Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ

Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven.
Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever."

Saint Francis and Saint Dominic attended the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215, one of the most important councils in our history. The patriarchs and bishops, with heads of religious communities and many secular authorities, "defined" the doctrine of Transubstantiation. This definition did not pretend to explain the mystery or end discussion about its importance; rather the bishops called attention to the ongoing, living presence of God in our world, in the tabernacles of chapels and churches.

The new mendicant orders -- Franciscans, Dominicans, Carmelites, Augustinians, et al. -- were commissioned to announce this Good News to Christians throughout Europe. It became an integral part of Christian identity. Especially because the Eucharist is one and the same everywhere, a Catholic has a home in every chapel with the Blessed Sacrament.

In the latest centuries, and especially since the Second Vatican Council, the Church has sought to refocus our attention less on the miracle of Transubstantiation and more on the entire ritual of the Eucharist; and especially on the Trinitarian dimension of our prayer: We pray to the Father through the Son and in the Holy Spirit.

The opening prayer, known as the "Collect," collects the distracted crowd into one praying congregation and addresses our prayer to God the Father. The Eucharistic Prayer is also offered to the Father; it ends with a Trinitarian formula: "Through him, with him and in him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit all glory and honor is yours Almighty Father forever and ever;"  The grateful church answers with one voice, one mind and one heart, "Amen!"

This new attention to the ritual of the Mass challenges many people. The doctrine of transubstantiation, introduced in the second millennium made the Eucharist more familiar and accessible. One could approach Jesus in the tabernacle in a solitary conversation without the mediation of a congregation. Even the priest who "confected" the sacrament is not needed. 

The General Instruction of the Roman Missal, confirmed and adapted for the United States in 2010 encourages the faithful to set aside their individual differences and enter full participation in the Mass: 
For the sake of uniformity in gestures and bodily postures during one and the same celebration, the faithful should follow the instructions which the Deacon, a lay minister, or the Priest gives, according to what is laid down in the Missal. (paragraph 43)
The Eucharist is not the place to display one's personal piety. People should not come to Mass thinking they know how God wants to be worshiped and they are sent to show us. Rather we set aside our individuality and enjoy communion with others. We pray with one voice, one mind and one heart even as our bodies move with a single motion.  

When the congregation hears the Mass clearly, carefully articulated by the presiding priest (who speaks a language they understand) they should feel themselves collected by the Holy Spirit. The many are one as they process to the altar to eat and drink the Sacred Body and Precious Blood. Jesus, who is The Priest, offers his church -- his Communion -- in the Holy Spirit to God the Father. We experience unity with each other even as our individual dignity is honored.

This Rite of Communion is more mysterious than the doctrine of transubstantiation, and all the harder to grasp. Where transubstantiation challenged us to believe what we could not see -- that the bread is His Body and the wine is His Blood -- the New Rite invites us to die to our isolating individuality and live in the embrace of One Body, One Blood and One Spirit. 

The difference is essentially that between liturgy and devotion. Liturgy is what we must do publicly in our service to God; devotion is what each of us should do privately. Liturgy creates community as it stirs deep feelings and strong convictions; it intends to pay homage to the Triune God. Devotion develops one's personal relationship to God. Both are essential; both have their time and place. 

While our privatized, polarized world withdraws ever deeper into its own narcissism, the Church gathers us to the altar and teaches us to pray as one, in union with Our Savior Jesus Christ to the Father in the Holy Spirit. 

1 comment:

I love to write. This blog helps me to meditate on the Word of God, and I hope to make some contribution to our contemplations of God's Mighty Works.

Ordinarily, I write these reflections two or three weeks in advance of their publication. I do not intend to comment on current events.

I understand many people prefer gender-neutral references to "God." I don't disagree with them but find that language impersonal, unappealing and tasteless. When I refer to "God" I think of the One whom Jesus called "Abba" and "Father", and I would not attempt to improve on Jesus' language.

You're welcome to add a thought or raise a question.