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If whenever communion occurs the bread and wine literally become Christ's body and blood then how is there enough of Christ's body to last for undoubtedly thousands of communion events every day for the past 2000 years? That would be millions of pounds of bread and wine over time.

How is this explained in the transubstantiation belief system? I assume somebody has had to have wondered this before. Is it explained away by saying that the bread isn't really the body, but it really is? Does God just perform a miracle and allow Christ's body to become theoretically infinite in mass?

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I'm not quite sure why I dislike this question. Maybe it strikes me as an attempt to find problems with transubstantiation. I guess it doesn't seem genuine--it seems like a nit-pick, looking for a logical inconstancy based on a likely misunderstanding of Catholic transubstantiation is. –  Flimzy Jul 14 at 18:58
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@Flimzy I don't see it as a jabbing question. A misunderstanding of transubstantiation is likely, but that is why there is a question, right? –  fredsbend Jul 14 at 19:08
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I'm deleting a swath of comments. In particular, the comment "I just wanted to make absolutely sure that there really are churches choosing to create a whole pervasive, burdensome, and divisive doctrine over a so-called miracle for which there is no biblical support whatsoever" has no place on this site. We don't argue or denigrate the beliefs we don't personally believe on this here. –  David Stratton Jul 15 at 1:16
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How is this explained in the transubstantiation belief system?

According to Catholic doctrine, the mechanism of transubstantiation is a mystery and a miracle. The physical process is not explained. From Pope Paul VI,

The Mystery of Faith, that is, the ineffable gift of the Eucharist that the Catholic Church received from Christ, her Spouse, as a pledge of His immense love, is something that she has always devoutly guarded as her most precious treasure, and during the Second Vatican Council she professed her faith and veneration in a new and solemn declaration. In dealing with the restoration of the sacred liturgy, the Fathers of the Council were led by their pastoral concern for the whole Church to regard it as a matter of highest importance to urge the faithful to participate actively, with undivided faith and the utmost devotion, in the celebration of this Most Holy Mystery, to offer it to God along with the priest as a sacrifice for their own salvation and that of the whole world, and to use it as spiritual nourishment.

Non-Catholic denominations that hold to the doctrine of transubstantiation approach the issue similarly. For example, the declaration by the Eastern Orthodox Synod of Jerusalem of 1672 says,

In the celebration of [the Eucharist] we believe the Lord Jesus Christ to be present. He is not present typically, nor figuratively, nor by superabundant grace, as in the other Mysteries, nor by a bare presence, as some of the Fathers have said concerning Baptism, or by impanation, so that the Divinity of the Word is united to the set forth bread of the Eucharist hypostatically, as the followers of Luther most ignorantly and wretchedly suppose. But [he is present] truly and really, so that after the consecration of the bread and of the wine, the bread is transmuted, transubstantiated, converted and transformed into the true Body Itself of the Lord, Which was born in Bethlehem of the ever-Virgin, was baptized in the Jordan, suffered, was buried, rose again, was received up, sits at the right hand of the God and Father, and is to come again in the clouds of Heaven; and the wine is converted and transubstantiated into the true Blood Itself of the Lord, Which as He hung upon the Cross, was poured out for the life of the world.

Is it explained away by saying that the bread isn't really the body, but it really is?

No. It's clear in the documents of the Catholic Church (namely the Council of Trent) that anyone who teaches that the bread and wine are not really the body and blood of Christ is anathema, which means cursed and expelled from the grace of God. From Trent, session thirteen, chapter three:

Canon I. If any one shall deny, that, in the sacrament of the most holy Eucharist, are verily, really, and substantially contained the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ, and consequently the whole Christ; but shall say that He is only therein as in a sign, or in figure, or virtue; let him be anathema.

Canon II. If any one shall say, that, in the sacred and holy sacrament of the Eucharist, the substance of the bread and wine remains conjointly with the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, and shall deny that wonderful and singular conversion of the whole substance of the bread into the Body, and of the whole substance of the wine into the Blood, the species only of the bread and wine remaining, which conversion indeed the Catholic Church most aptly calls Transubstantiation; let him be anathema.

