Catholic Culture Dedication
Catholic Culture Dedication

Devotion to the Real Presence and Growth in Sanctity

by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.


Fr. John Hardon explains the meaning of the Real Presence, the two miracles that take place at the Consecration, and the simplest way of identifying the Real Presence. In addition, he analyzes the three principal reasons why devotion to the Real Presence is such an effective means of fostering holiness. He also provides several ways to foster progress in holiness through a greater devotion to the Real Presence. In conclusion he compares the Real Presence with the Mystical Body of Christ.

Larger Work

The Catholic Faith


1 - 4

Publisher & Date

Ignatius Press, San Francisco, CA, May / June 2002

First, what do we mean by the Real Presence? By the Real Presence we mean the Presence now on earth until the end of time of Jesus Christ — true God and true Man in the fullness of both natures contained by the Eucharistic species. Christ in the fullness of His human and divine natures abides in the Eucharist. The Latin phrase is connitator. We have Jesus Christ inside there in a way that He is not present anywhere else except in heaven. What do we mean by the Real Presence? After the Consecration we distinguish philosophically between the substance and accident. The substance is that which makes a thing what it is and underlies its properties or accidents, but the properties can change. The substance remains. We are the same substance from the time we are conceived in the womb to the present moment. Our accidents or properties have certainly changed. Now some questions:

1) After the consecration is the substance of bread and wine on the altar? No.

2) After consecration are the accidents of bread and wine, are the physical properties of bread and wine, real physical properties on the altar after consecration? Yes, that's the first miracle of the Real Presence. There are two miracles to the Real Presence. The first miracle is that you have real physical properties minus their substance. The first miracle of faith in the Eucharist is in the real absence of the substance of bread and wine. You can taste, you can touch, you can feel bread and wine but the substance is not there.

3) Is the substance of Christ's Body and Blood on the altar after Consecration? Yes. In other words, does Christ have the organs of His Body, does He have His Hands and Feet, and Features, His Eyes, and Mouth, and Eyes and Heart? Do they have size and dimension and color? Is the human mind of Christ thinking in the Eucharist? Is the human will of Christ in the Eucharist loving? Yes. Is the whole Christ there? Yes. The fourth yes, is the second big mystery of the Real Presence. The first mystery is that we have accidents without their substance. The second mystery is we have physical properties without their visible sensibly perceptible manifestation.

Teaching, therefore, devotion to the Real Presence as a means of growth in sanctity should begin with the one who does the teaching, him knowing exactly what the Real Presence means. What does it mean? It, first of all, means that in the Eucharist we have the whole Christ. The Council of Trent gave us the term which is part of our faith, in the Eucharist we have the Totus Christus, the whole Christ. We believe as Catholics that in the Eucharist Christ is present with the fullness of His divine nature and the fullness of His human nature. There is no problem whatever or no test of the faith to say that Christ is present with the fullness of His divine nature because Christ had been present as God on earth long before the Incarnation took place. Christ as God is everywhere! The real test of faith is whether we believe Christ is present not only as God but is present as Man. Nor is that enough. It is not merely that He is present as Man but that He is present as Man in the fullness of His bodily or corporeal nature and in the fullness of His spiritual human nature. Nor is that enough. We believe that in the Eucharist is present Christ with His Body and Blood which are living and possess all the physical properties that any living human being has, so too with the soul. That soul is united with Christ's humanity. It is therefore a soul with a mind. Christ has two intellects; He has two wills. Consequently, Christ is present in His soul with the fullness of His human mind and His human will and both are distinct from the Divine mind and will.

What is the simplest way of identifying the Real Presence? The Real Presence is Jesus Christ who is living in heaven at the right hand of His heavenly Father and on earth only and exclusively in the Eucharist. To summarize, therefore, the Real Presence refers to that reality which constitutes the Living Christ. And just as truly as Christ was really present in the fullness of His human and divine natures only within the limits of that Child whom Mary loved at Bethlehem (outside of the Child that lay in the straw at Bethlehem God was surely present but Christ was not present as the God-Man). He was not present as God and Man in the air that He breathed. He was not present as the God-Man in Mary or Joseph. He was present only and uniquely in that Man Who was born on Christmas day. The Eucharist began in the womb of Mary. St. Augustine's phrase "the flesh of Jesus is the flesh of Mary," is beautiful. It means that when we believe in the Real Presence we believe that having risen from the dead and ascended at the right hand of His heavenly Father, Christ did not leave the earth. The real difference between anyone else and a Catholic is that a Catholic believes that Christ is present in heaven and on earth. The expression and on earth is our faith in the Real Presence. The discovery of the full reality of the Real Presence I consider one of the greatest graces in the spiritual life. A lot of believers don't really see it. That's the foundation of the spiritual life!

