How Does the Bread and Wine Become the Body and Blood?

Part 3

In this article, which is party of a series dedicated to the Mystery of the Eucharist, I will discuss how the bread and wine (the gifts) become the Body and Blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

In this passage, I must be careful not to say too much. There are many things that the Church in her wisdom has passed over in silence. Leaving the tendency to “explain” or provide logical answers to every question that arises, the Church through the centuries only speaks when she must about such deep mysteries.

We must first set aside a common misconception concerning the Church’s position on the Eucharist. A term has been used in the west, and, in particular, by our Catholic brethren, is “Transubstantiation.” This term that attempts to describe the “real presence of Christ” in the Eucharist did not appear until the 12th Century, and its use in the Council of Trent solidified its place in Catholic dogma. However, the Orthodox Church has never put forward a teaching similar to Transubstantiation. Rather, like I mentioned in the beginning, the Church has been careful not to say too much.
At the heart of the change of the gifts into the Body and Blood of Christ is the descent and operation of the Holy Spirit. During the Divine Liturgy, the celebrant (a priest or a bishop) offers up prayers on behalf of and for the people of God. Praying, “Once again we offer to You this spiritual worship without the shedding of blood, and we ask, pray, and entreat You: send down Your Holy Spirit upon us and upon these gifts here presented. And make this bread the precious Body of Your Christ. Amen. And that which is in this cup the precious Blood of Your Christ. Amen. Changing them by Your Holy Spirit. Amen. Amen. Amen.”

The “how” of this mystery remains unexplainable, and as a result, the Church says almost nothing about this event. Rather, a comparison is made in the writings of the Saints and in the Church between the change that occurs to the gifts and the Incarnation of Christ. The Church asks how we can explain the way in which the Lord of the Universe became a small babe swaddled and held by a human mother. Similarly, the Church asks how we can explain the changing of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ. Both events are beyond the human intellect. Moreover, our reception of the Body and Blood of Christ is also likened to the Lord’s Incarnation. The pre-eternal Logos humbled himself and through his self-emptying act, God became a human. In a like manner, we pray through the words of St. John Chrysostom: “But as from on high, You humbled Yourself and came to us, so now submit to the measure of my lowliness. As You consented to lie in a manger, consent now to come into the manger of my soul and body.”

The Church is aware that such mysteries are a cross to human understanding and so instead of explaining the Eucharist, she invites the faithful to participate by consuming the real Body and Blood of our Lord. The Eucharist is not to be comprehended or understood by the human mind. Consider the fact that the bread and wine are covered for almost the entire service with two exceptions: when we ask for the Holy Spirit to descend and sanctify them, and then again when they are left uncovered in order to be received. The Church has safeguarded the notion that our “perception” of this reality is through one’s physical eyes. Instead, the Church calls this Mystery the Mystical Supper, and she proclaims that our understanding of it comes through one’s spiritual eyes.

Laying aside all earthly cares, we approach the Eucharist of Christ. It is with time that we begin to comprehend that the true miracle is not found in “how” the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Jesus, but rather it is understood in God’s intercession in our lives. We discover that He is among us and through the Eucharist; what is Christ’s by nature becomes ours by grace. Through the Eucharist we live in a new reality, a world in which the Lord of the Universe, Christ, is not outside of our bodies but mysteriously inside.