Ecclesiasticus 4:28

"Fight to the death for truth, and the Lord God will war on your side."

Ora pro nobis,

Most Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Francis de Sales, St. Thomas Aquinas, and St. Dominic. Amen.

Monday, November 21, 2011


Jesus came up and spoke to them. He said, 'All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations; baptise them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teach them to observe all the commands I gave you. And look, I am with you always; yes, to the end of time' (Matthew 28:18-20).
I've had a couple of conversations lately on the subject of Evangelisation--the sharing and spreading of the Gospel--that have left me a little bewildered. One was with former co-author of this blog (and former Christian), Kane Augustus (Christopher) Freeman, and another was with a Dominican Friar at the GodzDogz website. Now, one would suppose, I would hope, that a former Evangelical Christian and a member of the Order of Friars Preachers, would have a better understanding of what Evangelisation is. However, from the one, it was asked me,
[T]here is an evangelical aspect to Christianity that requires the persuasion of others to believe. Roughly translated, that "persuasion" is equivalent to bringing a person past their inability to believe in something they find unbelievable, isn't it?
From the other, it was argued, in the context of the Dismissal Rite at Mass,
In the past, when the congregation was told to go out to the world, it might have been understood as being sent to those who were lost. The Christian community, the followers of the true way, would be sent out to look for the lost sheep and the sheep that had never belonged to the flock and bring them to the right shepherd. Even if this is a wrong way of understanding our mission in the world, it is a much better way of understanding "life after Mass" than going and holding jealously on the graces gained from our Eucharistic celebrations.

When one is sent out after Mass, it is in order to go and share the graces one has gained from that Eucharistic Celebration. In other words, it is to bring that Mass to others, not convincing them that our way is much better than theirs, but to make sure that if there is anything we learnt from our gatherings it may also serve them.
Moreover, my Friar friend made the incredible statement that evangelisation must inexoribly lead to war. Nevertheless, Brother Gustave, in the same article, goes on to say,
During our Eucharistic celebrations, we experience a heavenly moment where we enter full communion with God. Sometimes we are tempted to remain there and pitch tents for the Lord like in Mark 9:2-10. The dismissal reminds us that this heavenly experience should be brought to others. People who love, they usually enjoy sharing whatever they believe will bring happiness and joy to others. Christians are supposed to be loving people and be enthusiastic in sharing what they gain from their Eucharistic celebrations...
To my mind, Brother Gustave touched upon the true meaning of Evangelisation without grasping, it seems, the fullness of what he said. This paragraph, rightly understood, provides the correct balance between the extremes of his and Kane's understanding of Evangelisation as arrogantly supposing that everyone must convert to Christianity, even beyond their own ability to reasonably accept the Christian claims, or forcing them to convert against their will (in sum, "shoving your religion down their throats"), and, on the other hand, merely entering into a dialogue of indifferentism, in which neither party assumes, or is permitted to assume, that what he has to offer is of any greater inherent value than what the other person already possesses.

In other words, we have on the one hand the error of Loveless Truth, and on the other, Truthless Love. In the middle, we have St. Paul's words in Ephesians, "If we live by the truth in love, we shall grow completely into Christ" (4:15). What does it mean to live the truth in love? St. Paul develops the theme in his letter to the Philippians:
So, my dear friends, you have always been obedient; your obedience must not be limited to times when I am present. Now that I am absent it must be more in evidence, so work out your salvation in fear and trembling. It is God who, for his own generous purpose, gives you the intention and the powers to act. Let your behaviour be free of murmuring and complaining so that you remain faultless and pure, unspoilt children of God surrounded by a deceitful and underhand brood, shining out among them like stars in the world, proffering to it the Word of life (2:12-16a).
Or as St. Peter instructs us,
Simply proclaim the Lord Christ holy in your hearts, and always have your answer ready for people who ask you the reason for the hope that you have. But give it with courtesy and respect and with a clear conscience, so that those who slander your good behaviour in Christ may be ashamed of their accusations (1 Peter 3:15-16).
So we have to recognise that evangelisation is not an option for Christians. Jesus commanded it, and St. Paul teaches that it is a part of working out our salvation. What does making disciples of all nations look like, then? I can't fault Kane too much for thinking that it looks like forcing your religion on another person. As an evangelical, that was often what our "loving" proclamation seemed like to others. It is, perhaps, no accident that many of my atheist and other non-Christian friends have found me much more tolerable to be around since my conversion to Catholicism--not because I am less committed to my faith, or to sharing it, but because truly understanding the Gospel and how to share it makes a world of difference--not that I am at all perfect or always avoid slipping into one or the other of the above extremes.

The first important step in Evangelisation is simply knowing our faith--and not simply as an academic formula. We must begin with an intimate friendship with Jesus. We can hardly be His witnesses without having a lived experience of Him. Frequent reception of the Sacraments and much time in prayer are absolutely necessary. Knowing Jesus personally must be accompanied with a working knowledge of at least the basics of our faith. The nitty-gritty details of theology aren't the issue here--nor is being able to explain them with chapter-and-verse from the Bible or Catechism citations. But there are certain things you need to know, to take to heart personally, that our faith teaches. These things will come across in how you live even more than in what you say. Briefly, these are the important things to know, believe, and live out:
A) All people are made in God's image, and thus possess an inherent dignity as human persons, worthy of love. We need to approach all people as if we were approaching Our Lord Himself.

B) We need to recognise that we are all sinners, in need of a Saviour. That's the point. But in this recognition, we can never hold ourselves up as superior to the other sinners to whom we're bringing the Gospel, to make them as good as us. In fact, relating back to A, it's just the opposite. The greatest, most effective evangelists, like St. Dominic, were extremely hard on themselves and their own sinfulness, but extremely gentle and understanding toward others. This is the attitude we must have.

C) While we believe that the Church has the fullness of Truth, this does not mean that everyone else is completely devoid of truth. Rather, to varying degrees, they already have parts of the truth that they live out themselves. We need to approach them with the notion of common ground, and relate the Truth of the Gospel to the truth they already possess, since truth doesn't contradict itself. We build on and share in what we have in common, in order to show them the greater Truth of Jesus Christ.
The second step is, of course, to live out the truth that we have--that intimate relationship with Jesus that displays itself as love, compassion, and respect for others. It is here that the most crucial part of Evangelism takes place--in loving, humble service, and in living an authentic life of love wherever we are. As St. Francis was wont to say, "Preach the Gospel to all people; if necessary, use words."

The final step, of course, is to actually share the Catholic faith with the people whom you have loved. After bringing Jesus to them through our actions, we engage them in dialogue and discussion, "hav[ing] your answer ready for people who ask you the reason for the hope that you have (1 Peter 3:15)." It's not about being pushy with our discussion of Jesus, but being sensitive to the receptiveness of the other person. When we are in love, we naturally bring up the one we love in conversation with others. It should be no different with Jesus. We don't bring Him into the conversation in a heavy-handed way with the intention of forcing Him down another's throat and making them a convert, but as an expression of our love for Him, we share that love of Him with the other, to attract them to the love, truth, beauty, and goodness that we have found.

Going back to Brother Gustave's words above:
During our Eucharistic celebrations, we experience a heavenly moment where we enter full communion with God....[T]his heavenly experience should be brought to others. People who love, they usually enjoy sharing whatever they believe will bring happiness and joy to others. Christians are supposed to be loving people and be enthusiastic in sharing what they gain from their Eucharistic celebrations...
When we know and love Jesus, recognising that He is the greatest thing in our lives, and indeed, in the world, and that He waits for us in the Eucharist, to unite Himself intimately with us--when we really believe that with all our hearts--that love can't help but overflow in us so that we will ardently desire to share that with everyone we meet! That's Evangelisation.

(Category: The Church--A Light to the Nations.)

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Invocations to the Precious Blood of Jesus

Precious Blood of Jesus, shed in the circumcision, make me chaste of mind, heart, and body.

Precious Blood, oozing in the agony of Jesus, from every pore, grant me to love above all things the holy and adorable will of God.

Precious Blood, flowing abundantly in the scourging at the pillar, inspire me with a keen sorrow for my sins and a love of suffering.

Precious Blood, falling in profusion from the crown of thorns, grant me a love of humiliation.

Precious Blood, furrowing the way to Calvary, fill me with courage to walk unfalteringly in the bloody footsteps of Jesus.

Precious Blood, shed so profusely in the Crucifixion of my Jesus, make me die entirely to self-love.

Precious Blood, shed to the very last drop by the opening of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, give me that generous love that sacrifices all for God.

Precious Blood, sacred source from which all graces flow, apply Your infinite merits to my soul.

Precious Blood, whose virtue animates and enlivens our actions, apply Your infinite merits to all our works.

Life-giving fountain, in which the soul fully quenches its thirst, saturate me with pure love.

O Divine Blood of my Jesus, I adore You from the depths of my heart.

I fervently invoke You, for You are my salvation and by You I hope to obtain the joys of paradise.

Eternal Father, be merciful, for the sake of the Blood of Your only Son; we plead You, show us Your mercy.

Most Precious Blood of Jesus, cry for mercy for us to the Heavenly Father, and deliver us.

Eternal Father, I offer You the Precious Blood of Jesus, in reparation for my sins and the needs of the universal Church.

(Category: Catholic Devotions: Common Catholic Prayers.)

Monday, July 11, 2011

Looking at Jesus

'So you had not the strength to stay awake with me for one hour? Stay awake, and pray not to be put to the test. The spirit is willing enough, but human nature is weak' (Matthew 26:41-42).
Now that we've significantly examined the theological dimensions and meanings of the Eucharist, and understand that it truly is Jesus Himself whom we receive in Communion as our New Covenant sacrifice, I want to wax personal as I draw our attention and devotion to an aspect of this Blessed Sacrament that goes beyond the celebration of the Mass, and into the private, individual aspect of the spiritual life. For when the Church teaches that Jesus Christ is truly present, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity in the sacred species, she maintains that this presence is ongoing for as long as the Eucharistic Elements remain intact. In other words, for as long as the Consecrated Host looks and acts like bread, it is actually Jesus. But once that Host has broken down and decomposed, then it ceases to be Jesus. And the same goes for the consecrated Wine. As long as it has the characteristics of Wine, it remains Jesus.

