A Key to the Doctrine of the Eucharist by Dom Anscar Vonier

A Key to the Doctrine of the Eucharist by Dom Anscar Vonier (1875-1938),
Westminster 1925, Reprint Assumption Press, 2013.

The purpose of the book is to point out the true setting of the Eucharistic mystery in the economy of the supernatural life in light of the great sacramental doctrine of the Church. A disciple of St. Thomas Aquinas, Abbot Vonier uses the sacramental principle as his key.

Our Catholic doctrines can afford to be simple because the greatest minds have conspired in the effort of bringing them down from heaven to the level of our daily life (iii).

1: Faith

The Catholic doctrine of the Eucharist is a particular instance of the more universal problem of the mode of our union with Christ… how do individual men come into contact with that great Christ who is redemption personified?… When shall I know that Christ is not only Redeemer but also my Redeemer?

“The power of Christ’s passion is linked up with us through faith and through the sacraments. This, however, in different ways: for the linking up which is by faith takes place through an act of the soul, whilst the linking up which is by the sacraments takes place through the use of external things” ~ St. Thomas Aquinas

Faith is a real psychological contact with Christ that turns the great redemption into my redemption. Faith is the beginning of the spiritual life and is “the first grafting of man on Christ which underlies all other fruitfulness” (3).

The sacraments complete and render more efficacious that instrumentality of faith… more real, if possible, and certainly more infallible in its effect (6).

The sacraments are essentially sacraments of faith… both faith and sacraments have that power of divine instrumentality which will open to man the treasure-house of Christ’s redemption.

2: Sacraments

“Sacraments are certain signs protesting that faith through which man is justified” ~ St Thomas Aquinas

This definition of a sacrament is complete in its widest meaning (12).

“Faith and sacraments are indissolubly united, though faith may be called the vaster, the older, the more universal reality. The sacramental system is grafted on faith; it is essentially the executive of our faith; it is, shall we say, the reward of faith” (10).

Q. Why do we need the sacraments? 

A. Fallen man’s psychology made up of:

  1. Man’s nature = being a composite of spirit and sense.
  2. Man’s estate = which is slavedom to material things and which is to be remedied by the spiritual power inside the material thing.
  3. Man’s activities = so prone to go astray in external interests, finding in the sacraments a true bodily exercise which works out for salvation.

“The sacramental life of the Church is truly a perfect understanding of man’s needs” (12).

3: The Power of Sacramental Signification

“O sacred Banquet, wherein Christ is received, the memory of his passion is kept, the mind is filled with grace, and there is given unto us a pledge of the coming glory” ~ St. Thomas Aquinas

Sacramental signification:

  1. Past – “commemorative” – the death of Christ on the cross.
  2. Present – “demonstrative” – supernatural transformation in Christ (the very thing which the external symbol signifies).
  3. Future – “prophetic” – eternal glory with Christ.

“Every sacrament, then, announces something: it brings back the past, it is the voice of the present, it reveals the future” (17).

“All the sacraments give us the blessed power of stepping outside the present” (18).

Therefore, stating that a sacrament is “an external sign of an internal grace” is too narrow, unless we mean by internal grace also the cause of grace (i.e. Christ’s passion) and the goal of grace (i.e. eternal life).

“A sign is that which, besides the impression it makes on the senses, puts one in mind of something else” ~ ST III, q.60, a.4 ad 1

4: The Perfection of Sacramental Signification

“The sacraments of the new law are at the same time causes and signs” ~ St Thomas

The sacraments are the most perfect signs because they contain and they bring about the very thing they signify (21). A sacrament is a true carrier of its spiritual realities (48).

5: Sacramental Thought

The sacramental world is a new world created by God with entirely new laws (29)… a middle world which lies between the creature and the uncreated God, the sacramental world, which is neither nature nor divinity, yet which partakes of both (33).

3 elements of this new world:

  1. Creative power of symbols
  2. The productive efficacy of signs
  3. The incredible resourcefulness of simple things in the hand of God to produce spiritual realities

Sacraments have a mode of existence of their own, a psychology of their own, a grace of their own (30). Sacraments are not veiling anything, but they are complete realities in themselves, existing in their own right (30).

6: The Sacramental Role

The role of the sacraments:

  1. Man’s profit – sanctification
  2. God’s glory – worship

Man is active in the sacramental system in that he gives back to God God’s own gift. Therefore, the sacrament is a res sacra – a sacred thing – given to man so as to enable him to approach God (40).

7: The Sacramental Setting of the Eucharist

“The Eucharist is the perfect sacrament of the Lord’s passion isasmuch as it contains the very Christ himself who suffered” ~ ST III, q.73, a.5, ad 2

The Eucharistic sacrifice is essentially a sacramental thing; the Eucharist is a sacrament at its best because it is a ritual offering up to God in the new covenant.

