How do I explain Transubstantiation to sixth-graders?


Okay, as part of the (Catholic) Vacation Bible School, we’ve been instructed to teach our students on the Real Presence and Transubstantiation. I’ve tried telling them in simple language what happens when the priest says the words of consecration - it becomes the body and blood, soul and divinity of Christ, etc. But this one student keeps interpreting it in that it only semi-metaphorically becomes Christ, and that it remains physically bread. How do I impress upon him the Catholic teaching on the Eucharist?


I would use the "DNA" argument. I make this comparison. Suppose I was to pluck a hair off my head and I told you that it was me. You would say it's not me, it's a strand of hair. But I would reply, "Yes, but that hair has all the genetic information that makes me up so in a way, it's me."

Now think of the host. After the Consecration, Jesus is imprinted on that bread and wine. You can't see or feel Jesus in that bread and wine any more than you can see or feel my genetic code in a strand of hair. And yet, that bread and wine has transformed in the very real presence of Jesus.

I know it's not the best analogy, but it sure beats "Just have a little faith!"


But I can see the hair, feel the hair, touch the hair…I just know sixth graders and that is what they are going to race toward.


I had this with Fifth Graders when I taught CCD.

One year I had two twins, and I brought them up to the front. I asked if they were the same person. The kids said no. I said Veronica looked like Valerie, they have the same hair, the same skin, the same nose, they were even in the same clothes (soccer uniforms). The kids were adamant that Veronica was not Valerie.

I said it's the same with Holy Communion. It looks like bread, it tastes like bread, it smells like bread, but what it IS, what is is made up of, WHO it is made up of, is not bread.

Maybe you can find a way to do something similar?


I explained it to my Church of God Mother-in-Law this way: In Baptism, we are told we are a new creation; the old has died and we are born again in the spirit. If, however, you were to put my hand under a microscope before baptism, and compare it to what it looks like afterwards, there would be no change. Our essence changes, our souls, but not our bodies. When the bread and wine become the body and blood, its just like that. If you put it under a microscope before and after, you will see the same thing. Its the essence, the soul, that changes.



You get a transformer toy. Say it’s a car. It looks like a car, it acts like a car, but is it a car? No!! It’s a robot in disguise. Same thing with the Eucharist. It looks like bread, it tastes like bread, but is it bread? No! It’s Jesus! And we know this because Jesus told us so in Bible, like in John 6. And because tons of have given their lives for the Blessed Sacrament as evident in the lives of the Saints.

Transformers will probably catch their attention because of the movies, and it supplies you with a great slogan: More than meets the eye/ Jesus in disguise. They won’t forget it.

I hope I don’t sound irreverent. I think it’s a great way to explain it to children because it’s on their level, just retain an attitude of respect and seriousness when explaining it.


Please be careful with the age-appropriate thing. It's very easy to forget that while 6th graders might not grasp something today, this minute, they have one of the finest recording devices God ever created between their ears and will remember what is put there for years to come.

What I am trying to say is, there's nothing wrong with using an analogy of a transformer provided they don't walk out thinking that's all that's at work here. There really is no simple (and at the same time fulfilling) way to teach this to young inquisitive minds short of explaining all the terms involved (what's an accident? what's an essence? etc.) and to walk them through the difference between, say, a magician changing a card into a rabbit (substitution: what was is no longer, what's now is new) and what happens during the consecration. That is not easy work, but it is important. For one, kids that age often have never made a distinction between that kind of thing before and need to be walked through it to understand it. For another, in three more years and they will be in high school, exposed to all kinds of questions and skeptical attitudes, and I would hope they have more to draw from than only being able to explain a vital part of their faith in terms of a transformer.

And I don't say that believing for a minute you'd teach that (transformers) and move to the next topic. I'm merely trying to stress that their brains may be small but they are working harder than it may appear. Do them justice and fill that space with real information. If they don't understand it, you'll know and can adjust to what they can understand. Even adults come upon new information and can't process it right away, but as they ponder it over time, often the mystery of it will clear up or inspire some to go find out more about it. I think those are good seeds to plant.


