Eucharist: Doing the truth with Christian Faith

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                                                            Gabriel Daly OSA

I believe in theological diversity and the freedom that should go with it; and since we are in an Anglican church, let me say how much I admire the Anglican ideal of comprehensiveness, which I know has its dangers and its difficulties, as it must in most churches that try something similar. In the Roman Catholic Church we have a division between traditionalists and reformers. I belong with the reformers and I take a fairly critical view of my church in some matters.  I have been involved with ecumenism for more than half a century, and I have tried to learn what I can from my studies of and with other churches whose insights have played a significant part in where I personally stand today.

I find it difficult to discuss the Eucharist without adverting to Catholic conservative attitudes some of which have to be changed if we are to make further ecumenical progress.   I believe that conservative Catholics have a human and Christian right to hold to their views; but they have no right to impose those views on others as the only possible orthodoxy, and thereby put a barrier in the path of ecumenical progress.

In an ecumenical setting like this one, institutional self-criticism is necessary because ecumenism is primarily a search for the truth and is not a matter of horse-trading so that we may achieve some sort of unity. We must never be ecumenical with the truth. One of my favourite theologians is a Scottish Anglican, John Macquarrie, who wrote a sentence that I feel ought to be posted at the entrance to every ecumenical school: “The genuine diversity-in-unity of the body of Christ needs to be defended against uniformity just as much as against divisiveness”. (He was a liberal in the best sense of the word.) It cannot be said too often that ecumenism is a search for truth before it is a building-up of unity. For example, I and my church need to take seriously what Martin Luther said about faith: that being right with God is a matter of faith not of virtuous achievement. Justification by faith went far beyond remedying the scandals that afflicted the church at that time. It was a rediscovery of an old principle of doctrine and spiritual life which went back to St. Paul.



Before the Second Vatican Council met in the early 1960’s, throughout the institutional Catholic Church there was one uniform theology of the Eucharist: it concentrated on what happens to the bread and the wine when the priest says the words of consecration. This means that a specific philosophy which goes back to the Greek philosopher, Aristotle, had become part and parcel of church doctrine, and Eucharistic theology was reduced to a philosophical problem employing abstractions like substance and accidents which mean little to the average member of the church who probably turns it into a physical change, in spite of unmistakable evidence to the contrary. It was one thing to make a doctrine the subject of scholarly study, but it was quite another to popularise it at the risk of misleading the faithful. The church introduced the term ‘transubstantiation’ into common liturgical use in the Middle Ages, at the end of which the Council of Trent put it into the context of the Reformation and that made it a contentious issue between the churches.

Let us lay to rest the constantly affirmed and quite false proposition that church doctrine never changes. Join me now in a simple but highly significant piece of historical theology. There are no technicalities involved, the argument is historically straightforward, and it is very important.   The only technical point is the definition of ‘metaphysics’. Metaphysics is that branch of philosophy which deals with realities that lie beyond the senses and sense-experience. There are different kinds of metaphysics. Science has no use for any of them.



In 1879 Pope Leo XIII, in his encyclical Aeterni Patris, prescribed the philosophy of Thomas Aquinas as the most appropriate philosophy to express Catholic doctrine. His successor, Pope Pius X, went much further than Leo and condemned Catholics who departed from Thomistic philosophy, especially its metaphysics. I quote from Pius’ Motu Proprio, Doctoris Angelici:

“We therefore desired that all teachers of philosophy and sacred theology should be warned that if they deviated so much as a step, in metaphysics especially, from Aquinas, they exposed themselves to grave risk.”

These papal statements make it very clear that philosophy has played a crucial part in the defence of Catholic dogma since Leo XIII’ encyclical. This solemn teaching lasted for just over a hundred years.

Let me now quote some words from Pope John Paul II’s encyclical Fides et Ratio (1998): (Prepare for a shock!) “The Church has no philosophy of her own, nor does she canonise any one particular philosophy in preference to others”! That immensely significant sentence written by a pope no less, would have astonished most of Pope John Paul’s seven predecessors stretching back to Pope Leo XIII in the late 19th century. Because of its importance, let me read it again: “The Church has no philosophy of her own, nor does she canonise any one particular philosophy in preference to others”. If you had written that in Pius X’ time you would have been severely censured, and possibly excommunicated! I sometimes wonder if John Paul, as a deeply conservative Catholic, realised what he was doing when he went against over a century of church teaching. I hope that he did, for he was only reflecting the tacit teaching of the Second Vatican Council.

It is my favourite example of how the church in fact changes its doctrine according to the pressures and insights of the age, while retaining the essentials of the original Gospel message.

In the 1960s a large and highly significant number of changes took place at the Second Vatican Council; and yet, you will find traditionalist clerics and laity still proclaiming that the Catholic Church never changes. A theology that never changed would be in danger of betraying the Gospel it was designed to serve, and a church that never changed by adapting itself to each new age would be a church that had finished with preaching the Gospel.   It would have turned a living thing into a museum.



In practice, traditional Catholic theology of the Eucharist has been philosophically based and has centred on what occurs when the bread and wine are changed into the body and blood of Christ by the words of the celebrant. From the time of the Reformation, Anglicans and Protestants have taken issue with this, arguing that a philosophical word like ‘transubstantiation’ should have no place in the language of Christian faith and worship. Let me quote article 28 of the 39 Articles of the Church of England in 1563:

“Transubstantiation (or the change of the substance of Bread and Wine) in the Supper of the Lord, cannot be proved by Holy Writ; but is repugnant to the plain words of Scripture, overthroweth the nature of a Sacrament, and hath given occasion to many superstitions.”

Interestingly, Martin Luther was more relaxed than this in his attitude to transubstantiation. He didn’t mind Catholics using the term ‘transubstantiation’ as long as they did not think that it came from revelation and that they were consequently obliged to use it. Many modern Catholic theologians would share this view today.