The term “sacrament” covers the whole Eucharist as with a golden baldachino of glory; the sacrifice of the Church, Mass, is truly the sacrament at its best and fullest; and the sacrifice of the Mass, if it has any human explanation, must be explained in sacramental concepts (46-7).

It is the main scope of this little book to make this idea clear, that in dealing with the Eucharist in all its aspects we are still dealing with a sacrament (47).

8: Sacramental Harmony

The whole sacramental system is one perfect organism, where the 7 arteries of life work in unison (53).

Within this sacramental system, the Eucharist is supreme (the Queen among the 7 sisters) for 3 reasons:

  1. Christ is contained substantially
  2. All the other sacraments prepare men for the Eucharist and find in it their consummation.
  3. Catholic practice makes the other sacraments end in the celebration of the Eucharist.

The Eucharist occupies the center place in the supernatural Eden of God; it is surrounded by the 6 trees that bear fruit unto eternal life, but it is not a solitary growth of disproportionate size (54).

The doctrine of supernatural instrumentality, that all the sacraments are divine tools in the hands of Christ, gives wonderful unity to the sacraments.

“A sacrament is that which contains something sacred. A thing may be sacred in a twofold manner, either absolutely, or with reference to something else. Now this is the difference bertween the Eucharist and the other sacraments which have a matter known to the senses, that the Eucharist contains something sacred absolutely, I mean Christ himself; but the water of Baptism contains something sacred with regard to something else, — that is to say, it contains the power of sanctifying; and the same thing may be said of chrism and of the other sacramental things. Therefore the sacrament of the Eucharist is fully accomplished in the very consecration of the mater, whilst the other sacraments are fully accomplished in the application of the matter to the man to be sanctified ~ ST III, q.73, a.1, ad 3

The consecration is the complete Eucharist because it is the complete memory of Christ’s passion (58).

9: A Critical Study of St. Thomas

“The perfection of the sacrament is not in the use made of it by the faithful, but in the consecration of the matter; for the representation of Christ’s passion is performed in the very consecration of the sacrament” ~ ST III, 80, 7, 2-3

To offer up Mass is to make the sacrament.

The celebration of the Mass is a sacramental act.

The Eucharist is celebrated in the consecration more truly than in the communion (64).

10: The Sacramental View of the Sacrifice of the Mass in its Negative Aspect

The sacrifice in the sacrifice of the Mass is a sacrifice such as has not been known to human experience. As a sacrament, the sacrifice belongs to an order of things which could never be known to us except through faith.


None of the natural details of Christ’s sacrificial act on the cross are to be read into the sacrament-sacrifice which takes place on the altar (71).

“The sacramental sphere is an unknown world with a well-known inhabitant” (73).

11: The Sacramental View of the Sacrifice of the Mass in its Positive Aspect

Q. How is the sacrament a sacrifice?

A. The sacrament is a sacrifice because the words and the elements clearly signify a sacrifice. God’s omnipotence in the Eucharist is sacramental because it carries out what it signifies in speech and thing.

“Sacramental signification is the only door through which we approach the nature of Christ’s sacrifice on the altar. We possess what we signify, neither more nor less; if there is more, it is no longer the sacrament; if there is less, we are deceived” (83).

“The sacrifice is nothing else than the inward kernel of the external, symbolical rite of sacrifice” (84).

12: The Essence of Eucharistic Sacrifice

The essence of the Eucharistic sacrifice is found in the mystery of Christ’s Body and Blood (90).

“We offer up at the altar the Body and Blood such as we find them” (94).

Since the Eucharistic Body and the Eucharistic Blood represent Christ’s natural Body and Christ’s natural Blood, St. Thomas takes it for granted that if an Apostle had consecrated actually at the moment of Christ’s dying, or if the consecrated elements had been preserved during the whole drama of Christ’s agony on the cross, there would have been real suffering and real death in the blessed sacrament then, though there would not have been in the sacrament the external violence done to Christ’s Body by the executioners (93-4).

13: Eucharistic Representation, Application, Immolation

Representation = The Body and Blood, separated in sacramental truth on the Catholic altar, is the representation of the Lord whose Body and Body were separated in historical truth on Calvary.

Application = The Eucharistic sacrifice is the divine means for the individual believer to come into contact with the sacrifice of the cross… As the Eucharistic Body and Blood are such a complete representation of the broken Son of God on Calvary, they are also the most immediate and complete contact of the soul with all the saving power of Golgotha (100).

Immolation = Christ is immolated in the Eucharistic sacrifice because the Calvary immolation is represented so truly and is applied so directly through the Eucharistic Body and Blood (100).

