There is an old saying that the Lord didn’t just come to get us out of trouble, he came to get into trouble with us. More of that, in a moment.

A uniquely human glory and gift – This Christmas we celebrate that God is not content for us to experience his love for us as some sort of abstraction or intangible idea. He wants to touch us, and have us touch and experience his love. As human beings we are not pure spirit. Our glory is to combine in our person what is spiritual and what is material or physical. At Christmas the Lord gives us an incredible gift, a gift that not even the angels have. To be able to touch our God is a special gift and glory to the human person. There is a beautiful Christmas carol (Ere the Bleak Mid Winter) written by Christina Rossetti that captures this special glory and gift that is ours because of the Incarnation. Speaking of the newborn Christ the song says:

Angels and Archangels may have gathered there.
Cherubim and Seraphim Thronged the air.
But only his mother in her maiden bliss;
Could worship the beloved with a kiss
.

Today, we can touch our God. Today God’s own hand is stretched out to us. Remarkably it is the hand of an infant. And just like every infant does, he squeezes the finger of his mother, and ours too. Yet, do not be mistaken, this little hand made and fashioned us. From this little hand the universe tumbled forth and this little hand and steers the stars in their courses. This hand touches us today and we touch our God. Even the angels cannot do this.

A magnificent mystery is before us. The infinite is an infant. He who looks down upon all creation now looks up from a cradle. He who spoke worlds into existence, now sounds forth with the cry of an infant. Another old Latin hymn captures mystery and the warmth of the moment: Alpha et O, matris in gremio (Alpha and omega is sitting in mommy’s lap). And from his mother’s lap he beckons us to approach and touch him. This day, we touch our God, and God touches us.

We desperately need this touch, this contact with our God, this hand is stretched out to heal and save. We had grown old in our sins, and this infant child draws us back to the joy and innocence of our youth. This outstretched hand of our God will heal the sick and the leprous, raise up the paralyzed and the dead. This hand will drive out demons and rebuke the storm tossed waves. This hand will be nailed to a cross to save us.

He still touches us in the Sacraments - This hand it still stretched out to you and me right now in the sacraments to cleanse us in Baptism, anoint us in Confirmation, feed us in Holy Communion, absolve us in Confession, heal us in the Anointing of the Sick, join some of us in Holy Matrimony and some of us in ordained ministry. Every sacrament has a physical component. In some particular way the Lord touches us to bring us healing and blessing. It is not a different hand, it is the same hand of the Lord that touched everyone of us beginning at Bethlehem.

Invitation – There are some present in every Catholic Church this Christmas feast who are far from this touch of Christ, far from the sacraments. In the name of Jesus Christ I beg you to let Christ touch you, let his outstretched hands feed you with his Body and Blood every week, let him lay hands on you to absolve you in Confession. Don’t block your blessings, don’t stay far off. Let the Lord touch you, not just spiritually, but physically too in the sacraments. The touch and presence of Christ that we celebrate at Christmas is not just spiritual, it is physical, it is tangible, it is real. Jesus is here right now. And he is here waiting for you every Sunday. He HAS to touch us, because if he does not, we won’t get well, and we won’t have the strength to make it home. You see, we’re in trouble. And we need a savior, a savior who knows our trouble and can draw us out of the mighty waters with strong hand and outstretched arm. Let the Lord touch you.

But as I mentioned at the beginning the beginning, the Lord didn’t just come to get us out of trouble, but to get into trouble with us.

Today the Lord meets us where we are. And some us are in trouble right now. All of us have known trouble. And the Lord loves us enough to get down into the trouble with us. You see, he is not born in a palace, or even a comfortable place. He is not born into privilege, He is born in poverty. He is, at least for now, homeless, born in a smelly cave intended for animals, unfit for human habitation. Soon enough he and his family will have to flee for their lives and live as refugees in a strange and foreign land. Later he will endure trials and temptations in the desert, exhausting journeys as he preaches and teaches, inept disciples, fickle crowds, mounting persecution and hatred, crucifixion and horrifying death.

Yes, the Lord knows our trouble, first hand. He doesn’t just “understand” them in some theoretical way. In physically joining our family in the incarnation, he personally experienced our pain, our trouble. St Ephrem the Syrian says,

Whom have we, Lord, like you
The Great One who became small, the Wakeful who slept,
The Pure One who was baptized, the Living One who died,
The King who abased himself to ensure honor for all.
Blessed is your honor!
The heavenly beings were amazed to see how small you became,
And earthly ones to see how exalted

So, the Lord got into trouble with us. But still, there is that outstretched arm of the Lord who touches us physically at his birth. It is an infant’s arm, an infant’s hand. But do not be deceived, it is a strong hand and outstretched arm. It is God’s own arm, God’s own hand, God’s strength. He is the same God who said,

Hear me O House of Jacob, O house of Israel,
My burden, since your birth,
Whom I have carried from your infancy.
Even to your old age I am the same,
Even when your hair is gray, I will bear you;
I will carry you to safety.
(Isaiah 46:3-4)

The Lord has come down into this trouble of ours to lead us out. And he is willing to get into trouble to do it. And today we celebrate that our Lord has joined us, and reaches out to touch us, to heal us and to lead us out. That arm, that hand, that touch, there’s just something about it.

