Monday, June 23, 2014

The Real Presence of Christ in Holy Communion: Gospel, Scripture, and Tradition

June 22, 2014--The Feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi)

Today the church universal celebrates and underscores one of the three great mysteries. The first is the nature of God as three in one, a trinity. The second is the incarnation, the Word became flesh and lived for a while among us as Jesus Christ. The third is the mystery of the Eucharist, that by the words of blessing of our priest, bread and wine become transformed in substance, not in form, into the body and blood of Christ.
A lot of times, when we think of the word “mystery”, we are really thinking that there is no answer, or its some kind of dodge.

Something like
we just heard of in Washington by the IRS, “I don’t know how those 7 pc systems all crashed at the same time, and the e-mails were all destroyed….it’s a mystery!
Well, that’s not it at all…the New Testament writers gave the name “mystery” to revealed truths that surpass the powers of natural reason. Mystery in its strict theological sense is not synonymous with the incomprehensible or inexplicable. A mystery is a supernatural truth, one that by its very nature lies above our finite intelligence to fully comprehend.

It’s like either side of the argument about the extent of the universe. Can we believe in one that is truly infinite? Well, w
hat about one that isn’t?

You see, it’s a mysterium…a mystery…something, right now, beyond our knowing.

We’ll look at some statements today about the Body and Blood of Christ. We’ll look in the gospels, we’ll look in some other places in the New Testament, and we’ll track the first 500 years of church history, just to see what the earliest Christians believed. So, we have a lot to cover today; that’s why we’ll use some slides to help us. Let’s look at Gospel first.

John 6:41–58
41 Therefore the Jews were grumbling about Him, because He said, “I am the bread that came down out of heaven.” 42 They were saying, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does He now say, ‘I have come down out of heaven’?” 43 Jesus answered and said to them, “Do not grumble among yourselves. 44 “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day. 45 “It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught of God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father, comes to Me. 46 “Not that anyone has seen the Father, except the One who is from God; He has seen the Father. 47 “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life. 48 “I am the bread of life. 49 “Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50 “This is the bread which comes down out of heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 51 “I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is My flesh.” 52 Then the Jews began to argue with one another, saying, “How can this man give us His flesh to eat?” 53 So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves. 54 “He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. 55 “For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink. 56 “He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. 57 “As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats Me, he also will live because of Me. 58 “This is the bread which came down out of heaven; not as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live forever.” John 6:41-58
This is the last gospel written, what we read today, and we see that John is taking it up a step. Not simply content to follow the words of institution from the Last Supper (as Mark and Matthew and Luke have), it is as if John is making sure that no one would be confused about the nature of the need for this Holy Communion.

Look when John was written.
In John’s 
Gospel, where the other gospels have the institution of the Eucharist at the last supper, he has Jesus washing the disciples’ feet. Various scholars, the late Father Raymond Brown among them, suggest that John does this because, by the time his gospel was written, perhaps sixty to seventy years after Jesus died, Christians, not unlike today, were already arguing with each other about the Eucharist: How often should it be celebrated? Who should preside? What is its precise meaning? John, in placing the washing of the feet where the other evangelists put the words of institution, is reminding us that washing each other’s feet, service to and humility before each other, is what the Eucharist is really all about. But John also emphasizes another aspect of Eucharist.

Let’s look at other scripture. 
In our 2nd reading today…..

 1 Corinthians 10:16–17 (NASB95)

16 Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ? Is not the bread which we break a sharing in the body of Christ? 17 Since there is one bread, we who are many are one body; for we all partake of the one bread.

The word, participation, repeated for both body and blood of Christ, is key here. The original word is koinonia, which means sharing, of partaking in something that is shared by a community. It is not a mental remembering, no matter how somber.  It is not a theological reflection, no matter how deep or thoughtful. It is certainly not inert, inactive, unfruitful. It is a sharing in the very body and blood of Christ. It’s not something you can do by yourself, to yourself.

1 Corinthians 11:23–29 (NASB95)
23 For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread; 24 and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” 25 In the same way He took the cup also after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes. 27 Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. 28 But a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly.

Paul is bringing the Church at Corinth back to the original words of institution at the Last Supper; This is a serious charge here—that we examine ourselves.

Well, it is really clear what the scriptures taught. You have to be willfully ignorant to not see this. But maybe things evolved over time. 

Why do we have John’s gospel—more stark and confronting than anything from Matthew, Mark, and Luke? In this gospel we have the command stated in the positive—you must eat and drink the Son of Man—and we have it stated in the negative—if you do not, you have no life in you.

And the teaching of the church—the real church—is that they got it, despite being tempted otherwise. We read from Ignatius of Antioch (an early 2nd century bishop): Referring to “those who hold heterodox opinions,” that “they abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they do not confess that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, flesh which suffered for our sins and which the Father, in his goodness, raised up again” (6:2, 7:1). 

Within the first century after John’s death, here we have a church leader, clearly stating that people were having trouble accepting this….
A few centuries later, from the east, the wisdom of St. John Chrysostom, one of the greatest commentators on the new Testament, wrote:

“It is not the power of man which makes what is put before us the Body and Blood of Christ, but the power of Christ Himself who was crucified for us. The priest standing there in the place of Christ says these words but their power and grace are from God. ‘This is My Body,’ he says, and these words transform what lies before him.” 

Scores of other citations only underscore a consistent and repeated theme in the centuries following the Apostles: bread and wine are changed into the Body and Blood of Christ. 

And our Catechism unequivocally proclaims this trust, and explains why we so doggedly believe it:

“If from the beginning Christians have celebrated the Eucharist and in a form whose substance has not changed despite the great diversity of times and liturgies, it is because we know ourselves to be bound by the command the Lord gave on the eve of his Passion: “Do this in remembrance of me.” (Catechism of the Catholic church, Section 1356)

In a few centuries, we have scripture, tradition, and Church teaching, all in complete harmony. We have
The blessing and prayer of a priest, transforming bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ.

Well, what about Catholics today?

4 groups before us, in a survey of 5000 Catholics conducted by Pew Research in 2013. There were all Catholics, but subdivided into believers and unbelievers about the real presence of Christ in communion. In other words, there were Catholics who believed in the real presence of Christ, and those who did not.

But it goes deeper. There were two groups of believers and unbelievers. There were Catholics who believed in the real presence, 46% who knew the church taught this, and they accepted it by faith. There were 4% who knew that the church taught this, but did not believe it.

There were 33% of Catholics who did not know the church taught the real presence of Christ in communion, and did not believe in the real presence. There were 17% of Catholics who did not know the church taught the real presence of Christ in communion, but believed it all on their own.

This is really astounding. You add 33% and 17%, and fully 50%--half—of all Catholics do not know about the real presence of Christ in Holy Communion. Why does our catechesis stop at age 13? Why do the cults and aberrant religious groups pick off our children when they are in college? It’s because somehow we decided, someone decided, that it wasn't important enough to keep teaching people. We have to repent and get about the business of teaching, of catechesis….and this isn’t some esoteric thing about some saint or a holy day—this is one of the central truths of our faith!

At least we can say about the members of Our Lady of the Pines—no one here can walk out of Mass and say, “well, I didn't know that the Catholic Church taught that.  

We've looked at Gospel, other Scripture, and Church Tradition today, and I plead with you if you do not accept this, to ask yourself “why not?”

Belief is not always a matter of the intellect, it is more a matter of the will. I pray that you will wrestle with these truths until they become yours.

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