Jesus took the loaves: and when he had given thanks, He distributed to them that were set down.--John vi. 11.
Introduction: The external sign in which every sacrament consists is twofold, namely, the matter, which is some sensible object; and the form, which is the words used by the minister. In the Holy Eucharist bread and wine constitute the matter, and the words of consecration the form of the sacrament. The same divine power which multiplied the loaves of today's Gospel also changes bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ in the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist.
I. The matter of the Eucharist, 1. The bread used for the Mass must of necessity be wheaten, and, in the Latin Church, unleavened. 2. The wine of the Eucharist must be pressed from the grape. According to a very ancient rite derived from the Apostles a little water is mingled with the wine. 3. Bread and wine are most suitable elements for the Holy Eucharist, because, (a) bread and wine, being very nourishing foods, are aptly suited to signify the spiritual nourishment which this Sacrament causes; (b) as bread and wine are naturally changed into our, flesh and blood, it is easy to see how by divine power they can be supernaturally changed into the body and blood of Christ; (c) as bread is made from many grains and wine from many grapes, bread and wine appropriately illustrate the unity of the faithful which this Sacrament effects through charity.
II. The form of the Holy Eucharist. 1. The form, or words of consecration of the bread are the words which Christ used at the Last Supper, namely, "This is my body." That these words express the real change of bread into the body of our Lord is clear from Scripture, from the Fathers and tradition, and from reason. 2. The form or words used in the consecration of the wine are the words that Christ pronounced over the chalice at the Last Supper, namely, "This is my blood." That these words, really express the change of wine into our Lord's blood is also clear from Scripture, tradition, and reason. 3. By reason of natural concomitance Christ whole and entire is present under each species.
III. The rites observed in administering Holy Communion I. Communion is administered to the faithful under the form of bread alone for many good reasons: (a) this is necessary to, avoid accidents and irreverence; (b) if the species of wine were preserved in the tabernacle it would corrupt; (c) to many persons wine is nauseating; (d) wine is extremely scarce in many countries; (e) Christ is just as much present under one species as under both. 2. The practice of the Church of giving Communion under one form is merely a matter of discipline, and can be changed if the Church so wishes. That this practice, however, is lawful is evident: (a) from the words of Christ, who made the same promises to those that eat only, as to those that both eat and drink (John vi. 52, 55, 58); (b) from the history of the early Church, for we know that in early times Communion under one form only was given to the faithful in their homes during persecutions, and likewise to prisoners, infants, and the sick. 3. To validly ordained clergy alone Christ gave the power of consecrating and administering the Holy Eucharist.
Lesson: 1. Admire the wisdom and power of Christ who chose such apt means to feed us with His body and blood. Let us imitate the multitude of today's Gospel who marvelled at the miracle they had witnessed. 2. The people in the Gospel wished to make Christ their King. Let us desire that He may come to us to reign over our souls in Holy Communion.
Catechism of the Council of Trent, Part II
The Matter of this Sacrament
To consecrate the Sacrament validly, to instruct the faithful in that of which it is the Symbol, and to kindle in their souls an ardent desire of possessing the invaluable treasure which it signifies, it is of vital importance that the pastor make himself acquainted with its matter. The matter of this Sacrament is twofold, consisting of wheaten bread, and of wine pressed from the grape, mixed with a little water. The first element, then (of the other we shall treat hereafter), is bread, as the Evangelists Matthew (Matt. xxvi. 26), Mark (Mark xiv. 22), and Luke (Luke xxii. 19) testify. Christ our Lord, say they, took bread into His hands, blessed, and brake it, saying, " THIS is MY BODY"; and according to St. John, He called Himself bread in these words: "I am the living bread which came down from heaven (John vi. 41)."
The Sacramental Bread is Wheaten
Since, however, there are different sorts of bread, composed of different materials, such as wheat, barley, pease; or made in different manners, such as leavened and unleavened, it is to be observed that with regard to the former the sacramental matter, according to the words of our Lord, should consist of wheaten bread; for when we simply say bread, we mean, according to common usage, "wheaten bread (St. Thomas, p. 3, q. 74)." This is also distinctly declared by a figure of the Holy Eucharist in the Old Testament: the Lord commanded that the loaves of proposition which prefigured this Sacrament should be made of "fine flour
(Lev. xxiv. 5)."
