It is particularly incumbent on pastors to know the matter of this Sacrament, in order that they themselves may rightly consecrate it, and also that they may be able to instruct the faithful as to its significance, inflaming them with an earnest desire of that which it signifies.
The matter of this Sacrament is twofold. The first element is wheaten bread, of which we shall now speak. Of the second we shall treat hereafter. As the Evangelists, Matthew, Mark and Luke testify, Christ the Lord took bread into His hands, blessed, and broke, saying: This is My body (Matt. 26:26; Mark 14:22; Luke 22:19); and, according to John, the same Savior called Himself bread in these words: I am the living bread, that came down from heaven (John 6:41).
There are, however, various sorts of bread, either because they consist of different materials — such as wheat, barley, pulse and other products of the earth; or because they possess different qualities — some being leavened, others altogether without leaven. It is to be observed that, with regard to the former kinds, the words of the Savior show that the bread should be wheaten; for, according to the common usage, when we simply say bread, we are sufficiently understood to mean wheaten bread. This is also declared by a figure in the Old Testament, because the Lord commanded that the loaves of proposition, which signified this Sacrament, should be made of fine flour.1
But as wheaten bread alone is to be considered the proper matter for this Sacrament — a doctrine which has been handed down by Apostolic tradition and confirmed by the authority of the Catholic Church — so it may be easily inferred from the doings of Christ the Lord that this bread should be unleavened. It was consecrated and instituted by Him on the first day of unleavened bread, on which it was not lawful for the Jews to have anything leavened in their houses (Matt. 26:17; Mark 14:12; Luke 22:7).
Should the authority of John the Evangelist (John 13:1), who says that all this was done before the feast of the Passover, be objected to, the argument is one of easy solution. For by the day before the pasch John understands the same day which the other Evangelists designate the first day of unleavened bread. He wished particularly to mark the natural day, which commences at sunrise; whereas they wanted to point out that our Lord celebrated the Pasch on Thursday evening just when the days of the unleavened bread were beginning. Hence St. Chrysostom2 also understands the first day of unleavened bread to be the day on the evening of which unleavened bread was to be eaten.3
The peculiar suitableness of the consecration of unleavened bread to express that integrity and purity of mind which the faithful should bring to this Sacrament we learn from these words of the Apostle: Purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new paste, as you are unleavened. For Christ our Passover is sacrificed. Therefore, let us feast, not with the old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth (1 Cor. 5:7).
This quality of the bread, however, is not to be deemed so essential that, if it be wanting, the Sacrament cannot exist; for both kinds are called by the one name and have the true and proper nature of bread. No one, however, is at liberty on his own private authority, or rather presumption, to transgress the laudable rite of his Church. And such departure is the less warrantable in priests of the Latin Church, expressly obliged as they are by the Supreme Pontiffs, to consecrate the sacred mysteries with unleavened bread only.
With regard to the first matter of this Sacrament, let this exposition suffice. It is, however, to be observed, that the quantity of the matter to be consecrated is not defined, since we cannot define the exact number of those who can or ought to receive the sacred mysteries.4
It remains for us to treat of the other matter and element of this Sacrament, which is wine pressed from the fruit of the vine, with which is mingled a little water.
That in the institution of this Sacrament our Lord and Savior made use of wine has been at all times the doctrine of the Catholic Church, for He Himself said: I will not drink from henceforth of this fruit of the vine until that day (Matt. 26:29; Mark 14:25). On this passage Chrysostom5 observes: He says, “Of the fruit of the vine,” which certainly produced wine not water; as if he had it in view, even at so early a period, to uproot the heresy which asserted that in these mysteries water alone is to be used.
With the wine, however, the Church of God has always mingled water. First, because Christ the Lord did so, as is proved by the authority of the Councils and the testimony of St. Cyprian;6 next, because by this mixture is renewed the recollection of the blood and water that issued from His side. Water, also, as we read in the Apocalypse (17:15), signify the people; and hence, water mixed with the wine signifies the union of the faithful with Christ their Head. This rite, derived as it is from Apostolic tradition, the Catholic Church has always observed.
But although there are reasons so grave for mingling it in small quantity, for, in the opinion and judgment of ecclesiastical writers, that water is changed into wine. Hence these words of Pope Honorius7 on the subject: A pernicious abuse has prevailed in your district of using in the sacrifice a greater quantity of water than of wine; whereas, according to the rational practice of the universal Church, the wine should be used in much greater quantity than the water.8
These, then, are the only two elements of this Sacrament, and with reason has it been enacted by many decrees that, although there have been those who were not afraid to do so, it is unlawful to offer anything but bread and wine.
We have now to consider the aptitude of these two symbols of bread and wine to represent those things of which we believe and confess they are the sensible signs.
