I had, almost word-for-word, the following conversation with each of my two older children (ages 11 and 8), while I was pointing at something in a baby book.
Me: What's that?The two kids then resolved the apparent contradiction in their statements in two ways. The elder said it was a matter of "context". (I think she also thinks that that's the way to resolve the conflict between the fact that tables and chairs aren't in the correct ontology and the obvious appropriateness of saying that there are chairs in the dining area.) The younger said: "Nobody expects you to say 'Picture of'", thereby opting for the move that his answer was elliptical.
Kid: An orange
Me: Is it an orange or a picture of an orange?
Kid: A picture of an orange.
Me: So it is an orange?
Anyway, the reason I had the conversation with the kids is that I had been thinking about Harriet Baber's "Eucharist as Icon" piece, according to which after consecration "That's Christ" simply works through a social institution of a "rule for reference" just as "That's an orange" when pointing at the picture in the book does. (This may be similar to what's implicit in my elder child's invocation of context.) If Baber's view is right, then if we were to point at the host and ask: "Is that Christ or an icon of Christ?", the right answer would be "An icon of Christ."
Now, perhaps, the disjunctive formulation of the question might be seen to present a false dilemma. But we have ways of answering questions like that. "Is Elizabeth the Queen of England or the head of the Church of England?" — "Both." But "Both" would be the wrong answer to "Is it an orange or a picture of an orange?" And likewise, if Baber's view of the real presence as constituted by a pointing convention were correct, "Both" would be the wrong answer to "Is it Christ or an icon of Christ?" But surely "Both" is exactly the right answer that thoughtful Christians through the ages would give.
Of course, as Baber notes well, to Christians, especially in the East, an icon isn't just a picture. Thus to say that the Eucharist is an icon of Christ isn't saying little. But we can say more: it is Christ and an icon of Christ. And if we have the doctrine of the transubstantiation, then we can even say how both parts fit together. The Eucharist is Christ by virtue of substance and an icon of Christ by virtue of appearances ("species"). And that is how it should be: it is appearance, and not the substantial constitution of the substratum, that is crucial to making an icon an icon. The nourishingness of the bread, which persists after consecration, makes the Eucharist stand for Christ on whom we are spiritually nourished; the lack of leaven in the West depicts Christ's sinlessness; the use of leaven in the East depicts the union of the human and divine in Christ; and there no doubt is much more to it than that. All that Baber says about iconography is there in the Eucharist, but there is something more beyond that: the Eucharist is a living icon, like Ezekiel's shaving his beard and Hosea's marrying Gomer, except that in Eucharist not only is the icon alive, but what it represents is its own living reality.
May we so live and receive.