Monday, 18 May 2009

On the Holy Eucharist

The Eucharist, one of seven sacraments, remains absolutely central to the Catholic Church’s liturgy. The Church teaches, that through the priests’ consecration, the bread and wine are actually converted into the Body and Blood of Christ, in a process called transubstantiation. Because of the real presence of Christ, the Eucharist is venerated not only during Mass, but also outside it. The consecrated hosts are therefore treated with the utmost care. They are stored in a tabernacle, which is kept in a prominent place, usually near the altar.

Catholics are expected to prepare themselves before communion, to examine their consciences, to confess their unworthiness, and to pray for the healing of their souls. The Church recommends that anyone who may do so should receive communion at Mass, because of the powers of Holy Communion which among several other reasons increases the Catholic’s connection with Christ.

Several years ago a young mother, with a Baptist background, became interested in becoming a Catholic by attending our weekly catechises sessions, better known as the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA). She was prompted to join the Catholic Church following her eight year old son’s enthusiastic interest in religious topics being taught in his newly adopted Catholic school. It was during these early RCIA sessions that our young mother eagerly attended our Sunday Mass. Unaware of the significance attached to the celebration of the Eucharist our curious initiate also received a consecrated hosts from an unwitting lay minister. Unfortunately, this matter did not go unnoticed by a dedicated and established member of our parish. A chase ensued, as the young uninformed mother tried to return to her seat with the uneaten portion of the hosts (she tried to consume it whole, but found it tasted too much like cardboard). Incredibly, before she got to her pew, she was physically tackled by the frantic Catholic enforcer who hoped to retrieve the host before it was 'desecrated' by the embarrassed mother. The battle thankfully came to a quick end due to quick intervention of our parish priest who had witnessed the entire proceedings from the corner of his eye. This sorrowful incident illustrates the extremes to which some of us will interpret our perceived need to protect the ‘purity’ of our faith. Is this not the same kind of attitude displayed by many religious extremist throughout the world? God does not need us to defend him from our errors. If God is the all powerful Creator, we believe him to be, is He not perfectly capable to deal with our human failings and turn them (at our request) into ‘good’? Or, do we still believe that Christ would deny us as sinners?

During my twenty plus years as a catechist in our parish I experienced several amazing incidents involving the Catholic understanding of the Sacrament of the Eucharist. On one occasion a seasoned Catholic sponsor, for one of our inquirers, admitted to an astounded audience, that he often questioned the real presence of the Body and Blood of Christ in the consecrated Host or Wine. I distinctly remember the utter silence that immediately filled the room that night. Even the pastor lapsed into complete numbness and was dumbstruck for what seemed like an eternity. In retrospect, I feel our sponsor’s honest doubt is exactly what we need to face if we wish to experience God’s call day after day. Our doubt can be the very catalyst that reminds us who we are in Christ. Playing at being holy is just that – a mask to make others, and ourselves, think we are more special and deserving in the eyes of an unconditionally loving God. It is not the ritual or the meaning behind it that gives the Eucharist its real power. Rather, it is our response to it. If we don't allow it to bring out the Christ within and share Him with those he places in our path, the purpose of the ritual will remain dormant.

More recently. I was reminded how ritual can actually present a distorted view of reality. A newly assigned pastor completely caught up in rubrics returned the unconsumed hosts with carefully rehearsed postures to lay our Lord to rest in the tabernacle. Remarkably, none of these postures or that of his assistants were aimed on any of the faith filled congregation that had just received the body of Christ! What an incredible misrepresentation of reality this ritual thus presented.

In previous blogs I have mentioned that none of the hosts should go unused or returned to the tabernacle. Jesus gave us his life completely, fully, and without conditions. The Eucharistic ritual should reflect this reality. To put it bluntly to return unused hosts to the tabernacle, suggest ‘putting God in a box’ until we need him again. Tradition does not serve us well if it does not move us beyond ritual.

With respect to the Holy Eucharist Catholics need to ask: "Where else do we find God or where does He hide?" Fr. Richard Rohr provides some wonderful insight to ponder in this regard:

We are trying to get back to the Incarnation. The hiding place of God and the revelation of God and the revelation place of God are in the material world. Jesus names reality correctly and perfectly. He puts together heaven and earth, the material and spiritual, masculine and feminine (a masculine body with an almost totally feminine soul). Above all else, Jesus is saying, don’t look into the heavens for transcendence (See Acts 1:11). The hiding place of God, and the revelation place of God, is in the material place of God, is in material bodies just like mine and just like his. The physical and spiritual have become one in Christ.

In conclusion how can the Eucharist bring all world faith traditions together so that we can all be become one?

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