CHAPTER XIV — THE BREAD OF LIFE
THE explorer of the virgin regions close to a man’s heart who reported his findings with such classic brevity was either the perpetrator or the victim of a great injustice. He might have supposed that all the world would understand his “The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach” was no more than an inadequate metaphor for a truth too long to be fully told; or he might really have thought he had reached the end of the road when he had come to the outer boundaries of the physical nature of man. In the first case, he deserves the sincere sympathy of all the millions of misunderstood authors; in the second, well, at least he has plenty of companions who stop with him at the half-way station thinking it is the end of the road.
The way to a man’s heart: An open road — by the need of man
In actual fact, catering to a man’s stomach has more immediate effect on his waist-line than on his heart. Let us give the author the benefit of the doubt and accept his metaphor. Then the roads he points out are really the highways of beneficence. When it is pity that is being kind, there is a certain tenderness awakened; but pity rarely leads to love because by its nature it emphasizes the superiority of the benefactor, and love cannot but be humble. Sheer generosity, on the other hands is such a selfless thing as to be of the immediate family of undying love Man is grateful for gifts; in his gratitude, he is prepared to start gratitude’s endless circle by giving gifts in return, even giving himself in return.
The degree of the recklessness of his return gifts will depend to a great extent on the bright flame of generosity that inspired it and the need to which that generosity ministered. A man is grateful for the small beneficence of a match with which to light his cigarette, but not exuberantly grateful; he is more grateful for a roof to keep off the weight of the world, for clothes to maintain his dignity, and friends to buoy up his heart. When the ministrations are to his radical needs, when he is given the things by which he lives and without which he dies, his gratitude can easily be turned into the earth-shaking force we call love.
No question about it, a man needs food. A comfortably lined stomach, too, is unquestionably a necessary disposition to romantic moods; at least, the perfume of a bakery shop will rudely interrupt the most romantic protestations of a starving man, and fasting has always been more closely allied to penance than to romance. Of course, the thing must not be carried too far; an overstuffed lover will be hard to keep awake. But beyond the matter of predisposition, the ministration of food evokes a singularly child-like gratitude from the most robust adult. It is almost as though he were not only grateful that his life was not allowed to flicker out for want of fuel, he is a little surprised that so lethal a weapon of food has been used to such beneficent purposes. Ignorance can work marvels of destruction with food; unskillfulness easily surpasses those marvels; it is only in our time that governments have discovered they can break the spirit of a man, mold his disposition, and determine his political and economic future by the simple device of depriving him of the proper vitamins. No wonder a man is surprised and grateful to rise from a meal not only unharmed but positively nourished.
A double road — by reason of double need
Man, however, does not live by bread alone; he has a mind and a heart that are nourished by truth and goodness. If he is grateful for the things by which he lives physically, he s uncritically devoted, exorbitantly grateful for truth and goodness. Because there are none of the immediate protests of nature against poisonous or half-cooked fare in this order, charlatans and hypocrites have reaped a harvest of gratitude and love with none of the labor of truth and goodness. But aside from that, in our time there is more than sufficient confirmation that the road of physical food is only one road, and not a through one at that, to a man’s heart; the other, truth and goodness, is a wide open road that leads straight to the depths of a man’s heart. Why else does the most mediocre of university professors move before his pupils in a pillar of cloud by day; or the major professor slightly obscure the sun for his graduate student?
Roads that are thoroughly mapped — man’s interest in food
If the original explorer meant that the road to a man’s heart was by the things which support his life, he was quite right. There is nothing obscure about the fact, nothing hidden about the roads. Man’s thirst for truth is amply testified to by his naive trust of the learned, his unquestioning sacrifice in the interests of education, his high honor for those who have professedly amassed a supply to distribute to others. His interest in physical food — well, there has never been much question of that; though there has been, perhaps, no greater, more detailed interest than in our time when vitamins, calories, carbohydrates and starches roll off the tongues of children like a litany of old friends. In a sense, anyone can find the way to a man’s heart, because he wears the directions written boldly on his whole nature.
