Questions Answered – September 2022

Truly Believing in the Real Presence

Question: I am 73 and a lifelong Catholic. I struggle with the doctrine of the real presence. I say this partially because if Catholics really believed this, the churches and adoration chapels would be full. Polling indicates that substantial numbers of Catholics do not accept this teaching.

Answer: I have had so many questions on the Eucharist but I realize many Catholics do not believe in the Real Presence, so this question is very timely. The Fourth Lateran Council used the word transubstantiation to summarize a long tradition originating in the Gospels and St. Paul concerning the presence of Christ in the Eucharist. This term is a rich mine from which all sorts of further reflections on the theology of the Eucharist have developed.

First, one must clarify the fact that the term transubstantiation refers to the fact that after the priest says the words of institution over the bread, the being of bread is changed into the being of the body of Christ, but all the properties of bread remain. In the late 60s I attended a lecture by a Franciscan theologian given to a large group of Protestant and Catholic seminarians in Berkeley, in which he declared that according to the doctrine of transubstantiation, if one put the host under a microscope, he would see the molecules of Christ’s body. As the medieval theologians had no access to microscopes, they could not know that this was not true. Modern scientific investigation had demonstrated that there was no change in molecular structure and so there was no change in substance. As a result the change must not be a change in being, but only in being perceived by the subject through his faith and the use the subject makes of the bread. The bread now means Christ to him and he uses it for the purpose of union with Christ. These last ideas are termed generally by modern theology “transignification” (change in meaning) and “transfinalization” (change in purpose).

The problems in this position are twofold. First, it mistakes the notion of substance for the modern idea of chemical-molecular substance. Substance in the philosophical sense does not refer to elements, but to a being which exists in its own right. A dog is a substance, a man is a substance, bread is a substance, and a rock is a substance. An accident is not an unforeseen event, but a being which cannot exist in its own right. White would be an accident. White cannot exist apart from a white thing like a white dog, a white man, white bread, or a white rock. Transubstantiation then does not mean that molecular structure changes, as this is merely an accidental expression of the material quantity of the substance.

Secondly, it is true to say that the change in the Eucharist includes change in meaning and change in purpose. This is because it involves change in nature. In other words, the objective change must support the subjective change. Otherwise, the Eucharist would merely involve a change in sign and not in truth. It would be subjective and not objective. Pope Paul VI expresses it very well.

“As a result of transubstantiation, the species of bread and wine undoubtedly take on a new meaning and a new finality, for they no longer remain ordinary bread and ordinary wine, but become the sign of something sacred, the sign of a spiritual food. However, the reason why they take on this new significance and this new finality is because they contain a new reality which we justly term ‘ontological.’ For there no longer lies under those species what was there before, but something quite different; and that, not only because of the faith of the Church, but in objective reality.”1

Christ came in this new way as a gift of himself to the Church. Though one can only know this new way, this change, by faith, it is not just a change in human knowledge which has no relation to the reality of the bread itself. Our Lord gave us this gift to perfect our union with him. Christ began this union by associating the twelve with him in his future passion at the Last Supper.

This change is truly a miracle and there is a marvelous wisdom of God in using this to help us to be present at Calvary and nourish the transforming union in our souls. If we were to break the accidents of the body of Christ in heaven we would have two pieces of a body. But because of the miracle of transubstantiation, if we break the accidents of the consecrated host, we have the whole Christ, body, blood, soul and divinity, under each part. This means that on the altar during Mass and in the tabernacle there are not the thousand bodies of Christ but one body of Christ as it exists in heaven equally present in the thousand different places.

You are right to state that if people really believed this, the Masses and adoration would be packed. The fact that there is so little Eucharistic devotion today can be attributed to many sources: lack of catechesis, the denial of transubstantiation, the denial of the Mass as a sacrifice and sometimes just a plain lack of interest on the part of Catholics. Though this gives us pause for thought and concern, it should in no way diminish our own experience of faith.

Valid Matter for the Eucharist: Do’s and Don’ts

Question: If a priest uses non-alcohol grape juice for confecting the Holy Eucharist, is it still a valid Mass?

Answer: The answer to this question depends on what you mean by non-alcoholic grape juice. The matter of the Eucharist is ordinary wine from grapes. So, if you mean no fermentation of any kind, then the answer is that there would be a defect of matter and thus the Mass said with such a liquid would not be valid. There is also a liquid called mustum which is the smallest amount of fermentation necessary to classify something as wine. Alcoholic priests ask to say mass with this and it is used for Mass in a number of Muslim countries. Since the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith spoke about the situation of the faithful or priests who needed to use low gluten hosts or mustum at Mass, I think it is useful merely to quote the whole document here.

Congregation for Doctrine of the Faith July 24, 2003 Prot. 89/78-174 98

Your Excellency

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has been for many years studying how to resolve the difficulties that some of the faithful encounter in receiving Holy Communion when for various serious reasons they are unable to consume normal bread or wine. A number of documents on this question have been issued in the past in the interest of offering Pastors uniform and sure direction (Congregation for Doctrine of the Faith, Rescriptum, .15 December 1980, in Leges Eccleside, 6/4819, 8095-8096; De celebrantis communione, 29 October 1982, in AAS 74, 1982, 1298-1299; Lettera ai Presidenti delle. Conferenze Episcopali, 19 June 1995, in Notitiae 31, 1995: 608-610). Page 2 of 7 In light of the experience of recent years, it has been deemed necessary at this time to return to the topic, taking up the above-mentioned documents and clarifying them wherever necessary.

A. The use of gluten-free hosts and mustum 1. Hosts that are completely gluten-free are invalid matter for the celebration of the Eucharist. 2. Low-gluten hosts (partially gluten-free) are valid matter, provided they contain a sufficient amount of gluten to obtain the confection of bread without the addition of foreign materials and without the use of procedures that would alter the nature of bread. 3. Mustum, which is grape juice that is either fresh or-preserved by methods that-suspend its fermentation without altering its nature (for example, freezing), is valid matter for the celebration of the Eucharist.

B. Communion under one species or with a minimal amount of wine 1. A layperson affected by celiac disease, who is not able to receive Communion under the species of bread, including low-gluten hosts, may receive Communion under the species of wine only. 2. A priest unable to receive Communion under the species of bread, including low-gluten hosts, when taking part in a concelebration, may with the permission of the Ordinary receive Communion under the species of wine only. 3. A priest unable to ingest even a minimal amount of wine, who finds himself in a situation where it is difficult to obtain or store mustum, when taking part in a concelebration, may with the permission of the Ordinary receive Communion under the species of bread only. 4. If a priest is able to take wine, but only a very small amount, when he is the sole celebrant, the remaining species of wine may be consumed by a layperson participating in that celebration of the Eucharist.

C. Common Norms 1. The Ordinary is competent to give permission for an individual priest or layperson to use lowgluten hosts or mustum for the celebration of the Eucharist. Permission can be granted habitually, for as long as the situation continues which occasioned the granting of permission. 2. When the principal celebrant at a concelebration has permission to use mustum, a chalice of normal wine is to be prepared for the concelebrants. In like manner, when he has permission to use low-gluten hosts, normal hosts are to be provided for the concelebrants. 3. A priest unable to receive Communion under the species of bread, including low-gluten hosts, may not celebrate the Eucharist individually, nor may he preside at a concelebration. 4. Given the centrality of the celebration of the Eucharist in the life of a priest, one must proceed with great caution before admitting to Holy Orders those candidates unable to ingest gluten or alcohol without serious harm. 5. Attention should be paid to medical advances in the area of celiac disease and alcoholism-4 and encouragement given to the production of hosts with a minimal amount of gluten and of unaltered mustum. 6. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith enjoys competence over the doctrinal aspects of this question, while disciplinary matters are the competence of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. 7. Concerned Episcopal Conferences shall report to the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, at the time of their ad Limina visit, regarding the application of these norms as well as any new developments in this area.

Asking you to kindly communicate the contents of this letter to the members of your Episcopal Conference, with fraternal regards and prayerful best wishes, I am

Sincerely yours in Christ, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Prefect

From this letter, the answer to the question should be very clear.

  1. Paul VI, Mysterium Fidei, n. 146.
Fr. Brian Mullady, OP About Fr. Brian Mullady, OP

Fr. Brian T. Mullady, OP, entered the Dominican Order in 1966 and was ordained in 1972. He has been a parish priest, high school teacher, retreat master, mission preacher, and university professor. He has had seven series on EWTN and is the author of two books and numerous articles, including his regular column in HPR, “Questions Answered.”

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