I have an interesting series of questions that are important to understand and will help us at Mass and the Eucharist specifically. To keep these Q & A’s short and understandable, I will break them up into several weeks. Here’s the first two:
Question: “Is the Eucharist only a symbol of Christ’s presence?”
Answer: No. All sacraments are symbols, but not only so. The word, “sacrament,” comes from the Latin, “sacramentum” which comes from the Greek, “mysterion.” Sacraments are outward signs, instituted by Christ, to give grace. How’s that for a Baltimore Catechism response, eh? But, sacraments, while symbolic, are different in that they point to themselves. In other words, they do what they symbolize. The baptismal water symbolizes washing, and does truly wash the recipient of their original sin. The Eucharist symbolizes food and truly feeds us with the presence of Christ. So, it is not technically accurate to say that the Eucharist is only a symbol. Rather it is more accurate to say it is symbolic and also, more importantly, substantial in that it contains or holds present that what it signs, that is Christ’s true presence. Christ is present in the Eucharist not just symbolically, but truly and substantially. Whew! I hope that wasn’t too geeky of an explanation.
Question: “Is it required to have both bread and wine present for the sacrifice of the Mass?”
Answer: Yes. The sacrifice at Mass requires both species to be present for consecration for Mass to be valid. It is essential to the completion of the sacrifice for both species to be consecrated. Remember Jesus command his Apostles to “do this in memory of me” (Luke 22:19). The “this” is the consecration of the bread and wine which would become Christ’s Body and Blood. The Council of Trent, again, responding to critics made this clear: “The Eucharistic presence of Christ begins at the moment of the consecration and endures as long as the Eucharistic species subsist. Christ is present whole and entire in each of the species and whole and entire in each of their parts, in such a way that the breaking of the bread does not divide Christ” (Session XIII, Canon III).
Hope this helps. Next week’s question: “Is it okay to just receive the Eucharist in the host or chalice?” Do you think you could answer this one? Return next week and find out.
Fr. William Holtzinger