Q. I firmly believe that at Mass the Eucharist becomes Christ’s body and blood. But here’s what I don’t understand: Why then do the properties of the bread and wine still affect people — for example, those with wheat allergies or alcoholics? (Danville, Indiana)
A. Not surprisingly, this is a bit difficult to explain: It is, after all, a mystery of our faith — a miracle of Christ’s doing — and there is nothing else to which it can be compared.
But it is nevertheless a core belief of the Catholic faith that the bread and wine are changed at Mass into the body and blood of Christ, something celebrated and proclaimed by hundreds of millions throughout the world since the evening of the Last Supper when Jesus said, “This is my body. … This is my blood.”
A bit of Thomistic philosophy might help: What the church believes is that the “substance” (deepest reality) of the bread and wine is changed but the “accidents” (physical attributes) are not. In other words, with the priest’s words of consecration, what continues to look, taste and feel like bread and wine have actually become instead the glorified presence of Christ.
So committed was Jesus to this central truth that in the sixth chapter of John’s Gospel, even when some of his followers abandoned Christ because of this teaching, Jesus let them walk away and did not say, “Wait, we’re only talking about symbols.”
For those with wheat allergies or for alcoholics, the church does make provision for the use of low-gluten hosts and for “mustum” (grape juice in which fermentation has begun but has been suspended). Still there are those for whom even trace amounts of gluten or alcohol can be harmful. They may opt to receive under only one species, and the church teaches that Jesus is wholly present under either one.
Q. I know that life begins at conception. So I want to believe that when a woman has a miscarriage, no matter how early in the pregnancy, her unborn baby goes to heaven — but I am wondering what the church’s view is on this. (As a woman who has experienced a miscarriage, I would find great comfort in knowing that I will be reunited someday with my baby in heaven.) (State College, Pennsylvania)
A. I suppose that a theological purist might say that there is no definitive church position on the ultimate fate of a miscarried child.
But from many things that the church has, in fact, taught in its official documents, it seems reasonable to assume that the child is in heaven. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “Baptism is necessary for salvation for those to whom the Gospel has been proclaimed and who have had the possibility of asking for this sacrament” (No. 1257).
But the miscarried child has had, of course, no chance to ask for the sacrament. A few paragraphs later, the catechism says, “Indeed, the great mercy of God who desires that all men should be saved, and Jesus’ tenderness toward children which caused him to say: ‘Let the children come to me, do not hinder them,’ allow us to hope that there is a way of salvation for children who have died without baptism” (No. 1261).
When an infant is baptized, the infant makes no personal profession of faith; instead it is left to the parents and godparents to voice their desire to have the child christened. Why wouldn’t the same logic prevail in the case of a miscarriage? Had the child been carried to term, the parents would certainly have had the child baptized, so why wouldn’t a merciful God who reads hearts consider that intention sufficient?
Be comforted and at peace: I think it’s quite likely that you will meet your child in heaven.
Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at email@example.com and 30 Columbia Circle Dr., Albany, New York 12203.