Here let me just say that it is regrettable that the philosophical term, ‘transubstantiation’ ever escaped from scholarly studies into general church life where it is commonly misused and misunderstood. It even fell into the hands of Richard Dawkins, the professional atheist who was lionized here in Dublin a few years ago, and in his usual magisterial fashion he proclaimed that if you do not believe in transubstantiation you are not a Catholic. You won’t find a more infallible magisterium than that!



You can’t ‘believe in’ a philosophical term like transubstantiation: you either accept it or reject it as a tool in your theology. As a result of Greek manuscripts being translated into Latin by Muslim scholars in the Middle Ages, the great 13th century Dominican theologian, Thomas Aquinas, was able to read the Greek philosopher Aristotle in Latin and use his writings to express Christian theology with satisfaction to himself and to others in the church. In itself a scholastic theology, like that taught by Aquinas, in the 13th century, can be a valuable addition to Christian theology for those who can use it competently and with a sense of history. The trouble is that it was imposed on the entire church – gently by Pope Leo XIII, and fiercely by his successor, Pope Pius X, who proclaimed Thomism to be an essential element in Catholic faith. This view lasted until it was quietly dropped at the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s, and expressly by Pope John Paul II in 1998.

At the time of the reformation it unhappily became possible for Protestants, Anglicans and Roman Catholics to use the Eucharist as a major point of disagreement and a potent cause of disunity. The Eucharist became an occasion of bitter controversy and disunity – the very antithesis of what the Eucharist was intended to be. Protestants, following the lead given by Martin Luther, expressed an instinctive dislike of the role of philosophy in doctrine, and especially in the doctrine of the Eucharist. Since the Council of Trent is commonly credited with formally teaching the doctrine of transubstantiation, it might help if we examined what the Council actually did say:

‘by the consecration of the bread and of the wine, a conversion is made of the whole substance of the bread into the substance of the body of Christ our Lord, and of the whole substance of the wine into the substance of His blood; which conversion is, by the holy Catholic Church, suitably and properly called Transubstantiation.’

There is no suggestion here that the word ‘transubstantiation’ is defined Catholic doctrine; only that the Eucharistic conversion of bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ is ‘suitably and properly called Transubstantiation.’ Admittedly, Protestants and Anglicans would find little to appease them in what the Council of Trent had to say; but careful reading of the Conciliar text may help us to avoid misunderstandings and to facilitate ecumenical progress.



Let me list some of the main difficulties that many Catholic theologians have with the word ‘transubstantiation’ as used in liturgy or teaching today:

It is a divisive term and has been divisive since the Reformation. True ecumenism needs to attend to the matter with diligence and urgency.

It is in no way necessary to Roman Catholic orthodoxy.

The church got on without it for a thousand years. After the 13th century, Thomism quickly became normal for Catholics – a point that would have appalled Thomas.

The word transubstantiation is constantly misused by both Catholics and others. This is an age of scientifically-based thought; people today do not use metaphysical language. They can share in the Eucharist without knowing what substance and accidents are. Medieval metaphysics today is in no way necessary for an orthodox understanding of the Eucharist, and in fact it can cause a great deal of confusion.

The Council of Trent approved of the term transubstantiation as ‘suitable and proper’ in the 16th century; we are perfectly free to reject it in the 20th. The Council did not make its use obligatory – though, in practise, it expected Catholics to comply with it.

This being an ecumenical occasion, let me quote with pleasure John Calvin who, it seems to me, made the wisest judgement of all when he wrote: “I [would] rather experience than understand [the Eucharist].” That is a truly Christian observation. Let me add to it a remark of Maurice Blondel, a French Modernist philosopher who was critical of the neo-scholasticism that had taken over Catholic philosophy and theology after Leo XIII’s encyclical. It was a simple enough observation, but it got to the roots of the Modernist case against the scholastics: “Some people see too clearly to see properly”.



Let me now turn to a word that is often seriously misunderstood and is vital to the theology of Eucharist.  I am referring to the meaning of the word ‘symbol’. We need to visit a movement called ‘Modernism’ to appreciate why symbolism was treated with so much suspicion in neo-scholastic theology after the condemnation of Modernism.

Modernism was the Catholic Church’s first attempt, made by a small group of Catholic theologians, to modernise its theology in the last decade of the 19th century and the first decade of the 20th century. It was ruthlessly condemned by Rome in the first decade of the new century, and its condemnation had a strong influence on Catholic theology down to the Second Vatican Council. It was during the Modernist period that the idea of symbolism became highly suspect in Catholic theology, especially that of the Eucharist. Many conservative anti-modernists tended to think of symbolism as a way of avoiding subscription to the notion of ‘the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist’. Thus, if Protestants referred to the symbolism of the Eucharist, they were taken to mean that Christ’s presence in the Eucharist is not “real” – which is simply incredible. Of course the Eucharist is symbolic – how could it not be? It is not a denial of real presence. Symbolism enables us to speak about things that lie too deep for literal speech. Virtually all talk about God is symbolic. (When I was still teaching, I used to warn my theology students never to say “something is only symbolic”.)     Symbolism has been carefully studied by scholars who are not concerned with religion. The American philosopher, Susanne Langer, wrote this:

“Symbols are the basis of all human understanding and serve as vehicles of conception for all human knowledge”.

You won’t find a clearer statement about symbolism than that; and religion plays no part in it. Think of how we use symbols in everyday life: presents at Christmas; special dress for important occasions; a hug or a handshake after a row, the national flag, a military salute – to take just a few at random.

We employ symbolic language far more often than we may realise. Poetry would scarcely be possible without symbolism and metaphor.



