When is the Real Presence Gone?
News of earthquakes prompted my class to ask this question: If a church is destroyed by a quake and the Blessed Sacrament then gets buried among tons of rubble, how can we say Christ is really present in the Eucharist if nobody knows what happened to the sacred hosts? Ines
Our faith teaches us that Christ is truly, really and substantially present in the sacred host in his body, blood, soul and divinity.
This is a unique sacramental and mysterious presence like no other. The substance of bread has been replaced by the substance of Christ’s body, yet the outward appearances of bread (the host) remain unchanged. The real presence continues for as long as the appearances continue. This is the doctrine of Transubstantiation.
There once was a theological opinion called Transignification which maintained that bread has a meaning for you and me because it is our nutritious food, and when it is consecrated to become the body of Christ, its meaning is changed to that of spiritual food for our souls.
Following this view we could say that when the Eucharist is dumped under a pile of debris and lost to us, it has no further meaning because there is no human intelligence to give it meaning. Christ’s presence would be lost in such a case.
This view is not in line with the Church’s authentic teaching. Instead of upholding the real, substantial and objective presence of Christ in the Eucharist, it makes his presence dependent on our recognition of the host as spiritual food for our souls. In other words, Christ’s presence would not be real, but subjective, dependent on its meaning to human minds and not on the real objective change in the substance of the bread.
If sacred hosts become scattered and crushed under layers of earth, and are not perceived as hosts, it follows that the appearances of bread have been destroyed. If the appearances of bread are not evident then Christ is not present.
If the hosts are eventually retrieved from the wreckage and found intact, enclosed tightly in a ciborium, then Christ is still really present, and the hosts must receive the necessary reverence.
It could be argued that this is hard to understand because God never intended the sacred hosts to be lost in a heap of rubbish.
The answer must be sought in the mystery of Christ’s infinite love which we already experience in his real presence in our tabernacles, where we can pray and talk to him as personally present as he was to his Apostles.
If an earthquake strikes, people lose their lives, and the tabernacle is untraceable afterwards, we can be consoled knowing just how close the risen Christ is to us in the mystery of the Eucharist, even in the most horrible of tragedies.