In the first place, then, they signify to us Christ, as the true life of men; for our Lord Himself says: My flesh is meat indeed, and My blood is drink indeed (John 6:55). As, then, the Body of Christ the Lord furnishes nourishment unto eternal life to those who receive this Sacrament with purity and holiness, rightly is the matter composed chiefly of those elements by which our present life is sustained, in order that the faithful may easily understand that the mind and soul are satisfied by the Communion of the precious Body and Blood of Christ.
These very elements serve also somewhat to suggest to men the truth of the Real Presence of the Body and Blood of the Lord in the Sacrament. Observing, as we do, that bread and wine are every day changed by the power of nature into human flesh and blood, we are led the more easily by this analogy to believe that the substance of the bread and wine is changed, by the heavenly benediction, into the real Flesh and real Blood of Christ.
This admirable change of the elements also helps to shadow forth what takes place in the soul. Although no change of the bread and wine appears externally, yet their substance is truly changed into the flesh and blood of Christ; so, in like manner, although in us nothing appears changed, yet we are renewed inwardly unto life, when we receive in the Sacrament of the Eucharist the true life.
Moreover, the body of the Church, which is one, consists of many members, and of this union nothing is more strikingly illustrative than the elements of bread and wine; for bread is made from many grains and wine is pressed from many clusters of grapes. Thus they signify that we, though many, are most closely bound together, by the bond of this divine mystery and made, as it were, one body.9
The form to be used in the consecration of the bread is next to be treated of, not, however, in order that the faithful should be taught these mysteries, unless necessity require it; for this knowledge is not needful for those who have not received Holy Orders. The purpose (of this section) is to guard against most shameful mistakes on the part of priests, at the time of the consecration, due to ignorance of the form.
We are then taught by the holy Evangelists, Matthew and Luke, and also by the Apostle, that the form consists of these words: This is my body; for it is written: Whilst they were at supper, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and broke, and gave to his disciples, and said: Take and eat, This is My Body (Matt. 26:26; Mark 14:23; Luke 22:10; 1 Cor. 11:24).
This form of consecration having been observed by Christ the Lord has been always used by the Catholic Church. The testimonies of the Fathers, the enumeration of which would be endless, and also the decree of the Council of Florence, which is well known and accessible to all, must here be omitted, especially as the knowledge which they convey may be obtained from these words of the Savior: Do this for a commemoration of Me (Luke 22:19). For what the Lord enjoined was not only what He had done, but also what He had said; and especially is this true, since the words were uttered not only to signify, but also to accomplish.
That these words constitute the form is easily proved from reason also. The form is that which signifies what is accomplished in the Sacrament; but as the preceding words signify and declare what takes place in the Eucharist, that is, the conversion of the bread into the true Body of our Lord, it therefore follows that these very words constitute the form. In this sense may be understood the words of the Evangelist: He blessed; for they seem equivalent to this: Taking bread, He blessed it, saying: “This is My Body” (Matt. 26:26).
Although in the Evangelist the words, Take and eat, precede the words (This is My body), they evidently express the use only, not the consecration, of the matter. Wherefore, while they are not necessary to the consecration of the Sacrament, they are by all means to be pronounced by the priest, as is also the conjunction for in the consecration of the Body and Blood. But they are not necessary to the validity of the Sacrament, otherwise it would follow that if this Sacrament were not administered to anyone, it should not, or indeed could not, be consecrated; whereas, no one can lawfully doubt that the priest, by pronouncing the words of our Lord according to the institution and practice of the Church, truly consecrates the proper matter of the bread, even though it should afterwards never be administered.
With regard to the consecration of the wine, which is the other element of this Sacrament, the priest, for the reason we have already assigned, ought of necessity to be well acquainted with, and well understand its form. We are then firmly to believe that it consists in the following words: This is the chalice of My Blood, of the new and eternal testament, the mystery of faith, which shall be shed for you and for many, to the remission of sins.10 Of these words, the greater part are taken from Scripture; but some have been preserved in the Church from apostolic tradition.
Thus the words, this is the chalice, are found in St. Luke and in the Apostle (Luke 12:20; 1 Cor. 11:25); but the words that immediately follow, of My Blood, or my blood of the new testament, which shall be shed for you and for many to the remission of sins, are found partly in St. Luke and partly in St. Matthew (Luke 22:20; Matt. 26:28). But the words, eternal, and the mystery of faith, have been taught us by holy tradition, the interpreter and keeper of Catholic truth.
Concerning this form no one can doubt, if he here also attend in what has been already said about the form used in the consecration of the bread. The form to be used (in the consecration) of this element evidently consists of those words which signify that the substance of the wine is changed into the Blood of our Lord. Since, therefore, the words already cited clearly declare this, it is plain that no other words constitute the form.
