The headline in USA Today announces that “US Catholics need a crash course in Church teaching on Communion. Biden gave an opening.” Opinion columnist Katrina Trinko (who most probably didn’t write the headline) has the best intentions, I’m sure, in professing her deep faith in the Real Presence. But she seems to misunderstand Church teaching when she writes:
When the priest utters those words, “This is my Body. … This is the chalice of my Blood,” Jesus Christ is truly present, as present as He was 2,000 years ago.
Actually, no. 2,000 years ago our divine Lord was literally, physically present as a human being who walked the earth. In the Eucharist, Jesus is present sacramentally in his resurrected and glorified state. There is a difference. Same Lord, but only one presence of the two is as a sacrament of the church. The mode of presence is not the same.
The distinction matters. Crude physicalism, localism , literalism – all these distort the Church’s faith, impede Catholics from drawing all that they might from this inexhaustible mystery, run the risk of idolatry, and set back ecumenical relations by needlessly increasing the divisions between Catholics and Protestants.
If the U.S. bishops go ahead with their document on the eucharist, they will have a delicate task before them in setting forth the full faith of the Church so as not to perpetuate common misunderstandings and distortions! The misunderstandings come from two directions – a reductionism on the one side that doesn’t affirm real presence; a literalism on the other side that distorts it.