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"This is my body, which will be given for you; do this in memory of me".                       Luke 22:19

'This is my body, which will be given for you; do this in memory of me'. Lk 22:19



Summer/Fall 2006



Vol. 21, No. 1

 

The Physical Mysteries of the Eucharist

The Eucharist is rightly called the Mystery of Faith because it is the greatest mystery of our Catholic faith. It is a 'mystery' in two senses. First it is a mystery because it is a religious rite. Religious rites are called 'mysteries' and the celebration of the Eucharist is the supreme rite of the Church. It is also a mystery because it is something that can be known only through divine revelation and cannot be fully comprehended by reason. Being a mystery does not mean that we cannot know anything at all about the Eucharist. Rather, it means that the Eucharist is so profound that we can always learn something new about it.
           The Eucharist actually contains a number of 'mysteries', in the sense meaning things that baffle or perplex. The mysteries are both supernatural and natural. The supernatural mysteries are those related to the sacramental and sacrificial aspects of the Eucharist. The natural, or physical, mysteries of the Eucharist are related to how it appears to our senses. They are called miracles.
           Miracles violate the laws of nature, but they do not involve contradictions because the laws of nature are not necessities but are contingent, meaning that they depend on the will of God. But the Eucharist differs from other miracles in one significant way. We know that a miracle is taking place only by faith. Unlike other miracles, we don't perceive the miracle with our senses. When the bread and wine are consecrated, we don't see the bread and wine changed into the Body and Blood of Christ, but we know by faith in Christ's word that it happened. The witnesses of the miracle at wedding feast in Cana, on the other hand, actually saw with their eyes Jesus change water into wine. The miracle was not a matter of faith to them. In the Eucharist the miracle is both what we see and what we don't see. After the miraculous act of consecration bread and wine still appear to be on the altar, but they are no longer there. The Body and Blood of Christ are present instead. Other miracles we perceive with the eyes of the body, but the Eucharist with the eyes of faith.
           The physical mysteries of the Eucharist are great stumbling blocks to nonbelievers. They seem absurd to many. But the apparent absurdity can be removed from their minds by showing them that the mysteries of the Eucharist are not contradictions and are therefore within the power of God. Then we can establish from Sacred Scripture that they are real.
           One author posed the physical mysteries of the Eucharist in the form of a dialogue between a Muslim caliph and Christian missionary. The caliph posed three questions to the missionary:

First Question:

Caliph: "How can Jesus fit into that little host?"
Missionary: "Look out there. What do you see?"
Caliph: "A mountain."
Missionary: "Do you see the whole mountain?"
Caliph: "Yes."
Missionary: "Well, if that huge mountain can fit into the pupil of your eye, why can't Jesus fit into the host?"

           Just as the size of the image of the mountain in the eye has no effect on the nature of the mountain, so the size of the Eucharist has no effect on the nature of the One who is contained therein. Scholastic philosophy makes a distinction between things that are substances and things that are accidents. A substance is something that exists itself. An elephant, an oak tree and a table are examples of material substances. An angel is a spiritual or separated substance. An accident is something that exists in a subject. Colors, shapes, textures, and physical dimensions are examples of accidents. The Eucharist is a physical miracle because the accidents of the bread and wine remain after the consecration without a subject in which to inhere. The subject or substance present is Jesus Christ, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity. This miracle violates the natural law that accidents must have a subject in which to inhere, but the fact that God can preserve accidents without a subject is not a contradiction. The miracle is somewhat analogous to a costume that does not have the proper subject of the costume within. The accidents of bread and wine are a perfect disguise that totally conceals the real substance from all physical and chemical inspection.

Second Question:

Caliph: "How can God change bread and wine into the flesh and blood of Christ?"
Missionary: "When you eat bread and wine, what happens to it? Does it not become your flesh and blood?"

           To vividly represent the mystery of transubstantiation, the changing of the substance of bread and wine into the substance of the Body and Blood of Christ, the Fathers of the Church employed analogies such as the changing of food into the substance of the body, the changing of water into wine at Cana, the changing of the staff of Moses into a serpent, and the changing of the waters of Egypt into blood. Substances can change from one into another. There is no contradiction there. Substances can change naturally, through natural laws, as in the case of nourishment, or they can be changed supernaturally by means of miracles.
           When we eat, food is destroyed and then assimilated to us. But when we receive the Eucharist in a state of grace, the converse happens. We become assimilated to the food; we become assimilated to Christ. And the food is not destroyed. Again, there is no contradiction here, just a different kind of nourishment.