The Eucharist Outside of Mass

As such, the Eucharist which is not consumed during Mass is treated with the same respect and worship with which we are to treat Jesus Himself. This is the reason that the left-over Eucharist is placed in the church's Tabernacle, as a place of honour in the church, usually made of gold, so that He may be easily found and worshipped upon entry. This is the reason why Catholics genuflect (that is, kneel down) upon entering the church and before sitting in their pews. And this is why those Catholics who are unable to attend Mass may be brought the Eucharist afterward--because even though the Mass has ended, Jesus remains, to be received by any and all the faithful who desire Him.

Throughout the centuries, particularly in the Western Church, this truth of Jesus' enduring presence in the Eucharist has led to further devotions. I've already talked about the Corpus Christi Procession, in which the Eucharist is paraded through the streets of the parish while parishioners follow in prayer and song. But while that happens only once a year, Jesus is available every day. And over the centuries this led to the practice of coming and spending a "holy hour" with Him in what is known as Eucharistic Adoration.

Worshipping the Eucharistic Lord

Unlike the liturgical celebration of the Mass, Eucharistic Adoration is an opportunity for a person to individually spend time with Jesus. He may be reposed in the Tabernacle, but many churches have set up Chapels specifically for the purpose of Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, and during specific hours (or, at some parishes, perpetually), the Eucharistic Host is placed into a Monstrance, which is a golden object having a clear glass or plastic case into which the Host is placed for easy viewing. Around this clear case are golden decorative sculptures, often taking the form of a Cross, or rays of a sun, or sometimes resembling the Gothic frontispiece of an altar. The effect is one of housing Jesus in a setting that elevates our minds to the dignity of this Sacrament--the fact that what we are looking at is not merely bread, but is actually God Himself.

Upon entering the chapel and beholding the monstrance, one genuflects to Jesus, and, finding a seat, begins simply being with Him. What you do with Jesus is completely up to you--it is a time of private, personal prayer. You might pray a Rosary, or read the Bible or other spiritual writings. You may simply sit in silence, or, provided you aren't disturbing any other adorers, you may sing. You may stand, sit, kneel, or completely prostrate yourself in the presence of the Lord. It truly is your time with Jesus. I personally often like to bring my sketchpad, and draw inspiration from my time with Jesus for new paintings.

Spending Time in the Presence of Jesus

Fundamentally, though, it's not about what you do in Adoration. It's about building that personal relationship with Jesus. How are we supposed to get to know Jesus if we never spend any time with Him? And if that time spent is always in a "group setting" at Mass, there is a danger that our knowledge and love for Him could remain merely superficial. This, of course, is not necessarily the case, since receiving Jesus in Communion is the most intimate experience we can have with Him. However, if we're not allowing ourselves the time to spend with Him outside of the Mass, and especially doing so in Adoration, we're depriving ourselves of an opportunity to be completely honest with Jesus about our needs, our failings, our sufferings, our trials, our joys, and in sum, who we are as a whole. And the converse is true, that in Adoration we take the time to sit in silence, and just listen to Him. In the silence of Adoration, we learn how to listen, and what to listen for. We gaze upon our Lord, knowing that He has humbled Himself to appear to us in Bread, reminding us that He Himself is our sustenance, that He knows our needs and wants to take care of us. As one man put it, "I look at Jesus, and He looks back at me."

The Benefits of Adoration

At this point, it may seem utterly superfluous to enumerate the effects of Adoration. It seems that one who is already sold on having an opportunity to spend time in the tangible presence of our Lord, and dialoguing with Him in a loving relationship, doesn't need to hear about the wonderful results of doing so; on the other hand, one who doesn't already feel compelled to start visiting Jesus in this manner will likely remain complacent no matter what reasons I could provide. Nevertheless, it is possible that the benefits might push a fence-sitter over the edge, and that hearing them clearly stated might serve to refresh and rekindle the cooling devotion of one who already participates in Adoration. In any case, I shall describe them here if for no other reason than that it is always good to tell of the wonderful works of our God.

1. A Deeper Relationship with Jesus
Obviously, the first and primary benefit of Adoration is the deepening of one's own relationship with the Eucharistic Jesus. In my former Christian tradition, much was made of having a "personal relationship with Jesus," but the thought that He might truly be present in a tangible, real sense in the Eucharist was not thought of, or even flat-out denied. It was once I understood this amazing truth, and began to practice Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, that my intimacy and closeness with Jesus really began to grow exponentially. If you feel far from Jesus, and your spiritual life feels dry, I encourage you to seek Him out in the Adoration Chapel. He is waiting for you there.

2. Spiritual Strength
The next great benefit is having more time, more energy, and greater vision to serve Jesus. Many object to Adoration as taking time away from the active life of ministering. Yet Jesus Himself led by example, taking quiet times during the day to commune with His heavenly Father. If Jesus needed these times of spiritual solitude, how can we suggest that we should neglect them? On the contrary, spending time with Jesus strengthens us to become more productive and fruitful labourers in His vineyard.

3. Growth in Personal and Corporate Holiness
Third, Adoration increases sanctity in one's life. Obviously, spending time with the All-Holy God cannot help but make us more holy ourselves. In His presence, our sinfulness is brought clearly to mind, and the compuction necessary to make a good Confession is produced. I have experienced this many times, to the degree that when I feel most attached to my sins, I am actually afraid to go to Jesus in the Sacrament. Just as it is a great sacrilege to receive Communion in a state of sin, so just being in the presence of Jesus in Adoration will compel us to get to Confession as soon as possible! This increase in holiness that results will overflow into other areas of our lives, strengthening our marriages, our families, our parish's life and vitality, and on and on. I read about one parish whose attendance doubled and collections tripled just from beginning Perpetual Adoration there! Our intimate, personal, one-on-one time with Jesus spills out into the life of the entire community!

4. Increase in Vocations
Of the many effects of Adoration, I will content myself to name just one more: Adoration has been shown to lead to an increase in vocations to the Priesthood and Religious life. The increase of the spiritual vitality of a parish resulting from Adoration prompts more men and women to live their faith more ardently, and to respond to God's call in their lives to surrender their lives utterly to Him. And the very act of Adoration stills the soul so that one is more responsive to hearing His voice calling. If anyone is unsure about God's plan for their life, take it to the Lord in Adoration, and He will reveal it to you there; whether that be to the clerical state, religious life, marriage, or whatever else He has planned. Place yourselves before Him, and like Samuel of old, say, "Speak, Lord, your servant is listening."

Jesus is waiting for you in the Blessed Sacrament. Go and meet Him!

(Category: Catholic Distinctives: Sacraments--The Eucharist;
Catholic Devotions: Eucharistic Devotions)

Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Heavenly Banquet

Whenever you eat this bread, then, and drink this cup, you are proclaiming the Lord's death until he comes. (1 Corinthians 11:26)
In this, the last of our series of reflections on the theology of the Eucharist, as outlined in paragraph 1323 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, we're going to examine an aspect of the Church's teaching on the Blessed Sacrament that is often overlooked in common explanations. Indeed, the very branch of theology known as "eschatology" (the study of the Last Things or the End Times) is often neglected in Catholic circles, too often leaving people's understanding of the end of the world to be formed by fringe personalities like Harold Camping or Hollywood's sensational, if wrong-headed ideas. As Pope Benedict recently stated to journalist Peter Seewald in his book-length interview, Light of the World,
Our preaching, our proclamation, really is one-sided, in that it is largely directed toward the creation of a better world, while hardly anyone talks any more about the other, truly better world. We need to examine our consciences on this point. Of course one has to meet one's listeners half-way, one has to speak to them in terms of their own horizon. But at the same time our task is to open up this horizon, to broaden it, and to turn our gaze toward the ultimate (p. 179).
The fact is, we do believe Jesus when He tells us that He is coming again. We believe Him when He tells us there is more to this world--a world which is passing away. We hope in the world to come, in heavenly glory, in the Beatific Vision, in which we will see God face to face. And to strengthen us in that hope, Jesus left us Himself in the Blessed Sacrament, as a pledge of that future glory!
In an ancient prayer the Church acclaims the mystery of the Eucharist: "O sacred banquet in which Christ is received as food, the memory of his Passion is renewed, the soul is filled with grace and a pledge of the life to come is given to us." If the Eucharist is the memorial of the Passover of the Lord Jesus, if by our communion at the altar we are filled "with every heavenly blessing and grace," then the Eucharist is also an anticipation of the heavenly glory (Catechism #1402).
Who Was and Is and Is to Come
As we discussed in previous articles, we believe that Jesus is truly present, here and now, in the Eucharistic elements. When at Mass, we see the consecrated Bread and Wine, we understand that they are bread and wine no longer, but the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of our Blessed Lord. He is as truly present in our midst as He was with the Apostles. However, that presence is radically different in its realisation. Jesus is present in a hidden manner; but He has promised to come to us at the end of the age fully revealed in all His glory, as we proclaim in the Nicene Creed, "He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead." As such, there is a tension in Catholic belief between the presence of Christ with us now, as He promised in Matthew 28:20, "And lo, I am with you always, even to the very end of the age," and our hope in His second coming. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it,
The Church knows that the Lord comes even now in his Eucharist and that he is there in our midst. However, his presence is veiled. Therefore we celebrate the Eucharist "awaiting the blessed hope and the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ," asking "to share in your glory when every tear will be wiped away. On that day we shall see you, our God, as you are. We shall become like you and praise you for ever through Christ our Lord" (#1404).
As such, the Eucharist bridges the gap between Christ's first coming and His second. On the one hand, it is the Memorial Sacrifice of His Passion, reminding us of our redemption and enabling us to appropriate the grace won for us on the Cross. On the other hand, it drives us on to the fulfilment of that redemption--the grace we are given making us worthy of eternal salvation--when we will see the Lord face to face. Pope Benedict, in the second volume of his study of Jesus of Nazereth, reflects on this truth:
The Church greets the Lord in the Holy Eucharist as the one who is coming now, the one who has entered into her midst. At the same time, she greets him as the one who continues to come, the one who leads us toward his coming. As pilgrims, we go up to him; as a pilgrim, he comes to us and takes us up with him in his "ascent" to the Cross and Resurrection, to the definitive Jerusalem that is already growing in the midst of this world in the communion that unites us with his body (Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week, p. 11).
In the Eucharist, then, we are not only promised life in the world to come, but actually made partakers in that eternal life here and now, and are being changed, sanctified, so as to be ready to meet Jesus face to face. This is what Jesus promised us in John 6:53-55: "In all truth I tell you, if you do not eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Anyone who does eat my flesh and drink my blood has eternal life, and I shall raise that person up on the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink."

