Kathryn Lopez writes, The Easter declaration is unlike any other declaration. It doesn't make us…
Can children understand transubstantiation?
Question: I heard a catechist of my daughter’s second grade religion class say, regarding holy Communion, that the host is a vessel, a container that contains the Real Presence of Jesus. That is why they call it a host. She teaches them that Jesus comes down and enters into the host at consecration. When I disagreed in what she was teaching, she assured me that the minds of these young children were unable to comprehend the concept of consuming the body and blood of Jesus.
— Arnold Carson via e-mail
Answer: Obviously there are many problems here. First, Jesus is not physically inside the bread or wine. There is no bread or wine to physically be in since they are transubstantiated. That is, they go from being one substance — bread and wine — to being another: the whole Christ, body, blood, soul and divinity. Thus the bread and wine are not vessels that Christ goes into. While the appearances of bread and wine remain, their reality is changed by the Lord who says, “This is my body … This is my blood” (cf. Luke 22:19-20). He does not say, “My body is in this … my blood is in that.” Jesus further insists on this reality in John 6 to the Jews who objected, and St. Paul surely insists on this in 1 Corinthians 11.
The word “host” has nothing to do with being a container. The word “host” is taken from the Latin word hostis, meaning victim or sacrificial offering. It can also be used more generically to refer to the bread destined to become the Body of Christ. But the bread called the host goes away, with only the appearances and other accidents — such as taste, touch and appearance — and becomes the body, blood, soul and divinity of Christ.
As for what the minds of young children are able to understand, it wasn’t a problem for me to understand when I received my first Communion at age seven. I knew it was Jesus. I was not confused. I did not know exactly how it was Jesus, but I believed. Children are actually better at accepting the mystery than many adults. Frankly, the whole world is a mystery to children. But as time moves on for them, their understanding deepens about a lot of things.
But regarding the Eucharist, the full mystery will never be fully comprehended by us. It is something we accept by faith and come to understand more deeply — though never fully — by the same faith.
Fixed Easter date
Question: Why do some people think we should have a fixed date for Easter? Is that a good idea?
— James Acton, Sun City, Arizona
Answer: We live in times where convenience is emphasized. Though everyone knows when Christmas will be, Easter floats, since its date is fixed as the Sunday following the full moon that follows the vernal equinox. Some years the full moon occurs close to the equinox, and other years it happens later. Thus Easter can range from late March to mid-April.
This presents challenges to churches and makes planning more difficult for Easter and other events — like first Communion, Pentecost and confirmation.
But do not expect a move to a fixed date. In the early Church, a significant fight broke out over the dating of Easter. The debate, often called quartodecimanism, severely divided the Church in the East and West. The matter is too complex to detail here, but its solution involved councils, the pope and emperors. Long and tense negotiations in the fourth century yielded the system we have now, so for this reason, it is unlikely to change.