Easiest way to explain transubstantiation?

We are reading Bless Me Ultima in my English class, and in the story, the main character expects to recieve all the knowledge of faith when he recieves his first communion (the main character is Catholic). My friend who has English a day before me, said that the teacher tried to explain Catholic beliefs on transubstantiation, but instead said that Catholics believe in basically consubstantiation.

What is the easiest way to correct my teacher should she try to do this in my class?

Thanks for any advice:)

There are two properties of every physical matter, what it really is (substance) and what it appears to be (accident). In transubstantiation, the substance changes, but the accident remains. So it appears to be bread, but is not bread. It appears to be wine, but is not wine. The entire substance is changed to Jesus Christ. There is no longer bread, only the appearance of it.

How does one determine what the matter really is (the substance) when all that we can observe is the “accident”? How can we know that the substance has changed if we have no access to the substance?

I have a cup of water in front of me. To me it looks, tastes, and feels like water. However, as you say, I am only sensing the “accident” of the water. Is the “substance” of the water also water, or is my cup of water have a substance of something else? How do I know? How do we perceive the “substance” of a material?


In most cases you infer the substance from the accidents. “If it walks like a duck, talks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and swims like a duck, it must be a duck.” The only time when this doesn’t work is when God causes something to have the accidents of another thing. An angel, appearing on earth as a man, seems to be a man; he walks and talks and speaks like a man, but those are just the accidents, we know the angels when they appeared on earth were not men but angels. In the same way, we know the Eucharist is the body and blood of Jesus, and not bread and wine, because God’s Word says so. His Word gives us far more certainty about what it is than observing the appearances ever could.

So the cup of water in front of me is very most likely a cup of water, unless God switched its substance for some reason. However, the only way I could know whether or not this occurred is if God Himself told me or if He told someone else. Since God tends to only speak to a few people, we really only have it on their authority on what the substance of an object is.

To be honest, if somebody told me that my cup of water was really a tree, I’d say they were off their rocker.

In the absence of a greater reason for thinking otherwise, you ought to be convinced that it is water by the very fact that it appears in all ways to be water. But if God told you otherwise, you would have to believe Him.

Since God tends to only speak to a few people, we really only have it on their authority on what the substance of an object is.

Wrong. You falsely argue that unless God has spoken, we have no other authority. That is false. God’s Word is the highest authority, but it is not the only authority. Your senses can tell you what something is, and in the absence of a greater reason for believing otherwise, you should trust them. But if God tells you that your eyes deceive you, you should believe Him.

To be honest, if somebody told me that my cup of water was really a tree, I’d say they were off their rocker.

You ought to, since the testimony of your own eyes has greater authority than any man’s mere say-so. But your eyes do not have greater authority than God. If He says that the Eucharist is not bread, but His Own Son, then you must either say “God, my eyes are better than you,” or else “God, you are greater than my eyes.” Pick one. I can’t do more than tell you what God says, you have to choose whether to accept it.

I think you misunderstood me here. I was speaking about knowing the “substance” of an object, not the “accident.” According to what you have said before, my senses only give me access to an objects accident. I can make an assumption that its substance is the same as its accident, but I could be mistaken. In order to know with any certainty what the substance of an object is, I can only rely on Gods Word. To rely on my senses would be to assume that the substance is the same as the accident which is apparently not the case with transubstantiation.

There is a third option: “I don’t think that God said that.” Like I said before, God seems to only talk to a select few. How do we know that what those few report to us is the true word of God? Could they be mistaken? Or worse, dishonest? I ask this because people always disagree on what the Gods message is, even though many claim to speak to Him through prayer or other means. This means that not every messenger of God is a true one. If God communicates about the substance of an object, how do we authenticate that it was a real message? Until we have a method we have no reliable method of finding the substance of an object.

This is all true. But the assumption that the substance is the same as the accident is a perfectly sensible assumption to make, in the absence of a greater reason to believe otherwise.

In order to know with any certainty what the substance of an object is, I can only rely on Gods Word.

Only if you have a wildly restrictive definition of certainty. Most people are “certain” when there is no doubt in their mind that the opposite of what they believe is true. Your senses can give you that certainty about the cup of water, and unless something contrary is introduced, something of greater testimony than your senses, you should be content. But in the case of the Eucharist, something greater is at hand: God says it is not bread but His Son. You would not be justified, at that point, in believing otherwise.

There is a third option: “I don’t think that God said that.”

Now you have moved from doubt about the possibility to doubt about whether God has said it. That’s progress. For once you admit that God could do it, then you need only find out whether He has done it.

For the question of whether He has said that the Eucharist is Jesus’s body, blood, soul, and divinity, you should, if you believe the Bible, check out these articles arguing that it does indeed teach our doctrine:

Christ in the Eucharist

The Real Presence

And, if it is a question of whether the Bible is true, there are wonderful books on the truth of Christianity (including the truth of the Bible), such as Peter Kreeft’s “Handbook of Christian Apologetics”.

I hope that helps. God bless!
-Dan Marcum

We can only know any substance by means of its accidents. Anything we perceive, either through sense perception or through scientific instruments, we perceive by means of the accidents which appear to our senses–which are not the substance.