During the Mass, immediately after the Consecration of the Eucharist, the priest bids the congregation, "Let us proclaim the mystery of faith," to which there are several different responses, which each convey the Gospel tension of Jesus having come, being with us now, and coming again. The verse from 1 Corinthians appearing at the beginning of this article is the foundation for one of these "memorial acclamations": "When we eat this bread and drink this cup, we proclaim Your death, Lord Jesus, until You come in glory." That is, just after recognising Jesus, truly present, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity, in the Sacred Species, we remember and proclaim His sacrificial death and resurrection, and long for the day when He will return that ultimate time, in all the fullness of His glory. And yet, it seems, for many of us, the notion that Jesus will come again to judge the living and the dead doesn't enter into our minds very often. We get so distracted by the worries and cares of this world, that the thought of it ending strikes us with the fear of what we'd lose if it did--provided that thought ever enters our minds at all. Pope Benedict cautions against this attitude:
But what is the position now in the Christian life regarding expectation of the Lord's return? Are we to expect him, or do we prefer not to?...Should this passing world be dearer to us than the Lord for whom we are actually waiting?
The Book of Revelation concludes with the promise of the Lord's return and with a prayer for it: "He who testifies to these things says, 'Surely I am coming soon.' Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!" (22:20)....
At the end of the First Letter to the Corinthians, Saint Paul quotes the same prayer in an Aramaic version, which as it happens can be divided differently and is therefore open to different interpretations: Marana tha (Lord, come!), or Maran atha (the Lord has come). This two-fold reading brings out clearly the peculiar nature of the Christian expectation of Jesus' coming. It is the invocation "Come!" and at the same time the grateful certainty that "he has come".
From the Teaching of the Twelve Apostles (Didache, ca. 100), we know that this invocation formed part of the liturgical prayers of the eucharistic celebrations of the earliest Christian communities, and here too we find a concrete illustration of the unity of the two readings. Christians pray for Jesus' definitive coming, and at the same time they experience with joy and thankfulness that he has already anticipated this coming and has entered into our midst here and now.
Christian prayer for the Lord's return always includes the experience of his presence. It is never purely focused on the future. The words of the risen Lord make the point: "I am with you always, to the close of the age" (Mt 28:20). He is with us now, and especially close in the eucharistic presence. Yet, conversely, the Christian experience of the Lord's presence does include a certain tension toward the future, toward the moment when that presence will be definitively fulfilled: the presence is not yet complete. It pushes beyond itself. It sets us in motion toward the definitive (Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week, pp. 288-290).
The passage to which the Holy Father refers above is a beautiful Eucharistic prayer from the Didache, one of the earliest Christian writings outside of the New Testament, written between AD 50 and 100--that is, while the Gospels themselves were still being written. Below I offer the entire text of that prayer, from chapter 10 of the Didache:
And after being filled, eucharistize thus:

We give you thanks, holy Father,
for your holy name,
which you tabernacle in out hearts,
and for the knowledge and faith and immortality
which you revealed to us through your servant Jesus.
To you [is] the glory forever.

You, almighty Master, created all things
for the sake of your name,
both food and drink you have given to people for enjoyment
in order that they might give thanks;
to us, on the other hand, you have graciously bestowed
Spirit-sent food and drink for life forever through your servant [Jesus].

Before all [these] things, we give you thanks
because you are powerful [on our behalf].
To you [is] the glory forever.

Remember, Lord, your church,
to save [her] from every evil
and to perfect [her] in your love
and to gather [her] together from the four winds
[as] the sanctified into your kingdom
which you have prepared for her,
because yours is the power and the glory forever.

[A] Come, grace [of the kingdom]!
and pass away, [Oh] this world!
[B] Hosanna to the God of David!
[C] If anyone is holy, come!
If anyone is not, convert!
[D] Come Lord [maranatha]! Amen!

(The Didache 10:1-6, from the translation of Dr. Aaron Milavec. Text in [brackets] indicates words not in the Greek, added for clarity.)
Just as the Early Church prayed for Christ's return, so must we. The same tension between Christ's immanent, Eucharistic presence now, and the full unveiling of His glory to come, summed up in the prayer Maranatha!, reminds us of the tension of the Church and of the disciple of Christ, to be in this world, and yet to hope for a better one. The pledge of future glory contained in the Eucharist calls us to set our hopes on Heaven, to store up our treasures there, and to call all people to have that same hope.

Food For the Journey
In light of the fact that the Eucharist prepares us for the life to come, the ancient Church adopted the practice of administering the Sacrament to the sick and dying. St. Justin Martyr, writing around AD 150, describes how after Mass, the Deacons would bring the Eucharist to those who were not well enough to attend the Church. The union with the Resurrected Lord brings the needed grace to the dying person to "cross over" into death and new life. In this context, the Eucharist is referred to as "viaticum", a Latin term conveying the meaning of "Food for the Journey."
[T]he Church offers those who are about to leave this life the Eucharist as viaticum. Communion in the body and blood of Christ, received at this moment of "passing over" to the Father, has a particular significance and importance. It is the seed of eternal life and the power of resurrection, according to the words of the Lord: "He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day." The sacrament of Christ once dead and now risen, the Eucharist is here the sacrament of passing over from death to life, from this world to the Father (Catechism, #1524).
Since, then, Jesus is with us through the Eucharist, we need not fear death, but can rest in the confident hope of being united with Him in paradise. This is the great promise of the Eucharist, as the Catechism again reminds us:
There is no surer pledge or dearer sign of this great hope in the new heavens and new earth "in which righteousness dwells," than the Eucharist. Every time this mystery is celebrated, "the work of our redemption is carried on" and we "break the one bread that provides the medicine of immortality, the antidote for death, and the food that makes us live for ever in Jesus Christ" (#1405).
Thus, when we come together to celebrate the Eucharist, let us truly lift our hearts up to the Lord, who has come down to dwell with us in this Blessed Sacrament--not so that we will have peace and prosperity here and now, but in order that we will have the grace to truly live sanctified lives, as pilgrims making our way to a better home. Whether we come to that better home through our own death, or whether we will live to see the Lord's triumphant return with our own eyes, Jesus in the Eucharist will make us more like Him, so that when we meet, He will welcome us to that Heavenly Banquet, unto which the Spirit of God and His Bride, the Church, bid us, "Come!" (cf. Revelation 22:17).
Having passed from this world to the Father, Christ gives us in the Eucharist the pledge of glory with him. Participation in the Holy Sacrifice identifies us with his Heart, sustains our strength along the pilgrimage of this life, makes us long for eternal life, and unites us even now to the Church in heaven, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and all the saints (Catechism #1419).
Maranatha! Amen!

Feast of Corpus Christi

(Category: Catholic Distinctives: Sacraments--The Eucharist)

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Food for the Soul

"Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood
lives in me
and I live in that person.
As the living Father sent me
and I draw life from the Father,
so whoever eats me will also draw life from me." (John 6:56-57)
For a Puritan, and one considered rather anti-Catholic, the renowned non-conformist preacher and writer, John Bunyan, has a fascinating passage about the Eucharist in the Second Part of his famous work, Pilgrim's Progress. Christiana, the Pilgrim's wife, and her children, have set out after him on pilgrimage of their own. Along the way, Matthew, her eldest son, eats fruit from trees growing in Beelzebub's orchard. A doctor, Mr. Skill, is called who prepares a "purge" to make Matthew vomit up the sinful fruit.
So he made him a purge, but it was too weak. 'Twas said, it was made of the blood of a goat, the ashes of a heifer, and with some of the juice of hyssop, &c. [Note: Hebrews 9]. When Mr. Skill had seen that the purge was too weak, he made him one to the purpose. 'Twas made ex carne et sanguine Christi [Note: The Latin I borrow -Bunyan ("Of the flesh and blood of Christ"; see John 6:53-56.)]. (You know how physicians give strange medicines to their patients.) And it was made up into pills, with a promise or two, and a proportionate quantity of salt [Note: Mark 9:49-50]. Now he was to take them three at a time fasting, in half a quarter of a pint of the tears of repentance. When this potion was prepared and brought to the boy, he was loath to take it, though torn with the gripes as if he should be pulled in pieces. Come, come, said the physician, you must take it. It goes against my stomach, said the boy. I must have you take it, said his mother. I shall vomit it up again, said the boy. Pray, Sir, said Christiana to Mr. Skill, how does it taste? It has no ill taste, said the doctor; and with that she touched one of the pills with the tip of her tongue. Oh, Matthew, said she, this potion is sweeter than honey. If thou lovest thy mother, if thou lovest thy brothers, if thou lovest Mercy, if thou lovest thy life, take it. So with much ado, after a short prayer for the blessing of God upon it, he took it and it wrought kindly with him. It caused him to purge, it caused him to sleep and rest quietly; it put him into a fine heat and breathing sweat, and did quite rid him of his gripes.
(John Bunyan, Pilgrim's Progress. [1985, Bridge Publishing, Chepstow.] pp. 290-291. [Notes] in original.)
After Matthew is healed, Christiana asks Mr. Skill what else the pill is good for, and he tells her that it is a universal medicine against all the problems a pilgrim might face, and that, if used properly, it would cause him to live forever (p. 292). As I said, such a passage is fascinating in a book by a man whose theology had very little regard for the sacraments. And yet, Bunyan's thorough knowledge and love for Scripture inspired this specific and exalted description of the Eucharist. Immediately after the first remedy fails to bring healing (an allegory of Old Testament sacrifices), the New Testament Sacrifice of Christ's Body and Blood--the Eucharist--is employed and is efficacious in saving the boy.

