Sunday, June 19, 2022

Year C Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ

Readings: Gen 14:18-12; Ps 110:1-4; 1 Cor 11:23-26; Luke 9:11b-17

Today we celebrate the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ. This solemnity is traditionally known by its Latin shorthand: Corpus Christi. So, it isn’t just a city in Texas. It is by means of the sacraments, at the center of which is the Eucharist, that theology becomes concrete. It is by celebrating the sacraments that we participate in the Paschal Mystery.

Melchizedek, who figures prominently in our reading from Genesis, is a mysterious figure. Identified as “king of Salem” and “a priest of God most high,” he offers, not a bloody animal sacrifice, but an acceptable offering of bread and wine. In Eucharistic Prayer I, the celebrant, asking God to look upon our offerings of bread and wine, which stand as symbols for offering ourselves for God’s service, “with a serene and kindly countenance” and to accept them “as once you were pleased to accept… the offering of your high priest Melchizedek.”1

Therefore, in our responsorial Psalm today we sing, referring to Jesus Christ, “You are a priest forever in the line of Melchizedek.”2 Because we live in a place where the name “Melchizedek” is one we sometimes hear, it’s important to note that the connection between Christ and Melchizedek is unique and unrepeatable. Both its uniqueness and unrepeatability are rooted in the biblical reality that, just as Melchizedek is not a descendant or even a relative of Abram, Jesus of Nazareth is not a member of the priestly tribe of Levi, but from the tribe of Judah. There is one high priesthood that of Jesus Christ. There is one High Priest: Jesus Christ.

In truth, Jesus is not a high priest after the order of the Melchizedek. Rather, Melchizedek is a type of Christ. While, chronologically, Melchizedek precedes Christ, ontologically, Christ comes before Melchizedek.3

In our reading from his First Letter to the Corinthians, Saint Paul writes that the Eucharist is something that he received from the Lord. And so, the Eucharist is what he handed on to them. Tradition is our English word for handing on. Being given directly by the Lord at his Last Supper, the Eucharist stands at the center of Tradition.

The Paschal Mystery can be summed up simply: Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again. Paul, in our reading, notes that participation in the Eucharist is participation in the Paschal Mystery: “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.”4

Christ can only come again because he ascended. Once again, he did not ascend to distance himself from us. Far from it! He ascended and then sent the Holy Spirit not just to be closer to us than he would’ve been had he remained, but to be in us and extend God’s kingdom through us.

Our Gospel links the Eucharist with God’s kingdom. Healing is a sign of God’s Kingdom. In terms of healing, Saint Ignatius of Antioch, a bishop and martyr who lived in the second century, in his own letter to the Church at Ephesus, called mystical body of Christ “the medicine of immortality, and the antidote to prevent us from dying.”5 Pope Francis, expounding on this theme, insists “the Eucharist is not the reward of saints, no, it is the Bread of sinners. This is why [Jesus] exhorts us: ‘Do not be afraid! Take and eat.’”6

As a result of what can only be described as a “Eucharistic meal,” the inspired author of Luke notes: “They all ate and were satisfied.”7 Hence, our Gospel demonstrates that our participation in the Eucharist calls us into service for the advancement of God’s kingdom.

When we think about Christ’s real presence, the only question worth addressing is What do we mean by “real”? By the power of the Holy Spirit, Christ is mystically, or spiritually, made present in the consecrated elements. Being the empiricists we are, we set spirit and matter in opposition. But for Jesus, Paul, and the Christians of ancient Corinth, what is spiritual is what is really real.

If God is spirit, then matter only exists because of spirit.8 It is the Holy Spirit that comes down and transforms the gifts we place on the altar so that, in turn, these can transform us into the body of Christ. Spirit means “breath.” To speak requires breath. In all the sacraments and in a very explicit way in the Eucharist, the word is made flesh, our flesh.

