Real Presence vs. Literal Presence in the Eucharist

I recently heard a Catholic priest speak of the Real Presence vs. the Literal Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, but I did not fully understand the explanation he gave. Just when I thought I had a handle on the Real Presence, this new term comes along. Can anyone explain this?

Hi UpbeatDad,

Without knowing what was said and how those terms were defined, it’s sort of a shot in the dark to try and explain what someone else said. Real Presence is a literal presence, and I am wondering if maybe he was speaking of Real Presence versus Totality of Presence. Could that have been the topic? If not, perhaps if you could provide something of what was said or a more specific question, we can address that.

Real Presence speaks to the fact that when the bread and wine are consecrated by the priest, they become the body and blood of Christ, though their appearance and physical characteristics remain intact. Totality of Presence speaks to what exactly is present, and that has been defined as the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Christ. These are present in either form, meaning you get them all whether you receive a microscopic particle of a host, a nanogram of wine from the cup, or both. This is to distinguish from the (false) idea that “the body” is only present in the host, and “the blood” is only in the cup. Receiving the Sacrament in both forms is to allow us to experience the Sacrament in a more complete or fulfilling way, but receiving either form alone constitutes a “complete” Sacrament, because of the Totality of Presence.

Here are two links that go into more detail and provide some history on it.

Real Presence
Real Presence

Thanks for the insight. Here is a link to a YouTube video of Fr. John Riccardo discussing the distinction. I guess what I’m not clear on is this: if Jesus is really and substantially present in the Eucharist, then how is that not literal? I must not be understanding the term literal correctly, for I thought literal was just another word for real.

Here’s what the Catechism says:

Paragraph 1374: The mode of Christ’s presence under the Eucharistic species is unique. It raises the Eucharist above all the sacraments as "the perfection of the spiritual life and the end to which all the sacraments tend. In the most blessed sacrament of the Eucharist “the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ and, therefore, the whole Christ is truly, really, and substantially contained. This presence is called ‘real’ - by which is not intended to exclude the other types of presence as if they could not be ‘real’ too, but because it is presence in the fullest sense: that is to say, it is a substantial presence by which Christ, God and man, makes himself wholly and entirely present.”

I think you’re confused by the popular understanding of ‘literally’ which most people would take to mean really and truly and substantially, and in that sense the Eucharist is literally the Body and Blood of Christ. But ‘literally’ is not the proper theological term to describe the Real Presence. It is more correctly described in terms of “substance” and “accident”.

Okay, that meaning of “literal” I can understand, but there’s a problem. In the “This Rock” article cited by DOShea above, the author uses the term literal in just the opposite way. That is, Jesus is literally present in the Eucharist, body, blood, soul, and divinity. This use of literal seems different from what Fr. Riccardo is saying. Again, the article is here…

I totally take issue with Father Ricardo’s definition of the literal presence. He mentions that if Christ were to walk into Mass He would not look like a host and we would fall on our face because of His majesty. So then, are we to do less when we are in front of the Eucharist? Is the host a lesser Christ? Yes, Jesus is sacramentally present but a sacrament is an encounter with Christ. This is the sacrament “par excellance” since it is here where we encounter Christ; body, blood, soul, and divinity.

First Father explains that Christ hid Himself in flesh and then in the host. So why would we fall to our face for the Christ hidden in flesh if He were to walk into Mass and not fall on our face for the same Christ hidden in bread and wine?

Christ is literally in the Eucharist which is the re-presentation of the Last Supper. Christ said, “This is my body”. There is no other way to take His words.

I think that Father Ricardo means well but that can truly confuse those who especially are not grounded in the faith or lean towards a symbolic understanding of the Eucharist…teachccd

I would go with this understanding…

Maybe the problem is that people take the term “literal” to refer to the accidents (i.e. the appearances) rather than the substance. Some people may think that if we say Jesus is “literally” present, then we should be able to test for his DNA and blood type. But that is to confuse the accidents with the substance.

Jesus is wholly, totally, and entirely present in the Eucharist, not just spiritually but his entire body and blood, soul and divinity. But the accidents of bread and wine remain: they are what our senses perceive, not the accidents which inhere in Jesus.

In the Eucharist, Jesus is indivisible. When you break a communion host in two, you don’t break Jesus’ body; you break only the accidents of bread. Jesus remains whole and entire under the appearances of bread in each piece, but–he is not multiplied. It is the same one Jesus. It is not ‘two’ Jesuses just because you broke the host! He is neither multiplied nor divided. But he is present both body and soul.

I’ve never heard the Church use the term “literal presence” regarding the Eucharist.

As several people here have pointed out, Jesus in Heaven doesn’t go “OUCH!” when the Host is broken, dropped, or chewed.

Correctly, Jesus is present “sacramentally”. So yes, the bread and wine become the actual, literal, body and blood of Christ. However, it is under the appearance, or accidents of bread and wine. In the sacramental presence, which is substantial, Jesus’ body, blood, soul, and divinity are present. What the priest could have meant was to differentiate this sacramental presence from Jesus actually walking amongst us, i.e. during Biblical times and in the Second Coming. Remember, there is a distinction among all of these “presences”, such as Jesus being present at the right hand of the Father, present when two or three are gathered in His name, and present in the Eucharist. Think about the Eucharistic presence and when we say “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.” How can we say He will come again when He is present in the Eucharist? That makes the distinction clear.

Christ will come again in the form that was seen 2000 years ago. It doesn’t make His presence to us now any less of Him. That’s why we call it the mystery of faith…While there are distinctions in HOW He is present to us, He is literaly present in all of them. We can only apprehend this mystery as we could never comprehend it… teachccd

Perhaps this will help: In the Mass Christ becomes Real-ly Present. In the case of Eucharistic Miracles He becomes literally present.

Even in the case of Eucharistic miracles we cannot talk in those terms. We can see the accident of a part of a human organ but still we cannot perceive the whole body and blood. I think that humans are to hang up with the fact that they want to describe a glorified body in terms or our non glorified bodies. It is like trying to describe a 3D object using a 2D image.

Yes exactly. He will come again in the form seen 2000 years ago. This is most likely what the priest in the OP meant.

Yes, but that does not mean that He is not literally present in the Eucharist. I know that it’s verbiage that is hanging us up. We cannot, however, fall on our faces if Christ walked into Mass and not want to do the same for the Eucharist. The Eucharist is not a lesser Christ. It is the full Christ in the appearance of bread and wine. When He comes again He will be in the appearance of a glorified human form. Same Christ, different veils…teachccd :slight_smile:

It would seem that CCC 1374 above would not exclude the idea of a literal presence from that of a “real” or “sacramental” presence.

So, would it be fair to say that, perhaps, Fr. Riccardo in the video above misspoke when he said that Jesus is not literally present in the Eucharist since CCC 1374 does not discount other types of presence?

Literally speaking, the Eucharist is Jesus. That is not symbollically speaking or figuratively speaking, but literally speaking “word for word” “really” “actually” as defined on the online dictionary.
Fr. John Riccardo said that if Jesus walked into the Church, He wouldn’t look like a Host. “We would be down on our knees”, he said. If we are in a Catholic Church, we should already be down on our knees because the Eucharist is literally Jesus.

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