Skip to comments.The Eucharist - the Lord's Sacrifice, Banquet and Presence (OPEN)
Posted on 07/09/2008 5:53:23 AM PDT by markomalley
Let us consider the unique reality which Jesus entrusted to us with his commandment "Do this in memory of me”.
The meaning of the words used at the Last Supper «have been the subject of almost two thousand years of prayer, reflection and dispute … this is why when investigating their significance, we must decide clearly how we intend to take them. There is only one answer: in all simplicity, just as they are. The meaning of the text is exactly what Jesus said … as he spoke and acted, as it is referred here, he knew it was a matter of divine value. Wishing therefore to be understood, he spoke in a way as to be understood» (from the 7th Italian edition of Vita e Pensiero, Milan 1977, page 456-457). It is this inspiration taken from Romano Guardini in his book "The Lord”, that we intend to take to heart when we see revealed in Jesus' words of institution especially three dimensions of faith in the Eucharistic.
"This is my body ... given up for you”. "This is the cup of my blood ... shed for you”. The words "given up” and "shed” remind us that the Eucharist is the Lord's sacrifice. When on the Cross Jesus offered up himself, our redemption was accomplished once and for all. His last words " 'It is accomplished!” (Jn 19,30) are to be understood in this aspect: for our salvation, on His part everything has been accomplished. However for our part we need to take possession of this saving sacrifice again and again. And this we do in the sacrifice of the Mass! The Mass pulls us, so to speak, from our existence limited in time and space and sets us in the presence of the Cross. When we celebrate Mass we find ourselves at the foot of the Cross not locally but sacramentally. The Lord offers us the fruits of the tree of the Cross. We are also in front of the heavenly altar where the Crucified and Risen Lord offers Himself to the Father, and where all the angels and saints join in this heavenly liturgy: " Worthy is the Lamb that was sacrificed to receive power, riches, wisdom, strength, honour, glory and blessing” (Rev 5,12).
If we attempted to represent this reality in a film – as for example Mel Gibson tried to do – we would have to produce not only a series of sequences, dissolving into one another, of images of the Last Supper, the Cross and the Mass. But in every scene we would have to make the heavens open to show the Lamb. The celebration of the Eucharist is the theological place where this dissolving of scenes of the Upper Room, (the Last Supper), Golgotha and the heavenly Jerusalem, is not like a film it truly takes places, in the reality of the "mysterium fidei”, "the mystery of faith”.
If we come to Mass, if we listen to the words of the consecration, if we take part in the sacrifice with faith, we feel God's love working within us. When we come to the celebration of the Eucharist we can exclaim with Saint Paul: " the Son of God loved me and gave himself for me ” (Gal 2,20).
"Take this and eat it”, "Take this and drink from it”. These words "eat and drink” speak of a banquet. This is the second message offered to us in the words of consecration: The Eucharist is the Lord's Banquet. Saint Thomas Aquinas composed the classical prayer on this subject: «O sacrum convitum in quo Christus sumitur … mens impletur gratia et futurae gloriae nobis pignus datur» (O sacred banquet at which Christ is consumed,…our soul filled with grace, and our pledge of future glory received:). When we participate in this Sacred Banquet we enter into the sacrifice of Christ and His sacrifice of enters our life.
The Holy Mass is not a banquet in the sense of reliving the historic Last Supper. That Supper was clearly a Banquet for the Jewish Passover Feast celebrated every year on a set date. Even for this reason the Sunday or weekly celebration of Mass can never be a repetition of the Last Supper. When Jesus says "Do this in memory of me”, he is speaking about the New Passover which, although instituted by Him within the framework of the old Passover Banquet, refers to the New Covenant in His Blood. When we speak of banquet in the context of the Eucharist, we mean above all the celebration of Holy Communion when the Body of Christ, sacrificed once and for all on the Cross, is offered under the species of bread and wine as food and drink. From the beginning the early Church was aware that this represented an unprecedented challenge to human intelligence.
The Lord or Host of the Eucharistic Banquet is Christ, mediated through the service of the Church. He himself is the gift given at the banquet: "I am the bread of life” (Jn 6,35). "I am the true vine” (Jn 15,1). We can never say too frequently that the sacred Host is not something, it is not a thing, it is not sacred consecrated bread. The host is Christ himself. " In the humble signs of bread and wine, changed into his body and blood, Christ walks beside us as our strength and our food for the journey, and he enables us to become, for everyone, witnesses of hope. If, in the presence of this mystery, reason experiences its limits, the heart, enlightened by the grace of the Holy Spirit, clearly sees the response that is demanded, and bows low in adoration and unbounded love.” (Ecclesia de Eucharistia 62). With these words in his last encyclical, John Paul II summarised what the Church believes and on what she lives.
It is out of faith and love of God that we preserve the Eucharist not in ordinary vessels but in precious Cups and Ciboriums. We do this also to strengthen our faith in the real presence of the Lord under the species of bread and wine. When the mystery which the human eye is unable to see is treated with proper respect, it is all the more powerfully revealed. Everything which comes into contact with the "Blessed Sacrament” must speak of noble dignity, not exaggerated pomp. However the most important thing is for Holy Communion given from the sacred cup, to be placed in a human heart worthily prepared. When Mother Teresa visited the Austrian Monastery of Heiligenkreuz, in 1988, she said this: "Let us pray to Our Lady to give us a heart which is beautiful, pure, spotless, a heart filled with love and humility so that we may receive Jesus in the Bread of Life and love Him as He loved us...”