We should always be mindful that the only convincing proof that Christ is really present in the bread and in the wine, spiritually or otherwise, are the lives of those of us who partake of it. It is through our communion that together we truly become the body of Christ. Being the body of Christ means realizing, as we have all heard many times before, Christ has no hands but ours, no feet but ours, no voice but ours.

The Lord seeks to be present in us so that he can be present through us no matter our circumstances. Eucharist means thanksgiving. Hence, in the Preface to the Eucharistic Prayer we pray these words: “It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation, always and everywhere to give you thanks… through Christ our Lord.”9 Important ways of giving thanks to God for giving us Christ, the Bread of Life, are feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, giving drink to the thirsty, attending to those who are sick and in prison.

The Eucharist is not an end in itself. It is the primary means to the end of God being “all in all.”10

1 Roman Missal, The Order of Mass, Eucharistic Prayer I, sec. 93.
2 Psalm 110:4.
3 See Letter to the Hebrews 7.
4 1 Corinthians 11:26.
5 Saint Ignatius of Antioch. Letter to the Ephesians, chap. 20.
6 Pope Francis, Sunday Angelus, 6 June 2021.
7 Luke 9:17.
8 John 4:24.
9 Roman Missal, The Solemnities of the Lord, Preface of The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ.
10 1 Corinthians 15:28..

Sunday, June 12, 2022

Easter, Ascension, Pentecost, Trinity...amended

Not that many people would notice these days, but I've taken a break from blogging. I decided to take a little break for a couple of reasons. First, my minimum goal for posts in a year is 120. This works out to be 10 posts a month. I have posted 58 times this year and June is a bit more than a third over. So, I was a little ahead of schedule. My main reason is that while I am less busy than I was for the first 4+ months of 2022, I still busy. Over the past few weeks, I have been recovering from being overcommitted for a long time. This was compounded by not really having much to share and lacking the energy to dig deep enough down to bring something to the surface. Let me just say that spiritual fracking is not what I've needed.

Today, Trinity Sunday, I am feeling more relaxed, a bit more energetic. I also have time a quiet. Hence, I felt like writing something today.

We are far too prone to dismiss theology. But I think good theology is more important than it has been for a very long time. One of the concerns that I have about the Eucharistic Revival planned for the Catholic Church throughout the United States for the next few years is the potential for the proliferation of bad eucharistic theology. According to Bishop Cozzens, who is heading this effort for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the driving force behind this revival is the concern that too many Catholics reject Christ's real presence in the Eucharist.

This concern arises from a survey conducted several years ago. Even Bishop Cozzens, in the press conference rolling out the Eucharistic Revival, was forced to admit, that the survey in question has some problems. In my reading, I think what a lot of people reject is actually in line with Church teaching, namely a physicalist understanding of Christ's real presence.

By "physicalist" I mean understanding Christ's real presence as something like his corporeal body suddenly becoming present on the altar. We then dole it out like turkey at Thanksgiving. My concern is that this is the kind of thing that is going to reinforced. I wonder how much of a cue will be taken from the Second Vatican Council's Dogmatic Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum concilium, especially section seven of this important document that sits very high in terms of magisterial teaching.

Section 7 of Sacrosanctum concilium starts with this assertion:
To accomplish so great a work, Christ is always present in His Church, especially in her liturgical celebrations. He is present in the sacrifice of the Mass, not only in the person of His minister, "the same now offering, through the ministry of priests, who formerly offered himself on the cross", but especially under the Eucharistic species. By His power, He is present in the sacraments, so that when a man baptizes it is really Christ Himself who baptizes. He is present in His word, since it is He Himself who speaks when the holy scriptures are read in the Church. He is present, lastly, when the Church prays and sings, for He promised: "Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them" (Matt. 18:20) .
What this tells us is that Christ's "real" presence is fourfold. He is present in the gathering of the baptized, in the person of the priest, in the proclamation of the scriptures, and in consecrated bread and wine.

