When I was a seminarian, I had to study Philosophy for two years. I had conflicting thoughts about almost everything. Philosophy helped me to be more structured and it was a tool that helped me along the years to resolve complicated puzzles in my own life. Most of the time I asked myself the question: Why this or that is happening? What is the logical explanation for unexpected things that happened in my life? I found some answers for my own questions in science (Philosophy was called the mother of all sciences). Eventually, part of my questions were answered; to understand the rest of my dilemmas, I had to rely on my own faith and my relationship with God.
In the seminary, when I studied the real presence of the Lord in the Eucharist I was fascinated by Aristotelian Philosophy. St Thomas Aquinas was the first theologian who introduced Aristotelian terms to explain what happens during Mass: substance (essence) and accidents. Substance refers to living beings and things. For instance: a dog, a rock, a planet, a particle and a computer. In contrast, accidents are particular characteristics of persons, animal or things (objects). For example, color, and sizes of objects. In other words, accidents refer to features of substances.
At that time, all these elaborated explanations were not enough for an skeptic person like myself. In regards my own relationship with God, I realized that it will take more than science to fully understand the infinite mystery of the Lord in the Eucharist. I struggle to believe, I doubted about his presence, but I asked always the Lord ‘s help so he can increase my faith in moments of doubt. My prayers were answered when I was attending a class and a teacher was explaining the mystery of transubstantiation, or the belief that we all Catholics supposed to believe: That Christ is really present in the Eucharist in Body, Soul and Divinity.
I say “supposed to believe” because I had found (statistically) that most Catholics do not believe in the Real Presence. That is probably the explanation of why some people are not reverent when receiving Holy Communion. I keep repeating in my homilies what is the proper way to receive the Lord in the Eucharist, and there is almost always a person who approach either the priest or the Eucharistic minister unprepared. I have heard people referring to the Eucharist as regular cracker just “representing” or “symbolizing” the Lord’s Last Supper. To be honest, that bothers me.
Even though a mystery like the Eucharist cannot be fully explained, we can approach that mystery by using again the tools we have. Now, I will explain briefly the Real Presence as I was taught in the seminary, then I will share my experience, what do I feel when I am celebrating the Holy Mass; for that purpose, I will go back to substance and accidents.
Accidents are perceptible to the senses–what we can see touch, taste, feel, measure. The accidents of bread remain. The substance or underlying reality of bread is gone. After transubstantiation, the substance becomes the Body of Christ. In other words, the substance of the bread is replaced by Christ in his entirety–all of him–his entire body, not just a piece of it. He does not take on the appearances of bread, but remains whole and entire hidden under those appearances.
To complicated for you? It is also complicated for me. This is when I ask the Lord to help me in my unbelief. He does help me when I am celebrating the Eucharist, this extraordinary feeling of his presence irradiating my life, shedding light into my sinfulness make me strong in my faith. I feel that the clock is no longer clicking. It is like the time stopped completely when I am pronouncing the words of consecration: Take this, all of you, and eat of it, for this is my body which will be given up for you; Take this, all of you, and drink of it… Sometimes I want to cry in the altar out of joy.
In my prayer I reflect on the passage from the Gospel of Mark when Jesus was healing a boy with an unclean spirit. Jesus said to the boy’s father: “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.” Immediately the father of the child cried out[d] and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!” Mark 9, 23-24.
I keep praying for those who do not believe or for those who struggle believing in Christ really present in the Eucharist. I know that this doubts and questioning are part of our journey of faith. I came to the conclusion that if we ask the Lord to help us, he always does help us. Please do not stop asking the Lord to help you in your unbelief. He is really present!