Tag Archives: real presence

The Early Church and the Real Presence

Worshiping-the-Real-Presence

When I was a Protestant I didn’t believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist (I didn’t even know that was an option), and I also believed the Church very quickly became corrupted after the apostles died. That’s why I “knew” our Baptist church was Christian and Catholics were probably going to Hell — nearly two thousand years of corruption until we Baptists came along finally with the true faith of the apostles. In other words, the Eucharist (we called it communion because Eucharist was too “Catholic”) was only a symbol and, of course, any authentic Christian church had to look like the church of the first generation of Christians (whatever we imagined that to be) if it looked like anything at all. I now know this is a lot of foolish bunk, but still popular in many Protestant circles — although those circles seem to be getting smaller and smaller.

One important piece of evidence for a Church of continuity through the ages is the simple fact that a mere few years beyond the first apostles others made statements about the Eucharist that confirm the Catholic teaching, and those others, lo and behold, where connected directly with the apostles. In other words, the Catholic understand of the Eucharist came directly from the apostles, who got it directly from our Lord.

First some quotes. Consider also the names of the authors and the dates:

On the Lord’s own day, assemble in common to break bread and offer thanks; but first confess your sins, so that your sacrifice may be pure. However, no one quarreling with his brother may join your meeting until they are reconciled; your sacrifice must not be defiled. For here we have the saying of the Lord: “In every place and time offer me a pure sacrifice; for I am a mighty King, says the Lord; and my name spreads terror among the nations.” (Didache, c. 90)

For we do not receive these things as common bread or common drink; but as Jesus Christ our Savior being incarnate by God’s Word took flesh and blood for our salvation, so also we have been taught that the food consecrated by the Word of prayer which comes from him, from which our flesh and blood are nourished by transformation, is the flesh and blood of that incarnate Jesus. (St. Justin Martyr, c. 100)

They [Gnostics] abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they do not admit that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, the flesh which suffered for our sins and which the Father, in His graciousness, raised from the dead. (St. Ignatius of Antioch, c. 110)

[Christ] has declared the cup, a part of creation, to be his own Blood, from which he causes our blood to flow; and the bread, a part of creation, he has established as his own Body, from which he gives increase to our bodies. (St. Irenaeus of Lyons, c. 140)

The Word is everything to a child: both Father and Mother, both Instructor and Nurse. “Eat My Flesh,” He says, “and drink My Blood.” The Lord supplies us with these intimate nutrients. He delivers over His Flesh, and pours out His Blood; and nothing is lacking for the growth of His children. O incredible mystery! (St. Clement of Alexandria, c. 150)

Now consider this handy flowchart* I made:

Early Church Fathers.001

Notice the relationships, see the connections.

Now consider Christ’s words: “And I say to thee: That thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matt. 16:18) Even Hell will not prevail.

It seems to me that the Church has always been a Church of sinners, of struggles, of setbacks, of divisions, but also of healing, reconciliation, and of saints. It has also been a Church of the Eucharist. To think the Church got off course as soon as the apostles died is truly silly. To think the Catholic concept of the Real Presence in the Eucharist is a made-up doctrine that came centuries later is also silly.

“To be deep in history is to cease to be a Protestant.” (Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman)


*FYI: if I redo this chart I would make the lines between Paul, Peter, and John dotted, or something other than solid lines.

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How to Receive the Eucharist

The Archdiocese of Portland, Oregon recently made a video on proper and improper ways to receive the Eucharist. I think it’s pretty good:

Archbishop Alexander K. Sample posted the video on Twitter with these words:

“Here is a short video prepared by our Office of Divine Worship demonstrating how to receive Holy Communion reverently under the Church’s current norms and approved options. Let us bring respect back to the Holy Eucharist.”

However, not everyone liked it. The video is specific to the Mass attended by most Catholics in the Archdiocese of Portland, the Novus Ordo Mass. The two ways presented in the video are receiving the host on the tongue while standing and in the hand while standing. What many objected to was the absence of presenting how to receive on the tongue while kneeling.

