Is Jesus Locally Present in the Eucharist?

Saint Robert Bellarmine maintains that our Lord can be locally present here on earth, in the Eucharist, even though He is also present in Heaven. He teaches that a body can be in two places at once. So, in the Sacrament of the Eucharist, that very same body, which died on the Cross and rose again and ascended to Heaven, is also locally present under the accidents of bread.

But even if one thinks that neither body, nor soul can be in more than one place at the same time, as concerns the power of nature, our faith in the infinite supernatural power of God implies that this type of multi-location can occur, miraculously. For nothing is impossible to God. To claim that God cannot miraculously cause the body and soul of Christ to be present in more than one location is an astounding and faithless rejection of the omnipotence of God.

Our faith in the almighty power of God is aptly expressed in the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

268 Of all the divine attributes, only God’s omnipotence is named in the Creed: to confess this power has great bearing on our lives. We believe that his might is universal, for God who created everything also rules everything and can do everything.

273 Only faith can embrace the mysterious ways of God’s almighty power….

274 “Nothing is more apt to confirm our faith and hope than holding it fixed in our minds that nothing is impossible with God….”

278 If we do not believe that God’s love is almighty, how can we believe that the Father could create us, the Son redeem us and the Holy Spirit sanctify us?

To say otherwise is a severe doctrinal error. Therefore, one cannot reject the idea that Christ is locally present in the Eucharist on the basis of a claim that it is impossible to God.

But does the teaching of the Magisterium on the Most Blessed Sacrament imply that Jesus is locally present in each and every consecrated host? Yes. For the dogma of transubstantiation holds that while the substance of bread changes into the substance of Christ’s body, the accidents of bread remain. Similarly, when the substance of wine changes into the substance of Christ’s blood, the accidents of wine remain.

But substance and accidents cannot be separated. Accidents do not exist without substance. The accidents are the qualities of the substance. Accidents and substance are inherently joined together. This is exactly the reason that, when the accidents of bread and wine dissolve in the stomach, the substance of the body and blood of Christ cease to be present. The accidents and substance are joined. When the consecration occurs, the substance of the body of Christ miraculously takes on the accidents of the bread. Any contrary assertion shows a lack of understanding of the meaning of accidents and substance, and their relationship to one another.

The substance of bread changes into the substance of Christ’s body, but the accidents of bread remain. This is certainly true because, before the consecration, the accidents of bread were joined to the substance of bread. Then, at the consecration, the substance of bread is not annihilated, but rather it is changed into the substance of Christ’s body. The very idea of transubstantiation implies this conclusion, that when the substance of bread is changed into the substance of Christ’s body, the accidents remain joined to that substance.

Now physical location is an accident. This is certain because, by definition, an accident is something that, if changed, does not change the nature of the thing. When Christ walked this earth, He moved from place to place, and yet He remained the same Person, with the same human nature. So it is with all human persons and all things. Movement to another location does not change the substance of the thing.

So at the consecration, not only does the substance of bread change into the substance of Christ’s body, but the substance of Christ’s body takes on the accidents of the bread. And one of those accidents is the location of that consecrated host. Therefore, the human nature of Christ is locally present in each and every host, in each and every tabernacle, in each and every priest’s hand, as he holds the consecrated bread, and on each and every tongue, as the host is received by the communicant.

Moreover, to assert a real and full Presence of Christ, including His human nature, in the Eucharistic hosts that are locally present, without a local presence for that human nature, would be absurd and self-contradictory. It would be as if to say that Christ is present in the host that is here, but He is not present here. To the contrary, the REAL and FULL presence of Christ in the Eucharist requires a local presence, in each and every consecrated host. Otherwise, what is received on the tongue of the communicant? If Christ is only locally present in heaven, and not also on earth, then He is not locally present on the tongue, and He is not locally present within the communicant. This claim empties the Sacrament of its true and full meaning. For according to St. Bonaventure: “He is truly present in the Eucharist as He is in heaven….”

Essentially, the claim that Christ is not locally or physically present in the Eucharist replaces the concept of transubstantiation with the concept of transignification, which states that Jesus is sacramentally present, but not physically or locally present. This interpretation of the meaning of the Most Blessed Sacrament is incompatible with Catholic dogma on the real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.

What if a priest were to attempt to consecrate the Eucharist without the belief or intention of making the body, blood, and soul of Christ physically and locally present? Would his attempted consecration of the Eucharist be valid? I don’t know.

The answer hinges on the intention of the Church and of the priest. Concerning any Sacrament at all, if the person does not intend to do what the Church intends to do in the Sacrament, then that Sacrament is invalid. On the other hand, the Sacraments are not fragile. The validity of a Sacrament can survive grave doctrinal errors by the priest effecting the Sacrament. For the sake of the salvation of many, God has made the Sacraments resilient. Even so, if the priest does not intend to do what the Church intends to do, no Sacrament is valid, just as the Council of Trent taught concerning Baptism.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and
translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

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