The Sarabite: Towards an Aesthetic Christianity

There is a continuous attraction, beginning with God, going to the world, and ending at last with God, an attraction which returns to the same place where it began as though in a kind of circle. -Marsilio Ficino

Monday, November 06, 2006

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.


At 7:45 AM, Blogger Anaxagoras said...

Exactly. The Holy Gifts are truly what the Church says they are, *BUT* their only purpose- the absolute only purpose God has granted them to us- is for consumption by the faithful. It is food, Holy Food, but still food.

I've often had the creeping suspicion that the West sees the liturgy primarily as "the thing we do to make the Jesus cookie". I'm sorry if that sounds disrespectful, but that is how it looks from my perspective. The Mass is not a ritual for the production of the Eucharist... we don't do an elaborate dance in order to make magic Bread and then take aside this Bread so that we can examine it, encase it in a monstrance, elevate it, have people pray before it, etc.

I understand that the West had Eucharistic controversies not present in the East and therefore they treat the Eucharist differently in order to show the world what it really is... but still. Why not just have Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament only once a year on the feast of Corpus Cristi? That would get the point across.


At 9:49 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Personally, I hold the idiosyncratic view of objective real presense in the elements CONDITIONED on the intent of reception by the faithful either immediatlely or at some piont in the relatively near future. This is not strict receptionism or strict transubstantianalism, but a mystery that seems to capture the Church's historic practise.

Thus, consecration for "play," not partaking, is invalid and vain. But, consecration and reservation FOR THE SICK OR HOMEBOUND (conditioned on proper intent), is valid and not vain.

The real puzzle is what happens when validly reseved sacraments (for the sick, etc.) are just worhped or played with no intent of partakjing? Well, I would say that the children who "play with their food" are doing a very impious thing contrary to our Lord's instructions ("take, eat") and may very well suffer the similar consequneces as those who receive impurely.

At 10:30 PM, Blogger Sean Roberts said...

Dear Br. Humeral Vail,

Aren't the gifts in the west, even those used for adoration, etc, eventually consumed? I assume they don't take it from the monstrance and toss it out.

Just curious.

At 12:47 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, one thing is certain: you're getting only crackers, now, Anglican boy.

At 10:14 AM, Blogger Arturo Vasquez said...

My crackers taste better than yours!

At 10:26 AM, Blogger Arturo Vasquez said...


The host that goes in the luna is usually indeed consumed at some point, usually by a priest doing Mass on the altar that the Tabernacle is on. The bottom line is that is usually consumed as "excess", that is it is not consecrated to be consumed but rather to be adored.

At 10:57 AM, Blogger Arturo Vasquez said...

Dear "yeap",

Hecklers are welcomed! Can I get a shout-out from the peanut gallery?!

At 1:36 PM, Blogger Paul Goings said...

The host that goes in the luna is usually indeed consumed at some point, usually by a priest doing Mass on the altar that the Tabernacle is on. The bottom line is that is usually consumed as "excess", that is it is not consecrated to be consumed but rather to be adored.

I'm sure that this abuse exists in some places, but it is by no means universal, much less commanded.

If we are to reserve the Most Blessed Sacrament for the use of the sick, according to the practice of the primitive Church, then surely there can be no objection to acknowledging the unique sacramental presence of Our Lord when we are in church for reasons other than celebrating the Holy Mysteries.

So the custom of having Benediction after Vespers on Sunday cannot be objected to because it creates a dichotomy between eating and adoring. Unless one wants to suggest that the Eucharist should be celebrated whenever we gather? The Divine Office is all but abandoned in practice; shall we abandon it in theory as well?

At 7:10 PM, Blogger Arturo Vasquez said...

Mr. Goings,

I don't understand what you are saying. What does having to do Mass eveytime we get together have to do with singing the Divine Office?