But there is much more to the nourishment of a man’s soul than the truth he can discover from other men, or the goodness he can see glinting, now and then, in the sunlight of his own penetrating glance. Perhaps we can understand that best by contrasting the character of the food of the body and of the soul. That there is a considerable difference should be apparent to our times, of all ages. Not so long ago in America, when a depression made skeletons of strong men, we saw many a mighty spiritual feat from men who had scarcely strength to lift their feet: thoughtfulness , sacrifice, refusal to stoop to ways unworthy of man to avoid the spectre of starvation. We know then, that it is possible to have a well-nourished soul in a starving body; as if that evidence would not be enough for our sceptical minds; the world has since been filled with millions of the starving who nourish the world with their heroism. It should not be too hard, then, to understand the possibility of a starved soul in a comfortably nourished body. These two do not flourish on the same diet.
A contrast in foods: The body nourished by inferiors; the soul nourished by superiors
The body needs the support of things beneath it. It feeds on them, destroying them, changing them into itself; and prospers in the process of bestowing a destructive nobility on the animal, plant, and mineral world. The soul needs the support of a superior; it feeds on truth, goodness, above all on God, not destroying these things, not assimilating them into its own substance, but rather being changed by them, and even, in the case of God, in some sense being changed into Him. The body is always losing something that must be replaced; the soul is always gaining something that need never be replaced but that so increases its capacity that only the infinitely inexhaustible could possibly keep it alive. Men are indeed interested in food, food of body and of soul, for men are interested in life.
Process of corporal and spiritual nourishment
Since a breach has been made in the walls of nature and man has slipped out into the fields of God, it is more than ever true that he does not live by bread alone. To live the divine life that is now his, he needs divine nourishment: truth that is proper to God; goodness that is God’s own; yes, even the very body of God, the food of angels that yet has never graced an angelic table. When that food was first offered to men, many turned away in doubt and distaste; it was a hard saying, that promise, and the food was altogether strange to the diet of men. The saying is still hard for men who measure love by their own limits, generosity by their own check-book, and power by their own strength. The food is still strange to those who have yet to taste it; for one must taste and see the sweetness of the delights of divinity which are not to be imagined from the experiences of men.
A case of spiritual indigestion and its history: The regretful renouncement of food
Those who did taste it became enamored of it; they knew something of the truth of the promises: “He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood abideth in me and I in him.” “I am the bread of heaven; unless you eat of the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His Blood, you shall not have life in you.” They tasted and lived, lived as men had never dared hope to live; lived by the life of God. Little wonder, then, that men cherished the gift. For eleven hundred years, it never occurred to men to challenge it directly; it was too close to dreams, too wholly reality, too vibrant with life to leave room for a doubt. When, at last, the restless mind of a man struck out at this gift, it was with an undertone of the regret and shame a man feels when his fit of distemper aims barbed words at those he loves most. Berengarius denied the real presence of Christ, but with the proviso that the symbol moved man to create his own heavenly food for the nourishment of the life without which there was nothing to live for. Before he died, he knew the emptiness he had introduced into his own life, admitted it, and received again the Bread of Life.
The progress of starvation
He had shown a dark path to the human mind, irritated in the obscurity of faith. Still, men would have none of it. For men do not easily surrender the things by which they live; and more than time is necessary to teach men to see light in darkness, life in death, plenty in starvation. It was five centuries before the Eucharist was challenged again; and, again, the challenge was a regretful, even a half-hearted one in its beginnings. Luther could not bring himself to deny the divine prudence in the Eucharist; Calvin slithered, rather than plunged, into it; it was Zwinglius who dared to step as far off the path of life as Berengarius had.
Reasons for the starvation — the predispositions of the mystery
From then on, men steadily lost the taste for this divine food. In a way, it was inevitable. As men lost interest in Christ, how could they keep interest in His constant presence; as they lost hope for things beyond the stars, what point was there in feeding on the Bread of Angels; as they forgot Calvary, what meaning had the living memento of that gesture of friendship? The thing was inevitable as men lost sight of the far horizons of divine life. To eat this Bread, a man must approach humbly to a food that is his Master, falling down in adoration; he must be stripped of the fundamental selfishness that puts himself before God, or he eats it to his damnation; he must have courage, the courage to face a human life divinely lived. This is too much to ask of a world whose prescription for life is rather pride in self-sufficiency, satisfaction at whatever cost, and escape from life rather than a challenge to it. Men have become so hungry that the food is distasteful; but they nonetheless starve for lack of it.