Now the history of spirituality as related to the Real Presence. Here you could choose the life of any saint: ancient, medieval or modern. If you want to know the relationship there is between devotion to the Real Presence and growth in sanctity, read the lives of the saints. They all had it. One of the simplest ways of promoting devotion to the Real Presence among those in formation is to get them to read from and about these saints about whose devotion to the Real Presence we know the most. Once it dawns on you then you deal with Him as you deal with the living Christ. You talk to Him; you know He is there listening. He sees you; and with the eyes of faith you see Him. Being in the company of Christ is not the same as knowing in whose company you are. This is one grace that I urge you to get for yourselves and then to urge other Catholics to pray for, for themselves. Some young people may have it. Converts usually have it. Most of the time that's how their conversion starts.

Consequently, one of the most effective ways of inspiring the faithful to be more devoted to the Real Presence is to expose them to the life history of the great men and women who have reached sanctity because of their own great devotion to the Real Presence. A few names are: the outstanding theological writer on the Real Presence, St. Alphonsus de Ligouri and St. Peter Julian Eymard, the founder of the Blessed Sacrament Fathers and Brothers. St. Peter Julian Eymard's writings about the Real Presence are especially important because they bring out how Christ in the Real Presence is to be imitated. This Christ who is imitable from His visible stay on earth to His Eucharistic stay on earth. Among the virtues that Peter Julian brings out that Christ wants us to especially imitate in the Eucharistic Presence are His patience, His love, His obedience and, with strong emphasis, His humility. A third saint is St. Margaret Mary. The two books that are easily available in English translated are her letters and her autobiography. Margaret Mary's devotion to the Eucharist was so deep that she says devotion to the Sacred Heart is devotion to the Real Presence to the Holy Eucharist. There is no devotion that modern Popes have more emphasized than devotion to the Sacred Heart for the best reasons because the Eucharist is the Sacred Heart . . . making sure that we know His physical Heart is there.

Now we proceed with an analysis of both the why and the how of cultivating devotion to the Real Presence and this as a means of fostering sanctity. There are three principle reasons why devotion to the Real Presence is such an effective means of fostering holiness.

There is no single mystery of our faith that more surely strengthens the faith than this mystery. It is no wonder that it has been called the Mystery of Faith. To believe in the Real Presence is to believe in everything else, the Trinity, the Redemption, and the Incarnation. We know how demanding this faith can be from that 6th chapter of John — the only occasion when we know His own disciples walked from Jesus was when He announced the Real Presence. The complaint has been repeated over the centuries. This is intolerable language. Who can believe it? Those who want to believe it. But let's make sure we know what the object of this faith is. It is not that Christ is present there as God. He was, on earth before the Incarnation. It is not even that the substance of Christ's Body and Blood is there. It is that Christ is present with His physical properties. It is that we believe that Christ is there with that which we cannot see, which we cannot touch, which we cannot experience with our bodily senses. AS the Tantum ergo says faith supplies the defect of the senses. Christ has His sensibly perceptible properties in the Eucharist and I believe they are there though my senses cannot perceive them. As we hold our faith it's twice tested in the Eucharist. Christ's contemporaries during His visible stay on earth saw only a Man and believed that behind that man is God. We see only the Eucharistic species and behind them we believe there is a Man and behind Him there is God. Anyone who is weak in their Eucharistic faith, will be weak right down the line across the whole spectrum of the mysteries of Christianity. The main reason for the defection of 10,000 priests in the United States since the Second Vatican Council was a weakening of faith in the Real Presence. That is absolutely and incontestably true. A priest whose faith in the Real Presence is strong, is a priest who is faithful to His priestly duties, devoted and, with God's grace, is effective in winning souls.

The Real Presence because it is a sacrament confers the grace that is proper to this sacrament. What is the grace? The grace to love. So why is devotion to the Real Presence so important? Because it is especially through faith in the Eucharist that we obtain an increase of the virtue of charity both towards God and towards our fellow man.

Why is devotion to the Eucharist so valuable for promoting sanctity? Because it fosters community worship. Something mysterious happens when a group of people worship together before the Real Presence. In other words, they receive grace from that Real Presence that is absolutely unique and that is why religious communities as communities who want to become strong and stable must have communal devotion to the Eucharist. This is so true that under no matter what guise of excuse a community weakens in its cooperate devotion to the Real Presence that community is in trouble and if it is not careful is in danger of disintegration.