I am mindful of an old song that tells us how important it for us to let God touch us, to let God embrace us. You see, it’s possible that our troubles will overwhelm us. But today there is hope, for God is here to save us. The song says,

I almost let go.
I felt like I just couldn’t take life anymore.
My problems had me bound
Depression weighed me down.
But God held me close, so I wouldn’t let go.
God’s mercy kept me, so I wouldn’t let go.

I almost gave up.
I was right at the edge of a breakthrough but couldn’t see it
The devil really had me;
but Jesus came and grabbed me,
And He held me close,
So I wouldn’t let go.
God’s mercy kept me,
so I wouldn’t let go
.

See, I’m alive today because God kept me, because Jesus came and touched me, and he held me close, so I wouldn’t let go. You see there’s just something about that little hand, that little arm that reaches out to you and me today. There’s just something about the touch of Jesus physically coming among us in the incarnation. At Christmas our Lord touches us, and holds us close.

 

34 Responses

  1. Reginaldus says:

    Msgr, Another beautiful reflection/meditation! I especially like your point about the fact that even the angels cannot touch Christ! It reminds me of a point in the Summa where St. Thomas says that the angels cannot receive Communion, not even spiritually — they enjoy Christ in the beatific vision (which is perfect), but they will never enjoy him in the Sacrament (not even spiritually); for the sacraments (like the Incarnation) are for human beings!

    Now I know you aren’t gonna like my next comment, but please don’t take it more seriously than I mean it: I am pretty sure you are aware of the fact that “physically” is not a proper modifier to use when describing Christ’s presence in the Sacraments — not even in the Eucharist.
    But you said: “The touch and presence of Christ that we celebrate at Christmas is not just spiritual, it is physical, it is tangible, it is real.”

    He is Truly, Really, Sacramentally, and Substantially present in the Eucharist, but “physically” is not a word we use. This is the only difference between Christ’s Eucharistic presence, and his presence in his proper species (as when he walked in Galilee).
    Unfortunately, many good Catholics have reacted so strongly to Protestantism, that they have gone to the opposite extreme of claiming that Christ’s Body is physically present in the Eucharist — I do not go so far as to say that Christ is not physically present, I only say that the word “physical” does not apply…

    Hence, the Thomist in me (and I am mostly Thomist, … and water) could not help but cringe when the comparisons were made between the “physical” presence of Christ in the Sacraments and his physical presence in the Incarnation. Obviously, the Mass is not literally another Incarnation.
    Still, I think that there is much to be said in mystically interpreting the Mass as an allegory of Christmas…I myself will be preaching on “Christmas as Communion” (I am a Catholic priest).

    In any case, I know that this article is not a theological discourse. I know it is a meditation for lay people. I just think it would be better to not encourage lay people to use the word “physical” when describing the Eucharist, as it can lead to a misconception of the Church’s teaching which may very likely result (for some, especially young professionals) in a denial of the Dogma as foolish, unbelievable, or naive (since it would be quite naive to claim that Christ is “physically” present in the Eucharist).

    On the other hand, to emphasize that Christ is REALLY present without being physically present offers a good opportunity for stressing that the MOST REAL THINGS are not physical — God is immaterial, the angels are immaterial, the human soul is immaterial, and grace is immaterial. And that which is most real and wholly immaterial, took on flesh to lift our finite visible nature up into a participation with the infinite invisible God.

    Christmas blessings to you! And, in truth, thank you for the reflection!

    • Not sure where I say he is physcially present in the sacraments. I surely affirm he is physically present in the incarnation. I assert that every sacrament has a physical component (e.g. water, oil, laying on of hands etc). Not sure though where I say Jesus is physically present in the Eucharist. As for Holy Orders I am not so sure. Do you think perhaps that Jesus does not actually touch others through you, even physically? He does not have to be physically present in you to do this but the physical aspects of the Sacrament are essential. If so, why have a human priest at all, why is physical presence of the recipient necessary (e.g. no confession over the phone, no blessings via mail or by touching the TV screen). Does Jesus not touch others through you, even in a physical way since you are physical? Why is physical touch required if the physical has nothing to do with it? I am not sure if the sacraments are per se ipsum ministered in a physical way but the physical, is an essential part of all of them, without which there is no sacrament (e.g. no water, no baptism).