"This is my body”, "this is my blood”. Twice there is the indicative, "this is”. Even Martin Luther found these words so immense that he was unable to turn "this is” into "this means”. When Jesus – who was a Jew – spoke in his mother tongue of his body and blood, he meant it as a total reality: "Here I am as true man”. However we must see Him as the Crucified and Risen Lord, whose body is transfigured. The presence of Jesus in the Sacred Host is both real and spiritual.
The Catholic faith – unlike Luther – examines the words of Jesus more deeply. The Eucharistic Bread is the Body of Christ, not only during the Mass. When the Mass is ended it is still His Body: The Eucharist is the permanent presence of the Lord. After Jesus has said "This is my body" the consecrated Bread is still the Body of Christ as long as the species of the bread remains intact. This means what remains after the Mass, are not the leftovers of a banquet, instead it is the Blessed Sacrament, worthily preserved and adored in the tabernacle. The Lord waits for us in the Eucharist, He waits for our visit, our act of adoration. What consolation to realise that in the Blessed Sacrament Christ never leaves us! There can be no solitude for those who believe in this presence. Very true words were pronounced some years ago by a young altar boy who was allowed to carry the key of the tabernacle back to the sacristy: "This key opens the greatest mystery in the world”.
One consideration must be made. The Church reveals with these contents her ineffable consideration of the Eucharist. And consequently she expects much of the faithful who intend to approach this Sacrament. When for reasons of faith or pastoral care the Church says that in certain situations a Catholic may not receive Holy Communion, it should be realised that no one leaves Mass empty handed so to say. Those unable to approach Communion, to participate in the Lord's banquet, nevertheless receive from the "the table of the Word” nourishment for their lives. They draw strength from being united with the sacrifice of the Mass and they can encounter Jesus in Eucharistic Adoration.
Let us return once again to the words of institution pronounced by the priest during Mass through the power of the mandate he has received "in persona Christi”. Contemplating these words we understand the inward attitude with which Jesus accomplished his sacrifice on the Cross and is present in the mass in a sacramental way. I refer to two words pronounced both during the changing of the bread into the Body of Christ and the changing of the wine into the Blood of Christ. "This is my Body given up for you ”, "This is the Cup of my Blood … shed for you”. The two words are "for you”.
If we wished to find a code for the life of Jesus, it could be "for you”. In his person Jesus overcame humanity's age old problem of selfishness. He chose to offer his life for the glory of His Father in heaven and for the salvation of mankind. He lived not for himself but for us. In every Mass he enables us to share this attitude through which the human heart focused on self is redeemed. With the changing of the bread and wine we are offered another change: the conversion of a self-sufficient I into a Thou who loves.
This is why the Mass is the heart of our Christian life. According to Church teaching the Eucharistic Sacrifice is the " fount and apex of the whole Christian life” (Vatican II, Constitution on the Church, 11). The Mass is the place where this imprint of the Christian faith is never silent. On the altar His heart, human and divine, beats unceasingly. Its pulsing says: for you, for you, for you…
How is our Redemption worked? What path does the Lord choose when we celebrate the Eucharist? We find the answer in the name which the Liturgy gives Christ under the species of bread: the Lamb of God. At a certain point the rite of the Mass returns to the indication given by John the Baptist with regard to the One who is greater than he and comes after him,: "Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world ” (Jn 1,29). The Agnus Dei repeated three times during the "breaking of the bread” perceptibly recalls the broken body of the immolated Lamb. One of our Eucharistic formulas also leads us to think of the Lamb of God: "Blessed are those who are called to the wedding feast of the Lamb”. The third Eucharistic Prayer, referring to the Church affirms: "Look with favour on your Church's offering and see the victim whose death has reconciled us to yourself”.
Why do we speak so frequently of the Lamb? Already in the Old Testament we find the biblical image of the lamb as an example of readiness for sacrifice. The Prophet Isaiah describes the Lord's Servant who is to come, who will accept to bear the sins of many " as a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and as a sheep that before its shearers is mute” (Is 53,7). The New Testament choice of this image for Christ shows clearly that it is necessary to distinguish between the redeeming work of the Saviour and other offers of salvation of this world. The Lamb illuminates the code of Jesus from another angle.
Looking at the book market and calendars of events with their offers of salvation, we see clearly that self-giving is absent. These offers of salvation are completely worldly. Looking through any brochure we read: therapeutic fasting, therapeutic gymnastics, tisane, the hidden powers of precious stones, the occult powers of past cultures, experience out of time and space, the way to happiness, how to find the centre, etc.
The Mass too is about salvation. But it goes far beyond life on earth, it is a question of eternal life. This is why it is not immediate salvation. The Lord takes another path: He comes as a lamb seeking tender contact with humility. Mass can never be a spectacular event or a display of fireworks. In the Mass Christ, the Lamb of God, unites us to himself as he offers himself in love. Through the code of his life – "for you” – He gives us access to salvation.
Those who take part with faith in the liturgy allowing themselves to be caught up in this movement, are inevitably changed – although without realising it immediately. The more faithfully and willingly we walk the path towards the divine Lamb, the more part of what is within us can be redeemed. We experience what people experienced when Jesus lived on earth: " because power came out of him that cured them all” (Lk 6,19).
A famous story tells of a young boy who felt that all his efforts to draw near to God were vain. He thought that in the end nothing would remain of the efforts he had made. A wise man sent him to fetch water in a dirty basket of straw. But because the path was long, in the end there was no water left in the basket. But each day the wise man sent him again and again. "So?”, he asked some time later. "was it all in vain?”. "Yes it was all in vain I did not bring even a cup of water home. I lost it all on the way”. The wise man replied "No, it was not in vain that you went to the well every day with the basket. It is true that with your straw basket you could not hold the water. But do you see how clean the basket is thanks to the water? The same is true for you. Even if you feel that all your efforts to draw near to God are in vain, you are nevertheless purified by Him, the source of all goodness”.
