Saturday, November 21, 2015

Eucharist as immanentized eschaton

I suppose this post can be considered as a bookend to my post on the Eucharist from a few Saturdays ago.

Last night I was reflecting on Eucharistic miracles. The kind of thing I am referring to are those phenomena like bleeding consecrated hosts, or host taking on the properties of human flesh, or the consecrated wine becoming human blood. I don't invoke these miracles either to lampoon or promote them. I will note that no Catholic is obligated to believe even those miracles that have been "approved" by the Church.

If I'm not mistaken, the "approval" of Eucharistic miracles is more negative than positive, meaning that the observed phenomenon cannot be adequately or exclusively explained in terms of the natural. I never tire of pointing out that the most compelling proof that the consecrated bread and wine become Jesus Christ are lives of those of us who eat and drink it. Let's face it, for many people this constitutes the only meaningful proof for the truthfulness of this belief of faith.

Christ in Majesty, National Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, Washington, DC

Our belief that bread and wine, once consecrated, become Jesus Christ body, blood, soul, and divinity is a belief of faith, not of reason. This assertion does not mean that it can't be reasonably explained and apprehended. I use "apprehended" because this mystery can never be fully comprehended, either in terms of what happens or how it occurs. Transubstantiation, which is a dogma, that is, something that Catholics must believe with divine and Catholic faith, is a way of reasonably explaining how the consecrated elements are substantially, that is, metaphysically, transformed while remaining physically unchanged. Orthodox Catholic belief concerning the Eucharist has always steered clear of any and all attempts to reduce Christ's Real Presence in the Eucharistic species to a cheap magic trick.

As we approach tomorrow's solemnity, the Church's annual looking forward to the end of time, I think it's important to note that in a very real sense each and every celebration of the Eucharist is an immanentized eschaton. Given all that is happening in the world at present, it is easy to conceive that we live in the end times. It's important to keep in mind that from a Christian perspective, we've been living in the end times since our Lord's Ascension. In other words, the Lord's return isn't any more imminent now than it ever is- His return is always imminent.

My personal understanding of the Eucharist does not preclude or exclude miraculous occurrences, but neither does it rely on such extraordinary manifestations. The Eucharist is always a miracle.

I think our grasp of the Eucharist must remain firmly rooted in the Incarnation, in the second Person of the Trinity, "who humbled himself to share in our humanity." As Kenneth Tanner recently noted: "Jesus is how God is human and we do not become human until we are human as God is human." This nicely states what Archbishop Francisco Javier Martínez Fernández Martinez of Granada, Spain noted in his talk "Beyond Secular Reason"- "The Eucharist is the only place of resistance to the annihilation of the human subject."

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