When you see a glass of water in front of you, only cannot get the substance of the water into your mind. You only get the reflections of light, the taste, the weight of it. These are all accidents.

If we had different senses, attuned to different materials and wavelengths, our perceptions would be quite different, yet the substance would remain the same.

So, as humans, this is how we know–by means of our senses, which perceive accidents. The world is ordered so that our sense perceptions generally correspond to the underlying substance.

We only know that the underlying substance of the Eucharist is Jesus, and not bread and wine, because Jesus said “This IS my body,” “This IS my blood,” thus indicating that what we perceive (accidents) is not what we receive (substance.)

What everyone said about the ancient Greek philosophical terms of “accidents” and “substance” is correct. After the consecration, the bread and wine, IN SUBSTANCE, no longer remain. All that is present is the body and blood of our Lord. I suppose God permitted “accidents”, that is, He permitted the look, texture, feel, and taste of the consecrated bread and blood to appear to man’s senses as such so that they would still be palatable for us to consume.

As for as HOW transubstantiation occurs, that is, HOW does transubstantiation occur, that is one of the mysteries of our faith. No one on Earth knows HOW it occurs - we Catholics are simply taught, as dogma, that it does occur.

This may sound like “punting on third down”, but when we ask questions as deeply theological as this one, we have to start making leaps of faith and simply accepting as a mystery, certain things that God does and permits to happen without man being able to explain how they happen through science.

In Transubstantiation, one substance is changed into a different substance. At Cana, water was changed into wine. At the Last Supper, the substance of bread Jesus changed into the substance of his Body, tho the appearance of bread remained. There is an old saying, “never judge a book by its’ cover”, because appearance and condition of the cover may look like one thing, the inside of the book may be something else. The cover and the book are different. And so the outside appears to be bread, the inside is Jesus’ Body.

In the blessed Trinity we believe that the Son in consubstantial with the Father, the Holy Spirit is consubstantial with the Son. Where one Person is, there are the other two Persons, or consubstantial with each other. The Holy Eurcharist contains all three Persons of the blessed Trinity since they are consubstantial and where one Person is, all three Persons are. In Holy Communion when we receive the Precious Body of Jesus, the second Person of the Blessed Trinity, we also have within in us the other two Persons, our dear Father and most Holy Spirit.

We walk by Faith, not by sight

Oh boy !

I read through the sequence of threads and noticed how it deteriorated into, " the accident of water being a tree" and " under whose authority this, that and the other thing".

Keep It Simply Simple.

We are not talking about any other substance other than - the bread and the wine.

In the Consecration, the bread we see becomes the entire Jesus Christ in the supernatural order… we still see bread but the priest has been properly ordained and has the power to Consecrate the host.

The same goes for the wine. In the supernatural order, once the priest has Consecrated the wine, it becomes entirely Jesus Christ.

Body, blood, soul and divinity. Nowhere else does this happen other than in the Catholic Mass at the moment of Consecration.

So, forget about the substance of water or the substance of a T-bone steak. We are talking about the Bread of Life and the Cup of Salvation.

I think it becomes easier if you look at the Latin:

trans {“across, over, beyond, through”}

  • sub {“under, inferior, secondary, less than, in place of, secretly”}
  • stantis (past participle of stare {“to stand as, to be”})
  • vernacular ending

This is in contrast to the Lutheran theology:

con {“with, together”}

  • sub {“under, inferior, secondary, less than, in place of, secretly”}
  • stantis (past participle of stare {“to stand as, to be”})
  • vernacular ending

By the way, the word “accident” comes from the Latin accidens present participle of accidere meaning roughly “to happen.”

Consubstantiation is when the presence or substance of Jesus (Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity) is present alongside the substance of bread and wine. Meaning they both exist next to each other.

Transubstantiation is when the substance of the bread and wine is changed to the substance and presence of Jesus (Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity).

I just don’t read Christ saying, “this is ALSO my body”. We believe that the Creator can not only create out of nothing, but can also change the created thing into something else. This is well within His power.

Also, I believe there is a problem with the fullness of Christ really coming into something without transforming it. Since ALL of Christ’s glory is transfered into simple bread and wine, the bread and wine would be changed immediately by the transforming power of God’s Glory. There is simply no room for any other substance. Consubstantiation allows for something else to exist alongside God while being equal to Him.

This is just my opinion and it is likely flawed.

Pax Christi.

I don’t think it is a good idea to confront your teacher during class. If you have a chance to write an essay on the subject, you might try doing that with some references to the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

Basically we believe that it is, because Christ said that it was.

But, there is more, much more to the full explanation of the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist.

A very thorough explanation of this is in a recent book by Dr. Brant Pitre, which has a title something to the effect of the Jewish roots of the Eucharist.


This is the link to the Catechism of the Catholic Church and you can search on “real presence” or “Eucharist” to get some ideas, which you can reference or footnote in a paper.

You should have asked: “What is the point of the water being a tree?”

As for God tending to speak to only a few people? Personally, I consider 5,000 or so people more than a few.

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