This story can be applied to our participation with faith in the celebration of the Mass. If we bring the soiled basket of our totally self centred life, to the well of the Eucharistic celebration every Sunday, with time we too will be made clean. The blood of Christ, shed for us on the Cross, will surely show its power over us, fragile vessels. Especially together with the sacrament of penance, the Mass has a great power of healing. The "for you” of Jesus' code becomes concretely personal for each of us, forging us together, making us men and women of the Church capable of communion in which 'I' no longer takes absolute priority.
There is a word of advice from the saints of which we should make good use at the moment of the Consecration when the priest raises the sacred host. At this moment the healing power of Christ is especially tangible. The holy Cure d'Ars said this moment of Mass was the most suitable moment to pray for conversion of heart. Christ's love can change even situations and hearts which have hardened. The change is valid not only for the gifts offered at the altar but also for us.
The fact that two Councils discussed the subject of the infusion of water in the wine during the offertory, is surprising even for practising Catholics. Except for the altar boys, only a few people notice that at every Mass a drop of water is added to the wine in the chalice.
In the mystagogical sense, in the mysteries of the faith, the drop of water can lead us to a deeper understanding of the theology of the Mass. At the Council of Florence (1439), convoked to reach an agreement with the Armenian Christians, the drop of water was the subject of lengthy theological discussion. With regard to the material things for the sacrament of the Eucharist, the Council says "bread made of wheat and wind made of grapes to which a drop of water must be added before the consecration”.
Significant is the statement that it was the Lord himself who instituted the sacrament in this way using wine infused with water. Evidently it was an ancient Jewish custom to drink wine infused with water. The author Justin, who died a martyr in the year 165, gives us important information on eucharistic celebrations among the early Christians. He writes quite naturally: "Then the chalice of wine and water is brought to the first of the Brothers”.
Apart from this indication that Jesus himself did this and that this practice is confirmed by the "testimony of the holy fathers and doctors of the Church”, the Council of Florence gives also an allegorical-mystic explanation: "Because this is fitting for the memorial of the Lord's passion”. "The Lord's chalice which we offer must be not only wine or only water, it must be both together, because we read that both blood and water flowed from the side of Christ” (cfr. Jn 19,34). Here we have the sacrificial character of the Mass, out of love the Redeemer sacrifices himself for our redemption.
However – according to the Council of Florence – it is also a matter of our becoming part of His sacrifice. The effect which the sacrament has on us is revealed in the drop of water: "the water prefigures the people, the wine makes visible the blood of Christ ”. "Therefore when the water is mixed with the wine in the chalice the people are united with Christ, a people of faith is united with the One in whom it believes”.
Why did this Council, held to reach reconciliation with the Armenians of monophysite tendency, examine the drop of water in such detail? The Monophysite heresy tended to give excessive and unilateral emphasis to the divine nature of Jesus Christ. The expression "monophysis” means "of one nature”. According to the monopysites the human nature taken by the Son of God for our salvation was absorbed by His divinity. This meant that for the Monophysites the incarnation was secondary, the act of redemption on the Cross lost its significance.
A millennium had passed between the disappearance of this heresy in the 5th century and negotiations for reconciliation with the Armenians in the 15th century. What due to passing centuries, had become, perhaps less problematic at the doctrinal level, was still perceptible in a liturgical detail. Consistently the Monophysites had removed the drop of water from their liturgy: God had no need of any human assistance, any addition on the part of man. However Catholic doctrine embraces both realities, the divine nature and the human nature, in the one person of Jesus Christ. So still today the prayer which accompanies the infusion of the water in the wine, says: "By the mystery of this water and wine may we come to share in the divinity of Christ, who humbled himself to share in our humanity”.
Almost as in a journey of theological exploration, over 100 years later, in 1562, at the Council of Trent, the drop of water appeared in a dogmatic declaration. What led to this? Martin Luther spoke of the almighty power of grace. Man's justification before God could happen only through grace: Sola gratia. No addition could help sinners participate in their redemption, except trusting faith: Sola fides. As a result for Protestants the drop of water in the chalice was completely out of place. The pure work of God had no need of any addition on the part of man.
But does the Apostle Paul not say: " in my own body I make up all the hardships that still have to be undergone by Christ for the sake of his body, the Church” (Col 1,24)? With this statement Paul has no intention of diminishing the work of salvation accomplished by the one Redeemer. Indeed Paul himself knew by his own experience: " but what I am now, I am through the grace of God ” (1 Cor 15,10). Once the Lord had even reassured him: " 'My grace is enough for you” (2 Cor 12,9). Nevertheless the apostle was aware that his task was to be a "tool". It is not the act of Redemption which needs to be completed, but rather its mediation to mankind, "for the Body of Christ ” needs a human contribution. Because Christ wished to redeem us not as individuals. Instead his act of redemption included the building up of His Body, the Church, whose members act as "drops of water". We can illustrate this deep theological reasoning very simply: as Jesus died on the Cross he did so as the only mediator between God and mankind. However, the fact that at the foot of the Cross Mary and John and a few other faithful women disciples united themselves with his Sacrifice, in God's eyes this was not a diminishing of the sacrifice of Jesus, or a casual addition. It was like the drops of water in the chalice of salvation.
After this excursion in the history of the Church and theology, let us turn to the preparation of the gifts at Mass. Each of us, gathered around the altar, must become a pleasing gift to the Lord, together with the sacrifice of Christ, as the faithful say in the suscipiat in front of the priest: "May the Lord accept this sacrifice from you hands for the praise and glory of his name for our good and for the good of all his Church".
