Transubstantiation question

Recently, a Bible study on the Gospel of John covered John 6. In discussing the Bread of Life and the Eucharist, I was explaining Catholic teaching, and seeking some of the simplest approaches. Without getting into it all, I wanted to run one of those by the community.

Can it be said that, in the Eucharist, the Bread and Wine become Jesus in the same way that the Divine Son became Man in the Incarnation?

That is, Jesus’s human body was in all physical appearances (accidents), human. Any scientific examination would have found no difference between his physical body and any other person’s (with the possible exception of a Y chromosome without earthly paternal origin–though this is a digression :slight_smile: ). You wouldn’t be able to detect his Divinity, just as you can’t detect a human soul with scientific instruments.

In the same way, the Eucharistic Bread and Wine retain the physical accidents of Christ just as his human body did. Yet united to it is Jesus’s very identity, his soul and Divinity.

Another way of putting it might be that just as Jesus could Incarnate as a human, so too can he take the form of bread and wine.

The main distinction I’d make here is that in the Incarnation, Jesus took on human nature, unifying that nature with God’s. He does NOT take on “bread nature” (or substance) in the Eucharist, but does take over its nature/substance with his own.

Is this a sufficient explanation? Is it deficient in major ways (hopefully not misleading)?

I have long seen the connection between the Incarnation and the Eucharist and the Church (as Body of Christ). It seems to me that they all work similarly. And that almost all arguments used to deny Christ in the transubstantiated Eucharist would apply equally to deny the Incarnation, and also the Church as the Body of Christ (as well as arguments used to deny the Divine Institution of the Church and the union of Jesus with his Church).

I would have a few qualms with this way of putting it. I’m not sure what you mean by “he does take over its nature/substance with his own.”

Jesus does not take on the form of the bread or wine. He is fully present under the appearances of bread and wine. Those appearances do not inhere in Jesus. He does not ‘become’ a small round wafer. Rather, Jesus is present fully–body, blood, soul, and divinity, in his entire human body and soul and divine nature, under the appearances of bread and wine.

Biggest problem I see is confusion you could cause. Jesus did not take on the accidents of a man. He became a real man. This was a huge fight and heresy in the early Church where some denied that He was really a man.

I do think your point about if He can incarnate as a man, He can certainly provide His Body and Blood under the appearances of bread and wine.

I think it is problematic for at least two reasons:

  1. Christ’s physical body is not merely the accidents of a human body; it is fully a human body with substance and accidents. And Christ is not “really his soul and divinity”; he is fully God and fully man. To be fully man means to be, not a soul in a body, but soul *and *body.

  2. The relationship between the Word and the sacred humanity of our Lord is a hypostatic union, with all that entails (and doesn’t entail). I don’t think it is correct to say that the relationship between our Incarnate Lord and the species of bread and wine is the same kind of union. The sacrament is temporary, whereas his human nature is permanent. The sacred species retain the accidents only, whereas his sacred humanity retains its substance (see #1). The sacred humanity has a rational nature; the sacred species do not, and so on.

Unless you are an expert in Catholic Theology it would be better not to try and draw analogies. First cover the Real Presence as it is presented in the Catechism. Then you can say that the Second Person assumed a complete human nature ( body and soul ) in the Incarnation. And if he can do that and if he can create the universe out of nothing, he can surely change substances of bread and wine into his glorified body and blood, leaving the " appearances " of bread and wine inhering in no substance or subject.

You know, all the Apostles had was God’s word. They didn’t have the expanded explanation we have available in the Catechism. It was enough for them that God said it. And that really should be sufficient for us as well.


I was trying to qualify to exclude the concern you had :). That is, while Jesus became man, the Divine Son taking on human nature in the hypostatic union, he does not, as you rightly pointed out, “become a small round wafer.” He doesn’t take on the nature of the bread like he took on the nature of man. But he does take physical presence in the bread.

I guess what I’m hoping to be able to point out to people who have a problem with transubstantiation is that, hey, look, Jesus took on physical presence as a man–and you wouldn’t have been able to detect his divinity from examination of his (pre-glorification) human body.

So, too, with the Eucharist. He set the precedent with the Incarnation that he can do it. He becomes physically present, though he yet appears as bread and wine. Instead of having us consume his human, material flesh and blood, though, he uses the bread and wine.

