‘This Is My Body'

This month, as the culmination of the “Year of the Eucharist” designated by the late John Paul II, Catholic bishops from around the world will gather for a synod in Rome to explore and deepen the church’s understanding of this sacrament.

As older Catholics know, but many young Catholics do not, transubstantiation is the doctrine that the “substance” of the bread and wine in the Eucharist is changed into the body and blood of the risen Christ, while the appearance of bread and wine remains. This traditional doctrine of the church is stated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1376): “by the consecration of the bread and 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.” This language closely follows that of the Council of Trent, which in turn closely followed Aquinas.

Transubstantiation has always been a difficult doctrine to explain and to understand. Trent said that the “appearance” or “form” (in Latin, species) of the bread and wine remains. Aquinas, following Aristotelian philosophy and physics, said that the “accidents” (that is, the appearance) remained, while the “substance” was converted into the body and blood of the risen Christ. But in Aristotelian physics, there...

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