The Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist

Basic questions and answers: questions seven, eight and nine

Questions seven, eight and nine of The American Catholic Bishops’ June 15, 2001 document on the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Sacrament of the Eucharist discuss the abiding presence of the Lord in the Holy Eucharist, following the Consecration at the Mass, and appropriate signs of reverence with respect to the Body and Blood of Christ.

In his Encyclical Letter, Redemptor hominis, no. 81, Pope John Paul II speaks of the Eucharist as being simultaneously “a Sacrifice-Sacrament, a Communion-Sacrament, and a Presence-Sacrament”.

In the celebration of the Eucharist, the Sacrifice of Calvary becomes present by the operation of the Holy Spirit at the time of the double Consecration when the Lord’s Body and Blood are made present from the bread and wine through the mystery which is aptly called “transubstantiation.”

After the Consecration of the Mass, the Body and Blood of the Lord Jesus remain present so as to be both a “Communion-Sacrament” and a “Presence-Sacrament.” Thus, when one receives the Eucharist as “Communion-Sacrament,” that person receives the Lord Jesus who is present in the Eucharist because it is a “Presence-Sacrament.”

The three aspects of the Eucharist follow very logically from the Lord’s purpose. The Lord wanted to leave us a living memorial of his love for us “to the end” (John 13:1), and he did this by making the Eucharist to be a “Sacrifice-Sacrament.” But by the fact that he made the Eucharist to be a memorial of his Sacrifice under the appearances of bread and wine and commanded us to partake of It, it is clear that the Lord wanted us to partake of this Covenant Sacrifice so as to be united to the Father through himself.

Thus, the Eucharist is a “Communion-Sacrament” because it allows us to enter into a spiritual union with the Father in the Son. But the Eucharist creates this union of communion because It is also a “Presence-Sacrament” which really contains the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of the Son of God. Moreover, since there is a mutual indwelling of the Three Persons of the Trinity, the Father and Spirit are also present in the Eucharist.

The celebration of the Eucharistic Mystery in all its fullness means not only the celebration of Mass, but also devotion to Jesus Christ present in the Sacrament of the Eucharist remaining after Mass.

Devotion to the Eucharist outside of Mass has its origin and consummation in the Eucharistic Sacrifice. Adoration of the “Presence-Sacrament,” which is the fruit of the Mass, extends the grace of the Sacrifice and fosters intimacy with Jesus Christ, who is present. The Most Blessed of all Sacraments should be a magnet which draws us ever deeper into our Savior’s heart, pierced because of the love he bears for all mankind.

In the “Presence-Sacrament” we adore our crucified, risen and glorious Savior who calls us to unite ourselves and our lives to his offering at Mass for the salvation of humankind. In this way our Eucharistic devotion maintains a close connection with the entire Paschal Mystery celebrated at Holy Mass. In this adoration we render authentic worship “in Spirit and truth” for our hearts are conformed and united to the Sacred Heart of the Eternal High Priest, who alone can bring forth fruit which pleases the Father.

Especially privileged expressions of public Eucharistic devotion are processions, exposition, and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, the “Presence-Sacrament.” These forms of devotion offer us occasions to publicly profess our faith in the abiding presence of our Savior. Jesus, by his coming into this world and remaining with us in the Eucharist, makes his own the words of Wisdom: “my delight is to be with the children of men” (Prov 8:51).

In response, we must show him that our delight is to be with him. Eucharistic processions, exposition and Benediction give us the opportunity to respond to our Savior’s faithful love with our own profession of loving faith by humble and thankful adoration and witness.

Bishop Robert J. Baker

7. Do the consecrated bread and wine cease to be the Body and Blood of Christ when the Mass is over?

No. During the celebration of the Eucharist, the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ, and this they remain. They cannot turn back into bread and wine, for they are no longer bread and wine at all. There is thus no reason for them to change back to their “normal” state after the special circumstances of the Mass are past. Once the substance has really changed, the presence of the Body and Blood of Christ “endures as long as the Eucharistic species subsist” (Catechism, no. 1377).

Against those who maintained that the bread that is consecrated during the Eucharist has no sanctifying power if it is left over until the next day, St. Cyril of Alexandria replied, “Christ is not altered, nor is his holy body changed, but the power of the consecration and his life-giving grace is perpetual in it” (Letter 83, to Calosyrius, Bishop of Arsinoe [PG 76, 1076]). The Church teaches that Christ remains present under the appearances of bread and wine as long as the appearances of bread and wine remain (cf. Catechism, no. 1377).

8. Why are some of the consecrated hosts reserved after the Mass?

While it would be possible to eat all of the bread that is consecrated during the Mass, some is usually kept in the tabernacle. The Body of Christ under the appearance of bread that is kept or “reserved” after the Mass is commonly referred to as the “Blessed Sacrament.”

There are several pastoral reasons for reserving the Blessed Sacrament. First of all, it is used for distribution to the dying (Viaticum), the sick, and those who legitimately cannot be present for the celebration of the Eucharist. Secondly, the Body of Christ in the form of bread is to be adored when it is exposed, as in the Rite of Eucharistic Exposition and Benediction, when it is carried in eucharistic processions, or when it is simply placed in the tabernacle, before which people pray privately. These devotions are based on the fact that Christ himself is present under the appearance of bread.

Many holy people well known to American Catholics, such as St. John Neumann, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, St. Katharine Drexel, and Blessed Damien of Molokai, practiced great personal devotion to Christ present in the Blessed Sacrament. In the Eastern Catholic Churches, devotion to the reserved Blessed Sacrament is practiced most directly at the Divine Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts, offered on weekdays of Lent.

9. What are appropriate signs of reverence with respect to the Body and Blood of Christ?

The Body and Blood of Christ present under the appearances of bread and wine are treated with the greatest reverence both during and after the celebration of the Eucharist (cf. Mysterium Fidei, nos. 56-61).

For example, the tabernacle in which the consecrated bread is reserved is placed “in some part of the church or oratory which is distinguished, conspicuous, beautifully decorated, and suitable for prayer” (Code of Canon Law, Can. 938, ยง2). According to the tradition of the Latin Church, one should genuflect in the presence of the tabernacle containing the reserved sacrament.

In the Eastern Catholic Churches, the traditional practice is to make the sign of the cross and to bow profoundly. The liturgical gestures from both traditions reflect reverence, respect, and adoration. It is appropriate for the members of the assembly to greet each other in the gathering space of the church (that is, the vestibule or narthex), but it is not appropriate to speak in loud or boisterous tones in the body of the church (that is, the nave) because of the presence of Christ in the tabernacle.

Also, the Church requires everyone to fast before receiving the Body and Blood of Christ as a sign of reverence and recollection (unless illness prevents one from doing so). In the Latin Church, one must generally fast for at least one hour; members of Eastern Catholic Churches must follow the practice established by their own Church.