Ad Orientem and zz912, I was trying to start from a position of taking the Incarnation and hypostatic union as a given. Working with people who readily accept God as fully man and fully God. So I don’t think the explanation would threaten that understanding.

I do see the concern that drawing too close a parallel would be to also say that Jesus is “fully bread and fully God.” So I want to avoid that.

I think the hurdle that I’ve often encountered with trying to help people understand transubstantiation (and when I struggled myself) is first to show how it is possible, how there is a precedent of something like it that you already accept wholeheartedly–the Incarnation.

Once you establish that, you can then qualify it. You can say, “God became man, so He can also become bread. But while He really became one of us in Jesus, it is actually less radical of a thought to say that He chooses now to become present to us in bread.”

He’s not making bread divine. He’s just appearing physically in that form. – the problem I have with stating it like this is that it sounds Gnostic, and like a capitulation that could be carried forward to dilute the hypostatic union into a human shell for a divine person. Trying to avoid that, too.

Linusthe2nd In today’s culture, people struggle with having the faith of the Apostles and want explanations. And yet many are not sufficiently formed in their philosophical thinking to understand substance vs. accident. It took me a while to get there–and it was a series of analogies that helped me most to understand.

People want to know how we can look at a host and say, “That’s Jesus,” and address it with “Jesus, I adore you,” while it still appears to be bread. The first step of my answer is to say that it would be correct to do the same with Jesus standing before you, though he appears as a man like any other; only with eyes of faith do we see his divinity.

And if he could appear to us as man, why not bread? It is greater to become man, for he united himself with us. It is by becoming food that he lets us take himself into us and in-corp-orate (corp=body) us into himself.

But “physical presence in the bread,” would have to mean “the appearances of bread,” since it is only the appearances of bread that remain, while the substance of the bread is gone.

Not only that, but these appearances of bread–that which is perceptible to the senses–do not inhere in Jesus. He does not ‘take them on.’ The appearances of bread–after the consecration–inhere in neither Jesus nor in bread. But Jesus is present under those appearances.

[quote=Arandur]People want to know how we can look at a host and say, “That’s Jesus,” and address it with “Jesus, I adore you,” while it still appears to be bread. The first step of my answer is to say that it would be correct to do the same with Jesus standing before you, though he appears as a man like any other; only with eyes of faith do we see his divinity.

And if he could appear to us as man, why not bread? It is greater to become man, for he united himself with us. It is by becoming food that he lets us take himself into us and in-corp-orate (corp=body) us into himself.

I actually think you’re on the right track overall with this. Aquinas made a similar comparison in one of his eucharistic hymns.

On the Cross lay hidden only thy Deity,
Here [in the Eucharist] is hidden also Thy Humanity.

So I think you certainly could make a comparison between the Incarnation and the Eucharist to show how we can’t judge only by our senses. As long as you make sure you explain to your listeners how they are not exactly the same.

Bread does not have a soul. I agree with your POV wholeheartedly. I believe that the presence of a human soul adfixed to matter ipso facto produces a human being, regardless of the form that matter may appear to be in.

Jesus is there Body and Blood because that is the ultimate potentiallity and expression of of the Human soul in matter.

It is the Glory of God that is inhibiting the normall expression of the outward characteristics.

I do not see where the accidents of the Body and Blood are present, only the potentiality of the soul behind the observable accidents.


I agree with this. I simply understand the real presence very much in light of what happened at the Last Supper, let’s say Luke 22.

And taking bread, he gave thanks, and brake; and gave to them, saying: This is my body, which is given for you. Do this for a commemoration of me.

The original poster, Arandur said this:

Can it be said that, in the Eucharist, the Bread and Wine become Jesus in the same way that the Divine Son became Man in the Incarnation?

I’d never thought of this but I think this is a very good reflection at the least.

It is interesting that John 6 deals with the Multiplication of the Loaves as far as that goes.

