Solemnity of Corpus Christi
“Because Christ our Redeemer said that it was truly his body that he was offering under the species of bread, it has always been the conviction of the Church of God, and this holy Council now declares again, that by the consecration of the bread and the wine there takes place a change of the whole substance of the bread into the substance of the body of Christ our Lord and of the whole substance of the wine into the substance of his blood. This change the holy Catholic Church has fittingly and properly called transubstantiation.”
These words of the Council of Trent (DS 1642), which are taken up again in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC 1376), make clear the dogma of transubstantiation.
By this mystery, the substance of bread is converted into the substance of Christ’s Body. Further, the substance of wine is converted to the substance of Christ’s Blood. And, because (now, in heaven) Christ’s body and blood are united one with the other and both are further united to his soul and his divinity, the body and blood, soul and divinity of Christ are present in each Eucharistic species and in all of their parts.
The dogma of transubstantiation rules out two other theories: Annihilation and consubstantiation. From this teaching, we may draw a helpful analogy for family life.
The heresy of annihilation theory
Those who advocate the theory of annihilation would hold that the substance of bread does not become the substance of Christ’s Body, but rather is wholly annihilated and that Christ’s Body is then created ex nihilo and takes the place of the former substance of bread.
In this theory (which is a heresy), the bread does not change, nor is it converted. Rather, it simply ceases to exist. It is annihilated. The bread does not become Body, but rather the bread ceases to be, and the Body takes its place.
However, this is not the dogma of the Catholic Church – for we say that the substance changes, hence we call this transubstantiation. There is a real change effected by the words of consecration. A real conversion of bread into Body is brought about.
This can be clearly demonstrated even from our Savior’s words: For this is my body. The “this” is the substance. First, “this” is the substance of bread, but by the power of these words “this” becomes the Body of Christ.
The heresy of consubstantiation
On the other hand, there is the heresy of consubstantiation. This heresy was espoused by Martin Luther, among others. It is quite a silly heresy, lacking any real genius: The type of heresy that only a dull mind could invent.
The heresy of consubstantiation claims that, along with the substance of bread, the substance of Christ’s Body is really present in the Host. This theory would have us hold (against all possibility) that there were two substances present in the Sacred Host. The bread would remain bread, but together with the bread would be the Body of our Savior.
Here again, the bread is not changed or converted by the words of consecration, but rather the substance of Christ’s Body is created out of nothing and made present together with the substance of bread.
But Jesus did not say, “For this is both bread and my body”, but simply, For this is my body.
Transubstantiation and daily life
By the dogma of transubstantiation, right thinking Catholics maintain that the very substance of bread is changed into the substance of Christ’s Body. There is a real conversion of ordinary bread into the most extraordinary Presence of Christ.
Consider what each of these theories might tell us about family life – if, after all, the Eucharist is “the source and summit of the Christian life” (CCC 1324, Sacrosanctum Concilium 47), then we should suppose that the dogma of transubstantiation would shed some light upon the ordinary life of Christians.
Annihilation theory: If the substance of bread was annihilated and the substance of Christ’s Body took its place, we would think that the ordinary things of daily life are not themselves sanctified by grace. Rather, we would suppose that the ordinary elements of common life must be annihilated by grace and supplanted by wholly extraordinary and spiritual activities. Thus, daily life and daily work would not be consecrated, but rather would be annihilated. This is a heresy.
Consubstantiation: If the substance of bread remained and the substance of Christ’s Body came and rested beside the bread, we would think that the ordinary things of daily life are not themselves sanctified by grace. Rather, we would suppose that these ordinary activities, ordinary joys, ordinary sufferings remain, but that supernatural acts come beside them and that these new acts are holy but that the ordinary things remain simply ordinary. Thus, we would not be sanctified by our daily, ordinary lives, but only by the explicitly spiritual works we do. This too is a heresy.
Transubstantiation: However, if the very substance of bread is itself change and converted into the most Sacred and Holy Body of Christ, then we must conclude that the ordinary elements of daily life are not annihilated or simply set aside, but are themselves truly sanctified by grace. We must assert that our holiness consists in fulfilling the ordinary duties of our vocation, and in sanctifying our daily labors through consecrating them to the Lord.
On the outside, the life of the Christian may look very ordinary (for the most part), just as the Eucharist still looks like bread and wine. However, within the very substance of the works has been converted, for grace is a new kind of life and not merely a difference of degree.
There is a substantial change effected by grace in the Christian soul. The ordinary life of the Christian is “transubstantiated”. Not annihilated, nor merely set beside holy things, the ordinary elements are themselves sanctified by grace and become new works in Christ Jesus our Savior.
How beautiful this dogma! A mystery to be lived!