These observations with regard to an apparently marginal detail of the offertory, reveal perhaps profound spiritual richness hidden in this part of the celebration of the Mass. It is understandable that the words which accompany the actions of the offertory are usually recited in a low voice, as foreseen by the missal. The faithful may in the meantime sing an offertory hymn to foster an attitude of offering, or listen to the choir, or, most suitable, keep a moment of silence in which to lift up heart and mind to the Lord, while perhaps an organ or another instrument quietly plays an accompaniment to the gestures.
The Missal clearly states that offertory processions of the faithful correspond to the inward content of this part of the Mass. Not by chance at this point there is the collection of offerings for the needs of the Church and more especially for the poorer members. In these small offerings the "drop of water” takes concrete form.
Julia Verhaeghe, the Foundress of the spiritual family of Das Werk, whose life was marked by profound love for the Church and for the liturgy, saw herself and her mission in the drop of water: " Lord let me be the tiny drop of water which is infused in the wine and loses itself in the chalice the priest offers to you for this holy sacrifice”. For a person wishing to participate in the celebration of the Mass in an even more spiritual way, this prayer could be of great help.
From the point of view of the faith, sin is the ultimate and most profound cause of death, death, as we know it, that is the destructive force which God had not planned for man. If man had not sinned death would not have happened. "Through sin... death reached all mankind ” (Rom 5,12). Death became a general and absolute certain condition of human existence: every person born into the world will leave it dead.
For us to hope in eternal life, despite death or after death, is not within our capacity. No one can accomplish his resurrection alone, this can only be done by the grace of God. " Thank God, then, for giving us the victory through Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Cor 15,57). He who came to free us from sin also desires to save us from the power of death.
In baptism God begins this work, giving us the grace of "rebirth” for eternal life. It is like a vaccination before a long and dangerous journey. Baptism gives us the first "vaccine” against eternal death. During our life this "vaccine”, need to be boosted, mainly through other sacraments. The sacraments of Penance and the Eucharist are medicine against death.
Christians have always realised that they could not live without Mass, without the Eucharist at least on Sunday. "Without the Lord's Sunday Eucharist we cannot live”, the martyrs of Abitene declared in front of the pagan tribunal(+304). "It is not positivism or thirst for power that the Church tells us that the Eucharist is part of Sunday ” (Pope Benedict XVI). Here it is not a matter of a commandment imposed from outside, but of survival: unless we regularly receive Christ and His Grace within us, unless we continue to let ourselves be "vaccinated” against death and its consequences, we have no guarantee of reaching eternal life. Sunday is our weekly "vaccination day”, because it is here that the power of the Risen Lord is most effective.
The connection between reception of the Eucharist and the promise of the resurrection was not constructed by theologians. The connection has its roots in the Scripture. St John the Evangelist devotes the sixth chapter of his Gospel to the Eucharist. It contains the great Eucharistic discourse which Jesus gave in the synagogue in Capernaum. Careful reading reveals a twofold indication: the Eucharist is a pledge of resurrection (cfr. Jn 6,44.54). Jesus clearly says: " 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. ” (Jn 6,53-54).
In the early Church authors we find these statements even more developed. Gregory of Nissa (+ after 394), in one of his catechesis, compares the moral condition of man to fatal poisoning. Only an antidote can break the power which brings death. "What is this antidote?” Saint Gregory asks, and his reply is: "Only this Body which conquered death and brought us life. So that, as the apostle says, just as a little leaven can render the whole of the dough similar to itself, so too that Body gifted with immortality shaped by God transforms our body to His image". The holy Church father goes on to explain how the bread and wine, through the word of God, are transformed into the Body of the Risen Christ, "so that man, united with the One who is immortal, shares in this immortality ”.
To understand the Eucharist as a "medicament of immortality” it helps to make a brief excursus into the history of dogmas. More precisely, the theological reasons for the dogma of the assumption of Mary into heaven. Why did the Mother of God have the privilege of being assumed by God body and soul into heaven at the hour of her death, so that her body did not experience corruption?
A recurrent reason in the homilies of the Church Fathers is the biblical teaching according to which Mary was chosen by God to be the Mother of the Lord. No other creature was so bound to Christ as Mary His Mother. His body comes from her body, His blood comes from her blood. Just as the body of the Mother carried Him in her womb until birth and nourished Him, becoming a shrine of God, so after death her body was to remain sacred and not experience corruption.
What Mary was by vocation, that is the bearer of God, we can become only gradually. In the Eucharist we receive Christ in our hearts. In actual fact, one Holy Communion would be enough to make us one with Christ. On His part this would be possible. But because of our human weakness we need to receive Him again and again, to "welcome the immortal Body of Christ to be transformed and rendered similar to his divine nature” (cfr. Gregory of Nissa).
No one can achieve his own assumption into heaven. However carrying Christ ever more frequently within us, as Mary did, in the future He will do what He already did in Mary. At the hour of our death, or at least not far from it, one day the Lord will be our "viaticum”: this will be the final "vaccination”, so that the sting of death loses its power. Since no one knows when that hour will come, the Eucharist must be our medicament, at least on Sunday, but better still during the week as well. So we will always be ready for the last journey.
The definition of the Eucharist as "medicament of immortality” indicates that care must be taken when we receive Holy Communion. Even the best medicament can be harmful when it is taken the wrong way. We must remember that in the Sacrament of the Altar, we receive "Someone”. A person who receives communion receives Christ, who gives Himself through the ministry of the Church. This means that receiving Holy Communion well, has a personal and an ecclesial dimension. The Church administers Holy Communion and establishes the requisites for worthy reception.