When we turn to religion we find symbols everywhere, especially in liturgy. Jesus himself depends on them for his method of teaching. This is because we are dealing with the transcendent God, who exists beyond the world of the senses, and literal language breaks down under the strain of trying to speak of it. Symbolism has a powerful presence in the Bible. A large portion of Jesus’ teaching was symbolic, possibly because his listeners needed to be made to think about what he was teaching them. The 6th chapter of John’s gospel is perhaps the best biblical commentary on the Eucharist, precisely because Jesus uses symbolic language to speak about himself as the bread of life. John the evangelist, and possibly Jesus himself, leaves his image of faith in himself as eating the bread come down from heaven. He must often have felt exasperated when his listeners failed to appreciate the symbolic drift of his teaching: ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’ ( Jn 6:52) A literal mind can be a major obstacle to rational faith. The historical Eucharist at the Last Supper is not mentioned in John chapter 6. It is deliberately left to the disciples to work out the connection for themselves.

Paul Claudel, the French Catholic philosopher, reflecting on modern failure of faith, says that it is not really an intellectual failure; it is ‘the tragedy of a starved imagination’. I think that Catholic preoccupation with what happens to the bread and wine when it becomes the body and blood of Christ can be rightly attributed to “the tragedy of a starved imagination”. Time does not allow me to dwell further on this point, but it may prompt you to think of the role that imagination plays in the life of the spirit in general and especially in our approach to the Eucharist.



It was the 20th century’s most influential English-speaking Protestant theologian, Paul Tillich, who wrote most powerfully about symbolism in religious discourse. He lived most of his life in the USA where he was widely regarded as a leading authority in cultural studies.   He made theology a major exemplar of intellectual life in the USA of his time.   For Tillich a symbol is infinitely more than a mere sign. A sign, for example, gives you the name of a street, or instructs you not to turn right or left while driving. Even though the sign may be a matter of life or death there is nothing mystical about it; it is no more than a practical instruction. A symbol, Tillich says, always “points beyond itself”, to something which resists literal interpretation and is thus mysterious. As Tillich says, symbols reveal the “depth dimension of reality itself”.

The importance of symbolism for theology of the Eucharist could hardly be clearer: It is seriously wrong to contrast ‘real’ with ‘symbolic’, as I heard and read often when I was a raw theology-student. Symbolic presence is also real presence, and it is often a more powerful expression than literal language could ever be. The doctrine of transubstantiation tragically lacks mysticism, symbolism and poetic language.



To ask a practical question: Why are we making so little progress towards sharing the Eucharist with each other? It would seem that some decision-makers in the Catholic Church are still acting on pre-Vatican II principles and doctrines, thus invoking a theology that is no longer mandatory in the Catholic Church and cannot be truthfully invoked as a defence for pseudo-orthodoxy. Although over fifty years have passed since the council, little has been done to allow us share the Eucharist. Procrastination (which today is often called kicking the can down the road) is a cowardly way of blocking reform.

As W.B. Yeats put it in another context, “Too long a sacrifice can make a stone of the heart”.  It is high time for the institutionally impotent to speak truth to power for the good of us all: denial of the right to share the Eucharist with our separated brethren has become a scandal in which we are all involved, if we fail to protest publically against needless and obstructive procrastination.

In conclusion, in my view we don’t hear enough about the human character of Holy Thursday. Let me explain what I mean.



Holy Thursday is the emotional heart of what was going on in the last two or three years of Jesus’ life. Think, and especially use your imagination to appreciate, what Jesus was doing when in the course of a deeply emotional occasion, he washed his disciples’ feet, to their great discomfort, and explained to them the symbolism of what he was doing. When we take part in or simply observe this liturgical ceremony on Holy Thursday we don’t experience the sense of shock that the disciples felt, because washing feet is not a part of our culture as it was of theirs. In the time of Jesus, feet were washed by servants or slaves. According to John the Evangelist, Jesus then spoke movingly and at length about his love for them, blending that human love with his mutual love of his Father. Deep theology is going on here. In spite of its great solemnity and holiness, it was a thoroughly human occasion which lies at the heart of its deepest theological meaning. It is all too easy to allow Christ’s divinity to obscure his genuine humanity, forgetting that both the divinity and the humanity of Jesus belong to the heart of Christian revelation.

Human beings have emotions that are part and parcel of being human. To lack them would have serious implications for one’s status as a human being. Jesus underwent deep emotions on the last day before his death; and those emotions are a serious element in his sacrificial obedience to his Father. There were no news-reporters at that time asking the Apostles how they felt! We have evangelists, not reporters, in the four gospels. The evangelist John makes it very clear that what he writes in his gospel is “so that you may believe”.

In any contemplation of Holy Thursday we might with profit allow our imaginations to travel back to what we can see now as the Galilean springtime when Jesus began his mission to preach the Good News of the kingdom of God to the region of Israel called Galilee which included the lake, on the shore of which Jesus invited some fishermen to leave their boats and nets – their livelihood – and follow him. From a human point of view it was an extraordinary scene. There was no preliminary time spent on getting to know the men he apparently spontaneously called to follow him. Some of these fishermen may have been very ordinary Jews who were not very religious, or liturgically active in the synagogue; but they quickly fell under the spell of a magnetic man who, over the next few short years taught them about the reign of God and gradually came to love them; and they him. It was a very special relationship, and a very deep one, and it was human as well as divine.

At the climax of the evening, Jesus took a loaf of bread, broke it into pieces and distributed them to his disciples in a spontaneously loving gesture intended to express in powerful symbolic and dramatic fashion all that he felt for them since he had met them first by the lakeside in Galilee. We cannot imagine that the disciples would have wondered what had happened to the bread and the wine at the Last Supper; they were far too preoccupied with a deeply moving occasion that summed up the entire time that they had spent with Jesus. In Jesus, they were discovering, human emotion becomes divine emotion.

Biblical history has left us with a moment of great emotional and spiritual significance; and, over the centuries, we have often reduced it to a tiresome metaphysical dispute about ‘real presence’ which has done little good and much harm to unity and peace. The theology of the Eucharist has always spoken of forgiveness; although we Roman Catholics may have allowed our traditionalists to insist on laws, penalties and refusal of the Eucharist as an instrument of punishment.



