Monday, June 30, 2008

The Blessed Sacrament -- the Real Presence of the Body and Blood of Christ (Part Two)

I cannot logically understand or wrap my mind around it enough to just accept it on faith. What is the philosophy behind this?

The answers to the questions of the Real Presence are to be found in Love and Truth, the two fundamental themes that run throughout the salvation history that is recorded in the Bible, and which are attributes of God Himself.

What is the truth of God? Again, although we can reason from observation and experience certain aspects of God, since He is so other worldly, it is imperative to look to those truths which have been revealed by Him if we are to gain a more satisfactory understanding.
(a) In the Bible, God reveals his name to be “I am” (Ex 3:13-15), i.e. the Ultimate Reality; He is Being itself and is therefore Truth itself. Indeed, if something lacks truth, it lacks reality and existence. This Truth is the first principle from which all else follows. He is not merely philosophical truth, not merely a cosmic force, but a personal being.
(b) God, that is to say, Jesus Christ, is also the Word, that is, Logos (Creative Reason), and as such, is again Truth itself from which everything that exists proceeds. (Jn. 1:1-5) Jesus is not only God in a spiritual sense, He is God incarnate, God become man. Fully God, yet fully human, united in one.
(c) And yet again, God is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and end of all things. In Him, all things are made new. (Rev 21:1-7).
He exists beyond and outside of space -- the physical universe – and because time is a measurement of changes in space, He exists outside of time. He is pure, infinite, unbounded spirit -- a non-corporeal transcendent being. For God, time is not linear, as for humans, but is both a singularity and a totality – all moments exist simultaneously and each moment exists in perpetuity.

However, God is not merely Truth, He is also Love. (1 Jn. 4:8) This is demonstrated again and again in salvation history. Now, love is by its very nature relational – it necessarily requires an “other.” Love does not exist in a vacuum. Accordingly, God is not one-dimensional, but exists as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – a Holy Trinity – this is how He can be One God yet three Persons.

What is the truth of man? Man is a created being; he is not the accidental product of random forces of nature, and he is not the product of spontaneous animation of matter. Because we were and are created in truth and love, which is necessarily relational, human beings are social creatures, male and female, complementing and needing each other. (Gen. 1-2). Mankind was not created as merely a physical entity, like a stone, and God did not create us as merely spiritual beings, like the angels; rather, He created us with a unified soul-infused body, which comprises one nature of spirit and matter, both transcendent and temporal. To be made in the image of God also means that we are persons with an inherent dignity, not things, and that we are possessed with sentience and free will, as well as the capacity for reason and for love. Indeed, we exist to love and to be loved in truth. That was, and is, God’s plan for humanity; that is the meaning of life -- to live in the truth and love and be loved.

Now, God is Love, that is to say, love in the most perfect and complete sense, love in its totality. Not merely a lukewarm passive love, but a “passionate” and intimate kind of love. One of the themes in the Old Testament to describe God’s love for mankind is the spousal relationship. And, indeed, in our own lives, marriage is generally recognized as the highest and most personal and intimate kind of love.

Thus, because God loves us, as the name Emmanuel suggests, He wanted to be “with us,” and among us – not only at a single point in time, but always and forever. To be sure, after His crucifixion and resurrection, Jesus assured us that He would be with us always, to the end of time. Now, Jesus is indeed with us in a number of ways. He is not merely with us in our thoughts and in our prayers, He is not merely with us in the word that is written on the pages of the Bible, He is also with us always by and through His Holy Spirit, which we might call “grace.” Catholics would add that Jesus is with us as well in the sacraments. In the most obvious sense, Jesus is with us in the Eucharist. The Blessed Sacrament is His Real Presence, Body and Blood.

Let us get to the heart of the matter – Why? Why should Jesus make the bread and wine into His literal flesh and blood?

Remember the truth of the human person. We are not merely spiritual creatures, but bodily creatures as well. Sitting at home or walking outside or any number of places we can pray to Jesus and, in that way, obtain a certain spiritual communion with Him. We can experience a spiritual touching with Jesus. But to only touch Jesus spiritually is to only touch Him with only a part of ourselves, not our entire person; it is to be in communion only partially, not completely.

However, through the Eucharist in the one Mass, according to his Word, Jesus is with us, not merely spiritually or theoretically or as a philosophy, but physically, such that we, as bodily creatures who experience things through our senses, can be united with Him bodily, as well as spiritually. In a profoundly intimate way, we take His Body into our bodies. Only in this way is the totality of our person, body and spirit, able to be one with the totality of Him, Body and Spirit, fully and completely. Again, because we are creatures of both spirit and body, to receive Him in the entirety of our person, it is essential that we also experience the Body and Blood of Christ, which can be received only at Mass, in addition to His Spirit, which can be experienced at home. Only in this way can the Eucharist truly be called Holy Communion.