The Bread is also Unleavened
Since, therefore, wheaten bread alone is the proper matter of this Sacrament, a doctrine handed down by Apostolic tradition and confirmed by the authority of the Catholic Church, it may also be inferred from the circumstances in which the Eucharist was instituted, that this wheaten bread should be unleavened. It wasconsecrated and instituted by our Lord on the first day of unleavened bread, a time when the Jews were prohibited by the law to have leavened bread in their houses (Matt. xxvi. 17; Mark xiv. 12; Luke xxii. 7). Should the words of the Evangelist St. John, who says that all this was done before the Passover, be objected, the objection is one of easy solution. By the day before the Pasch (John xiii. 1), St. John understands the same day which the other Evangelists designate as "the first day of unleavened bread." He had for object, principally, to mark the natural day, which does not commence until sunrise; and the first natural day of the Pasch, therefore, being Friday, the day before the Pasch, means Thursday, on the evening of which the festival of unleavened bread began, and on which our Lord celebrated the Pasch and instituted the Holy Eucharist. Hence, St. Chrysostom understands the first day of unleavened bread to be the day on the evening of which the unleavened bread was to be eaten (In Matt. hom. 83). The peculiar propriety of the consecration of unleavened bread, to express that integrity and purity of heart with which the faithful should approach this Sacrament, we learn from these words of the Apostle: "Purge out the old leayen, that you may be a new paste, as you are unleavened. For Christ our Pasch is sacrificed. Therefore let us feast, not with the old leaven, not with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth (I Cor. v. 7, 8)."
Unleavened Bread not Essential
This property of the bread, however, is not to be considered so essential that its absence must render the Sacrament null. Both kinds, leavened and unleavened bread, are called by the common name, and have each the nature and properties of bread (C. of Florence, last session). No one, however, should on his own individual authority have the temerity to depart from the laudable rite observed in the Church to which he belongs; and such departure is the less warranted in priests of the Latin Church, commanded as they are by authority of the supreme Pontiff to celebrate the sacred mysteries with unleavened bread only (Lib. 2, decret. de celebr. miss. c. final). With regard to the first element of this Sacrament, this exposition will be found sufficiently comprehensive. We may, however, observe in addition, that the quantity of bread to be used is not determined, depending as it does upon the number of communicants, a matter which cannot be defined.
The Second Element is Wine of the Grape, Mingled with a Little Water
We come next to treat of the second element of this Sacrament, which forms part of its matter, and consists of wine pressed from the grape, mingled with a little water. That our Lord made use of wine in the institution of this Sacrament has been at all times the doctrine of the Catholic Church. He Himself said, "I will not drink from henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day (Matt. xxvi. 29; Mark xiv. 25)." On these words of our Lord, St. Chrysostom observes: " Of the fruit of the vine, which certainly produces wine, not water"; as if he had it in view, even at so early a period, to crush by the evidence of these words, the heresy which asserted that water alone is to be used in these mysteries (Hom. 83 in Matt.). With the wine used in the sacred mysteries, the Church of God, however, has always mingled water, because, as we know on the authority of councils and the testimony of St. Cyprian, our Lord Himself did so (Cyp. liv. 1, epist. 3; C. of Trent, sess. 22); and also because this admixture renews the recollection of the blood and water which issued from His sacred side. The word "water" we also find used in the Apocalypse to signify the people (Apoc. xvii. 15), and therefore water mixed with wine signifies the union of the faithful with Christ their head. This rite, derived from apostolic tradition, the Catholic Church has at all times observed. The propriety of mingling water with the wine rests, it is true, on authority so grave that to omit the practice would be to incur the guilt of mortal sin; however, its sole omission would be insufficient to render the Sacrament null. But care must be taken not only to mingle water with the wine, but also to mingle it in small quantity; for in the opinion of ecclesiastical writers the water is changed into wine. Hence, these words of Pope Honorius: "A pernicious abuse has prevailed for a long time among you, of using in the holy sacrifice a greater quantity of water than of wine; whereas in accordance with the rational practice of the Universal Church, the wine should be used in much greater quantity than the water (L. 3, Decretal, de cel. miss. c. 13)."
We have now treated of the two and only elements of this Sacrament; and although some dared to do otherwise, many decrees of the Church justly enact that no celebrant offer anything but bread and wine (See de consecr. dist. 2, cc. 1, 2, seq).
