Sunday, August 28, 2016

The Church as the sacrament of the body of Christ

This summer I have been slowly reading through the late Fr. Eugene LaVerdiere's Dining in the Kingdom of God: The Origins of the Eucharist in the Gospel of Luke. I would be hard-pressed to think of a book on Luke's Gospel I would recommend over this one. It is at one and the same time scholarly and accessible. It has helped me more effectively preach from Luke over the past few months. Fr. LaVerdiere was a priest of the Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament, founded by the Apostle of Eucharist, St. Peter Julian Eymard- members of which have been very good to me over many years.

Theologically it would be difficult to exaggerate the centrality/importance of the Eucharist, of the Lord's Supper, in/for Christian life. As I grow older I experience this at deeper levels facilitated, I believe, by grace through participation in the sacred mysteries. When I think of the Lord's Supper in light of the institution narratives found in the synoptic Gospels, I realize how important is the diversity of its celebration in both historical as well as some fairly new forms. I also think it is easy to reduce the Eucharist in a variety of ways.

I find LaVerdiere's exegesis of the Last Supper in Luke 22 very insightful. He sees the meal the Lord shares with the Twelve a consisting of two parts: Last Supper and Lord's Supper. The Last Supper portion takes place in Luke 22:15-18, while the Lord's Supper is originated in Luke 22:19-22.

Before dealing with a fundamental matter concerning the Lord's Supper there is an exegetical note I want to pass along from the book. It has to do with where Jesus and the Twelve took their shared meal together- the upper room. Luke calls the room a kataluma, which in the Gospel seems to be a room built as a second story of a house and accessed by stairs leading up, not from the inside the house, but from the courtyard. According to LaVerdiere, in the Septuagint (the Greek version of the Hebrew Scriptures- Old Testament- in use among Greek-speaking Jews of the diaspora in Jesus' day and beyond) the word kataluma indicated "a place of hospitality for people on a journey" (130). Of course, in Luke's Gospel the Last Supper takes place in Jerusalem after the journey of Jesus and his disciples from their native Galilee. The Church was and remains the Pilgrim People of God, a people on a journey together, companions who share bread- as our readings from Hebrews over these weeks of listening to the Journey Narrative highlight. The seventh chapter of the Second Vatican Council's Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, is entitled "The Eschatological Nature of the Pilgrim Church and Its Union with the Church in Heaven":

DaVinci and Warhol, The Last Supper
Already the final age of the world has come upon us and the renovation of the world is irrevocably decreed and is already anticipated in some kind of a real way; for the Church already on this earth is signed with a sanctity which is real although imperfect. However, until there shall be new heavens and a new earth in which justice dwells, the pilgrim Church in her sacraments and institutions, which pertain to this present time, has the appearance of this world which is passing and she herself dwells among creatures who groan and travail in pain until now and await the revelation of the sons of God (par. 48)
Referring to what we commonly call the words of institution, Fr. LaVerdiere observes that our tendency is to interpret the word "this" in the phrase, "This is my body," which the priest says as he holds and slightly elevates the host, as referring to the host itself.

In Luke's context, LaVerdiere asserts, "this" "refers directly to Christ's action, to what he did, and indirectly to the whole event" (138-9). "This" is the celebration of the Eucharist whole and entire with all of it's full meaning, including the intended effect of the sacrament, which is accomplished once we are dismissed. By taking "this" in the phrase "this is my body" as referring specifically and/or exclusively to the bread is highly reductive. This is important because it often has a negative impact on our praxis, on what happens once we are sent forth. In short, such a view runs the risk of making the Eucharist, to cite Pope Francis, self-referential, turning it into an end and not a means. Because we remain a pilgrim people until God's reign is established, made Christ's Body by the Eucharist we share, the Eucharist remains the means God uses to restore the world to communion through Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. This is why, as Christians, we must live sacrificial lives. To believe or live otherwise is to let go of the tension and either mistake the already for the not yet, or to reject the not yet altogether.

On LaVerdiere's reading, "The liturgical proclamation, 'This is my body, which will be given for you,' recalls the words of Christ offering himself, and speaks the words of the church associating itself with Christ's offering and making his offering present sacramentally. The body given is that of Christ. It is also that of the Church, the sacrament of the body of Christ" (139).

At least for me, keeping these fundamental truths in mind helps me not get bogged down in the liturgy battles, which I don't mind admitting I find not only tiresome, but increasingly silly.

4 comments:

  1. In the world, we can see a fervent goal of reaching a consensus between different churches and revival movements through ecumenism. The Roman Catholic Church is involved in ecumenism, and many people are not familiar with the Catholic doctrine. The Catholic "gospel" is a false one, and the Catholic Church does not represent Biblical Christian faith. The late bishop Alphonsus Liguiri, the author of a very well-known book titled "The Glories of Mary", writes in the book that Mary's intercessions are absolutely necessary for salvation, and that Mary, being the mother of God, is omnipotent and can save sinners.

    More info: http://www.kotipetripaavola.com/falsemarycatholicomnipotentdoctrine.html

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  2. Without a doubt there are obstacles to communion. Mary certainly figures large among those obstacles at least between the Catholic Church and many Protestant ecclesial communions, but by no means all Protestants. Ecumenism is in no way fostered by unsubstantiated accusations that smack of old-style polemics, as in "you believe and teach a false gospel," which is the kind of statement that seeks to thwart dialogue. A Catholic could easily turn the tables and ask why, almost 1600 years after the beginning of the Church, did certain reformers decide to downgrade Mary. But both positions are to state things polemically, which does not foster dialogue aimed at achieving communion. Of course, dialogue requires a true assessment of the positions of those engaged and reckoning with the distance between them, which is why ecumenism is a slow process.

    The idea of Mary as co-mediatrix in the strong sense in which St. Alphonsus Ligori wrote about it, while not necessarily contrary to faith, is not defined Catholic doctrine and is certainly not a dogmatic position.

    Certainly Mary would be a point of candid dialogue in any movement towards communion. At least for Luther and Calvin, Mary retained much more significance than she did for Zwingli and the radical reformers who also downgraded the Lord's Supper, which is the focus of my post. The Protestant position on Mary, as well as the Eucharist, is multiform and not uniform.

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  3. god doesn't exist, haha moron u waste your life

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  4. I am sure it's as simple as all that. Anyway, God bless you.

    As I've written on my blog, being a Christian, striving to usher in God's reign, is my metaphysical rebellion. Even if it turned out not to be true, my life would not be wasted.

    Sincerely,
    Deacon Morón (please note the accent mark over the second "o")

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