When we affirm the ‘real presence’ of Jesus in the bread and wine, what do we mean by ‘presence’ and ‘real’?
The idea of Jesus being ‘really present’ in the bread and wine was widespread in the early church. Cyril of Jerusalem writing in 350AD, remarks that “Jesus, by His own will once changed water into wine at Cana…so why should we not believe that He can change wine into blood?” Augustine in 272AD wrote, “That which you see is bread and the cup, which…your eyes declare to you; but as to that in which your faith demands instruction, the bread is the body of Christ, the cup is the blood of Christ…these things are called sacraments for this reason, that in them one thing is seen, another is understood.
There are different ways a person or object can be have a presence for us. A local presence where someone or something is present in a particular place, a temporal presence where the object or person is present at a particular moment or time, and a personal presence in which a communication takes place between two people. It does not necessarily need a meeting in time and space. Another person can be present for us through reading a letter from them, or having a telephone or internet conversation with them even though they may be thousands of miles away.
He is present in the reading of the gospel-The Word.
In the worship- Isaiah 57:15 “ For this is what the high and lofty One says— he who lives forever, whose name is holy: "I live in a high and holy place, but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite”.
In the human minister who stands in for Christ.
In the community because the Eucharistic community is made one body with Christ (Though we are many, we are one body, because we all share in one bread. Holy Communion order one, common worship, services for the Church of England)
After the words of institution, Christ is present in the bread and wine.
Transubstantiation is a theology developed by Thomas Aquinas (1224-1274), which is based on the view of Aristotle that all matter has two qualities: Accidents-its outward appearance, shape, colour, and Substance- its essential nature. During the Eucharist according to this theory, the substance (essential nature) of the bread is changed into the substance (essential nature) of the body of Christ at the moment of consecration, although the accidents (outward appearance) of the bread remain the same. Likewise with the wine-the essential nature of the wine is changed into the essential nature of the blood of Christ while the outward appearance remains the same.
Consubstantiation is the name given to Luther’s view. He agrees with Aristotle, in that all matter has two qualities-accidents and substance, but according to his theory the essential nature of both bread and the body of Christ are present simultaneously in the bread, but the outward appearance remains the same. We cannot understand how this can happen but Luther uses an image borrowed from Origen, an early Christian scholar, to illustrate his point:-if a piece of iron is placed in a fire and heated, it glows-and in the glowing piece of iron both the iron and heat are present.
Transignification and Transfinalization are theologies developed by the Roman Catholic theologian Edward Schillebeeckx in the 1960’s. They are both based on the view that the identity of an object is based on-
Its molecular and atomic structure.
Its meaning or significance in the context it is used.
Its purpose or end goal (finality) within the context of its use.
In other words, at the moment of consecration when we are celebrating Eucharist, the meaning or significance of the bread and the wine changes. They no longer mean or signify food, but they mean or signify Christ. The end goal or purpose (finality) of the bread and wine also changes. The end goal (finality) of physical nourishment is replaced by the end goal (finality) of spiritual nourishment.
All these theologies of the real presence try to help us understand what happens during the Eucharist, but there is still an element of mystery because there are some things we cannot explain. John of Damascus (665-749AD) probably summed up this mystery best when he said:-
And now you ask how the bread becomes the body of Christ, and the wine and the water become the blood of Christ. I shall tell you. The Holy Spirit comes upon them, and achieves things which surpass every word and thought…let it be enough for you to understand that this takes place by the Holy Spirit.