Sacrifice, Transubstantiation, and Real Presence

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The Holy Father Teaches

The Holy Father's June 17th address to the Convention of the Diocese of Rome on the Mystery of the Most Holy Eucharist and the celebration of Sunday is a model of pastoral catechesis for every bishop of the Church. Catholics, the world over, are hungry for precisely this kind of clear teaching. Even if bishops and parish priests may not, themselves, be capable of offering teaching of this quality, they can certainly transmit the discourse of the Holy Father to the faithful. Pope Benedict XVI facilitates the mandate to teach that is incumbent upon every bishop and parish priest. Not only does he provides a model of effective teaching; he makes available to all the content of his own tireless transmission of the faith. My own commentary is in italics.

Dear Brothers and Sisters!

The Psalm says: "Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!" (Psalm 133:1). It really is like this: it is a profound motive of joy for me to meet again with you and share the great good that the parishes and the other ecclesial realities of Rome have realized in this pastoral year. I greet with fraternal affection the cardinal vicar and I thank him for the courteous words he addressed to me and for the diligence he dedicates daily to the governance of the diocese, in supporting priests and the parish communities. I greet the auxiliary bishops, the entire presbyterate and each one of you. I address a cordial thought to all those who are sick and in particular difficulties, assuring them of my prayer.

As Cardinal Vallini recalled, we are engaged, since last year, in the verification of ordinary pastoral care. This evening we will reflect on two points of primary importance: "Sunday Eucharist and Testimony of Charity." I am aware of the great work that the parishes, the associations and the movements have realized, through meetings of formation and encounter, to deepen and live better these two fundamental components of the life and the mission of the Church and of every individual believer. This has also fostered that pastoral responsibility that, in the diversity of ministries and charisms, must be diffused ever more if we really want the Gospel to reach the heart of every inhabitant of Rome. So much has been done, and we thank the Lord; but still much remains to be done, always with his help.


Faith can never be presupposed, because every generation needs to receive this gift through the proclamation of the Gospel and to know the truth that Christ has revealed to us. The Church, therefore, is always engaged in proposing to all the deposit of the faith; contained in it also is the doctrine on the Eucharist -- central mystery in which "is enclosed all the spiritual good of the Church, namely, Christ himself, our Pasch" (Presbyterorum Ordinis, No. 5) -- doctrine that today, unfortunately, is not sufficiently understood in its profound value and in its relevance for the existence of believers. Because of this, it is important that a more profound knowledge of the mystery of the Body and Blood of the Lord be seen as an exigency of the different communities of our diocese of Rome. At the same time, in the missionary spirit that we wish to nourish, it is necessary to spread the commitment to proclaim such Eucharistic faith, so that every man will encounter Jesus Christ who has revealed the "close" God, friend of humanity, and to witness it with an eloquent life of charity.

Yes, faith can never be presupposed. The embers of faith that glow beneath the ashes of a burned out secular culture need to be fanned into a great flame capable of filling the Church with fire and with light. The Holy Father speaks clearly of doctrine, a word that is rarely heard in today's pastoral discourses and in homilies. In particular, the Church's unchanged, unchanging, and unchangeable doctrine concerning the mystery of the Body and Blood of the Lord must be taught again, at every level, with clarity and with the authority of Christ Himself.

The crucified Christ
revealed the face of God.

The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass

In all his public life, through the preaching of the Gospel and miraculous signs, Jesus proclaimed the goodness and mercy of the Father towards man. This mission reached its culmination on Golgotha, where the crucified Christ revealed the face of God, so that man, contemplating the Cross, be able to recognize the fullness of love (cf. Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est, No. 12). The sacrifice of Calvary is mysteriously anticipated in the Last Supper, when Jesus, sharing with the Twelve the bread and wine, transforms them into his body and his blood, which shortly after he would offer as immolated Lamb. The Eucharist is the memorial of the Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, of his love to the end for each one of us, memorial that He willed to entrust to the Church so that it would be celebrated throughout the centuries. According to the meaning of the Hebrew word "zakar," the "memorial" is not simply the memory of something that happened in the past, but a celebration which actualizes that event, so as to reproduce its salvific force and efficacy. Thus, "the sacrifice that Christ offered to the Father, once and for all, on the Cross in favor of humanity, is rendered present and actual" (Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 280). Dear brothers and sisters, in our time the word sacrifice is not liked, rather it seems to belong to other times and to another way of understanding life. However, properly understood, it is and remains fundamental, because it reveals to us with what love God loves us in Christ.

