Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Sunday Word

This Sunday we celebrate the great feast of transubstantiation. The Catholic Church teaches that in the Eucharist, that little wafer and that cup of wine really become the body and blood of Jesus Christ. I am sure you have met someone who finds this a bit hard to take?

It was in the Middle Ages that theologians tried to explain how Christ’s body and blood became present in the Eucharist. After a few theologians got it wrong, St. Thomas Aquinas came along and offered an explanation that became classic. In all change that we normally observe, St.Thomas teaches, appearances change, but deep down, the essence of a thing stays the same. For example: if, in a fit of mid-life crisis, a father traded his mini-van for a Ferrari, abandoned his wife and kids to be a tanned beach bum, bleached and spiked his hair, buffed up at the gym, and made a trip to the plastic surgeon, he would look a lot different. But for all his trouble, deep down he would still substantially be the same confused, middle-aged dude as when he started.

St. Thomas said the Eucharist is the one change we encounter that is exactly the opposite. The appearances of bread and wine stay the same, but the very essence of these realities, which can not be viewed by a microscope, is totally transformed. What starts as bread and wine becomes Christ’s body and blood. A handy word was coined to describe this unique change. Transformation of the “sub-stance”, what “stands under” the surface, came to be called “transubstantiation.”

The first two readings this weekend (from Exodus and Hebrews) focus our attention on a covenant made in blood. There is reference to the sacrifice of animals and to the new covenant made in the blood of Christ. The Gospel for this weekend is Mark's account of Jesus sending his disciples to prepare for the supper on the night before he died and the account of his words and actions at table on that holy night.