In our last article, we examined the Unifying effect of the Eucharist--that it reinforces our incorporation into Christ that was first effected in our baptism, and that in so doing, it further unites us to the rest of the Church, His Body. Now, let us ask with Christiana, "What is this pill good for else?" We will delineate five effects of Holy Communion which flow from the conclusions of our previous articles--primarily that Jesus is truly present in the Eucharist, and that the Eucharist re-presents His sacrificial death on Calvary.

Divine Grace
Since Jesus is truly present in the Eucharist, and we thus receive Him in Holy Communion, this reception carries with it His divine grace. This is all the more evident since the Eucharist, in making Calvary present to us, is making the very cause of that Grace present. What does it mean to say that in the Eucharist we receive divine grace? What is Grace? Grace is nothing less than a share in the divine life of God (2 Peter 1:4). Through Christ's sacrifice, He Himself comes to us and unites us to Himself, as we saw in our last article. He bestows on us His life--eternal life--abundant life. This Grace is the means of our acceptance and adoption as God's children, which we first receive at baptism. It continues in us to effect our sanctification, our growth in holiness. In short, this Divine Grace that we receive in the Eucharist, makes us more and more into the image of Christ.

The Forgiveness of Sins
Since the gift of Divine Grace causes our sanctification, this logically means that the Eucharist brings about the forgiveness of sin--since sin is the antithesis of sanctification and thus of grace. Again, since the Eucharist is a re-presentation of Christ's atoning sacrifice, that atonement is effected in and through the Sacrament. However, we must make note of the degrees of sin, and the effects of each degree of sin, as well as the disposition of the sinner--for the Eucharist in itself is not oriented to the purpose of the forgiveness of all sins, but of increasing Grace in one's soul, more closely uniting him or her to Christ.

In 1 John 5:16-17, he speaks of Mortal, or deadly sin, and non-mortal sin, which the Church calls "venial" or light. While some want to deny such a distinction, claiming that all sin is equal in the eyes of God, neither Scripture nor logic bear this opinion out. It seems self-evident that murder is a much more serious sin than being disrespectful, for example. We cannot treat the discussion of the varying severity of sin at length in this article, and will take for granted the obviousness of the distinction between Mortal and Venial Sin (with a promise to write a full article about it in the future). Now, since there is a difference in the severity of sin, it seems obvious that there is a difference in the effects of each degree of sin on the soul. Briefly, Mortal Sin is called Mortal because it kills the divine life in a soul. The graces of justification and sanctification are destroyed by willfully, knowingly committing a sin of a grave matter. Such sin is the ultimate act of uncharity and thus is in itself a declaration that we are rejecting God's Covenant. On the other hand, a Venial sin is not the result of the absense of charity, but human weakness. It does not completely kill the life of grace in a soul, but only wounds it.

Since, as we discussed in our last article, the Eucharist is the Sacrament of Unity and the sign of Covenant faithfulness, those in Mortal Sin will not through the Eucharist receive forgiveness of their sins, but, in fact, greater condemnation, for they profane the Sacrament by participating in it. Those in Mortal Sin need the Sacrament of Reconciliation, which was instituted by Christ specifically for the forgiveness of Mortal Sin and the restoration of the Sinner to the Covenant and the Life of Grace. For those whose sins are merely venial, though, the Eucharist is efficacious to entirely forgive those sins. Furthermore, however, one who has committed a Mortal Sin, but does not intend to remain attached to his sin, and has forgotten it, in approaching the Altar and receiving the Sacrament, can find forgiveness in it. The Eucharistic graces will perfect charity in him, making his contrition perfect, leading to the forgiveness of those forgotten mortal sins. If, however, he remembers his mortal sins before receiving the Eucharist, such a one must have recourse to Confession, as said above.

The Remission of Punishment due to Sin
Throughout Scripture, we see time and time again people committing sin, and then repenting and turning to God. We see God forgive their sin and welcome them back into His Covenant, into relationship with Him. But we also, time and again, see that these people still have to face the consequences or the punishment for their sins, even after they've been forgiven. For example, even though God forgave Adam and Eve, they still were not allowed back into the Garden of Eden. Even though God forgave Moses in the Wilderness, he still couldn't enter the Promised Land. Even though God forgave King David for his affair with Bath-Sheba and his murder of Uriah, David's first son with Bath-Sheba still died.

When we sin, there is a just punishment due to our sins, both in time and in eternity. The forgiveness of our sins eliminates that eternal punishment: Hell. But restitution still needs to be made in the here-and-now. This is the purpose of penance in the Sacrament of Confession--to help us begin to make that restitution, to help cut us off from our attachment to sin and to participate in the righting of the wrongs we've done. Mercy, after all, might cause my neighbour to forgive me for breaking his window, but justice still demands that I pay for the damage.

In the Eucharist, we receive the very life of Christ Himself. His grace is bestowed on us, as well as a share in His infinite merits which He earned in His perfect obedience to the Father, even to death on the Cross. In and of itself, the Eucharist, as the re-presentation of Christ's sacrifice, is powerful enough to remit all the temporal punishment due to all sins. However, our appropriation of this merit is dependent upon our own charity. The amount of punishment remitted is in accord with the measure of our devotion. The greater our love for God, and the more we strive to love God, the more effective the Sacrament will be in remitting our temporal punishments.

Stength for the Soul
Since the Eucharist infuses sanctifying grace into our souls, frequent reception will have the effect of making us more holy, if we cooperate with the graces we receive. Holiness is more than simply the forgiveness of our sins. It is being made more and more perfect. The Eucharist, then, gives us the grace to overcome temptation and to avoid sin. When we cooperate with the grace that Christ gives to us, we can become free of sin through His strength at work in us. In other words, frequent reception of the Eucharist will enflame our charity, increase our holiness, and, in the end, make us Saints.

The Means of Eternal Life
Holiness is the prerequisite for Heaven and union with God. It is the pure who will see God's face, and it is the Eucharist that makes us pure. It is our Viaticum, our "Food for the Journey". As Bunyan's Mr. Skill tells Christiana, those who receive the Eucharist properly will indeed live forever. Jesus Himself gives us this promise in John 6. Just as physical food nourishes our bodies, repairing, healing, and sustaining them, so the Eucharist does all this for our souls.

Through the Eucharist, our eternal life begins here and now, and in the Eucharist, we have the pledge of future glory--which topic we'll examine in our next article.

(Category: Catholic Distinctives: Sacraments--The Eucharist)

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

One Bread, One Body

The blessing-cup, which we bless, is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ; and the loaf of bread which we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ? And as there is one loaf, so we, although there are many of us, are one single body, for we all share in the one loaf. (1 Corinthians 10:16-17)
When we understand that Jesus Christ is truly present in the Eucharist, and that it is the memorial sacrifice of His death and resurrection at Calvary, made present to us again here and now, we come to understand certain other truths about the Eucharist--namely, if we really are consuming Jesus, and are participating in and appropriating His sacrifice to our lives, then there must be certain dramatic effects in so doing. After all, a Sacrament, by definition, is a physical object that confers God's grace. In the next two artilces, we'll be looking at just what those graces are that we recieve in the Eucharist.

The Kiss of Christ
One of the most beloved times in a Catholic family's life is the time when their children receive their first Holy Communion. The child, now old enough to understand right from wrong, and enough of the Church's teaching of the mystery of Jesus' real presence, having been taught and prepared for this event, and having made his or her first Reconciliation, is now dresssed up in the finest suit or the prettiest dress in order to come to the Table of the Lord for the very first time. It's striking to see so often that the little girls are dressed in what could almost be described as wedding dresses, and indeed the similarity is apt. For in the Eucharist we come into a real and true Communion with our Saviour, who waits for us, Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity, in the Blessed Sacrament. Great saints and mystics of the Church have described receiving the Eucharist in almost erotic terms, reminiscent of the Song of Songs. Indeed, this very book of the Bible is allegorically interpreted to refer to the unique and all-surpassing intimacy of Christ and His Bride, the Church. Consider the words of St. Ambrose of Milan:
You have come to the altar. The Lord Jesus calls you--both your soul and the Church--and says, "O that you would kiss me with the kisses of your mouth!" (Sgs 1:2).
Do you want to prepare for Christ?
Do you want to do this for your soul? Nothing is more pleasant.
"O that you would kiss me." He sees that you are cleansed from all sin, your sins are purged away, and you are worthy of the heavenly sacrament; and so He invites you to the heavenly banquet. "O that you would kiss me with the kisses of your mouth!"
Now your soul sees itself cleansed from sin and worthy to approach the altar of Christ, and so the body of Christ. Now your soul has seen the wonderful sacrament and says, "O that you would kiss me with the kisses of your mouth!" That is: Let Christ press a kiss upon me.
Why? Because "Your love is better than wine" (Sgs 1:2). That is, the sensations that You provide are better--Your sacraments are better than wine. Though wine brings sweetness, joy, and pleasure, it is but worldly joy, while in You is spiritual pleasure. (On the Sacraments 5.2)
Holy Communion
In Communion, Christ enters into us, and we receive Him into ourselves. He brings His grace of new life into our souls, and makes us more and more like Him. So many Christians speak about having a "personal relationship" with Jesus, and yet fail to realise the full depth of intimacy with our Lord that is available to them in this Sacrament. And in this intimate union, we allow Christ to truly transform us, as St. Augustine says, "Through those appearances [of bread and wine] the Lord wished to leave us His body and blood that He poured out for the remission of sins. If you receive well, you are what you have received" (Sermon 227). And so, in the Eucharist, we become so united to Christ that more and more, like a marriage, we become "one flesh" with Him.

