Friday, June 1, 2012

Transmutation, Transubstantiation, what's your function?

St. Justin Martyr as portrayed by Chuck Norris
Today's Feast Day is in honor of Justin Martyr (b. 100). One of his accomplishments was his detailed description of the Holy Mass. In his explanation of the service, he also writes a bit of a treatise on the Eucharist:
And this food is called among us Εὐχαριστία [the Eucharist], of which no one is allowed to partake but the man who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins, and unto regeneration, and who is so living as Christ has enjoined. For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Saviour, having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh.
He uses the word "transmutation" where we now use the term "transubstantiation". Well, we should use the term but the state of catechetical teaching today is more like "iunnowhathappenedsomethingsomethingJesusbreadbam".

Thomas Aquinas (b.1225) would later address the difference between "transmutation" and "transubstantiation".
Nevertheless, since in this sacrament, after the change, something remains the same, namely, the accidents of the bread, as stated above (Article 5), some of these expressions may be admitted by way of similitude, namely, that "bread is the body of Christ," or, "bread will be the body of Christ," or "the body of Christ is made of bread"; provided that by the word "bread" is not understood the substance of bread, but in general "that which is contained under the species of bread," under which species there is first contained the substance of bread, and afterwards the body of Christ.
Ok, take an aspirin and come back.

St. Thomas Aquinas used doves for Q-tips.
What Thomas is saying is that the bread does not become the body of Christ in "form", that is, the Lord's body is not replaced or mutated into bread. Thomas says that which the bread gets its "breadliness" from is changed. That is, in substance. When Thomas talks of the form, he uses the term accident. He's not talking about tripping on a sidewalk or something like that. He's speaking of those things that physically define something. Bread, accidentally, is bready. It is made of dough, has a certain texture and taste. So on and so forth.
However, the form is not the substance. Substance is the foundational "being" of an object. Thomas says that while the accidents of the bread remain, that which makes it bread in substance is changed. Substantially it becomes Christ's body.

Now, take another aspirin and get a breath of fresh air.

The reason such an argument is important is to define our doctrine that Christ is really present in the Bread and Cup during Mass. While in the Western Church (basically during Thomas' time, most of Europe) writing and studying led credibility to the argument, much like providing a link to win an internet argument, in the East (more of the Greek influence) this wasn't that important. Does the Eastern Church believe in the Real Presence? Yes. Do they have volumes of books and letters on it? Not really. They even have a simple word for it: μεταβολή or, if you can't 'cipher it: "Change".

To muddy the waters further, sometimes popes, the Catechism of the Catholic Church and most priests, bishops and Catholics use the word "transformation" which would make Thomas go all trans-crazy! But since he's in Heaven, he's not going to worry about it. But the Thomists do:

When I consume bread in the ordinary way the substance of the bread is changed or transformed into my substance. Transformation in its original and natural sense signifies a change of form only, i.e. the same matter (understood philosophically as primary matter) remains under a different form. When I partake of the Eucharist I receive the human substance of Christ but in no way is there a transformation of Christ's body into my substance -there can be no transformation either of the substance of the bread into my substance, for the total substance of the bread has ceased to exist.
Dropping my neo-orthodoxy for a bit and slipping into my moustache, golf shirt and expensive sandals, let me be Fr. Groovy Joe for a bit.
So much transubstantiation happenin', we needed a bowl
The Church presents the Body and Blood of Christ as a truth. Make that a TRUTH. Big letters. It is one of the elements of our Catholic DNA. We believe in the REAL PRESENCE. Now, while I play "Strawberry Fields Forever" in the background and twirl my moustache, I assert that if you truly...TRULY..believe that the consecrated bread and wine is the REAL PRESENCE of Christ, then you are among the Faithful. If you have the scholastic chops and know what transubstantiation is, that's cool. Far out. But you don't have to believe in the term Transubstantiation. I'm polishing my putter as I say you are just as orthodox and right if you believe in the "change".

Now back to the black shirt and no moustache and being all uptight conservative. If you don't think deeply enough about it to believe in the change, then start from Justin. Read him. Click the link above...dang...way above.
And then come to believe. Because without thinking deeply about this mystery, you may as well turn in your Catholic card. Gotta have some deep thinking on it. Enough to be offended when someone makes fun of it or downplays it. Even if that person is a bishop or a DRE. Maybe especially.

Justin was persecuted too.