The fact of the mysterious food: Essence and existence of the Eucharist
Yet, the food is there for men to eat; on the word of God, it was given to men, is still given to them. If that is not security enough, men must go hungry: for the mind of man, because it is not the mind of God, cannot encompass the supreme act of divine generosity. The sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, the divine food of man’s supernatural life, was instituted by Christ at the Last Supper when He took bread, blessed it, and gave it to His disciples saying: “Take ye and eat. This is my body”; and taking the wine, in the same manner, saying: “Drink ye all of this. For this is my blood of the new testament, which shall be shed for many unto the remission of sins.” By these words He fulfilled the promise which had sounded so incredibly hard to the ears of so many, the promise that He would give them His body to eat and His blood to drink. The fulfillment of that promise was in the sensible sign of the accidents of bread and wine, instituted to give grace, not, as in the case of the other sacraments, by the power of the Holy Ghost in them, but by containing the very body and blood of Christ Himself.
The promise should not have been so hard to believe, the food not difficult to take. After all, we do not expect an earthly father to give a child life, generating it, and then do nothing to conserve that life; why, then, suspect the heavenly Father of our supernatural life to bestow that life on us, generating us in Baptism, and not provide nourishment for the conservation of that life? Indeed He did provide, and much more than nourishment. For if we take the internal physical perfections of a man, that which he attains by growth, as paralleled in the spiritual order through Confirmation, then the whole gamut of external perfections are paralleled in the spiritual order through the Eucharist: it is a man’s food, his clothes robing him in new dignity, the house to which he flies to shelter, his companion, friend, his treasure, even, in a very real sense, his goal.
Fittingness of its institution
While Our Lord had promised all this long before, had had it in mind from the beginning of His human life, and eternally in His divine mind, He saved its actual institution until the last moments of His life. It was to be a souvenir of His passion and death, indeed, in its accomplishment as sacrifice, the very renewal of that precious death; what more fitting than that it should stand touching shoulders in the memory of men with the death of God that men must not forget? That Last Supper was a sad farewell which the silent gloom of the disciples showed they well understood; He was taking leave of them, yet would not leave them; He would no longer live among them in his proper human form, but He would never be absent from them under the sacramental veils. They were His friends. He was leaving them a gift; given at any time, it would be cherished by those who loved Him, given as His last gift it would be doubly dear, indelibly chiseled on the memories of those who would bring the story of His life and love to all ages.
Obviously, the Eucharist is by no means a divine superfluity, a flamboyant touch to the already divine perfection of humanity. Men need this Bread of Life. Indeed, if we look at it from the side of the unity of the Mystical Body which it signifies, men simply cannot get along without it; for to reach the goal of his life, man must at least belong to the soul of the Church. Considered in itself, however, it is not one of the utterly indispensable means to heaven. A moment’s comparison with Baptism, with which we are now familiar, will serve to bring out clearly the exact degree of the necessity of the Eucharist. Baptism is necessary as the very beginning of spiritual life, the principle of it; the Eucharist is rather the end, the consummation of it. Just as it is sufficient to have the end in view, in desire, to accomplish an action that leads to it, so it is sufficient to have the Eucharist in desire to lead the life that goes to the goal of union. Baptism of desire does remove the impediments that bar a man from eternal life, but it is possible only to an adult; for, clearly, as Baptism is the first of the sacraments, it cannot be had implicitly, in desire, in the reception of any of the other sacraments. Quite the contrary with the Eucharist: for all the sacraments are ordered to it as to their end, Baptism included; so that even an infant, receiving Baptism with the faith and intention supplied by the Church, also receives the Eucharist in desire, implicitly.
Having received God Himself in the sacrament, men lovingly traced the long history of its promise through the patient years of the Old Testament. There was, for instance, Melchisedech’s sacrifice of bread and wine, foreshadowing the outer sign of the Eucharist; all the sacrifices of the Old Testament, particularly the expiatory sacrifices, prefigured the expiatory death of Christ which is signified and renewed in this sacrament; while its nourishment, sweetness, and heavenly delights were foretold in the manna, the heavenly-sent food that fell upon the Israelites facing the long years of life in the barrenness of the desert. But more than all others, it was the paschal lamb that foretold to men the fullest story of the Eucharist. The lamb was eaten with unleavened bread; it was perfect, spotless, and immolated by the whole people; its immolation was a sacrifice by which the Israelites were preserved from the destroying angel and delivered from the captivity of Egypt. The parallel is so perfect as almost to have torn away the veils of a figure to show an explicit promise of the Lamb of God.