Recent thoughts:
Two bodies, requiring local space, cannot occupy the same space or any part of the same space, but must move to a different space if the first body is in the original space.
So, the body of Christ can’t be in a space in which the body of bread is locally, since both require physical space. However, if the body of bread is suddenly not bread but the body of Christ, again you only have one body occupying physical space.
But what of one body being in multiple spaces. Christ’s body is risen, and ascended to Heaven, continuing to occupy space, some space in heaven. How, can his body be said to be the Eucharistic Host? How can his body occupy space on multiple altars simultaneously around the world, and also be complete in Heaven?
If he is in heaven, is it possible that each piece of the host from the moment of consecration is somehow “in Heaven”, somehow being the body that is in Heaven?
How was it at the last supper? Jesus was holding the bread in his hands and giving it to them. So, his body was holding the bread, and his voice was heard to say this in my hands is my body. How could his body there be “two bodies”, spatially visible in two adjacent locations in space? And, also, his body holding the Host had blood in it, yet the bread did not. Moments later he took the chalice and gave it to them to drink, declaring it to be his blood, a separate Host. Indeed a sacrifice, for body and blood were not united but separated from each other as happens when a sacrifice is performed. So, what happened there?
How did he have two bodies spatially separate and two bloods, one in his veins, one in a chalice?
On the cross we know his blood drained from his body. And we also know that no one came and began consuming the flesh nor collected and drank the blood.
So, somehow the Host (sacramentally) becomes body, with a chalice of wine become blood (sacramentally) sitting next to it, just as Jesus dead on the cross was a body with blood drained from it onto the ground in a large pool (again, as happens with a sacrifice).
A person can offer another person something to eat and drink. And he names what he is giving them to eat and drink. The person eating and drinking consumes and sips the named food and beverage, believing it to be what the giver named it. The giver could tell the truth or he could lie about what he was offering. If the giver is not a liar, nor unaware of what is being offered, the receiver is indeed eating and drinking the material as named by the offerer, and not eating and drinking some other substances.
Somehow it has to be that the species, participates the other body. The bread so participates his body that it is his body, and likewise the wine. Or is he saying, “when you are looking for me, don’t look for these hands, this torso, this face and head, but here, what is given to you, find me here, for ‘This is my body’”?
In a way, this would indicate a requirement of “obedience” to him, both materially and intellectually (in the soul), turning from looking at his eyes / mouth / hands / voice to looking at the Host and Chalice.

Substance - I believe that is a term for something intelligible - Each grain of salt is “Salt”, not a part of salt but the fullness of salt. I think we do not understand the word “substance”: Philosophy calls it “The essential nature underlying phenomena, which is subject to changes and accidents”.
When we see an object, its image is in our conscious thought. Usually it all happens so quickly that we cannot dissect the process, but we recognize “what it is” so far as “substance” goes - or, rather, we associate this individual object to a “substance” we know about. But what is the process. The image : an attempt to associate that image in a category or with a substance : then output of speech or thought-“This is [SubstanceName]”. But sometimes we can find no match and so we ask -"What is it?” Someone else may declare the SubstanceName to us: “This is Yogurt”. Then, seeing it, tasting it, we understand a new substance: “Yogurt”.
If we were Jews at Jesus’ day, members of the Covenant of Sinai, and someone said to us at Passover, “This is the lamb sacrificed”, we would know what to do with it - eat it and thereby complete the sacrificial rite (it was sacrificed to God who commanded us to eat it as our part of the covenant). Its substance is not just lamb like I ate on Tuesday, but its substance is sacrificed victim that I will eat tonight at Passover. In transubstantiation, where is the change of substance? Is it in the understanding? Our “natural” association process, without the external definition of substance, says upon seeing the host and chalice, “this is bread, this is wine”. Countering this natural association comes an external claim: “This is my body / this is the cup of my blood of the new covenant.” To this, if Jesus is our King, we would rightly then think: “Oh, then I must eat it and drink, since I am in this covenant people”. Substance has to do with intelligibility. Otherwise we would be like the beasts, who treat every individual item individually, never realizing essential nature. The beast at most remembers this appearance is desirable, tasty; this appearance is not desirable, not tasty. Only the human decides to eat something because of its understood substance.
At Mass, if we eat the substance identified by our reason (if we eat “bread and wine”), we are setting our reason above the One who says, “This is my body / blood”. One place that transubstantiation happens is in the soul - the understanding of “what is this” (the “whatness”) we are eating and drinking. As we approach the priest, we might think: “What is this you are about to hand me to eat?” and the priest is then heard to say, “The body of Christ”, and then we say in response, “Amen (, so it is, so I shall eat)”.