Already in the life of the early Church we hear of the first difficulties with regard to the reception of Holy Communion. Some Christians in the new community of Corinth lacked discernment with regard to the Body of Christ. Some were not aware that the bread received in the Eucharist was the Body of the Lord. St Paul saw this as an offence to the One who offers this holy gift, and also scarce ecclesiality. Communion, the apostle says, is the most effective way to promote ecclesial union: " 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 Cor 10,17). Anyone who receives Holy Communion unworthily commits a sin against the Lord and against His Body, the Church.
" Therefore anyone who eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily is answerable for the body and blood of the Lord. Everyone is to examine himself and only then eat of the bread or drink from the cup; because a person who eats and drinks without recognising the body is eating and drinking his own condemnation” (1 Cor 11,27-29).
If what Christ said to be his Body is received in a superficial manner instead of giving eternal life it can be the cause of Judgement. Without using the word "medicament”, this is precisely what Paul means: unworthy reception of communion harms the receiver just like the wrong medicine can harm the patient. " That is why many of you are weak and ill and a good number have died” (1 Cor 11,30). A sad diagnosis! A few years after Jesus instituted this gift from His heart, there were already complaints and deviation. What was meant to be food of eternal life, for a few became "pathogen agent ”, and a "death accelerator ”.
The "scandal” of the community of Corinth was clearly a separation between Eucharist and Life, from Mass and proper relations among themselves. The richer members of the community ignored and neglected the poorer members. This lack of charity and grave absence of solidarity remain for ever an example which is a warning. Anyone who approaches the altar of the Lord must examine his conscience under this aspect.
It emerges from historical-ecclesial analysis that the Church has always been faced with two mistaken attitudes: on the one hand superficial reception of Holy Communion, on the other, exaggerated fear of approaching the Lord's Table. Saint John Chrysostom, one of the greatest fathers of the Church of the East, devoted various homilies to this subject. Someone who did not know that his words were addressed to Christians of the 4th century, might think it was as address by a priest or a bishop to a modern Catholic parish of the 21st century: when there is a festive occasion everyone hurries to the Lord's table, not because they are well prepared, but because everyone is doing so. " I see many who receive the Body of Christ without thinking twice, as it happens, more out of habit than with care and reflection.” Then the faithful stay away from the Lord Table for a long, again out of habit, Chrysostom complains.
To help us avoid both these mistaken attitudes, through the years the Church established conditions for admission to the Lord's Table. Basically the conditions today are the same as the rules followed in early Christian times in this regard. In the year 150, St Justine the martyr, mirroring apostolic tradition wrote: "For us this food is the Eucharist. No one may take part unless he has accepted the truth of our teaching, has received the bath for remission of sins and re-birth and lives according to the commandments of Christ. Since as no common Food and no common Drink we receive them ”.
Baptism as the first sacrament is mentioned as a condition. Baptism is the purifying bath which prepares for Eucharistic union with the Lord. Baptism is like the door. Once we have passed through the door we experience in the Eucharist the fullness of Christian initiation, integration in the community of Christ and the Church. The un-baptised may not approach the Eucharist. They must first welcome Christ in the faith and consecrate themselves to Him in the water of baptism.
Acceptance in the faith of the Church and her teaching is also a condition for receiving the sacraments. No one may receive the body of Christ while rejecting His teaching. This explains why Christians not in full communion with the Catholic Church cannot receive Holy Communion – except on rare exceptions for example, in danger of death. A person who receives Communion receives in the sacrament not only Christ, he or she is united in a sublime manner with the Church, the mystical body of Christ. Communion in a way that excludes the Church is neither possible nor salutary.
If the Church refuses what is called inter-communion, she does this out of respect for Christians of other confessions. If during a Catholic celebration of the Eucharist, a Protestant were invited to the Lord's Table this would give the impression he is in full communion with the Church and is therefore a Catholic. But a convinced Protestant Christian would certainly not want this. First on his part there must be acceptance of the faith of the Catholic Church, his acceptance as a member of the Church and then, as fulfilment, eucharistic communion.
Significant in the inter-ecclesial context is the condition of admission mentioned by Justine "living according to the commandments of Christ". Here the greatest difficulties probably arise from today's living conditions. Two examples out of many are particularly pertinent.
A relatively large number of Catholics feel no need to take part in Mass every Sunday. But when now and again they do come to Mass they feel a great need to approach the Lord's table. They appear not to realise that failing to make holy the Lord's Day is a grave fault. Basically this attitude is paradoxical and incomprehensible: they wish to be united with the Lord in the sacrament but do not seek union with His commandments. Reception of the Body of Christ without keeping the laws of Christ is not in keeping with the intentions of the founder and therefore not salutary.
The second example concerns various irregular situations with regard to the sacrament of Matrimony. The sacraments cannot be separated. They are ordered one to the other and indissolubly connected: this is also true of Matrimony and the Eucharist. In both sacraments it is a matter of carnal union between two persons. Two persons give themselves to one another " they become one flesh” (Mt 19,5), according to the teaching of the Church this can only come about within matrimony. For a baptised member of the Church there can be no neutral zone with regard to the sacrament of matrimony. Any carnal union outside the Christian bond of matrimony contradicts the covenant we made with Christ at our baptism. It is true that this situation concerns many people. But the Church remains faithful to her conviction when she insists on the fact that those who have carnal union outside the sacrament of matrimony cannot, in this condition, unite themselves with the Body of Christ in Holy Communion. This is true not only for de facto couples and extra-marital relationships, but also those who are married according to civil law, in first or second marriage.