Canon III. If any one shall deny, that, in the venerable sacrament of the Eucharist, the whole Christ is contained under each species, and under every part of each species, when separated; let him be anathema.

And from the same Eastern source as above,

But [he is present] truly and really, so that after the consecration of the bread and of the wine, the bread is transmuted, transubstantiated, converted and transformed into the true Body Itself of The Lord [...]

Does God perform a miracle and allow Christ's body to become theoretically infinite in mass?

There is no reason to conclude this from the body of doctrines on the Sacrament of the Eucharist. Nor is it necessary. There are a finite number of people who have lived and will have lived before The Lord comes in glory. The Sacraments, though infinite in source and ability, will be preformed, though many, a finite number of times.

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So basically..."it's a miracle"...? –  LCIII Jul 14 at 17:32
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@LCIII and a mystery. I personally am not convinced of the doctrine's necessity. My opinion is that when Christ said "unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, there is no life in you," he meant something even much deeper, profound, and miraculous than the Catholic sacrament of the Eucharist. –  Andrew Jul 14 at 17:52
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One correction: "verily, really, and substantially" are not the same as "physically". –  Matt Gutting Jul 14 at 20:08
    
I'm still confused by this. Physically impossible things can't be a miracle nor a mystery. Or they can? God can create logical and physical contradictions? Then why do we bother reasoning about Him? etc... –  djechlin Jul 14 at 21:04
    
The problem is, it's not in the category of "physically possible" OR "physically impossible". It has to do with Substance theory - look up "Accident (philosophy)" on Wikipedia. –  Matt Gutting Jul 14 at 21:59
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There are several churches which use the idea of transubstantiation; but the Eastern churches (Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, and Assyrian Church of the East) share a similar view on how it works. I'll therefore split my discussion into two parts, the "Eastern" and "Western" views.

Eastern View

The Eastern churches have occasionally used the term "transubstantiation"; sometimes (being Greek-speaking in origin) they would use the Greek-derived equivalent "metousiosis". They don't get very specific about how transubstantiation works technically. The Longer Orthodox Catechism (articles 339 - 340) states:

The bread and wine are changed, or transubstantiated, into the very Body of Christ, and into the very Blood of Christ. ...
In the exposition of the faith by the Eastern Patriarchs, it is said that the word transubstantiation is not to be taken to define the manner in which the bread and wine are changed into the Body and Blood of the Lord; for this none can understand but God; but only thus much is signified, that the bread truly, really, and substantially becomes the very true Body of the Lord, and the wine the very Blood of the Lord.

In other words, they're just saying they believe that the bread and wine "become" the Body and Blood of Christ, but they don't know (and really don't care) how; it is a mystery. The Eastern churches in general don't do as much philosophical speculation in their theology as the Western ones historically have; they have an entirely different approach. Certainly, they are aware and believe that the bread doesn't become body parts in some sort of literal sense. Thus, they're not concerned with the possibility that the consecrated Hosts become parts of Christ's body and add to his weight.

The Western View

The most systematic approach we have to an answer here is probably through the work of Thomas Aquinas, particularly his treatise Summa Theologica ("A Summary of Theology"). Unfortunately, it's very difficult to understand what Aquinas says about it simply by reading the book, without knowing a good bit of medieval philosophy, particularly medieval interpretation of Aristotelian philosophy. Aquinas' take on whether Christ's weight (or other aspects of his body) is really present in the consecrated host is this:

As stated above, any part of Christ is in this sacrament in two ways: in one way, by the power of the sacrament; in another, from real concomitance. By the power of the sacrament the dimensive quantity of Christ's body is not in this sacrament; for, by the power of the sacrament that is present in this sacrament, whereat the conversion is terminated. But the conversion which takes place in this sacrament is terminated directly at the substance of Christ's body, and not at its dimensions; which is evident from the fact that the dimensive quantity of the bread remains after the consecration, while only the substance of the bread passes away.

