Posted February 14, 2013
Question: If it is true that, in receiving the consecrated Host at Mass, we receive the entire Christ—his human body and blood with his created human soul, along with his uncreated divinity, then what is the advantage in partaking also of the consecrated wine which encompasses exactly the same features? K.G.
I applaud you for the fact that you are theologically correct in your description of both species of Communion. Being identical in substance (the one undivided person of Christ) there is no difference or distinction of substance at all between the two consecrated species; the only distinction, as St. Thomas Aquinas says, arises “vi verborum”–that is, by reason of the two distinct and separate consecrating words used, namely, “my Body” and “my Blood.” Hence this non-intrinsic distinction is merely semantic, not substantive.
But to respond to your question we must look a bit deeper into the four essential aspects of the Mass itself, as exposited in Vatican II: a meal, a memorial, a sacrifice and a thanksgiving.
First, the Eucharistic celebration (Mass) is a meal, often called “theLord’s Supper,” because was the “last Supper” in which Jesus instituted the sacrament of the Eucharist, using typical Passover food and drink—bread and wine—with the precept to “take and eat…take and drink.” This portrays ingesting spiritual nourishment—life-sustaining “food that endures to eternal life,” as Jesus promised (John 6:27).
Since the Eucharist was instituted in the context of a meal—the ceremonial paschal meal, as for any meal, one would typically presume that the serving would include not just food, but food-with-beverage. Hence the Catholic Catechism says that receiving both species of Communion better portrays the meal aspect of the Mass, in liturgical anticipation of the future heavenly banquet, which Jesus himself anticipated as he looked forward to sharing the Communion cup in the coming eschaton, “when I will drink it anew with you in my Father’s kingdom” (Matt. 26:29). The Catholic Catechism (art. 1390) says that Christ is present under the species of bread alone, enabling one to receive all the fruit of Eucharistic grace, but “since the sign of communion is more complete when given under both kinds in that form the Eucharistic meal appears more clearly.” This is the usual form of receiving Communion in the Eastern rites.” (Sometimes, for pastoral reasons, this may be less appropriate.)
Secondly, the Mass is a memorial. Why? In his final Passover meal, which had previously always memorialized Moses as the “rescuer-redeemer” of God’s people from Egyptian slavery), Jesus now proclaimed “Do this in memory of me.” He proclaimed this new injunction inboth consecrations—that of the bread and of the wine, as Paul states in 1 Cor. 11:24 and25. Thus, it was in consecrating both the Passover bread and the wine that the Eucharist’s new covenantal and memorial aspects were established. Since the celebrant, following Jesus’ command, confects two species, not one, in the consecration at any Mass, it would seem appropriate for the laity to receive two, not one, species of Communion. This remains an ideal—even though there is no obligation for the laity to fulfill this ideal.
Thirdly, the Mass is a sacrifice, as manifested, not just in the celebrant’s consecrating with a double consecration, but in a lesser way by the laity’s receiving of a double species Communion. Paul emphasizes the sacrificial aspect of receiving Communion. “Whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup you proclaim the Lord’s death [his redemptive sacrifice] until he comes” (1 Cor. 11:26). In referring to the cup of his blood, Jesus speaks of it in reference to its being “shed for the forgiveness of sin”—clearly framing its reception in the context of sacrifice. And in Matthew’s account of the Last Supper, Jesus almost seems to mandate the sharing of the cup of his precious Blood to complete the twofold sacrificial element of the sacred service: “Drink from it, all of you” (Matt. 26:27). In the consecration he emphasizes that it is not just his Blood, but his “shed Blood” which implies sacrifice, the most important aspect of the Eucharistic service.
But more importantly, there’s an even more basic reason for the liturgical dualism in the very wording of the consecration formula, directed to the twofold consecration of bread and wine. This touches on the very basic theological reason as to why the celebration of the Eucharist is called “the sacrifice of the Mass.
Most Catholics are not aware of this fact: The Mass is not a repetition of Calvary’s sacrifice, since Christ can die only once (Heb. 9:28), as our Protestant friends keep reminding us in objecting to our extolling “the Sacrifice of the Mass.” We must convince them that we doctrinally consider the Mass to be simply a “re-enactment” of the sacrifice of Calvary, not a repetition of that sacrifice. Jesus’ “death” (sacrifice) on the altar is mystical (symbolic) “death,” not a real death, , says St. Thomas. But Jesus’ post-consecration corporeal presence is real.