The mystery itself: The mystery of the matter:
Ingredients of the mystery — bread and wine
Coming down to a more detailed examination of the Eucharist, we must look for the matter and form that constitute it, not at the moment of its reception by the faithful or the priest, but at the moment of consecration in the Mass. From one angle, this sets the Eucharist apart from the other sacraments, for all the others are perfected, or accomplished, in their use, whereas the Eucharist is already in existence before it is administered; thus, for instance, it is not the blessing of the baptismal water or the consecration of the oil for Confirmation that constitutes these two sacraments, but rather the use of this material, the pouring of the water and the anointing with chrism. There is this common note, however, in all the sacraments; they are perfected, accomplished, at the precise moment when the form is joined to the matter, the words to the thing, to produce the perfect sign; this is no less true of the Eucharist than of the other sacraments, for it is at the moment of consecration that the words of the form are applied to the bread and wine.
In the determination of the matter of the Eucharist, the primary question to be asked is: “What did Christ Himself use?” As we have already seen, the determination of these channels of grace is entirely God’s work; that Christ used this or that material settles the question of the matter of a sacrament. Yet, the mind and heart of man insist upon going further, searching for the reasons of the peculiar fittingness of this matter rather than that. In the course of these tentative explorations into the wisdom of divinity, the saints have come upon reasons much too richly beautiful to be lightly cast aside.
Certainly, then, the matter of this sacrament is bread and wine; for it was bread and wine that Christ used at the Last Supper. That it is beautifully fitting material is clear from a number of considerations. After all, this sacrament was instituted by way of nourishment, and bread and wine was the ordinary nourishment of the men of the time of Christ; God has a way of conferring awful dignity on simple, ordinary things. Then, too, this was the sacrament of Christ’s passion, a truth beautifully brought out by the separate consecration of bread and wine, the separate consumption of the body and blood of the Lord. It was fitting that this sacrament, as the type of the unity of the Church which is made up of many faithful, should be wrought from bread, made up of many grains, and wine, pressed from many grapes. Just as there are no determined number of the faithful in the Church, so there is no determined quantity, large or small, for the matter of this sacrament.
Christ consecrated wheaten bread, and unleavened wheaten bread. No other than wheaten bread, then, will suffice for the validity of the sacrament. The leavening, or lack of it, does not pertain to the essential validity of the sacrament; in actual fact, the Greek Church uses leavened bread as a protest against the heresy of the Nazarenes and its confusion of the legalism of the Old Testament with the sacraments of the New. What is necessary, that the consecrating priest avoid sin, is that he follow the rite of the Church to which he belongs; and, in the Latin Church, the bread to be used must be unleavened as the sign of the incorrupt body of Christ and the uncorrupted sincerity of the faithful.
The wine used in the first institution was wine of the grape; no other will do for the validity of the Eucharist. A little water is to be poured into the wine before the consecration as that was probably what Christ did in accordance with the custom of the country. This touch of water signifies the people sharing in this sacrament; for as the water, mingling with the wine, becomes one with it, so the people, by the use of this sacrament, are made one with Christ. As we have seen, this sacrament is not constituted in its use by the people but in the consecration of the Mass; consequently, this matter of the water mixed with the wine does not pertain to the validity of the sacrament.
Process of the mystery: Passing of the substance of the bread:
The change itself — transubstantiation
There is little difficulty in determining the matter of this sacrament. Where the eyes of the mind go blind and the eyes of faith must take up the work is when we come to the revealed truth that the body and blood of Christ are truly present. By the words of Christ, repeated by the priest, the whole substance of the bread is changed into the substance of the body of Christ, and the substance of the wine is changed into the substance of the blood of Christ. That change of substance to substance, completely unique in the whole field of change, is calledtransubstantiation. If that term is understood, all else that will be said about the sacrament will have nothing of the vague or indistinct about it; if the content of that term is believed, the whole truth of the Eucharist is known.
From the side of the fittingness of the thing, the truth of this sacrament has all the simple perfection of a supreme work of God. This is the full perfection of all the shadowy figures of the Old Testament, the reality come to dissipate the mist of its promises and prototypes. Christ Himself had declared again and again that the disciples were His friends; and what is more strikingly characteristic of friendship than a joyous and constant union of friends? Men had not been cheated of the merit of faith with regard to His divinity; why should they not be given the opportunity to accept His humanity in this sacrament on the same divine authority?