Nearly every twitter commenter challenged the video, saying the video should have at least included how to receive kneeling and on the tongue, and some called for receiving and standing to be banned altogether. Nearly zero positive comments.

Keep in mind this is the Archbishop who recently celebrated Mass in the usus antiquior form at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington D.C., broadcast live on television. He is committed to the growth and resurgence of the Traditional Latin Mass. He is actively making incremental changes in his Archdiocese to bring about more reverence for the Eucharist, including the reinstitution of kneeling after the Lamb of God in the Novus Ordo Mass. Those who despise the NO will criticize this move, but it is a step in the direction of greater and more appropriate reverence within the dominant NO landscape. This is a good thing (especially in the region of the U.S. where the “nones” dominate more than in any other area).

Following the criticism the Archbishop’s tweet and the posted video received, he then responded to the critics of the video by tweeting this:

“Concerning my last post – many people commenting on why not show the most reverent way of receiving on the tongue while kneeling. The fact is the Church gives the people several options. We have to deal with the reality in front of us and do the best we can. Step by step, people”

To this tweet he got more responses, some actually in favor of going slow, and some seeing no need for kneeling or receiving on the tongue at all (even implying concern about this was silly), but still most were strongly against the message of the video. I feel a few of the comments were actually disrespectful of the Archbishop (a symptom of our broader culture’s steady decline, and of our common social media culture). Others were merely ignorant, which one should expect. Here are some of those comments:

“In allowing the reception of the blessed sacrament in a clearly irreverent manner are we really willing to offend our blessed lord rather than offend those who recieve him????”

“Excellency, the “Church allows” is a low bar. Pastoral reasons can trump that minimal standard at any point, and the fruits of the in-the-hand experiment speak for themselves.”

“As the Archbishop, can’t you just order the priests in your diocese to distribute communion kneeling on the tongue & to do the Mass ad orientium? It’s your diocese, these methods are licit and best practices. Tbh, we’re dying for a Bishop to be a father, demand order, and do this”

“Step by step? How about a directive from a Bishop? Dealing with reality means dealing with it, not punting.”

“Enough already! KNEEL TO RECEIVE THE LORD! AND ON THE TONGUE. Receiving in the hand erodes belief in the real presence, if Catholics nowadays even know what this is.”

“Reality & Options. Simple. Kneel down, open your mouth. Otherwise, stay in the pew. Anything else is Rationalizations & Excuses to be Irreverent.”

Naturally, this topic brings out passionate responses from many Catholics. I have some of the same feelings, I too want more reverence, more tradition, and receiving communion on the tongue while kneeling, but I strongly agree with the Archbishop. Although I would prefer all would receive kneeling and on the tongue (and the TLM everywhere), I believe the Church needs to take this step by step, and do as his excellency says: “deal with the reality in front of us and do the best we can.” The reasons are fairly basic:

First, Catholics have been indoctrinated over the past 50 years with some rather significant and, at times, very troubling assumptions. They tend to believe that the old traditions are a sign of rigidity. Many Catholics even think receiving the Eucharist on the tongue while kneeling is, at best, a weird act of misplaced piety, and most likely an act of pompous showiness, and at worst actually sinful. These are, of course, much like basic Protestant beliefs that come from the idea that true, authentic faith and worship must have nothing else attached to it other than one’s own inner feelings. Therefore, conforming to outward standards of reverence can’t be anything other than pretension, and therefore must be resisted and even eradicated. But this is a false religion born out of a bad anthropology. But if we are to change these ideas, and encourage Catholics to kneel and receive on the tongue, then we first have to address the ideas head-on and not force outward behavior that might, strangely and ironically enough, cause scandal. We have inherited a kind of Gordian Knot that will take faith, prayer, wisdom and, of course, the work of the Holy Spirit to undo.