The Sacrament of Unity
As such, more than any other sacrament, the Eucharist signifies unity. It not only unites us in a greater degree to Christ Himself, our Head, but as the passage from 1 Corinthians, quoted above, points out, the Eucharist unites us closer to the Body of Christ, as well--that is, the Church. Referring to this text, St. Augustine further elaborates:
So if you want to understand the body of Christ, listen to what the apostle tells the faithful: "Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it" (1 Corinthians 12:27). If you are the body of Christ and its members, you are the mystery that has been placed on the Lord's table, and you are the mystery that you receive! You respond "Amen" to what you are, and in responding you agree. You hear "the body of Christ," and you respond, "Amen." Then be a member of the body of Christ, so that your Amen may be true.
Why then in bread? Let's say nothing on our own here, but listen instead to what the apostle says when he speaks of the sacrament: "Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread" (1 Cor 10:17).
Ponder and rejoice! Unity, truth, piety, charity--one bread! And what is this one bread? "We who are many are one body!" Remember that bread is not made from a single grain of wheat, but from many. When you were exorcised, it was like a grinding. When you were baptised, it was like being mixed into dough. When you received the fire of the Holy Spirit, it was like being baked. So be what you can see, and become what you are....
That is how Christ the Lord signified us, and how He wished us to belong to Him. That is how He consecrated the mystery of our peace and unity on His table. Whoever accepts the mystery of unity but does not hold the bond of peace, does not receive it for his own good, but rather as a testimony against himself. (Sermon 272)
When Jesus taught His disciples to pray, He said "Our Father." While on the one hand, this indicates that God the Father is both our Father and Jesus' Father, on the other hand, Jesus was emphasising the communal nature of His Church--that the Our Father is meant to be prayed in community--that Christianity is not a solo act, but one that must be lived with regard to others. After all, He Himself summed it up when He told us that all the Law could be boiled down to "Love God and love one another" (cf. Matthew 22:34-40). St. John tells us that if we claim to love God, but hate our brother, we are liars, for we cannot hate our brother and love God at the same time (cf. 1 John 4:2-21). And St. Paul himself, in his teaching on the Eucharist in 1 Corinthians 11, ties these two things together: that we must eat Christ's flesh and blood worthily, recogising the body (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:17-34). On the one hand, as we discussed in the article on Transubstantiation, this refers to recognising that Jesus Himself is truly and sacramentally present. But on the other hand, as indicated by the particular problem being addressed by St. Paul, that Body of Christ in the Sacrament makes His Church the Body of Christ together, and just as failure to recognise the sacramental presence of Christ is sacrilege, so too is the failure to honour our brothers and sisters in Christ. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells us that when we offer our sacrifice (i.e., the Mass), and there remember that we have something against our brother, we must leave and reconcile with him, and then come back to the sacrifice (cf. Matthew 5:23-24). This is why, just before Communion, there is the "Sign of Peace" exchanged with our fellow parishioners. In a very real way, it is our opportunity to be reconciled with anyone there against whom we may harbour unforgiveness, or whom we may have wronged. It is our opportunity to recollect as to whether there is anyone else to whom we must be reconciled, so that we may fulfil the command of our Lord.

Moreover, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church points out, this love of neighbour must extend to the poorest, with whom Christ so explicitly identifies Himself in Matthew 25. Paragraph 1397 of the Catechism states, quoting St. John Chrysostom,
The Eucharist commits us to the poor. To receive in truth the Body and Blood of Christ given up for us, we must recognize Christ in the poorest, his brethren:
You have tasted the Blood of the Lord, yet you do not recognize your brother,....You dishonor this table when you do not judge worthy of sharing your food someone judged worthy to take part in this meal....God freed you from all your sins and invited you here, but you have not become more merciful.
Thus, while on the one hand, the Eucharist makes us more and more a part of the Body of Christ, and thus more Christlike, it also demands that we become so. The Eucharist calls us to cooperate with the grace that it gives us, and if we fail to do so, as St. Paul tells us, we profane the Body and Blood of the Lord.

But when we receive worthily, Holy Communion has tremendous effects on our souls, which we'll discuss more at length in our next article. The Catechism sums them up in paragraph 1416:
Communion with the Body and Blood of Christ increases the communicant's union with the Lord, forgives his venial sins, and preserves him from grave sins. Since receiving this sacrament strengthens the bonds of charity between the communicant and Christ, it also reinforces the unity of the Church as the Mystical Body of Christ.
And yet, here we touch on a tragic irony, for we cannot share the Eucharist with every member of the Body of Christ.

The Sacrament of Disunity
The Latin word "sacramentum" literally means "oath." Every sacrament is an oath made by God to us of His enduring love and grace, and an oath made by us to God of our love and obedience in return. In the Eucharist, Jesus' pledged oath is His continual presence in our midst, and our incorporation into His body. Our response, our "Amen," signifies our faith in His real presence, and, just as the sacrament signifies, it is our pledge of unity and charity with the other members of His Body. But throughout the centuries, heresies and schisms have divided Christ's Church so that the unity professed in the Sacrament of the Eucharist is missing. Those who have separated themselves, or find themselves separated, from the Church that Christ founded, cannot participate in the Eucharist, for to do so would be, in essence, to perjure oneself--to take an oath swearing unity with the Church, and then to live at variance with it. St. Augustine points out that such a one sets themselves up for judgement when they receive the Eucharist:
Consider what you have received! Just as you see the bread made one, so may you also be one body--by loving one another, by having one faith, one hope, and an undivided charity. When heretics receive this, they receive testimony agaist themselves, because they seek division, while this bread bespeaks unity (Sermon 229).
There are, of course, varying degrees of disunity. Those who are in a state of mortal sin are barred from the Eucharist, as noted above, since to partake would be a profanation of the Body and Blood. The rupture in their union with Christ and His Church is healed through the sacrament of Reconciliation. Those who publicly challenge and repudiate Church teaching on fundamental issues, and in so doing lead others into sin, place themselves under a ban of excommunication, and beyond needing Confession, need to publicly repudiate their errors and have the bishop formally reinstate them into Communion with the Church.

Those, such as the Eastern Orthodox churches, who are in schism with the Catholic Church, but who otherwise hold nearly all things in common with her, are excluded from the Eucharist under normal circumstances, but exceptions can be made where a Catholic can receive Orthodox Communion, and vice versa, since the wounds to full unity are rather small.

In the 16th century, however, due in no small part to abuses within the Catholic Church, another great rending of the unity of the Church occurred with the so-called "Reformation." Unlike Eastern Orthodoxy, which bears very little theological difference with Catholicism, the Reformers, based on their credo of "Sola Scriptura", reinterpreted much of Scripture according to their own notions, and eschewed much of the Sacred Tradition passed down from the Apostles. Thus the rifts between Catholicism and Protestantism are far more severe. Among the divergences are the failure to maintain an authentic ordination to the priesthood, and hence the Eucharist as celebrated in the Protestant traditions is not in fact the same as that celebrated by the Catholics and Eastern Orthodox churches, even among those Protestant groups who hold to some form of belief in the Real Presence. Yet even in the doctrine of the Eucharist, Protestants are divided among themselves, to the point that just one hundred years after Luther revolted, a book was published titled, "Two Hundred Interpretations of 'This is My Body'". The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes the situation between Catholics and Protestants thus:
Ecclesial communities derived from the Reformation and separated from the Catholic Church, "have not preserved the proper reality of the Eucharistic mystery in its fullness, especially because of the absence of the sacrament of Holy Orders." It is for this reason that, for the Catholic Church, Eucharistic intercommunion with these communities is not possible. However these ecclesial communities, "when they commemorate the Lord's death and resurrection in the Holy Supper...profess that it signifies life in communion with Christ and await his coming in glory" (# 1400).
In the following paragraph, the Church does allow that a Protestant in mortal emergency, who, with full consent of his will and the expression of belief in the Catholic Church's teaching on the Eucharist, may receive it (cf. # 1401). But on the whole, the wounds to unity caused by the Reformation are too great to be overlooked in order to celebrate the Sacrament of Unity with them.

Some may object here that the Catholic Church, in so teaching and practising, is being exclusionary--that if the Eucharist is truly about unity, wouldn't it demonstrate a much more "ecumenical" attitude if the Church were to practise an "open table" form of Holy Communion? Such an objection, however, demonstrates the very reason for the Church's teaching and practise on this matter. That is, the objection itself stems froma diminished view of what the Eucharist is. If it is truly Jesus Himself, then naturally we would want to protect it from any type of profanation or sacrilege. If the Eucharist is truly a Covenant Oath of unity, then we would want to preserve the truth of that oath and prevent perjury. Those who believe that the Eucharist should be "open" to any Christian are not themselves recognising the absolute sacredness of the Sacrament itself; if they were, they would never raise the objection.

After all, if one denies that Jesus is present, those who believe He is would consider this a major act of blasphemy. If He is not truly present, those who believe He is and thus are worshipping the Eucharist, would be committing grave idolatry. In what sense can these two irreconcilable positions be joined in a Sacrament that swears, signifies, and causes the unity of the Body of Christ?

Many are Called
The fact is, though, that the Table of the Lord is open. As St. John's Revelation depicts, the Spirit and the Bride bid us to "Come" to the marriage supper of the Lamb (Rev. 22:17). It is open to all who will receive, who will come to Jesus on His terms. He instituted the Eucharist, and He founded His Church and ordained her priests to administer it. All who will submit in obedience to Him, He welcomes to the table.

In Matthew 22, Jesus tells a parable about those who are called to His Eucharistic feast, and about those who think they can come on their terms, rather than His:
Jesus began to speak to them in parables once again, 'The kingdom of Heaven may be compared to a king who gave a feast for his son's wedding. He sent his servants to call those who had been invited, but they would not come. Next he sent some more servants with the words, "Tell those who have been invited: Look, my banquet is all prepared, my oxen and fattened cattle have been slaughtered, everything is ready. Come to the wedding." But they were not interested: one went off to his farm, another to his business, and the rest seized his servants, maltreated them and killed them. The king was furious. He despatched his troops, destroyed those murderers and burnt their town. Then he said to his servants, "The wedding is ready; but as those who were invited proved to be unworthy, go to the main crossroads and invite everyone you can find to come to the wedding." So these servants went out onto the roads and collected together everyone they could find, bad and good alike; and the wedding hall was filled with guests. When the king came in to look at the guests he noticed one man who was not wearing a wedding garment, and said to him, "How did you get in here, my friend, without a wedding garment?" And the man was silent. Then the king said to the attendants, "Bind him hand and foot and throw him into the darkness outside, where there will be weeping and grinding of teeth." For many are invited but not all are chosen' (Matt. 22:1-14).
Let us not presume that the invitation of Christ demands nothing of us.

