Over the course of the centuries, especially in the Western world, much theological debate has been focused on trying to answer the when and how of the Eucharist. The WHEN deals with at what moment are the bread and wine transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ. The HOW refers to the causality by which this transformation is accomplished? Literally hundreds of books have been written to answer these questions and even to this day they constitute the subject of intense disputes between East and West. But one need only to attempt to refer all these conjectures and theories to the immediate experience of the liturgy, to that service that is performed in church, and it become obvious to what degree these explanations turn out to be external to this experience, falling outside it and thus not only not really explaining anything but in the end simply unnecessary.
What, in fact, does the distinction of essence and accidents, which goes back to Aristotle and which the scholastics (i.e., Western theologians) made use of to answer the question of HOW the transubstantiation of the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ is accomplished, mean – not philosophically, not abstractly, but really – for our faith, our communion in the divine, our spiritual life, our salvation? Does transubstantiation consist, according to this experience, in the change of the “substance” of bread into the essence of the body of Christ, while the “accidents” of the body remain the accidents of the bread? To faith, which confesses every time we celebrate the Liturgy, in the fear of God and with love, that “this is truly Thine own most pure Body … this is truly Thine own precious Blood,” this explanation is unnecessary, and for the mind itself it remains an equally incomprehensible violence to those very “laws” on whose foundations the explanation is supposedly constructed.
When we participate in this wondrous and mysterious ritual which the Lord promised would make Him present in our midst, we don’t think about such things as “substance” or “accidents” of the gifts. We think about His presence and all that He did in order to make Himself present to us. We remember Him and His call to us to “change our hearts and minds for the Kingdom of God is at hand.” We remember how He worshipped God, our Father, and we join ourselves with Him in offering our own body and blood in thanksgiving for the gift of life. So when we truly worship, we don’t think about when and how!