Real presence

Daily Reading for March 22 • James DeKoven, Priest, 1879

The Holy Eucharist is the doing in the sensible world, by God’s appointment under material forms, what Christ our Head and Chief is ever doing in the spiritual world. There is an earthly altar, and a human priesthood, and bread and wine; but Christ is really present as priest, and offering, and the food of the faithful who feed upon the sacrifice. One would expect that since Christ is in the Eucharist as priest and offering. His human nature, by the presence of which in Heaven He ever pleads for us what once It endured, should also be in the Eucharist; and so we find that He said of the elements: “This is my body which is being given for you.” “This is my blood which is being shed for you.” And again: “He that eateth Me, even he shall live by Me.”

The controversies of the times compel us to go further than this simple assertion of the presence of Christ. God and man in one person, in the Holy Eucharist, to declare that while we assert our belief in the presence, we refuse to define the mode or manner of the presence.

We do not affirm with the Roman Catholic, that it is by transubstantiation, or the annihilation of the substance of the bread and wine, and the substitution for it of the substance of Christ’s body and blood.

We do not affirm (if there be any who do), that it is by consubstantiation or impanation; namely, that “the substance of the Lord’s body and blood co-exists in union with the substance, of bread and wine, as iron and fire are united in a bar of heated iron.”

We do not affirm that it is by identity of substance, that is, that the substance of the Eucharist is at one and the same time the substance of bread and wine and the substance of Christ’s body and blood.

We refuse to explain away the mystery by saying that the holy elements are mere figures or images or symbols of Christ’s absent body and blood. In short, we accept no device or explanation of human reason, and where Christ and the church have refused to define, we refuse to define also.

The only word which the church has used to express, without defining the fact of the presence, is the word “SACRAMENTAL,” and so I hold that Christ’s human nature is in sacramental union with the consecrated elements. This presence is called REAL, to show that it is no mere figurative or symbolical presence. It is called SPIRITUAL, to show that it is no visible, carnal, material or local presence; “for that which is seen is not real; that which is material is dissoluble; that which is local is but partial.” This presence is also called spiritual, because it is the especial work of God’s Holy Spirit to make Christ’s human nature present, for the third Person of the adorable Trinity has come “not to supply Christ’s absence, but to accomplish His presence.”

Thus whenever and wherever I have asserted that Christ is present “in the elements,” “under the form or species of bread and wine,” I mean thereby that He is there present sacramentally and spiritually, and thus really and truly.

From A Letter from the Rev. James DeKoven, D.D., Warden of Racine College, to the Clergy and Laity of the Diocese of Illinois, in Convention Assembled September 14, 15, 16, 17, A.D. 1875 (Chicago: Mitchell and Hatheway, 1875); found at

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