That there be no misunderstanding about the precise meaning of this mystery of the Eucharist, many questions may be asked, questions that are necessary only because of our human capacity for obscuring the obvious. There is, for example, the question of the substance of the bread and wine; do they remain in this sacrament after the consecration? Obviously not: what is changed does not remain, and the body of Christ is here, not by local motion, not by pushing the substance of bread into a little smaller space, like a last-minute customer edging his way into a seat on a crowded subway; it is here by way of change, by the substance of bread and wine being changed into the substance of the body and blood of Christ. Christ did not say, “Here is my body,” He said, “This is my body”; and this was no time for inaccuracy of expression. Moreover, the faithful would be trapped into idolatry, adoring a sacred host that was still bread.
Well, what happens to the substance of bread and wine in the consecration? Is it annihilated? Does it return to its component elements? The answer to both questions is no, because the substance of bread and wine are changed info the substance of the body and blood of Christ. The whole effect must be measured by the sign of the sacrament, for the words produce precisely what they signify; “This is my body” does not signify annihilation nor decomposition, but change.
Existence of Christ in the Eucharist: As to subject
To the restless human mind, still protesting at the mystery of the sacrament, there seems to be at least one avenue of escape: how can the substance of bread be changed into the substance of the body of Christ? Perhaps the best answer to that question is: Figure out some other way! We know, on the authority of God, that this sacrament contains the true body of Christ; and there simply is no other way to get it there. If one demands that Christ come there by local motion, in His own proper species, then He must leave heaven, and take up His residence in just one host, not in the millions that are preserved in tabernacles throughout the world; for the body of Christ does not, cannot, enjoy the ubiquity of God.
There is reason for the restlessness of our minds. Certainly, we can effect no such change as this; our efforts do not revolve around the change of a whole substance, but of one or the other of its essential elements. We can produce changes in the matter of things, trimming them down, building them up, molding their shape and so on; we can produce formal changes, driving out one substantial form by the introduction of another to the goal of a substantial change. The power of God is quite another thing. If it did not extend to the whole of things nothing would ever have existed, for the first production had to be by way of creation, producing the whole of being; some power must extend to both matter and form, or there would be neither matter nor form for us to work on. It is this whole change, of substance to substance, that is transubstantiation.
That the accidents of bread and wine, in the philosophical sense of “accident,” remain in this sacrament is something we can verify by our own senses. There is no deception here. What our senses tell us is true: there is whiteness, roundness, the redness of the liquid, the odor of wine; if error is introduced, it is because we conclude from the presence of the accidents to the presence of their natural subject, the substance of bread and wine, pitting our minds against the faith that preserves us from error. After the consecration, these accidents exist without a subject, supported by nothing in the natural order but by the solidity of the power of God. They are not subjected in the body of Christ or His blood; He does not begin to look like bread and wine, to be as fragile as a host, as fluid as wine. This sort of thing cannot be done any more than we can transfer a smile from the face of a man to the leaves of a tree. What is done has nothing of impossibility; obviously, if God could give the substance of bread the power to sustain its accidents, He can support those accidents directly, which is what He does.
With this divine support, the accidents retain all their normal characteristics. They can nourish, be destroyed, corrupt, and so on; not because these characteristics are flowing from their proper substantial form, for if that were still present there would have been no change at all, but because it is God Who is miraculously keeping them in existence. The change by which the status of these accidents has definitely passed into the miraculous is not a slow tortuous thing of strained muscles, sharp explosions, or long, careful periods of preparation; this is God at work directly, and infinite power works in an instant. There is no period between the presence of Christ and the absence of the bread and wine; but in the one instant, bread is no longer there and the Savior of men has taken up His secret abode among men.
He had lived among men before, not secretly but openly, yet even the dullest had recognized there was a wonderful secret about that human life in Palestine. They recognized it by their rebellious or awestruck questions, spoken and unspoken: how could this Man forgive sin; how could He give His body to be food; how could He feed the hungry multitude, heal the sick, give sight to the blind, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead? His divinity hid behind the veil of His humanity; some men believed what they could not see. Returning to His Father, He would not leave His own alone; so both His humanity and His divinity were hidden behind the veil of the sacrament where men could see Him with the eyes of faith, and not see Him with the eyes of the body or the eyes of the mind.
The comfort this doubly secret presence brings to men is not less but greater than the divine works of Palatine; and, again, men’s questions are rebellious or awestruck: how can the whole Christ be in this sacrament, under each species, under each particle of each species; how can the physical quantity of Christ’s body be contained in a wafer; how can He be in millions of places at once; how can a mere man move the Son of God from place to place with no more difficulty than he finds in carrying a tiny vessel?
