I, Berengarius, firmly believe and confess with my mouth, that the bread and wine which are laid on the altar, by the mystery of sacred prayer and the words of our Redeemer, are substantially converted into the very flesh and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, true and life-giving; and that after consecration it is the true Body of Christ which was born of the Virgin, which was offered as a sacrifice on the cross for the salvation of the world, and which sits at the right hand of the Father, and the very Blood of Christ which flowed from His side; and that the sacrament is to be understood not merely as a sign and virtually, but actually and really, as I have read it and you understand it to be set forth in this brief statement.
—Statement of Berengarius at Sixth Council of Rome (1079)
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Like many Christians, Berengar of Tours, a French 11th century theologian and archdeacon, struggled with our Catholic understanding of the Holy Eucharist. He challenged the Church’s leadership to help him grasp the depth of this doctrine of transubstantiation. His dispute led to the above confession in which he finally laid aside all his doubts and proclaimed “Yes!” to this foundational teaching of our Catholic faith.
Sometimes I wonder whether we are willing to enter into the struggle of belief. How easy it is to doubt, minimize and avoid such challenging tenets of our faith. While it is okay to struggle, it is not okay to diminish and dodge. Our belief in the Holy Eucharist is at the core of our Catholic faith. We are called to embrace this great mystery, this Sacrament of Sacraments.
I am always befuddled when I am confronted by Catholics, Christians, and even non-Christians to compromise our belief in the Holy Eucharist. I regularly hear pleas for pastoral sensitivity. For example:
Father, we don’t want to anger people by refusing to offer them Communion; or,
Father, how can we be so unwelcoming? I’m offered the Eucharist when I attend other Christian churches; or,
Father, can’t we just make an exception this one time?
And the list of implorations goes on and on and on. The bottom line is that our Catholic understanding of the Holy Eucharist does set us apart from other Christians. There is no compromise here. Perhaps look at it this way. When you receive Holy Communion and the minister says “the Body/Blood of Christ,” your response “Amen!” literally means: “Yes, I believe all that the Catholic Church teaches, professes and believes.” Therefore, out of respect for the individual, if this is not their belief, then the Church does not want the person to be hypocritical and publicly defame themselves. We truly strive to love and respect people. We do not want to mislead, thus it is important to be clear and consistent in what and how we proclaim our beliefs.
Therefore this weekend when we celebrate the Feast of Corpus Christi (the Body and Blood of Christ), I encourage everyone to reflect on and celebrate this central mystery of our Catholic faith. Realize that no one said your personal “Yes!” would be easy. Like life, often our faith does stretch us beyond our human understanding. I pray each of us is up to the challenge. May God continue to bless our journey of faith.
P.S., as the great 13th century theologian St. Thomas Aquinas offered in his “Concerning Reasons of Faith” —
Does any unbeliever profess that the changing of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of the Lord is impossible. Then let him consider God’s omnipotence. Admit that nature can transform one thing into another, then with greater reason should you admit that God’s almighty power, which brings into existence the whole substance of things, can work, not in the same matter, but by changing one whole thing into another whole thing.