Here are a few helpful suggestions to use when teaching children and others about the reality of the Eucharist as the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ.
By Brandon Harvey
19 September 2018
The Eucharist is Jesus. True. Yet, some look at the consecrated host and the contents of the sacred chalice, and say, “I don’t see it; is God tricking me?” This has occurred with some of my small children when they begin to develop their association between words and images. This has occurred for dozens of youth I have had the privilege of mentoring, and I have even heard such concerns expressed by a neophyte from RCIA. Sometimes we are so quick to proclaim the majesty of Christ’s Eucharistic presence that we fail to later explain the remaining appearance of bread and wine.
I get it. It is not always convenient or prudent to use the Church’s doctrinal language with kids or catechumens. It would be a challenge for me to say to a three old child or a non-Christian inquirer:
By the words of consecration and the work of the Holy Spirit, the substance of bread is changed into the substance of Christ’s body and the substance of the wine is changed into the substance of Christ’s blood. The accidents remain. It is an amazing gift! — Scenario statement based on CCC 1333, 1376
The moment to proclaim the glory of the Blessed Sacrament would be gone before I finished the above statement. Yet, this does not mean that a short proclamation that Christ is truly present in the Eucharist needs to be the last word. Proclamatory statements are exactly that, a proclamation. Proclamation is derived from the Latin word for shout. Imagine shouting to get someone’s attention; shouting doesn’t remain the ongoing mode of communication. The same is true within the Church. We move from proclamation to explanation.
Once we have proclaimed the glory of Christ’s presence in the Eucharist, one of the many things we eventually need to explain is why it is still possible to see what looks like bread, smells like bread, and tastes like bread. The Catechism, in No. 1376, quotes the Council of Trent to explain Transubstantiation. Here is a declaration of this Council:
And because that Christ, our Redeemer, declared that which He offered under the species of bread to be truly His own body, therefore has it ever been a firm belief in the Church of God, and this holy Synod doth now declare it anew, that, by the consecration of the bread and of the wine, a conversion is made 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; which conversion is, by the holy Catholic Church, suitably and properly called Transubstantiation. (Session XIII of the Council of Trent)
For those not familiar with the philosophy presumed and expressed in this, it is a delight to turn to the eloquent Frank Sheed. His work Theology for Beginners stresses that attributes, like the scent or appearance of bread, are not the bread itself but “simply a quality that bread has,” for there is something that has these qualities; these qualities are called “accidents.” Our senses can perceive the accidents of a thing but not the thing that has the qualities; this thing is called the “substance.”
The substance is known by the mind. Transubstantiation is then understood to be a change of the substance as explained above by the Council of Trent, the substance of bread changed to the substance of Christ’s Body. Continuing with the stimulating insights of Frank Sheed found in his book, Theology for Beginners:
Left to itself, the mind assumes that the substance is that which, in all its past experience, has been found to have that particular group of accidents. But in these two instances, the bread and wine of the Eucharist, the mind is not left to itself. By the revelation of Christ it knows that the substance has been changed, in the one case into the substance of his body, in the other into the substance of his blood.
The senses can no more perceive the new substance resulting from the consecration than they could have perceived the substance there before. We cannot repeat too often that senses can perceive only accidents, and consecration changes only the substance. The accidents remain in their totality-for example, that which was wine and is now Christ’s blood still has the smell of wine, the intoxicating power of wine.
This doesn’t mean we cannot say, “There is the Body of Jesus!” or “There is Jesus!” I do it daily with my kids. All this means is that we need to, on occasion, explain that the accidents or qualities of bread and wine remain after the consecration. A way to occasionally bring up these distinctions throughout a Catholic’s life could be the prayerful singing of the Tantum Ergo and a following reflection upon the words within it: “Faith for all defects supplying, where the feeble senses fail.”
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Brandon Harvey is married and blessed with four children. He studied undergraduate theology and philosophy at Briar Cliff University and received an MA in Theology from Franciscan University. He works as a Catholic speaker, theological consultant, and writer. He has developed the Home Catechesis Podcast and Vlog resource: www.homecatechesis.com