The Five Transformations of the Eucharist
Pope Benedict XVI


We reproduce here an extract from a talk given by Pope Benedict XVI, then Cardinal Ratzinger, at a Eucharistic Congress in Benevento in June 2002. This was printed in full in the August-September 2002 issue of Inside the Vatican magazine.

"The Lord, who would have been able to transform stones into bread, who was able to raise up from rocks the sons of Abraham, wishes to transform the bread into a body, his body. Is this possible? How can it happen?

"The questions that the people posed in the synagogue of Capernaum cannot be avoided by us. He is there, before his disciples, with his body; how can he say over the bread, this is my body? It is important to pay close attention to what the Lord really said. He does not say only: ‘This is my body,’ but, ‘This is my body, which is given up for you.’ It can become gift, because it is given. By means of the act of giving it becomes ‘capable of communicating’, has transformed itself into a gift. We may observe the same thing in the words over the cup. Christ does not say simply: ‘This is my blood,’ but, ‘This is my blood, which is poured out for you.’ Because it is poured out, inasmuch as it is poured out, it can be given.

"But now a new question emerges: what do ‘it is given’ and ‘it is poured out’ mean? In truth, Jesus is killed; he is nailed to a cross and dies amid torments. His blood is poured out, first in the Garden of Olives due to his interior suffering with regard to his mission, then in the crucifixion, and after his death in the piercing of his Heart. What occurs is above all an act of violence, of hatred, torture and destruction.

"At this point we run into a second, more profound level of transformation: he transforms, from within, the act of violent men against him into an act of giving on behalf of those men - into an act of love. This is dramatically recognizable in the scene of the Garden of Olives. What he teaches in the Sermon on the Mount, now he does: he does not offer violence against violence, as he might have done, but puts an end to violence by transforming it into love. The act of killing, of death, is changed into an act of love; violence is defeated by love.

"This is the fundamental transformation upon which all the rest is based. It is the true transformation which the world needs and which alone can redeem the world. Since Christ in an act of love has transformed and defeated violence from within, death itself is transformed: love is stronger than death. It remains forever.

"And so in this transformation is contained the broader transformation of death into resurrection, of the dead body into the risen body. If the first man was a living soul, as St Paul says, the new Adam, Christ, will become by this spiritual event the giver of life (1 Cor. 15:45). The resurrected one is gift, is spirit who gives his life, ‘communicates’, indeed, is communication.

"This means that here there is no farewell to material existence; rather, in this way material existence achieves its goal: without the material event of death (with its interior transcendence) all this complex transformation of material things would not be possible. And thus in the transformation of the Resurrection all the fullness of Christ continues to subsist, but now transformed in this way; now being a body and giving oneself are no longer mutually exclusive, but give new meaning to one another.

"Let us look, before the next step, to see once more how this entire complex of realities comes together. At the moment of the Last Supper, Jesus has already anticipated the event of Calvary. He accepts the death on the Cross and with his acceptance transforms the act of violence into an act of donation, of self-giving effusion…. At the Last Supper the Cross is already present, accepted and transformed by Jesus.

"This first and fundamental transformation draws to itself all the others - the mortal body is transformed into the resurrected body: it is ‘the spirit which gives life.’

"On the basis of this the third transformation becomes possible: the gifts of bread and wine, that are the gifts of creation and at the same time fruit of human labour and the ‘transformation’ of the creation, are changed so that in them the Lord himself who gives himself becomes present, in his gift of self-giving. The act of donation is not something of him, but it is himself.

"And on this basis the prospect opens onto two further transformations, that are essential to the Eucharist from the instant of its institution: the transformed bread, the transformed wine.

"Through them the Lord himself gives himself as spirit that gives life, to transform us so that we become one bread with him and then one body with him. The transformation of the gifts, which is only the continuation of the fundamental transformations of the Cross and the Resurrection, is not the final point, but in its turn only a beginning.

"The end of the Eucharist is the transformation of those who receive it in authentic communion with its transformation.

"And so the end is unity, that peace which we, as separated individuals who live beside one another or in conflict with one another, become one with Christ and in him, as one organism of self-giving, to live in view of the Resurrection and the new world."