For myself, I came to recognise that if the Church simply let all Christians to her altar, that this would indeed foster further disunity--by declaring that disunity was acceptable. If there was no call to conversion in order to receive the Sacrament, then no one would convert. I know that my desire to receive Jesus in the Most Holy Sacrifice of the Altar was many times the only reason that I became a Catholic. Jesus prayed that the Church would be one, as He and the Father are one (John 17). May we all strive for such unity, of heart and of mind--of love for God and of sound doctrine, that we may all soon be able to come to the Lamb's Supper and dine together with our Lord and His Church.

Ash Wednesday

(Category: Catholic Distinctives: Sacraments--The Eucharist)

Friday, February 25, 2011

ποιεῖτε εἰς τὴν ἐμὴν ἀνάμνησιν

For the tradition I received from the Lord and also handed on to you is that on the night he was betrayed, the Lord Jesus took some bread, and after he had given thanks, he broke it, and he said, 'This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.' And in the same way, with the cup after supper, saying, 'This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Whenever you drink it, do this as a memorial of me.' Whenever you eat this bread, then, and drink this cup, you are proclaiming the Lord's death until he comes. (1 Corinthians 11:23-26)
I figured, a couple posts ago, I gave you a Latin title, so for this article, I thought I'd give you the Greek. But if it's all Greek to you, know that it's taken from the passage quoted above. Specifically, it says, "Do this as a memorial of me." It is this memorial aspect of the Eucharist that we'll examine in this article, particularly how Jesus' command to celebrate the Eucharist "in remembrance of Me" ties into the sacrificial nature of the Blessed Sacrament.

Just a Memorial?
Those who deny the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist often try to use these words to show that Jesus wasn't speaking literally or sacrificially at the Last Supper. The school of thought that holds to this position is known as "Memorialism", since it tries to base itself on Jesus' instruction to "Do this as a memorial of Me." Their argument is that a memorial is just a symbolic act of remembrance of a past event, that helps us, in this case, to recall Christ's death on the Cross for our sins. The problem with this understanding of Christ's words (other than their failure to address the Scriptural evidence for Christ's Real Presence and the Sacrificial nature of the Sacrament discussed in the last two articles), is that their understanding of "memorial" runs contrary to the usage of that term in Scripture itself, and the Hebrew concept of memorial underpinning that Scriptural usage. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it,
The Eucharist is the memorial of Christ's Passover, the making present and the sacramental offering of his unique sacrifice, in the liturgy of the Church which is his Body. In all the Eucharistic Prayers we find after the words of institution a prayer called the anamnesis or memorial. (# 1362)
Let us then look at the word in question in its original language, and in the context of the entire Word of God. As well, we shall examine the Hebrew people's own understanding of the idea in their culture and liturgical celebration, and see how this biblical and historical understanding of Memorial relates to the Catholic Church's teaching about what Jesus was commanding us to do at the Last Supper.

The Greek word used during the Institution Narratives which is translated as "remembrance" or "memorial" is "anamnesis". As far as it goes, it literally means to remember, or to bring to mind. Broken down, it is ana- meaning "again" and mnesis, or "memory" (compare "amnesia" which is forgetting--substitute the negative prefix a- in this case). Those, of course, who deny that the Eucharist is sacrificial will say to this, "See? It literally just means 'remembrance'. The word itself has nothing to do with sacrifice!" This is the same mistake committed by those who believe that baptism is only by immersion. Basing their understanding solely on the the literal, denotative meaning of the word, they build a whole doctrine around what a word "literally" means, while ignoring its usage throughout Scripture. One of the more sound Protestant hermeneutical principles is to interpret a disputed passage of Scripture by referring to clearer passages. Let's apply that principle to our study of anamnesis.

When we look at the New Testament, the only times the Greek word occurs are in the Institution Narratives and in Hebrews 10:3. Passing over the institution narratives because they are precisely the texts in question, let us look at Hebrews: "But in fact the sins are recalled (anamnesis) year after year in the sacrifices." The usage here is unmistakably in a sacrificial context--that during the OT atonement sacrifices, one's sins are "recalled" in order to be expiated. We'll examine the Semitic understanding of that remembrance later; for now it is enough to note that the term anamnesis is used in a specifically sacrificial context in its only other New Testament usage. This lends weight to the notion that its appearance in the Institution Narratives also implies that the Eucharist is a sacrifice.

Of course, two points make a line, not a pattern. The fact that there is only one other usage of anamnesis in the New Testament does not itself lend conclusive support to the concept of the Eucharist as a sacrifice. As such, let us turn our attention to the Old Testament, and see in what way anamnesis was used by the seventy scholars who translated the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek.

In the Septuagint (LXX) translation, the word anamnesis is used four times, to translate the Hebrew word zikkaron. The four passages are Leviticus 24:5-9, Numbers 10:9-10, and the titles of Psalms 38 and 70. Let's examine these passages to see what further light they shed on the Institution Narratives' use of anamnesis.

Leviticus 24:5-9
"You will take wheaten flour and with it bake twelve loaves, each with two-tenths of an ephah. You will place them in two rows of six on the pure table before Yahweh and put pure incense on each row, to make it food offered as a memorial (LXX anamnesis), food burnt for Yahweh. Every Sabbath they will be arranged before Yahweh. The Israelites will provide them as a permanent covenant. They will belong to Aaron and his sons, who will eat them inside the holy place since, for him, they are an especially holy part of the food burnt for Yahweh. This is a permanent law."
This passage in Leviticus describes the sacrificial Showbread offered to God with frankincense. Not only, then, is anamnesis used here in a sacrificial context, but interestingly the Showbread here described serves typologically as a forerunner of the Mass: Bread presented before God on the Sabbath by the priests with incense in the holy place as a permanent covenant--the Jewish roots of the Catholic Mass are rather obvious.

Numbers 10:9-10
"When in your country you go to war against an enemy who is oppressing you, you will sound trumpets with a battle cry, and Yahweh your God will remember (LXX anamninesko) you, and you will be delivered from your enemies. At your festivals, solemnities and new-moon feasts, you will sound the trumpets over your burnt offereings and communion sacrifices, so that they recall you to the remembrance (LXX anamnesis) of your God. I am Yahweh your God."
In this passage, two different terms are used for remembering. Anamnesis is reserved for the remembrance connected to a sacrificial offering, where as anamninesko is devoid of those connotations. This again further bolsters the point that anamnesis in the New Testament has a sacrificial connotation.

Psalms 38 and 70: Titles
Psalm of David; in commemoration (LXX anamnesis) (Psalm 38)

For the choirmaster: Of David; in commemoration (LXX anamnesis) (Psalm 70)
At first glance, there doesn't seem to be any sort of sacrificial context to these two Psalms, called "commemorations" in the title. The first is a Psalm of repentance for sin, and the second a plea for salvation from one's enemies. Some Protestant apologists have siezed on this fact in order to discredit the Catholic claim that anamnesis has a sacrificial dimension in Scripture--particularly in light of the Catholic claim that every time anamnesis occurs, it is in a sacrificial context, and thus could be rendered "Memorial Offering" rather than simply memorial or remembrance.

However, it is important to understand how the Jewish people themselves viewed these Psalms, and whether they considered them to have any sort of sacrificial role. The answer to this is indicated in the Aramaic translations of the Hebrew Scriptures, known as the Targums. In the Targum of Psalm 38, the title reads, "A Psalm of David: over a bunch of frankincense, as a memorial for Israel." The note given in the margin for this title says, "MT, lhzkyr, 'to make a memorial.' This psalm and likewise Ps 70, which also has lhzkyr in its title (given a similar rendering in TgPss), may have been associated with the 'zkrh, 'memorial offering.' That frankincense was used in the memorial offering is seen from Lev. 2:2, 16; 6:8; 24:7; cf. also Isa. 66:3." The note on the Targum of Psalm 70 refers the reader back to this note. As such, it becomes clear that the Jewish understanding of these two Psalms was directly associated with the memorial offering. Thus, it is not an exaggeration to say that every other occurence of anamnesis in Scripture is sacrificial in nature. If this is the case, then the use of anamnesis at the Last Supper institution of the Eucharist should also be seen in this light. There is no grounds for any other understanding.

If this is the case, then we must consider just what a "Memorial Sacrifice" means. For that, we'll consider the Hebrew word that is rendered anamnesis by the Septuagint, and the Semitic understanding of it, to see just how it relates to the Catholic teaching on the Eucharist.

