even the desire of the Eucharist is in any proper sense indispensable for salvation; the only sacrament, they say, of which at least the desire is indispensable, is Baptism. This position is undoubtedly the simpler and, if the word "desire" is understood in its ordinary sense, unassailable. Nevertheless, the view of St Thomas is that the desire of the Eucharist, in a certain sense at any rate, is indispensable for salvation; and since his teaching helps much to the understanding of the central position which the Eucharist holds among the sacraments, it deserves to be briefly expounded here.

We must distinguish, says St Thomas,83 between the sacrament itself and the effect of the sacrament. The effect of the Eucharist is union with the mystical body of Christ, and without such union it is impossible to be saved, because outside the Church there is no salvation. Clearly, then, that which is the proper effect of the Eucharist is indispensable for salvation. Nevertheless, it is possible to have the effect of a sacrament without receiving the sacrament itself, namely, through a desire of the sacrament. Thus one may receive the effect of Baptism through desiring the sacrament of Baptism. In like manner, to receive the proper effect of the Eucharist, namely, union with the mystical body of Christ, it is sufficient to have the desire of the Eucharist. Now the desire of the Eucharist is implicitly contained in Baptism, because "by Baptism a man is destined for the Eucharist, and therefore by the very fact that children are baptised they are destined by the Church for the reception of the Eucharist; and just as it is by the faith of the Church that they believe, so it is by the intention of the Church that they desire the Eucharist, and consequently receive its effect." The desire of the Eucharist, then, is necessary for salvation inasmuch as Baptism, the sacrament of regeneration, by reason of its essential subordination to the Eucharist— for we die to sin that we may live to Christ—implicitly destines the soul to partake of the body and blood of Christ in the Eucharist.84

Whatever may be the solution of what is, after all, perhaps, an academic question, it is certainly the desire of the Church that the faithful—as long as they are in the state of grace and have the right intention—should approach Holy Communion frequently and even daily. Hence this section—and the essay—may conveniently conclude with the following extract from the decree of Pope Pius X on the reception of daily Communion:

"The Council of Trent, bearing in mind the immeasurable treasures of divine grace which are obtained by the faithful who receive the most holy Eucharist, says: 'The Sacred Synod desires that the faithful assisting at daily Mass should communicate not only by spiritual affection but also by the sacramental reception of the Eucharist.' These words clearly indicate the desire of the Church that all the faithful should be daily refreshed at this celestial banquet, and draw therefrom more abundant fruits of sanctification. This wish is in evident harmony with the desire by which Christ our Lord was moved when he instituted the Divine Sacrament. For not once nor obscurely, but by frequent repetition, he inculcates the necessity of eating his flesh and drinking his blood; particularly in the words: 'This is the bread that came down from heaven. Not as your fathers did eat manna and are dead. He that eateth this bread shall live for ever.'" G. D. Smith.


1 I Cor. x 17.

2 Ad Philadelph., chap. iv.

3 Session xiii.

4 Literally; nourishing.

5 De vera et falsa religione.

6 Luke xxii 15.

7 I Cor. xi 23-25.

8 As an example of the lengths to which certain Reformers were prepared to go, the following incident is instructive. Zwingli, the protagonist of the figurative interpretation, had been holding a public discussion with a Catholic on the question at Thuringen. That same night, he relates, "I dreamed that I was again disputing with him, when suddenly there appeared to me an adviser, whether he was white or black I do not remember, who said to me: 'Answer him, thou fool, that it is written in Exodus: It is the phase, i.e. the passing of the Lord.' Immediately awaking I jumped from my bed, verified the passage, and later delivered a discourse before the assembly which effectively removed any doubts that had remained in the minds of pious men." Subsidium Eucharistiae.

9 Cf. Matt. xvi II; John iv 32.

10 Cf. John xvi 29.

11 See especially Lectures v and vi.

12 Essay I, Faith and Revealed Truth, pp. 30-1.

13 I Cor. x 16-21.

14 See The Eucharistic Sacrifice, pp. 883-884.

15 I Cor. xi 18 seq.

16 Catech. xxii I.

17 Ad Philadelph., chap. iv.

18 x 16.

19 vii I.

20 St Justin's account is quoted more fully in Essay xxv. The Eucharistic Sacrifice, pp. 890-892.

21 V 2, 3.

22 iv 18, 5. The earthly element seems to be the appearances of bread which remain, and the heavenly element the body of Christ present under those appearances.

23 I Cor. ch. viii and ch. x.

24 De Idololatria, 7.

25 De lapris, chap. xv. Chapters xxv and xxvi contain other striking passages concerning the Eucharist.

26 In Ex., hom. xiii, 3.

27 Catech. xxiii 21, 22.

28 Catech. xxii 1, 2, 6, 9 and passim. Cf. St Thomas's hymn: Visus, tactus, gustus in te fallitur, Sed auditu solo tuto creditur.

