The Catholic Church does not usually use the phrase, “real presence.” The Church uses the more specific term, transubstantiation.
This term literally means, “change in substance.”
The concept of “substance” is a philosophical idea. The Church does not offer a specific definition, but Catholic theologians universally accept the philosophical framework established by Aristotle (despite the fact that Aristotle was a pagan).
Aristotle recognized that physical objects have both “substance” and “attributes” (which he termed “accidents,” but the current meaning of this word suggests something else).
Thus, a chair has a substance (a “chair-ness”) and various attributes - it may be made of wood, or metal, or stone. It may be large or small, heavy or light, with wheels or not, and it might be white or black or any other color. Yet, we all know a “chair” when we see one. This “chair-ness” is the substance of the object.
Likewise, bread has a certain “bread-ness,” which is independent of its properties. Bread may be leaven or not, black or white, soft or hard, bland or savory, thick-crusted or thin-crusted - but it is still “bread.” This “bread-ness” is the substance of the bread.
The Church teaches that the substance of the bread (and wine) is changed into the Body (and Blood) of Our Lord. The attributes remain unchanged, so we are unable to perceive this change by any observation we might make.
David’s explanation of the Church’s position is right. However, this does not ‘explain it’. The Chucrh regards the real presence as a ‘mystery’ which as I understand it means it cannot be explained. Even the ‘explanation’ as far as it goes is open to question, not least on whether ‘substance’ or ‘bread-ness’ or ‘chair-ness’ as David puts it, is real, or simply a word used to describe the human practice of calling something by a name that suits for the purpose under discussion.
This is news to me. Real Presence is used by the Church and explains Christ’s actual presence in the Eucharist, body, blood, soul and divinity. Transubstantiation is not part of the faith, but rather a philosophical approach to explain the Real Presence. There have been many other attempt to explain how the Eucharist is the Body and Blood of Christ even though it retains the physical appearance of bread and wine. You don’t have to believe in Transubstantiation, but you have to believe in the Real Presence. In the East, because of a difference of philosophical thought, Transubstantiation is not part of the catechesis. But we believe that the bread and wine becomes Christ just the same.
Actually, the term “mystery” in Catholic parlance means something that we could not know unless God revealed it to us. The idea that the bread (and wine) undergo a change in substance is established doctrine (so it is a “mystery” that we know about). “Knowing” and “explaining” are two different things - which is why I was careful to point out that the Church does not offer an explanation, although the universal opinion of Catholic theologians accepts the Aristotelian philosophical framework.
Even the ‘explanation’ as far as it goes is open to question, not least on whether ‘substance’ or ‘bread-ness’ or ‘chair-ness’ as David puts it, is real, or simply a word used to describe the human practice of calling something by a name that suits for the purpose under discussion.
Yet, the concept of a “chair” is universal in human culture. Every culture throughout history knows what a “chair” is, though they might use a different word. Many objects might be used in the same manner as a chair (a stump, or a bench), but nobody calls these “chairs.”
We all know a “chair” when we see one. And this instinct is the same in every human culture - we all agree on this. Aristotle used this concept of universal acceptance in the presentation of his philosophy.
Real Presence is used by the Church and explains Christ’s actual presence in the Eucharist, body, blood, soul and divinity. Transubstantiation is not part of the faith, but rather a philosophical approach to explain the Real Presence.
When I spoke of the “Catholic Church,” I was referring to the various Churches (both Eastern and Western) who are in communion with Rome, and accept the teachings of the Council of Trent.
There are, of course, Churches which are rightfully called “Catholic” but are not in communion with Rome, and do not respect the authority of Trent (or several other Councils). I did not mean to include these Churches in my statement. These Churches do, indeed, commonly use the phrase “real presence,” as do a number of protestant churches (such as the Anglicans and Lutherans).
A great and wonderful CD, that really sheds light on the REAL PRESENCE of JESUS in the EUCHARIST Is called : JESUS AND THE JEWISH ROOTS OF THE EUCHARIST by DR BRANT PITRE…
In it he explains that the foreshadowing of the Passover ( in Egypt!) the Manna ( in the desert!) and the Bread of the Presence ( in the tabernacle!) were all foreshadowings of the everlasting covenant that Jesus instituted…
For instance… When you say OUR FATHER prayer… The original wording of GIVE US THIS DAY OUR DAILY BREAD, from the Greek translation, should be read as GIVE US THIS DAY OUR SUPERSUBSTANTIAL BREAD… Referring to the Manna in the desert… It is absolutely an amazing cd… You should check it out! May God bless you and ALL of your loved ones!
I once heard an explanation using a human being to describe transubstantiation in regards to accidence and substance.
A person has arms legs etc. If a person is missing an arm or a leg accidentally they only have 3 limbs but they are still substantially a person.
When a person dies whilst on the accidental level nothing changes they’re still made up of the same molecules and compounds they were right before they took their last breath. But the substance has changed. The soul has left the body.
It’s the same with the bread and wine nothing changes they’re the same molecules and compounds but substance has changed.
I maintain my position that transubstantiation is just a catechesis on the Real Presence. It is not by itself the doctrine. We can believe in the Real Presence without the use of transubstantiation to explain it.
In all of science, is there anything which depends on acceptance that things have ‘substance’ as well as ‘accidents’ or ‘attributes’? if not, might it not be wise to abandon this particular piece of ancient philosophy to explain an unexplainable belief?
Well, kinda. I did not include my example of a “chair” by coincidence.
Imagine that I give you a chair, while explaining that the legs are still missing, and that the seat back and armrest will perhaps be delivered soon; whatever I did give you, can I still call it a chair?"
[Gerard 'T Hooft, Noble Prize laureate in theoretical physics, as quoted in *“The Black Hole War”
1) Let us say that we have a piece of wood which is composed of the substance of wood (which is invisible in and of itself), upon which certain attributes are attached (which can be detected and quantified): hard, brown, dry, weighs a pound, etc.
2) The piece of wood is then incinerated.
3) Through the power of fire, there is a change in both substance and attributes: Wood becomes ash, and the attributes are transformed from brown to gray, from hard to soft, from the weight of one pound to less than an ounce, etc.
What the Catholic Church teaches in terms of transubstantiation is basically this…
1) Initially upon the altar is bread and wine. The bread has the substance of bread and its corresponding attributes (i.e., chewy, bland, dry, beige, etc.). Likewise, the wine has the substance of wine and its corresponding attributes (i.e., red or white, depending on what kind of wine is used, wet, sweet, etc.).
2) The priest then invokes the Holy Spirit and says the words of consecration.
3) Through the power of the Holy Spirit there is a chance in the substance of the bread and wine, and they become the substance of the glorified Body and Blood of Christ. However, unlike in the above example involving wood, fire and ash, there is no change in the attributes. Therefore, although the substance has changed, the Host still looks and tastes like bread, and what is drunk from the chalice still looks and tastes like wine (because we can see and taste attributes, but substance, in and of itself, is invisible and tasteless).
I realize that this is not a perfect example, and, due to the fact that what is being describes involves both a miracle and the nature of God (which only he can fully understand) I doubt if we can even have a perfect example. But despite its flaws I hope the example I’ve presented can be useful in explaining the basic idea behind the Doctrine of Transubstantiation.