Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Truly Present? Physically Present?

I'm sure I'm not alone in finding the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist confusing. Surely that is what drove Martin Luther to discard transubstantiation (the bread becomes the body) and replace it with consubstantiation (the body becomes present "with" the bread). This is also probably much of what led most other Protestants to drop the doctrine of the Real Presence altogether.

Now I find myself learning that I'm slightly more confused about the idea than I thought I was.

This got me thinking. I wonder if the Church has not yet decided whether it would be correct to say Christ was "physically" present, or if it has decided that it is incorrect to say he is "physically" present. Further, I suppose I do not know exactly how Catholic philosophy defines "physical."

Still, I'll take the step of pondering what little I do know, in the hope we learn something, and also hoping that we will read more about this before letting ourselves be misled by my thoughts on the matter.

Christ is present under the appearance of bread and wine. We know this "appearance" extends beyond just the visual, and into all other senses and scientific measures. Now, is "apparently," in this case, the same as "physically?"It is possible (from the little I know) that they mean the same thing, but have different connotations. If the Church was to say, for example, "Christ is not physically present," would the problem be that we would misunderstand this to mean he wasn't "really" present? Or would the problem be that it isn't true, because he is, in a sense "physically" present? Or perhaps, is there a third option? Is it both incorrect to say he is not "physically" present, but it is also incorrect to say he is "physically" present?

Now, since I cannot yet answer these questions, I will try an illustration of what it might look like if "physically" and "apparently" are synonymous in this situation.

In the Old Testament, angels often took the form of men, and interacted with humans (which they may still do today). In some cases the angels physically interacted with the world and even ate food. So, like the Eucharist, these angels did not just appear as men visually, but appeared as men to all the senses. Still, what were they? They were not "really" men, though they could be called "men" just as statues of men might be called "men." They were "really, truly, and substantially" angels. But physically, are they men, or are they angels? It seems that "physically" they were men, though "really" they were angels. Of course, this leads us back to the same problem.

But either way we define the physical (as just the apparent, scientifically testable aspect of a thing, or as something more), I think the angel illustration does help me to better understand the Eucharist, and how it can fully appear to be one thing while being "really, truly, and substantially" another.

Edit: Okay, I should have read a few more issues. See the following [from This Rock]:
In Mysterium Fidei, Pope Paul VI says, "To avoid any misunderstanding of this type of presence, which goes beyond the laws of nature and constitutes the greatest miracle of its kind, we have to listen with docility to the voice of the teaching and praying Church. . . . [After the consecration] nothing remains of the bread and the wine except for the species—beneath which Christ is present whole and entire in his physical ‘reality,’ corporeally present, although not in the manner in which bodies are in a place"
Not that this completely answers my question, since if we defined physical as I did above, it would be "in the manner in which bodies are in a place." So it still seems to depend on the definition of physical.

Also, being that the Eucharist "constitutes the greatest miracle of its kind," I suppose the comparison with angels might be helpful, but not entirely equivalent.

According to Fr. J. Michael Venditti: "Yes, he is really, physically present, as really present as you are to those around you, though present in a different way--present sacramentally rather than in the normal physical way."

So he is "physically present," but not in the, "normal physical way." Yep, this is going to stay confusing. I can only figure that this means that he is physically present in a unique way, which has no correspondence outside the Eucharist. Thus, any word, such as "physical," that we use will mean something somewhat different than usual when applied to the Eucharist.

I guess this is similar to using words that describe God. If we call God "beautiful," he transcends the normal sense of the word, and at the same time, our normal understanding -- a visual beauty-- doesn't really apply. God is immaterial, and thus not visible to the eyes, yet he is the source of all beauty and infinitely beautiful.

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