Nevertheless, since the substance of Christ's body is not really deprived of its dimensive quantity and its other accidents, hence it comes that by reason of real concomitance the whole dimensive quantity of Christ's body and all its other accidents are in this sacrament.

(Third Part, Question 76, Article 4)

This, like a very dry Host, is rather hard to swallow all at once. Essentially what it means is this: The weight of a physical entity is one of its accidents, one of the things that just happens to be true of it in particular, but doesn't change what kind of thing it is. (So my weight could change without changing whether I'm human or not.) Since transubstantiation changes the substance of the bread and wine, but not their accidents, transubstantiation does not directly give the bread and wine the weight, or height, or eye color, or what-have-you, of Jesus.

However, there's a surprise waiting: the doctrine of concomitance. This simply says that nothing about Christ, including body, blood, and what-have-you, is really separable from anything else about Him, so that if He's present in some sense, he's present in all senses. Thus, through the "real concomitance" approach, his weight is there. The weight of the Host, however, is a different accident—it's "attached to" the other accidents of the bread, which remain the same, and so it doesn't alter the weight of Christ.

Clear as mud? I thought so. Let me know what I can do to clarify it.

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Great question! I will attempt to explain this from my Catholic roots, as well as my current non-denominational standpoint - both of which were similar, though I hold that not every church, even Catholic, is 100% the same.

We take Jesus' divinity into account. He is the Lord God's only Son, the Lord God in the Flesh, and the Word/Truth - He was present at the foundation of the world, and the world was created through Him (as the Word, and God).

As the Lord God, and even as the Son, many times we see that He does not change - then, now, and forever! In church I was taught to apply this to the transubstantiation.

Even though we are literally eating and drinking of the Lord, His never-changing status as the Son and Lord prevents Him from change,and thus He can never run out of Himself (apologies if that grammar appears odd, it's the best way I could word it).

For us to teach that His body "runs out" would be applying a finite attribute to the Lord and Son, who is by a Biblical standpoint clearly infinite in all attributes.

This article for an online "spiritual seekers" magazine by a Fr. Joe Scott uses the following excerpt as it pertains to Catholicism:

In Aristotle’s philosophy, things can share the same nature even when they differ in some specifics. For example, a brown wooden rocking chair and a red overstuffed sofa are both recognizable as chairs, even though they look very different from one another. What makes them both “a chair” is their substance, while the size, color, shape, texture and other things that differentiate them are called “accidents.”

The teaching of transubstantiation, as summarized by St. Thomas Aquinas, the great theologian of the 13th century, was that “the whole substance of the bread is changed into the whole substance of Christ’s body, and the whole substance of the wine into the whole substance of Christ’s blood.” The accidents–color, texture, shape, and so on–remain those of bread and wine. When you eat and drink, for example, the host does not bleed. You taste bread and wine. But the substance, the very nature of this reality is now Christ’s body and blood.

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@Andrew so you're implying God can run out of Himself? –  Jesse Jul 14 at 16:29
    
I disagree that "the Lord and Son" is by a Biblical standpoint clearly infinite in all attributes. If you mean the Body of Christ, he was limited by his humanity (cf. Phillipians 2:7), and certainly did not have, for example, an infinitely long beard. The position of the Catholic Church seems to be that the process is mysterious, and to leave it at that. –  Andrew Jul 14 at 16:35
    
@Andrew hence why I stated "as well as my current non-denominational standpoint" - to say "it's mysterious" is not really an answer to a question. It's ambiguous. He was "human in likeness", per provided verse - this is not saying He was limited, rather He chose to appear so. He took no glory from the Lord, though evidently equal in Scripture as They are one and the same. Jesus can't be limited because this implies God can limit Himself, and that's how paradoxes start. This isn't me trying to argue - but also remember Christ's body went with Him to heaven~ –  Jesse Jul 14 at 16:43
    
"God can not limit himself" can not be true. If it is, it imposes a limit on the abilities of God via his own rules, and so he limits himself, and so it's false. So God can limit himself. The question then is "Has God limited himself," and in Christ's humanity answer is yes. Hebrews 2:17 "Therefore, He had to be made like His brethren in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people." We ask, does the humanity of Christ limit the ability of God? And the answer is "By no means!" –  Andrew Jul 14 at 17:03
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I think that there are 2 questions being answered. One is a question of the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist.