There arises the question whether the Church, with this high consideration of the sacraments does not deny many of her members the necessary means of obtaining grace: if the Eucharist is a medicament of immortality, how can it be refused to the faithful? Here it is necessary to explain that there is no human situation in which the Church excludes Holy Communion categorically and for ever. Through the sacrament of penance most obstacles can be eliminated. Illegal unions can be regularised with the sacrament of matrimony and even divorced persons who have remarried may be admitted to Holy Communion if they are willing in future to renounce becoming one-flesh which, before God, does not pertain to them.
Since the Church has always been aware of the weakness of her members the minimum she expects of them is that " prepared by the sacrament of Reconciliation, they receive the Eucharist at least once a year, if possible during the Easter season” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 1389). The fall in the practice of confession and at the same time an increase in reception of Communion is certainly a pastoral concern which lies at the heart of the Church. The rediscovery of the Sacrament of penance can give a noteworthy contribution towards fruitful reception of Communion.
Those Catholics who are unable to change their present condition of life not in keeping with the teaching of the Church and consequently unable to fulfil their "Easter duties”, should at least, while waiting to be united with Christ, ask Him that at the crucial moment of life, they may have the grace of receiving the sacrament of immortality.
When He hears the prayer "Lord, I am not worthy to receive you. Say but the word and I shall be healed!”, the Lord will surely see if a person longs to receive Him or if he receives him also sacramentally in the Sacred Host. Spiritual Communion must in any case precede sacramental communion so that the most holy of the sacraments, the Eucharist, may take full effect.
Very often practising Catholics are criticised because although they are always in church, love of neighbour does not appear to be their strong point.
Is it true that frequent Mass goers who keep the commandment of Jesus and celebrate his memory are pious but scarce in active charity? This accusation cannot be demolished in a few pages. Accusations are answered not in ink but with concrete life.
First however we must examine the connection between the Eucharist and Christian charity. The Eucharist is the "sacramentum caritatis”, the sacrament of God's love can only be, on the condition of active participation, a continual school of love "schola caritatis”. Jesus showed his disciples this close connection when he washed their feet before the Last Supper. It is significant to realise that St John the Evangelist says almost nothing of the institution of the Eucharist, but gives a detailed account of the washing of the feet.
All though his life on earth Jesus based his pedagogical method more on example than teaching: " I have given you an example so that you may copy what I have done to you” (Jn 13,15). The washing of the feet and the Eucharist are close not only from the point of view of time but also in content. We humans like to be represented, served, at the centre of attention, receive something from others, be honoured. With the washing of the feet Jesus does the complete opposite,: He, "Lord and Master” (Jn 13,14), kneels like a slave to serve his disciples. He purposely puts himself in the last place. The washing of the feet is a key point in a long series of humiliations in the life of Jesus, starting with the poverty of the manger to the ultimate sacrifice on the Cross. At the Last Supper, self humiliation continues and intensifies: Jesus goes out into the night, he is abandoned by all, he allows himself to be arrested, he accepts an unjust sentence...God's self alienation goes so far that everything is taken from him, his clothes, his last earthly possessions. On the Cross Jesus even renounces the last consolation, He experiences the suffering of total abandonment, because " Love never comes to an end.” (1Cor 13,8).
For the disciples among all the events of the passion, the washing of the feet must have been - if only later when they began to understand - the key to understanding the extraordinary person of Jesus: the Son of God alienated himself to death. Precisely because he expected nothing for himself, Jesus does not appear troubled that the disciples fail to understand what he is doing. " later you will understand” (Jn 13,7) Jesus says to Simon Peter. He did not say: be understood, honoured, served, but instead: understand, honour, serve... down to the smallest detail – this is the way of Jesus.
To underline the true sense of the Liturgy, the fourth Eucharistic prayer adds the following formula just before the consecration: "He always loved those who were his own in the world… when the time came…he showed them the depth of his love”. In John's Gospel these words are placed before and during the episode of the washing of the feet (Jn 13,1). This shows that the celebration of Mass is the most perfect proof of God's love for mankind, even more modest than the washing of the feet: Jesus comes to us humble, small, simple, under the poor species of bread, the food of the poor.
Since we where children we have always been told that the moment of the consecration is the culminating moment of the Mass. Consecration however, means not only that the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ. Consecration means we too must be transformed; and not only in this or that area of our life– but our entire Christian life. Supernatural love must be the source of our life, the source of our thoughts, words and deeds. "Love is always patient and kind; love is never jealous; love is not boastful or conceited, it is never rude and never seeks its own advantage, it does not take offence or store up grievances” (1Cor 13,4-5).
Each Eucharistic celebration is a "link” in the chain: the Son who is God becomes God who takes the form of a slave, God who takes the form of bread. He who became poor, humble, hidden for us wishes to continue his work in us! How could anyone taking part in Mass still wish to be great and important? But Christ gives us a little more time: what He does with us during Mass is perhaps not understood by many - but just like Simon Peter they will understand later (Jn 13,7).
Anyone who continues to go regularly to the well can only be purified - on the condition, naturally, that he does not approach the well with the intention of avoiding the purifying water. This is true for anyone who approaches the altar of God: he cannot help being drawn into the vortex of love which flows from Christ's love.
Do those who celebrate holy Mass faithfully show all this? Do they live Christ's love? Do those who receive Christ so often under the species of bread, see Him under the form of their brothers and sisters? Do they realise that: "In truth I tell you, in so far as you did this to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it to me” (Mt 25, 40)? As we said before, it is difficult to give proof of this in ink. Of course even among practising Christians there are deplorable example of failing and inefficiency. Scarcity of love is particularly sad when it comes from persons considered "godly”.
