Question:  I occasionally hear the term “eucharistic species” and it seems that the term “species” is being used differently than it is in current English.  We constantly hear the Holy Eucharist referred to as the “Body and Blood” of Christ, but, as I write, we have just celebrated the Ascension of Our Lord into heaven.  I would be grateful of some clarification of this language, so that I may more sharply understand the worship and belief of the Church.

My answer:      It is true that in current English usage the word ‘species’ refers to a grouping of things that is part of a more general (‘genus -eris’) class and whose members differ only in minor details. For instance, within the general class of grasshopper there can be noticeable differences between groupings. We refer to these groupings as species, as we do of groupings of cricket, lady-bird beetle, and fly. The Latin word ‘species -ei’ means a shape or outward appearance. The verbs ‘specere’ (3rd.c.) and more commonly ‘spectare’ mean to look at, behold, observe, from which come words such as spectacle, spectre, spectacular, specialise. In classical and slightly later Latin the word ‘species’ developed shades of meaning, and included at times something seen even by the mind - and therefore an idea or notion. In a few authors (Appeleius, Cicero and Quintilianus) it occasionally had a sense akin to its common English meaning today, denoting the particular thing among many to which the look or attention is turned - hence a particular sort, kind or quality. In later juridical language it was used at times to refer to a special case (Lewis & Short). The word is used in various senses by St Thomas Aquinas. But in general these various meanings sprang from the notion of appearance or form. It is in this sense that the Church came to use the term in relation to the Holy Eucharist - the eucharistic appearance, form, or (to use the Latin word) ‘species’ being that of bread and wine. So when hearing the language of the Church, this etymologically more fundamental meaning is to be kept in mind. This more primordial meaning has largely lapsed from common parlance, though an examination shows that it is related to it. Due to the long use of the word in different contexts  - especially by scientists - the word has commonly come to mean a grouping in the sense described above. 

Let us turn now to the question of the presence of Christ on the altar and in heaven. From his conception by the Virgin Mary Christ remains  divine in person and nature as from all eternity, while taking to himself a fully human nature. He remains God while being truly human in body, soul and in all human faculties, lacking however any tendency to sin.  He is our incarnate God beyond his earthly life, and as risen is no ‘ghost’ (Lk 24:37), let alone a mere product of faith. It is this same risen Jesus  who as the ascended and glorified Lord is seated at the right hand of the Father, ever interceding for us (Heb 8:1). Now this Lord Jesus Christ at the Last Supper instituted the ministerial priesthood and consecrated the bread and wine changing it into his Body and Blood which were to be offered in sacrifice for us on the Cross. He commanded his Apostles to offer this Sacrifice in his memory. The Church has always understood this Sacrifice of the Altar as a “sacrament” of  Calvary (ie, an effectual sign instituted by Our Lord), offered in an “unbloody manner” (CCC #1367). It re-presents sacramentally here and now the one Sacrifice of Christ in his body and blood, soul and divinity, glorious now in heaven.  As St Thomas Aquinas explains: the body of Christ is in heaven under its own proper (or natural) form, and on many altars under the sacramental form (S.Th. 76,5, ad primum); and so it is eaten not in its proper form, but in its sacramental form (S.Th. III, 77,7, ad tertium)* (S.Contra Gen. 62,4, and 63,13).

That is, the Church is constant in testimony, belief, and worship that her glorified Lord is in heaven, and is constant in testimony, belief, and worship that the same glorified Lord is truly and substantially present under the Eucharistic species.  This Eucharistic presence has not the same manner or form as the presence of Jesus in heaven - it is sacramental. The sacramental presence of Our Lord arises whenever a man (vir) who has been empowered by ordination to act in the person of Christ (in persona Christi) takes wheaten bread and grape wine, and, according to the intention and form laid down by the Church in Christ’s name, makes present in his memory the sacrifice of Calvary.  To express the change involved in this, the Church has used the term “transubstantiation” (CCC #1376).  The “substance” (its objective reality or nature) of the bread and wine is changed into the “substance” of Christ (his objective risen reality). There is a trans-substantiation. But the “accidents” of the bread and the wine (“accidents’ being those qualities of a thing - such a person’s size - that can alter while its nature or “substance” remains) continue unchanged. These “accidents” upon consecration are referred to as the Eucharistic “species” (or appearance). These hallowed philsophicial terms, conveying a straightforward meaning, protect the words and teaching of our Lord  in respect to his Eucharistic presence.

Thus the sacrifice of the Mass re-presents the entire work of Christ for our salvation and sanctification, and makes the Lord sacramentally present for our adoration. In Holy Communion the whole Christ, “body and blood, together with the soul and divinity” (CCC #1374) sacramentally gives  himself to us.  Thus, the Church in speaking of the Body and Blood of Christ keeps a constant faith in the risen Jesus in heaven  and in his sacramental presence in the Holy Eucharist.  

* Corpus Christi non est in hoc sacramento definitive ... cum tamen sit et in caelo in propria specie, et in multis aliis altaribus sub specie sacramenti.(S.Th.76,5)             
 Corpus autem Christi non manducatur in sua specie, sed in specie sacramentali. (S.Th.77,7)