John Martin

A few years ago, I did research into Transubstantiation. What is interesting and might make it easier to understand is that some other Christian Faiths have similar concepts but it is not exactly like the Catholic view. I found some real good webpages on the topic, for now this will have to suffice (I also don’t vouch for the wikipedia write ups, it merely is a start, they can be at fault as well):


It holds that during the sacrament, the fundamental “substance” of the body and blood of Christ are present alongside the substance of the bread and wine, which remain present.

Sacramental Union: Lutherans


Thanks for the links, Path_Finder. From them I found Impanation, which, while not what I was trying to convey, seems to use phraseology very similar. Thus, I can see where my phrasing would be problematic.

It’s tempting to call the mere appearance of bread and wine simply a “veil” or shell for the substance of Christ behind it or contained in it, but that phrasing, too, sounds problematic. Sounds Gnostic to me, too, and conjures up concerns about it seeming like God remains behind a veil like the veil in the Holy of Holies – when the Eucharist is the opposite, God remaining and being and joining with us physically and directly, unveiled. So I don’t want to use those words to qualify the explanation, either.

I maintain that my original statement could be a good starting point, but must be followed by explanation of difference. Jesus is not made into bread (which would be impanation). Bread is made into Jesus (transubstantiation). Jesus is not present along with bread (consubstantiation), but bread is not really present anymore, only Jesus.

Problem is, I think this is going to confuse most people who doubt and seek understanding, struggling to see just with eyes of faith. Who are just going to hear that and say, “so why does it still look and feel and taste like bread if bread isn’t there anymore?” And I can’t say that I blame them, because it can sound like a lie.

So I’ll kick the question back to you all:
What do you all think are some good, simple ways of explaining what transubstantiation actually means, hopefully overcoming the tendency to just say, "but it still looks and feels and tastes like bread, so how can it not still be bread in some fashion?"

I think you are on safe ground with this point. We have four Gospels detailing how people didn’t perceive His divinity when He was walking among them. So it is the similar with the Eucharist. We don’t perceive the divinity right before us.

I also use as an example the case of identical twins. Bob and Bill look the same. They have the same hair color, eye color, height, weight, face, body, way of speaking, and their voices sound the same. To our perception, they are identical. And yet, is Bob, Bill? And is Bill, Bob? Nope. And althought Bob looks, sounds, smells, feels, like Bill, he is NOT Bill. The essense, or substance of Bob is NOT Bill.

I would just note that appearances ARE how it looks and feels and tastes. Appearances are those things which our senses can perceive. And for everything we encounter, all we can perceive are appearances. We can never get at the substance of a thing, because the substance won’t fit into our senses, and sense perception is how we know. So of course, if the appearance remain, the bread seems unchanged.

Sounds to me as thought there are a number of issues about the Eucharist.

Understanding Accidents and substance of Body and Bread.
The Eucharist being the human Body with human accidents.
The whole real Body present in many locations at one time.
The sacrificial blood separate from the body on the altar at/after consecration.
And more.

Of course the simple way is to say “my Lord and my God” as did Thomas.

For myself in trying to think thru looking at the Eucharist at the elevation of the Mass, I don’t see Jesus with my eyes. What I see is nothing more than bread, white and round, and I don’t try to see anything more than that. It becomes very easy to see bread and that is all.

But…I know that “veiled” under is the presence of the divine Lord in his body. I therefore don’t try to see anything with my eyes, but just realize with my mind that his divine body is there. For me that removes all the strain of trying to see something that just plain isn’t there for me to see.

I believe part of this straining to see Jesus in the Eucharist with our eyes may come from some of the saints who did see him in various images in the accidents of bread. And so maybe without thinking about it we try to do the same thing. However we aren’t gifted with special graces that this requires.

And I don’t feel any uneasiness for the word “veiled” just because this was used by the Gnostics for the incarnated body of Jesus used for hiding God, which meant he was not God/man, but God just inside a body. Which is not the same thing with the Eucharist at all for the bread part is not him at all but he is present, “veiled” or hidden where the bread part is.

May God our Father give you grace and peace.

This is more than most people seem to have time, learning, and discipline to really want to understand, and actually isn’t required or explicitly endorsed by the Council of Trent, so it’s not necessarily even the primary explanation.

The Eucharist being the human Body with human accidents.

It doesn’t have human accidents. It has human and divine substance, and accidents of bread and wine.

The whole real Body present in many locations at one time.