      I wonder too if you have not over corrected in emphasizing that the most real is not physical. What, after all are we celebrating in the incarnation if not the physical presence of Christ among us. Your remarks about the “MOST REAL THINGS” not being being physical are not without basis, but, without some qualification, you almost make it seem that God is being patronizing in becoming flesh. As if He were saying, “Well lets do the physical thing even though its really less real so that they can have a clue and share eventually in more real things than the physical.” Rather, I think the physciality of the incarnation is surely a great attestation of the diginity of the flesh and the physical aspect of who we are. Though it is now subject to death, it will one day rise to live forever with the soul. Further, the material world will also one day be restored to its former glory (cf Rom 8). The world “as we know it” is passing away, but God made the physical, the material and the flesh and it was good. It will all be restored by him to its dignity and in this sense will not utterly pass away. In the end we will have our bodies. So I am not sure they are ipso facto LESS REAL simply because they are physical.

      • Reginaldus says:

        Msgr., If you think that the discussion is too much for the blog, please do feel completely free to delete any and all comments. [If possible, I would be interested in hearing more from you via e-mail, if comments are deleted.]

        Regarding your comment: “Not sure where I say he is physcially present in the sacraments.” — I did indeed notice that you never directly said “Christ is physically present in the Eucharist”…however, you say that he “physically touches us” in the Sacraments; speaking about Christ’s presence in the Sacraments, you say he is “physically” present and touching us at Christmas…it is also clear from Vajaya’s comment that those who would read this (or hear it) would think you are saying that Christ is physically present in the Eucharist.

        Now believe me, I am NOT AT ALL advocating that a priest get into the debate about physical presence in a homily — that would be pretty crazy :-) I am only saying that it would seem better to step back a little bit from the heavy notion of physical presence and physical touch when it comes to the sacraments.

        You will notice, even in my comment, I did not go so far as to say “Christ is not physically present in the Eucharist”; I only said, we don’t use the word “physical” to describe Christ’s presence…

        Regarding your comments of concern over my emphasis that physical things are less real than immaterial things — First, all I said originally was that the most real things are immaterial. However, I do in fact hold the further point that all physical things are less real than immaterial things, ipso facto…. God is most real because he is supremely simply (being and act are one), angels come next, then humans (which are relatively complex, having both form and matter [i.e. physical] complexity and being and act complexity). Yes, indeed, all physical things are less real, by virtue of the fact that they are more in potency than immaterial beings.
        However, this does not mean that matter is bad…it is what it is, and that is “very good”.

        And finally, regarding your comments about the physical side of the Sacraments — here I am in agreement! :-)
        Certainly, there is an incredibly close tie between the logic of the sacraments and the logic of the Incarnation — the sacraments are “outward signs”, the Incarnation is an “outward sign”…the Sacraments all have a physical component which effects grace, the Incarnation has physical component which effects grace…the Sacraments are instruments which God uses to save us, the human body of Christ is a united “instrument” which he used to save us (He is one in Person with his “instrument”).

        I still would have to say though, that there is this one difference, and only this one difference between the Sacraments and the Incarnation — Christ was physically present in Galilee, and he sacramentally present in the Sacraments. Both are real, both are true, both are personal, both (in the case of the Eucharist) are substantial.
        So, I would not say that Christ physically touches anyone in the sacraments (I would not use the “physical” language either positively or negatively)…Instead, I myself tell people that Christ touches them through the physical touch of the priest/minister; or, even better, Christ touches us really and sacramentally, through the physical touch of the priest/minister.

        Now, Msgr., I know that you know all this already! And I don’t want this discussion to go sour…I wish I could hear your Christmas homily, because I am sure that it will be awesome — I’ve never heard you preach, but many people have told me about it. I know that it seems like I am just an over-concerned Thomist. :-)
        But, in truth, don’t you think that many people who have stopped believing in the Eucharist could have been saved if only we emphasized the sacramentallity of the Real Presence? On a pastoral level, I would think that emphasizing sacramental presence, rather than physical presence could do a lot to help some people who struggle — granted, they might tend toward the “just a symbol” idea, but then we could teach then that the Sacraments are just as real as any other physical thing…
        I have taught on the sacraments at a daily religion class for the local Catholic grade school (7th grade). I tell them we don’t use word “physical”, but instead say “sacramental”; they get it, and they believe. A teacher, who is not Catholic, listened to one of the classes and came to a much much deeper appreciation of the Church’s teaching, because it finally was presented in a way that was metaphysically possible. Great good can come of using careful language when it comes to the sacraments (and especially the Blessed Sacrament).

        In any case, Christmas peace and joy to you!

      • Dale S. says:

        Great post, Msgr. I have a somewhat off topic question prompted by part of your reply to Reginaldus on 12/24. The section prompting the question is:

        > (e.g. no confession over the phone, no blessings via mail or by touching the TV screen).

        After the Pope’s Urbi et Orbi message today he gave his Christmas blessing which also carried a plenary indulgence under the usual conditions for everyone present and for all watching or listening to him. Now the blessing was given with that specific intention by him.