They moreover express certain admirable fruits of the Blood shed in the Passion of our Lord, fruits which pertain in a most special manner to this Sacrament. Of these, one is access to the eternal inheritance, which has come to us by right of the new and everlasting testament. Another is access to righteousness by the mystery of faith; for God hath set forth Jesus to be a propitiator through faith in His Blood, that He Himself may be just, and the justifier of him, who is of the faith of Jesus Christ” (Rom. 3:25). A third effect is the remission of sins.
Since these very words of consecration are replete with mysteries and most appropriately suitable to the subject, they demand a more minute consideration.
The words: This is the chalice of My Blood, are to be understood to mean. This is My Blood, which is contained in this chalice. The mention of the chalice made at the consecration of the Blood is right and appropriate, inasmuch as the Blood is the drink of the faithful, and this would not be sufficiently signified if it were not contained in some drinking vessel.
Next follow the words: Of the new testament. These have been added that we might understand the Blood of Christ the Lord to be given not under a figure, as was done in the Old Law, of which we read in the Epistle to the Hebrews (9:18) that without blood a testament is not dedicated; but to be given to men in truth and in reality, as becomes the New Testament.11 Hence the Apostle says: Christ therefore is the mediator of the new testament, that by means of His death, they who are called may receive the promise of eternal inheritance (Heb. 9:15).
The word eternal refers to the eternal inheritance, the right to which we acquire by the death of Christ the Lord, the eternal testator.
The words mystery of faith, which are subjoined, do not exclude the reality, but signify that what lies hidden and concealed and far removed from the perception of the eye, is to be believed with firm faith. In this passage, however, these words bear a meaning different from that which they have when applied also to Baptism. Here the mystery of faith consists in seeing by faith the Blood of Christ veiled under the species of wine; but Baptism is justly called by us the Sacrament of faith, by the Greeks, the mystery of faith, because it embraces the entire profession of the Christian faith.
Another reason why we call the Blood of the Lord the mystery of faith is that human reason is particularly beset with difficulty and embarrassment when faith proposes to our belief that Christ the Lord, the true Son of God, at once God and man, suffered death for us, and this death is designated by the Sacrament of His Blood.
Here, therefore, rather than at the consecration of His Body, is appropriately commemorated the Passion of our Lord, by the words which shall be shed for the remission of sins. For the Blood, separately consecrated, serves to place before the eyes of all, in a more forcible manner, the Passion of our Lord, His death, and the nature of His sufferings.
The additional words for you and for many, are taken, some from Matthew, some from Luke (Matt. 26:28; Luke 22:20), but were joined together by the Catholic Church under the guidance of the Spirit of God. They serve to declare the fruit and advantage of His Passion. For if we look to its value, we must confess that the Redeemer shed His Blood for the salvation of all; but if we look to the fruit which mankind has received from it, we shall easily find that it pertains not unto all, but to many of the human race. When therefore (our Lord) said: For you, He meant either those who were present, or those chosen from among the Jewish people, such as were, with the exception of Judas, the disciples with whom He was speaking. When He added, And for many, He wished to be understood to mean the remainder of the elect from among the Jews or Gentiles.
With reason, therefore, were the words for all not used, as in this place the fruits of the Passion are alone spoken of, and to the elect only did His Passion bring the fruit of salvation. And this is the purport of the Apostle (Heb. 9:28) when he says: Christ was offered once to exhaust the sins of many; and also of the words of our Lord in John: I pray for them; I pray not for the world, but for them whom thou hast given me, because they are thine (John 17:9).
Beneath the words of this consecration lie hid many other mysteries, which by frequent mediation and study of sacred things, pastors will find it easy, with the divine assistance, to discover for themselves.
1The loaves of proposition, or shew-breads, were twelve loaves of unleavened bread placed in the Holy of Holies and renewed every Saturday. Their purpose was to show forth the gratitude of the twelve tribes to the Lord, their sustenance and strength.
2In Matt. Hom. lxxxi. n.1
3For an explanation of the time when our Lord kept His last Pasch and instituted the Holy Eucharist see Callan, The Four Gospels, pages 167-171.
4On the bread used for the Eucharist see Summa Theol. 3a, lxxiv. 1-4
5In Matt. Hom. lxxxii, n.2
7Decret. lib. iii, 41. c. 12
8On the wine used for the Eucharist see Summa Theol. 32, lxxiv. 5-8
9On the necessity and fitness of the matter of the Eucharist, see Summa Theol. 34. lxxiv. I; on the matter of the Eucharist see St. Alphonsus, Theol. Mor. vi. 194-219; Code of Canon Law, canons 814-817.
10Decret. bb. iii. tit. 41. c 6.
11Christ is present in the Eucharist not merely in sign or in figure, but in truth and in reality (Council of Trent, Sess. xiii, cap. 1)