Transubstantiation: Do We Believe?

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From east to west in the Catholic Church, the uniquely sacramental life of the Catholic Church defines us. The sacraments take us from the symbolic or representational to the actual experience of God present in our lives.  To borrow from the trades, it is the difference between surveying a blueprint and walking through the finished home. To borrow from sports and entertainment, it is the difference between studying game film and playing in the championship game; listening to music and playing in a band before a packed house; playing “Wii golf” and teeing off at Edgewood Tahoe; watching Warren Miller’s ski film, Children of Winter, and plunging through three feet of fresh powder; the difference between flipping through Surfer Magazine and paddling out into smooth rolling lefts at Ventura County line.

I published an article a while back in the hopes of generating discussion on a topic I felt compelled to confront personally, and one I felt essential that my fellow Catholics confront as well: the singularly defining doctrine of the Transubstantiation—the premise of the article being that while we claim this belief as the very heart of our faith, vast numbers of the “faithful” do not in fact embrace this doctrine as the Church defines it.

Then this Spring, in an unexpected confluence, Fr. Benedict DeLeon, our Pastor at St. Theresa Church and School in South Lake Tahoe, addressed this very issue with my son’s graduating class at their Confirmation rehearsal: he called them to account for their response to the Eucharist, and specifically to the unique belief of our Faith in the Transubstantiation. Clearly he considered this issue vital to their choice to be confirmed, as well he should, and he earned my appreciation and respect for doing so.

But how often does that happen—that a priest confronts the faithful over whether they truly believe and have faith in this central doctrine? How much more often do our clergy simply “turn a blind eye,” knowing in their hearts that a significant portion of their congregation does not truly embrace this central and defining Catholic doctrine?

As mentioned, I published the article and moved on, grateful that Fr. Ben at least addressed the topic with my son, but not otherwise preoccupied with it . . . until another conversation happened.

Recently we were at dinner with friends—a Catholic schoolteacher and her husband. Conversation turned to the verbiage of the “new” mass, and then eventually to the sacrament of the Eucharist. As we tossed around our personal feelings about receiving both species rather than the host only, the teacher’s husband, uttering one of those remarks intended to authoritatively conclude the discussion, exclaimed, “well, it’s all symbolic anyway!” Now, I must admit that this man was not raised Catholic, but converted to share in his wife’s faith; on the other hand, he is the spouse of a Catholic schoolteacher. Rarely have I winced so openly. I was floored . . . and momentarily speechless. But as that moment passed, I realized that I was strangely at the same time not so shocked . . . due in part to that earlier article I wrote.

My wife and I chimed in response, “No—it’s actually not,” which probably did little to affect him, but I did concede that many, if not most Catholics, probably think as he does, even while practicing the sacrament and attending mass year in and year out. And I stand by my opinion: “most” means the majority, and I believe that includes a significant number who even convince themselves that they believe in the actual, present Body and Blood of Christ—those who are confident that they share the doctrinal view—but in reality do not. Let’s face it: we are not a culture concerned with detail and nuance any longer, and the line between transubstantiation and what amounts to consubstantiation for many Catholics blurs into a meaningless distinction. Even the fact that most perceive this difference as one of “nuance,” when it is in fact the difference between being Catholic and not being Catholic, serves to illustrate the dire condition of the faithful.

I would bet that if you passed out copies of the Daily Missal to a group of Catholics and asked them to locate the moment at which the transubstantiation occurs, even prompting with “the consecration,” you would find something less like informed consistency and more like hesitant guessing and uncertainty.

Now, I’m not suggesting we go around trying to trip our Catholic friends up as if they’re game show contestants, but it does invite another series of questions: why do we no longer call attention to the moment as in the past with the ringing of the bells? Why not make it clearer in the missal for that matter—so we Catholics can see for ourselves, so we can show our children, and so we can show those not of our faith exactly what we believe and where it occurs with confidence? Why not label the moment “The Consecration” at least? Too literal? Too crass? — Is ignorance preferable?