In all this controversy and misunderstanding, we must not forget what actually caused Jesus’ death. It was the shedding of his blood from his body–that is, the separating of his blood from his body. That’s why Jesus at the Last Supper,(and all priest-celebrants) need two separate consecrations in each Mass—the bread and the wine—symbolizing the separation of the blood from the body—the “shedding” of blood, which was the very atoning sacrificial cause of our redemption, as Paul says in Romans 3:24-25; 5:9, and elsewhere.
Thus, when consecrated, the bread and wine are no longer two things but are then one and the same Person in two forms or appearances. Both species are then simply one Person with a doubled appearance; one Person under a multiplied substantial Eucharistic presence–not only on the altar at any given Mass, but also throughout the world–in every existing consecrated host and every chalice of consecrated wine.
Each species, that of bread and that of the wine, comprises, after the consecration, the entire person of Christ, i.e., his body, blood, human created soul and his uncreated divinity.
Being identical in substance (the one undivided person of Christ) there is no difference or distinction of substance at all between the two consecrated species; the only distinction, as St. Thomas Aquinas says, is difference in appearance and difference in the formulas of consecration. This external differentiation arises “vi verborum“—that is, by reason of the two distinct and separate consecrating words used, namely, “my Body” and “my Blood.” Hence this non-intrinsic distinction is merely semantic, not substantive.
That having been said, the question arises: what caused his death that made it to be the God-chosen means of our redemption? It was the shedding of his blood from his body–that is, the separating of his blood from his body. That’s why Jesus at the Last Supper,(and all priest-celebrants) need two separate consecrations in each Mass—one of the bread and one of the wine. The two separate consecrations, using two separate elements, symbolize the separation of the blood from the body–the “shedding” of blood, which was the very atoning cause of our redemption, as Paul says in Romans 3:24-25; 5:9, and elsewhere.
Thus, when consecrated, the bread and wine are no longer two things but are “transubstantiated” (essentially changed) into one and the same Person in two forms or appearances. Both species thus become one Person with a doubled appearance; they become one Person under a double (or multiple) substantial Eucharistic presence–not only on the altar at any given Mass, but also throughout the world–in every existing consecrated host and every chalice of consecrated wine.
Fourthly, the Mass is a form of thanksgiving—the very meaning of the word “Eucharist.” In early Greek, the very word Eucharist” meant “good gift”; later it came to mean “gratitude or thanksgiving for a good gift.” As a sacrament the Eucharist probably originated from the fact that Jesus incorporated a prayer of thanksgiving into the very act of instituting both species of that sacrament (Matt. 26:26-27; Mark 14:22-23; Luke 22:19), just as he did before feeding the crowds with the miraculous meal of the multiplied loaves and fish. One antecedent for thanksgiving in the Eucharistic sacrifice is the “sacrifice of thanksgiving” mentioned in Psalm 116:17. Liturgically, in David’s time, priests were officially assigned to give thanks to the Lord (1 Chron. 16:41).
Aside from all that has been said here about the double-species Eucharistic presence, there are other forms of the Lord’s presence that are not Eucharistic. The Eucharist is not always available to us through the hours of every day. But we are assured of other types of the presence of Jesus that are with us at all times, for he promised, “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matt. 28:20). This promised post-ascension presence of Jesus with us today—his “Emmanuel, God-with-us” presence (Matt. 1:23)—takes several forms, including his indwelling presence (John 14: 23), his communitarian presence (Matt. 18:20), his altruistic presence (Matt. 25:40), etc.
But this special Eucharistic presence of the living Christ (not a corpse or mummy) is the only form of his presence that is physical, corporeal. Amazingly, it is not just a vaguely spiritual kind of presence; it is the living person of Jesus, “I am the living bread that has come down from heaven…this bread is my very flesh which I will give for the life of the world” (John 6:51). You can thus see why the Eucharistic presence is the most dramatic of the many modalities of divine presence in the world.
To sustain this spiritual life in the world, the Lord must remain in the world and available to us—that is, present to us. Our response to that presence, namely the degree to which we are contemplatively aware of this divine loving presence—and respond to it in love—tells us the degree to which we have attained personal spiritual maturity.
John H. Hampsch, cmf