What Greater Arrogance Could There Be Than to Say to the Lord of Creation, ‘I Do Not Believe You’?” by Father Remi J. Payant (This Rock, July/August, 1999)

Father Remi J. Payant, of St. Paul, Minn., writes: “The president is appearing on television. If a child should say, ‘Mom, the president is on TV!’ what woman in all the world would answer, ‘Oh, that's not the president, it's just some electromagnetic waves exciting phosphors on a piece of glass’?

“[W]e live amid an invisible ocean of radio, television, radar, and other electromagnetic waves. With that in mind, who dares say that mere bread and wine remained when Jesus said, ‘This is my body. … This is my blood’ at the Last Supper and conferred the power of confecting the Eucharist on his disciples? … Think about how easily we accept the merely natural mysteries of the consecrated bread and wine.

“Astronomer Lloyd Motz of Columbia University has written, ‘If the total energy contained in [any] gram of matter were released, it would be sufficient to lift a one-million-ton object six miles into the air’ (Science Digest, February 1981). A gram is only 1/28 ounce. If the energy hidden in the bread and wine used at Mass were suddenly set free, everything around it would be blown to dust, so unimaginable is the power God has hidden in the atoms of these outwardly unimpressive substances.

“Do the bread and wine being prepared before the consecration — and we ourselves — appear solid and substantial? Really, the bread and wine and we are ghosts, specks of cosmic dust given size and form only by nuclear, electromagnetic, and gravitational forces. We are 999 trillion quadrillionths empty space. …”

Consider again the Eucharistic bread and wine: They “lie on the altar so still and motionless … but are they? Their electrons are whirling around their atomic nuclei trillions of times a second (1014 revolutions per second), their atoms restlessly elbow one another, their molecules dance to the melodies and discords of such forces as light and heat.

“Do the altar bread and wine influence us? In more ways than one. It is a fundamental law of physics that every object in the universe reaches out in gravitational attraction to every other object. This means that while all other objects reach out toward the bread and wine, they in turn reach out in endless gravitational bonds with their influence. The poet Francis Thompson put it beautifully:

All things near and far subtly connected are: thou canst not disturb a leaf without diverting a star.'”

So even in the “natural” sense the bread and wine transformed at the Eucharist are great forces to be reckoned with, as all of creation is. If we swallow these without a murmur, why do so many of us strain at believing God could do even more?

“As the story goes, a guard at the Louvre Museum in Paris overheard a groom say to his bride as they left the exhibit, ‘I really didn't think much of it.’ The guard stepped up and said, ‘Young man, this place is not on trial. You are.’

“I mentioned just a few of the many mysteries lying in the bread and wine readied for the Eucharist. Setting aside the profound mysteries in human perception — the why and how of atomic forces, the mystery of life in grapes and wheat struggling upward in a universe otherwise running down, the incomprehensible nature of time affecting all things — here is perhaps the greatest natural mystery of all: that when we eat ordinary bread and wine they begin to live and laugh and love.

In the face of such a swarm of merely natural mysteries, the Creator of these wonders steps into our world. While on earth he showed his power over physical substance by changing water into wine at Cana (John 2:1-11) and by twice multiplying loaves and fishes (Matthew 14:14-21 and 15:32-39). First in his own person and then through the lips of those he empowered as his successors, he assures us that he has displaced the substance of these substances with his glorified body by the words of consecration: ‘This is my body. … This is my blood. … Do this!’ Can we doubt?

“Indeed, the Eucharist is not on trial. We are.”

Ellen Wilson Fielding writes from Davidson, Maryland.

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