Pope Paul VI wrote against transignification, saying:

"Nor is it allowable to discuss the mystery of transubstantiation without mentioning what the Council of Trent stated about the marvelous conversion of the whole substance of the bread into the Body and of the whole substance of the wine into the Blood of Christ, speaking rather only of what is called “transignification” and “transfiguration,” or finally to propose and act upon the opinion according to which, in the Consecrated Hosts which remain after the celebration of the sacrifice of the Mass, Christ Our Lord is no longer present. Everyone can see that the spread of these and similar opinions does great harm to the faith and devotion to the Divine Eucharist. "

So I understand it has been rejected by the Church. But what is transignification? Apparently some theologians believe it, not that this changes anything, because the Church teaches transubstantiation. I believe in transubstantiation also.

But what is transignification?
There’s a Wikipedia article but I’m not really understanding what it is saying.

Another question, - let’s say a priest believes in transignification… does this mean that he does not intend to consecrate the Eucharist and the Consecration does not occur? Or does it occur? (btw I don’t personally know any priests like this).

thanks! God bless

It would seem that this is the belief that Christ is only spiritually present in the Blessed Sacrament, yet the host remains mere bread from both a physical and metaphysical standpoint. This of course is manifest heresy!

And no a priests individual beliefs about the Real Presence has no effect on Transubstantiation, as long as he has the intention of “doing what the Church does”. It is assumed that he has this intention by the very fact that he approaching a Catholic altar to celebrate the Mass. During the Middle Ages there was a crisis, when disbelief of the Real Presence amongst the nobility forced into the clergy. The Holy See ruled that even in these cases the Masses were valid.

Hope this helps,

It helps to understand what “substance” really is. Bluntly, substance is what something IS. Examples help.

I just stole the Mona Lisa. I aslo happen to have a sci fi “replication” device that can make precise copies of things down to the atomic level. I made an exact copy with this device and replaced the copy in the Louvre before anybody knew it was gone (I’m pretty clever, eh?).

Are there now TWO Mona Lisas in the world? Of course not, just one and one perfect copy.

But now suppose I take a Sharpie marker and give ole Lisa a mustache and goatee. Since the original no longer matches historic descriptions and the fake in the Louvre does, is the Louvre version now the real Mona Lisa? No. The real one still IS the Mona Lisa, it’s just defaced now.

The replicator device can match the “accidents” of the Mona Lisa, but no man can duplicate the substance (OK, arguably Divinci could). There is only ONE Mona Lisa and it is gone forever if it is destroyed. It’s still the Mona Lisa even if the accidents no longer correspond to what art critics expect.

The Eucharist is the opposite. The accidents of the host don’t change, but the substance changes. It no longer IS a wheat and water matrix known as bread. After consecration, it IS Christ. It’s a miracle only God could ever perform. The atomic makeup may not be altered, but the true substance has.

First: transignification

Take apart the word. Trans and sign (leave out the -ification because it’s just there to make it a noun).

Trans means to go to something else or to change.

sign means a thing that points-to something else. A sign is not a symbol, but that’s a different topic.

So, simply put, transignification means a “change in the sign” that makes the sign point to something other than what it pointed toward before.

Let’s say that I have a greasy spoon diner. I want to attract customers. I get a board and paint on it so that it says “Eat at Joes” with an arrow pointing to the front door. Simple enough.

The sign is just a piece of wood with some paint. But it directs people toward the actual diner.

Now let’s say that everyone in town is on a diet. I close the diner and open a salad bar. I repaint the sign so it says “Rabbit food”.

That’s transignification put rather simply.

The medium of the sign is the same. It’s still a piece of wood with paint on it. But the sign now points to something different.

When we apply that to the Eucharist, transignification is a belief that the Eucharist is a sign that points to Christ. The idea is that the historic literal body of Christ is not present in the Church, but Christ is still personally present in Church. We might say “He is there in spirit.”

In transignification
Before the Mass, the bread is just bread. It “points to” bread.
After the consecration, the sign-value of the bread changes. Now, instead of “pointing to bread” it points to Christ. The bread hasn’t changed in any way. The only thing that has changed is that instead of making us think of bread, now the bread makes us think of Christ, or leads us toward Christ.