Second, culture runs very deep, and is made manifest in habitual actions. Those actions are typically copied from others. Human beings become who they are largely by copying what everyone around them is doing (for good or bad). This is how societies are generally formed. The fact that many Catholics treat the Holy Eucharist with somewhat irreverent actions and nonchalant ease comes from having those behaviors and attitudes worked into them by their surrounding culture. That culture includes specifically Catholic culture (what Catholics see other Catholics doing at Mass, for example), but also includes the pervasive consumerist, self-fulfillment, neoliberal culture of our profoundly influential modern age. To put it bluntly, a great many Catholics are simply blind to how their own actions declare a non-Catholic worldview (even at Mass), and they are probably incapable of not being blind except for the work of the Holy Spirit because the culture is so insidiously powerful and deeply ingrained within their souls (I should say within “our” souls, because you and I are affected too). Therefore, merely pushing hard for external changes assuming it will then automatically change people’s hearts and minds is foolish. If fact, it might push people away. This is why prayer is so important. It is also why loving and befriending others while also being the change you want to see may be the best way to encourage change in others.

Third, receiving the Eucharist on the tongue while kneeling is based on some fundamental theological dogmas and assumptions. The traditions of the Church speak to centuries of working out the Church’s dogmas and assumptions into appropriate actions, such as the actions of the Mass. If one is ignorant of those fundamental dogmas, then being asked to do something that feels weird and awkward will be resisted. Rather, teach the right fundamentals so well and so frequently that the Church will clamor for communion kneeling and on the tongue, as well as a number of other traditions now seemingly lost to history. The video above may help by reorienting people’s attention to the idea of reverence for the Real Presence, and to the fact that our actions actually mean something and have real consequences. That then can become a foundation upon which to build. Could the video be better, maybe. Is it a start, absolutely. Is it an appropriate way to reach the Novus Ordo crowd? Yes.

I believe one of the best ways to get the Church be become more reverent would be for bishops to have their priests preach repeatedly each Sunday on the Real Presence and related topics. Reinstitute that fundamental belief, and much good will follow. If done well, and assuming the priests have been taught well and actually believe the truth, then I am convinced that after a year (perhaps sooner) the laity will be demanding a lot of the old traditions be reinstated; perhaps accompanied with weeping for what has been lost but what can still be recovered — weeping tears of sorrow and joy.

For now, though, encourage reverence wherever and however you can. Pray that the Holy Spirit will blow the “smoke of Satan” out of the Church, and that true worship and authentic faith will begin to flourish like never before. And be sensitive to where your fellow Catholics are in their everyday lives and understanding, and pray that we have strong, courageous, and faithful bishops.

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Star Wars, Pageantry, and the Mass

In the summer of 1977 I was a boy of eleven looking for things to do with my friends. So, when a sci-fi samurai western fantasy movie, panned by critics and expected to fail big, came to an old single-screen theater without any air conditioning in my hometown, I and a friend just had to check it out. I loved the movie so much I saw it six times that week, and twelve times that year. Of course the movie was Star Wars.

To say the film was immensely popular is an understatement. Why it was such a hit and spawned perhaps the greatest movie franchise in history seems obvious now. The film had great characters, sets, costumes, action sequences, soundtrack, and it followed the classic hero’s journey, which meant the story had deep and broad timeless appeal. But I would also argue that its pageantry played a big role in the film’s success. In particular, the final scene before the credits, in which the principal characters get their recognition and rewards, is a scene of formal, royal, and solemn pageantry. It ties up the story in a perfect bow.

In case you need to be reminded:

I want to posit the need for this scene to exist in order for Star Wars to have succeeded. You see, human beings are designed in such a manner that proper pageantry feeds our souls, clarifies the world, and focuses our passions towards nobility — and our souls are designed to love nobility. Think of an Olympic Games medal ceremony. Is it needed? Absolutely. Does it determine who won? No. But it is the most proper action for the sport at that moment, in that setting — it is about the glory of sport. In Star Wars this final ceremony casts the rest of the story in the right light. Theses characters are not merely winners, they are glorious. And the audience is ennobled as they carry some of that nobility, now in their hearts, beyond the closing credits and into their daily lives. In short, that final scene is what the movie is all about.