However general experience shows that frequent Mass goers are often faithful witnesses of authentic humanity. When they come home from Mass they care for relations in need. There are members of the faithful who bear the most difficult situations in married or family life, faithful who draw from the sacrifice of the Mass the patience to bear physical and psychological suffering. How many loving mothers and grandmothers, with deep faith in Jesus in the Eucharist, shoulder the problems of their loved ones and through their life of prayer, ensure spiritual support for the family! How many men and women religious live in communities with disabled persons, or run a Fazenda da Esperanca for the rehabilitation of drug addicts, because they are inspired by the holy Eucharist.
One special service of love on the part of frequent Mass goers is to pray for the dead. The faithful offer their prayer of intercession, especially those most in need of God's mercy, for the "poor souls” as they call them,. This other form of silent service is certainly important for the "poor”. Once I met a retired gentleman who had probably never missed daily Mass in his life and who acted as lawyer for people who were less fortunate in life. Impressive is also the witness of the sacristan of St Philip's Church in Franklin, who, at the request of his parish community after Mass would go to visit prisoners, heeding the words of Jesus: "I was in prison and you came to visit me” (Mt 25,36). This service, obviously, is part of wide range social work, organised by a Catholic parish in the Diaspora, in the sense of authentic Christianity.
An exceptional example of how adoration of the holy Eucharist can lead to the greatest love, is Dr Annalena Tonelli. A sort of "Mother Teresa” in Africa. As a child she was quite certain that one day she would have helped others. At the age of twenty six she felt called by Christ to go to Africa where she devoted her life to helping the poor and the suffering. In Somalia torn by civil war, Annalena Tonelli helped settle disputes between ethnic groups, cultures and religions. She cared for refugees, for people suffering from TB or AIDS or eye diseases, she also organised schooling for poor children. It is amazing how many highly efficient centres of charity care she opened in thirty years of activity.
When on 5 October 2003, Annalena Tonelli was brutally assassinated in the grounds of the Clinic at Baroma which she herself had founded, there was widespread mourning for this extraordinary woman who had earned herself international esteem. Only months before the High Commission of the United Nations for Refugees had presented Annalena Tonelli with the Nansen Award for outstanding care offered to Somali refugees.
It is good to see a woman who sought to imitate Jesus by serving the poor, respected by secular authorities. However it was only after her death that it became known that the Eucharist was the secret source of this wonderful life lived for others. Because Annalena, as a Christian, was completely alone in a Muslim context, already in 1971 the Church granted her the privilege of always carrying the holy Eucharist. Bishop Giorgio Bertin renewed this privilege and in August 2003 and celebrated with her at Borama, the last Mass of her life. Here is what he has to say:
It was clear Annalena Tonelli, on her journey of faith, was there where the Lord desires all Christians to be. During the Eucharistic celebration when the priest invites those present to "lift up your hearts”,she could truthfully reply: "We life them up to the Lord”. Her Eucharistic immersion in Christ did not make her deaf or indifferent to the suffering of the world. Indeed, as she immersed herself in the cup of salvation, she found the strength to give her own blood, her own life, for others. With many others who let their lives be transformed by the power of the Eucharist, the example of Annalena Tonelli can help us in future to take seriously the words of the Second Eucharistic Prayer: "Make us [your Church] grow in love”.
Of particular interest was, "Do those who celebrate holy Mass faithfully show all this? Do they live Christ's love? Do those who receive Christ so often under the species of bread, see Him under the form of their brothers and sisters?"
A very challenging statement, part of a very thorough catechesis.
A heartfelt thanks for this post. It makes this sometimes “better than thou” Catholic reexamine his heart,mind, and soul before approaching the Table of the Lord.
A Reformed view of the RCC Eucharist:
Scripture teaches that the Lord Jesus Christ has not only made a once-for-all-time atonement, but that his historical death on the cross is a complete atonement. He has completely satisfied Gods justice: the debt due to mans sin has been fully paid and therefore all those who come to God through Jesus Christ are wholly free from condemnation. No further expiation for sin can ever be needed. The biblical view is that cleansing and forgiveness for sin are found in the blood of Jesus Christ alone, and never in the works or sufferings of man, for the law demands death as a penalty for sin. The significance of the reference to blood with respect to the work of Christ is that it signifies his life has been given over in death on our behalf and as a payment for our sin. It is because a full atonement has been made that a full forgiveness can be offered:
The blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin (1 John 1:7).
In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace (Eph. 1:7).
Scripture nowhere teaches that men must suffer temporal punishment for their own sins to render satisfaction to God, either in this life or in the life to come. All punishment for sin was borne by Christ. This is why the Word of God declares that There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:1). God certainly disciplines believers for sin, but this has nothing to do with making atonement or expiation. In the discipline of his children Gods action is remedial, not punitive; it flows from love, not wrath (see Heb. 12:4-13).
Scripture does speak of a eucharistic sacrifice. The word eucharist literally means thanksgiving and the New Testament frequently enjoins believers to offer this kind of sacrifice of praise: Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of the lips that give thanks to His name (Heb. 13:15). This is the true eucharistic sacrifice. Scripture also speaks of other sacrifices the believer is to offer to God our goods to meet the needs of others, and ourselves in total surrender to God (Heb. 13:16; Rom. 12:1). These are all true sacrifices in the New Testament but they have nothing to do with the expiation of sin.
If, as we have seen, there is no more sacrifice for sin what is the meaning of the Lords Supper? The Supper was established by the Lord Jesus as a memorial of thanksgiving and praise for his atoning sacrifice by which believers were to commune with him spiritually and also to proclaim his death until he comes again. The bread and wine, as Augustine points out, were given as figures or visible symbols of his body and blood and therefore are figurative expressions of his self-sacrifice. They are visible reminders to his people of what he has done on their behalf. When the Lord says, This is my body, he is speaking figuratively and not literally. In fact, in Matthew 26:29, Mark 14:25 and Luke 22:16,18, Christ refers to the wine after consecration as the fruit of the vine, indicating that it was still wine. Twice, in 1 Corinthians 11:23-27, Paul refers to the consecrated bread as bread.