The point is that there is no actual change in the bread. It is exactly what it was before. It merely points toward something else.

It’s pretty obvious why the Church rejects this.

Second part: see this thread

Thank you for the replies! that really helps :slight_smile:

I am a little confused though about the statement that the Consecration would still be valid in this case, even if the priest does not believe in it… I read before that the priest must intend to consecrate the bread and wine? This seems like a contradictory statement to the (mentioned) ruling of the Holy See in the Middle Ages… If the Church teaches transubstantiation, and the priest doesn’t intend this, then why is he “intending to do what the Church does”?

Of course, it would be a good thing I suppose if the Masses said by such a priest would be valid… for the sake of the people who go to these Masses. :slight_smile: and again I am not at all implying there are many such priests, or among any that I’ve met.

I am going to take a crack at this, hopfully, if I am wrong someone will point it out. :wink:

If I understand your question correctly, you are asking that if a priest has no intention to confect the Eucharist, but still celebrates a public Mass, would those who receive Communion actually be getting the Body & Blood of Christ?

I would say YES. The people at the Mass are there in good faith, and believe that the priest is also, so the sins of the priest in this case, would not invalitde the Eucharist for the faithful who did not know he did not have the proper intention.

OK. Here’s what that means “the intention to do as the Church does.”

Take that very literally.

What the priest is saying/thinking might be explained as the priest saying “whatever it is that the Church intends at this Mass, that is what I intend to do, regardless of what I might believe or what I might be thinking. Even if I don’t understand it, my intention is to do whatever the Church considers to be a valid Mass.” It even means “even though I don’t believe in transubstantiation, I intend to do as the Church does.”

There is a difference between the “intention to consecrate” and the “intention to do as the Church does.” Every priest should have both intentions. Every priest should intend to consecrate and intend to do as the Church does.

When we say “intention to consecrate” we mean that he wants to cause the bread to become the Body. So if a priest is having a dinner conversation and speaks the words of the Last Supper, even though there is bread on the table, he doesn’t consecrate because he has no intention to do so. He’s only making conversation. The consecration isn’t magic.

It also means that if that intention is specifically lacking (or if the priest specifically intends not-to-consecrate) then the consecration doesn’t happen. Merely to illustrate the point, if the priest notices just before the consecration that there is an extra host accidentally left on the corporal he might have the intention not-to-consecrate it and that host would then not be consecrated. Of course, he should remove it, I’m only trying to give an example. If the priest is having altar boy practice and showing them when to ring the bells, he might go through the motions of consecrating (again, not a good idea, merely an illustration)–no intention means no consecration.

As long as the priest “intends to do as the Church does” the consecration happens even if the priest, at the moment of consecration, is distracted or otherwise not focused on what he’s doing. In other words, at the moment of the Institution Narrative, he is lacking in the “intention to consecrate” but overall, with regard to the entire Mass, he intends to “do as the Church does.” In that case, the bread and wine still become the Body and Blood.

Does that help or does it make things more confusing?

Thanks, Father!!
Makes perfect sense to me!! :thumbsup:

No. Good faith of the people or the otherwise doesn’t come into this. For a Valid Sacrament one must have the correct matter, form and intention, a priest that did not believe in transubstantiation would not have the correct intention and so his masses would be invalid. The teaching of the church on this matter is clear.

Of course if the priest intended to turn the bread and wine into the body and blood of christ to the exclusion of anything else but just didnt like the word ‘transubstantiation’ that would work.

That’s exactly why the Church says that the priest must have the “intention to do as the Church does.”

If the priest does not believe in transubstantiation, but DOES have the intention to do as the Church does, the consecration does indeed happen.

Thanks for the clarification Fr.

The only problem that could arise is if the priest subscribed to say consubstantiation, that I believe would not suffice as the eucharist would not then in a very real sense be just the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ but that AND bread and wine making things such as eucharistic adoration at least in part idolotary.