[quote="Lutheranteach, post:3, topic:205963"]
But I can see the hair, feel the hair, touch the hair...I just know sixth graders and that is what they are going to race toward.


But can you see the DNA encoding? Can you feel the DNA encoding? It's the genetic code that puts the "you" in that thread of hair. Much like how Jesus is that piece of bread and wine. Others are barking up a similar line of argument -- a consecrated host may look like bread, but there is the essence of Jesus in it that you cannot see or touch.


Shouldn't they have learned about transubstantiation around second grade....when they made their First Communion? The True Presence shouldn't be something new in 6th grade.


I know this 6th grader very well. I know how to speak to him.

Take a piece of paper.
Cut a circle out of the piece of paper.
Ask the child what the circle is. Is it still a piece of paper?
Duh. He’ll look at you like you’ve lost your mind.
Of course it’s still a piece of paper.

Take the circle and cut it into smaller pieces.
Is it still a piece of paper?
Of course it’s still a piece of paper.

If we keep cutting the piece of paper smaller and smaller…
would it still be paper?
Of course it would still be paper.

What if we cut it so small we reduced it to dust?
We would have teeny tiny paper fibers.
What if we pulled apart those fibers?
We would have smaller fibers.
What if we pulled apart those smaller fibers?
We would have even smaller fibers.
What if we pulled apart the smallest of the smallest fibers?
We would have molecules…
What if we pulled apart those molecules?
We would have atoms swirling about in space… they look like teeny tiny… galaxies!.
What if we pulled those teeny tiny galaxies apart?
We would have even smaller particles that look like stars and planets
What if we pulled apart the teeniest tiniest partlcles?
We would have LIGHT.
Pull them apart, what do we see? LIGHT
Put them together, what do we see? LIGHT
What holds everything together? LIGHT
What did Christ say He was? The LIGHT of the world.

What are you standing on?
The earth.
What’s the earth?
It’s a big rock, a planet, a gargantuan particle, orbiting a sun along with a whole lot of other planets orbiting the same sun…
along with a whole lot of other planets and suns that orbit a black hole and make up a galaxy…
What does it all look like?
It looks an awfully lot… like a gargantuan cosmic atom.
And there’s a whole lot of other galaxies…the more we look out into space, the more we find!
So as far as we know, and as far as we can see, for all we know…
we might just as well be standing on one of the teeniest tiniest particles that altogether goes to make up…
just a piece of paper in someone else’s hand.

In Christ’s day they didn’t have much in the way of paper; paper was extremely expensive.
But everybody knew what bread was…
He took the bread in His hands and raising it up He gave thanks to God.
He broke the bread and gave it to all his disciples saying eat, for this is my body given up for you so that sins may be forgiven…
do this in memory of Me.

Who did He say He was?
The LIGHT of the world… a visible manifestation of the energy that holds the entire universe together.

What is the function of the priest at mass?
To help you learn to see and understand Christ well enough… to begin to see and understand the ever presence of God in your life and in your world.
So you tell me…
what’s a piece of bread?


Oh yes....
and the 6th grader has probably heard of this guy named Albert Einstein....
physicist extraordinaire, although his wife did all his math for him and he divorced her and never gave her credit!
He was trying to come up with a good explanation of all the forces that hold the entire universe and everything in it together...
something he called the "Universal Field Theory"....
What was he searching for?
He was searching for God, you see.....
oh, but it's very hard to search for something that you cannot see.... even if it's right in front of your face!
and you know what Christ said about searching for God...
In the Sermon on the Mount, Christ mentioned that it is the pure of heart who see God.


You lost me here.
Catholics believe Jesus was being literal, not using an analogy.
Besides, who would need an analogy for another analogy?


A priest once described it in reverse during a homily by using the analogy of a serious burn victim. Someone who is severely burned (especially on their face) is unrecognizable but they are still the same person though their appearance changed. With the Eucharist, the appearance stays the same, though what it is changes.


