The Real Presence Proved from Tradition.
IN our last argument we acted on the defensive. We challenged our adversaries to prove that a change took place in the teaching of the Church regarding the Real Presence. They failed. No Protestant has ever yet proved it. We now take the offensive, and prove that not only was no change introduced, but show from the clearest testimony of the fathers that the Church believed in every age the holy dogma of the Real Presence. This leads us to our last argument Tradition. The student of ecclesiastical history well knows that there existed among the early Christians what is called the "Discipline of the Secret." This discipline enjoined the most inviolable secrecy about the mystery of the Blessed Eucharist even to catechumens. St. Augustine says: "If you ask a catechumen if he believes in the Incarnation, he would make the sign of the cross to show that he believes. If you ask whether he believes in the Eucharist, he does not know what you mean." Tract xi. in Joann. The object was to save this august and awful mystery of love and reverence from the sneers and blasphemies of the pagans. Still we have fathers in every age to attest the doctrine.
We have in the first century the testimony of St. Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch, who sealed his faith with his blood in the Colosseum of Rome. He says (Epist. ad Smyrneum, c. vii.) "They (the heretics of his time) abstain from the Eucharist, because they do not confess the Eucharist to be the flesh of our Saviour Jesus Christ, which suffered for our sins and which the Father raised from the dead." What a glorious testimony to our holy faith! Eighteen centuries have rolled by, burying in ruin the mighty empire of Rome. Today the Christian, with tears of gratitude, kisses the cross planted on the very spot where the fearless martyr professed Christ before one hundred thousand pagan spectators. All have passed away; but the faith of St. Ignatius and of Rome in the Real Presence still lives.
St. Cyril, Bishop of Jerusalem, who flourished in the fourth century, says: "Since Christ himself, therefore, said of the bread, this is my body, who shall dare doubt it? And since he declares, this is my blood, who shall doubt it, and say it is not his blood? By his power in Cana of Galilee, he once changed water into wine; and shall he not be thought worthy of belief in changing wine into his blood? ... Wherefore, with full confidence, let us take the body and blood of Christ; for in the form or figure of bread his body is given to us, and in the form or figure of wine his blood is given to us.... Judge not by the senses, but let faith confirm you. What appears bread is not bread, but the body of Christ; what appears to you wine, is not wine, but the blood of Christ." Mustag., cat. 4. Let us ask; could the doctrine be expressed in words more clear, plain, and simple?
St. Gregory, of Nyssa, also of the fourth century, says: "I, therefore, in like manner rightly believe that bread, which is sanctified by the Word of God, is changed into the body of God the Word." Orat. Catech., c. xxxvii. We might produce many passages from St. Cyril of Alexandria. St. Chrysostom, etc., but these quotations sufficiently show what had been the faith of the Eastern or Greek Church.
Let us now cite a few of the Latin fathers. St. Justin, of the second century, says: "We do not take these gifts (the Holy Eucharist) as common bread and wine, but we believe them to be the flesh and blood of that Jesus Incarnate." Apo. i. n. 66. Tertullian, of the third century, says: "The bread which Christ took and distributed to his disciples, he made his body, by saying: `This is my body.'" And again: "The flesh feeds on the body and blood of Christ, that the soul may be fattened with God." Lib. de Resurrec., c. viii. St. Ambrose says (Lib. de Init., c. ix.) "When we offer sacrifice, Christ is present, Christ is sacrificed.". . . . "The body which we consecrate is of the Virgin." "It is truly the flesh of Christ, which was crucified and buried." St. Augustine says, at communion even "the very wicked eat the very flesh of Christ and drink his blood." Serm. lxxi. de Verb. Dom, And again he says: "Oh! venerable dignity of priests, in whose hands, as in the womb of Mary, the Son of God becomes incarnate." In Ps. xxvii. We might quote St Irenaeus of Lyons, St. Cyrian of Carthage, St Jerome, and many others; but the passages produced evidently prove that the Latin fathers of the first centuries believed, as we now do, the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.
The Irish Fathers.
Although we have already gone far beyond the limits of our plan, still we know the heart of the Irish reader will dilate with gratitude to God, when he reads a few passages of the tradition of our own dear Irish Church the Church of St. Patrick, St. Brigid, and countless Irish saints. The Irish Church! how sweet the very name! dearer to us than life; for which our forefathers gave up all nay, shed their blood.
The learning of modern scholars has brought to light many valuable documents in proof of our holy faith, and especially of the doctrine of the Real Presence. First, we have a valuable manuscript called the Stowe Missal, according to the best Irish scholars not later than the sixth century. In this missal we find a mass for the dead, for the living, mass of apostles, mass of virgins; and the greater part of the canon is word for word the same as the Roman Missal we use today. Is this like Protestant doctrine? Thus the Irish priest, at God's altar, uses today the same prayers as his sainted fathers used thirteen centuries ago!
Secondly, we have another manuscript, called the Bobbio Missal, given by our great Irish saint and apostle, St. Columbanus, who flourished in the sixth century, to his Irish disciples in Italy. In this missal the canon of the mass is substantially the same as in the Roman. The prayers in this book clearly prove the doctrine of the Blessed Eucharist. Let us give one example. Of our Divine Lord it says: "By participating of whose flesh we are strengthened, and by drinking whose blood we are cleansed." Could Catholic doctrine be expressed more clearly? We will give but one more illustration.