I think ultimately what is required is a belief in the real presence as understood by The Church, so long as this is present then the consecration is valid. But as transubstantiation is the understanding of the church, I’m having trouble envisaging a situation where a priest believed in the real presence as understood by the church but did not believe in transubstantiation.

Fr David, thank you for the reply! :slight_smile:

that helps me, I think I am just having trouble understanding how a priest could know that the Church teaches transubstantiation, not believe in transubstantiation himself, and yet still intend to do what the Church does. Maybe I have misunderstood? it makes sense to me if the priest is struggling with the teaching but still intends to be obedient to the Church. Is this the example that you gave? What if the priest knows the Church intends to do something else, but does not have the intention to be obedient?
There’s also another possible situation, if the priest perhaps believes that the Church teaching is transignification/consubstantiation/etc because of what some theologians might have said, even though Rome teaches otherwise… for example, if the priest believes that both views are acceptable.

thanks again!

No. You’re missing the whole point here.

As long as the priest has the “intention to do as the Church does” then the Eucharist is consecrated (everything else like matter and form being proper).

The intention to do as the Church does “trumps” the priest’s own individual lack of intention to actually transubstantiate. That may be the missing piece here. I think that’s the part you’re not seeing.

That’s what I’m trying to illustrate here. A priest who says to himself “I don’t actually believe in transubstantiation, so I don’t have the intention to do so, but I do have the intention to do as the Church does” The Church DOES believe in Transubstantiation and the Church does intend that the priest consecrate by Transubstantiation.

That’s exactly why I posted earlier that the words “intention to do as the Church does” must be taken quite literally. A priest thinks “I intend whatever the Church intends.”
Even if the priest does not understand it, and even if the priest denies Transubstantiation, so long as he sincerely intends to “do whatever the Church believes” then there is a valid consecration.

Think about it from the other viewpoint. If the priest sincerely has the “intention to do as the Church believes” then he has sufficient intention to consecrate, because the Church does intend transubstantiation. The Church never intends not-transubstantiation.


Remember this. Take those words “the intention to do as the Church does/believes” very literally.

Don’t try to substitute “the Church believes in Transubstantiation.” Just leave those words exactly as they are. The intention to do whatever the Church believes.

A priest who has the intention to do as the Church does is saying “whatever that is, whatever the Church believes, whatever the Church intends, THAT is what I intend.”

That’s the reason why the intention to do as the Church does is sufficient intention to consecrate.

Now, a priest who completely lacks the intention to do as the Church does, he would not be consecrating.


I wanted to thank you for you very good explanations in this thread, and also add an example to confirm what you wrote above.

The example is with Baptism. A Protestant minister who adamantly rejects the dogma that baptism washes away original sin, can nevertheless validly baptise. This shows that a personal heretical belief does not render the intention null.

As far as I know (and correct me if I am wrong), as long as the heretic uses the correct FORM (except for the Mormans, which is another story), the baptism is valid - even though he openly denies the effect produced by the Sacrament. That is an exact parallel with the Priest who denies transubstantiation offering a valid Mass.

First, what you say about baptism is certainly true.

But the situations of baptism and Eucharist are a bit different here. Yes, there are similarities but I don’t think we can take those similarities too far.

What’s happening here is that I cannot find the right way to explain “the intention to do as the Church does/believes.” I can see that people are having problems understanding it, but I can’t find the right way to explain it clearly.

I’m going to think on it a bit more and try to get back to this.

Would you say it is just a general intention to “say Mass”, or a general intention to “baptise”? as opposed to a Priest who is having a casual conversation at a restaurant and happens to use the words “this is my body” over his sandwich, in which case he would not have the general intention to “say Mass”?

I have always understood the intention to “do what the Church does” to be a very general intention. Since a heretical belief regarding the sacrament being confected does not render it invalid, it seems to me that this confirms that the intention necessary for validity is simply to “say Mass” or “baptise”. Any thoughts?

Yes. A priest who says the words over a sandwich isn’t consecrating–consecration isn’t magical, so it’s not merely an issue of “saying the right words” He has to intend to consecrate.