        Does the specific intention to extend the blessing to all or some people not actually present where the Pope is over ride what you said? I could see the final blessing at the end of Mass not having this specific intention in the priest’s mind.

        I suspect this question might not be suited to post into the Comments thread on your article. Do as you see fit.

        Dale

    • Vijaya says:

      As a lay person (and neophyte), this is confusing. What is the distinction real and tangible and physical? I thought Christ is real and present and physical in the Eucharist. He said, “This is my body. This is my blood.” Even though it tastes like bread and wine. We need our senses stimulated because that’s what makes things real to us. What about those miracles where the Bread became incorruptible or where the Bread became heart muscle?

      I do agree that God the Infinite, Invisible, Immaterial became a human baby at the first Christmas.

      • Well I understand your confusion Vijaya. I had mixed feelings about approving Reginaldus’ comment for this reason. There are just some debates to leave for more theological settings than a blog. To understand the distinctions that theologians make are not always easy and this can alarm the faithful unecessarily who may struggle to make sense out of all the hair-splitting.

        In the end I want you to know that Jesus is really, truly, and actually present in the Eucharist and that you actually and literally receive him in the Eucharist.

        That theologians are reticent to use the term “physical” is only because “physical,” at least as literally understood, would require the host to weigh about 210 lbs (or what ever Christ weighs) and have body parts etc., further that he could only be in one place at a time. As it is Christ is actually present in the host but in a sacramental way wherein we truly receive him but in way that the species of bread and wine (i.e. what we see, touch and taste) remains. We also receive the whole Christ, Body, blood, soul and divinity, not just a part of him. But please understand, sacramental presence is a REAL and true presence, no less real than a strictly physical presence.

        Here again, let me say that I am sorry that Reginald’s parsing of words and insistence on strict meanings has confused and possibly unsettled you. Theologians, like medical doctors often use very technical languge that non-medical people find confusing and bewildering. It is the same with theologians. And to some extent it is wrong for theologians to burden the people of God unecessarily, or in the wrong setting, with technicalities that may unsettle them. Precison is important in theological settings where theologians talk with eachother and must be very precise but in broader settings like a blog it is important to realize that the audience may not need all the information and distinctions (my posts are already so long!) and that they may not even be prepared to deal with all them.

        As a final (humorous) example, lets say I am in the doctor’s office and lets say that doctors may debate weather I have pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconisosis ( :-) ) or simply some form of pneumaticosis. Now I am not sure as a patient if I want all that info and, even if I get it, that I can manage it. So the doctor spares me some of the details and tells me I have an inflamation in my lungs and how he intends to treat it. At some level I wish Reginaldus could understand that I am not writing a theological journal here and choose to spare my audience some of the details, this sometimes leads to what he considers imprecision but which others, outside of his world just expereince as bewildering and even unsettling.

        So, please be assured that I stand by the article as I have written and intend to preach to my people tonight that Jesus touches us and we touch him, that his hand is still streched out to us and that he holds us close. All of this is true, tangible, and expereinced physically by us for every sacrament touches us physcially.

      • Reginaldus says:

        Vijaya,
        Christmas blessings and peace to you! Do not let your heart be troubled!
        I would never say (and have not said), “Christ is not physically present in the Eucharist”.
        I only say he is “truly, really, substantially, and sacramentally present”.

        By avoiding the word “physical”, I only mean to say that the accidental properties of bread and wine remain — “Seeing, touching, tasting, are in Thee deceived” (as St. Thomas says in his beautiful hymn, Adore Te “Devote).

        “Physically” it still looks like bread and wine, but substantially and sacramentally (and REALLY) it is Jesus!

        You are also quite correct regarding the Eucharistic miracles — in these very special cases, it seems that Christ becomes physically present (in some mysterious way)! This is what makes those miracles different from the “ordinary” Eucharist — not that the miracle is more real, more true, more substantial, or more sacramental; it is only more physical, more observable, more tangible.
        What a relief to know that Christ is just as really and truly and literally present in the Eucharist at every Mass (and in the Tabernacle) as he is in Lanciano!

        But again, I have not said (and I don’t believe anyone should say): “Christ is not physically present in the Eucharist.” I might even argue that this statement is false, or at least misleading… To me it seems like saying “Angels don’t shine as bright as the sun” or “Angels don’t weigh less than a feather” [both of which are quite inappropriate and misleading]…

      • Reginaldus says:

        Msgr. Pope,
        I have thought about this a bit more…
        I see that you are referring to me when you speak of theologians that cause harm to the faithful by bringing up distinctions (which you call “hair-splitting”)… That’s ok, I’m a little “miffed” by the personal criticism, but hey, I’ll get over it! :-)

        I do have this one point for reflection: I have NEVER heard of a case where a person stopped believing in the Eucharist because a priest did not want to use the word “physical”… while I know of a couple cases where the faithful believer no longer trusted the priest (unfortunately), I know of no case where he or she actually stopped believing in the Eucharist.
        On the other hand, I personally know of several cases (and I have heard of many many more) where people stopped believing (or could not even begin to believe) in the Eucharist because priests said that Christ was physically present — whether explicitly stating it, or through some other means like saying that Mary’s body is in the Eucharist since Christ physically took his body from Mary, etc….