As I have heretofore hinted in this article, the Hebrew conception of remembrance is different than our modern idea of mentally recalling an event in the past. For them, the very action of remembrance made the event itself somehow present for the Israelite, and so they themselves, through the remembering, participate in that action. We see this most clearly in the Passover Seder, in which the liturgical act of remembrance places the Jewish family in the midst of the Exodus event, as if they themselves were being led out of slavery in Egypt and into the Promised Land. Catechism paragraph 1363 tells us
In the sense of Sacred Scripture the memorial is not merely the recollection of past events but the proclamation of the mighty works wrought by God for men. In the liturgical celebration of these events, they become in a certain way present and real. This is how Israel understands its liberation from Egypt: every time Passover is celebrated, the Exodus events are made present to the memory of believers so that they may conform their lives to them.
But if you don't want to take the Catholic catechism's word for it, Messianic Jewish Rabbi Stuart Dauermann, PhD, comments on his blog, and references eminent biblical scholar Brevard Childs' work, Memory and Tradition in Israel, saying,
"Each generation of Israel, living in a concrete situation within history, was challenged by God to obedient response through the medium of her tradition. Not a mere subjective reflection, but in the biblical category, a real event as a moment of redemptive time from the past initiated a genuine encounter in the present" (Childs, 83-84). The events of Israel's redemption were such significant realizations in history of divine redemptive intervention, that together with the rituals, rites, and commandments they entail, they have the authority to assess each successive generation of Israel, including ours. Our response to these events, rites, rituals and obligations, is our response to God, for which we are accountable.
Dauermann follows this up with a quote from the Jewish Haggadah, "The Haggadah, echoing the Talmud, agrees. It reminds us, 'In every generation a man is bound to regard himself as though he personally had gone forth from Egypt' (cf. TB Pesachim)." In other words, the zikkaron, the Memorial Sacrifice, for the Hebrew, was not simply the ancient equivalent of "Remembrance Day" here in Canada ("Veterans Day" in the States), where we mentally recall the sacrifices of fallen soldiers with a moment of silence, and then go about our day. In fact, were we to celebrate Remembrance Day with the same mindset as the Jew, we would actually consider ourselves to be with the soldiers on the banks of Normandy, or at the Battle of Ypres. In fact, the Holocaust Memorial in Israel is on "Zikkaron Street".

The past is made present through the liturgy of the Memorial Sacrifice almost as if one had entered a time machine and travelled back to the time the events honoured took place. This effect is summed up in Stephen Todd Kaster's paper, Zikkaron: Liturgical Remembrance and Sacred History:
The cultic representation of the foundational events in the Sacred History of the Jewish people has a twofold nature; it is both subjective and objective. Subjectively the ritual actions produce an interior psychological state which allows the worshiper to experience the saving events on a personal and interpersonal level. Objectively the events are exhibited in God's eternal remembrance, and thus are rendered present as a living reality. The worshiper's subjective state is ultimately dependent upon, and is caused by, the objective element which has its source in the memory of God; because when God remembers an event of the past it can rightly be conceived of as eternally present.
God, who lives in the eternal Now, perceives all events as present. When Scripture describes God as "remembering", it does not mean that God has forgotten, but that He is acting in our present moment in accord with a past event or promise of sacred history. Our participation in that Divine Remembrance applies the promise or action of God to our own lives and circumstances. Kaster concludes his paper, saying,
It is this liturgical remembrance (zikkaron) that enables the Jewish people throughout time to experience the foundational events of the covenant with the Lord; and to do so in such a way that they become real witnesses to and participants in the Sacred Acts which formed the Jewish nation and made them the Lord's chosen people. However, this focus of the liturgy on the actions of God in the past does not mean that the events of the present moment are unimportant; instead, the events of Sacred History give meaning to the experiences of the Jewish community of today. In some sense the events of today are assimilated to, and are included in, the remembrance of the foundational events of the covenant[...]. The whole purpose of the liturgy is to bring the mighty works of God in Sacred History into contact with each successive generation of the People of God. For if the actions of God in forming His people were only a reality of the distant past it would, as a consequence, empty modern life of any real value, and God would appear to have become silent and inactive.

But Judaism has always seen God as the Lord of history, and not just of the history of biblical times, but of the history of all times; and so through the liturgy the People of Israel are able to re-live God's redemptive actions in all times and in all places.
It is this notion of Zikkaron that Jesus intended at the Last Supper, when He told His Apostles to "Do this in remembrance of Me." Moreover, as the Eternal God in the flesh, instituting the New Covenant (which the Book of Hebrews teaches us is superior to the Old Covenant), the "making present" of the Sacred Event in the Eucharistic Liturgy brings us into even greater contact with Christ's saving action, as the Catechism again points out:
In the New Testament, the memorial takes on new meaning. When the Church celebrates the Eucharist, she commemorates Christ's Passover, and it is made present the sacrifice Christ offered once for all on the cross remains ever present. "As often as the sacrifice of the Cross by which 'Christ our Pasch has been sacrificed' is celebrated on the altar, the work of our redemption is carried out." (# 1364)
This understanding of the Semitic notion of Anamnesis/Zikkaron answers the question posed at the end of my last article: how could the Eucharist be a Sacrifice, and not contradict the teaching of the Book of Hebrews that Jesus' sacrificial death on the Cross was once and for all? Through the act of the memorial sacrifice of the Eucharist, Calvary becomes mystically present in time. Moreover, since Jesus is Himself truly present, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity, this presence-at-Calvary is even more true than the presence-at-Passover in the Seder Liturgy.

It is then, at Mass, that we can truly answer "yes" to the old Spiritual, "Were You There When They Crucified My Lord?" As the Catechism of the Catholic Church says,
The Eucharist is thus a sacrifice because it re-presents (makes present) the sacrifice of the cross, because it is its memorial and because it applies its fruit:
[Christ], our Lord and God, was once and for all to offer himself to God the Father by his death on the altar of the cross, to accomplish there an everlasting redemption. But because his priesthood was not to end with his death, at the Last Supper "on the night when he was betrayed," [he wanted] to leave to his beloved spouse the Church a visible sacrifice (as the nature of man demands) by which the bloody sacrifice which he was to accomplish once for all on the cross would be re-presented, its memory perpetuated until the end of the world, and its salutary power be applied to the forgiveness of the sins we daily commit. (# 1366)
This is why Jesus said in John 6 that those who eat His flesh and drink His blood will have eternal life, but those who do not will have no life in them. The Eucharist is how Christ's sacrifice is applied to our lives, because in the Eucharist, He not only truly makes Himself present to us, but He truly makes us present at the foot of the Cross (cf. CCC #1370).

Conclusion: One Single Sacrifice
Since, then, the Eucharist takes us to Calvary, as it re-presents, or makes present to us, Christ's sacrifice, the accusation leveled against Catholics that in the Eucharist we "re-sacrifice" Christ is groundless. It is not that Catholics "re-crucify" Christ, or that He suffers again and again, but rather, as the Catechism states in paragraph 1367,
The sacrifice of Christ and the sacrifice of the Eucharist are one single sacrifice: "The victim is one and the same: the same now offers through the ministry of priests, who then offered himself on the cross; only the manner of offering is different." "And since in this divine sacrifice which is celebrated in the Mass, the same Christ who offered himself once in a bloody manner on the altar of the cross is contained and is offered in an unbloody manner...this sacrifice is truly propitiatory."
John's Apocalypse shows the reality of this one, single sacrifice from a heavenly perspective, when in chapter 5, he describes Jesus as the Lamb who had been slain presenting Himself before the altar of Heaven and receiving the worship of all the angels and saints. Later on in chapter 13, verse 8, John tells us that this Lamb had been slain "before the foundation of the world." In other words, for God, who is in the Eternal Now, Christ's sacrifice is itself eternally present before Him. Christ, our High Priest, suffered once, as Hebrews states, and then entered into the Holy of Holies of Heaven in order to present that sacrifice forever before the Father in order that our sins might be forgiven (Hebrews 4:14; 9:11-28). In the Eucharist, we come before that Throne of Grace with boldness (cf. Heb. 4:16; 10:19-27), having appropriated the saving and propitiatory grace given to us through this Most Blessed Sacrament.

This is what Christ meant when He said, "Do this in remembrance of Me."

(Category: Catholic Distinctives: Sacraments--The Eucharist)

Friday, January 07, 2011

The Great Exchange

"But from farthest east to farthest west my name is great among the nations, and everywhere incense and a pure gift are offered to my name, since my name is great among the nations, says Yahweh Sabaoth" (Malachi 1:11).
If the first and most fundamentalal truth that must be believed about the Eucharist is that Jesus Christ is truly and substantially present to us in the Blessed Sacrament, we must next consider why exactly He has made Himself present in this manner. After all, Christ can (and often does) manifest His presence in a variety of ways in our lives--and yet it is this Sacrament which the Church calls "the source and summit of the Christian life." Why, then, does Christ choose to come to us hidden under the appearances of bread and wine?

To Fulfil the Law
In Matthew 5:17, Jesus says to His hearers, "Do not imagine that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets. I have come not to abolish but to complete them." Many people suppose that through Jesus' sacrificial death on the Cross, that He did away with sacrifices. This idea is only partly correct. The fact is that Jesus completed in Himself everything that the Old Testament sacrifices meant and pointed toward. Jesus came to be our ultimate sacrifice, and it is for this reason that He comes to us hidden under the forms of Bread and Wine, and bids us to eat Him.

For many Christians, the connection between Christ's sacrificial death and the Eucharist is not immediately apparent. They have been led to believe that the culmination of the Old Testament sacrifices was the death of the bull or goat or lamb. But this is only half the story of sacrifice.

Christ Our Pasch
The New Testament makes it plain that Christ's death was a sacrifice for our sins. This fact is brought out clearly when St. John the Baptists calls Him "the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world" (John 1:29). The fact that Jesus is crucified on the feast of the Passover is not simply coincidence, but rather is filled with significance. St. John notes this significance several times, such as when he refers to the fact that none of Jesus' bones were broken, referring to the law regarding selecting the Passover lamb. He reinforces the point again when he comments that it was a hyssop branch on which Jesus was offered the sour wine--hyssop being the plant used to apply the blood on the doorposts at Passover. In 1 Corinthians 5:6, St. Paul makes things perfectly clear: "For our Passover has been sacrificed, that is, Christ." Examples could be multiplied like loaves and fishes.

The Jewish Passover, then, becomes the key touchpoint for understanding Jesus' sacrifice. The original Passover involved the killing of a lamb, and spreading its blood on the doorposts of one's home, in order that the firstborn son might not die when the angel of death passed by. Jesus, as our Paschal Lamb, is crucified for us, having His blood spread on the "doorpost" of the Cross, in order to expiate our sins, bringing us out of slavery to sin and reconciling us to God. And for many Christians, that is the end of the sacrifice, and as such, Jesus' coming to us in the Eucharist makes very little sense.

