In Layman's Terms - Bob Sullivan

Transubstantiation Part I

By Bob Sullivan  

One of the great things about being Catholic is the fact that we all agree on the doctrines and dogmas of the Church, commonly called the “teachings,” right?

Well, kind of. To the extent we know and understand the doctrines and dogmas, this is true. However, with 2,000 years of theology, tradition, doctrine, and dogma to consider, it is not really possible for any Catholic to actually know all of the doctrines and dogmas.

It is even more unlikely that any one person could really understand such a voluminous collection of teachings. For this reason, theologians often specialize in certain subcategories of theology such as the study of the  Trinity, Christ, patristics, angels, Mary, etc…

How can a lay person say we assent to all that the Roman Catholic Church (“Church”) teaches, if no one person can honestly say that they know it all and that it is all true? This is one of the beautiful things about being a part of the Body of Christ as explained in 1 Corinthians 12:12-31. We all rely on each other to help us understand and accept the teachings we come to know.

While one person does not know and understand all the traditions, doctrines, and dogmas of the Church, each one of these is known and understood by many Christians over the course of the last 20 centuries, and all of it is contained in the magisterium of the Church. The magisterium is the teaching authority of the Church which was given to the Apostles in Matthew 16:19, 18:18, 28:20, and other passages in Scripture. This allows each of us to go back to these sources or to turn to a certain theologian, in order to come to a deeper knowledge and understanding of any Church teaching.

All this being said, there are a few teachings which all Catholics need to know and understand. Certain teachings are so essential to our faith, both as a Church and as individual Catholics, that we really need to understand them. These could be called the “essentials.”

In this category of essentials, there is one which is so important that we are setting our faith, even our salvation, up for disaster if we do not know and understand it.

This is the dogma of transubstantiation. This is the teaching which explains what happens to the bread and wine during Holy Mass. If you are Catholic, and you know and understand this teaching, you are positioned for a lifetime of grace, and you are on a path of discipleship which will end with eternal salvation. That is a big promise, right?

The good news is, I am not the one making that promise. God is. You can read all about it in John 6:26-68. In reality, the Eucharist is the treasure and the pearl of great price in Matthew 13:44-46.

Thankfully, we all agree on the dogma of transubstantiation and the reality of the Eucharist, right? After all, it is the peak and pinnacle of our faith and the source and summit of our spiritual life.

The problem is, surveys have shown that many of us do not actually know the dogma. Therefore, some of us are potentially missing some or all of the graces available to us when we receive the Eucharist, adore the Eucharist, or contemplate the reality of the Eucharist. After all, we are not saved by faith alone (James 2:24). Learning about our faith is a work, just as much as feeding the hungry is a work. When it comes to God and His grace, ignorance is not bliss.

For this reason, I have decided to do a series on the Eucharist in order to give everyone an opportunity to assure themselves that they understand and appreciate the miracle of the Real Presence and to foster an interest in confidently sharing this truth with others. After all, this is our Christian obligation. We are required to share the truth of the Gospel with others. Here is the quiz:

Circle the correct definition of transubstantiation:

a. When the priest consecrates the bread and wine, the bread and wine symbolize Christ’s body and blood.
b. The body and blood of Christ are truly and substantially present in, with, and under the forms of consecrated bread and wine so that we eat and drink both the elements and the true body and blood of Christ Himself.
c. The Eucharist is a memorial of Christ’s death upon the cross.
d. When the priest consecrates the bread and wine, the whole substance of the bread and wine changes into the substance of the body and blood of Christ.
e. Christ becomes spiritually present in the bread and wine during the consecration, but He is not physically present.

In my next column, we will see if you selected the correct answer. Don’t worry, this is an open book quiz, so go ahead and do a little research if you like.

Next time we will support the answer with the sources for the dogma. Through this process, everyone will not only know the dogma, but we will all come to a deeper understanding of the dogma. While the Catholic faith is not simply intellectual knowledge, intellectual knowledge is a great aid. Once you know something, you can stop wrestling with doubt, ambiguity, lack of confidence, and other feelings which can chip away at a person’s faith. Feelings can be both good and bad with regard to faith, and most often, they are either bad or neutral.

However, one feeling which is very helpful is confidence, and authentic confidence is based in reality (also known as fact) as well as trust in the goodness and power of God. I’ll explain this a little further in this series as well.

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