        The modern emphasis of well-meaning conservatives has been a great an obstacle to the faith for those who are truly the weakest in our flock! Those people who are on the fringe, who barely have faith, who come to Mass more out of obligation or custom than out of zeal and love…these are the one who are most hurt by an over-emphasis on “physical” presence in the Eucharist and the other sacraments.
        While I do not think any strong Catholic would be led into true doubt by any comments regarding the Sacramental nature of Christ’s presence, I would be willing even to take that risk in order not to offend or push away the weakest and lowliest in my parish — I would be willing to leave the 99 for the 1, and I will not break the bruised reed…

        I am not saying that your homily will be an obstacle to anyone…I don’t know… I am only saying that there is some risk here; and the Truth will make us free.

      • Vijaya says:

        Thank you both for answering my questions. I believe whole-heartedly that Christ has touched me in the sacrament of healing, that I receive Him truly in every Bread and sip of Wine. Merry Christmas and may Grace and Peace of Christ be with you always.

  2. Vijaya says:

    Tears of joy, Father. You touch me every day across the miles. God bless you. Amen.

  3. Dismas says:

    “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us”

    Christ comes to us first through the womb of a virgin and now through our Church, but specifically and especially through the continued action of our Priests. This Christmas and as the year draws to a close, much of my time will be spent reflecting on these mysteries and thanking God for our Priests and our Church, without which, Jesus Christ would no longer be made flesh and dwell among us.

    Vijaya said it best in her above post, but I also am grateful for and will be praying for all Priests who have ever or will ever, touch our lives and continue to tirelessly point and refocus our attention back to Jesus Christ’s presence among us. Most of all, I will be thanking God for his continued presence among us which he chooses to manifest for us through the actions of his Priests and our Church. For drawing us ever more deeply into these sacred mysteries, I am forever grateful for and eternally indebted to our Priests.

  4. Ed says:

    Dear Msr. Pope,
    Thank you for your inspirational posts throughout the year and especially at this special time of the year.
    Here’s wishing Msr. Pope and all his readers a Merry and Blessed Christmas!

    “But [Jesus]emptied himself, taking the form of a servant,
    being made in the likeness of men, and in habit found as a man.
    He humbled himself, becoming obedient unto death, even death
    on a cross.” (Philippians 2: 7-8)

  5. Grandpa Tom says:

    Merry Christmas to all. “That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honor and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ; Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom though now ye see him not, yet beliving, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable full of Glory.” 1 Peter 1: 7-8.

    May the peace and calm of the Christmas Spirit be with you all. Enjoy this time to share love with family and friends. Our gift to Jesus can be an open heart to receive His Love. “The Love that moves the sun and the other stars (Dante’s Divine Comedy – Paradiso; Canto XXXIII, 145, last line in book).”

  6. Bender says:

    **He wants to touch us, and have us touch and experience his love.**

    Pope John Paul II pointed out that, for too long a time, the theologians of the Church had neglected the bodily (physical) aspects of the human person (and the universe) in favor of the spiritual. Hence, that is why the theology of his “Theology of the Body” is so valuable. Especially with Jesus, who literally merged His transcendent spiritual self with the materiality of Creation, in Him the (material) Body is not less “real” than the (immaterial) Spirit, but equally “real,” even if He has thus given “materiality” a new meaning.

    God touching us, God touching our very bodies — the very fact and existence of the “body” — is crucially important to our being and to our understanding of this relationship between God and mankind. It is in our very bodies that God first reveals Himself to us, having been made in His image and likeness, and having His Spirit blown into our nostrils to give us life. It is in our bodies, male and female, that God first reveals who we are, what we are, and why we are, that we are social beings made for relationship, made for love. It is in our bodies — seeing, hearing, touching — that we come to know Him further. In the most profound of intimate touchings, we take His Body literally into our bodies, as Mary took Him into hers, and through that experience of love, we ourselves are transformed.