I have always understood the intention to “do what the Church does” to be a very general intention. Since a heretical belief regarding the sacrament being confected does not render it invalid, it seems to me that this confirms that the intention necessary for validity is simply to “say Mass” or “baptise”. Any thoughts?

Not exactly. It’s not just an “intention to say Mass” as that is not quite sufficient. it’s an intention to “do as the Church does/believes” An intention to “say Mass” might mean anything. The key here is that the priest intends to do what the Church believes. I know I keep repeating it, but it’s truly necessary.

It’s the intention to do as the Church does/believes.
That is the precise intention that the priest needs to have. Don’t insert any other words in there. Don’t try to substitute anything else, or to add anything else.

It is precisely the intention to do as the Church does/believes.

The only words we can substitute is to say “as the Church intends” or “as the Church wants” etc. Yes, we can phrase it differently, but if we say anything else that alters the meaning like “intend to transubstantiate” or “intend to say Mass” then it’s something different. It might very well be true, but it would be something different.


After thinking about this, I think I realize what’s missing here.

People are absolutely right in saying that the priest must have the intention to consecrate. This is a very basic piece of Eucharistic theology, and when people hear something to the effect that the priest “does not need the intention to affect Transubstantiation” naturally that send up caution flags.

The “intention to do as the Church does” includes the intention to consecrate by Transubstantiation. The point behind it is that it includes everything that the Church believes and professes to be true with regard to the Eucharist. It’s like having a whole set of encyclopedias instead of just having volume A or volumes A through H. It includes everything.

An individual priest can be lacking in a certain intention toward the Eucharist–and remember that “lacking” the intention is not the same thing as “having the intention not-to.”

The intention to “do as the Church does” makes up for what is lacking in the priest’s own intentions. Note the word “lacking” here. A missing intention is not the same as an intention not-to-do. I have to stress that.

A priest who does not believe in transubstantiation does not have the actual intention to consecrate. However, because he does (if indeed he does) have the intention to do what the Church believes, has the virtual intention to transubstantiation; because that part (transubstantiation) is included in the whole (what the Church believes). Since the priest has the whole intention, he necessarily has every part-of-the-whole.

That’s why the intention says what it says. It is a intention to do as the Church does or to do as the Church believes. It is intentionally left open because precisely what the Church believes and intends with regard to the Eucharist remains a mystery beyond our human intellect. No priest can ever say that he believes and intends everything and articulate just what that everything means–no human being can.

Does that help?

Thank you Father. It may also be useful to remind people that the priest, when celebrating the sacraments, never acts on his own accord. The priest acts both “in the person of Christ” and as a representative of the bishop, and where the bishop is, there is the Catholic Church (to paraphrase St. Ignatius of Antioch). It is Christ and the Church, acting through the priest, who says “This is my body” and “This is my blood”, so the intention of Christ and His Church supplies whatever is lacking in the intention of the individual priest. The Church, as an extension of the Incarnation, and thus Her ordained ministers, act for, in, and with Christ. The sacraments are thus not dependent upon the faith, holiness, or understanding of the individual minister.

That being said, I’ve always struggled with the Church’s general acceptance of evangelical Protestant baptisms. As a former Evangelical myself, I can assure you that we did not, in any conscious sense, intend to baptize as the Church baptizes…in fact, most evangelicals explicitly reject the sacramental character of baptism. For Evangelicals, baptism is a mere external symbol of an internal reality that has already taken place…it affects nothing in the ontological sense. I can understand how the intention of the Church suffices for the deficiencies of an ordained minister in communion with a Catholic bishop and the Pope of Rome, but how does this work for those who have removed themselves from the Church? When I was baptized in an Evangelical Mennonite church years ago, if someone had asked me or the minister “do you intend to baptize as the Catholic Church does?” we would have both said “no…this baptism is completely distinct from the Catholic Church’s baptism, which is heresy…” …in fact any Evangelical church I know would rebaptize Catholics simply because Catholic baptism is seen as a completely separate animal…
(For the record I was conditionally baptized prior to my confirmation…)

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