As we’ve seen in both the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation, each Sacrament of the Church comes to us with a particular form and a particular matter which are required in order for the Sacrament to be valid.
But if we step back for a minute, we can see that there is a coherent reason why each Sacrament should have a proper form and matter to them. In order to show this, we’ll look at one of the stories in the Gospel that is closely tied to the Eucharist.
In Chapter 14 of St. Matthew’s Gospel, we are told the familiar story of the “Feeding of the Five Thousand.” At this point in Jesus’ ministry, the crowds have been following Him closely - and for good reason. He has been making the deaf hear, cleansing lepers, giving sight to the blind, and preaching the good news about the Kingdom of God. And all of this activity is what brings such a large crowd to Jesus for this miraculous feeding.
Here, Jesus is presented with a mere five loaves of bread and two fish. We are told that he looked up to heaven, and blessed, and broke and gave the loaves to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And they all ate and were satisfied.
Now, what does this story have to do with the form and matter of the Sacraments?
Well, from one perspective, this story shows us that part of what Jesus does is to take what is ordinary (five loaves and two fish) and make it superabundant (enough food to more than satisfy thousands of people).
So too, in the Sacraments Jesus does something similar. He takes ordinary materials - ordinary matter (In Baptism, water; in Confirmation, oil; in the Holy Eucharist, bread and wine), and transforms them into something much more. And the way that the matter for each Sacrament is transformed, is by means of the form which is applied to the matter.
In other words, the matter/form structure of the Sacraments is not some new way of doing things that the Church just made up. It is, as we said in previous months, the very continuation of Jesus’ own ministry. He took what was ordinary, insufficient, and common, and, by His word, transformed it into a means of bestowing His own Divine life to the world. Through the Sacraments He acts in a similar, and in some ways, even greater way.
Like Baptism and Confirmation, for the Sacrament of the Eucharist, there is a certain matter and form as well. The matter required for the offering of the Holy Eucharist is wheat bread and grape wine mixed with a little water, and an ordained priest. The words of consecration spoken by a Catholic priest are the proper form for offering the Holy Eucharist.
Through the words of consecration spoken over the bread and wine by the priest, the ordinary material elements placed upon the altar are changed into the Body, Blood, soul, and Divinity of Jesus. And in this, we see once again how Jesus continues to transform the ordinary matter of earth, into something heavenly - what is insufficient into what is superabundant.
Father Michael Bovino