Peculiar Aptitude of these Elements
We now come to consider the aptitude of these two elements to declare those things of which they are the sensible signs. In the first place, they signify Christ, the true life of the world; for our Lord Himself has said: "My flesh is meat indeed: and my
blood is drink indeed (John vi. 56)." Since, therefore, the body of our Lord Jesus Christ nourishes to eternal life those who receive it with purity and holiness, with great propriety is this Sacrament composed principally of those elements which sustain life, thus giving the faithful to understand that the soul is nurtured with grace by a participation of the precious body and blood of Christ. These elements serve also to prove the dogma of the real presence. Seeing, as we do, that bread and wine are every day changed by the power of nature into human flesh and blood, we are, by the obvious analogy of the fact, the more readily induced to believe that the substance of the bread and wine is changed, by the celestial benediction, into the real body and blood of Christ (Damas. 1. 4, de fid. orthod. c. 14). This admirable change also contributes to illustrate what takes place in the soul. As the bread and wine, although invisibly, are really and substantially changed into the body and blood of Christ, so are we, although interiorly and invisibly, yet really, renewed to life, receiving in the Sacrament of the Eucharist the true life. Moreover, the body of the Church, although one and undivided, consists of the union of many members, and of this mysterious union nothing is more strikingly illustrative than bread and wine. Bread is made from many grains, wine is pressed from many grapes, and thus are we too, although many, closely united by this mysterious bond of union, and made as it were one body.
The Form to be used in the Consecration of the Bread is Proved from Scripture
The form to be used in the consecration of the bread we now come to explain; not, however, with a view that the faithful should be taught these mysteries unless necessity require it (a knowledge of them is obligatory on ecclesiastics alone), but to obviate the possibility of shameful mistakes on the part of the celebrant, through ignorance of the form. From the Evangelists Matthew and Luke, and also from the Apostle, we learn that the form of the Sacrament consists in these words: "THIS is MY BODY (Matt. xxvi. 26; Mark xiv. 22; Luke xxii. 19; I Cor. xi. 24)." We read that when they had supped, "Jesus took bread, and blessed, and brake, and gave to his disciples, and said: Take ye, and eat. THIS is MY BODY." And this form of consecration, made use of by Jesus Christ, has been uniformly and inviolably observed in the Catholic Church.
Proof from the Fathers and Councils
The testimonies of the Fathers in proof of the legitimacy of this form may be here omitted; to enumerate them would prove an endless task. The decree of the Council of Florence to the same effect, because of easy access to all, it is also unnecessary to cite. The necessity of every other proof is superseded by these words of the Saviour:
"Do this for a commemoration of me (Luke xxii. 19. In decret. de sacram.; C. of Trent, sess. 13, c. 1)." This command of our Lord embraces not only what He did, but also what He said; and especially did it refer to those words which He uttered not less for the purpose of effecting, than of signifying what they effected (See Amb. I. 4, de sacram. cc. 4, 5; Chrys. hom. de prodit. Judea; Aug. 1. 3, de Trinit. c. 4).
Proof from Reason
That these words constitute the form is easily proved from, reason alone. The form of a Sacrament is that which signified what is accomplished in the Sacrament. What is accomplished, in the Eucharist, that is, the conversion of the bread into the true body of our Lord, the words "This is my body" signify and declare; they therefore constitute the form. The words of the Evangelist, "He blessed," go to support this reasoning. They are equivalent to saying: "taking bread, he blessed it, saying, This is my body (Matt. xxvi. 26)."
The words, "take and eat," it is true, precede the words "This is my body," but they evidently express the use, not the consecration, of the matter, and cannot therefore constitute the form. They must, indeed, be pronounced by the priest, just as the conjunction "for" must be also pronounced in the consecration of the body and blood, but they are not essential to the validity of the Sacrament; otherwise it would follow that if the Sacrament were not to be administered to any one, it should not, or even could not, be consecrated, whereas, that the priest by pronouncing the words of our Lord, according to the institution and practice of the Church, truly consecrates the proper matter of the Sacrament, although it should afterwards happen never to be administered, admits not the least shadow of doubt.