Jump to the pragmatic and practical concerns of the Church today: times are tough in every sense of the phrase. The Church has found itself in the position of not wanting to risk further alienating Catholics and non-Catholics alike, while maintaining the strength and authority of its guidance here and throughout the world. Understandably, challenging believers’ devotion to a doctrine—even such a central and defining one—is hardly atop the Catholic Church’s “to do” list; but at the same time, can the Church—can we its Body—afford not to challenge one another and ourselves over this tenet? Can our Faith survive if it is based on a flawed premise? For that matter, can the Church itself survive if it indulges its faithful in a comfortable and convenient illusion? To do so is to invite a climate of relativism, and at a time we can least afford it: in short, one either believes that the Body and Blood ARE Christ present, or that they merely represent or symbolize Christ present.

The difference that defines such relativism is akin to a photo of a wave rolling meekly ashore versus an actual wave one finds himself paddling into on a surfboard—scratching desperately after its unrelenting momentum, feeling its inexorable pull, popping up to one’s feet just as the board noses down and into the suction of the wave face, joining its force, entering its consuming and cresting arch where symbiosis and fluidity unite; and even after that initial soaring, when the close-out comes—tumbling helplessly but with full commitment into the powerful wash and thunderous roll toward the shore, rendering surfer utterly dependent on the force of the wave (after all, it didn’t come those thousands of miles for nothing) before breaking at last into that gasping for air and light, granted only as the wave is spent . . . but now both are one and are changed by the experience.

Perhaps today, at such a moment in the history of our Catholic Church, such allowances and indulgences of Sacramental interpretation may seem small—as minute amounts of moisture to a concrete foundation . . . but in the end, that moisture freezes—contracting and expanding, inviting mildew, and eventually erosion, crumbling and disintegrating under the weight of the structure it supports, which topples to the ground, rots and decays, disappears into the eternity of soil.

FilceMike Filce lives in South Lake Tahoe, attends St. Theresa Church and teaches English at South Tahoe High School. His wife, Anne, is a teaching-principal at St. Theresa Catholic School; his daughter, Cara, attended St. Theresa School since kindergarten and is now a 10th grader at South Tahoe High School; his son, Charlie, is entering the eighth grade at St. Theresa.

Mike Filce

Mike Filce

Mike Filce lives in South Lake Tahoe, attends St. Theresa Church and teaches English at South Tahoe High School. His wife, Anne, is a teaching-principal at St. Theresa Catholic School; his daughter, Cara, attended St. Theresa School since kindergarten and is now a 10th grader at South Tahoe High School; his son, Charlie, is entering the eighth grade at St. Theresa.

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16 thoughts on “Transubstantiation: Do We Believe?”

  1. Pingback: Humility Is the Key that Opens Doors -

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      No faith can survive a flawed premise. By definition, that would be a false faith. St. Paul said it this way, “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable” (1Cor15:19).

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        I think you mean false hope. Faith has its roots in the Latin
        word fidere – to trust. Most of us Christians TRUST in God –
        as do Hindus, Muslims and Jews. Having received 12 years
        of parochial education, imbued with the power of faith and love
        from those who dedicated their life to God, I came away with
        an understanding of God’s love and mercy. Catholic dogma
        does not sustain my faith in God, If, hypothetically, the dogma
        of transubstantiation were to lie fallow, if, it could be proven that Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, my faith in Jesus and or the Catholic church would NEVER waiver. Jesus gave us the words
        of life, instructions to attain the kingdom of God. The church gives us a spiritual barge on which to sail, knowing that it will not sink no matter how much water it takes on. Dogma is like the deck chairs. You can sit or stand. The question posed was a serious one. Faith is a gift and I sincerely hope that Mike’s faith is as sure as mine.

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        No, I meant faith. I quoted Paul’s summary statement. Sorry if that misled you. That is easy to understand; the three theological virtues are intimately intertwined. Back up two verses and Paul says more clearly, “If Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins.” A Christian cannot have a valid faith in a Jesus who did not rise from the dead. If your faith is not founded on the risen Christ, I fear for your soul. Catholic dogma is God’s truth. It is not the deck chairs; it is the ship upon which we sail.

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        Ok, Dan. I’ll leave you with something I read on the back of
        parchment used to buy 2% milk. ” IN GOD WE TRUST “

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        I swear I’ve had exactly this conversation a few days ago. I suspect it was even with James. I know I quoted the same passage from St. Paul. This is really weird.

