Monday, March 14, 2005

The Most Holy Sacrament

A friend of mine who was present at our daughter's batptism noted to me that when the priest asked if we would raise the kid in the faith, blah, blah, she thought, "Of course, those kids will get the faith better than most," and then she recalled a few conversations we had had and it dawned on her that, we may have a different thing in mind than the priest did. She was right.

I have no intention of enslaving my kids to Catholic doctrine at the expense of authentic Christianity even though they are Catholic and are being raised as such. When Catholicism and Christianity are in tandem, Catholicism great, but when they diverge, I err on the side of Christianity most times. Sometimes, I think the Catholic Church works like a cult and that you are just about required to "sacrifice" your children unreservedly to the Catholic gods. One misleading aspect of Catholicism and prime cultish aspect, in my view, is the present Eucharistic emphasis.

The Catholic Eucharist is a tricky thing to teach to kids. On the other hand it is extremely straightforward. The truth is straight forward, but the accretions and dogmatic facade is the tricky amd misleading part.

When teaching kids about the Eucharist, what do you say it is? The body and blood of Christ? I know many who teach their kids that it is Jesus. I wholeheartedly resist such characterizations, because are they are simply not true. The Eucharist is sacrament. A sacrament has two aspects to it, a sign and instrument, i.e, it signifies something and then is the instrument through which what is signified comes about.

Catholic orthodoxy since the Luther era has turned the Eucharist into a dogmatic threshold. Do you believe that the bread and wine have been completely and totally trans____ so that bread and wine no longer remain, but they are now Christ's body and blood? This is a case where tradition has clearly outrun the sacrament and has veered off in a direction that obscures the truth about the Eucharist.

Catholic theology and philosophy tend towards reification. So there's always a push to define the ontological status of things. This is what the Eucharist has fallen victim to.

Msgr Robert Sokolowski at Catholic University has a book called Eucharistic Presence and I like what he says about the Eucharist. I haven't read it in a while and I'm taking from his viewpoint but not at all representing it or him. But his perspective is that when Jesus was in the upper room celebrating the meal. He said, "do this in memory of me." Now, Jesus was celebrating this ritual with a Jewish template of a seder meal and anticipating his death as the lamb of God. And so Jesus' instructions to us are to re-present the ritual which means the following:

1. Recall that particular meal
2. Recall that that ritual meal was celebrating the passover
3. Recall that that ritual meal anticipates the death and resurrection of Christ

These recollections are all embeded in each other. Jesus' original meal contains in it the anticipation of his passion and death as well as he celebration of the passover. Our liturgical recollection then re-presents Jesus's ritual which has embedded in it, an anticipation of his death as the lamb of God, the fulfilment of passover. There is a complex interplay of memory and recollections in the ritual.

On the divine side of things. God has preserved the truth and presence of that ritual celebration with all its embedded matrix of anticipations and recollections so that we can re-present it in our celebrations.

This goes to the heart of "do this in memory of me." The "This is my body" part is not the main story, the main story is the entire interplay of context, anticipation, and words of Christ and presence of disciples." Over time, the "this is my body" has taken over and now that's what the Eucharist is about. To the extent that adoration and such devotions have become standard fare. The problem is that Eucharist is meant to be eaten and not adored and futher, the symbolism has succumbed to reification and destroyed the true sense of the ritual. The symbolism, which is all what I've mentioned above, is as important as any other part of the ritual, including the "this is my body" aspect.

As for the "this is my body," I think the whole thing has gotten out of hand. Those words are part of an entire ritual and it is the ritual re-presented that gives us access to the life of Christ as all sacraments should. The common argument Catholics give for our interpretation of the Eucharist is John 6 where Jesus says unless you're willing to eat his flesh and drink my blood, you can have no part of me, etc. People left him en masse then and they wouldn't have if he wasn't speaking literally. No offense, but that strikes me as a one of the weakest and dumbest arguments for something so important coming from smart people. It did not matter if Jesus spoke literally or figuratively, the point of what he said (or had been saying) was blasphemous.

Jesus said many things about himself in John's Gospel. He said that he was the Good shepherd and we were sheep, he also said he was door, and many other things including a vine and we are branches. John is full of all these "I am" and "you are" direct statements. There is absolutely no justification to latch on to one of these statements that is so obviously figurative and then claim it is literal yet at the same time maintain that we are obviously not vine branches or sheep, or that Jesus is not really literally a vine or any of the other things Jesus claimed to be.

The key to this "this is my body" phrase is in the institution narratives themselves. Jesus took bread and blessed it and gave it to them saying, "this is my body." It obviously was not his body. If he wanted to it to be literal, he would have cut his body and offered them his flesh and blood, from his actual body. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that if he is handing them blessed bread and calling it his body, while he is yet bodily with them, then clearly, the entire ritual is awash in symbolism that explains the genuine sense of "body."

The concern in Catholic thought is that if the statement is primarily symbolic then it diminishes the Eucharist. Concern or not, the point is that the Eucharist is first and foremost, a symbol, and then an instrument. If the Eucharist loses its fundament symbolic character then it ceases to be a sacrament.

So back to what to tell the kids. What we certainly cannot tell them is that the Eucharist is Jesus, it is not. The Eucharist is the sacrament, i.e, sign and instrument of Christ's body, but it is NOT Christ. There is an actual Jesus Christ, who physically rose from the dead and is at a point (x,y,z,t). It riles me when kids are told that the Eucharist is Jesus, because then it defeats the purpose of the Eucharist which is to direct one's focus on the real actual Jesus who is a person that rose from the dead.

That risen Jesus is not hidden. It is with him that we are to have a relationship. Jesus as he is now, has a nose, eyes, hands, hair, toes, he is a man. The resurrection of Christ is an anchor of our faith. Does then the Eucharist inspire faith in this man Jesus? As it is currently practiced, no. The focus has shifted from Christ to the sacrament, the Eucharist, thus imbuing it with privileges that should be reserved for the living Son of God.

So what then do we tell the kids? If the Eucharist is not Christ, what are we to tell them? The Eucharist is Christ's holy sacrament. It is a holy ritual in which we remember, re-present and contemplate the Son of God. And even then, outside of the ritual, we understand the sacred hosts as the product of the Eucharistic holy ritual. The presence of the Holy, or even the idea of the presence of the Holy, is the legacy of the sacrament. The fact the we have a holy ritual in our midst in which phsyical holiness is made present to us to eat is the richness of the sacrament.

The ritual of the Eucharist was never meant to produce a Christ substitute for us, but a doorway to Christ.

So, Ono, do you believe that the Eucharist is the body and blood of Christ, such that after consecration, there remains no longer bread and wine but the body and blood of Christ?

. . . . (Fingers tapping on the desk. The court is silent as magistrate lets his mind drift in anticipation to the warmth of the pyre on this cold day. "It's been slow around here, a nice warm fire and some excitement is sure to stir things up" he muses to himself. A chill sweeps through the court as seconds stretch out it in interminably long intervals. The weight of the moment is not lost on anyone. He speaks.)

That is the wrong question. It is futile and useless question that does nothing for the truth of the sacrament. All that I will say is that, of things in heaven and earth, nothing is holier than the preserved presence of that holy moment of Christ's life captured in the Eucharitic ritual and its fruit.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

"This is my Body" sure does get out of hand. It is the touchstone of Catholic "cultish" truth. If Christ meant what he said, then Christ's body, blood, soul and divinity, Christ true God and true Man, is REALLY present in the consecrated species as the Church has tirelessly and tiresomely (for some) has taught for ever. It is possible only because of God's unbounded omnipotence and his infinite love.

2:26 PM  

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