The Form to be used in the Consecration of the Wine Proved from Scripture
The form of the consecration of the wine, the other element of this Sacrament, for the reasons assigned with regard to the bread, should be accurately known, and clearly understood by the priest. We are firmly to believe that the form of consecrating the chalice is comprehended in these words: "THIS is THE CHALICE OF MY
BLOOD OF THE NEW AND ETERNAL TESTAMENT: THE MYSTERY OF FAITH I WHICH SHALL BE SHED FOR YOU, AND FOR MANY TO THE
REMISSION OF SINS (Decretal. 1. 3, de celeb. miss. c. 6)," These words are for the most part taken from Scripture. Some of them, however, have been preserved in the Church by apostolic tradition. The words "This is the chalice" are taken from St. Luke (Luke xxii. 20), and are also mentioned by the Apostle (I Cor. xi. 25). The words that immediately follow, "of my blood," or "my blood of the new
testament, . . . which shall be shed for you, and for many to the remission of sins," are taken in part from St. Luke (Luke xxii. 20) and in part from St. Matthew (Matt. xxvi. 26). The words "and eternal," and also the words "the mystery of faith," have been transmitted to us by holy tradition, the interpreter and guardian of Catholic unity. Of the legitimacy of this form we cannot entertain a shadow of doubt if we attend to what has been already said of the form used in the consecration of the bread. The form to be used in the consecration of this element should, confessedly, consist of words signifying that the substance of the wine is changed into the blood of our Lord,--this the words already cited clearly declare,--and therefore they alone exclusively constitute the form.
Three Effects of the Blood of the Saviour
They also express certain admirable fruits produced by the blood of Christ, which was shed on Calvary--fruits which belong in a special manner to this Sacrament. Of these, one is admission into the eternal inheritance to which we have acquired a right by "the new and everlasting testament (Heb. x. 20; xiii. 20)." Another is admission to righteousness by "the mystery of faith," for "God hath proposed "Jesus" to be a propitiation through faith in His blood, to the showing of His justice, . . . that He Himself may be just, and the justifier of him, who is of the faith of Jesus Christ (Rom. iii. 25, 26)." A third is the remission of sin (Heb. ix. 12).
The Form of Consecrating the Wine Explained
But as the words of consecration are replete with mysteries and are most appropriate in their application to our present subject, they demand a more minute consideration. When, therefore, it is said, "This is the chalice of my blood (Decret. 1. 3, de cel. Miss. c. 8)," these words are to be understood to mean, "This is my blood which is contained in this chalice." The mention of "the chalice," at the moment of its consecration, to be the drink of the faithful, is peculiarly appropriate; without its mention as the vessel in which it is contained, the words, "This is my blood," would not seem sufficiently to designate this, supernatural species of drink. Next follow the words, "of the New Testament." These are added to give us to understand that the blood of the Saviour is not not now given figuratively, as in the Old Law, of which we read in the Apostle, that without blood a testament is not dedicated (Heb. ix. 15), but really and truly given, a prerogative peculiar to the New Testament. Hence the Apostle says, "Therefore He [Christ] is the mediator of the New Testament: that by means of His death, . . . they that are called may receive the promise of eternal inheritance (Heb. ix. 15)." The word "eternal" refers to the eternal inheritance, our title to which has been purchased by Christ the Lord, the eternal Testator. The words "mystery of faith," which are added, exclude not the reality, but signify that what lies concealed under the veil of mystery, and is far removed from the ken of mortal eye, is to be believed with the certainty of faith. Here, however, these words bear an import entirely different from that which they have when applied to Baptism. Here the mystery of faith consists in this, that we see by faith the blood of Christ, veiled under the species of wine; but Baptism is properly called by us "the Sacrament of faith," by the Greeks, "the mystery of faith," because it comprises the entire profession of the faith of Christ. There is also another reason why the blood of our Lord is called "the mystery of faith." In its belief human reason experiences the greatest difficulties, because faith proposes to us to believe that the Son of God, God and man, suffered death for our redemption, a death signified by the Sacrament of His blood. His passion, therefore, is more appropriately commemorated here in the words, "which shall be shed for the remission of sins," than at the consecration of His body. The separate consecration of the blood places before our eyes in more vivid colors His passion, crucifixion, and death.