I suppose you can take this post as being very tounge-in-cheek, but there is a message I want to get across. Of course, it would be too shocking to get rid of the cult of the Blessed Sacrament right away in the Roman Catholic Church, so it would not be commended at all. What has to be gotten rid of is the sense the the Body of Christ is an "object" other that the Church: "caput et corpus, Christus totus". That is the main point, and I think the cult of the Blessed Sacrament has really harmed this central idea of the Faith. And I thought this when I was in communion with Rome as well, not just because I left the Roman Church.

And Vespers would be so much nicer WITHOUT Benediction, which is just a big para-litugical show that diverts from the evening sacrifice of praise.

At 7:06 AM, Blogger Anaxagoras said...

"And Vespers would be so much nicer WITHOUT Benediction, which is just a big para-litugical show that diverts from the evening sacrifice of praise."

It also leads to a "Eucharist only" mentality among Christians. You even see a hint of this in Paul Going's comment above. No Benediction = no Vespers? Why? It isn't as though Church is worth going to solely for the reception of the Eucharist (or the adoration of it). When I've told my (Novus Ordo) Roman friends that I'm going to daily Vespers on Wednesday, they've consistently asked, "Oh, is that like Mass in the evening?" I've explained to them that it is actually a prayer service, and they look shocked. "So you mean you don't get communion?"

If anything, the excessive cult of the Eucharist (meaning that it isn't worth stepping into a church unless the Eucharist is going to be there in one form or another) leads to the diminshed importance of the Divine Office. Ask yourself: How many Catholic parished have Matins before Mass on Sunday morning? Now ask: how many have three Masses to make sure everyone gets accomodated?


At 7:20 AM, Blogger Paul Goings said...

I don't understand what you are saying. What does having to do Mass eveytime we get together have to do with singing the Divine Office?

Well, I'm sure you'd agree that there's been a total neglect of the public recitation of the Divine Office on the part of most the liturgical reformers. Sure, it's all there on paper, but just try to actually find it. That was my point--we don't want to celebrate the Holy Eucharist every time we gather. (Not that I believe that you, personally, disagree, but it's a common enough opinion.)

I think the cult of the Blessed Sacrament has really harmed this central idea of the Faith

Funny, I tend to think just the opposite, especially in our current age of advanced technology, virtual reality, etc. I see people getting bogged down in a morass of ideas and concepts, religious or otherwise, and away from the natural world, and the "messiness" of matter. Against this I believe that the cultus of the Most Blessed Sacrament (and also that of the Most Sacred Heart) is a very healthy and wholesome remedy. It is a powerful reminder of the idea that God, the creator of all, is not just some abstract idea, like so many lines of computer code, but is rather a divine lover, who loves us so much that he condescends to dwell among us under the forms of bread and wine, and yet not bereft of his power and glory.

And Vespers would be so much nicer WITHOUT Benediction, which is just a big para-litugical show that diverts from the evening sacrifice of praise.

I think that this must correlate with one's culture, or at least with the culture which one desires to embrace. Benediction is an opportunity for us to pour out our love for God in an emotional, sentimental, rather saccharine, way, that many of us find extremely helpful, and also to perceive his love for us in the same manner. This is generally typical of Mediterranean culture, and somewhat opposed to that of Anglo-Saxon culture, whose more usual approach to the idea of romantic love can be summed up with the old saying, "Just close your eyes, and think of England."

At 7:27 AM, Blogger Paul Goings said...

I guess I should also mention, in case anyone is confused about what I'm advocating, that I do not mean to suggest that Vespers (or any of the other Hours) should always and everywhere be followed by Benediction. Indeed, in my parish, several of the Hours are celebrated on Sunday, and only one of them is followed by Benediction (and only during the winter months).

That said, Benediction is very consoling after Solemn Vespers on Sunday evenings, and I would miss it if it were discarded. And I'm also not sure how it would improve things any, if we were to omit it. I guess that's what I don't get, Why is there anything wrong with a brief period of affective prayer after Vespers on Sunday evenings?


Post a Comment

<< Home