I’ve never understood why people get hung up over Jesus being multiplied in the loaves and divided in the breaking to give to all. That’s what all the miracles of loaves and loaves and fishes were about. Jesus was pretty direct about those being Eucharistic miracles, foreshadowing what He would do in the Eucharist. Why is it a problem to think that Jesus multiplies Himself to be present on every altar and in every host and chalice to be received by every person–even with much left over to repose in the tabernacle?

After all, He does this with the Church, where we are all members incorporated (through our Baptism and then ever-more-closely through the Eucharist) into His Body.

The sacrificial blood separate from the body on the altar at/after consecration.
And more.

I get your point from earlier that the wine can be seen as a manifestation of sacrificial blood spilled from the lamb as it is sacrificed. However, the language of “separation” you use pricks me every time to recall that the Church teaches (and Eucharistic miracles bear out) that the sacred Blood remains unified in the Body, as in a living being (since Christ is alive). That is why we can receive only the Bread and still be receiving the full Eucharist; both signs are a fuller representation, but Jesus is present whole and entire, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity in EACH specie. The blood remains in the Host of bread; it is not wholly separate, as in a dead thing.

The Gnostic “veil” arguments still bother me. I’m still thinking on them.

Originally Posted by Aradur
It doesn’t have human accidents. It has human and divine substance, and accidents of bread and wine.

St. Thomas does say that the Eucharist does have all the accidents of Christ, it is just that you don’t see them. I had the passage where he says that, but I lost it. He maintains that the whole and entire Christ is there. Only the quantity accident is different in that it isn’t three dimensenal because in each and every particle of the Eucharist is the whole Christ.

But aside from this, the other four things I listed were ideas that need a separate thread, and that’s all I intended to say by listing them. That is, there is so many things about the Eucharist that it may be a bit confusing by mixing all the topics together.

You mentioned that Christ is entirely present in Eucharist and in the Precious Blood, and that one equals all that the other is, “Jesus is present whole and entire, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity in EACH specie.” Then why did Jesus change the wine into his blood if the Eucharist contains the blood? He gave us both. There is a reason. By saying one is equal to the other then that just gives the impression that one of them is enough and the other serves no purpose. And this is precisely what I was pointing out. There is a reason…so often missed, which would help if understood.

Anyway, there are many different ways of understanding or explanations to this whole subject which if better grasped would deepen our faith and love. At least for me it has been a very worthwhile exploration, and the one most exciting of all.

May God our Father give you grace and peace.

Although “the multiplication of the loaves … prefigure the superabundance of this unique bread of his Eucharist” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1335), I’m not sure your understanding of “Jesus being multiplied in the loaves” is entirely in accord with the Church’s understanding.

From Pope Paul VI’s 1968 Credo of the People of God:
The unique and indivisible existence of the Lord glorious in heaven is not multiplied, but is rendered present by the sacrament in the many places on earth where Mass is celebrated. And this existence remains present, after the sacrifice, in the Blessed Sacrament which is, in the tabernacle, the living heart of each of our churches. And it is our very sweet duty to honor and adore in the blessed Host which our eyes see, the Incarnate Word whom they cannot see, and who, without leaving heaven, is made present before us.

If I understand the pope’s words correctly, Jesus himself is not multiplied at Mass but rather direct access to his presence is multiplied, as if each crumb of consecrated bread and each drop of consecrated wine becomes, as it were, a doorway straight into the presence of the Lord glorious in heaven.

I may have stated it poorly, but I my understanding is certainly the same.

I did not mean to say that Christ was multiplied, as if he suddenly had millions of different bodies, one for each Host, in just the same way that the multiplication of loaves created more actual loaves of bread.

I also did not mean to suggest that Christ present in the Eucharist is departed from Heaven. Rather, through each Host is made present the ONE Christ, who is at once present to us on earth while still present before the Father in Heaven.

This has been so instinctual and obvious to me that I have had trouble comprehending how anyone might perceive differently, even with imprecise language. To me, it has been tough to understand what people even mean when they say they think this is a matter of many Christs, or parts of Christ being split (and there being not enough to go around), or that Jesus is somehow taken out of heaven.

The Eucharist is simply the One Christ, present to us all, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. He, as God, transcends space and time. (There is of course a time aspect to this also, as this sacrifice is joined to Christ’s sacrifice at the Cross.)

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