Irish Catholicism now
Sir, – Like John Waters, I too would find “difficulty discussing transubstantiation with my best friend — not because I have problems with the doctrine but because such matters are impossible to discuss in the language we use for politics, shopping and sex” (Opinion Analysis, June 8th). I believe your correspondent hit the nail on the head. “Transubstantiation” is a highly technical, metaphysical term that ought never to have featured in popular notions of the Eucharist.
Thus I believe we must approach with great caution the result of the recent opinion poll that appears to show that many Roman Catholics do not believe in the doctrine of transubstantiation.
On this question, it is not a simple matter of yes or no, as might be the case for example if one were to ask people their attitude to contraception. It is possible to profess one’s faith in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist while having serious reservations about the theology of transubstantiation. The simple historical fact is that the church got on without the term for a thousand years, from which fact we can draw the safe conclusion that it belongs not to the substance of faith but to the manner of its formulation.
In the words of the Augustinian scholar Fr Gabriel Daly, the word “transubstantiation is brandished like a crusader’s sword whenever orthodoxy is deemed by some to be under attack”. These folk appear to think that one cannot have a sound Catholic “faith” in the Eucharist – as distinct from a “theology” – unless one thinks and speaks in terms of transubstantiation.
The church is the gathering of those who confess the lordship of Christ as the answer to their quest for truth. However, it is not unreasonable to demand that no one party in the church should ever be allowed to draw up the ground rules for membership or to impose its own definition of loyalty on those who share its faith but not its theology. – Yours, etc,