The plain truth is that many people today struggle with the teaching of Transubstantiation. Although a main theme of the Sacred Scriptures is to not judge by appearances, many look at the appearance of bread and wine on the altar and choose to take into consideration only their sense experience in their approach to this great mystery. However, if each of us truly seek to live out our Faith as a relationship with God and receive His life-giving Grace through the Sacraments, we ourselves will be evidence of the great Mystery of Transubstantiation.
We remember that Transubstantiation is a scholastic term that is used to identify the change in substance of the bread and wine at Mass into the actual Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus. We see natural bread made from wheat grown from the earth and natural wine made from the grapes picked by human hands off the vine become something supernatural. Only with the eyes of Faith is this seen, but with reason we can at least lead our selves to this Supernatural visage.
The Scriptures are filled with the idea that we should not judge by appearances, but look deeper into reality with the eyes of Faith and trust in God. We see this lesson through the fault of Eve looking over the fruit in the garden and finding it “good to eat,” then losing her spiritual life through eating it. Moses learns not to judge by appearances after dismissing himself at the burning bush one moment and later leading a whole nation out of Egypt through the Red Sea. While choosing the new king of Israel from among Jesse’s sons, Samuel is taught that God is not choosing based on mere appearance, but based on the heart. And what lesson do we learn when the mighty Goliath, the most suited to win in appearance, is conquered by small, young David with merely a slingshot?
There are many more stories from the Old Testament that lead us to this understanding of reality, but we find the ultimate lesson on this truth in Jesus Himself. The Messianic movement was powerful within Judah as young women hoped and prayed to be get married and be the mother of the one promised to King David in 2 Samuel 7. The expectations were of a great and mighty king to lead the Jews to victory and independence from Rome. While Jesus did fulfill over three hundred prophecies from the Old Testament and brought about great miracles, he did not quite fit the image many of the Jews at that time had preconceived or wanted and so Jesus was rejected.
The Judgement placed on Christ was not one based on the Old Testament lesson that we should not judge based on mere appearances, but it was based on the legalistic view of the Old Testament that lead people to judge based on appearances. So in a way, like with the Original Sin, we see another example of what not to do. Furthermore, we can come to properly understand the deeper view of reality that God calls us to have through the teachings and actions of Christ, including those that lead us to the mystery of Transubstantiation.
In John 6, Jesus miraculously brings about the multiplication of the loaves and fish and the people want to make Him king right then and there, but He escapes. After His disciples witness Him walking on the water He proclaims to a crowd that whoever wants eternal life must eat His Flesh and drink His Blood. Murmuring. Doubts. “This teaching is too hard”
Jesus mentions five more times that His Flesh and Blood must be consumed in order for us to enter eternal Life. His Apostles, and maybe because they just saw Jesus walk on water, stay with Jesus as many leave. They manifest the judgment, the eyes of Faith and trust in God, that we are meant to have when dealing with reality. They do not quite understand, but they believe in Jesus and know He will take care of them through this hard teaching.
Jesus did take care of his followers as He always intended that we would receive His Flesh and Blood in a less disturbing way then one might originally think. His plan was from the beginning for us to receive Him through Transubstantiation. He is the Bread of Life! We consume Him through the form of Bread and Wine!
This understanding of the Teaching of Christ was not present at the preaching of Christ in John 6, but the change that the term “Transubstantiation” describes was intended by Jesus at that time. The understanding was not fully present at the Last Supper, when Christ held up the Bread declaring it to be His Body, but “Transubstantiation” was present. In 1215, the Church described the reality that occurs at the consecration of the Bread and Wine at Mass and identified it as Transubstantiation.
However, just as the process was initiated by Christ Himself as He instituted the Church, so too has each member of the Church from its beginning been a sign of the truth of Transubstantiation bringing about a Supernatural Reality from mere natural creation. Common Bread becomes the Bread of Angels. Common wine, becomes the very Blood which poured from the side of Christ. Humans too are meant to become more.
In his conversion, St. Paul, much like the Eucharist, has been transubstantiated. While He was always himself, he still experienced a great change within, a change that could not be entirely noticed by how He looked or merely the sound of his voice. The change within did modify the content of his speech and what actions he carried out, but we can agree that St. Paul appeared the same, yet had a new identity.
The same change occurs through baptism for all Christians. This example is more easily seen with the baptism of a baby, who truly seems to have no change. However, within the baby an entirely new life has begun without any difference noticed on the outside.
We too are called to this change similar to Transubstantiation. We are called to deep conversion that allows God to take ordinary us, like the ordinary bread, and bring about something extraordinary. And just like the Eucharist, only God can bring this about, but He seeks human cooperation. Our free will given to Him allows His grace to bring about a change in us that is like transubstantiation. Same humans, but profound holiness that God Himself brings about.
In this way each human life given to God can, like St. Paul’s conversion, be evidence for Transubstantiation. On the outside we appear as normal, but within, God’s presence is setting us on fire. Furthermore, like the Eucharist, this presence will be what draws others to God and allow them to come to know the same change, both within their own conversion and in the Transubstantiation of the Eucharist.