Tuesday, September 25, 2012

(94) The Eucharist: Pagan Idolatry????


            At a baby shower a devout Evangelical and a friend tried with good intentions and motives of Christian charity to help and “save” my wife from her “pagan” belief……that in a miraculous and mysterious way the Eucharist is truly the body and blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ under the appearances of bread and wine.  He called adoration of the Eucharist “idolatry”.  Is the Eucharist beyond God’s power?

            My friend, if Catholics are correct in our belief and you are wrong, you are missing out on God’s greatest gift on this side of eternity.  For the sake of argument, if we are wrong (we are not), God would still honor our sincerity because the focus is not upon a piece of bread, but upon Him.  If we are right, you have so much more to gain than anything you can give to us.  So it behooves us to understand each other in a true spirit of Christian dialogue and objectivity.   After all, there’s so much more that unites us than divides us……the Bible, moral theology, and Christ Himself.  Furthermore we are in a great spiritual-cultural war with secularism that threatens to destroy our Country.  So let’s fight together instead of fighting each other.  Let’s examine this profound theological concept……the Eucharist.

                                  
             If we simply adore a piece of bread, you’re right in calling it idolatry.  If we believe that Christ is only spiritually present in the Eucharist as the Episcopalians, we are in error.  If we believe that the Eucharist simply represents Christ at the Last Supper, we are in greater error as in the passion play in Cambridge, Ohio which deviates from the Bible in portraying Christ as saying: "This is AS my body; this is AS my blood”.

Last Supper, Full, painting by Leonardo Da Vinci, 1498


Leonardo da Vinci’s depiction of the Last Supper.  He captures the moment when Christ said: “One of you is about to betray me” and the apostles in shock ask: “Is it I Lord?” (Matthew 26:21-22).  


Transubstantiation in the Catholic Liturgy.  The priest, representing Christ at every Liturgy (commonly called Mass) and empowered by Him through the apostles and their successors, repeats the words of Christ at the Last Supper “This IS my body……this IS my blood” (Matthew 26: 26-28; Mark 14: 22-24; Luke 22:19-20) and thus changes bread and wine into the body and blood of the Son of God……a new reality, a miraculous change of substance although under the appearances of bread and wine, a true miracle that occurs every moment somewhere in the world in the universal Church 24/7.  The sun, for example, appears to move in the sky, but does not.  The congregation then believes that Christ is present on the altar as the Last Supper and a few minutes later the sacrifice of Calvary are brought to us and mysteriously made present in a miraculous way that transcends time. 
  
         In the Old Testament the Jews offered a spotless lamb to God.  In the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass we together with the priest acting for Christ offer Him to God in Calvary made present in reparation for the sins of humanity past, present, and future.  As the Jews consumed the Lamb, we consume the Lamb of God in Holy Communion.  In this way God feeds us with His body and blood….. food for the soul that nourishes and strengthens us.

This is communion with the infinite.  Christ comes into our hearts (our being) and becomes part of us for a short period of time……some theologians say the time it takes for initial digestion, some 10-15 minutes.  This is the most intimate union with God this side of eternity.  After becoming one of us and sacrificing Himself on Calvary to save us from our sins and make salvation possible, Christ gives us Himself in the Eucharist at every Mass.  This is God’s greatest gift to us on earth.  The infinite almighty and all knowing perfect God, the creator and King of the universe manifests His infinite love for us by coming into our hearts. 

           Reception of the Eucharist is not only communion with the infinite; it also brings all participants at Mass in loving communion with each other at a common feast…….rich and poor, the powerful and the weak, the healthy and the sick, black and white.  In addition each worthy reception of the Eucharist nourishes and strengthens the soul, brings us graces, forgiveness for our venial sins, and a greater closeness to God.

So awesome, so incredible, so hard to believe that acceptance of the Eucharist requires a great leap of faith which is in itself a gift of grace.  It’s difficult to believe that which we don’t understand and can’t control.  Let’s look at revelation and reason as aids to faith.  First of all, is the miracle of the Eucharist beyond God’s infinite power?  God’s love for each of us is infinite, right?……to the point of giving up His heavenly throne and humbling Himself to become one of us to teach us how to live, to suffer greatly and die for our sins?  Then is His willingness to come to each of us sacramentally in the Eucharist in a very real way and be closely united with each person beyond His love?  Holy Communion is more than simply receiving Christ spiritually; it’s more intimate, analogous to being able to hug our Lord. 

