Don't Play With Your Food
And Other Random Theological Rants
If I were elected Pope of Rome (and you know that if that happened, we would all be in HUGE trouble), the first thing I would do is ban Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament for at least one hundred years.
A friend of mine is a monk in an Eastern-rite monastery somewhere in the U.S. He was educated by Roman Catholic nuns in Australia before the Second Vatican Council, and he told me that every Friday the scholastic week ended with Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. He described to me vividly the scene: boys and girls processed into the chapel, complete with damp clothes and the smell of uneaten lunches from the week in their sacks. They would kneel in the front pew, the nuns vigilantly sitting behind them, while the Irish monsignor came out accompanied by two spaced-out altar boys and took out the Host and put it in the monstrance. The older girls would begin to chirp "O Salutaris Hostia", and then the old priest would begin saying:
"Blessed be Gawd.....
Blessed be His Wholy Naame..."
You know, old time religion.
Fast forward to today. Recently, the same boy now a monk went on retreat at a contemporary (very contemporary) Roman Catholic monastery, and he said that the ceremony was EXACTLY the same, humeral veil and all. Now, what is the purpose of having a humeral veil if you give out Communion in the hand? Supposedly, the Host was so sacred that the priest had to put something over his hands just to handle something that was touching It outside of Mass. Now, women in track suits grab Hosts as if they were Ritz crackers and throw them around all over the place. Theatre of the absurd? You be the judge.
Just Eat It Already :
I was reading recently Peter Martyr's Oxford Disputation. All sides of that particular debate on the Real Presence wanted to find the Patristic smoking gun, as if the Fathers of the Church obsessed over these issues like we do. Martyr's arguments are convincing only to the extent that he portrays the Patristic ideas as not being clearly on one side or another. It is evident that there was symbolic language in the Fathers, but it is also evident that the Eucharist is more than a mere symbol.
I don't think the Patristic period could conceive of the sacrament apart from its distribution. This is probably what has led to all of the problems we have today. If the Latin West had not developed the concept of the Eucharist as a thing that could be picked up, exposed, and adored, perhaps the Western Church would not have created this controversy. Other Churches don't play with their food. The Byzantine Church historically has only consecrated the reserve Eucharist once a year on Holy Thursday, and also every Sunday during Lent some extra bread is consecrated and saved for the Liturgy of Presanctified Gifts. The Coptic Church consumes all of the sacrament at their liturgy in an impressive process that can take almost a half an hour to make sure all of it is consumed.
Degrees of Presence = Degrees of Absence:
I remember once at the monastery, we left the Royal Doors open to the altar after Vespers while the abbot was anointing. All of the Roman Catholics stood in front of the Royal Doors praying to the altar that is usually not seen behind the iconostasis. Now, even though they were praying and that is a good thing, I figured that they missed the point entirely. The presence of God in that church was not on the altar alone, but in the whole church, themselves included.
In seminary I was taught about the degrees of presence of God in the world. Of course, God is present everywhere, but for traditional theology, He is present in some places more than others. In this world, God is 100% present in the Blessed Sacrament. (How does it go? "Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity", hey, I remember my Baltimore Catechism after all!) Other places, He is not so present. Maybe sort of present. Like leaving a Hallmark card with His picture on it, or maybe just His signature ("Thinking of you. Happy Birthday, God.") That is the whole thing about the "Mystical Body of Christ". The Church is the Body of Christ, but don't get your hopes up. It doesn't really mean anything (pace St. Paul). If you really want to see God, go to First Friday devotions.....
O salutaris Hostia,
Quae caeli pandis ostium......
Better yet, if I were Pope, I would rip down all of the high altars, especially the ornate ones. That could so lead to idolatry, and make God be "RIGHT THERE! SEE, THE PRISONER OF THE TABERNACLE!" Sure, that is Patristic alright. Maybe I wouldn't rip down high altars. Destroying things is a nasty affair, and we have had too much of that going on. Maybe I would just re-install rood screens or if you want to be more exotic, Eastern iconostases. Then there would be no more Tridentine Ms. American pagents in lace and gold thread, nor Oprah-style therapy sessions around the Novus Ordo table. Just worship and eating the Bread of Life.
And here we offer and present unto thee, O Lord, ourselves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and lively sacrifice unto thee; humbly beseeching thee, that all we, who are partakers of this holy Communion, may be fulfilled with thy grace and heavenly benediction. And although we be unworthy, through our manifold sins, to offer unto thee any sacrifice, yet we beseech thee to accept this our bounden duty and service; not weighing our merits, but pardoning our offences, through Jesus Christ our Lord; by whom, and with whom, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, all honour and glory be unto thee, O Father Almighty, world without end. Amen.
-1662 Book of Common Prayer
Maybe if God is ESPECIALLY in one place, and that place happens to be an "inanimate object" perhaps that has contribted to the rise of a cold rationalistic religion. Perhaps Catholicism in the early modern period wanted to secure a definite location for God in one place where they could be certain where He was, and by doing that cut Him off from the rest of creation, especially the Church, which is the New Creation. The Eucharist has always been a means to an end, and to invert this relationship, to separate the Food from the eating is a grave problem. The greatest trial of Faith is not believing that God can descend into a little white wafer to be paraded around in a gold case. The greatest trial of Faith is to believe that He can come and dwell in our sinful hearts and purify them. That is what the "wafer" is for. Let's get our priorities straight.
Playing with your food is not just messy. It can also lead to real misunderstandings.
Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed.