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The Mystery of Faith

30 November, 1999

In 2005, the year of the Eucharist, twenty significant writers have come together to produce this tour de force of eucharistic themes in which biblical, doctrinal, historical, liturgical, devotional, ecumenical, catechetical, linguistic, artistic and some post-modern perspectives all have their place. This is a very comprehensive compilation.

432 pp. Columba Press 2006. To purchase this book online, go to www.columba.ie


List of Contributors
Introduction by James McEvoy and Maurice Hogan SSC
Preface by Cardinal Desmond Connell

1.  Liturgy Forty Years After the Second Vatican Council: High Point or Recession
Cardinal Godfried Danneels 


2.  ‘Make me a sanctuary…: Worship in the Old Testament
Maurice Hogan SSC 
3.  Johannine Perspectives on the Eucharist
Michael Mullins
4.  ‘Those Who Have Eyes to See’: The Eschatological Eucharist
Francesca Aran Murphy


5.  The Eucharist Builds the Church
Raymond Moloney SJ
6.  The Presence of the Mystery of Christ in the Broken Bread
Liam Walsh O P
7.  A People of Priests
Patrick Gorevan
8.  The Priest Acting in persona Christi
Michael Spence
9.  Communion: the Trinity and the Eucharistic Life of the Church
Thomas Norris
10. Creation and Eucharist: A Philosophical Consideration
Thomas A. F. Kelly
11. Postmodern Philosophy and J.-L. Marion’s Eucharistic Realism
Philipp Wolfram Rosemann


12. The Eucharist and Culture: Transcending Boundaries
Cardinal Paul Poupard
13. ‘On the Night He Was Betrayed..’
Cardinal Godfried Danneels (trans Peter Forde)
14. ‘Amazement’, Beginning and End of Eucharistic Devotion
Michael Duffy OFM Cap
15. Forms of Eucharistic Devotion
Thomas Norris
16. At the School of Mary, ‘Woman of the Eucharist’
Caroline Farey
17. St Thomas Aquinas, Poet of the Eucharist
James McEvoy
18. Ut Unum Sint: Eucharist and Ecumenism
Paul McPartlan
19. The Mass and Holy Communion in Current School Catechesis in Ireland
Breda O’Brien

Appendix I: O Sacred Feast (O Sacrum Convivium)
 Edward Holden
Appendix II: Highlights from the Maynooth Exhibition
 Penelope Woods

Select Bibliography
Index of Scriptural References Index of Names and Places


In this book, edited by  James McEvoy and Maurice Hogan, twenty significant writers have come together to produce this tour de force of eucharistic biblical, doctrinal, historical, liturgical, devotional, ecumenical, catechetical, linguistic, artistic and some post-modern perspectives on the Eucharistic themes. This is a very comprehensive, authoritative and rewarding compilation – ideal for any student of the Eucharist.

Chapter Six: The Presence of the Mystery of Christ in the Broken Bread
Liam Walsh OP

The architectural and mosaic splendours of the Christian East and West are a patrimony belonging to all believers; they contain a hope, and even a pledge, of the desired fullness of communion in
faith and in celebration. This would presuppose and demand, as in Rublev’s famous depiction of the Trinity, a profoundly eucharistic church in which the presence of the mystery of Christ in the broken bread is as it were immersed in the ineffable unity of the three divine Persons, making of the church herself an ‘icon’ of the Trinity.
                                                    – Pope John Paul II, Ecclesia de Eucharistia, # 50

Ecclesia de Eucharistia offers headlines for a theology of the church, and concomitantly for a theology of the Eucharist. It is on one such headline for the theology of the Eucharist that I am going to invite you to reflect. It is a headline offered in the phrase I have used as my title, The Presence of the Mystery of Christ in the Broken Bread.

The phrase employs three concepts that are pivotal in the theology of the Eucharist: ‘presence’, ‘mystery of Christ’, the ‘broken bread’. The first of the three might be thought to be the most pivotal. It might be thought to be the most distinctive concept of Catholic theology of the Eucharist. But before deciding on that, it is useful to look at how these three terms, and the concepts they evoke, emerged in Catholic theology, and at the role they have been given in the tradition of faith. What I am proposing to do is to review the tradition of eucharistic theology in the hope that this will help to clarify the meaning of these three terms and help one to get the best out of them in one’s thinking about the Eucharist.

The place to start the review is with the last of the three, ‘the broken bread’. It is the one that needs to be, and historically has been, the first to be analysed. The subject of the theology of the Eucharist, the thing that it is about, must always be the broken bread and the shared cup that are offered and taken in the church of Christ. The subject of eucharistic theology is not just bread and wine. The value of the term ‘broken bread’ is that it evokes the whole ritual of the Eucharist, brings to mind a liturgy. Theology asks what this taking of bread, the blessing of it, the breaking of it and the giving it, this taking, blessing and sharing of the cup of wine are, what they are for, who makes them be what they are, what do they do. Theology will answer its questions about the broken bread and the shared cup by understanding how the mystery of God in Christ, in which humanity and the whole universe is receiving the saving grace of eternal life, is realised in the church through the broken bread and shared cup, through them, with them and in them. This is the second pivot of eucharistic thinking and it is evoked by the expression ‘the mystery of Christ’. It will be the task of the third pivot, ‘presence’, which comes first in the phrase I am examining, to state the relationship between the mystery and the broken bread.

The ‘breaking of bread’
The ‘breaking of bread’ is a biblical expression for what we now call the Eucharist. (1) It is a shorthand for the other things that are done with the bread, and with the cup. It gives Christian thinking about the Eucharist a subject on which to focus its attention. It further gives it access to the first thing that must be said about the subject, before any other questions are asked or speculation undertaken. The action it evokes carries with it the words spoken by Jesus as he broke bread at the Last Supper. When the church breaks bread in what Paul calls the Lord’s Supper, it proclaims the Lord’s own words that the broken bread is his body given for us and the shared cup is the cup of his blood shed for us.
Questions about the broken bread: St Justin
Quite soon after the writing of the scriptures was completed and the direct apostolic witness to the actions and words of Jesus was closed, we find a Christian thinker making a statement about the broken bread and the shared cup that answers a question that is not raised directly in the scriptures – although it might conceivably have been on the mind of St John. It is a question that arises as soon as people begin to ask themselves why and how can the eating of this bread that is broken when Christians gather as church and this drinking of the cup of wine that is passed around in the church – how can this be an eating of the body, the flesh, of Christ and a drinking of his blood? Perhaps it was not Christians themselves who began to urge this question. Perhaps the question came from the sceptical and sometimes scurrilous teasing of their pagan neighbours who had got some inkling of what Christians did when they gathered for their assemblies. It was anyhow in a work of apologetics that the first attempt to answer the question is recorded.

St Justin Martyr – and he is writing around the year 150 of the Christian era – answers that the food of which Christians partake, and which he says they call Eucharist, is eaten and drunk ‘not as ordinary bread or ordinary drink’. (2) The answer begins, then, with a negative statement about the broken bread. It says what the bread is not: it is not’ ordinary bread’. That was an important beginning and a headline that theology ought not to forget. It is allowing, as eucharistic prayers will continue to do, that in some sense the broken bread is bread, and that what the cup contains is wine. But it is saying that they are not bread and wine in the ordinary way that something is bread and wine. This is the basic recognition of what will eventually be expressed by saying that the broken bread and the shared cup are a sacrament. If what is being broken and shared does not somehow function as bread and wine, that can be conveniently eaten and drunk, it is not a sacrament; but if it is only ordinary bread and wine, neither is it a sacrament.

Justin follows up his negative statement about the bread and wine with words that give a further headline that the theology of the Eucharist will always need to follow. He has in mind the words that Jesus spoke about the bread and wine at the Last Supper and that accompany forever the broken bread. But before he speaks them he prepares the minds of his readers for understanding why the bread and wine are no longer ordinary food and drink. He says: ‘just as, through the Word of God, our Saviour Jesus Christ became incarnate and took upon himself flesh and blood for our salvation, so, we have been taught, the food which has been made Eucharist by the prayer of his word, and which nourishes our flesh and blood by assimilation, is both the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh.’ Words are spoken, words of prayer, about the bread and wine. What is said, as well as what is done, is in obedience to what Jesus ordered his apostles to do. Justin quotes from what he calls ‘The Memoirs of the Apostles’, and we hear there the words that accompany the broken bread and shared cup: ‘this is my body, this is my blood’. This is why they are no longer taken as ordinary bread and ordinary wine.

Further questions about the broken bread: St Ambrose
Another question about the broken bread that we find being addressed by the fathers of the church could be formulated this way: how is it that it is not ordinary bread; what happened to it to make it no longer be ordinary bread like the bread we eat at our family table? The answer again is down-to-earth and common sense. It must have somehow been changed. St Ambrose is the one who establishes the notion of the bread and wine being changed in Western theology. (3) The explanation he gives of what brings about the change is basically the same as that given by Justin. It is the words of Christ, spoken as his about the bread and the wine that changes their nature, so that what was once bread is made to be the body. These words have the creative power of God in them.

The Bread and the Body: Augustine
Augustine raises another question about the broken bread and shared cup that must have begun to emerge in people’s minds: if what we are eating when we take the broken bread at the Eucharist is no longer ordinary bread but has been changed to be the body of Christ, are we not doing the disgusting thing that the Jews at Capernaum thought Jesus was inviting them to do eating human flesh? Augustine’s answer begins to clarify the role of the bread and wine. (4) He does it by putting the accent on what is done with the bread and wine, on the verbs that say what is done with the bread and wine rather than on the nouns themselves: we eat the bread and drink the wine. He then proceeds to find adverbs or adverbial expressions to qualify the verbs: we eat and drink in figura, in signa. The broken bread and the shared cup of wine allow us to eat and drink; the reality, res, that we take into ourselves in them is the body and blood of Christ. Augustine is drawing on platonic-type philosophy to distinguish between the signs and figures of things and the things themselves; in this view the reality is not the sign but is really in the sign, even though it belongs to a different level of being. The sign has its own materiality: it is the make-up and the , eatability’ of the bread and the’ drinkability’ of the wine that allows them to serve as figures or signs of the body and blood and so allows the faithful to eat and drink the body and blood of Christ.

With Augustine we have the introduction of philosophical ideas into theological thinking about the broken bread and shared cup. In the form given them by Augustine they will serve Latin theology well, not alone in thinking about the Eucharist but about all the sacraments of the church. The distinction between sign and reality allows theology to make the very most of the symbolism that bread and wine, and their being shared in acts of communion, have in the biblical and liturgical tradition. It allows this to be done in a way that gives full truth to faith statements that what is eaten and drunk is, in reality, the body and blood of Christ.
Philosophical ideas being welcomed into the theology of the Eucharist are, however, inclined to carry some hostages to fortune with them. ‘Substance’ will do so later on, as will ‘presence’. Augustine handled his platonic thinking about sign and reality quite comfortably. Those who read him in the early Middle Ages would sometimes be a little ill at ease with his words.

There is another element of the thinking of Augustine about the broken bread that will be an important and sometimes troubling legacy to Latin theology. And it is an element that begins to shift the accent from the ‘broken bread’ to the second of our pivotal concepts, ‘the mystery of Christ’. Augustine talks often about the body that is given in the broken bread without mentioning the blood that is given in the cup of wine. It is a kind of theological shorthand that will be often used in subsequent theology, and that will eventually be translated into sacramental practice in the Latin church when communion comes to be taken only by eating the broken bread, without drinking from the cup. But there is a deeper reason why Augustine, when preaching about the sacrament of the Eucharist, talks more often about the body of Christ in the Eucharist than about his blood. The word ‘body’ lets what Paul has to say about the ‘body of Christ’ enter into and become a central part of Augustine’s thinking about the sacrament. He tells his people that, when they receive well, they are what they receive. (5) They are the body of Christ, the very body that they receive. He is drawing on what Paul said about participation in the one bread and the one cup in 1 Cor 10. Augustine’s words are the sparkling and almost playful words of the preacher rather than the ponderous analyses of the deskbound theologian. But they are profound and exact. He is not overlooking the truth that the body of Christ which is received in the broken bread is the body of the one and only Christ who now exists in glory at the right hand of the Father in heaven. He is, however, saying this in a way that allows him to also say that the Christ who is seated at the right hand of  the Father in heaven is there as Head of those who believe in him and are being saved in him. The bread and wine are the sacrament of the totus Christus. He is there with his members. They are his body. Their being in his body, their life-receiving contact with the one who is their Head, is actualised in the eating of the broken bread that is his body.

So in Augustine, the accent in thinking about the Eucharist is already shifting from the ‘broken bread’ to the body of Christ, and to the mystery contained and manifested in that body. He is preparing the second of the two pivotal concepts. The accent on it will become even more prominent in medieval theology.

The Body in the Bread: Middle Ages
The subtleties of Augustine’s philosophical assumptions about sign and reality, and the richness of his language about the body of Christ, was not easily understood or shared by those who, during the dawning years of the Latin Middle Ages, were offered this or that text of Augustine as an authority to guide them in their thinking about the Eucharist. When believers looked at the bread and wine there on the altar – and from the early Middle Ages on, they were beginning to look more fixedly at what was on the altar than they had been doing during the age of the Fathers – the words of Augustine began to trouble some of them. ‘Is he saying,’ they asked themselves, ‘that when we look at the bread and wine after the words of Jesus have been spoken over them, we are looking at the body and blood of Christ, or just at signs of the body and blood? Is the body and blood there, or only signs of it?’ And if the body is there, what body is it? Their faith told them that what they saw on the altar was the body and blood of Christ. ‘But is that body,’ they asked themselves, ‘the very body that was born of Mary and the blood she gave him? Does he who is now seated in glory at the right hand of the Father come down from heaven? How can the same body be in every little piece of the broken bread? Is what is there some kind of spiritual form of body and blood that can join our minds to him? Or is it another body, a mystical body in which the church is joined to him?’
One of the interesting features of the debate about these questions was that the focus of the questioning shifted from the broken bread and shared cup to the body and blood that is given in them. The subject being discussed is still the broken bread and shared cup – what is now being called the sacramentum – but the thinking is focused on the body and blood that is given in the sacrament, and more particularly on the body: what body is it, what kind of body is it, and how does the body exist in the broken bread ? (6)

It was in reference to the body, not to the bread, that the word substantia, was first introduced in the debate about the Eucharist. It came, not from philosophy but from the theological language of the Christian church. It had been used to talk about God and about the truth and reality of both the divinity and humanity of Jesus – the reality of what was being conveyed in what could be seen and heard about him in the apostolic witness. Substance meant the reality underlying appearances. The first known use of the term in relation to the Eucharist is in a text from a fifth century bishop from southern France, Faustus of Riez. (7) It refers there to the substance of Christ; it is not used a propos of the bread.

‘Substance’ then was seen to express a valuable theological concept that allowed one to speak about the reality of things and to distinguish between appearances and reality. It would help the medieval theologians to understand how Augustine’s language about sign, far from calling into question the reality of the body and blood of Christ that is given in the Eucharist, was the very thing that made it possible to understand how the real body and blood is really given, without seeming to postulate some cannibalistic eating of it. The eating and drinking was done on the level of sign-making; the reality exists in the sign, and is wherever the sign was; because it is the eschatological reality of the glorified body of Christ it is accessible only to faith, faith that penetrates the sacramental signs, seeing in them not what normally stand under them but the mystery-filled body of Christ.
One of the ways the medieval theologians formulated their question about the bread and wine was to ask whether the body that was contained and given in them was the body born of Mary. The question was put this way in order to challenge the vagueness of recourse to some kind of spiritual or mystical body in answering the question of what is given in the Eucharist. The only way the body can be there in all truth (in veritate) is if it is the body born of Mary, because this is the only body that really exists. The theological theorising about the body born of Mary may have, however, lent some support to a tendency of eucharistic faith and devotion to be imaginatively realistic in its conception of the body that is received in the bread. It is in the early Middle Ages that stories begin to circulate of visions of a baby being seen in the consecrated bread. This kind of ultra, non-sacramental realism even found some echoes in a document of the Roman magisterium, in the first profession of faith required in 1059 of the first potential eucharistic heretic, Beranger of Tours. (8) Later theologians, including St Bonaventure and St Thomas Aquinas, would be critical of this document. They were obviously happy that it was replaced fourteen years later by another profession of faith that was more sober in its realism about the body that is given in the Eucharist. (9) This profession has the special merit of spelling out that the body and blood, into which the bead and wine are ‘converted’ are ‘the true body of Christ that was born of the Virgin that, offered for the salvation of the world, hung on the cross, that sits at the right hand of the Father, and the true blood of Christ which was poured out from his side…’. The body that is there on the altar is not just an object that is given; it carries in itself the full mystery of salvation realised in Christ.

The second profession of faith had the word substantia and the adverb substantialiter. This was the word that eventually allowed medieval theology and the medieval magisterium to bring the medieval debate to a resolution. It comes to be employed in efforts to understand the’ conversion’ that makes what was once bread be now the body of Christ. It was this application that yielded the word transubstantiatio. The principal merit of substantia and its derivatives in the theology of the Eucharist was to protect the church’s faith about the Eucharist from a too imaginative understanding of how the body of Christ is given in the Eucharist. Substance as understood in medieval theology can only be perceived by the mind, not by the senses. As such it affirmed what belongs to the plane of the spirit, not of the flesh and the senses. The substance that is given in the broken bread is no longer the substance of bread but the substance of the body of Christ, into which the substance of bread has been converted when the prayer of consecration is said over it. This substance of the body of Christ is something that can only be attained by the mind, and specifically by the mind enlightened by faith. Whatever images of it might be seen by pious eyes in the host are not the real Christ, because the body of Christ that is in the consecrated bread is the body of the risen Christ, which in the time of waiting for the parousia is seen sacramentally, not visibly.

St Thomas
Substance is one of the pillars of Thomas Aquinas’s theology of the Eucharist. It, and the particular application it gets in the theory of transubstantiation, is a very functional pillar, not a kind of proud Greek column to be admired for its own sake. It is helping him to answer, for the world and church of the Middle Ages, the age old question faced by Justin: how is it that this broken bread and shared cup – and for our eyes and our tastebuds they are bread and wine – how is it that they are the body and blood of Christ? It is helping him to answer it, not now to protect the Christian community from the calumnies of Roman rumour-mongers, but to protect Christian believers from an excessively materialised thinking and imagining about the Eucharist that people of his day were liable to lapse into.

Thomas’s concentration on the verum corpus does not make him separate it from the ‘broken bread’. He begins his theology of the Eucharist with a long question about the bread and wine and about their symbolism and  sacramentality for Christian faith. He then explains how their very sacramentality is realised in their being converted, on the level of substance, into the substance (i.e. the reality) of the body and blood of Christ, while retaining their eat ability and drinkability, and therefore their sacramentality, as bread and wine. Transubstantiation is postulated precisely so that the bread and wine can be signs of the reality of Christ’s body and blood.

Let me take just one text to illustrate Thomas’s concern to reconcile realism with sacramentality, to affirm the body without forgetting that it is being given in the broken bread. Among the texts of St Gregory the Great, who had such an influence on medieval piety, is one that explains why the ruler of the synagogue at Capernaum who asked Jesus to come to his house to heal his son is reproved for seeking the praesentia corporalis of Jesus in his house. The text found its way into theological discussion about the Eucharist. It appears as an objection in the Summa Theologiae q.75, a.l in which Thomas deals with the issue of the true body and blood of Christ being in the sacrament of the Eucharist, and being there not only as in a sign. The objector seems to be arguing from Gregory’s text that it is not according to the gospel to be looking for the corporalis praesentia, the bodily presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Thomas refutes the objection by explaining what ‘bodily presence’ means in the theology of the Eucharist. In the article he uses the term in the course of an argument that reasons from the charity of Christ, the love he has for us, to the truth of what he gives us in the Eucharist. He says that it was out of love that Christ assumed, for our salvation, a
true body of our nature’ (verum corpus nostrae naturae). He then uses his understanding of charity as friendship and argues that the most distinctive thing about friendship is living together with one’s friends (convivere amicis). From this he argues – no, not directly to the Eucharist – but to what Christ promised we would enjoy at the end of time. He uses a somewhat obscure text about the parousia from Matthew 24:28 which says ‘wherever the body is, there the eagles will be gathered together’ to argue, in a piece of typically medieval exegesis, that at the end of time the blessed will be gather around the body of Christ. This is the great gift of love, the eschatological gift of living together as friends, that Christ promises us (nobis). From the eschatological gift that is ‘not yet’ Thomas goes on to reason to the ‘already’ of this gift of living with Christ in his body: this is what is given in the Eucharist. ‘In the meantime,’ he says, ‘he did not deprive us of his bodily presence during our pilgrimage but by the truth of his body and blood he joins himself to us in this sacrament.’

In his reply to the fourth objection, Thomas explains the sense he is giving here to Gregory’s expression praesentia corporalis. He says one has to agree with Gregory’s discouragement of seeking the praesentia corporalis of Jesus if by that one means a presence per modum corporis, that is to say in the way a body is normally present; and in sua specie visibili, that is to say in a way that is visible to the eye. But the stricture of Gregory does not hold if the praesentia corporalis understood to happen spiritualiter, that is to say invisibly and after the manner and in the power of the Spirit (id est invisibiliter, modo et virtute spiritus), So the bodily presence of Christ in the Eucharist is a spiritual presence, realised by the power of the Spirit. He is present as the embodied Christ, because that is the only Christ that really exists now, risen gloriously and in heaven. But he is not present to us in the way one embodied person is present to another in the world of time: he is present to us spiritually in the sacrament of the broken bread and the shared cup. We are present to him spiritually by the faith we express in the sacrament.

Thomas and others in the Middle Ages, for all the attention they gave to the verum corpus of Christ himself that existed in the broken bread, did continue with Augustine to find the totus Christus, or the full mystery of Christ, in the sacrament. While they saw the personal body of Christ as the res et sacramentum of the Eucharist, they saw the corpus mysticum as its res. There were subtleties there that were not always appreciated by later scholastic theology. And the fact that eucharistic adoration rather than Eucharist communion became the most common way for the christian people to experience the sacrament of the Eucharist did not help the keeping together of verum corpus and corpus mysticum.

The other risk of the medieval concentration on the verum corpus was that of letting theology lose the sense that the broken bread is the sacrament of the broken body, of the body given in sacrifice on the cross. The theologians of the High Middle Ages devoted no special question to the Mass. The sacrifice is present all through their discussion on the sacrament because the body that is in the sacrament is the body given in sacrifice; the celebration of the Eucharist is the sacramental memorial of the death of Christ. Later medieval theology found itself having to cope with new questions about the Mass. They arose at a time when sacramental communion, the eating of the bread and the drinking of the cup by the faithful taking part in the Mass, was no longer common practice. The theologians began to look for answers to the questions about the Mass in the general theology of sacrifice, rather than in the theology of the sacrament of the Eucharist. That made them concentrate more on who offered rather than on what was offered. Left to itself, and dependent more and more on devotional experience centred on adoration of the sacrament, rather than on the sacrificial action of breaking bread, the theology of the Eucharist became more and more a theology that would bring into play and concentrate on the third of our pivotal concepts, a theology of what would be called the ‘real presence’.

‘Presence’: the being of the body of Christ in the broken bread
The text of Thomas that I have been analysing is, to my knowledge, the only text in which he uses the word presence about the Eucharist. And to my knowledge, he never uses the expression ‘real presence’. The language of presence can, however, be found in texts that are contemporary with Thomas, and which may even have owed something to him. The liturgical office for the feast of Corpus Christi was introduced to the bishops of the church by Pope Urban IV in 1264 with the encyclical letter Transiturus de hoc mundo. In explaining how the Eucharist is memoriale this text says that in it we not alone bring to mind the work of our redemption but ‘have indeed the advantage of the bodily presence (corporali praesentia) of the Saviour himself’. It goes on to explain that ‘when we remember other things we hold them in our spirit and mind, but we do not by that very fact enjoy their real presence (realem eorum praesentiam)’. The Eucharist is different: ‘In this sacramental commemoration of Christ, Jesus Christ is present with us (praesens est nobiscum) in another form, indeed, but in his very own substance (in propria vero substantia)’, (10) One can find the word praesentia and the expression praesentia realis quite often in the writing of the Blessed John Duns Scotus (1265-1308) on the Eucharist. I have not been able to find any research that would uncover a reason why he came to adopt this language and whether it was he who introduced it or popularised it in discussion about the Eucharist. A century after Scotus, praesentia is being used by John Wycliffe, but to deny rather than affirm it. Among the errors for which he is condemned by the council of Constance is saying that Christ is not in the Eucharist identice et realiter (in) propria praesentia corporali. (11) Interestingly, however, when the Council is formulating the church’s teaching positively, in a series of questions which Wycliffe will be required to answer, it does not use praesentia in any of the three statements it proposes to him about the Eucharist, (12)

The Council of Trent and the Introduction of ‘Presence’
It is in its decree about the sacrament of the Eucharist that Trent introduces the term praesentia and praesens into the official language of the church. The decree elaborates a teaching about the Eucharist as sacrament separated from any consideration about the sacrament as sacrifice. Consideration of the sacrifice comes in the decree about the Sacrifice of the Mass promulgated ten years after the decree on the sacrament. There are understandable historical reasons why the two aspects of the Eucharist are dealt with separately by Trent. What is harder to understand is why the teaching of the first seems to be so little drawn upon by the Second. Perhaps it is because the theology of the sacrament has moved from being centred on the realness of the body of Christ that is given in the Eucharist to a preoccupation with understanding the manner in which that realness is ensured. Protestant doubts about the manner were being taken to be doubts about the fact. Catholic teaching about the fact had to be supported by Catholic teaching about the manner. Suspicions about the faith of Protestants were compounded by their rejection of Catholic practices, such as public adoration of the sacrament and communion under one species. The defence of these practices required a clear teaching on the manner in which the real body comes to be and remains in the sacrament.

It is in such a setting that the council of Trent introduced the word ‘presence’ into the theology of the sacrament. It did so in a cautious and less than dogmatic way. The word is not used in the canons about the Eucharist. The Acta of the council show that the words praesentia and praesens appeared in some of the drafts for the canons that were presented to the fathers. The Acta record both objections to praesentia and support for it; they do not, unfortunately, provide much information about the reasons given for either position (13) Eventually the words disappeared from the text of the canons as they were finally approved by the counci1.(14)

Praesens and praesentia do, however, appear in the chapters of the decree, where Catholic doctrine on the Eucharist is expounded positively, although without the dogmatic authority of the canons. Praesens appears twice. The first chapter contains an explanation of why there is no conflict between believing that our Lord Jesus Christ should be always seated at the right hand of the Father in heaven and that he should be sacramentally present to us in many other places. He is in heaven according to his natural mode of existence (iuxta modum existendi naturalem) whereas in other places he is sacramentally ‘present to us by his substance (multis nihilominus aliis in lods sacramentaliter praesens sub substantia nobis adsit), The text goes on to speak of this being sacramentally present as a ratio existendi. The being present is to be understood as a mode of existence, and that mode is qualified, not by an adjective but by an adverb, the adverb sacramentaliter. Presence, then, is understood as given in the act of being, rather than as an object of description.

The second use of the adjective praesens is in chapter 5, on the cult of the Eucharist. The reason given for the Catholic practice of adoring the sacrament is that, although the Lord Jesus instituted the Eucharist to be eaten, God is believed to be present in it (Deum praesentem in eo esse credimus). The Eucharist is to be adored because God is in it, and God is to be adored. It is the presence of God that is being formally affirmed but, of course, of the God that Jesus is. The scriptural references are to the way Jesus was adored as God during his life on earth.

But it is in the title of chapter 1 of the decree that the most influential use of presence occurs. And there it is joined to the adjective that will make its fortune. The title is ‘On the real presence (de reali praesentia) of Our Lord Jesus Christ in the Sacrament of the Eucharist’. These chapter titles carry some weight because, although they were not debated by the fathers, they were approved by them at the council itself.

Catholic Theology of the Eucharist after Trent
It is understandable how the phrase ‘real presence’ could pass from being included in the title of this first and most important chapter of the council’s teaching to becoming a convenient shorthand label for the entire teaching of the council about the sacrament of the Eucharist. It came to stand for the principal theological truth that had to be established in a Catholic theology of the Eucharist. It stood for the thesis of Catholic theology that seemed to most separate it from Protestant theology. To that extent the pivot of Catholic theology of the Eucharist shifted from the ‘broken bread’ and from the embodied ‘mystery of Christ’ to the ‘real presence’. (15) 

But ‘real presence’ was more than a theological theory. With time, and faithful to the inherent realism of Catholic thought, it began to be a name for the reality affirmed by that teaching. One could speak about the faithful worshipping ‘the real presence’. It is a process that has parallels in Catholic practice. The term ‘Sacred Heart’ was originally an evocation of something about Jesus that nourished devotion: the heart is a symbol of his love. But eventually the term comes to stand for Jesus himself. When we are told ‘the Sacred Heart’ appeared to St Margaret Mary Alacoque we are being told that Jesus appeared to her, under this particular visual form. One can see how a doctrine, a dogma, about a person comes to stand for the person herself in the statement that Bernadette heard from Our Lady: ‘I am the Immaculate Conception: Because ‘real presence’ passed from expressing a doctrine about how Jesus is in the broken bread to expressing the reality of Jesus himself present in the bread, it would not be inappropriate for a Catholic to talk about praying ‘in the presence of the real presence’.

Theologies of the Real Presence
In the Middle Ages the term ‘substance’ was developed theologically by the use of Aristotelian philosophical analysis. I am not in a position to say whether or not ‘presence’ gained from any comparable philosophical analysis. But there has surely been some philosophical input into Catholic theology’s use of these terms ‘presence’ and ‘real presence’. I suspect that when ‘presence’ was introduced into the theology of the Eucharist it was taken as the equivalent of ‘being’. But could it be that the term gave a providential opportunity to Catholic theology to open itself to the ‘turn to the subject’ that is said to be an important feature of modern philosophy? While ‘being’ evokes beings, ‘presence’ evokes subjects. Could it be that, while the verb’ to be’ is the language of ontology and metaphysics, the verb ‘being present’ carries one into the domain of phenomenology? A phenomenol
ogy of presence can certainly bring to light the personal and subjective features of the sacrament and the full human reality of the contact that takes place in it. Contemporary sacramental theology has drawn widely on personalist philosophies to understand sacramental presence. Catholic teaching on the real resence has lent itself to this kind of theological development: the accent on presence is open to explanations of how the sacrament provides Christian believers with a person to person encounter with the Saviour: it is the making present of him to them and them to him. A personalist analysis of presence can also make good sense of the Tridentine teaching on concomitance: the body of Christ that is sacramentally present in the Eucharist is given, not as an isolated part of Christ but as carrying with it his entire divine-human person: the body, as the normal medium of encounter between human persons, makes Christ, in the fullness of his personal being, present to other humans.

Reliance on phenomenology carries risks. It can put realism at risk. The debate that occurred in the theology of the Eucharist during the sixties about transignification and transfinalisation as alternatives to transubstantiation, illustrates it. Those who put forward these alternatives provided some brilliant analyses of the notion ‘presence’ and these certainly have enriched the theology of the Eucharist. The dogmatic problem, however, was whether or not these analyses could stand alone as explanations of the reality of the Eucharist as Catholic faith affirms it. The weight of Catholic theological opinion eventually turned against saying they could. It became important to look once again at why the adjective ‘real’ is added to the substantive ‘presence’ in the theology of the Eucharist. The magisterial phrase of Paul VI quoted in EdE, #15, made the point: ‘Every theological explanation which seeks some understanding of this mystery, in order to be in accord with Catholic faith, must firmly maintain that in objective reality, independently of our mind, the bread and wine have ceased to exist after the consecration, so that the adorable body and blood of the Lord Jesus from that moment on are really before us under the sacramental species of bread and wine.’

Once the ontological ground of ‘presence’ is secured the word can serve Catholic theology well. However, it is not a word that can stand alone for very long. It needs adjectives and several others besides ‘real’ – to go with it. Because it is of and for and by other things and persons, it needs other nouns and verbs to have its meaning pinned down. One could do an interesting arrangement of the words that qualify ‘presence’ in the theology of the Eucharist on the basis of the causes of the presence. The arrangement could be instructive. For example, the qualification that is used with praesens when the word is first introduced in the teaching of Trent is the adverb sacramentaliter. Christ is said to be praesens sacramentaliter. The fact that an adverb is used suggests that the action that brings it about, and the agents that are at work in it (the infinite power of God, the word of Christ and the grace of the Holy Spirit, the priestly mediation of the church and its ministers) have to be affirmed before the adjective ‘sacramental’ can be used to qualify ‘presence’. In formal terms, this qualification’ sacramental’ is the first and most indispensable qualification that must accompany the word ‘presence’ when it is used about the Eucharist. It is only because it occurs sacramentally, and as such is different from the presence of Christ in heaven, that it can be real; it is because it is sacramental that it has to be substantial. The teaching of Trent about the true, real and substantial presence of Christ in the Eucharist is literally unthinkable unless the presence is being thought of as sacramental.

Presence and the Eucharist in Vatican II
Two particularly important things happened to the theology of eucharistic presence in the twentieth century. Firstly, it became less necessary to fight the battles of the Reformation around it. The theology of ‘real presence’ could no longer be a kind of end in itself; it came to be integrated in a full theology of the Eucharist. Theology was being helped by biblical studies to begin its thinking about the Eucharist from an open, non-apologetical reading of the scriptures. It was being helped by historical studies to draw more tranquilly from the patristic and even the medieval tradition. The discussion about presence could be put in its appropriate place, historically and theologically.

Secondly, theology was helped by liturgical practice and studies to overcome the separation that might have seemed to be canonised by Trent between the sacrament of the Eucharist and the sacrifice of the Mass. The theology of presence became integrated in a theology of the Eucharist that saw its subject to be the full liturgical action of the eucharistic sacrifice.

This is the theology of presence that one finds in the Second Vatican Council. The term is introduced in the first chapter of Sacrosanctum Concilium, #7. This is the passage that explains how Christ is always present to his church, especially in her liturgical actions. In the first sentence it uses the verb adest by itself to affirm that Christ is always with his church. Subsequent sentences about the different ways in which he is there in the liturgy begin with praesens adest … Among these is maxime sub speciebus eucharistkis. All the presences are sacramental, and the presence in the species is the core of sacramentality. Paul VI, wanting to affirm that what was being expressed here was the traditional Catholic doctrine of the real presence, but not wanting to separate this from the other presences said, and his words are quoted in EdE, #15 : ‘[the presence] is called “real” not as a way of excluding all other types of presence as if they were “not real”, but because it is a presence in the fullest sense: a substantial presence whereby Christ, the God-Man, is wholly and entirely present’ .

The encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia
The encyclical EdE is sensitive to the same concern to give ‘presence’ a servant rather than a dominant role in the theology of the Eucharist. The traditional Catholic doctrine of the real presence is strongly present in the encyclical. But presence is never dealt with for its own sake. And there is no particular discussion on real presence. The words ‘presence’ and ‘present’ are woven into statements about the Eucharist that develop in one way or another the arrangement of the three pivota themes that I have been analysing. It is this kind of theology of’ihe Eucharist that allows the Pope to present the church in eucharistic terms.
There is a wonderful concordance built into the text of the encyclical that is given on the Vatican website. In it you can check every use of every word. It is fascinating to do it for the words ‘presence’ and ‘present’, and for the words ‘real’ and ‘really’. There are few words that appear as often as they do. But what is fascinating is to look at the words that ‘presence’ is neighbour to. ‘Presence’ is not passing on the other side of the road, with its own business to attend to, like the priest in the parable of the good Samaritan. It is caring for the broken bread and the broken body. It is bringing to light the sacramentality of the broken bread and letting it reveal and be the mystery of the broken body. This paper has been an exploration of how the theology of the Eucharist has followed a long road and worked itself out through many toils and troubles; how it has concentrated at different times on different truths, going from the broken bread to the mystery of the body and from there to the realism of the presence. It seems to me the theology of the Eucharist can be reaching a significant time of peace and balance in our day. I find that peace and balance beautifully headlined in John Paul’s phrase ‘the presence of the mystery of Christ in the broken bread’. It is this theological moment that has allowed John Paul II to draw on the theology of the Eucharist to frame his vision and hope for the church. It is a vision which he finds modelled by the architectural and mosaic splendours of the Christian East and West [which] contain a hope, and even a pledge, of the desired fullness of communion in faith and in celebration. It is a vision that, he says, would presuppose and demand, as in Rublev’s famous depiction of the Trinity, a profoundly Eucharistic church. And that church would live in a faith and in a celebration [and one can surely add, in a theology] in which the presence of the mystery of Christ in the broken bread is as it were immersed in the ineffable unity of the three divine Persons, making of the church herself an “icon” of the Trinity (d. EdE, #50).
Notes on Chapter Six
1. A convenient summary of New Testament teaching on the Eucharist can be found in X. Leon-Dufour, SJ, Sharing the Eucharistic Bread. The Witness of the New Testament, Translated from the French by M. J. O’Connell, New York/Mahwah: Paulist Press, 1987.
2. The First Apology, 66. Translation from T. Falls, St Justin Martyr, in The Fathers of the Church, Schopp, Defarri (eds), New York, 1949.
3. On the Sacraments Book 4. CSEL 73.46-65; translated in The Fathers of the Church 44.297-314.
4. T. Camelot, ‘Realisme et symbolisme dans la doctrine eucharistique de S. Augustin’, Revue des sciences philosophiques et thi!ologiques 31 (1947), pp. 394-410.
5. Sermon Wolfenbiittel 7, G. Morin (ed), Miscellania Augustiniana 1, Rome, 1930,463; d. also Sermon 227 in Sources Chretiennes 116.234-242. 6. For a documented discussion of the theology of this period see E. J. Kilmartin SJ, The Eucharist in the West: History and Theology, R. J. Daly SJ (ed.), Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 1998.
7. PL 30,281; see E. Schillebeeckx OP, The Eucharist, N. D. Smith (trans.), New York: Sheed and Ward, 1968, pp. 72-76.
8. Text in DS, #690.
9. Text in DS, #700.
10. Text in DS, #846.
11. DS, #1153.
12. DS, ##1256-1258.
13. Concilii Tridentini Acta, Gorres-Gesellschaft (ed), Tomus 6, Pars 3, Vol. 1, pp.134-140; see E. Schillebeeckx, The Eucharist, p. 32, and n. 13. 14. The teaching of Trent on the sacrament of the Eucharist is in DS, ##1635-1661. 0
15. It is a tradition that is still dominant at the beginning of the 20th century, as can be seen in one of the most widely-used manuals of Catholic theology, Ad. Tanquerey’s Synopsis major Theologiae dogmaticae: the first chapter of the treatise on the Eucharist is entitled ‘On the mystery of the real presence’; this is followed by chapters ‘On the sacrifice of the Mass’ and ‘On the sacrament of the Eucharist’.


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