If you think about it, these are not only interrelated, they build on one another. Therefore, the culmination of the Eucharistic liturgy is not the consecration of the elements but the Communion Rite. Of course, Corpus Christi is next week. Perhaps I am getting ahead of myself. While I hesitate to use this kind of language about the Eucharist, there is a way of understanding it that leads to what I can only describe as a type of idolatry. I write that as someone who cherishes time sitting quietly with Christ in the Blessed Sacrament.

In a letter, Henri De Lubac wrote beautifully about the dangers of separating eucharistic adoration from the celebration of the Eucharist. It was De Lubac who, in his work Corpus Mysticum: Essai sur L'Eucharistie et l’Église au moyen âge, demonstrated that over time the referents to the corpus mysticum (i.e., mystical body) and the corpus verum (i.e., true body) had been reversed. He noted some of the ill effects of this reversal. This stands as an example of why good theology matters at the practical level.

Today is Trinity Sunday. There is an important thread that runs from Easter to Ascension to Pentecost to Trinity to Corpus Christi. Ascension and Pentecost, the latter of which marks the beginning of the Church, are part and parcel of the resurrection event. If you pay attention to the liturgical texts for Trinity Sunday, both the Mass and Liturgy of the Hours, and even our Gospel reading for this Year C, you will notice that the Holy Spirit figures prominently, thus linking it closely to Pentecost.

It is the Holy Spirit, sent by the Father and Son, who animates the Church making it, not the mystical Body of Christ, but the true Body of Christ- the verum corpus. It is the mystical Body of Christ (i.e., the Eucharist) that makes the Church the true Body of Christ. Understanding the "mystical" nature of the Eucharist tends to highlight the spiritual nature of the Eucharist. Therefore, moving us away from physicalism. Living as we do in a material world, to quite Madonna, even as religious people, we tend to think the empirical is what is real. For the ancients, the spiritual constituted the real. By contrast, we tend to equate the spiritual with the emphemeral.

It is by participating in and partaking of the Eucharist that we are filled and refilled and then filled again with the Holy Spirit. I am an unapologetic double processionist. That means one who holds, as Catholics confess in the Creed, that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. I will go so far as to assert that the Holy Spirit is the love between the Father and the Son personified.

It is, of course, the Holy Spirit who is called down to transform the bread and the wine into Christ's mystical body and blood. It is the Eucharist (in toto, not just in part, meaning the while eucharistic liturgy), in turn, that makes us the true, that is, "real" Body of Christ- the Body capable of making Christ really and truly present in the world. Because Jesus Christ is autobasalia, which means "the kingdom in person," wherever he is there is God's kingdom.

Grace is nothing other than God sharing divine life with us. The essence of the divine life, the life of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, is agape, self-giving, self-sacrificing love. In baptism, you were immersed in the God who is love. Being a trinity of persons means that God is love. Love that is not narcissistic requires at least a lover and a beloved. But because agape is profuse, it gives life.

Christians are people who have received and seek to give not just life but what Saint Augustine, in a letter to the wealthy Roman widow Proba, called "the life that is truly life." God is love. God is life. God is light. Knowing this, really knowing it, knowing it well enough to communicate it is a matter of experience what is really real, not warmed over paganism.

This brings me back to Christ's real presence. Just as Christ ascended and sent the Spirit not to distance himself from us but to be closer to us than if he had remained, Christ becomes present in the Eucharist only to be present in and through those who partake of it. Our lives constitute the only convincing proof (or disproof) that he is present in the bread and wine. As Michael Card sang: "the mystery of life in Christ is that Christ can live you." Christ lives in us through the Holy Spirit. Where the Spirit is the Father and Son are also.

Monday of the Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time

Readings: Hosea 2:16.17c.18.21-22; Ps 145:2-9; Matthew 9:18-26 Our Gospel today is Saint Matthew’s version of events first written about ...