The Word and the Eucharist

“In the beginning was the Word: and the Word was with God and the Word was God”,
(Jn. 1:1) so begins the beautiful prologue of St. John’s Gospel, a favourite passage
of Fr. Holloway, a passage which places the Incarnation of the Eternal Word within the
context of creation rather than solely redemption. The Word is described as life, the life
that is the light of men, the supernatural life, which God, in His mercy, willed to share with
mankind irrespective of the fall, and which as a result of the fall became incarnate as the
“light which shines in the darkness”. It is a profound text in which St. John, soaring like an
eagle, gazes down from the heights of eternity at the humanity of the Incarnate Word and
the hope, the promise, that those who are made for Him might become one with Him as
co-heirs in His glory.
For centuries, this Johannine Prologue had acted as a kind of thanksgiving prayer at
Mass, firstly as a private devotion for the priest and then secondly as a corporate act
integrated into the liturgy.1 For Fr Holloway the removal of this prologue at the conclusion
of Mass was one of liturgical changes he lamented.2
This article will attempt to outline the thought of Fr Holloway on the theology of the
Eucharist, looking firstly at the significance for him of this Johannine prologue, secondly,
Holloway’s understanding of Christ as the Bread of Life and then finally presenting
Holloway’s proposed rephrasing of the doctrine of transubstantiation in a way that
accords with the revised metaphysical outlook necessitated by modern science.
Scientiific researchers
For Holloway, as for the Faith Movement, this Gospel passage encapsulates not only
the place of the Incarnation in the plan of God from eternity but also the Eucharist as
a truly integral part of this plan, something planned from the beginning as the glorious
culmination of God’s relationship with humanity on earth. The Universe is made for Christ, “He came to his own domain ”(Jn. 1:11), and being ordered towards the incarnation, the
very physical structures of the universe are ordered towards His advent, and to what
necessarily precedes Him- the earth, the ecosystem, less complex creatures, and finally,
man. Ideas elucidated by Holloway today find a certain parallel in the writings of certain
mainstream scientific researchers- observation has been made of how ‘deep structures’ in
the laws of the universe seem to necessitate a movement towards intelligent life,3 whilst
a large number of scientists have marvelled at the balance of material properties that are
rightly labelled as the ‘anthropic principle’.4
With the creation of man, his emergence in history according to the providence of
God, we find an enigma, a creature to whom
a physical environment alone can no longer
provide for his complete satisfaction, his
complete fulfilment. Man, being a bodysoul
composite needs to encounter Spirit,
uncreated Mind, the Eternal, the Uncreated
Logos in order to fully flourish, to have Life. At
the same time however, man is not pure spirit, he is not as the angels, he is a composite
and of necessity reaches out to God through his flesh, and through this bodily nature he
yearns to know God and speak with God and commune with God. “And the Word was
made flesh”, on account of the Almighty’s infinite charity He chose to take flesh, but in
doing so, He wills to fulfil the deepest desire of his creature man, “His own” whom He had
freely designed with this very thirst.
The vision of the Faith Movement on the place of Incarnation within the economy of God
is nothing more than a paraphrasing of the first Chapter of St. John, possibility the most
fitting of all Eucharistic meditations, for this Eternal Word Who is made flesh in the stable
at Bethlehem has been made present physically upon our altar, and now dwells amongst
us, is tabernacled amongst us.
The Incarnation and Holy Communion
The connection between the incarnation and the gift of Holy Communion at Mass is not
something strange or novel to the Faith Movement. The eucharistic writings of the saints
are also replete with references to the incarnation, the tie in between the fiat of the Blessed
Virgin Mary and the Hoc est Enim of the priest, and the silent worship of the blessed Virgin
during her pregnancy and the devout thanksgiving of Christian who worships the very same Lord only now within his breast rather than hers.5 The Word truly is our light and
our life, for whom we are made, or as He preferred to say, our daily bread, the Bread of
Life which a man may eat of and never die, the Bread which is His flesh given for the life
of the world.
Along with the opening chapter of St. John’s Gospel, the other great Eucharistic text
in the thought of Fr Holloway is the Bread of Life discourse found in John 6. In both of
Holloway’s published introductions to the Catholic Faith he spends a great amount of
time unfolding the riches of John 6 and the crucial importance it plays within Christology
as much as Sacramental Theology. Christ truly is our “bread”, the one for Whom we are
ordered, the heir of vineyard. had the fall of our first parents never occurred, Christ
would have still been Our Bread, that physical encounter with our environer for which we
are made, and in the order of His charity God would have still provided this Bread for us,
just as much as He would have still taken flesh in order to be our High Priest, our King and
our Divine Teacher. Human creatures, mind-body composites were always going to find
flourishing only by means of a sacramental contact with their creator, in a contact that
befitted this two-fold nature. God in His Mercy and Wisdom freely chose to institute such
a sacramental economy even as He designed the nature of man as thirsting for this very
means of encounter.
