When I was growing up, I was taught that to properly attend Mass it was necessary to be present for the Offertory, the Consecration and the Communion. This placed the Eucharist as the essential element of the Mass, with the preparation, the transformation of the bread and wine to Christ’s body and blood, and its distribution, central to our belief. The maturity that comes with time, plus the scientific training that came for me with a medical degree, led to a questioning of my early beliefs. In particular, how can our belief in the Eucharist be reconciled with the scientific knowledge that there is in fact no change in the actual physical substance of the bread and wine at the Consecration, or indeed, during the Mass?
One of the things that I have learned is that it can be virtually impossible to prove that something does not exist, whether it be heaven, hell, ghosts, or the benefits of all sorts of alternative health practices. So, it is impossible to prove that there is not some change at the Consecration, perhaps some sort of spiritual change. And despite the recent spate of God-denying books and television programs, no one has managed to prove that God does not exist.
All of which leads me to the issue of faith. I believe that our faith comes from the experiences we encounter throughout our lives. In my case this includes my Catholic upbringing, my scientific and medical training, and my experiences as a husband, father, General Practitioner and member of a parish community.
As a GP, I have on many occasions witnessed the solace and comfort that people have gained from their religion, from the acceptance of God in their lives. As a husband and father, I believe I have witnessed the presence of God in the lives of members of my family. In my own life I am aware of the benefit that I achieve from receiving the Eucharist – a sense of comfort and peace and closeness to God.
The Eucharist is the essential element of our Catholic belief. I can’t explain precisely what happens at the Consecration, but I believe that there is a change. I don’t know what form God has, but I believe that God exists and that He/She is within all of us. These are issues of faith, which for me sit quite happily alongside my understanding of the present state of scientific knowledge.