Exercise Of The Will
In the Catholic Church, the Communion bread is fervently revered in view of the Church’s doctrine that, when bread and wine are consecrated during the Eucharistic celebration, they cease to be bread and wine and become the body and blood of Christ. The empirical appearances continue to exist unchanged, but the reality is changed by the power of the Holy Spirit, Who has been called down upon the bread and wine. The separate consecrations of the bread (known as the host) and of the wine symbolizes the separation of Jesus’ body from his blood at Calvary. However, since He has risen, the Church teaches that His Body and Blood are no longer actually separated. Where one is, the other must be. Therefore, although the priest (or other minister) says “The Body of Christ” when administering the host and “The Blood of Christ” when presenting the chalice, the communicant who receives either one receives Christ, whole and entire, body and blood, soul and divinity. This belief is succinctly summarised in St. Thomas Aquinas’ hymn, Adoro Te Devote.
The mysterious change of the reality of the bread and wine began to be called “transubstantiation” in the 11th century. The earliest known text in which the term appears is a sermon of 1079 by Gilbert of Savardin, Archbishop of Tours, (Patrologia Latina CLXXI 776). The first appearance of the term in a papal document was in the letter of Pope Innocent III Cum Marthae circa to John of Canterbury on 29 November 1202, then briefly in the decree Firmiter credimus of the Fourth Lateran Council (1215) and afterward in the book “Iamdudum” sent to the Armenians in the year 1341. An explanation utilizing Aristotle’s hylomorphic theory of reality did not appear until the thirteenth century, with Alexander of Hales (died 1245).
The actual moment of change is believed to be the priest’s liturgical recitation of the Words of Institution: “This is my Body …” and “This is the Chalice of my Blood …”.
At a celebration of the Eucharist at Lourdes, the chalice is shown to the people immediately after the consecration of the wine.
The Eucharist is a sacrifice in that it literally re-presents (in the sense of “makes present again”) the same and only sacrifice offered once for all on the cross. The sacrifice of Christ and the sacrifice of the Eucharist are one single sacrifice. Christ, of course, is not sacrificed again because the one sacrifice of the Cross was accomplished “once for all” and cannot be repeated. The Mass is a liturgical representation of a sacrifice that makes present what it represents through the action of God in an unbloody manner. The Eucharist is not merely a commemoration of Christ’s sacrifice on Golgotha: it also makes that sacrifice truly present. The priest and victim of the sacrifice are one and the same (Christ), with the difference that the Eucharist is offered in an unbloody manner.
The only ministers who can officiate at the Eucharist and consecrate the sacrament are ordained priests (either bishops or priestly presbyters) acting in the person of Christ (“in persona Christi”). In other words, the priest celebrant represents Christ Himself, who is the Head of the Church, and acts before God the Father in the name of the Catholic Church, always using “we” not “I” during the Eucharistic prayer . The matter used must be wheaten bread and grape wine; this is considered essential for validity.
Catholics may receive Holy Communion outside of Mass, normally only as the host. Consecrated hosts are kept in a tabernacle after the celebration of Mass and brought to the sick or dying during the week. A large consecrated host is sometimes displayed in a monstrance outside of Mass, to be the focus of prayer and Eucharistic adoration.
The Eucharistic celebration is seen as the foundation and the very centre of all Catholic devotion. One of the seven Sacraments, it is referred to as the Blessed Sacrament, and is taught to bestow grace upon the recipient, assisting with repentance and with the avoidance of venial sin. The “self-offering of the believer in union with Christ”, and the transformation of the believer into Christ which is implicit in the symnbolism, is understood as integral to the disposition needed for the fruitful reception of Communion. Reception of Communion and of the sacrament of Confession is a condition for receiving indulgences granted for some acts of piety.
For fear of desecration, the Eucharist may not be received by any in a state of mortal sin, nor (generally) by non-Catholics. However, in exceptional circumstances non-Catholic Christians who share the belief of the Catholic Church in the Eucharist are permitted to receive it.
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