“It is easier to teach bread and wine what they truly are than to teach us what we truly are.”
– Richard Rohr
A recent worldwide survey concluded that less than 60 percent of practicing Catholics believe in the “Real Presence” of Christ in the Eucharist. But what do Catholics mean when we talk about the “Real Presence” in the first place? And how does this belief affect our ideas about who is able to “consecrate” the bread and wine during the liturgy?
The Catechism of the Catholic Church makes this clear: “In the most blessed sacrament of the Eucharist, the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ, and therefore, the whole Christ is truly, really, and substantially contained.” This presence of Christ begins at the moment of consecration, when the priest says the words, “This is my body.”
The Latin words of consecration are hoc est corpus meus, which is where we get the words, “hocus pocus,” or words spoken in a magic spell.
The official position of the institutional church, that only a priest has the ability to facilitate the transubstantiation of the simple elements of bread and wine into the actual body and blood of Christ, means that consecration is a magic trick that only priests can perform. Catholics who attend Mass in the institutional church might believe that the priest received this supernatural power to “confect” the eucharist at his ordination.
Priests, according to the official teaching of the institutional church, have been indelibly changed by their ordinations, so that they have the power to act in persona Christi, or in the person of Christ. It seems that a substantial number of practicing Catholics in the institutional church have doubts about this magic trick, which may in turn cause them to doubt whether Christ actually shows up.
In most inclusive eucharistic liturgies, on other other hand, the entire community raises their hands over the bread and wine and speaks the words of consecration together. Inclusive Catholics tend to believe, with the apostle Paul, “You are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” (1 Cor. 12:27) In other words, instead of just one celibate man standing in persona christi, we each image Christ, and when we come together as a community that image is deepened, complexified, and enriched. Inclusive Catholics tend to believe that each person was formed in the image and likeness of God, and that by virtue of our baptism, we have been “incorporated into Christ who is anointed priest, prophet, and king.”
Our inclusive liturgies invite us into a deep encounter with the risen Christ, “with Him alive,” as Pope Francis writes in his recent apostolic letter desiderio desideravi. When an Inclusive Catholic Community community gathers and speaks together the words of consecration, we understand on a deep, spiritual, and sacramental level that the bread and wine – and we – have always been the body and blood of Christ. As at Emmaus, when Mary and her husband Clopas invited a stranger into their home and he was revealed to them in the breaking of the bread, so Christ is revealed in our little inclusive communities. In the words of Pope Francis, “an ocean of grace floods every celebration.”