Good Reading for Corpus Christi
BOOK PICK: ‘Behold, It Is I’
BEHOLD, IT IS I:
SCRIPTURE, TRADITION, AND SCIENCE ON THE REAL PRESENCE
By Stacy Trasancos and Father George Elliott
TAN Books, 2021
235 pages, $27.98 (e-book, $9.98)
To order: ewtnrc.com
The 2019 Pew study that found only a third of Catholics in the United States understood what the Church teaches about the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist rightly should have set off alarm bells — because if two-thirds of Catholics don’t … “Houston, we have a problem.”
This book is an answer to that public faith emergency.
Stacy Trasancos and Father Elliott’s laser focus on what Scripture and Tradition have to say about the Real Presence — about how Christ is present, whole and entire, spirit, soul and body in the Eucharist — can help remedy the religious illiteracy of two-thirds of U.S. Catholics. Getting this book into people’s hands is vital.
Chapters 1-4 detail what the Bible teaches about the Eucharist, from what the Old Testament prefigures through what we find in the Institution Narratives and John 6 to the post-Resurrection Eucharistic content of the New Testament (Emmaus, Acts, Paul). Chapters 5-8 examine the writings of four Fathers of the Church: Sts. Ignatius of Antioch, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus of Lyons and Cyril of Jerusalem. Chapters 10-12 probe three Eucharistic “miracles.” Each chapter ends with a very helpful “Review/Summary” that recaps its “key ideas,” notes “good facts to memorize,” and offers “effective questions” to promote assimilation of and critical thinking about those ideas.
The authors write clearly and directly. They don’t water down what they’re saying, but they almost always know how to communicate complex ideas effectively for general readers. That’s especially impressive when it comes to John 6, a passage that — when rightly interpreted — makes the Real Presence clear, but when wrongly interpreted (as most Protestants do) becomes incoherent.
Consider this reflection:
“The line ‘do this in remembrance of me’ from the Gospels is also crucial for the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist today. While these arguments are sufficient for the Real Presence of Christ at the Last Supper, one could argue that they do not apply to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass today. In fact, Jesus commanded His apostles to ‘do this,’ not to ‘reenact this’ or to ‘pretend like you are doing this.’ He said to ‘do this.’ God never asks us to do what He does not give us the ability to do. Therefore, He also bestowed on the apostles the ability to do what Jesus was doing. That ability … was handed on through the ages to the bishops and priests of Christ’s Church.”
It’s why Holy Thursday gives us two sacraments: the Eucharist and holy orders.
The third part of the book explores a trio of Eucharistic “miracles.” Now, every Eucharist is a miracle because of the transubstantiation of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ. That said, there have been claims of further miracles, e.g., bleeding Hosts and Hosts that have appearances of flesh. The authors examine three: Lanciano (ca. 700), Bolsena (1263) and Buenos Aires (1992-96).
The authors’ review of scientific studies of these miracles finds them inconclusive. The authors probe the scientific research conducted in all three cases, ask tough but justified questions, and generally question the results. In contrast to other parts of the book, their scientific commentaries are sometimes harder to follow.
I found that part of the book more problematic. Science will probably always be incapable of addressing those Eucharistic miracles on purely scientific terms, which is what the authors appear to want to prove. My impression, however, was that the authors’ focus on faith may have sharpened their critical approach to those alleged miracles. I might have omitted Part III and expanded the book’s excellent scriptural and Patristic focus.
The authors also masterfully select excerpts from four Fathers of the Church to make clear that belief in the Real Presence has been central to Christianity from its beginning.