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Transignification is an idea originating from the attempts of modernist Roman Catholic theologians, especially Edward Schillebeeckx, to better understand the mystery of the real presence of Christ at Mass in light of a new philosophy of the nature of reality that is more in line with contemporary physics.
The concept of transignification was ultimately rejected by the Catholic hierarchy, and is now more prominent in some Anglican and Protestant circles. Transignification suggests that although Christ's body and blood are not physically present in the Eucharist, they are really and objectively so, as the elements take on, at the consecration, the real significance of Christ's body and blood which thus become sacramentally present.
It is thus contrasted not only to belief in a physical or chemical change in the elements, but also to the doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church that there is a change only of the underlying reality, but not of anything that concerns physics or chemistry (see transubstantiation).
The concept of transignification is based on the thought that there are two kinds of presence, local and personal. Jesus is personally, but not locally, present at the Mass. One can be locally present, as when riding on a bus, but one's thoughts can be far away, making one personally not present.
The concept draws from ideas in the linguistic fields of structuralism, developed by Ferdinand de Saussure and that of semiotics to elaborate on the process of the Eucharist. These fields consider all meaningful signs as being divided into two complementary but indivisible parts, those of signifier and signified, both of which are determined by their psychological reality. In this framework, the Eucharistic Sacrament of the substance of Christ's Body and Blood appearing under the respective accidents of bread and wine would rather be interpreted as the signified (meaningful concept) of Christ's Body and Blood appearing under the signifiers (sensible, perceived impressions) of bread and wine.
One of the reasons for this shift in terms was an attempt to shed light on the somewhat obscure nature of the concept "substance", and to modernize and make more meaningful what is actually signified by the term substance.
The theory has been rejected by the Magisterium of the Roman Catholic Church, in particular in Pope Paul VI's 1965 encyclical Mysterium Fidei. However, it is considered to be similar to the Anglican position set forth by Thomas Cranmer in the Book of Common Prayer, Article Of Religion, Number 28.
- Anglican Eucharistic theology
- Eucharistic theologies summarised
- Real Presence