As you know from your studies of the theology of St. Thomas Aquinas, when we receive the Holy Eucharist we are receiving the Lord Himself and not a symbol. It was the Protestant Reformation that rejected the true presence of Jesus in the host. They believe in the symbolic presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. Protestants believe the host is still bread. In the 13th century the Dominican priest Thomas Aquinas taught us that we receive the very “body, blood, soul and Divinity of Christ” in the Eucharist. He is present to us fully and completely in the host as well as in the chalice. However, and this is the important point, St. Thomas tells us the accidents remain (what we can perceive with our senses). The 13th century hymn “Pange Lingua” written by St. Thomas in honor of the Holy Eucharist ends with the words “sensuum defectui” which mean “our senses fail us.” In other words, while the host is now God, those qualities and effects of bread and wine still remain. It looks like bread, tastes like bread, feels like bread, but it is God.
Moreover, St. Thomas teaches us that bread ceases to exist, when the priest pronounces the words that only he can say: “This is my body.”
How can this be? How can this be something other than what we perceive with our senses? The answer lies in the heavens.
Go out tonight and lay flat upon your front lawn. Look up into the heavens. Two things will happen. First, the neighbors will stare at you, but more importantly, you will see the stars. What you are seeing is not really there now! Astronomers tell us what you are really seeing is the past. Because it took millions, perhaps billions of years for the light of those starts to reach your eyes on earth, you are looking at light from millions and billions of years ago. You are literally looking billions of years into the past. But more to our point—your senses are failing you: “sensuum defectui” as St. Thomas Aquinas say. Your senses are fooling you. What you are looking at might not really be there anymore.
The same is true of the Holy Eucharist. What you see is bread, but what it is, is simply—God!
Today throughout the world there are large and small Eucharistic processions in churches and streets in a monstrance such as portrayed below. It is a showcase, a throne for God. We bow or genuflect before the tabernacle where the blessed host is kept. If this were merely bread we would be idolaters. But we know that, even though our senses deceive us, what we are in the presence of…is God Himself.
– Fr. Gerard Gordon