We have overlooked the forgiving aspect of the Eucharist by the attention we have given to the sacrament of penance or reconciliation. But that is a question for another occasion, except to say that to be forgiven by grace alone is to receive from God a totally undeserved acceptance that is the root of a truly Christian life. To that extent I’m happy to describe myself as an anonymous Lutheran.

Before concluding, I ought to mention that Martin Luther’s teaching on the Eucharist was accused by some reformers of remaining too Roman Catholic. Huldreich Zwingli, a Swiss Reformer was Luther’s chief critic. Luther’s view did not differ significantly from Catholic teaching on the subject. Zwingli, however, felt the need for what he called a more “spiritual” analysis of Christ’s presence in the Eucharist: For him, the Eucharist comes about by what he called the “contemplation of faith”.   The confrontation between Luther and Zwingli was as passionate and as acrid as any between Catholics and Protestants at the time.

In the light of the sad history of the theology of the Eucharist, it is no wonder that theology has a bad name with so many people today; yet to leave the field to the fundamentalists would be a betrayal of Christianity, both Protestant and Catholic. Critical theology is necessary in the modern world for the healthy practise of our faith and Protestants have, perhaps, appreciated this more than Catholics. As a German Lutheran theologian, conscious perhaps of the ravages that liberal biblical scholars had wreaked on the bible, has remarked memorably, God forgives us even our theology. It is a typically Lutheran remark.


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  1. Bernard Whelan says:

    I don’t suppose that many of the bishops of England, Wales, Ireland and Scotland, who were jointly responsible for the publication of One Bread One Body in 1998, are still in office, but it would be a wonderful thing if their successors would read and take to heart Gabriel Daly’s message.
    The subtitle of One Bread One Body was “A teaching document on the Eucharist in the life of the Church, and the establishment of general norms on sacramental sharing.”
    As regards the sharing of the Eucharist, the overall message of this thirty-eight page document was “don’t”. In the section dealing with inter-church marriages, the bishops declared that they were “sensitive” to “the hurt felt by such couples” which, they assured us, could remind them of the “urgent need for healing”.
    Well, after nearly 20 years, those of us in inter-church marriages who are still waiting (or perhaps, like my wife and myself, not waiting), are entitled to ask the bishops if they are ever going to get round to dealing with this urgent need.

  2. I really enjoyed this article. I felt my heart was uplifted when I read that doctrine has and can change within the Catholic Church. Thankfully there is a warm ecumenical spirit among the Christians in my area and I am glad to see how well we work together.

  3. Fantastic article! What a wonderful priest and man Fr. Gabriel is! This is the 1st time I have ever downloaded and printed an article from our site. I intend to re-read it on the ferry to Larne this afternoon. Thank you for sharing it with us.

    PS 50th Mary from Dungloe Festival opening tomorrow evening. Emmett Spiceland reforming for a one-off concert on Monday night.

  4. Con Devree says:

    “Decision-makers in the Catholic Church are still acting on pre-Vatican II principles.” (Fr Daly)Perhaps not.

    I am taking Fr Daly’s account of Trent- transubstantiation as he gives it. That being the case Vatican II actually reinforced Trent. The Vatican II document “Eucharisticum Mysterium paragraph C1 goes as follows:

    “There should be no doubt in anyone’s mind “that all the faithful ought to show to this most holy sacrament the worship which is due to the true God, as has always been the custom of the Catholic Church. Nor is it to be adored any the less because it was instituted by Christ to be eaten.” For even in the reserved sacrament He is to be adored because He is substantially present there through that conversion of bread and wine which, as the Council of Trent tells us, is most aptly named transubstantiation.”

    Fr Daly rightly highlights the importance of symbolism. However symbols are language-based, are names. Cork city is a physical entity, it is far more than its own symbol. Similarly with the Blessed Sacrament. Vatican II says transubstantiation is an apt name, a symbolic name for a defined real Divine process.

    The principal reason the separated ecclesial communities are unable to share in the Eucharist with The Catholic Church is that many of their members are unable to proclaim the Mystery of Faith after the Consecration at Mass.

    Without being confrontational the Church wants to share the Eucharist with anyone who can bring themselves to proclaim that mystery. Wanting to participate in the essence of another by changing it is not sharing.

  5. An excellent article on Eucharist; clearly argued and supported by appropriate quotations. The Catholic Church terms Eucharist ‘the mystery of faith’ and yet cannot see that it destroys that very mystery by insisting that they have the perfect explanation for it, called ‘transubstantiation’. Better if we remain with ‘real Presence’ and ‘mystery of faith’.
    Gabriel also underlines the important issue of the ‘Real Presence’ of Christ in Eucharist not being a physical presence. Jesus is not present in Eucharist in physical form, as he was on earth, but in His heavenly, spiritual or non-physical form. Otherwise eating His flesh would be cannibalism and accidentally standing on a consecrated host would be standing on Jesus and hurting Him. That reminds me of the nuns in the primary schools of my youth telling their pupils never to let the Host touch their teeth and absolutely never, never to chew it! (They conveniently forgot that the command was to ‘eat and drink’) The correct terms would seem to be ‘real and spiritual presence in mystery’, not ‘physical presence’.
    The current obsession of some with Perpetual Adoration and holding the Host aloft at the consecration of the Mass for longer and longer a period of time seems to propagate that bad theology of Christ being physically present in Eucharist, so looking at the Host is looking at the physical Jesus. It also undermines the Second Vatican Council’s teaching of the other important presences of Christ during Mass and after Mass (which the laity now rarely hear about) and fails to take sufficient account of the reason for Eucharist. It is surely about our saying ‘Yes’ to the triune God’s perpetual offer of a deepening relationship of love with us and a deepening awareness of Their transforming presence within us – transforming every aspect of our lives in the way we live, speak and act. It is not about looking at Christ supposedly physically present in the consecrated host.
    The other aspect of our Eucharistic theology that shocks many Protestants is their understanding that Catholics think the Mass is a new sacrifice every time it is celebrated, which obviously contradicts official Catholic Church teaching based on such Scriptural texts as Hebrews 10:10 “..the offering of the body of Jesus Christ made once and for all”; this misunderstanding by Protestants and perhaps by many Catholic laity is encouraged by the words during Mass “Pray brethren that my sacrifice and yours ……” rather than “Pray brethren that Jesus’ original sacrifice, at which we now become present through remembering,….”

