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The Mass – Part 4: What happens to the bread and wine at Mass?

Mass_newThe Eucharist is a miracle. Theologians use the word “transubstantiation” for this miracle. This means a change of substance: bread and wine become Jesus’ true body and blood.

This word relies on ancient Greek philosophical categories of “substance” and “accidents.” Substance means “what” a thing is — a chair, a song, a loaf of bread — and accidents means how the “what” appears: hard or soft, heavy, light, chewy, etc.

After eucharistic transubstantiation the accidents remain: bread and wine appear the same as before. But they are not bread and wine anymore: their substance is now the body and blood of Jesus Christ himself. As he told his followers, “My flesh is true food and my blood is true drink.”

The General Instruction of the Roman Missal lists seven basic parts of all eucharistic prayers.

  • Thanksgiving, including the dialogue and the preface in which the church thanks God the Father for the salvation wrought in Christ.
  • Acclamation, when the church joins the angelic and heavenly hosts in crying out, “Holy! Holy! Holy!’
  • Epiclesis, a Greek word meaning “calling down.” The priest asks the Father to send the Holy Spirit upon the gifts to change them; and later he calls the Spirit down on the assembly, to change us so we also become the body of Christ.
  • Words of institution. The priest repeats Jesus’ own words at the Last Supper. Note that the priest is not “play-acting.” He does not pretend to be Jesus and treat the assembly as apostles, telling them, “Take this, all of you… ” Instead, these words are still part of a prayer addressed to the Father.
  • Anamnesis, another Greek word, means “making memory” — remembering in the strong liturgical sense, not merely reminiscing about what Jesus did 2,000 years ago in the Upper Room. Rather, by making memory, salvation is actualized, really present among us here and now.
  • Intercessions occur in various places and usually mention the pope and local bishop by name, as well as saints, our beloved dead, and “any others for whom we now pray.”
  • Doxology is the closing part when we give the Father all glory and honor through the Son in the Spirit. The assembly responds with the Great Amen: Let it be so! Let our lives be all for the glory of God. Such is a fitting way to end all prayers, and the great Eucharistic Prayer is the most excellent prayer of all.


To read about the other parts of the Mass and what’s happening, and why, check out the other articles in this series under the Related Content section below.

About Father Tom Margevicius
Father Tom Margevičius worked for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources before joining the National Evangelization Teams (NET) and working for St. Paul’s Outreach in the Twin Cities. He is a full-time instructor at the St. Paul Seminary. He has served the parishes of Nativity in St. Paul, St. John the Baptist in Dayton, and currently is also pastor of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel in Northeast Minneapolis, where he celebrates the sacraments in Sign Language for the deaf.

© 2007 Rev. Thomas Margevicius
Used with permission.