Keeping the Feast
Had you been a Hebrew in Egypt at the first Passover, and dutifully followed Moses' instructions to kill a lamb and smear its blood on the doorposts of your house, and then gone to bed thinking that all would be well, you would have woken up far more than sadly mistaken. You would have been bereaved. God was very specific when He gave the instructions for the Passover sacrifice. It is laid out for us in Exodus 12. Verses 1 to 7 speak of the selection and slaughter of the lamb, and about spreading the blood on the doorposts. But it goes on from there. Verse 8 says very clearly: "That night, the flesh must be eaten, roasted over the fire; it must be eaten with unleavened bread and bitter herbs" (emphasis mine). In fact, the next three verses give very detailed instructions about how the lamb must and must not be eaten, and verses 13 and 14 lay out the benefits of doing so, or the implied penalty of disobedience.

That is, the feast is integral to the sacrificial process. It was not enough for the Israelites to simply kill the lamb; they had to eat it, as well. In fact, if the lamb was too much for one household to consume, they had to join with another household to make sure all of it was eaten. This principle holds true for essentially every Old Testament sacrifice. This is why St. Paul writes "Now compare the natural people of Israel: is it not true that those who eat the sacrifices share the altar?" (1 Corinthians 10:18). The slaughter of the animal was for the expiation of sin, but the eating of the animal was how one appropriated that expiation to himself.

If Christ is our Passover Sacrifice, then it becomes clear why He chooses to come to us under the appearances of Bread and Wine. His emphatic statements in John 6, that unless one eats His flesh and drinks His blood, that one has no life in him, but whoever does eat His flesh and drink His blood has eternal life (cf. John 6:51, 53-56), suddenly take on greater import when we recognise that this eating Him is the very means by which we must participate in the salvation He purchased for us on the Cross. It was Jesus' real flesh and blood that He gave up for us on Calvary, and of that flesh He says, "My flesh is real food, and my blood is real drink" (John 6:56). Jesus again makes this clear when He instituted the Eucharist at the Last Supper, saying, "This is My body given for you," and "Drink from this, all of you, for this is my blood, the blood of the covenant, poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins" (Luke 22:19; Matthew 26:27-28). Through the Eucharist, we enter into Christ's redeeming sacrifice on Calvary, and appropriate to ourselves the graces He won for us.

A Massive Sacrifice
Earlier, I mentioned that St. Paul explicitly refers to Christ as our Passover Sacrifice. In chapter 5 of his first letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul writes to excoriate a particular member of the congregation for his incestuous lifestyle, and rebukes the whole church for tolerating this behaviour. He compares sin in the congregation to yeast in a lump of dough, and recalls the injunction of the Passover, that the feast should be eaten with only unleavened bread:
Your self-satisfaction is ill founded. Do you not realise that only a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough? Throw out the old yeast so that you can be the fresh dough, unleavened as you are. For our Passover has been sacrificed, that is, Christ; let us keep the feast, then, with none of the old yeast and no leavening of evil and wickedness, but only the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. (1 Corinthians 5:6-8)
In his instructions on excommunication, Paul ties that notion directly to Christ our Pasch, and commands us to keep the New Passover with sincerity and truth. He ties the sacrificial meal together with the Crucifixion.

He is even more specific about the Eucharist being a sacrifice in chapter 10 of the same epistle, which I quoted in brief above. In warning against idolatry, and specifically knowingly eating food sacrificed to idols in order to share in the worship of those idols, St. Paul draws a direct analogy between sharing in pagan sacrifices, sharing in Old Testament sacrifices, and sharing in the Eucharist:
For that reason, my dear friends, have nothing to do with the worship of false gods. I am talking to you as sensible people; weigh up for yourselves what I have to say. The blessing-cup, which we bless, is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ; and the loaf of bread which we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ? And as there is one loaf, so we, although there are many of us, are one single body, for we all share in the one loaf. Now compare the natural people of Israel: is it not true that those who eat the sacrifices share the altar? What does this mean? that the dedication of food to false gods amounts to anything? Or that false gods themselves amount to anything? No, it does not; simply that when pagans sacrifice, what is sacrificed by them is sacrificed to demons who are not God. I do not want you to share with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons as well; you cannot have a share at the Lord's table and the demons' table as well. Do we really want to arouse the Lord's jealousy; are we stronger than he is? (1 Corinthians 10:14-22)
St. Paul really couldn't be much more explicit. We share in Christ's sacrifice on the Cross when we partake of His Body and Blood in the Eucharist. The writer of the Book of Hebrews again makes this sacrificial aspect clear at the close of his epistle:
Remember your leaders, who preached the word of God to you, and as you reflect on the outcome of their lives, take their faith as your model. Jesus Christ is the same today as he was yesterday and as he will be for ever. Do not be led astray by all sorts of false doctrines: it is better to rely on grace for inner strength than to rely on food, which has done no good to those who concentrate on it. We have our own altar from which those who serve in the Tent have no right to eat. The bodies of the animals whose blood is taken into the sanctuary by the high priest for the rite of expiation are burnt outside the camp, and so Jesus too suffered outside the gate to sanctify the people with his own blood. Let us go to him, then, outside the camp, and bear his humiliation. There is no permanent city for us here; we are looking for the one which is yet to be. Through him, let us offer God an unending sacrifice of praise, the fruit of the lips of those who acknowledge his name. (Hebrews 13:7-15)
The author is contrasting the Jewish Law and sacrificial liturgy, with its emphasis on clean and unclean animals for sacrifice, with the New Law of Grace. We don't need to focus on sacrificing and eating clean animals, for we have a better Food which those who offer the Jewish sacrifices have no right to eat--Jesus Christ. Against the Judaizers, he exhorts the Hebrew Christians to pursue Christ "outside the gates"--that is, according to the New Covenant, and to offer God the sacrifice of praise through Christ, that is, we offer God Christ's own sacrifice, and unite ourselves to it, in order that we may offer ourselves with Christ, as St. Paul says, "as a living sacrifice, dedicated and acceptable to God" (Romans 12:1).

The above passage from Hebrews gives a brief outline of the Mass, which is the liturgical setting for the Eucharistic Sacrifice. In it, we have the Word of God proclaimed and preached, and then we offer to God the bread and wine, with our tithes and our whole selves. When the priest prays the prayers of consecration, God accepts our offering of thanksgiving to Him, and in exchange, Jesus makes Himself present to us in the Bread and Wine which become His Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity. He offers Himself to us, and we are united to Him in His once-for-all Sacrifice on Calvary, as we appropriate the grace given to us in the Crucifixion, and in Him, with Him, and through Him, offer ourselves up to God as adopted members of His Family through the Blood of the New Covenant, in what Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz of Lincoln, Nebraska, calls the Great Exchange.

A Missive Sacrifice
This is why, as I said at the beginning of this article, the Church refers to the Eucharist as the source and summit of the Christian life. Because Christ is truly present in the Eucharistic elements, and through Communion we participate in His eternal offering of Himself to the Father, and apply His sacrifice to our lives, the Sacrament truly is our Salvation. It truly is the beginning of all our love and labour as Christians, and the focus toward which all our faith and our work is oriented. In this act of uniting our entire selves with Christ, meaning is given to all the disparate threads of our everyday existence. Our job, our marriages, our commutes, our joys, and even our sorrows and sufferings take on a redemptive value in their union with and participation in the Sacrifice of Christ. About this, the Catechism of the Catholic Church says,
The Eucharist is also the sacrifice of the Church. The Church which is the Body of Christ participates in the offering of her Head. With him, she herself is offered whole and entire. She unites herself to his intercession with the Father for all men. In the Eucharist the sacrifice of Christ becomes also the sacrifice of the members of his Body. The lives of the faithful, their praise, sufferings, prayer, and work, are united with those of Christ and with his total offering, and so acquire a new value. Christ's sacrifice present on the altar makes it possible for all generations of Christians to be united with his offering.

In the catacombs the Church is often represented as a woman in prayer, arms outstretched in the praying position. Like Christ who stretched out his arms on the cross, through him, with him, and in him, she offers herself and intercedes for all men. (#1368)
This is what St. Paul is talking about when he instructs us to be living sacrifices (cf. Romans 12:1), and why he can write to the Colossian Church, "It makes me happy to be suffering for you now, and in my own body to make up all the hardships that still have to be undergone by Christ for the sake of his body, the Church" (Colossians 1:24).

In the offering up of each and every aspect of our lives, we are able to redeem the time. Nothing that we do or suffer is wasted if we bring it to God in the Mass. Our suffering even becomes a powerful form of intercessory prayer as it is united to the infinite merits of Christ. And in return, we receive grace through the Sacrament to become more like Christ and to bring His light back into the world from which we came. This is the focus of the Mass--to be filled with grace in order to bring the Lord we have just received into the world which so desperately needs Him. The very term "Mass" is taken from the dismissal in Latin, "Ite, missa est." We are sent out (missa) "to love and to serve the Lord." Thanks be to God!

"In Remembrance of Me"
From Luther onward, Protestants have been essentially uniform in their denial of the sacrificial component of the Eucharist. While one denomination to the next has varying understandings of the meaning of the Lord's Supper, its meaning and its practice, that it is most assuredly not a sacrifice is something they all hold in common, despite the clear teaching of Scripture as outlined above. The source of the Protestant's difficulty with this teaching is the idea that if the Eucharist is truly Christ, and is actually a sacrifice, then Christ must be being repeatedly sacrificed at every Mass. Essentially, we would be re-crucifying Christ, which the Bible equates with the gravest of sins. Moreover, since Hebrews clearly states that Christ died once and can die no more, and that His offering was complete and there is no more need of other sacrifices (cf. Hebrews 9:25; 10:11-18), it seems Scripture is clearly against the notion that the Mass is a sacrifice.

However, to come to this conclusion is to simply misunderstand what the Mass is, and what the sacrifice of the Eucharist entails. When Jesus instituted the Eucharist, He said to "Do this in remembrance of Me" (Luke 22:19, cf. 1 Corinthians 11:25). What Christ meant by that instruction is the key to understanding what the Sacrifice of the Mass is. This will be the subject of our next article.

God bless

(Category: Catholic Distinctives: Sacraments--The Eucharist)