The other question is, if Christ is really present in the Eucharist would that mean he has infinite mass ? This second question calls up images of an almost infinite sized human being which seems to make the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist illogical. This second question is more of a question of logic than of Church teaching. It seems to imply that the particular Church teaching has illogical conclusions.

The above answers are all very good. I would like to try to more specifically address the second question about infinite mass and images of infinitely huge beings.

First, when the Eucharist is consumed and it breaks down into it's constituent parts, it ceases being the body and blood of Christ (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1377 "The Eucharistic presence of Christ begins at the moment of the consecration and endures as long as the Eucharistic species subsist.") So, you could not take the sum a total of Eucharist's over a period of time.

Natural bodies, as we are commonly familiar with them, are constantly changing in the material that constitutes them. For example, if you weigh 150 lbs., then over a period of a month the material that had been or presently constitutes your body would weigh more than 150 lbs. Your weight and height can remain the same over that period, but the material that constitutes you can change. So, you are not the sum total of the material that has been you over time. Even if your height and weight remained the same for 10 years, the sum total of the material that had been you could be much, much larger.

Second, it is the body and blood of the risen Christ that is consumed (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1373 “Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised from the dead, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us,” is present in many ways to his Church: in his word, in his Church’s prayer, “where two or three are gathered in my name,” in the poor, the sick, and the imprisoned, in the sacraments of which he is the author, in the sacrifice of the Mass, and in the person of the minister. But “he is present... most especially in the Eucharistic species.)

That it is the risen body and blood of Christ along with the fact that Christ is God means that the body and blood of Christ are not exactly the same as the human bodies we are more familiar with. Just as God (Christ) can be at different places at the same time, so His risen body and blood can be at different places at the same time (see CCC 1374 which may be helpful in this regard). Other answers already provided here address the question of the real presence.

Catechism of the Catholic Church 1374 "The mode of Christ’s presence under the Eucharistic species is unique. It raises the Eucharist above all the sacraments as 'the perfection of the spiritual life and the end to which all the sacraments tend.' In the most blessed sacrament of the Eucharist 'the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ and, therefore, the whole Christ is truly, really, and substantially contained.' 'This presence is called ‘real’—by which is not intended to exclude the other types of presence as if they could not be ‘real’ too, but because it is presence in the fullest sense: that is to say, it is a substantial presence by which Christ, God and man, makes himself wholly and entirely present.'"

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Welcome to the site. Thank you for sharing, but the site strives to be academic, using sources and citations to support answers. The site is not a discussion forum. Once you reach 20 rep you can chat about whatever you want. Please see Guidelines for writing effective answers and What is a well-sourced, dispassionate answer? After that, please edit this post or delete it. I hope to see you post again soon. –  fredsbend Jul 14 at 20:58
    
With respect to using citations, could you be a model and specifically cite what in the 'Guidelines for writing effective answers' and 'What is a well-sourced, dispassionate answer' would be contrary to the above argument I have presented. Basically, if I wrote add 324 to 422 you get 746, I don't think citations are necessary, and lack of citations does not mean un-academic or untrue. –  Matthew Jul 14 at 21:16
    
That is a cookie cutter comment for new users. What is opinion section covers it well. This answer might be right, but it looks like opinion as is. For example, you said "when the Eucharist is consumed and it breaks down into it's constituent parts, it ceases being the body and blood of Christ." so I naturally expect a source for that claim because that drastically changes the outlook of the question. –  fredsbend Jul 14 at 21:24
    
Here's some other meta posts about this site: What this site is about and How this site is different. –  fredsbend Jul 14 at 21:25
    
Great sourcing. This is what makes a good answer for this site. +1 –  fredsbend Jul 16 at 6:00
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