The cornerstone of our faith

By | August 24, 2012

Somewhere, in an under the bed box, I have a holy card. It pictures Jesus giving holy Communion to a person. It certainly is not a remarkable piece of art so why would I bother to save it? Well, I received the holy card when I was in third grade. It was a reward for spelling. That in itself is remarkable since, to this day, I am horrible at spelling. What is more remarkable is the word I spelled correctly was “transubstantiation.” I was able to spell that word although I had no clue as to what it really meant. Today I can say the same. I can spell the word, but as for having a deep theological concept, I simply thank God I can walk by faith rather than needing to clearly understand.

Transubstantiation is the cornerstone of our Catholic teaching and tradition. We believe that simple bread and wine, through the power of the Holy Spirit and with the words of consecration, become the real, unequivocal body and blood of Christ.

From the earliest days of the church, this has been our belief; however, the actual use of the word “transubstantiation” to describe the change from bread and wine to the body and blood of Christ is credited to Archbishop Hildebert de Lavardin of Tours in the year 1079. Splinter factions from within the Catholic Church caused the Council of Trent, in 1551, to set down the doctrine that defined transubstantiation as a conversion of the whole substance of the bread and wine into the “real presence of Christ,” his body and his soul and his divinity.

The doctrine of transubstantiation also teaches that we do not receive in the sacred host one part of Christ and in the precious blood the other. In either substance we receive Christ, whole and entire.

Humans have difficulty with mystery. We need explanations. Entering the word transubstantiation into a search engine produced more than 500 books that have been written on the subject and some 740,000 web entries. As I browsed just a few, I encountered pages and pages of terms, words and theories about transubstantiation, including some from those, of course, who felt compelled to prove why it does not exist. Nothing of what I read improved my understanding any more than that simple statement made at the Council of Trent: “the substance of the bread and wine converted into the real presence of Christ.” And why do Catholic’s cling so faithfully to the teaching of transubstantiation? Well, as St. Augustine so eloquently wrote, “He gives us his body, to make us into his body.”

Zahorik is director of worship at Most Blessed Sacrament Parish in Oshkosh.

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