From Faith Pulpit, Summer 2015. Used by permission, all rights reserved. Read Part 1.
The Fourth Lateran Council of the Catholic Church in 1215 mentioned the term “transubstantiation” to describe what happened in the Mass. Transubstantiation taught that the bread and wine actually and literally became the body and blood of Christ. But how could this be, seeing how everyone still tasted bread when they partook? The doctrine had been building steadily for some three centuries prior, but how could the scholastic intellectuals of that day explain and justify something which obviously went against the experience of everyone who participated?
As Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274) would clarify, when the priest pronounced the words of consecration, the “essence” of bread and wine changed to become the essence of Christ’s body and blood. The “accidents” (the external characteristics of the bread—salty, sweet, crunchy, soft) remained the same. How can the RAMHI help us understand this monumental doctrine of the Catholic Church?1
First, who was in charge? The answer is the scholastics of that day, and Thomas Aquinas in particular. They sought to give a “scientific” or credible explanation for this unusual occurrence.