The additional words, "for you and for many," are taken, some from St. Matthew (Matt. xxvi. 28), some from St. Luke (Luke xxii. 20), and under the guidance of the Spirit of God combined together by the Catholic Church. They serve emphatically to designate the fruit and advantages of His passion. Looking to the efficacy of the passion, we believe that the Redeemer shed His blood for the salvation of all men; but looking to the advantages which mankind derive from its efficacy, we find at once that they are not extended to the whole, but to a large proportion of the human race. When, therefore, our Lord said, "for you," He meant either those who were present, or those whom He had chosen from among the Jews, among whom were, with the exception of Judas, all His disciples with whom He then conversed; but when He adds, "for many," He would include the remainder of the elect from among the Jews and the Gentiles. With great propriety, therefore, were the words for all omitted, because here the fruit of the passion is alone spoken of, and to the elect only did His passion bring the fruit of salvation. This the words of the Apostle declare when he says, that Christ was offered once, to take away the sins of many (Heb. ix. 26); and the same truth is conveyed in these words of our Lord recorded by St. John: "I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for Them whom thou hast given me: because they are Thine (John xvii. 9)." The words of consecration also convey many other truths,--truths, however, which the pastor by the daily meditation and study of divine things, and aided by grace from above, will not find it difficult to discover.
The Sacrament to be received under both kinds by the officiating priest only, and why
As to the rite to be observed in the administration of this Sacrament, the pastor will teach that the law of the Church interdicts its administration under both kinds to any but to the officiating priest, unless by special permission of the Church. Christ, it is true, as has been explained by the Council of Trent (Sess. 21, De Communione sub utraque specie, can. 1, 2, 3), instituted and administered to His Apostles, at His last supper, this great Sacrament under Both kinds; but it does not follow of necessity that by doing so He established a law rendering its administration to the faithful under both species imperative. Speaking of this Sacrament He Himself frequently mentions it under one kind only. " If," says He, "any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever, and the bread that I will give is my flesh, for the life of the world," and "He that eateth this bread, shall live for ever (John vi. 52, 59)." The Church, no doubt, was influenced by numerous and cogent reasons, not only to approve, but to confirm by solemn decree the general practice of communicating under one species. In the first place, the greatest caution was necessary to avoid accident or indignity, which must become almost inevitable if the chalice were administered in a crowded assemblage.
In the next place, the Holy Eucharist should be at all times in readiness for the sick, and if the species of wine remained long unconsumed, it was to be feared that it might turn acid. Besides, there are many who cannot bear the taste or smell of wine. Lest, therefore, what is intended for the nutriment of the soul should prove noxious to the health of the body, the Church, in her wisdom, has sanctioned its administration under the species of bread alone. We may also observe that in many places wine is extremely scarce, nor can it be brought from distant countries without incurring very heavy expense and encountering very tedious and difficult journeys.
Finally (a circumstance which principally influenced the Church in establishing this practice), means were to be devised to crush the heresy which denied that Christ, whole and entire, is contained under either species, and asserted that the body is contained under the species of bread without the blood, and the blood under the species of wine without the body. This object was attained by communion under the species of bread alone, which places, as it were, sensibly before our eyes the truth of the Catholic faith. Those who have written expressly on this subject will, if it appear necessary, furnish the pastor with additional reasons for the practice of the Catholic Church in the administration of the Holy Eucharist.
Priests alone are the Ministers of the Eucharist
To omit nothing doctrinal on so important a subject, we now come to speak of the minister of the sacrament, a point, however, on which scarcely any one is ignorant. The pastor then will teach that to priests alone has been given power to consecrate and administer the Holy Eucharist. That the unvarying practice of the Church has also been that the faithful receive the Sacrament from the hand of the priest, and that the priest communicate himself, has been explained by the Council of Trent (Sess. 13, c. 10). The same holy Council has shown that this practice is always to be scrupulously adhered to, stamped, as it is, with the authoritative impress of Apostolic tradition, and sanctioned by the illustrious example of our Lord Himself, who with His own hands consecrated and gave to His disciples His most sacred body (Matt. xxvi. 26; Matt. xiv. 22).
The Laity are prohibited to Touch the Sacred Vessels, etc.
To safeguard as much as possible the dignity of this august Sacrament, not only is its administration confined exclusively to the priestly order, but the Church has also, by an express law, prohibited any but those who are consecrated to religion, unless in case of necessity, to touch the sacred vessels, the linen, or other immediate necessaries for consecration. Priests and people may hence learn what piety and holiness they should possess who consecrate, administer, or receive the Holy of Holies. The Eucharist, however, as was observed with regard to the other Sacraments, whether administered by holy or unholy hands, is equally, valid. It is of faith that the efficacy of the Sacraments does not depend on the merit of the minister, but on the virtue and power of our Lord Jesus Christ.
With regard to the Eucharist as a Sacrament, these are the principal points which demanded explanation.