Supper at Emmaus

This post continues from last week’s Christ’s Presence in the Eucharist. I suggest you read that post first. This post is part of a dialogue with other sites proposing “virtualism” as a new way forward, a “middle way” between real presence and receptionism.

I contend that the Presence of Christ in the Eucharistic elements of consecrated bread and wine is a mystery beyond our comprehension. We seem to be able to live with mysteries – I cannot even explain how my phone works, but I know it does, and I am happy to use it. I have a similar approach to Christ’s Eucharistic Presence.

But (as with phones), there are models which point to how Christ’s Presence in the Eucharist works. Receptionism is towards the “Real Absence” end of the spectrum (Real Absence: Christ is present everywhere EXCEPT in the consecrated bread and wine). Receptionism seems intent on opposing the Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Lutheran, and others by holding that Christ’s presence is not in, with, or under the bread and wine, but Christ is present in the believer’s heart. What is fascinating is that the same mockery that Receptionists apply to those (majority of Christianity) who reverently hold to Christ’s Eucharistic Presence isn’t applied by them to their own theory: how is Christ present in the believer’s heart? Is Christ physically found in the right atrium or the left ventricle? Have there been scientific investigations to compare a believer’s heart to a non-believer’s heart? And before and after receiving communion? And so forth…

My point: reality cannot be accessed neat. We, humans, approach reality with signposts, metaphors, and models. This is no more true than with our language about God, the Incarnation, the Resurrection, and in this case, Christ’s Eucharistic Presence.

Aristotle came up with an understanding of “substance” and “accidents”. The substance is bread; the accidents are the way it looks, tastes, etc. Transubstantiation borrows this concept and uses it for a model for the Eucharist. It looks like bread; if analysed, it appears in every way as bread – but, after consecration, it is the the Risen and Glorified Christ who is fully present under the appearance of bread; similarly, the Risen and Glorified Christ is fully present under the appearance of consecrated wine.

It might be argued that Aristotle would not agree with this usage of “substance” and “accidents”. For him, accidents cannot exist without its substance as its subject. Others would argue that Aristotle left a grey area: that it is often difficult to define what a substance is. What, we would say nowadays, is the substance of bread? And that Thomas Aquinas, for example, exploited this grey area. I would suggest that it is not necessary to hold to Aristotelian categories of “substance” and “accidents”, and that “transubstantiation” can be used as a model. But, in doing so, one must continuously remind people (including those with an anti-RC bias) of what the model is actually teaching, and what it is not teaching.

I conclude this post by highlighting, for example, that transubstantiation insists that Christ’s Eucharistic Presence is not local. Thomas Aquinas was clear: “In no way is Christ’s body locally in this sacrament.” And, when the consecrated bread and wine is moved, the Presence of Christ is not.

To be continued…

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