-————> The above is an extract from http://www.the-highway.com/eucharist_Webster.html
“When the Lord says, This is my body;, he is speaking figuratively and not literally”
You must have missed John.
Catholics=John 6:53-58 Everyone else=John 6:60-66
Therefore, you must be part of the everyone else.
eh, no - I haven’t missed that bit of John, I merely have the God given understanding of what it means and do not hold to the RCC magic show mysticism that was created by men to control men.
Now wait a minute, folks. I made this an “open” thread.
Manfred’s original post (#5) was a very constructive post, as it wasn’t bashing the Church, it was, in a constructive fashion, pointing out where the author of the piece thought we had it wrong. (Of course, neither I nor I’m certain 99.9% of orthodox Catholics would agree with that author)
The post was not snide nor disrespectful. It expressed a disagreement.
Bottom line is if Manfred is going to express disagreement respectfully, as he did in post #5, I think the least that we Catholics should be able to do is to respond back to him in a respectful fashion. C’mon folks, we complain about Protestants being disrespectful and then we have to show our hind quarters FIRST?? What’s up with that??
(i.e., his comeback to you in post #7 was a direct result of YOUR snideness in post #6)
I didn't think post #6 was all that snide. The poster in #7 has a history of cutting and pasting his anti RCC arguments on any thread on FR with the word Catholic mentioned.
Did I miss something? wasn't it Christ who commanded: “Unless you eat of the Flesh of the Son of Man, you shall not have life in you”.
it is amazing the number of Protestants who want literal translations of the Bible - who then backslide, mumble and obscure when it comes to John 6:53-58.
It appears Manfred and his source are in the group who says: “This is too hard..” as in John 6:60-66.
Christ was not equivocal - either you is or you isn't.
I don't retract a thing.
The God-given understanding of Holy Eucharist is Transubstantiation. Congratulations on accepting God's Truth.
And twist and obfuscate and prevaricate and contort and deny and circumlocute and dismiss et cetera ad infinitum . . .
Maybe next time you dismiss something as "RCC magic show mysticism" you should consider what the hundreds of millions of your fellow Protestants believe because the belief in the "Real Presence" IS NOT unique to the Catholic Church, it is held to varying degrees by the Orthodox, Lutherans, Anglicans, Methodists and others.
It is strange that some people hate Catholics so much that they label things "RCC magic show mysticism" when the TRUTH is that the ONLY belief that is unique to the Catholic Church is papal primacy, ALL other beliefs are held by millions of Protestants.
Truth is not subject to majority vote. I care far less about what man - or any group thereof - think than I do for what the Scriptures say. Hence, I side with the RCC on right to life and side with the Reformed on the Lord’s Supper.
Thank you waggle,
I do not mean to disparage other Protestants who do take the Lord at His Word.
We can always quibble about the details.
It is a daunting concept to get a mere mortals brains wrapped around, even without the “magic show mysticism” herring.
I never claimed it was.
I care far less about what man - or any group thereof - think than I do for what the Scriptures say.
Then Jesus said to them: Amen, amen I say unto you: Except you eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, you shall not have life in you. (John 6:54)
And to provide a counterpoint, it is amazing how Catholics ignore literal interpretations, except for 6 verses.
From the article I posted a link to previously: http://www.the-highway.com/eucharist_Webster.html
When Jesus refers to himself as the bread of life and says that men must eat his flesh and drink his blood, he makes it clear that his words were to be interpreted spiritually and figuratively: The flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life (John 6:63). This discourse could not refer to the Lords Supper for Christ had not instituted that ordinance at the time he gave this teaching. He is not speaking here of the eucharist, but of his sacrifice on Calvary. The whole discourse of John 6 is a presentation of Jesus as the atoning sacrifice for the sin of the world in the giving of his flesh and blood, and how men are to appropriate the benefits of that sacrifice. It is those who believe who experience the benefits of his work, and so when he likens faith to eating his flesh and drinking his blood he is explaining the nature of saving faith as the appropriation of his person into the believers heart. The Son of God would have us understand that saving faith is much more than mere intellectual assent to truth. As John Calvin pointed out:
We are quickened by the true partaking of him; and he has therefore designated this partaking by the words eating and drinking, in order that no one should think that the life that we receive from him is received by mere knowledge. As it is not the seeing but the eating of bread that suffices to feed the body, so the soul must truly and deeply become partaker of Christ that it may be quickened to spiritual life by his power . . . In this way, the Lord intended, by calling himself the bread of life (John 6:51), to teach not only that salvation for us rests on faith in his death and resurrection, but also that, by true partaking of him, his life passes into us and is made ours just as bread when taken as food imparts vigour to the body.34
Christ often used very vivid language to impress spiritual truth upon mens minds. When speaking with Nicodemus he tells him that he must be born again. He refers to himself as a vine and believers as branches. These references are obviously not to be taken in a literal sense. Again, in Matthew 5:29-30 Jesus says:
And if your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out, and throw it from you; for it is better for you that one of the parts of your body perish, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off, and throw it from you; for it is better for you that one of the parts of your body perish, than for your whole body to go into hell.
Christ is obviously using starkly realistic language to convey an important spiritual truth: the necessity for radical repentance from sin. He speaks in physical terms but we are not meant to take his words in a literal, physical sense. Precisely the same is true with his teaching in John 6 and his words at the institution of the Lords Supper. To interpret all his words in those passages literally would adopt an interpretation which directly contradicts the teaching of Scripture.
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