Several posts ago, I reserved the right to clarify my thoughts concerning “sacramental” versus “physical” presence. I recently came across something by Patrick Madrid in Envoy magazine that addresses this quite nicely.
“…that Christ is “sacramentally” present in the Holy Eucharist conforms to the specific language used by the Church over the centuries. The confusion arises here with the use of the word “physically.”
*The Council of Trent, in its precise theological teachings, avoided the use of the term “physically present.” (You won’t find the word “physical” used in any of the canons or decrees of Trent’s teachings on the Eucharist, though you will find “sacramental” used frequently.) Similarly, the Catechism also avoids using the term “physically present” to explain this dogma, relying instead on the classic terms “really,” “substantially,” and “sacramentally” present. The Catechism is relying on the theological vocabulary worked out by earlier councils and magisterial teachings — none of which employ the term “physical” to express Christ’s real presence in the Sacrament. *
*The terms “sacramentally and really present” do include the substance of Christ’s Body and Blood, though not the outward form and appearance of them (what the theologians call the “accidents” of His Body and Blood). These “physical” accidents, as we might call them, which we perceive with our senses, are those of the bread and wine, which were transubstantiated into the true and actual substance of the Body and Blood of Christ. *
*Whether Christ’s real presence in the Sacrament is “physical” depends on how we choose to define “physical,” since the Magisterium hasn’t defined this term for us as a way of speaking about the matter. Some orthodox Catholic writers have used the word in this regard, and if we use it in the popular sense of “material” or “corporeal,” then the Church does in fact affirm such a “physical” presence. On the other hand, if we define the term in such a way that we would argue against a “physical” presence, then we must make clear that in doing so we don’t mean to imply that the presence is merely “spiritual,” “symbolic,” or “psychological.” *
*Below are some representative citations to illustrate my point and Father Wilson’s use of terminology. *
**The Council of Trent: **
“On the real presence of our Lord Jesus Christ in the most holy sacrament of the Eucharist.
“In the first place, the holy Synod teaches, and openly and simply professes, that, in the august sacrament of the holy Eucharist, after the consecration of the bread and wine, our Lord Jesus Christ, true God and man, is truly, really, and substantially contained under the species of those sensible things. For neither are these things mutually repugnant, that our Savior Himself always sitteth at the right hand of the Father in heaven, according to the natural mode of existing, and that, nevertheless, He be, in many other places, sacramentally present to us in his own substance, by a manner of existing, which, though we can scarcely express it in words, yet can we, by the understanding illuminated by faith, conceive, . . . etc.” (Session 13, 1).
“CANON I. If any one denieth, that, in the sacrament of the most holy Eucharist, are contained truly, really, and substantially, the body and blood together with the soul and divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ, and consequently the whole Christ; but saith that He is only therein as in a sign, or in figure, or virtue; let him be anathema.”
“CANON VIII. If any one saith, that Christ, given in the Eucharist, is eaten spiritually only, and not also sacramentally and really; let him be anathema.”