The mind of man will not find adequate answers to these questions any more than it did to the ones posed during the three years of Christ’s public life; but it can remove the appearance of impossibility that clings to the very form in which these questions are posed. Just as the notion of the entirety of the change of substance to substance removes the apparent impossibility in the questions about the substance of bread and wine and their accidents, so the notion of the substance of the body and blood of Christ being present by the words of the sacrament brings out the truth that it is the mysterious, not the ridiculous, that thwarts the mind of man in the Eucharist. In other words, a literal acceptance of the meaning of transubstantiation is really the intellectual foothold granted to our feeble minds by the graciousness of God: in this sacrament there is a change of the whole substance of bread and wine into the substance of the body and blood of Christ.
To appreciate the full significance of this, we must remember that our approach to the substance of anything is normally somewhat indirect. The substance of bread, for instance, is got at from the outside. We see the color, the shape, the quantity of the bread; our eyes certainly do not see its substance. Yet we know that the smallest crumb is as substantially bread as the largest loaf; we know that the substance of the bread pervades the whole loaf and every piece cut from it. The precise point is, that we have approached that substance through the accidents of bread. Let us suppose, now, that by a miracle, this order was reversed, that the substance was the outer fortification through which we must pass to get at the accidents; obviously, our senses would be completely helpless for the substance is not to be seen or touched, our minds would fare no better for they would not have the prerequisite sense knowledge from which to begin their own operation. But, granted the knowledge of this state of affairs through the word of someone who could know, then we could understand that the accidents would enjoy all the intangible characteristics proper to the substance itself, since they would be existing there in the mode proper to substance
In the case of the Eucharist, the substance of the body and blood of Christ is present, all of it, as the proper effect of the sacramental sign which produces what it signifies: “This is my body, this is my blood.” The words of consecration of the bread, then, produce the substance of Christ’s body; those of the wine, the substance of His blood. But because, in actual fact, the substance of the body of Christ in heaven, and the substance of His blood, are not separated from their accidents, nor from His soul and His divinity, all these are also present in the sacrament; for the words of consecration, as we have seen in an earlier chapter, produce the body of Christ as it exists at the time of consecration. The point to notice here is that the words produce the substance; all else follows on that substance because of natural union, or natural concomitance, with it. Whatever else, beyond the substance, is present must be present in the way substance is present; the natural order of our approach to the accidents has been reversed.
As to quantity
Is the whole Christ present in this sacrament? Of course. Isn’t the whole substance of bread present in bread? Is the whole Christ present both under the accidents of bread and those of wine? Of course. For the words produce the body and blood as they exist outside the sacrament: to the body, then, there is joined, by natural concomitance, the blood, the soul, and the divinity of Christ; to the blood, the same natural concomitance assures the presence of body, soul and divinity. Is the whole Christ present under every particle of the host and every drop of the consecrated wine? Of course. Isn’t the whole substance of bread present in every crumb whether the crumb be separated or joined to the loaf?
Still, it seems ridiculous to maintain that a perfect man be somehow compressed into the dimensions of a tiny wafer. The statement can be made in this way only if we have pushed aside the statement of transubstantiation; and then we are not talking about the Eucharist at all. It is not a question of compression or shrinking. The substance of the body is present by the power of the words of consecration; all else, then, is present in the mode proper to substance, as intangible, invisible, as indifferent to the limitations of space as substance itself. The whole physical body of Christ is present, with all its proper dimensive quantity, but in the mode of substance, that is, as substance is present.
Continuation of the accidents
Obviously, a priest cannot take Christ by the hand and lead Him to the Communion rail; all that is tangible in the sacrament is the remaining accidents of bread and wine. These the priest can touch, these he can carry, and, carrying them, He is moving Christ, not directly, but by moving that under which the substance of Christ exists. Christ, then, is in the tabernacle because the accidents of bread and wine are there; not because living quarters have been assigned to Him as a kind of alternate to the diving quarters of heaven. Substance, by its own nature, is not properly in this or that place; it is located rather by the accidents which are in contact with the surrounding world. Here, the accidents in such contact are the accidents of bread and wine. Christ’s body is not broken when the host is broken; it is not disfigured when the host is profaned; it does not corrupt when the host corrupts. None of these things happen either to the substance or to the proper accidents of Christ; there is no way in which they can happen to a substance, and the accidents of Christ exist here by way of substance. Our Lord, then, does not have to leave heaven to be present sacramentally on our altars; He does not rush from church to church to give a little time to each one. Substance is not in place except through its accidents; the substance of Christ is present wherever the accidents of bread and wine remain after consecration, and this without any prejudice to His continued presence in His glorified body in heaven.