I've been reading along out of curiosity and because I've always wanted a simple way to explain this -

the truth is though, that it's simply beyond our comprehension, isn't it? That doesn't mean that we shouldn't make an effort to try to explain it, but it struck me as somewhat comical that we are all wracking our brains thinking there has to be a simple way to explain it to 6th graders when we ourselves don't really even understand it:rolleyes:

That said... after reading through everyone's responses, I think the twin analogy is best, if an analogy must be made. The essence of the person is different in that example - they share the same physical characteristics, all the way down to their DNA (which is still a physical characteristic, even though we can't see it - it's still a physical entity). So their DNA is the same, yet the spiritual/supernatural portion is different.

Same with the Eucharist - nothing changes as far as the physical appearance of the bread, even if you examined it under a microscope. But the bread has been 'infused' with the essence of Christ - a necessity when you think of the reason we have the Eucharist - I heard Scott Hahn explain it in a way that made sense to me one time - he said that during the original Passover, the Jews had to sacrifice a lamb, spill it's blood, and then CONSUME it. It was only after those things were accomplished that the Jews could partake in and receive the benefit of the sacrifice (in this instance, it was to spare their first born son).

I'm not sure if this is considered 'official' Church teaching, but it really helped me to understand the Eucharist a bit more. Jesus becomes that sacrificial Lamb. He needed to be sacrificed, his blood spilled, and yes, we are to consume Him in order to fully benefit from His sacrifice.

Sometimes the 'why' of something helps us to more fully understand the 'how', kwim?


[quote="AndrewA, post:12, topic:205963"]
You lost me here.
Catholics believe Jesus was being literal, not using an analogy.
Besides, who would need an analogy for another analogy?


I'm not using any analogy....
What's bread? Bread is particles in motion, energy
What's paper? Paper is particles in motion, energy
What's your body? A body is particles in motion, energy
How can you tell the difference between bread, paper, and your body?

Look closely enough on a microcosmic scale and you cannot tell any difference whatsoever between a particle of bread, a particle of paper, or a particle of a body at all.

What are they really? They are all merely particles in motion, energy.
You can only see any difference between them if you happen to be standing in a particular place and view them from a particular perspective.

The kid looks at the host.
The kid sees that it's just a bleached flour wafer, it's just a piece of bread.
But what’s a piece of bread? That little wafer of white flour is actually comprised of entire galaxies that look just like our own galaxy when we look up at the stars.

When you eat that wafer of white flour you could well be incorporating entire galaxies into your body. It isn’t an analogy and it isn’t poetry; it’s merely physics.

Likewise when you stand on this earth and look up at the stars you begin to see that there are worlds much larger than yours that you yourself are a part of. What manner of world might you yourself likewise be just a tiny little part of?

Ha! You yourself might be a tiny part of an atomic particle that goes to make up….
just a piece of bread in a larger universe….
So what’s a piece of bread?
Maybe a heck of a lot more than you’re seeing or that you ever thought about.
What you identify as a piece of bread is only just a reflection…. a very narrow reflection…..of your own very narrow consciousness in a universe where there is more seen and unseen than you yourself see on a regular basis.

Take that bread and eat it and you yourself might well realize that you are also a tiny particle that all together makes up the body of Christ….
and you yourself might expand your consciousness sufficiently to be able to see Christ for yourself….
Beyond the bread….
Beyond your fellow parishioners…
Beyond the church you’re standing in….
Beyond all of it
You might just see the Light of the World for yourself and realize that you can indeed hold it in your hand and eat it…. As well as look out across your world and see yourself surrounded, loved, and cared for within it..


[quote="Mary_Gail_36, post:9, topic:205963"]
Shouldn't they have learned about transubstantiation around second grade....when they made their First Communion? The True Presence shouldn't be something new in 6th grade.


I didn't learn about actual transubstantiation, and the actual requirements of the consecration until grade 11 Christian Ethics.

I remember the discussion on the Consecration in my First Communion classes very well. The person teaching it said that only a priest could do it, and it had to be special bread and special wine, and when the priest said the special prayer, it turned into the body and blood of Jesus. End of discussion. No questions, no explanation of how. It just did.


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