  6. Phil Greene says:

    Thank you for sharing this article.
    In the late 80’s I lived with my boyfriend before marrying him, “living in sin” was against the teachings of the church and so I attended Mass but felt unworthy of partaking in the Eucharist. I felt very excluded and after Easter Sunday Mass one year felt it was just too much; after that, like so many, I drifted away from the Church for many years..
    Your account of Holy Thursday will stay with me, and my heart feels truly blessed. May I ask you to please find ways to distribute your article further afield, it would help so many others.

  7. Joe O'Leary says:

    “In the institutional Catholic Church there was one uniform theology of the Eucharist: it concentrated on what happens to the bread and the wine when the priest says the words of consecration.” I don’t think this does justice to pre Vatican II eucharistic theology, and it certainly is completely out of date since Vatican II. Fr Daly is writing against the theological illiteracy of people who cling to their catechisms and have paid no attention at all to the eucharistic catechesis so widely distributed since Vatican II “This means that a specific philosophy which goes back to the Greek philosopher, Aristotle, had become part and parcel of church doctrine, and Eucharistic theology was reduced to a philosophical problem employing abstractions like substance and accidents which mean little to the average member of the church who probably turns it into a physical change, in spite of unmistakable evidence to the contrary.” Well, if the average member of the church is that stupid no change in language can remedy it. In any case it is quite wrong to say that transubtantiation is Aristotelian — Thomas Aquinas actually points out how transsubstantiation contradicts Aristotle, highlighing the irreducible otherness of the eucharistic presence in the paradox of accidents of bread no longer inhering in the substance of bread. “It was one thing to make a doctrine the subject of scholarly study, but it was quite another to popularise it at the risk of misleading the faithful. The church introduced the term ‘transubstantiation’ into common liturgical use in the Middle Ages, at the end of which the Council of Trent put it into the context of the Reformation and that made it a contentious issue between the churches.” Where does the word “Transubstantion” occur in liturgical texts?

    “Metaphysics is that branch of philosophy which deals with realities that lie beyond the senses and sense-experience. There are different kinds of metaphysics. Science has no use for any of them.” Not so at all, Einstein discusses metaphysics, and so do many other of the most intelligent scientists of the 20th century. The positivism that broke the link between physics and metaphysics in some quarters yielded to a new fascination with metaphysical implications as science took its strange new journey into relativity and quantum theory.

    The Real Presence means that Christ is adored in the Eucharistic event (of which the reserved sacrament is an extension). Transubstantiation is not a doctine but a word that Trent (and Paul VI) declare suitable for stating what happens in the conversion of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ. One could say that the entire meal event is changed in its basic reality into participation in the Paschal Mystery. “Change in basic reality” is exactly the same thing as “transsubstantiation” just as “one is being with” is exactly the same thing as “consubstantial.” So perhaps the most suitable word today would be: there is a “total change in the basic reality” of the meal-event.

    Eucharistic adoration is one of the few exercises of piety that actually work in our church just now — we should not whisk it away — it might be our last refuge against spiritual starvation.

  8. Roy Donovan says:

    Thanks to Gabriel. So liberating and massive freeing consequences. “The Church has no philosophy of her own, nor does she canonise any one particular philosophy in preference to others”! The burial of Thomism!

    There is also the need to bury the influence of Roman Law under Gratian on Canon law and the influence of Aristotle from C12th.

    Both taught that women were unreliable and intellectually inferior to men and were used to exclude women from ordination and ministry. There is much evidence that women were ordained (as ordination understood then) and were deaconesses up until the 12thC.

    For above comments see Gary Macy – the Hidden History of Women’s Ordination: Female Clergy in the Medieval West (OUP 2008 – Notes by Alison Morgan, Jan 2013).

    Macy also states that there were also political influences (power struggles with the State) in removing women from leadership. The Catholic Church has a long way to go to bring about reform to get back to the originality of the Gospel – a ministry of Good News by equals to equals!
    One also wonders what is the need for the Commission set up on Women as Deaconesses by Pope Francis. Why kick the can down more years? Why can’t we do the obvious? It’s just patriarchy and the abuse of power.

  9. “We therefore desired that all teachers of philosophy and sacred theology should be warned that if they deviated, as much as a step, in metaphysics especially, from Aquinas, they expose themselves to grave risk” so wrote Pope Pius X.
    The concentration on philosophy to the detriment of theology has played havoc with the understanding of the Eucharist and the Real Presence to this day. In truth we are looking at a Sacred Mystery that lies outside human understanding.
    St.Paul warned against basing our faith on philosophy; “In my speeches and the sermons that I gave, there was none of the arguments that belonged to philosophy, only a demonstration of the power of the Spirit. And I did this so that your faith should not depend on human philosophy but on the power of God”.
    Fr.Gabriel’s brilliant lecture, which was given at a conference commemorating the 500th anniversary of the Reformation and Luther, prompts the question what was Luther’s understanding of the Eucharist.
    Professor Owen Chadwick is very clear on Luther’ position and stated it very well:” He (Luther) believed that Scripture plainly demanded a belief in the Real Presence but refrained from further seeking to define or describe the mystery of the elements”.
    So, Luther was indeed a wise man.

  10. Joe O'Leary says:

    Thomas is actually quite biblical in Summa Theologica III, q. 75:

    The presence of Christ’s true body and blood in this sacrament cannot be detected by sense, nor understanding, but by faith alone, which rests upon Divine authority. Hence, on Luke 22:19: “This is My body which shall be delivered up for you,” Cyril says: “Doubt not whether this be true; but take rather the Saviour’s words with faith; for since He is the Truth, He lieth not.”