To recapitulate the Holy Father's teaching: The face of the Father, upon which we can "read" the secrets of His Heart is revealed on the suffering Face of the Crucified in the hour of His sacrifice. That same sacrifice, offered on Calvary in a bloody manner, was anticipated in a sacramental manner at the Last Supper, and is actualized in the same sacramental and unbloody manner so often as as Holy Mass is offered. Sacrifice is not a popular word, even in today's "theological culture." It is, however, integral, to a Catholic understanding of the Mass. It must become, once again, part of every Catholic's working theological vocabulary. For this to happen, the doctrine of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass must become a key theme in catechesis and in preaching.

Catechesis and preaching, however, are insufficient by themselves. The entire "ars celebrandi" must be corrected and reformed so as to more clearly manifest the sacrificial character of the Mass. This means, before anything else, the restoration of the eastward position ("versus Deum") of priest and people together for the Liturgy of the Eucharist. Nothing has done more to erode the understanding of the Mass as a sacrifice by both priests and lay faithful than the nearly universal trend of the Liturgy of the Eucharist "versus populum." Who will have the courage to catechize the faithfully clearly and patiently in preparation for this necessary step in the re-Catholicization of the "ars celebrandi"? Why are priests so invested in preserving a trend that, for the last forty years, has resulted in a weakening of the faith, in the loss of reverence, and in a downward spiral from "latria" into performance?

Recognize in the bread
that same body that hung on the cross,
and in the chalice
that same blood that gushed from his side.
(Saint Augustine)


In the offering that Jesus makes of himself we find all the novelty of Christian worship. In ancient times men offered in sacrifice to the divinity the animals or first fruits of the earth. Jesus, instead, offers himself, his body and his whole existence: He himself in person becomes the sacrifice that the liturgy offers in the Holy Mass. In fact, with the consecration of the bread and wine they become his true body and blood. Saint Augustine invited his faithful not to pause on what appeared to their sight, but to go beyond: "Recognize in the bread -- he said -- that same body that hung on the cross, and in the chalice that same blood that gushed from his side" (Disc. 228 B, 2). To explain this transformation, theology has coined the word "transubstantiation," word that resounded for the first time in this Basilica during the IV Lateran Council, of which in five years will be the 8th centenary. On that occasion the following expressions were inserted in the profession of faith: "his body and his blood are truly contained in the sacrament of the altar, under the species of bread and wine, because the bread is transubstantiated into the body, and the wine into the blood by divine power" (DS, 802). Therefore, it is essential to stress, in the itineraries of education of children in the faith, of adolescents and of young people, as well as in "centers of listening" to the Word of God, that in the sacrament of the Eucharist Christ is truly, really and substantially present.

The key word in this section of the Holy Father's teaching is transubstantiation: another word that has been effectively erased from catechetical discourse and preaching. The meaning and truth of transubstantiation must, once again, be taught regularly, clearly and with authority. Pope Paul VI's valiant attempt at shoring up a crumbling faith in the Most Holy Eucharist by the promulgation of his now almost forgotten "Credo of the People of God" was, in rather bleak way, prophetic:

Sacrifice of Calvary
24. We believe that the Mass, celebrated by the priest representing the person of Christ by virtue of the power received through the Sacrament of Orders, and offered by him in the name of Christ and the members of His Mystical Body, is the sacrifice of Calvary rendered sacramentally present on our altars. We believe that as the bread and wine consecrated by the Lord at the Last Supper were changed into His body and His blood which were to be offered for us on the cross, likewise the bread and wine consecrated by the priest are changed into the body and blood of Christ enthroned gloriously in heaven, and we believe that the mysterious presence of the Lord, under what continues to appear to our senses as before, is a true, real and substantial presence.
25. Christ cannot be thus present in this sacrament except by the change into His body of the reality itself of the bread and the change into His blood of the reality itself of the wine, leaving unchanged only the properties of the bread and wine which our senses perceive. This mysterious change is very appropriately called by the Church transubstantiation. Every theological explanation which seeks some understanding of this mystery must, in order to be in accord with Catholic faith, maintain that in the reality itself, independently of our mind, the bread and wine have ceased to exist after the Consecration, so that it is the adorable body and blood of the Lord Jesus that from then on are really before us under the sacramental species of bread and wine, as the Lord willed it, in order to give Himself to us as food and to associate us with the unity of His Mystical Body.
26. The unique and indivisible existence of the Lord glorious in heaven is not multiplied, but is rendered present by the sacrament in the many places on earth where Mass is celebrated. And this existence remains present, after the sacrifice, in the Blessed Sacrament which is, in the tabernacle, the living heart of each of our churches. And it is our very sweet duty to honor and adore in the blessed Host which our eyes see, the Incarnate Word whom they cannot see, and who, without leaving heaven, is made present before us.