In virtue of the sacrament, the Eucharist contains, not the mortal Christ, nor even the dying Christ; nor does it contain the glorious Christ; but it contains the Christ directly after his death, though without any of the gaping wounds (cf 1 Cor 11:26).

The Eucharist is the sacrament of the passion of Christ, inasmuch as man is rendered perfect by being linked up with the dead Christ ~ ST III, q. 73, a. 3, ad 3

14: The Oneness of the Christian Sacrifice

The sacrifice of the Christian altar and the sacrifice of Calvary are one and the same sacrifice. Since the sacrifice of the Christian altar is sacramental, it cannot be a new sacrifice, but it is a representation, pure and simple, of the historic or natural sacrifice (108).

The sacrifice of Calvary was complete and perfect in the genus of sacrifice; the Eucharist adds nothing to it; but it is truly “the brightness of its glory and the figure of its substance” (111). Far from derogating the natural sacrifice of Christ on the cross, the Church gives an additional honour to that great act by which Christ redeemed us.

15: St. Thomas and the Council of Trent on the Oneness of the Christian Sacrifice

Since the Body which is offered up is one and the same everywhere, be it on the cross, be it on the Christian altar, the Christian sacrifice is one. The sacrifice of Calvary and the sacrifice of the Eucharist are to each other in the relationship of the exemplar; one is the replica of the other. One contains what the other contains (119).

“For in the Eucharist the priest and victim are the same in sacramental sameness, as on Calvary they were the same in natural sameness” (120).

The priest represents Christ. The Eucharistic elements represent Christ’s Body and Blood. As the Christian priesthood is as truly representative of Christ’s priesthood as the Eucharistic Body is representative of Christ’s natural Body. The Christian priesthood is as truly a sacrament as the Christian sacrifice is a sacrament (121).

The sacrifice of the Cross is an absolutely complete act, and the sacrifice of Mass, again, is a complete act. The oneness of the Christian sacrifice is found in perfect representation, application, and containing (123).

The Last Supper was a complete act, representative by anticipation of that other complete act, the sacrifice of the first Good Friday (124).

16: The Sacrifice of the Cross

“We now come to face the mystery of Christ’s sacrifice on Calvary directly, and we gaze at it in its native beauty, after having loved its reflections all through the sacramental realm” (125).

The sacrifice is a mode of divine worship which is absolute, in the sense that God alone may be honoured in such a mode. The sacrifice must be a covenanted thing between God and man (the prearranged acceptance of God). A sacrifice is an act of religion, and therefore an act of justice, rendering to God the thing due to God, in the manner in which God wants to receive them back. All sacrifices are of the things that are bodily.

Christ’s flesh was the bearer of the sacrificial mission.

The sacrificial nature of the pouring out of the Blood of Christ is the supreme sacerdotal act and the essence of the great Christian sacrifice.

17: Transubstantiation

The substance of bread is changed into Christ’s Body and the substance of wine is changed into Christ’s Blood. Transubstantiation is not so much the sacrament, as the divinely revealed explanation of the truth of the sacrament; Transubstantiation is not the Eucharistic sacrifice, but it is the hidden power that makes the sacrifice a reality, not a mere symbol (140).

Just as the unseen fiat of God in a mother’s womb is the only satisfactory hypothesis at the root of that splendour of personality which meets us in the human being, perfect in mind and body (ie. man’s intellectual soul), so is Transubstantiation at the root of the Eucharistic blessings (ie. Christ’s Body and Blood given to us in the form of sacrifice) (141).

“Transubstantiation is at the root of the sacrament, deep down in the abyss of being, where God’s omnipotence is supreme” (141).

Transubstantiation is the explanation of sacramental truth (141).

18: Eucharistic “Difficulties”

Christ’s Body and Blood are in the sacrament, literally so, according to truth.

In the Eucharist we have the Body of Christ and the Blood of Christ, but with a mode of being entirely different from that mode of being (esse) in which Christ was at the Last Supper, in which he is now in heaven (157). This duality in the mode of being, the natural mode and the sacramental mode, belongs to the heart of the mystery (158).

19: Concomitance

Concomitance, the act of walking along with someone as a companion — concomitari — the roots of which are cum (with) and comes (companion) — is a word given dogmatic value of the first rank by the Council of Trent (161).

The theological meaning in the Eucharistic doctrine of concomitance is this, that the Eucharistic Body and the Eucharistic Blood of Christ are accompanied; they are not alone, they come, as it were, escorted by friends. Those holy things – Body and Blood – are like the centre of a group; they are surrounded by other holy things, without which they do not exist. Although this has nothing to do with the sacrament, as such, concomitance does explain how the whole glorious Christ is in the Eucharist.

20: Man’s Share in the Eucharistic Sacrifice

The Eucharist is essentially a gift to the Church, not only of Christ but of the sacrifice of Christ, so that the Church herself has her sacrifice; nay, every Christian has his sacrifice (173).