    Now this is suitable, first for the perfection of the New Law. For, the sacrifices of the Old Law contained only in figure that true sacrifice of Christ’s Passion, according to Hebrews 10:1: “For the law having a shadow of the good things to come, not the very image of the things.” And therefore it was necessary that the sacrifice of the New Law instituted by Christ should have something more, namely, that it should contain Christ Himself crucified, not merely in signification or figure, but also in very truth. And therefore this sacrament which contains Christ Himself, as Dionysius says (Eccl. Hier. iii), is perfective of all the other sacraments, in which Christ’s virtue is participated.

    Secondly, this belongs to Christ’s love, out of which for our salvation He assumed a true body of our nature. And because it is the special feature of friendship to live together with friends, as the Philosopher says (Ethic. ix), He promises us His bodily presence as a reward, saying (Matthew 24:28): “Where the body is, there shall the eagles be gathered together.” Yet meanwhile in our pilgrimage He does not deprive us of His bodily presence; but unites us with Himself in this sacrament through the truth of His body and blood. Hence (John 6:57) he says: “He that eateth My flesh, and drinketh My blood, abideth in Me, and I in him.” Hence this sacrament is the sign of supreme charity, and the uplifter of our hope, from such familiar union of Christ with us.

    Thirdly, it belongs to the perfection of faith, which concerns His humanity just as it does His Godhead, according to John 14:1: “You believe in God, believe also in Me.” And since faith is of things unseen, as Christ shows us His Godhead invisibly, so also in this sacrament He shows us His flesh in an invisible manner.

    In article 4 he mentions transubstantiation:

    Since Christ’s true body is in this sacrament, and since it does not begin to be there by local motion, nor is it contained therein as in a place, it must be said then that it begins to be there by conversion of the substance of bread into itself.

    Yet this change is not like natural changes, but is entirely supernatural, and effected by God’s power alone. Hence Ambrose says: “It is clear that a Virgin begot beyond the order of nature: and what we make is the body from the Virgin. Why, then, do you look for nature’s order in Christ’s body, since the Lord Jesus was Himself brought forth of a Virgin beyond nature?”…

    God is infinite act; hence His action extends to the whole nature of being. Therefore He can work not only formal conversion, so that diverse forms succeed each other in the same subject; but also the change of all being, so that, to wit, the whole substance of one thing be changed into the whole substance of another. And this is done by Divine power in this sacrament; for the whole substance of the bread is changed into the whole substance of Christ’s body, and the whole substance of the wine into the whole substance of Christ’s blood. Hence this is not a formal, but a substantial conversion; nor is it a kind of natural movement: but, with a name of its own, it can be called “transubstantiation.”

  11. Richard O'Donnell says:

    Brilliant lecture by Fr. Gabriel. But, there will always be those “who cannot see.” It seems to me that Con @ 4 and Joe @ 7 miss the point completely.

  12. Joe O'Leary says:

    Pius X was very much a control freak. One instance of his micro-management is his order in 1909 that Msgr John Hagan, vice-rector of the Irish College, be interrogated about his friendship with the suspect theologian Ernesto Buonaiuti. One can feel this as well in his edict on Thomism:

    At least the church imposed an intelligent authority. If seminaries had followed Pius’s command to teach the actual text of the Summa (instead of potted versions) that would have been a good education. Thomism seems to have been a much bigger success in the philosophical sphere than in the theological (where it could not connect effectively with modern biblical studies).

  13. Joe O'Leary says:

    I’m only offering marginal annotations, not intending anything like a comprehensive response.

    I’m in agreement with Fr Gabriel except on one or two points. “The average member of the church who probably turns it into a physical change, in spite of unmistakable evidence to the contrary.” I doubt if that was really such a common misunderstanding, and in any case it is the opposite of what Aquinas and Trent meant by the word. I suggest that the pastoral difficulties could be remedied by simply replacing “transubstantiation” with “change in basic reality” and by stressing that the bread and wine are inseparable from the entire meal-event.

    Luther thought it sufficient to bang the table at the Marburg Colloquy and shout “This is my Body”; later Protestant theology saddled him with the notion of “consubstantiation”, which is surely less luminous and powerful than the other word. Calvin’s “I had rather experience than understand” is close to the spirit of St Thomas, who stresses again and again that the Eucharist is an incomprehensible miracle.

    Tibi se cor meum totum subicit
    Quia te contemplans totum deficit (my heart is subject to you totally for contemplating you it fails totally)

    Gustus visus tactus in te fallitur (taste, touch, and sight in Thee are each deceived)

    In cruce latebat sola deitas
    Sed hic latet simul ac humanitas (in the cross only the Godhead was hid, but here the humanity is hid as well)

  14. Joe O'Leary says:

    While I admire Ernesto Buonaiuti, I am very ill at ease with his writings on the Eucharist, which were among the first to draw Pius X’s ire. There are plenty of theologians who explored the symbolic character of the Eucharist without generating this unease. Offhand I think of Bouyer, De Lubac, Congar, Balthasar, early Schillebeeckx, all firm believers in transubstantiation. To say that transubstantiation lack mysticism is refuted by the hymn of St Thomas quoted above.

    The shift of focus from the bread and wine to the total meal-event is the way to reconcile the doctrine with the symbolism, along the lines of this paragraph:

    “At the climax of the evening, Jesus took a loaf of bread, broke it into pieces and distributed them to his disciples in a spontaneously loving gesture intended to express in powerful symbolic and dramatic fashion all that he felt for them since he had met them first by the lakeside in Galilee. We cannot imagine that the disciples would have wondered what had happened to the bread and the wine at the Last Supper; they were far too preoccupied with a deeply moving occasion that summed up the entire time that they had spent with Jesus. In Jesus, they were discovering, human emotion becomes divine emotion.”