29 Hom. 82 in Matt., n. 4.

30 Ibid.

31 Cf. e.g. Ep. 98; Contr. Adimant. xii, 3; Enarr. in Ps. iii I.

32 I Cor. x 17.

33 Session xiii, c. 4.

34 Cf. above, p. 850.

35 De fide orthod. iv, 13.

36 John Damasc., loc. cit.

37 See above, p. 854.

38 According to the scholastic view, the "prime matter," which is successively determined by different substantial forms.

39 See above, p. 852, n. 2.

40 Summa Theol., III, Q. lxxvii.

41 St Thomas, Summa Theol., III, Q. lxxvi.

42 This truth is defined as of faith by the Council of Trent (Sess. xiii, can. 3) as regards the species after division. Evidently the same is true also before division, for the reason given above.

43 Aristotle, Metaph. iv, c. 13.

44 A further reason for abstaining from such locutions as "Christ is spiritually present in the Eucharist" is that many non-Catholic writers use similar phrases concerning the Eucharist, without implying any true belief in the Real Presence. They mean by the spiritual presence of Christ merely that Christ is present in the Eucharist by reason of the 'faith of the recipient. 2 Evidently Christ has perfect knowledge of all that happens in the Eucharist, at least through his infused and beatific knowledge.

45 With regard to qualitative and quantitative change in the sacramental Species, it may be noted in the first place that the length of time during which the Real Presence lasts after reception will depend upon physiological conditions; as a general rule ten minutes is given as the normal period. At What point of quantitative division in the species does the Real Presence cease? From the point of view of dogmatic theology it must, it seems, be admitted that even the most minute particles of the species of bread or wine, though naturally imperceptible to the senses, if they present the characteristics of bread or wine, truly harbour the sacred Presence. In practice, however, such particles must be treated as non-existent, because Christ, who has deigned to give himself to us in this sacrament, wills to be treated as present only when the sign of his presence is perceptible.

46 Matt. xxvi 17.

47 The suggestion of Harnack (Brot und Wasser, Leipzig, 1891), based on a passage of St Cyprian's letter to Caecilius, that the primitive Church used water in the Eucharist instead of wine, has met with so little encouragement that it deserves to be mentioned only as a curiosity.

48 Evidently this small quantity of water does not change the nature of the wine, but it is absorbed into the water naturally contained therein, and thus at the consecration is changed into the blood of Christ.

49 The Eucharistic Sacrifice, pp. 917-918.

50 Session xiii, c. 5.

51 Session xiii, c. 7.

52 I Cor. xi 27.

53 Apol. I, c. 66.

54 In this connection the following precept of the Council of Trent is important: "For fear lest so great a sacrament should be received unworthily, and so unto death and condemnation, this holy Synod ordains and declares that sacramental confession, when a confessor may be had, is of necessity to be made beforehand by those whose conscience is burdened with mortal sin, however contrite they may think themselves" (Sess. xiii, c. II).

55 Ep. 54, c. 6.

56 ii 5.

57 Among these reasons the following may be enumerated: the difficulty of reserving the species of wine; the danger of spilling and other inconveniences attending distribution; the rarity of wine in certain districts; and finally the practical profession of faith in the presence of Christ whole and entire under either species alone, which such custom involves.

58 Session xxi, c. 2 and c. 3.

59 vi 27 ff.

60 John xvii 23.

61 Summa Theol., Q. lxxiii, art. 3.

62 I Cor. x 17.

63 Didache, c. 9, §4.

64 In. Joan., tr. xxvi, 13.

65 See also the passage of St John Chrysostom quoted on p. 855.

66 Rom. vi 2-10.

67 Summa Theol., III, Q. lxii, art. 2.

68 See Essay xviii. The Supernatural Virtues, pp. 645ff.

69 Ps. cxviii 103.

70 2 Cor. v 14.

71 I.e. not effectively but meritoriously. See Essay xviii, The. Super-natural Virtues, pp. 629-630.

72 Summa Theol., III, Q. lxxix, art. i.

73 Rom. vi 4.

74 It is commonly held, however, that one who receives Holy Communion being unconscious or oblivious of his mortal sin and implicitly sorry for it (with attrition at least) is not deprived of the grace of the Sacrament, since he does not willfully obstruct its effect.

75 It should be noted that venial sin does not diminish the habit of sanctifying grace nor the virtue of charity. See Essay xxvi, Sin and Repentance, pp. 948-951; cf. p. 575, n. I.

76 Ps. xxxiii 9.

77 Ad Eph., n. 20.

78 Adv. haer., lib. iv, c. 18.

79 Some few theologians have held this view.

80 John vi 54.

81 IV Lateran Council (1215) and Council of Trent (Sess. 13, c. 9).

82 Session 21, c. 4.

83 Summa Theol., III, Q. lxxiii, art. 3.

84 St Thomas is careful, however, in the same article to point out the difference between Baptism and the Eucharist in the matter of necessity. Baptism is the sacrament of initiation into the Christian life, and since there is no preceding sacrament in which the desire of baptism can be involved, infants can be saved only by its actual reception.


This item 386 digitally provided courtesy of