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Transubstantiation During Mass

 (History of the term and early beliefs) 

Based on the doctrines of the Catholic, transubstantiation refers to the transformation of the bread and wine present in the Eucharist into Christ’s body and blood. This is listed on the Biblical Timeline starting 250 AD. Thus, bread and wine no longer serve as a figure used in this sacrament as these have already obtained a different form. It is what the Catholic Church claims – that the bread becomes the body of Christ and wine is turned into his blood. While all of these changes happen, the external appearances of these figures remain the same. Moreover, the transformation is beyond anyone’s understanding, which maintains its mystery and sanctity.

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Christ with the Eucharist, Vicente Juan Masip, 16th century.

History of Transubstantiation

Archbishop Hildebert de Lavardin of Tours first used the word, “transubstantiation”, in the 11th century. He pertained to it as the best description and explanation of the transformation that occurred during the Eucharist, when the bread and wine are changed into Christ’s very own body and blood. However, it was not until the 12th century that this term was used extensively. It was on November 11, 1215, during the 4th Council of the Lateran, that the formal explanation of this mystery in the sacrament of the Eucharist was made. According to the Council, these changes are made possible because of God’s power.

However, this doctrine of the transubstantiation was criticized and viewed as pseudophilosophy during the rise of Protestant Reformation. Those who doubted this doctrine claimed that it was merely adopted into the Christian teaching to show support of Martin Luther’s philosophy of the sacramental union.

13th Session of the Council of Trent

In 1551, the Council of Trent pertained to transubstantiation as the conversion of the entire components of the bread into Christ’s body and the wine into his blood. As the conversion occurs, the physical characteristics of the wine and bread stay the same. Also, the Council gave its approval to use the term as the official means of expressing the teaching of the Catholic Church regarding this transformation that exist during the sacrament of the Eucharist.

Based on history, it was in the West where the Aristotelian philosophy remained quite strong. In fact, the reality and truth behind this change during the Eucharist also prevailed in various Churches of the East, as well as the Eastern Orthodox Church. With that in mind, this belief has spread wide in other ancient Churches and eliminated people’s doubts about this mystery.

The Catholic Church states that transubstantiation focuses more on the truth that something is changed, instead of the explanation about how that change takes place. This doctrine promotes the truth that the species or appearances are real, and that the Eucharist celebrates the actual presence of Christ.

The act of touching every portion of the bread and the a single drop of the wine allows one to have a close encounter with Jesus Christ. Furthermore, Christ’s presence in these figures is whole, and the breaking of the bread performed during the sacrament does not literally divide every aspect that makes up Christ.

This truth was best explained by Thomas Aquinas in his written work called Summa Theologica. According to him, Christ’s body is ever-present in the sacrament of the Eucharist. However, this presence is not similar as in its literal meaning since it cannot be perceived by the senses or one’s imagination. On the other hand, Christ’s presence is only perceptible to a person’s intellect and faith.

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