Moreover, consider in our everyday lives what it means to be truly intimate. Friends and even siblings certainly can be close, and great and intense love can exist between them, but they cannot be truly and fully intimate. There can only be such intimacy in marriage and motherhood. Marital intimacy entails a touching of each other's souls, a touching of each other's very being and, because the truth of the human person is that we are bodily beings, we can more easily, and often best, approach that spiritual uniting by physical touching, whether that touch is a hug, or a holding of the hand, or the caress of the face, or more. And there is nothing more physically intimate than one being inside another, either as between husband and wife, or the child within a mother’s womb.

The encounter with Jesus in the Eucharist is not the encounter of a friend or a mentor or a teacher. It is a parental and spousal encounter of love. It is because the Eucharist is the Real Presence that such an encounter is the most intimate of intimate touchings. The person literally takes Christ within him- or herself both bodily and spiritually, so as to become one with Him in a mystical fashion, as in conjugal marriage, which also involves entering into another bodily and spiritually so as to become one in a communion of persons (unitive) and so as to receive life (procreative).

Wait just a minute! Are you really making such a comparison? Are you not profaning and disrespecting the Eucharist, which is supposed to be holy?? This seems rather sacrilegious and scandalous.

No. Properly understood, this does not degrade or diminish the Eucharist, but raises up human sexuality to its proper level. (This reflection is already rather long, so we will leave the Theology of the Body for another day.) The Eucharist, because of the Real Presence, permits the reception of the Host to be a profoundly intimate encounter so as to attain a oneness with Christ in the totality of our persons and thereby receive life.

The food that we receive in Communion is not ordinary food, but extra-ordinary food. It is the bread of life; not merely earthly life, but the real life – life eternal in the one who is love and truth. Eating a slice of every day bread, be it Wonder sliced bread or a freshly baked French baguette, and drinking a glass of every day wine, even when that wine is Ch√Ęteau Lafite-Rothschild, is still ordinary in every sense and not at all spiritual. Neither Wonder nor baguette nor Lafite-Rothschild are endowed with a spirit, and so an encounter with them cannot be spiritual, and calling alcoholic beverages "spirits" does not make them spiritual. No matter how delicious and breath-taking they may be, such bread and wine are still totally grounded in the body. You cannot commune with them. Only when bread and wine are consecrated to become Eucharist, do such "eating" and "drinking" become extra-ordinary and transcendent of the body to the spiritual.

How does this transubstantiation happen? How do bread and wine become the actual Body and Blood of Jesus?

(a) With respect to the natural physical process, transubstantiation, the changing of the substance of the bread and wine, that is, the inner reality of the bread and wine, is what is called a “mystery.” The Church recognizes that we human beings are limited in our capacity and ability to understand certain things, and it does not even attempt to provide a complete answer for all things. Instead, it accepts that some things remain a mystery, known to and knowable by God alone. However, this should not trouble us, because there are many things in life that neither science nor philosophy can fully explain either.
(b) With respect to the supernatural process, the transformation of bread and wine into Body and Blood of Christ occur the same way that the world itself was created – by the Word. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be.” (John 1:1-3) And so it was that “In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth . . . God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.” (Gen. 1:1-3) In like fashion, the priest at Mass, acting, not as himself, but in persona Christi, says the words of Christ at the Last Supper, “This is my body . . . This is my blood,” and by the Word, Christ’s Real Presence comes to be with us.

Now, it is important to know that the consecration of the bread and wine at Mass to become the Blessed Sacrament is NOT a re-sacrificing of Jesus. There is only One Mass, and there is only One Sacrifice, which is re-presented, that is, made present again.

Remember, God transcends time and space, so that, not only does He extend across our concept of linear time, but for Him, specific points in time continue to exist forever. Thus, the Passion and Crucifixion were not isolated events in some distant past. Rather, His sacrifice is an on-going event. He is not crucified again and again, but is one sacrifice. He is perpetually being scourged, eternally on the Cross.

In the Mass, in some mystical but true way, we transcend space and time and are made present at the Last Supper, we are made present at the foot of the Cross. And because we partake of His glorified Resurrected Body and Blood, so too are we made present at the Resurrection, and made One with He who rose to eternal life.


Jennifer F. said...

I was blown away by your excellent comment to my post about how I researched my way into Christianity (it's one of the best defenses of faith I've read in a very long time), so I had to come check out your blog. I'm delighted to have found it. I'll be back.

Flexo said...

Thanks Jen --

I've seen you around the neighborhood, and I think I might have commented over at your site a couple of years ago, before the BIG move.

I've been reading some of your "conversion" posts, and they are quite helpful. It's always helpful to have new insights and a fresh way of explaining things in an understandable way and without overpowering folks.