The Rightness of the Rubrics

The Holy Mass, celebrated in the respect of the liturgical norms and with a fitting appreciation of the richness of the signs and gestures, fosters and promotes the growth of Eucharistic faith. In the Eucharistic celebration we do not invent something, but we enter into a reality that precedes us, more than that, which embraces heaven and earth and, hence, also the past, the future and the present. This universal openness, this encounter with all the sons and daughters of God is the grandeur of the Eucharist: we go to meet the reality of God present in the body and blood of the Risen One among us. Hence, the liturgical prescriptions dictated by the Church are not external things, but express concretely this reality of the revelation of the body and blood of Christ and thus the prayer reveals the faith according to the ancient principle "lex orandi - lex credendi." And because of this we can say "the best catechesis on the Eucharist is the Eucharist itself well celebrated" (Benedict XVI, Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation "Sacramentum Caritatis," No. 64).

It is time to pursue a renewed appreciation for the intrinsically theological value of liturgical rubrics. As I often say in lecturing, "Squeeze a rubric, and theology spurts out of it!" The multiplication of options in the New Order of the Mass has created a situation in which celebrants, faced with options A, B, C, and D, readily (and not altogether unreasonably) assume that they can invent options E, F, and G. Thus do we find ourselves grappling with liturgical formulae and actions that are subjective, personal, and without any roots in sacred tradition. This personal manipulation of the lex orandi leads willy-nilly to the corruption of the lex credendi, and to a lex vivendi characterized by relativism.

It is necessary that in the liturgy the transcendent dimension emerge with clarity, that of the mystery, of the encounter with the Divine, which also illumines and elevates the "horizontal," that is the bond of communion and of solidarity that exists between all those who belong to the Church. In fact, when the latter prevails, the beauty, profundity and importance of the mystery celebrated is fully understood. Dear brothers in the priesthood, to you the bishop has entrusted, on the day of your priestly Ordination, the task to preside over the Eucharist. Always have at heart the exercise of this mission: celebrate the divine mysteries with intense interior participation, so that the men and women of our City can be sanctified, put into contact with God, absolute truth and eternal love.

It is precisely this clear and luminously transcendent dimension of the liturgy that is absent from the greater number of Sunday (and weekday) celebrations of Holy Mass in parishes across the United States and around the world. The multiple options of the New Order of the Mass, codified with the best intentions in the GIRM, have fomented a state of confusion (not clarity) and have fostered a shrinking of the mystery into the small "here and now" of any given celebrant and group of the faithful. One has only to reflect on the complete ineffectiveness of the directives concerning the Proper Chants of the Mass, to see how a minimalistic interpretation of liturgical law has come to prevail in practice, thus doing violence to elements constitutive of the architecture of the Mass itself.


And let us also keep present that the Eucharist, joined to the cross and resurrection of the Lord, has dictated a new structure to our time. The Risen One was manifested the day after Saturday, the first day of the week, day of the sun and of creation. From the beginning Christians have celebrated their encounter with the Risen One, the Eucharist, on this first day, on this new day of the true sun of history, the Risen Christ. And thus time always begins again with the encounter with the Risen One and this encounter gives content and strength to everyday life. Because of this, it is very important for us Christians, to follow this new rhythm of time, to meet with the Risen One on Sunday and thus "to take" with us his presence, which transforms us and transforms our time.