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    ‘Conversation turned to the verbiage of the “new” mass’

    Why the quotes around “new”? It truly is a new creation–outside of Catholic tradition and teaching. Let’s examine the original definition of the Mass by Paul VI himself.

    Article 7 of 1969 Institutio Generalis Missalis Romani:

    7. The Lord’s Supper, or Mass, is the sacred meeting or congregation of the people of God assembled, the priest presiding, to celebrate the memorial of the Lord. For this reason, Christ’s promise applies eminently to such a local gathering of holy Church: ‘Where two or three come together in my name, there am I in their midst’ (Mt. 18:20).

    If you’re a protestant, this is totally acceptable… it is Calvinist. There is no mention of the divine Sacrifice of the Mass.

    Cardinal Ottaviani, who was appointed Pro-Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, wrote Paul VI after the promulgation of the “new mass.”

    September 25, 1969

    1. The accompanying Critical Study is the work of a select group of bishops, theologians, liturgists, and pastors of souls. Despite its brevity, the study shows quite clearly that the Novus Ordo Missae–considering the new elements widely susceptible to widely different interpretations which are implied or taken for granted–represents, both as a whole and in its details, a striking departure from the Catholic theology of the Mass as it was formulated in Session 22 of the Council of Trent.

    Truly, the Novus Ordo is a departure from Catholic theology. It is worthy to note that the definition of the Mass has been corrected to describe the divine Sacrifice of the Mass in the current GIRM.

    This is why people do not believe in the Real Presence… because of the quasi-protestant liberal mass of Paul VI. Couple that with the heresy that the Arians practiced, Holy Communion in the hand, and you have a recipe for apostasy from Truth.

    As Pope John Paul II wrote in Dominicae Cenae, (February 24, 1980), since the introduction of Communion in the hand,

    “cases of a deplorable lack of respect towards the Eucharistic species have been reported, cases which are imputable not only to the individuals guilty of such behavior, but also to the pastors of the Church who have not been vigilant enough regarding the attitude of the faithful towards the Eucharist. It also happens, on occasion, that the free choice of those who prefer to continue the practice of receiving the Eucharist on the tongue is not taken into account in those places where Communion in the hand has been authorized.”


    “…To touch the sacred species, and to distribute them with their own hands, is a privilege of the ordained, one which indicates an active participation in the ministry of the Eucharist.

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      So when the woman who suffered from hemmorage touched Jesus –
      body and blood – she was breaking a rule from the future Council of
      Trent. Oh, if she only knew.

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        Kneeling also coincides with the Church’s centuries old ordinance that only the consecrated hands of a priest touch the Body of Christ in Holy Communion. “To priests alone has been given power to consecrate and administer to the faithful, the Holy Eucharist.” (Council of Trent) This teaching is beautifully expressed by St. Thomas Aquinas in his Summa Theologica: “Because out of reverence towards this sacrament, nothing touches it, but what is consecrated; hence the corporal and the chalice are consecrated, and likewise the priest’s hands, for touching this sacrament.”

        I’d refrain from presumption.

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        The presumption came from the quotes that I was citing, which was in reference to the Novus Ordo mass. The other quote was an encyclical of JPII. Neither had any reference to Trent’s rubrics of reverence to the Sacrament.

        I’d refrain from cracking jokes about the Blessed Sacrament.

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        The point being made in my initial reply to you showed just
        how far the infant church strayed from Jesus’ humanity.
        Rules and more rules. That’s why you have children who
        died without baptism consigned like artifacts to Limbo.
        And now after decades of communion in hand we have pending rules to correct what some feel is a mistake. I’d refrain from peering too far into the future because your stringent theology will have changed into something
        you wouldn’t recognize never mind accept.

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        You may be perfectly fine with a pseudo-catholic protestant Mass. I can’t reconcile my conscience knowing that it is a new creation; a product of “reformers,” and not a promulgation of an older Mass.

        We do not have pending rules, Rome has set forth the standard. Communion in the hand is the indult.

        I take it you are not partial to the “rules” of the teaching seat of the Church.

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