Third Question:

Caliph: "How can Jesus be in all those hosts?"
Missionary: The missionary takes a mirror and shatters it. He picks up one piece and says to the Caliph, "Look into it. What do you see?" Then he picks up another piece and asks the same question. Then he picks up another piece....

           God is spirit and is everywhere. Jesus Christ is true God and true man. Divinely He is everywhere and humanly He is potentially everywhere. He is capable of being present in a multifold manner. Being in more than one place at the same time does not involve a contradiction. The existence, nature and individuality of a thing are not determined by the place or places in which it is located.
           Bearing on this issue is the phenomenon of bilocation, which has been frequently reported in the lives of saints. Bilocation is the simultaneous presence of a human person at two places distant from each other. This phenomenon as displayed by the saints is apparently genuine bilocation, i.e., the person is present at two places in the flesh, not at one in the flesh and at the other as a phantasm. It is not the rapid transference of a person back and forth between two places, nor does an angel replace the saint at a second place. The former would be just as much a miracle as genuine bilocation, and the latter would seem to be a deception not worthy of God, who is Truth. Bilocation is not a contradiction. The existence of a person in one place is contradicted only by his nonexistence in the same place at the same time; it is not contradicted by the person's existence elsewhere at the same time.
           The analogy of a hologram may be helpful. A hologram is an image recorded on photographic film. But it differs from a photograph in three ways. First the image cannot be viewed directly; it requires the employment of a laser beam and lens. Second, the image, unlike a photograph, is a true three-dimensional image. It is like viewing an object through a window; viewing it at different angles produces different perspectives. Third, if the film is cut into pieces, each piece retains the whole image - just as each host contains the whole Christ. What we can do with images of things, God can do with the things themselves.

The Mysteries of Creation

Like the Eucharist, the mysteries of the origin of man and the cosmos are mysteries of faith. We know of them only through faith, not through natural science. They are beyond the competence of the methods of natural science. The creation of the world was such a unique and stupendous event that even miracle isn't a proper word for it. The word miracle implies a violation or suspension of the laws of nature. In the act of creation God created the laws of nature. Creation was the event that gave birth to history. For certainty concerning it we need the clear testimony of an unimpeachable witness. We have such testimony in the Book of Genesis because it is the word of the Creator Himself.
           Fr. Victor Warkulwiz of the Missionary Priests of the Blessed Sacrament has written a book that faithfully and clearly presents the mysteries of creation according to traditional Catholic teaching. The title of the book is The Doctrines of Genesis 1-11: A Compendium and Defense of Traditional Catholic Theology on Origins. It contains everything a Catholic needs to know to uphold the literal-historical truth of Genesis 1-11. Following is the back cover copy that briefly describes its contents:

About this Book

Today the Catholic Church has well-developed theologies of redemption and sanctification but no well-developed theology of creation. That is because so many of her influential thinkers have abandoned the sound creation theology of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church and have embraced instead the false principles of evolutionism. The purpose of this book is to help restore traditional Catholic theology on origins to its rightful place in the belief of Catholics. The traditional teaching of the Church on Creation, the Fall, and the Great Flood and its aftermath is clearly presented in the form of sixteen doctrines abstracted from the text of Genesis 1-11. The doctrines are defended on theological, philosophical and scientific grounds from assaults made on them from the sectors of biblical criticism and scientism. The author attempts to present a story of origins that evokes true and vivid images of the creation of the world and the primal history of the human species. Accurate, thorough and readable answers are given too many questions about origins that perplex the modern Catholic. The exposition is kept as nontechnical as possible so that the book will be accessible to everyone. Not everyone will be able to understand everything that is presented, but every reader will find enough to set his thinking straight and to nourish his Catholic faith.
           The book contains a wealth of insights and teaching on Genesis 1-11 by the Fathers, Doctors, Popes and Councils of the Church. God willing, the book will be published by Easter. It will be available for sale at:

           www.kolbecenter.org
           www.amazon.com
           and www.barnesandnoble.com


Missionary Priests of the Blessed Sacrament
P.O. Box 1428 • Bensalem, Pa 19020
Tel: 215.244.9211 • Fax: 215.244.9211
Email: apea@webtv.net