A number of factors have contributed to a loss of the uniqueness of Sunday in Catholic life. Who, among our bishops, will have the courage to reexamine critically the now universally accepted Sunday Vigil Mass on Saturday evening? Is this not, in most parishes, the preferred Mass of those who want to have their Sunday free for other pursuits? How has this affected the time available for confessions? Was not the original intention of the Sunday Vigil Mass on Saturday evening to provide those engaged in public service and obliged to work on Sunday with an opportunity to fulfill the Sunday obligation, to be nourished by the Word of God, and by the adorable mysteries of Christ's Body and Blood? Is it not time to reiterate this original intention and to emphasize the traditional encounter with the Risen Christ on Sunday morning?

Eucharistic Adoration

Moreover, I invite all to rediscover the fecundity of Eucharistic adoration: before the Most Holy Sacrament we experience in an altogether particular way that "abiding" of Jesus, which He himself, in the Gospel of John, posits as necessary condition to bear much fruit (cf. John 15:5) and to avoid our apostolic action being reduced to sterile activism, but that instead it be testimony of the love of God.

The fecundity of Eucharistic adoration: what a marvelous expression! Eucharistic adoration is a privileged of way of abiding in the love of Jesus Christ, in the radiance of His Face, and close to His Open Heart. It is the perennial antidote to the sterile activism that exhausts so many workers in the vineyard of the Lord.

The Eucharist Makes the Church

Communion with Christ is always communion also with his body, which is the Church, as the Apostle Paul reminds, saying: "The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread" (1 Corinthians:16-17). It is, in fact, the Eucharist that transforms a simple group of persons into ecclesial community: the Eucharist makes the Church. Therefore, it is fundamental that the celebration of the Holy Mass be effectively the culmination, the "bearing structure" of the life of every parish community.

Better Care of the Preparation and Celebration of the Eucharist

I exhort all to take better care, also through apposite liturgical groups, of the preparation and celebration of the Eucharist, so that all who participate can encounter the Lord. It is the Risen Christ, who renders himself present in our today and gathers us around himself. Feeding on Him we are freed from the bonds of individualism and, through communion with Him, we ourselves become, together, one thing, his mystical Body. Thus the differences are surmounted due to profession, to class, to nationality so that we discover ourselves members of one great family, that of the children of God, in which to each is given a particular grace for common usefulness. The world and men do not have need of a another social aggregation, but have need of the Church, which is in Christ as a sacrament, "which is sign and instrument of the profound union with God and of the unity of the whole human race" (Lumen Gentium, No. 1), called to make the light of the Risen Lord shine on all people.

Communion of Blood with Jesus

Jesus came to reveal to us the love of the Father, because "man cannot live without love" (John Paul II, Redemptoris Hominis, No. 10). Love is, in fact, the fundamental experience of every human being, what has given meaning to daily living. Nourished by the Eucharist we also, following the example of Christ, live for Him, to be witnesses of love. Receiving the Sacrament, we enter into communion of blood with Jesus Christ. In the Hebrew conception, blood indicates life; thus we can say that being nourished by the Body of Christ we receive the life of God and learn to look at reality with his eyes, abandoning the logic of the world to follow the divine logic of gift and gratuitousness.

Reception of the Most Holy Sacrament establishes us in a communion of blood -- a supernatural kinship of blood -- with Jesus. Thus do we become sons in the Son. The life of the Father is communicated to us through the Body and Blood of the Son, made present by the words of consecration and by the action of the Holy Spirit. Every Holy Communion is transforming. Every Holy Communion marks another step in conversion of life, another surrender to what the Holy Father calls "the divine logic of gift and gratuitousness."

The Social Impact of Supernatural Charity

St. Augustine recalls that during a vision he thought he heard the voice of the Lord who said to him: "I am the nourishment of adults. Grow up, and you will eat me, without, because of this, my being transformed into you, as the nutriment of your flesh; but you are transformed into me" (cf. Confessions VII, 10, 16). When we receive Christ, the love of God expands in our innermost self, modifies our heart radically and makes us capable of gestures that, by the expansive force of good, can transform the life of those that are next to us. Charity is able to generate an authentic and permanent change of society, acting in the hearts and minds of men, and when it is lived in truth "it is the principal propelling force for the true development of every person and of the whole of humanity" (Benedict XVI, Encyclical Caritas in Veritate, 1). For the disciples of Jesus, the testimony of charity is not a passing sentiment, but on the contrary it is what molds life in every circumstance. I encourage all, in particular the Caritas and Deacons, to be committed in the delicate and essential field of education to charity, as permanent dimension of personal and community life.

