Note: This is the second in a five-part series on the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist.
The first step in truly accepting the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist is to overcome the vanity of our own certainty in what we see, feel and taste.
Yes, that small white Host really and truly is Jesus’ Body. No, it does not make sense to our limited human understanding. But isn’t that the case with every important concept? Love, hope, courage — none of these things make logical sense, but they nevertheless define the human experience. So it is with the Eucharist. To believe the Host is Christ, simply because he promises us that it is so, is the ultimate act of humility.
Pope Paul VI writes in his 1965 encyclical “Mysterium Fidei” that the Church Fathers “Felt they had a solemn duty to warn the faithful that, in reflecting upon this most sacred Sacrament, they should not pay attention to the senses, which report only the properties of bread and wine, but rather to the words of Christ, which have power great enough to change, transform, ‘transelementize’ the bread and wine into his body and blood.”
“As St. Thomas Aquinas wrote in the lyrics for ‘Adoro Te Devote,’ God is ‘hidden’ in the Eucharist,” said Fr. Jacob Strand, pastor of Holy Trinity and St. Michael parishes in Kewaskum. “Having just a basic understanding of the doctrine of transubstantiation is very helpful. The Church teaches that the appearances remain but the substance or essence of bread and wine change. Even though this is still rather mysterious, I find that when Catholics know this, they can more easily move beyond the initial roadblock proposed by their senses so as to journey ever deeper with Christ in the Eucharist relying on faith.”
Fr. Andrew Linn, associate pastor of St. Mary and St. Anthony parishes in Menomonee Falls, also draws upon Aquinas’ hymn in his own understanding of the Eucharist.
“There’s a line in the ‘Adoro Te Devote’ that really stands out to me whenever someone asks my experience of the Eucharist,” he said. “It can be translated as something like ‘seeing, touching, tasting — these are all deceived, only in the hearing can it be believed.’ There is nothing in our senses, there is nothing about the Eucharist that forces us to respond with joy, with adoration, with love, with anything — the Eucharist still looks like a piece of bread, still tastes like wine. But by the handing down of our faith all the way from the Apostles, we know that the Eucharist really is God.”
The Eucharist appearing as a small, apparently inconsequential piece of unleavened bread is actually a beautiful testament to the humility of Christ, said Fr. Strand.
“My aunt is a Poor Clare Colettine nun, and she often says that the poverty of Jesus was displayed most powerfully at his birth in a stable, on the Cross where he died, and in the Eucharist, where he remains with us in such a humble form,” he said. “To see the host is to see the humility of Jesus, which is to see the depths of his love.”