I want to argue that something like that final scene in Star Wars, something like that kind of pageantry, is both proper and necessary to the Mass.

A Mass can be very simple and humble. Even the hood of a jeep on the battlefield can serve as a makeshift altar.

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Using the hood of a jeep as an altar, a Roman Catholic chaplain saying mass at the inauguration of an American cemetery, Omaha Beach, Normandy. Photo by Robert Capa, 1944.

A Mass can also have all the royal pageantry of a coronation. Think of the coronation of a Medieval king. There is pageantry, awe, solemnity, beauty, and reverence. There is also appropriate action: kneeling, proclamations, prayers, and a crowning — which requires the physical object of a crown.

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The coronation of Charlemagne, Christmas day, 800 A.D. Painting by Friedrich Kaulbach, 1861

And with a coronation there is also a change in ontology. In others words, a man actually becomes a king. The pageantry is not merely symbolic. In some very real way a man has actually changed — a man made king, king made flesh. This sort of understanding is something that was lost on the way to modernity. This is something we moderns do not understand well in an overt sense.

But we still act sometimes as though it is, in fact, true. In other words we believe it, though we might want to admit it for what it is. Our actions give us away. Watching the Olympics I am struck by how many times it’s mentioned that once an athlete has become a medal winner they will always be one, and that cannot be take away from them. They have changed from a non-Olympic medalist to an Olympic medalist. They are set apart. They are now an Olympian. They walk the earth as a different creature.

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1980 Winter Olympics Hockey Medal Ceremony

There is another activity we do that speaks volumes to this reality, and that is with our liturgical action in the Mass. Catholics believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. We believe in transubstantiation, that the bread and wine truly become the body and blood of our Lord, Jesus Christ. Knowing what we know, the Mass becomes a pageant of Christ the King. We celebrate His death and resurrection with kneeling, proclamations, prayers, and a sacrifice. It has all the solemnity and reverence of temple worship, of a wedding, and of a coronation.

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A Traditional Latin Mass properly celebrated

Catholics are always faced with the questions of 1) do you truly believe in the Real Presence and, if so, 2) how should behave when in the presence of your king and savior and your God? Treating the Mass for what it is obligates Catholics to certain behaviors. We may not want to be overly prescriptive and proscriptive, but it’s fair to say that we all can figure out basic ideas of of action, dress, and other factors based on our culture, history, and humanness.

God does not need our worship. We don’t go to Mass because God needs us to go. Rather, God gave us the Mass so that we might draw closer to Him, and that we might be fortified against the pressures of the world. The Mass is a gift, and worship is like a healthy diet and exercise. The closer our worship is to what is most proper, the better it is for us.

A truly solemn Novus Ordo Mass can provide this fairly well, but nothing compares to the beautiful and appropriate action of the Extraordinary Form of the Mass, a.k.a. the Traditional Latin Mass. Here is an example* from a parish in Paris:

Notice how this Mass has a kind of similarity to the pageantry of the Star Wars scene above, especially once the organ begins (okay, I know it’s no John Williams score) and the procession enters the nave and sanctuary. People only do these kinds of things in the presence of royalty. A Mass like this is one of the most human activities any of us can experience. It is strangely foreign to our daily experience, but then again it is Heaven on Earth, and thus not quotidien. Still, we are made for this. God created us to need this kind of liturgy (the work of the people) and to be fed by such appropriate pageantry.

To not see this truth is to be broken in some substantial way. Modernity breaks people. The Devil breaks people. Sin does too, but modernity, as a tool of the Devil, has a special desire to rid humanity of right praise towards God. Evangelical Protestant attempts at worship recognize the need at some level, but fail because of some fundamental theological flaws, namely the disbelief in the Real Presence in the Eucharist. This disbelief has many consequences, including the development of a non-sacramental view of creation and our faith, and this leads to a false anthropology to such a degree that true Christian pageantry is lost and even disdained. Without the Real Presence there is no King in the building and thus no worship except, perhaps, our own vanity. Poor theology breaks people too.