Human existence
It is possible that such talk may strike the reader
as speculative or as a topic that belongs in the
universities of the thirteenth century, but this is
far from the truth. To acknowledge the intrinsic,
organic, union between the Eucharist, the
Incarnation, and even the creation of man (and not solely his fall), is to begin a powerful
apologetic on the nature of human existence, of the unchanging wisdom of the Divine
Logos and the absolute centrality of Holy Communion as THE means of life, supernatural
life, open to those in the state of grace. Holy Communion is that supernatural union
to which we have no entitlement and yet we are ordered towards according to the
gratuitous design of our creator. In this life here below, it is the union which anticipates
the consummate union in glory for all the elect.
“As I, who am sent by the living Father, myself draw life from the Father, so whoever
eats me will draw life from me.” (Jn.6:57), no part of this is symbolic. Unless the Eternal
Wisdom made flesh had intended for his words to be taken absolutely literally It would
have been impossible for Him to have uttered “my flesh is real food and my blood is real
drink”(Jn. 6:55), His Jewish context would not have allowed it. The Lord says that His flesh
is our food, in Greek, sarx, (σάρξ), the very same sarx that St. John tells us the Lord united
to Himself in the moment of His incarnation. Moreover, He tells us not merely to ‘eat’ His
flesh but to ‘chew’ or ‘gnaw’ it, in Greek Trogon (τρώγω), using graphic language which for
the Jews of his day could only have been taken as something either literally baffling or
metaphorically abhorrent. The disciples will only dare to consider His words within the
context of knowing that “You have the message of eternal life” (Jn.6:68), but it was surely
only in the context of professing “my Lord and my God”(Jn. 20:28) that they could begin to
fully grasp exactly what our Lord was offering, the beautiful invitation to a personal union
with Him through the means of matter.
Such was the view of the Early Church, one of the earliest witnesses, St. Justin Martyr
writes, “For we do not receive these things as common bread or common drink; but as
Jesus Christ our Saviour being incarnate by God’s Word took flesh and blood for our
salvation, so also we have been taught that the food consecrated by the Word of prayer
which comes from him, from which our flesh and blood are nourished by transformation,
is the flesh and blood of that incarnate Jesus.” 
Simplicity and clarity
St. Justin, with great simplicity and clarity points towards the sacred species and identifies
the Lord in His flesh and blood. The saint does not
speak to us of some invisible substance, he is claiming
something very matter of fact, just as Our Lord was,
using His graphic, physical language at the synagogue at
Capernaum. Here for Fr. Holloway is the starting point
of critique towards the Thomistic presentation of the doctrine of Holy Communion, he
writes, “When as a Thomist, I elevate the Host at the Consecration, do I see Christ? No,
I do not. [...] We see only the physical accidents of bread, but we know that the reality
which defines the totality is Christ. Nevertheless we do not see Christ ”.7 For Holloway
the faith of the Early Church,8 and indeed a faith expressed in the intuitions of the saints
and mystics,9 has been towards a ‘real presence’ more fleshy and more immediate than
the idea that Christ is present as the invisible substance enveloped by accidents of sight,
touch, taste, size, all miraculously suspended in existence by the omnipotence of God.10
Consider the language of St. Francis of Assisi as he writes, “Man should tremble, the world
should quake, all Heaven should be deeply moved when the Son of God appears on the
altar in the hands of the priest.”.11
While the Council of Trent does indeed state that at the moment of the consecration
“a conversion takes place of the substance of bread into the substance of the body of
Christ our Lord”12, that council did not wed itself to an Aristotelean-Thomistic framework
of substance/accidents. The word ‘substance’ in the Tridentine decree is combined with
‘species’ rather than ‘accidents’, and in doing so follows patristic writers who were not allied
to the hylomorphism of the scholastics.13 Today however the dominant philosophical
explanation of transubstantiation, where the doctrine is explained at all, is the Thomistic
one and yet this metaphysic doesn’t permit the faithful to speak of a “physical” presence
of Christ, a thought quite alien to the simple intuition faith.14,
Fr Holloway offers us another manner of explaining
the literal, objective and abiding presence of
the very same Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament
and a way which allows us to speak of Christ as
being physically present, this is through seeing
the sacramental presence of Christ as the continuation of His human nature under a
sacramental manifestation, he writes, “It is suggested that the entire reality of the material
amalgam of ‘bread’ and ‘wine’ becomes the Body and Blood of Christ, i.e. the human nature
of the Word made flesh, in the same substantial sense as the existing theory, but that
