As you know from your study of the theology of St. Thomas Aquinas, when we receive the Holy Eucharist we are receiving the Lord Himself and not a symbol. St. Thomas tells us 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 it 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 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 police may arrive, 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 of years for the light of those starts to reach earth, you are looking at light from millions of years ago. You are literally looking millions of years into the past. What you are seeing may or may not be there in reality. Your senses are failing you: “sensuum defectui” as St. Thomas Aquinas say.
The same is true of the Holy Eucharist. What you see is bread, but what it is, is simply—God!
– Fr. Gerard Gordon