*This example is of a SSPX Mass. I’m not including it to promote the SSPX, but they do know how to celebrate a Traditional Latin Mass, and I truly love the inclusion of the very human life that infuses the Mass — people arriving, families, sounds and textures, etc.

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The Physicality of Faith

“Moses, Moses!”
“Here am I.”
“Do not come near; put off your shoes from your feet,
for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.”
(Exodus, chapter 3)

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Recently I have been praying in the mornings. I created for myself a place to pray. I face east, light a candle or two, and kneel. I pray novenas and rosaries, move the beads in my fingers one by one, cross myself, bow my head. It’s not much, but praying this way a fairly new thing for me. I feel drawn to a more physical expression of prayer.

What is it about kneeling? Holding beads? Candles? What is it about these physical things? Some might say they are trappings, or hindrances, or worse.

Moses was asked to take off is shoes. Why? Did God need this? I doubt it. Did Moses? I’m sure he did.

During the Penitential Act of the Mass we strike our breast three times while saying this: “through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault.”

We speak and we strike. It’s deep truth, it’s of the heart, it’s also physical. We confess physically, we worship physically. We bow. We kneel.

O come, let us worship and bow down,
let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!
(Psalm 95:6)

I am curious about the physicality of worship; the actual, physical nature of worship. Perhaps more than curious, because the emphasis on the physicality of faith is one of the characteristics that drew me towards the Catholic Church and away from my Protestant roots. I found a richness in Catholicism and a kind of poverty in evangelical Protestantism. I’m sure some would disagree with me.

I also find those verses in Holy Scripture that point towards, or mention, physical acts of worship more than merely interesting. We are physical beings. Christ is physical (fully man). He drank, he ate, he knelt in prayer, he climbed up the mountain, walked into the garden and out to the wilderness. He stood, strolled, sat, slept. He broke bread. He went to the temple. He was whipped, beaten, crucified. He is God become man — the “physical act” par excellence. He worshiped with his body. Our bodies are part of our worship.

Consider:

It is in the physical world that the intangible meets us. A kiss seals a courtship. The sexual act seals a marriage A ring betokens the marriage. A diploma crowns the years of schooling. A doctoral robe bespeaks intellectual achievement. A uniform and stripes announce a recruit’s training. A crown girds the brow that rules England. This symbolism bespeaks the sort of creature we are. To excise all of this from piety and worship is to suggest that the gospel beckons us aways from our humanity into a disembodied realm. It is to turn the Incarnation into a mere doctrine. (Thomas Howard, Evangelical is Not Enough)

Perhaps four bare walls and a pulpit is the symbol of a disembodied, even gnostic, faith. Perhaps the non-biblical, historically recent “doctrine” of the rapture speaks of that same desire to be free of the physical. Perhaps denying the Real Presence is just an example of fear — fear of our humanness, of our bodies, that God is actually one of us.

I can’t say. I wonder.

But I know the physicality of worship is everywhere in scripture, even in moments we might overlook.

And when our days there were ended,
we departed and went on our journey;
and they all, with wives and children,
brought us on our way till we were outside the city;
and kneeling down on the beach we prayed and bade one another farewell.
(Acts 21:5)

Kneeling on the beach. I would love to have a time machine. What is it about kneeling? Why not stand in a circle and hold hands? Or just stand around smiling with “Jesus in their hearts” or some such thing? No, they knelt — with Jesus in their hearts I’m sure, with love for each other, with the Spirit at work amongst them I’m sure, but they also knelt.

Is there a law at play here? I think so. Our human nature seems created for worship, and to do so with common, predictable, even specific kinds of actions. Why wouldn’t there be some similarity across humanity, across space and time? Scripture tells us this is true. Our nature, including heart, mind, and body, seem to cry out for a totality of worship — a combination of heart, mind, and body together in action.