The lamented late Eugene O'Curry translated from the ancient Gaelic a little treatise called "An Exposition of the Ceremonies of the Mass" a very unProtestant name, no doubt! It belonged to the fifth or sixth century. We find in it these remarkable words: "Another division of that pledge, which has been left with the Church to comfort her, is the body of Christ and his blood, which are offered upon the altars of the Christians, the body which was born of Mary the Immaculate Virgin, and which was crucified by the unbelieving Jews: ... and which arose after three days from death, and sits upon the right hand of God the Father in heaven, in glory and dignity" Could any Catholic bishop of this day express our holy faith in clearer terms? Who is not struck by these emphatic words; "The very body that was born of the Immaculate Virgin, and was crucified by the unbelieving Jews"? How like the words of St. Augustine of Africa: "Oh! venerable dignity of priests, in whose hands, as in the womb of Mary, the Son of God becomes Incarnate." In Ps. xxvii.
In the lives of our great national saints, we find clear proofs of the same holy doctrine. To begin with St. Patrick, our illustrious Apostle. The two fair virgin daughters of King Leoghaire said to him: "Give us the sacrifice of the body and blood of Christ, that we may be freed from the corruption of the flesh, and may see our Spouse, who is in heaven." "Then St. Patrick celebrated mass, and both daughters of the King approached the communion with great hope and perfect faith, and when they had communicated they immediately rested in peace." Probus, Tr. Th. P. 58. When the hour of death approached, St. Patrick, like all his children to this day, fortified his soul with the holy communion, or viaticum. We read in his life: "When the hour of death approached, he received the sacrament from the Bishop Tassach: it was at the admonition of the angel Victor he received the viaticum of eternal life." Vita Trip. St. Benignus, the beloved disciple of St. Patrick, prepared for death thus: "The man of God, seeing that the time of his dissolution was at hand, sent for St. Jarlath, and received most devoutly from his hand the earnest and pledge of eternal happiness, the body of the Lord, and thus prepared himself for death, and for his entrance to his heavenly country." Vita, c. xviii.
One more illustration. In the life of St. Brigid, the "Mary of Erin," dear to every Irish heart, we read: Immediately before her death, "she received the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God, from the most pure hand of St. Nennidh, as she herself had predicted." Trias Thaum p. 559.
We might cite many other authorities from the most venerable tradition of our Holy Irish Church, but the passages produced clearly prove the faith of our forefathers in the real presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist. Will not the Irish heart exult in holy joy and thanksgiving to God, that in the darkest midnight of persecution the lamp of faith still burned, and that after centuries of unparalleled trials and sufferings, we today possess the very same faith that fourteen hundred years ago St. Patrick preached to our fathers?
Hence it is clear that the faith of St. Patrick in Ireland was the same as that of St. Augustine in Africa, St. Cyril of Asia, St. Justin of Rome. Indeed, so strong and clear are the testimonies of both the Greek and Latin fathers in favor of the Catholic doctrine, that many Protestants candidly confess that tradition is opposed to them, and hence appeal to the sacred Scriptures against the Fathers. This confession in plain terms amounts to this that the written word of God is in contradiction to his unwritten Word tradition; that, notwithstanding the promises of Christ to be always with his Church, and that the gates of hell should not prevail against her, for fifteen hundred years the Universal Church was enveloped in the midnight darkness of error, and idolatry, until the light of the Reformation dawned, and the light of the Gospel shone upon the immortal apostates, Luther, Calvin, Henry the Eighth, and other notorious champions of Protestantism! Surely such a Church could not be the chaste spouse of Jesus the Lamb, to sanctify and beautify which he shed his precious blood!
Proscription, therefore, and the tradition of the Church in every age, are in accordance with the teaching of St. Paul on the dogma of the Real Presence. St. Paul confirmed the same doctrine contained in the sacred words of institution, narrated by the three Evangelists. The words of institution fulfil the promise made by the Redeemer in the Gospel of St. John, as also the figures and prophecies of the Old Testament. All these taken together irresistibly force upon the candid mind the conviction of the truth of the holy dogma, so clearly defined by the Council of Trent, that in the sacrament of the Most Holy Eucharist are contained, truly, really, and substantially, the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ."
My soul! that thou "mayest live forever," and "be raised up on the last day," Jesus Christ has given his body and blood for thy food and drink. Here on earth thou dost possess a treasure, than which heaven itself has nothing more precious or holy. God himself, Jesus Christ, is thine. O sacred mystery! O holy faith!
My Jesus! ever present in the most holy sacrament; my Jesus! "Tree of Life," "Manna of Heaven," "Paschal Lamb," "Bread of Angels," "Wheat of the elect, and Wine springing forth virgins;" in gratitude for one of thy sweetest and choicest blessings the grace of a firm faith in the Real Presence I resolve, every day of my life to thank thee; and, secondly, daily to pray for final perseverance in this holy faith, and for the conversion of heretics, that they too may love and believe in thee, Jesus, in the Holy Eucharist Sacred Heart of Jesus! watch over my poor resolutions.
Return to Contents
Return to Homepage.