How to foster progress in holiness through greater devotion to the Real Presence:

a) Be sure you yourself know the meaning of the mystery of the Real Presence and explain it accordingly to others.

b) Make sure there is no doubt in anyone's mind that the Eucharist is a sacrament three times over. It is sacrament as Sacrifice in the Mass; it is sacrament as communion when received; it is sacrament as just being present, which means, Christ just because He is present on the altar gives grace. How does He give grace? Infallibly as the ex opera operato just because the Blessed Sacrament is reserved therefore everyone who comes before that presence no less than everyone who came before the presence of Christ during His visible stay on earth. You couldn't be in Christ's Presence without being affected by Him. Everything else about life is secondary.

c) The Holy Hour is something that goes back to Christ's agony in the garden, when He asked Peter, James, and John to watch with Him. St. Margaret Mary quoted Christ several times. Christ's greatest sorrow as He expressed it was that consecrated souls are so careless about this. Archbishop Sheen preached the Holy Hour in season and out of season. He didn't miss a Holy Hour once from the time of his ordination until he was laid up in the hospital. If it has to be broken up to get an hour in — OK. You spend one hour before the Blessed Sacrament each day besides the Mass and you've saved your soul and you become truly religious.

d) Encourage people when they have the option to pray before the Blessed Sacrament. That does not mean that prayer that is not before the Blessed Sacrament is not very efficacious. But all things being equal, when I have the option I spend the time there.

e) Ask for a deeper faith in the Real Presence. If Christ tells us, "ask and you shall receive," then our asking Him for a deeper faith He will give it to us.

f) Just want to be with the Eucharistic Christ for no other reason. You don't know why. You just want to be around and as far as possible do what you have to do there. Do your work before the Blessed Sacrament. Get the idea that He is there. Anything that you can do before the Blessed Sacrament do it. So just be with Him; and find any excuse to be with Him.

g) Be so imbued with faith in Christ's Eucharistic Presence that you want to tell everybody else about It and then take every reasonable and if need be unreasonable occasion to tell people. Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament means everything to you, so explain the Real Presence, encourage devotion to the Real Presence.

Compare the Real Presence with the Mystical Body of Christ. Both are realities. Christ now has two existences which until He died on the Cross He had only one. Perhaps we could put this in stages. Before the Incarnation, God was present on earth only as God. With the Incarnation God became present on earth as the God-Man. The distinctive difference between Christ's presence on earth since the Incarnation and before, the distinctive difference is His humanity. There is now a Man who is hypostatically, that is totally and substantially united, with the divinity present in the world of space and time. The moment Christ died on the Cross, the Mystical Body came into existence. The physical Body of Christ came into existence at Nazareth when Mary said, "Be it done to me according to Your word." The Mystical Body came into existence the moment Christ pronounced the words: "It is finished. Into Your hand I commend My spirit." The moment Christ died what had been only the physical Christ now took on in addition His members with whom He united Himself as their Head. The Mystical Body of Christ, therefore, is the Church. The Mystical Body may also be called the communion of saints. The Mystical Body is that communion of the souls in heaven, the souls in purgatory, and the living who are in God's grace and members of the Church on earth, who are the members of what we call the Mystical Body, whose head is the Physical Body. So the Mystical Body is a society; the Mystical Body is a group of people united with Christ. The Mystical Body has a soul. The soul of that Mystical Body is the Holy Spirit. St. Paul distinguishes — he never mixes the two up; he never confuses the physical Body of Christ with the Mystical Body. The physical Body in Greek is Sarx; the Mystical Body or the Church in Paul is Soma. What's the difference? The difference between the physical Body of Christ and the Mystical Body of Christ is all the difference between Jesus Christ who is the Son of God, that became the Son of Mary, and the society of all those who are united with Christ joined to their Head. The Mystical Body as such is not sensibly perceptible. You cannot see the Mystical Body as Mystical Body with your senses. You do not directly touch this Mystical Body but the Head Christ is sensibly perceptible, the members are as members sensibly perceptible. The physical Christ is Jesus; the Mystical Body is the Church.

We receive the physical Body of Christ substantially. We receive the rest of the Mystical Body in spirit or volitionally because Christ has all of us on His mind. He has all of us in His Heart. And in so far as the whole Church is on Christ's mind and in Christ's Heart that is the extent that we receive what is on His mind and in His Heart.

The physical Body of Christ by Christ's own command is necessary to keep the Mystical Body of Christ alive. In other words, the members of the Mystical Body who are still struggling on earth will not remain united with that Mystical Body unless they receive the physical Body. They will not grow in union with Him; they will not grow in union with one another, unless they receive the Head of the Mystical Body in the Eucharist. The one is a condition for the other. Remember until we reach the Beatific Vision we can be separated from Him. Consequently we must constantly strengthen our bonds with Him at the risk of losing that union when we mainly strengthen our bonds with Him through the Eucharist. That is why it is called the Sacrament of unity. We are all naturally individual persons, separate, distinct from one another. Nature divides; grace unites. The principal source of that which unites is the Eucharist. That's why Christ couldn't have as He did at the Last Supper given the command to love one another as He has loved us unless He gave us the means. He made sure He gave us both the command and the means on the same occasion.

© 2002 Inter Mirifica

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