Consubstantial with the Father – Part 2

June 12th, 2011  |  Published in New Roman Missal

The root word “substance” (sub=under; stans=standing) is also a technical, philosophical term that refers to the most real part of a being. Literally, it refers to that which “stands under,” the base of a person or thing, that which is at the heart of someone or something. This is fine as long as we don’t equate substance with the mere physical or external dimension. Today, we can use the word substance in reference to the essential, for example, “the substance of the matter,” but we can also use it in a rather mundane and materialistic sense, for example, “help me wash this grimy substance off my hands!” Within the liturgy, of course, the Church is thinking of the former. In the Eucharist, for example, we say that bread and wine are transsubstantiated into the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ. The form or appearance of the bread and wine remain the same, but their inner substance, the reality underneath the appearance, is changed. This is why we don’t say the bread and wine are just transformed, but transsubstantiated.

The other part of consubstantial is the first three letters “con” — profound yet beautiful in its simplicity. It comes from the Latin preposition cum meaning “together with.” In the Creed, consubstantial means that Christ was of one substance with the Father, but it also implies one substance with our humanity. He is co-substantial, referring therein to the two natures of Christ — human and divine.

The previous translation “one in Being” does not portray this multivalence. Also, most would assert that this phrase is not as precise. The English word “Being” has a broader meaning than the philosophical term “substance.” “Being” commonly refers to all that is, which would include the appearance or form of a thing, and in relation to the holy Trinity, could mistakenly include Personhood. God the Son is not the same Person as God the Father, but they do share the same inner being, or the same substance. Both phrases, “one in Being” and “consubstantial,” are accurate when properly understood. In translating the Creed, however, it is important to be as precise as possible, and the Church believes strongly that the term “consubstantial” is a better choice in naming the Great Mystery that is the relationship of Jesus Christ to God the Father and to us, his adopted sons and daughters.

Preparing Your Parish for the Revised Roman Missal: Reproducibles for Faith Formation © 2011 Archdiocese of Chicago: Liturgy Training Publications, 3949 South Racine Avenue, Chicago IL 60609; 1-800-933-1800; Excerpts from the English translation of The Roman Missal © 1973, 2010, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation (ICEL). All rights reserved. Photo © John Zich. This image may be reproduced for personal or parish use. The copyright notice must appear with the text. Published with Ecclesiastical Approval (Canon 823, 1).