    I see Jesus as constructing a work of art on this occasion, drawing on the rich traditions of Israel; this was further perfected in the Pauline Lord’s Supper.

    This leaves us free for a much more imaginative and creative approach to this sacrament. However, resonating through all the forms it has taken throughout history, is Christ’s own word “this is my body” which conveys his real and living presence.

  15. Con Devree says:

    One is grateful to Fr Daly for arousing ones interest in stuff one might not otherwise address. In fairness to Fr Daly one assumes that in the main he quotes sources more for richness of expression rather out of reliance for sound argument. For instance one of Fr Daly’s quoted sources – Paul Claudel – in 1955 trenchantly rejected the practice of priests facing the congregation at Mass, a rejection Fr Daly would hardly agree with.

    However can Fr Daly’s assertion of a change in teaching from Pope Leo XIII to Pope St John Paul II really be justified.

    Both Aeterni Patris (Pope Leo XIII) and Doctoris Angelici (Pope Pius X) do not give the preference to St Thomas that Fr Daly claims. Both popes give him what Pius X and Pope St John Paul II call an “exemplary preference”, not an “exclusive preference.” (JPII Address to The Eighth International Thomistic Congress, 13th September 1980 par 2). But even this preference is not in the context of philosophy per se.

    What is clear is that Popes Leo and Pius mandated the study of St Thomas not as a study of philosophy as the main aim, but as a means of protecting sacred doctrine from philosophies whose “principles are either common to the errors of materialism, monism, pantheism, socialism and modernism, or certainly not opposed to such systems.” (Doctoris Angelici). Pope Leo wrote “We do not, indeed, attribute such force and authority to philosophy as to esteem it equal to the task of combating and rooting out all errors.” St Thomas was mandated for his overall doctrine; theology couldn’t stay clear of philosophy. Pope Pius X wrote that lecturing on the actual text of the Summa Theologica was the essential and central curriculum provision for students.(ibid)

    JPII said Aeterni Patris was based on a fundamental principle of harmony between the truths of reason and those of faith. (Thomistic Congress 1980). Pius X wrote that it would be “foolish to neglect it [reason], and religion will not suffer it to be in any way attenuated. And rightly, because, if Catholic doctrine is once deprived of this strong bulwark [reason], it is useless to seek the slightest assistance for its defence” in the principles of the philosophies listed above. (Doctoris Angelici) He regarded St Thomas’ doctrines as the best bulwark against these underlying principles.

    Pope Leo made the same distinction between theology and philosophy as did JPII in Fides et Ratio.” Pope Leo had no intention of discountenancing any learned and able men who brought their industry and erudition, and the wealth of new discoveries to the service of philosophy. (Aeterni Patris Par 24). He held that every word of wisdom, every useful thing by whomsoever discovered or planned, ought to be received with a willing and grateful mind. If there was anything proposed by the Scholastic doctors that did not agree with the discoveries of a later age in any way, “it does not enter Our mind to propose that for imitation to Our age.” (Par 31).

    JPII spoke of a “consistent Magisterium of the Church from Pope Leo XIII to Paul VI and what was completed in Vatican Council II, especially in the documents Optatam Totius, Gravissimum Educationis and Gaudium et Spes. (Thomistic Congress 1980).

    There was no change in teaching.

  16. Dan Driscoll says:

    Very fine work, reaching me in Canada courtesy of an Irish friend. My preoccupations now prompt me to introduce topic of ‘la nouvelle theologie’ , and the question asked by the redoubtable Reginald Garrigou Lagrange, “Where is the nouvelle theologie leading us?”

    While the Theologians mostly named are Congar, Henri de Lubac, Schillebeeckx, Danielou & Ratzinger,I put at the centre Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, and perhaps at eye-of-hurricane Charles Darwin.

    I am not a theologian, but have had the full gamut of seminary studies, and with several years living in India met up with the Vedic counterpart of Teilhard—in the works of Sri Aurobindo Goshe (Pondicherry). Is there anyone in your Circle able to add comment to this aspect of things?

  17. Joe O'Leary says:

    “Fides et Ratio” drew on several experts in different fields of philosophy and acknowledges the valid pluralism of philosophy, but its very title upholds the old distinction between the reason-based science of philosophy and the faith-based science of theology. It also speaks of the mediating role of metaphysics in theology. Leo XIII represents an opening to modern liberal thought in the Catholic Church between the authoritarian pontificates of Pius IX and Pius X.

    According to Wiki, “Sri Aurobindo [Ghose, 1872-1950] argues that divine Brahman manifests as empirical reality through līlā, or divine play. Instead of positing that the world we experience is an illusion (māyā), Aurobindo argues that world can evolve and become a new world with new species, far above the human species just as human species have evolved after the animal species. Sri Aurobindo believed that Darwinism merely describes a phenomenon of the evolution of matter into life, but does not explain the reason behind it, while he finds life to be already present in matter, because all of existence is a manifestation of Brahman. He argues that nature (which he interpreted as divine) has evolved life out of matter and then mind out of life. All of existence, he argues, is attempting to manifest to the level of the supermind – that evolution had a purpose.He stated that he found the task of understanding the nature of reality arduous and difficult to justify by immediate tangible results.”

    This does sound a lot like Teilhard (1881-1955), though building on a different religious tradition. The boom of interest in Teilhard coincided with the years of the Council. On the eve of the Council Henri de Lubac (who himself played an important role in the Council), at the behest of his Jesuit superiors, published an influential book justifying Teilhard’s orthodoxy.

  18. Lloyd Allan MacPherson says:

    Yes Dan @ 16 – Pope Francis can and Benedict for that matter because Benedict has been moving on the idea that “the doorway to ethical reason is propped open when you force humanity into an unnatural law – political forces and states are rendered totalitarian”. So that was his managerial platform. Francis shows up and takes Benedict’s “7 social sins” and essentially piles them into an encyclical that changes the Church’s focus to that of Care of Creation and the Poor. We are now reduced to an Aboriginal Clan of Catholics whose job it is to get at one with nature, the quicker the better. That’s their commentary on this stuff – present commentary which impacts future activities.