there do not remain the physical accidents of bread and wine, the external reality attained
by the senses is as much the Body and Blood of the Lord as the substance in the theory
of St. Thomas, the appearances of bread and wine are the sacramental manifestation and
expression of the human nature of Jesus Christ, and as much the ‘accidents’ of his human
nature as were the manifestations of his form and figure when he walked on earth.”15,
Physically present
It must be admitted that Holloway reaches this conclusion not solely through exegesis
and a study of the Fathers but also as a result of his re-consideration of the Aristotelian-
Thomistic metaphysics in the light of modern science, developments which necessarily
must affect our understanding of nature, substance, matter and form.16, Although the
majority of Thomistic thinkers have endeavoured to maintain the ‘old synthesis’ alongside
an acceptance of the new science, Fr. Michael Chaberek however, in his recent book,
“Aquinas and Evolution” has cogently argued that the findings of modern science,
and in particular the theory of evolution, have very strong implications towards the
framework of St. Thomas. Although it must be admitted, Chaberek chooses to side with
the philosophy of Aquinas rather than the findings of modern science, he is nonetheless
very aware that the philosopher is necessarily faced with a choice between the Thomistic
distinctions of act/potency, matter/form, substance/accidents and the philosophical
underpinnings of evolution which, for example, requires accidental changes over time
of being able to produce what Thomas would call a new ‘substantial form’.17 If the animal
and plant ‘substances’ are no longer understood as fixed and directly created by God at
the beginning of creation 6000 years ago (as Aquinas taught) but are capable of a gradual
emergence or radical changes the concepts of substance/accident, form/matter and act/
potency falter in their utility and meaningfulness.18
Holloway recognised and named this
challenge seventy years ago, and he offered
an alternate, ‘new synthesis’, a view radically
anti-nominalist, and yet reconciled with a
universe in flux in which all change is, as
it were, substantial.19 Holloway’s vision is
outlined implicitly in his major work but
explicitly in his Perspectives in Philosophy series. Under Holloway’s revised metaphysics we
see the ‘transubstantiated’ host as Christ, but we no longer speak in terms of substance
and accidents, instead we say that Christ’s human nature, His flesh, has been ‘extended’
in a new eucharistic manner so as to be our food, so as to fulfil His unique mission as the
life for our souls, his divinity is presence by concomitance.20
Christ truly desires a contact with us that allows Him to be our food, literally, as He taught
in His Bread of Life discourse. In describing Our Lord as working such great a wonder,
we are not in any way suggesting that the Lord becomes re-incarnate as bread,. It is the
same human nature of Christ that we each encounter, intimately and personally. Nor
does Christ, according to His human nature, undergo any physical pain at the moment
of the fractio, or if His sacred body is maltreated, for it is the risen Lord, impassible and
subtle in His glorified Human nature, the same Lord Who appeared in the upper room
while the doors were still closed.
Blessed Sacrament
As Fr. Stephen Boyle put it in an earlier Faith Magazine article on this subject, “We do
indeed need to avoid that “naive realism” which claims per impossibile that the Sacred
Host acts and reacts in the way Jesus’ body did when walking in Palestine... But to avoid
this we should not and do not need, we suggest in this piece, to deny in any way Christ’s
actual physical identity to the intrinsic bread-like properties of the Blessed Sacrament, as
prominent scholasticism seems to do. We will argue that we do actually see Jesus upon
the altar, but not that He physically winces in pain at the fractio.”21
Eucharistic Congress
Christ remains with us as our teacher speaking through His infallible magisterium, He
continues as our healer through the powers of absolution and unction, He renders
propitiation for our daily offences through the Mass, and, just as permanently, He remains
with us as our food, our physical contact with Him, affording us no less of a relationship
with Him than was the experience of the twelve. St. Clement of Alexandria beautifully
writes- “The Word is everything to a child: both Father and Mother, both Instructor and
Nurse. ‘Eat My Flesh,’ He says, ‘and drink My Blood.’ The Lord supplies us with these
intimate nutrients. He delivers over His Flesh, and pours out His Blood; and nothing is
lacking for the growth of His children. O incredible mystery!”,22
As our country celebrates the national Eucharistic Congress, Fr Holloway reminds us
that the one Whom we look at in the monstrance is a “He” not an “It”, here is Jesus, the
same Jesus, physically here before us. “All things were created through him and for him”
(Col 1:16), may the whole of creation render Him glorious praise, Its King, Its Lord, made
flesh in Bethlehem and abiding with us forever in the tabernacles of our churches.


Father Mark Higgins is a priest of the diocese of Southwark.

Faith Magazine

September - October 2018