  7. Regine says:

    Msgr. Pope, thank you so much for this Christmas message. I have found comfort over the fact that Christ, indeed, is present and that he touches me and reaches out to me. I, for one, feel good and welcome the thought that Christ is physically present in the Eucharist, and that even if I do not see him, the fact is that I believe it, and that he is really present to me. The word, “sacramentally” is too abstract and devoid of meaning for me, even if I do understand that “sacrament” means “outward sign”. Aside from that, who is to say how God touches us? Are we going to limit the action of God by such terms as physical and sacramental, or by being a Thomist or Jesuit?
    I have heard many priests refer to the physical presence of Christ in the Eucharist in the their homilies, and I have not heard of anyone being bothered by it. If people leave the church, it is not because of terminologies. Even a church with the holiest, most enlightened, and knowledgeable minister, would still lose some members of the flock. There are many reasons why people turn away from their Faith.
    Thank you, Msgr. Pope for not being too technical in your writing so that people like me can understand, and be drawn closer to a journey toward God. The Holy Spirit, I believe, helps me a lot, too, in leading me on to relate to your message. (I always look for your article in the New Advent). I believe with all my heart what Jesus said when he commissioned his Disciples: “…and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age (Mt. 28:20).” Whether sacramentally or physically, he is present. I just saw Jesus the other day, in a homeless man who had a trace of a smile on his face when I greeted him a merry Christmas. A most blessed Christmas, to you,Msgr. Pope and to all your readers!!

    • Thanks. I know that in the Church we have a glorious philosophical and theological tradtion. I know too that some of the terminology used in the higher realms of Catholic academia is not easily grasped by the faithful and even many priests. Most of us speak in a more general way that does not deny the distinctions of theologians and philosophers but is affriming of the faith in a way that suitably reflects orthodoxy as average people speak. The bottom line is that in the incarnation, in the birth of Jesus, God touches us and we touch God. A remarkable dignity for us and an tremendous grace of God to us!

  8. Grandpa Tom says:

    As a lay person trying to understand “Transubstantiation,” or the change of Bread and Wine into the Body and Blood of Christ, let me offer some excerpts from the Summa Theologica, Q. 73-79.
    Q. 75; Reply Obj. 3 Christ’s body is not in this sacrament in the same way as a body is in a place, which by its dimensions is commensurate with a place; Although the figure of the bread and wine be seen, still, after the Consecration, the are believed to be the body and the blood of Christ; This change is not like natural changes, but is entirely supernatural, and effected by God’s power alone. Christ word changes natures laws.

    The whole substance of the bread is changed into the whole substance of Christ’s body, and the whole substance of the wine into the whole substance of Christ’s blood. This is done by Divine power, and is called transubstantiaton. Augustine says in his book on the Sentences of Prosper: “Under the species which we behold, of bread and wine, we honor invisible things, i.e. flesh and blood.

    Thomas Aquinas goes on to say in the 5th Article: It is evident to the sense that all the accidents of the bread and wine remain after the consecration. And this is reasonably done by Divine providence. First of all because it is not customary, but horrible, for men to eat human flesh, and to drink blood. And, therefore Christ’s flesh and blood are set before us to be partaken of under the species of those things which are more commonly used by men, namely bread and wine. Secondly, lest this scarament might be derided by unbelievers, if we were to eat our Lord under His own species (others would call us Cannibals). Thirdly, that while we receive our Lord’s body and blood invisibly, this may redound to the merit of faith. There is no deception in this sacrament, for the accidents which are discerned by the senses are truly present. But the intellect, whose proper object is substance, as is said in De Anima iii, is preserved by faith from deception. Faith is not contrary to the senses, but concerns things to which sense does not reach. Nevertheless, the accidents which remain have some resemblance of a subject.

    So, yes, Christ is actually present in this sacrament. It is indeed a mystery, but if we do not use the word present, we are not true to the preception we hold about “Transubstantiation.” That is why Christ said: This is My body, and this is My blood. The change is not in the dimentions of the bread and wine being changed into the dimentions of the body of Christ, but substance into substance. Christ is in this sacrament by way of substance, and not by way of quantity.

    When we consume the Host, it too consumes us. Just as the chemicals in the ground provide for the plant as the plant reaches down with it’s roots, and the animal reaches down to consume the plant, and the plant becomes part of the animal, and we reach down to consume the animal. so too, God, through the Blessed Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist reaches down to consume us. In this manner, like the plant which provides to the animal which stooped down, and to the man who stooped down to eat the animal by intoducing it to the knife and fire, and the animal becomes assimilated into us, we too become assimilated into God, and He into us.

    • Bender says:

      And here is Cardinal Ratzinger on the subject of the Eucharist, transubstantiation, and reality –

      Has the teaching about the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharistic gifts not long been refuted, rendered obsolete, by science? . . . First, the word “substance” was used by the Church precisely to avoid the naïveté associated with what we can touch or measure.

      In the twelfth century, the mystery of the Eucharist was on the point of being torn apart by two groups, who each in its own way failed to grasp the heart of it.

      There were those filled with the thought: Jesus is really there. But “reality” for them was simply physical, bodily. Consequently, they arrived at the conclusion: In the Eucharist, we chew on the flesh of the Lord; but therein they were under the sway of a serious misapprehension. For Jesus has risen. We do not eat flesh, as cannibals would do.

      That is why others quite rightly opposed them, arguing against such primitive “realism.” But they, too, had fallen into the same fundamental error of regarding only what is material, tangible, visible as reality. They said: Since Christ cannot be there in a body we can bite on, the Eucharist can only be a symbol of Christ; the bread can only signify the body, but not be the body.