    The circle you are looking for is very much a triangle still despite requests from management to invert it, destroy clericalism in its tracks, and come forward with ideas to repair what has been broken.

    This is where “la nouvelle theologie” is leading us. Understanding that Natural Law is the core of logic in the universe and what presents itself through natural biological occurrences in nature, can’t be condemned in Canons is what this website/blog is all about.

    Welcome aboard to a man that apparently never stops learning if you are the Driscoll at UPEI in 2014?

  19. Lloyd Allan MacPherson says:

    And Dan @ 16, we know this site gets 30,000 hits a month so what ever conversation is taking place, people are taking notice of “previews” of “what’s-to-come”, en masse.

    Some of us lead without really questioning it and some of us have a hard time focusing on the present reality. I was dragged here because of my activism and this being the hub for change in the Catholic world, if you can persuade people to come to your dinner table online for an hour long talk; 2 hours, even three at times. If that can be accomplished, anything is possible. This group of 1000 priests has a right to partake in something bigger but to convince them that they are an army now is a task.

    Pope Francis has started to roll the ball on their platform and he is waiting for them to start moving on his. That’s the way I read it at least. The people who jump on this idea will rewrite history as we know it – or see the solution and not care to embark for fear of shame or worse, failure. 1000 priests in Ireland can be instrumental right now on matters important to Pope Francis and a generation to follow.

    When a group combines talents and takes on a subject matter, a lot can be accomplished, even overnight. Creating the vehicle to do it, is an art-form. You literally need to be able to see 50 years in the future. Certain portfolios among us would indicate that we might be able to and we’ve been providing a solution for those willing to listen. The Pope is all ears but needs a statement of support from the ACP to allow a call to dialogue with an outsider.

    Testing, inverted pyramid, testing…is this thing on?

  20. John 4:34 “My bread is to do the will of Him who sent me.” Of course Jesus often spoke using symbolic language, often referring to bread. The best interpretation of this passage I heard in a Church of England church, as follows : “What make me tick, is to do the will of Him who sent me”. There has indeed been a failure of imagination. Fixation on Transubstantiation arose in an era when alchemists were at work and there was an interest in what made one element different from another. The writers of the gospels would have been baffled with this kind of thinking I suspect.

  21. Kevin Walters says:

    I have entered several empty none catholic churches during my life time and have always been struck by a sense of deadness, apart from one occasion when in a small country chapel I was confront by a vase of freshly cut flowers on the altar as I felt the living beauty of His creation/presence before me.
    I believe that the reason for this is that I am subconsciously looking for the red Sanctuary Light with its gentle living/active flame that is usually situated close to the Tabernacle. As it always provokes a feeling of recognition, in that I am not alone as a mutual presence is manifest/felt.

    Approximately fifteen years ago one Sunday morning the Sanctuary lamp was not lit, this was the first time that I had encountered this in a Catholic Church and once again I felt this same sense of deadness.

    For most of my life I have always genuflected before His divine presence in the Tabernacle but several years ago I became perturbed and in doing so stopped, my reasoning for doing this for some may be a bit confusing but made sense to me, as I had become aware of that could be described as self grandioso by some of those following the monstrance/ ostensorium from the main altar to the side chapel in carrying a parasol (With other factors of control rather than humility) above it in an ostentatious manner accompanied by heightened emotion.

    A round the same time I had a similar awareness when I followed a group of parishioners leaving the Church after mass to go and pray outside an abortion clinic, the praying by some was vindictive as its vocal emphasis (Heightened emotion) stressed words of condemnation rather than repentance (Change of direction) and compassion. They appeared to think that they owned (the judgement of) God.

    The question I had placed before myself in effect was this, can His physical presence be held in isolation by His creatures in a box or monstrance or be stolen desecrated and misused as

    “Heaven is My throne and the earth is My footstool.
    What kind of house will you build for Me, says the Lord,
    or what will be My place of repose?
    Has not My hand made all these things”

    Without the flame in the sanctuary lamp His presence is not known /felt, as it could be said that if there was no consecrated Eucharist host within the tabernacle the same sense of a mutual presence is manifest/felt and on the spiritual plane it would be the real acceptance of God’s presence.
    As in the symbolic everlasting light, or eternal flame that shines before the altar of sanctuaries in many Jewish places of worship.

    A lit candle metaphorically speaking could be described as the Trinity, the source (candle/ mass) of all creation (Matter/Flesh. The Holy Spirit His Will within the candle/mass igniting and giving life to the flame, seen as His living Word Jesus Christ, who in shedding His light gives light to our consciousness for us to see and know His Will, that emanates from the source and mystery of our Creator/ Father.

    “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life”

    When the priest says the “Body of Christ” we say amen a declaration of affirmation and for me He is present when devoured as we become living tabernacles living been the operative word without this affirmation in faith would the bread of life give life to an unbeliever?
    Is it not the willing acceptance/consent of His living presence within the Eucharist that gives life to our spirit that wells up into eternal life, as the flesh profits not.

    It could be said that the bread and wine are the ordained means to “total change basic reality” to draw us into the spiritual constant reality before God of His Divine Presence (Eternal living sacrifice) now and always present before/with/in us when we willingly say in faith amen as we partake of the living bread of life and transforming sacrificial cup of eternal salvation

    This reflection has for me solved my initial concern of genuflection as with the bush of fire before Moses

    “Take off your sandals because this place where you are standing is holy ground”

    A genuflect an act of humility is more than in order before the acknowledged reality of the mystery of the divine, His presence in this holy place before Him in His tabernacle, while the Sanctuary flame stirs from deep within our subconscious His living inviolate Word “this is my body” and so it is.

    kevin your brother
    In Christ

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