When we recognize as dogma that “Christ whole and entire is under the species of bread, and under any part whatsoever of that species; likewise the whole (Christ) is under the species of wine, and under the parts thereof” (Council of Trent, session XIII, chapter III), such that the body and blood of Christ are present both in the Host and in the Chalice, we may wonder why it is that the priest calls one species the body of Christ and the other the blood of Christ. Since we receive the whole Christ (body and blood, soul and divinity) when we receive communion, why does the priest not distribute communion with the words, “The body and the blood of Christ”?
As we consider the manner by which Jesus is present, whole and entire, under both Eucharistic species, we will come to appreciate the custom of the Church. Moreover, we shall see that what may seem to be a purely speculative question of theology bears great importance on the Catholic understanding of how the Mass is a sacrifice.
The teaching of the Council of Trent
“And this faith has ever been in the Church of God, that, immediately after the consecration, the veritable Body of our Lord, and His veritable Blood, together with His soul and divinity, are under the species of bread and wine; but the Body indeed under the species of bread, and the Blood under the species of wine, by the force of the words; but the body itself under the species of wine, and the blood under the species of bread, and the soul under both, by the force of that natural connection and concomitancy whereby the parts of Christ our Lord, who hath now risen from the dead, to die no more, are united together; and the divinity, furthermore, on account of the admirable hypostatical union thereof with His body and soul.” (Council of Trent, session XIII, chapter III)
What is particularly noteworthy about the definition from Trent is that the body of our Lord is present in the Host “by the force of the words” (ex vi verborum) while the blood of Christ is present therein “by the force of natural connection and concomitancy” (per concomitantiam). In other words, because the body and blood of Christ (together with his soul) are united in his proper mode of existence which is now in heaven, so too they are united in the Blessed Sacrament. By the power of the words of consecration, the bread is substantially changed to the body of Christ and the wine is substantially changed into the blood of Christ, but by virtue of the fact that (now in heaven) Christ’s body and blood in their proper species are united to one another and together are united also to his human soul, so too in their sacramental species they are likewise united.
What this means is that the Eucharist is very much a heavenly reality, insofar as the presence of Christ in heaven is determinative for the presence of Christ in the Sacrament. Precisely because he is now living and glorified in heaven, so too our Savior’s body and blood in the Holy Eucharist are united and are living and glorified.
Finally, by virtue of the hypostatic union there is a supernatural concomitance which causes the divinity of Christ also to be united to his body and blood in the Eucharistic species.
However, when the priest consecrates the elements and when he distributes communion, he does not speak of the Eucharist according to real concomitance, but rather according to the force of the words of consecration. Hence, since in the Host only the body of Christ is present ex vi verborum, the liturgy refers to the Host simply as “The body of Christ” and not as “The body, blood, soul and divinity of Christ” (though, of course, the whole Christ is present in the Sacred Host). Again, since in the Chalice only the blood of Christ is present ex vi verborum, the liturgy refers to the Chalice simply as “The blood of Christ” and not as “The body, blood, soul and divinity of Christ” (though, again, the whole Christ is present in the Precious Blood).
A speculative question from St. Thomas Aquinas
In Summa Theologica III, q.81, a.4, the Angel of the Schools asks a question which may at first seem to be wild speculation: Whether, if this Sacrament had been reserved in a pyx, or consecrated at the moment of Christ’s death by one of the apostles, Christ himself would have died there? In other words, if the Eucharist had been reserved from Holy Thursday, what could we say about the Real Presence of Christ in this Sacrament? Would he have been living? Would his body and blood both be present in the Host? Would his soul be present therein? Would he be glorified? And, finally, would his divinity be present in that Host?
Considering that the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, because it is a sacramental presence, is logically dependent upon our Savior’s presence in his proper species (i.e. in his natural mode of existence); it is clear that, if we desire to know the manner in which Christ would have been present in a Host reserved on Good Friday, we must look to how Christ existed in his proper body on that day.
St. Thomas, establishing the principles which would later be confirmed by the Council of Trent, concludes that Christ would have been dead in the Host just as he was dead on the Cross that day. Moreover, as the soul of Christ was separated from his body and blood, so too would it be separated from the Sacrament. Again, as the blood of Christ poured forth from his body upon the Cross, so too would the body and blood of Christ be separated in the Sacrament. And, as we would now expect, since our Savior had not yet been glorified in his proper species, neither would his Real Presence in the Host be glorified. Still, as the lifeless body and blood of Christ were not deprived of the hypostatic union by death, our Lord would have been present in the Host in his divinity. The Host would have only been the body (ex vi verborum) and the divinity of Christ (per concomitantiam), not his blood or soul.
We can quickly realize that the Angelic Doctor’s question is no mere speculative exercise, but is in fact a pedagogical tool for teaching the difference between the force of real concomitance and the force of the words of consecration.
How the Mass is a sacrifice
As we have written in a previous article, the recognition of the fact that the Host is the Sacrament of Christ’s body while the Chalice is the Sacrament of Christ’s blood is no mere speculative game. Rather, this is essential to understanding the manner in which the Mass is a sacrifice.
Indeed, it seems quite likely that one of the principle reasons why so many Catholics today do not believe in the sacrificial nature of the Mass is that they do not understand what the Church means when she says that the Mass is a sacrifice. It is not uncommon to hear false explanations given by even well meaning would-be conservatives – possibly the most popular of these misconceptions is the idea that the Mass becomes a sacrifice at the moment in which the priest receives both species of the Eucharist (or, alternatively, when he fractures the Host).
However, when we recognize that the Host is the Sacrament of the body of Christ and the Chalice is the Sacrament of our Lord’s blood, we quickly understand what it is that makes the Mass to be a sacrifice. As our Savior’s body and blood were separated in their proper species upon the Cross (for his blood poured forth from his sacred body), so too the Lord’s body and blood are sacramentally separated upon the altar.
The living and glorified body of Christ, substantially present in the Host, is a sacrament of the Savior’s dead and lifeless body as it hung upon the Cross. Likewise, the living and glorified blood of Christ, substantially present in the Chalice, is a sacrament of the Lords’ dead and lifeless blood which poured forth from his body as it hung upon the Cross. [this is the central thesis of the excellent book of Abbot Anscar Vonier, A Key to the Doctrine of the Eucharist]
This is what makes the Mass to be a sacrifice: It is a sacramental sacrifice. And, just as the sacramental presence of Christ in the Eucharist is a real presence, so too the sacramental sacrifice of the Mass is a real and a true sacrifice – it is one with the sacrifice of the Cross.