      A dispute such as that has helped the Church to develop a more profound understanding of reality.

      After wrestling with the difficulty, the insight was made explicit: “Reality” is not just what we can measure. It is not only “quantums,” quantifiable entities, that are real; on the contrary, these are always only manifestations of the hidden mystery of true being. But here, where Christ meets us, we have to do with this true being. This is what was being expressed with the word “substance.” This does not refer to the quantums, but to the profound and fundamental basis of being.

      Jesus is not there like a piece of meat, not in the realm of what can be measured and quantified. Anyone who conceives of reality as being like that is deceiving himself about it and about himself. He is living his life all wrong.

      That is why this is no [mere] scholarly dispute, but something that affects us ourselves: How should we relate to reality? What is “real”? What should we be like, so as to correspond to what is true?

      Concerning the Eucharist, it is said to us: The substance is transformed, that is to say, the fundamental basis of its being. That is what is at stake, and not the superficial category, to which everything we can measure or touch belongs. . . .

      What has always mattered to the Church is that a real transformation takes place here. Something genuinely happens in the Eucharist. There is something new there that was not before. Knowing about a transformation is part of the most basic eucharistic faith. Therefore it cannot be the case that the Body of Christ comes to add itself to the bread, as if bread and Body were two similar things that could exist side by side. Whenever the Body of Christ, that is, the risen and bodily Christ, comes, he is greater than the bread – other, not of the same order. . . . The Lord takes possession of the bread and the wine; he lifts them up, as it were, out of the setting of their normal existence into a new order; even if, from a purely physical point of view, they remain the same, they have become profoundly different. . . .

      Wherever Christ has been present, afterward it cannot be just as if nothing had happened. There, where he has laid his hand, something new has come to be. . . .

      What is happening [in the Eucharist] is not a “change of use” [of the bread and wine], but a genuine transformation; the Church calls it transubstantiation. . . . What happens to bread and wine in the Eucharist is more profound; it is more than a change of use. The Eucharist transcends the realm of functionality.

      That is, in fact, the poverty of our age, that we now think and live only in terms of function, that man himself is classified according to his function, and that we can all be no more than functions and officials, where being is denied. The significance of the Eucharist as a sacrament of faith consists precisely in that it takes us out of a functionality and reaches the basis of reality.

      – Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, God is Near Us, 83-88 (2003)

      • Bender says:

        It is only in the Eucharist that one may have full communion with the Lord. When one prays to Him, one can certainly attain a spiritual communion with Him, as do the Protestants, et al., but we are more than spirits, we are both body and spirit. And it is only in the Eucharist, which is called Holy Communion for a reason, that a person can be one with Him in the entirety of his being, both spirit AND body — His Body and Spirit, and our body and spirit, two made one.

        Indeed, this profoundly intimate act of taking another into our very body goes beyond even the example of Mary carrying Jesus within her body. As Cardinal Ratzinger says in citing St. Paul, “it brings full union only if it is itself corporeal, if it is a sacramental event in which the corporeal Lord seizes hold of our bodily existence. In order to express fully the intensity and reality of this fusion, Paul compares what happens in Holy Communion with the physical union between man and woman. To help us understand the Eucharist, he refers us to the words in the creation story: ‘The two [= man and wife] shall become one’ (Gen. 2:24). And he adds: ‘He who is united to the Lord becomes one spirit [that is, shares a single new existence in the Holy Spirit] with him’ (1 Cor. 6:17).” God is Near Us 77 (emphasis added, additions in original)

        Pope John Paul II noted (in TOB) that marriage is the “primordial sacrament.” The Eucharist is the fullness of love, the Lord’s complete gift of self, which is unitive and fruitful. It makes us one with Him and is procreative, it produces various fruits of grace. (And this rather bold and audacious comparison made by St. Paul and Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict, far from degrading the dignity of the Eucharist should lead us to raise up the dignity of human sexuality out of the gutter in which we have placed it.)

        It is vitally important that we allow Jesus to touch us. Vitally, derived from the Latin “vivere,” meaning “to live.” If we wish to truly live, we must allow Him to touch us — all of us, that is, the entirety of our being, outside and inside, so as to transform that very human being into something far greater by His divine loving being.

    • Thanks Grandpa and Bender for these additions, especially viz the discussion above wherein I exppress concern that the average Catholic will not understand some of the finer distinctions of scholastic theology. Most people use the word physical as a euphemism for actual. Hence if they hear someone say that Jesus is not physically present in the Eucharist they hear it to mean he is not “acutally” present in the euchsarist even if this is not what the theologian means (for sacramental IS real). THe Pope explains the background and the issues involved beautifully. But I still think most people don’t get “sacramental presence” even when it is explained and they hear and experience it as a hedging, or edging away from the teaching on true presence. It is NOT as the Pope explains. But it takes a lot of philosophy to be able to grasp the finer distinctions of theology (substance, accident, essence vs being, etc). Hence my only point above is that I think we need to be careful in discussing some of this stuff. Simple believers are easily confused and do not use the word physical in the technical sense, but rather in a more general sense. Language and words do change over time. Further we are in a time where philosophy is seldom taught to the average person who may be very smart about things like computers but not understand all the categories of phil. and theology.