“In the new law the true sacrifice of Christ is communicated to the faithful under the apperance of bread and wine” ~ ST III, q. 22, a. 6, ad 2

The graces of Christ’s sacrifice and the sacrifice itself is communicated and given to us for our possession and use.

Christ’s greatest gift to the Church is precisely this ability to participate in His sacrifice, not in results only, but as an act of sacrificial oblation.

The highest need of man, if we understand man’s needs in their true unchangeable nature – that of offering up to God a perfect thing in sacrifice – finds its satisfaction and realization in a sacrament (175).

The Eucharistic sacrifice is essentially the sacrifice of the Church, for the Church’s daily use, and by use, we mean, above all things, the worship of God. Therefore, the Eucharistic sacrifice is a sacramental thing for the Church alone. The sacrifice of the cross belongs to the whole world, but the Eucharistic sacrifice belongs to the Church only (176).

“A sacramental priesthood offers up a sacramental sacrifice” (178).

Since the sacrament-sacrifice is an image of the sacrifice of the cross and the priesthood in his sacerdotal capacity is the image of Christ, there is a necessary oneness – the priest and the victim are the same. The sacramental priesthood and the sacramental sacrifice go together.

The priesthood is the sacramental continuation of the priesthood of the Last Supper and the victim is the sacramental representation of the Calvary sacrifice (181).

In her sacramental genius the Church knows that her Mass is the living image, the living memory of the holiest thing that ever happened here on earth, the sacrifice of perfect sweetness on Calvary (180).

Mass is essentially a sacramental action, performed by a sacramental priesthood, not a thing done in heaven, but here on earth, to be numbered in human numbers. Each Mass is a definite event in the history of the world with a definite spiritual worth. Therefore, in her sacramental jurisprudence, the sacrificial worth of two Masses is double the sacrificial worth of one Mass.

21: The Eucharistic Liturgy

The Eucharistic liturgy is a fresh confirmation of the thesis of this book, that the great Catholic tradition visualizes the Eucharistic sacrifice from the angle of sacrament. The Church has surrounded the sacrifice of the Eucharist with such splendor, with such rites and ceremonies as could only adorn a thing entirely in the Church’s possession. Sacraments are the property of the Church, if anything is the property of the Church, and, being her own, she has acted with them with the utmost resourcefulness, adding to the divinely instituted significations which constitute the essence of the sacrament her own symbolisms and signs and sacramentals, so as to make of the simple thing given by Christ a glorious celebration, where nature and grace, art and faith, vie with one another in the effort to express the hidden truth. Such behavior on the part of the Church is possible only because the Church considers the sacrifice delivered to her to be a great sacramental function. She has to perform that function and she does it with a genius truly divine (188).

The sacrifice of the Mass is both profoundly divine (divine in its innermost kernel, indestructible in its nature, unassailable by man’s inquity, so complete and so absolutely finished in itself) and profoundly human in its whole activity (left so entirely to man’s activities for new fertilities and new perfections).

22: The Eucharistic Banquet

The sacrament-sacrifice is followed by the sacrament-food (196).

The whole Eucharistic spirit is a spirit of charity, a spirit among the members of Christ (198). Membership with Christ’s mystical Body is the essence of Eucharistic grace in the soul of man. The specific Eucharistic grace is membership with Christ and the whole mystical Body of Christ (199).

“The world’s salvation is in the Eucharist. This is not a hyperbolical phrase; it is a sober statement of spiritual reality. The world’s salvation is its approximation to the redemptive mystery of Christ. If this mystery becomes the constant occupation of human society, its daily deed, its chief concern, its highest aspiration, then society is saved” (200).

23: Eucharistic Consummation

Sacraments are true prophecies of eternal glories (203).

He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life; and I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:55).

Divine as the Eucharist is, life with Christ is heaven will be something diviner still.

“There will be no Eucharistic sacrifice in heaven. The Lamb of God will be wedded to his Bride, the Church, and the sacrifice of the Lamb will be succeeded by the nuptials of the Lamb” (205).

Heaven has no sacrifice but is the consummation of all sacrifices. Sacrifice belongs to the period of faith and hope, where things are seen in a dark matter (206).

All sacrificial activity is in the militant Church (206).

The altar of holocaust is replaced by the altar of incense, the atlar of propitiation is replaced by the altar of consummation, the Body and Blood is replaced by the prayers of the saints, mercy and forgiveness are replaced by justice and judgment.


  1. 3names1God says:

    Thank you This is very helpful and appreciate the time you took to do this. what a mystery of grace!

  2. Patricia Feldman says:

    Just finished this book and this was just the help I was looking for in understanding the book. Thank you so much.

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