We cannot see Him, either with bodily or intellectual eyes, any more than we can see the substance of bread if the substance veils the accidents rather than the accidents veiling the substance. We see Him by the eyes of faith, and in no other way. Not even an angel or a devil can see Christ in this sacrament; His presence here is entirely supernatural, entirely beyond the natural powers of a mind, even so powerful a mind as that of an angel or a devil. He can be seen in this sacrament by those blessed in heaven who enjoy the vision of the essence of God.
Now and again, to bolster a wavering faith, to shock a sceptic out of his smugness, or to give particularly vivid consolation to a saint, things have miraculously appeared in this sacrament: perhaps a few drops of blood, the face of Christ, the image of a child, and so on. Sometimes these visions have been accomplished in the eye or the mind of the individual for whom they were meant; at others, the appearance has been external, objective, seen by many. In no case, has it been Christ Himself in His proper physical presence Who appeared. The objective appearance is no more than a change in the accidents of the bread or the wine; in both the subjective and the objective vision, a sign has been given of the truth of the sacred presence of the Son of God.
The accidents of bread and wine, once transubstantiation has taken place, remain without their proper subject. The substance of bread or wine is no longer present, these things cannot now take root in the substance of Christ; they exist miraculously supported by the hand of God, the First Cause, doing directly what He normally does through a second cause — the substance of the bread and of the wine. There are then two miraculous operations in this sacrament: the change of the substance of bread and wine into the substance of the body and blood of Christ; and the maintenance of the accidents by the direct operation of God.
These are not ghostly apparitions of accidents. They have not been weakened, changed, frozen in some strange condition. They have been maintained exactly as they were. Consequently, anything that could normally happen to accidents of bread and of wine — be broken, spilt, trampled on, corrupted, used for nourishment — can happen to these accidents. In other words, our senses do not deceive us when they report the presence of real accidents of bread and wine; we deceive ourselves when our intellect, pushing aside the supernatural revelations of faith, concludes from this report that the substance of bread and wine are present, as if this whole affair were entirely in the natural order.
The power of the form
It has been noted earlier that the Eucharist differs from the other sacraments in that it is perfected or accomplished, not in its actual use, but in the very consecration of the material; and that, unlike the other sacraments, the consecration of its material is not in a blessing by which the matter receives instrumental power, but in the miraculous conversion of the substance. Necessarily, then, there is a difference in the double form of this sacrament compared to the forms of the others. All the others contained the notion of the use of the sacrament — baptize, confirm, anoint, and so on — while this one implies no more than the actual consecration; as a result, the forms of all the others are expressed in the person of the minister, by way of command, or by way of prayer; the words of this form proceed as from the person of Christ Himself speaking, giving us clearly to understand that the minister does nothing but speak the words.
A momentary glance at this double form will help to avoid some rather serious misunderstanding. Thus the form of consecration of the bread is: “This is my body.” Notice that it is not said that “This is made my body,” or “This is becoming my body”; for this change is instantaneous and must be expressed in terms of an accomplished fact. In the expression of such a change, the word “this” cannot refer to what is no longer present but to what is contained under the species or accidents, while “my body” refers to the proper nature of the substance now present. It is to be particularly noted that these words are to be taken not only as significative but also as causative, for the sacraments are signs which produce what they signify; consequently, these words do not presuppose a change already taken place and merely express it, they cause that change. And, since this change is instantaneous yet must be expressed in the necessarily successive medium of words, these words are not to be cut up, separated, but the whole expression must be understood with reference to the last instant of the words being spoken. Notice, too, that Christ did not say “This bread is my body,” nor “My body is my body,” but “This is my body,” i.e., what was formerly bread and contained under these species is now the body of Christ. All of this is, of course, equally true of the form of consecration of the wine.
Both parts of this double form have the fundamental fittingness of perfect signs, that is, they clearly signify consecration. The form for the consecration of the wine is considerably longer than that of the bread: “This is the chalice of my blood, of the New and Eternal Testament, the mystery of Faith, which shall be shed for you and for many unto the forgiveness of sins.” Thus, over and above the fundamental fittingness of this sign, there is the added expression of the triple purpose of the shedding of Christ’s blood: that we might receive the heritage of the Testaments, that we might come to justice through faith, and that our sins might be forgiven us.