      Even the word substantial is used by most people today to mean something very different from its scholastic meaning. For example if someone were to say “I substantially agree with you” what most people hear is, “I basically agree with you, but not entirely.” And hence, “substantially” has become a euphemism for somthing that is partial but not wholly there. If I say, “These two things are substanially the same,” what most people hear is that they are “mostly the same” but not entirely. Thus when we say that Christ is “substantantially” present (viz Trent) in the Eucharist most people are not thinking in philosophical categories. What most people hear is “Well, he basically there” or “He’s sort of there” or “He’s pretty much there” which is NOT what Tent means at all when it uses the term Substantial as an emphatic attestation of the true presence. THat is why I say we must be very careful to choose our words. Even if they are theologically correct, not everyone hears them in the theological sense.

      I will say that it is interesting to me how how a discussion on the incarnation got into such a technical discussion on sacramental theology. The physicality to which I refer in the article is the physicality of the incarnation. I do state that Christ touches us physically in the sacraments but my reference was to the matter of the sacraments (bread, wine, water, oil, laying on of hands) and that in the sacraments, “Matter matters” for we are not a spiritist sort of religion or gnostic, but incarnational. In the incarnation the Lord takes up matter to heal and restore us he continues to do this in the sacraments. That is my point.

      • Vijaya says:

        While going through RCIA, it took me a long time to accept why Jesus would want us to become “cannibals” when it was prohibited by Jewish law (and most other cultures as well). But it was very clear that He never said that the Bread was a symbol. He said: It IS my Body. It took a lot of silent prayer and reflection and reading to even get a smidgen of understanding about this amazing GIFT he gives to us and it makes me very happy that Jesus is not simply an idea, but real and present in a way that you and I can experience Him.

        I remember one Sunday this Nov. I was too sick to even stand up. Something was horribly wrong. My husband kept telling me to stay home but I could not bear to … I told him we’ll go to early Mass and then he could take me to ER and that’s exactly what we did. Having Holy Communion gave me the strength to endure what came later …

        Thank you to all your readers who have helped me to grow and learn. Merry Christmas. I wish I could give you a hug and kiss and slice of my homemade cranberry bread.

  9. Shadow says:

    Actually Jesus IS physically present in the Eucharist because the host is literally His Heart. The host itself is simply a veil.

    • I would also include that the whole CHrist is received: body blood, soul and divinity.

      You are also affirming my earlier remark that the average person today does not use physical in the same way as scholastic theologians do. What most people mean when they say physical is “actual” For example: John was physically present at the meeting” means that he was actually present, as opposed to: John was “with us in spirit” whcih means he was not really there though he wanted to be.And this is how most people use the word physical. Thus when the average Catholic hears some one say that Christ is not physically present in the eucharist, they hear “he is not actually present” even if that is not what the theologian means. Hence, Shadow, I affirm your use of the word physical in the sense you mean it, which is what most of us mean: Jesus is actually present in the eucharist.

  10. El Bolillo Tejano says:

    Magnificent!

  11. Pegofmar1 says:

    The December issue of the Catholic Digest has an article, “Mysteries of the Eucharist”, by Steve Mueller. One question is, “Can you explain how God is present with us in the Eucharist?” and Steve begins his answer, “No. Explaining how God is present to us is impossible for it is a theological mystery, in the strict sense….” I appreciated that Steve said a “No” right away. Thank you. Peg

  12. A searcher, Tas says:

    Dear Monsignor Pope,

    Is there a resonance with Revelations 1:17 where the Son of Man touches (lays his right arm on) John lying at his feet, as dead? I have found this moment, which I imagine as a reaching down to touch John, helpful.

    And, on behalf of your more silent readers thankyou for your posts.

  13. Marie Bell says:

    We hold that the human person Jesus Christ was truly God and truly man. Can anyone explain how this came about? It happened because God willed it and we accept His word. Jesus told us “This is my body, this is my blood” when he offered bread and wine at the last supper. Who can comprehend how this can be – it is not for us to even begin to know – but we have His word and believe He is truly present.

  14. Peter Wolczuk says:

    Something came to me which is so clamouring for my attention. In Daniel 12:11 there is mention of the abolition of the daily sacrifice. When the Bolsheviki took over Russia in the early 20th Century they pushed an agenda which endorsed atheism. Did they pass or present a declaration that communion was forbidden, perhaps in the first few years of Lenin’s authority? Was there a specific date of abolition and, if so, was there an event 1290 days later that could be called such an abomination?

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