Catholics have always believed in the "expansive force of good." One who lives from the Most Holy Eucharist, that is from a sacramental infusion of charity, becomes an agent of charity and a servant of the merciful designs of God for individuals and for the world.

Rome: This City of Ours

This City of ours asks of Christ's disciples, with a renewed proclamation of the Gospel, a clearer and more limpid testimony of charity. It is with the language of love, desirous of the integral good of man, that the Church speaks to the inhabitants of Rome. In these years of my ministry as your Bishop, I have been able to visit several places where charity is lived intensely. I am grateful to all those who are engaged in the different charitable structures, for the dedication and generosity with which they serve the poor and the marginalized. The needs and poverty of so many men and women interpellate us profoundly: it is Christ himself who every day, in the poor, asks us to assuage his hunger and thirst, to visit him in hospitals and prisons, to accept and dress him. A celebrated Eucharist imposes on us and at the same time renders us capable of becoming, in our turn, bread broken for brothers, coming to meet their needs and giving ourselves. Because of this, a Eucharistic celebration that does not lead to meet men where they live, work and suffer, to take to them the love of God, does not manifest the love it encloses.

Sacrificial Oblation

To be faithful to the mystery that is celebrated on the altars we must, as the Apostle Paul exhorts us, offer our bodies, ourselves, in spiritual sacrifice pleasing to God (cf. Romans 12:1) in those circumstances that require dying to our I and constitute our daily "altar." Gestures of sharing create communion, renew the fabric of interpersonal relations, marking them with gratuitousness and gift, and allowing for the construction of the civilization of love. In a time such as the present of economic and social crisis, let us be in solidarity with those who live in indigence to offer all the hope of a better tomorrow worthy of man. If we really live as disciples of the God-Charity, we will help the inhabitants of Rome to discover themselves brothers and children of the one Father.

Here, the Holy Father speaks of the essence of "actual participation" in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass: union with Christ the Victim, and the abandonment of ourselves into the hands of Christ the Priest. The altar becomes the place of our own oblation with Christ to the Father, and the starting point of a newness of life marked by self-giving love.

Vocations to Rebuild the Church

The very nature of love requires definitive and irrevocable choices of life. I turn to you in particular, dearly beloved young people: do not be afraid to choose love as the supreme rule of life. Do not be afraid to love Christ in the priesthood and, if you perceive in your heart the call of the Lord, follow him in this extraordinary adventure of love, abandon yourselves with trust to him! Do not be afraid to form Christian families that live faithful, indissoluble love open to life! Give witness that love, as Christ lived it and as the magisterium of the Church teaches, does not take anything away from our happiness, but on the contrary it gives that profound joy that Christ promised to his disciples.

The call of the Lord to the priesthood and to the formation of Christian families is, in effect, a call to rebuild the Church. I am mindful of Our Lord's words to Saint Francis of Assisi in the ruined church of San Damiano, "Francis, rebuild thou My Church, which, as thou seest, is falling into ruin." The rebuilding of the Church in every age is marked by joy.

The Virgin Mary and the Holy Sacrifice

May the Virgin Mary accompany the path of our Church of Rome with her maternal intercession. Mary, who in an altogether singular way lived communion with God and the sacrifice of her own Son on Calvary, enable us to live ever more intensely, piously and consciously the mystery of the Eucharist, to proclaim with the word and life the love that God has for every man. Dear friends, I assure you of my prayer and impart my heartfelt Apostolic Blessing to you all. Thank you.

Increasingly, it seems to me, the Holy Father refers to Our Lady's unique and incomparable role in the mystery of redemption. She who offered her Divine Son with a virginal, maternal, and sacerdotal heart at the foot of the Cross, is the model of "participatio actuosa" in the Holy Sacrifice.

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About Dom Mark

Dom Mark Daniel Kirby is Conventual Prior of Silverstream Priory in Stamullen, County Meath, Ireland. The ecclesial mandate of his Benedictine community is the adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar in a spirit of reparation, and in intercession for the sanctification of priests.

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