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If God Is Present All Around Us, Why Does the Church Teach Transubstantiation?

A listener named Lenny asks Father Dave about the Church’s teaching of transubstantiation. “I went to Catholic High School, and we learned that God is omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient,” he begins. “[Regarding] transubstantiation, we understand that the priest is bringing God or Jesus into the host. My comment, or my ignorant question is, wasn’t he already there? Like if he’s omnipresent, omniscient, and omnipotent, isn’t it already that way?”

Father Dave responds, “That’s a good question, because in the Church’s teaching about the Eucharist, we say that Christ is present in the Eucharist. We also say that God is with us, God is everywhere.” 

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He turns to section 1374 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church to help us better understand the differences between these concepts. Father Dave goes through this paragraph line by line saying, “[It says] ‘The mode of Christ’s presence under the Eucharistic species is unique.’ So let’s even stop there for a second Lenny, and say that presence can be in different ways. God can be present to me in prayer, but what it says about the Eucharist is that that particular type of presence of God is unique.”

“[The Catechism continues] ‘It is presence in the fullest sense, that is to say, it is a substantial presence by which Christ, God and man, makes himself wholly and entirely present.’ So when we say that Christ is present ‘body, blood, soul and divinity’ in the consecrated Eucharist, we don’t say that Christ is present ‘body, blood, soul and divinity,’ in the headphones I’m wearing or in the cactus that I see when I go on retreat,” Father Dave says. 

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He continues to draw the distinction saying, “God is present all around us and we can, in prayer, immediately turn to God. We don’t have to wait for him to come down, zooming down on his sleigh or something from heaven. God is present that way, but not in this way that we’re talking about in the Eucharist…When we say ‘substantial’ in this sense, we mean it is the substance of the thing, actually containing the substance of Christ’s flesh and blood.”

“His humanity is also present in the consecrated species, his very flesh,” Father Dave continues. “We wouldn’t say that Christ as a human being is present in other ways, like when we’re walking down the street, or we’re driving in the car. The human Jesus is not physically sitting there. But in the Eucharist, we believe that it’s Christ, God and man, making himself wholly and entirely present in the Eucharist.”