We know that some situations just call for physical action, whether worship or supplication or awe…

Then Abram fell on his face…
(Genesis 17:3)

Then she fell on her face…
(Ruth 2:10)

And Jo′ab fell on his face…
(2 Samuel 14:22)

…and they fell upon their faces…
(Tobit 12:16)

…he fell on his face…
(Luke 5:12)

…falling on his face…
(1 Corinthians 14:25)

Across the ages, welling up from within their humanness, individuals act in similar ways. There is a physical connection, built into the human body, connected to mind and heart, to situations and contexts that call forth acts of worship, deference, and awe. Is this not a law of nature, of creation itself?

Does a law mean there is a right way and wrong way to worship? I think so — at least some ways seem better than others (I’m no expert).

Does a law mean one is shackled, suppressed, controlled? No. A law is the path to freedom — like the athlete at play, or the rules of the road making driving safely possible, or a structure of government laying the foundation for civil society. You don’t have to kneel, bow your head, and certainly not light a candle or face east. But if you do, you just might be doing something good for your soul — something fitted to your very being itself. It’s your choice. It’s a mystery.

Do we “make up” the law? No. We discover it, like a miner discovering the vein of gold, or an explorer finding new lands, or a scientist understanding a fundamental rule of nature. The law is like a gift — something good and precious, and for our benefit.

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Do we need to discover this law anew every day? No. We can listen and observe those who have come before us and have already discovered the law. But we can experience it fresh every day, for no day is the same, and life keeps moving.

We can look to the past.

And all the men and women of Israel,
and their children, living at Jerusalem,
prostrated themselves before the temple
and put ashes on their heads
and spread out their sackcloth before the Lord.
(Judith 4:11)

Why does God care that we act out our hearts and minds? Why prostrate? Why ashes? Why sackcloth? Today this is a curiosity, mere archaeology — see how strange they used to behave, clearly the actions of a simplistic people, right? Incomprehensible. Inconceivable. Perhaps we have become blind and incoherent in our sophistication. Perhaps we are the simplistic ones. We lost something precious, have we not?

Okay, ashes and sackcloth may be too strange for us, but how about some appropriate form of penance? Or some act of sacrifice? It might be good for us. How about kneeling in prayer?

We don’t act out our faith for God. I don’t think He needs any of that. But we need it, because God made us this way. He created our nature, gave us the gift of worship, bid us to worship rightly because in that we find life. It is for us, not for Him. Kneel because it is good for you. Face east because you know this is a tradition of the Church; facing towards the rising of the sun, pointing towards the new day and the harkening to the beauty of the risen Christ. Can you face in another direction? Sure. Which way is better? Discover the answer in your meditations.

Moses took off his shoes. He was standing on holy ground. Where is our holy ground?

And he took a cup,
and when he had given thanks
he gave it to them,
and they all drank of it.
(Mark 14:23)

There is no secular world, not ultimately. There, truly, is only the sacred. What we call secular is merely that which we grab for ourselves and call ours. But it is not ours. All belongs to God. Every one and every place is holy, sacred, belonging to God, made for His purpose. Sin corrupts much of this gift. We can fashion ugliness, do terrible things, turn from God in many ways, but God can make all things new and good, even our darkest actions, even our hardest hearts. All things are God’s, true, but there are some things which are called out, for our sake, to be seen clearly as holy — places and times that require worshipful action. These are great gifts of “holy ground” for us. The greatest is the Holy Eucharist — really, truly, and substantially Christ present with us.

The cup of blessing which we bless,
is it not a participation in the blood of Christ?
The bread which we break,
is it not a participation in the body of Christ?
(1 Corinthians 10:16)

We kneel, genuflect, bow, pray. We sing, chant, speak. We go, enter, stand, sit, be. We eat. We drink.

We worship.

Our bodies are made for worship.

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Three Rubrics by which to Consider the Eucharist, by Fr. Robert Barron

The Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist was one of the key “discoveries” that impelled me towards entering the Catholic Church. My many years as a Protestant, with my laundry list of objections to the claims of Catholicism, were not enough once I actually began looking at those claim in light of Holy Scripture. Fr. Barron (now Bishop Robert Barron) gives three takes on the Eucharist (meal, sacrifice, Real Presence) that may serve as good starting points for anyone curious about digging in to understand this mystery.

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