Like the forms of all the other sacraments, the form of the Eucharist is an instrument; in the very words, then, there is an instrumental power making possible the accomplishment of an effect totally above the natural power of words. Each part of the Eucharistic form, that is the words of consecration of the bread and those of consecration of the wine, has this instrumental power and independently. So that, if it should happen that only the words of consecration of the bread were said, Christ would be present under the accidents of bread even though the wine were never consecrated. Otherwise, the words themselves would not, in fact, produce what they signify, indeed, they would be quite completely false.
Once the words of this double form are said by the priest over the proper matter, the Bread of Angels is prepared and ready for the tables of men. Possibly it will always be true that men will not throng the banquet hall where such a meal is served. They know well that they cannot hold to life and neglect the things by which a man lives; the difficulty for the men of all ages has been the complexity of life which is open to every man. That his animal life cannot be sustained without the nourishment offered by the things beneath him which exist to serve him has been clear to every man; a wrong diet, or complete abstinence from food in this order, has immediate and unmistakable results that refuse to be ignored. But man has not been nearly so keen in his perception of the vital needs of his rational life; he has been too often completely dense about the divine life that is his for the taking.
Conclusion: What men live by
All ages have seen what truth will do for a man, and what goodness will do both for a man and all those with whom he comes into contact; the scholar and the saint, the two who have not neglected the nourishment of rational life, are signally honored in the history of men. In our own times, we are furnished with firsthand knowledge of what a diet of lies and error can do to a man, for we have seen more than the perversion of the minds of men, the twisting of their lives, and the convulsion of their world; we have seen them commit intellectual suicide by denying themselves all basis of rational life. We are as familiar as any other age with the corroding effects of evil; we are more familiar with the convulsive death of things human brought on by a professed ignorance of any distinction between good and evil, or, indeed, of the very existence of one or the other.
Hunger strike of the twentieth century
If men can make such mistakes about their own rational life, it is understandable that the divine life to which they have been invited should suffer no small neglect. Originally rejected with an air of regret, that food has become a vague echo from history to millions of men today. Perhaps, originally, it was too much for the pride of men to accept a food that was so far above them that they must fall down in adoration before it even as they ate it; certainly it was much too rich in the demands it made on their minds and their hearts, too rich, that is, for comfort. It is not easy to live on the body of God, however sweet the heavenly food; and ease is one of the fondest illusions of the children of men.
Yet the fact remains that, spiritually, a man is what he eats; that he cannot keep his soul alive on the things beneath him, nor mangle the things above him for spiritual nourishment as he does things beneath him for physical nourishment. Because no man welcomes death, all sorts of substitutes have been concocted for the Bread of Life. Man cannot live without a superior to nourish him; the death of starvation was not warded off but made to look like a banquet when men made their own superior thing for their own nourishment. Sometimes it took the form of a class, a race, a party, a political ideal, the vague future of humanity; but in all these cases, it was men who were food for the absolute and who were destroyed by it, not the absolute that was food for men, perfecting them.
In other words, man dies whether he attempts to content himself with things beneath him or whether, realizing their inadequacy, he attempts to create his own superior; in the one case, he is accustoming himself to the husks of swine, in the other he is munching on his own self. In both cases, there is not nourishment, not life, but degradation and death awaiting the diners. It is still true: “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink His blood, you shall not have life in you.”
The Angelic Doctor and the Bread of Angels
Thomas, then, had a double reason for pouring his heart out on his Eucharistic treatises: his grateful love of the God Who nourishes men, and his restless, sympathetic love for the millions of men who were nauseated by the heavenly food because they had not tasted it. At any rate, the Angel of the Schools outdid himself in writing of the Bread of Angels. His theological treatise in the Summa, the divine Office of Corpus Christi , his Eucharistic poems are masterpieces, fusions of mind and heart smelted by all the pent-up fury of Thomas’s love; and the precious metals poured into the melting pot were no ordinary mind, no ordinary heart, but the mind of a genius and the heart of a saint. Since his time, the world has echoed with his music, in every church in the world his O Salutaris and Tantum Ergo say for all men what every man must say as he bows in adoration before the Bread which came down from heaven.