No passage in the Bible is more explicit regarding the Eucharist than John 6…….”Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life.  I am the bread of life.   Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died; this is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die.  I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world."

The Jews quarreled among themselves, saying, "How can this man give us (his) flesh to eat?"  Jesus said to them, "Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.  Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day.  For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.  Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.  Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me.  This is the bread that came down from heaven. Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever."

These things he said while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.  Then many of his disciples who were listening said, "This saying is hard; who can accept it?"  Since Jesus knew that his disciples were murmuring about this, he said to them, "Does this shock you?  What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? 

It is the spirit that gives life, while the flesh is of no avail. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life.  But there are some of you who do not believe." Jesus knew from the beginning the ones who would not believe and the one who would betray him.  And he said, "For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by my Father." (John 6:47-69) 


As a result of this, many (of) his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.  Jesus then said to the Twelve, "Do you also want to leave?"  Simon Peter answered him, "Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.  We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God." 
       Our separated brethren take everything in the Bible literally, but interpret John 6 as symbolic.  Why?  If people of integrity would take this selection literally they would have to accept the Eucharist.  Many disciples left Christ because they would not accept such radical statements.  If Christ meant symbolic, He would have called them back in order to clarify His words.  Everything that Christ said was not addressed simply to the people of His times, but also to all of us through the ages.
            The First Christians and the Early Church Fathers believed in the Eucharist and practiced a liturgy similar to today.  Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman (see Blog #93), a noted Anglican theologian of the 19th Century, and others studied the Early Church Fathers and concluded that the Catholic Church is the Church founded by Christ.  The Early Church Fathers are very credible because many of them learnt the faith from the original apostles or their direct disciples.  It was they who passed down the teachings of the original apostles.  This we call tradition, some of which is not explicit in the Bible, but commonly believed by all Christians.  Tradition is a big help in interpreting the Bible.


            St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 10 & 11 gives a teaching on the Eucharist and the real presence, clearly stating that under the pain of serious sin, one must receive it worthily, believing that it is truly the body of Christ.  We see that in the two passages below:  

           “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?  Because the loaf of bread is one, we, though many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf.”  (1Corinthians 10:16-17)


          “Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord.  A person should examine himself, and so eat the bread and drink the cup.  For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself.” (1 Corinthians 11:27-29).

            God has granted numerous Miracles of the Eucharist over the centuries to reinforce the faith of the believers and help the doubters.  They are optional for Catholics to believe or reject.  Click on http://www.catholicdoors.com/misc/eucharisticmiracles.htm for descriptions of over 100 of them since the 4th Century, including two articles on Lanciano below with photos.  Bob and Penny Lord have visited many sites, wrote books, filmed many sites and produced many television programs on EWTN and DVDs.  They can be purchased at http://www.bobandpennylord.com/miracles-of-the-eucharist.htm.  More can be obtained in different languages at http://www.therealpresence.org/eucharst/mir/a3.html.

            The most famous Eucharistic miracle occurred in Lanciano, Italy near Sienna in the year 750 AD.  A priest was struggling with doubts over the authenticity of the Eucharist.  One day as he consecrated the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ, the host turned into human flesh and the wine turned into human blood in the presence of the congregation.   

           For 1250 years the human flesh and blood has not decomposed.  According to investigations, the most recent in 1970-71 and 1981 by medical professors of the University of Siena-Italy, the flesh is part of the human heart and the blood type AB matches the blood on the Holy Shroud of Turin.  

            We see below the reliquary containing the flesh and coagulated blood.  The flesh consists of part of the myocardium, more precisely of the left ventricle. The arteries and veins can be easily identified, as well as a double, slender branch of the vagus nerve.  The blood is coagulated into five equal parts and weight, corresponding to the five wounds of Christ.  For a medical analysis by Dr. Edoardo Linoli, a professor of anatomy and pathological histology, and of chemistry and clinical microscopy, and former head of the Laboratory of Pathological Anatomy at the Hospital of Arezzo, click on http://www.zenit.org/article-12933?l=english
 Close-up of the Eucharistic Miracle in Lanciano, Italy                                                                                       


          The Eucharist: Source and Summit of the Life and Mission of the Church.  The Eleventh Synod of Bishops in union with Pope John Paul II in 2005 sought a greater understanding of this great miracle that occurs at the Consecration during every Catholic Liturgy (often called Mass) that is going on every minute of every day somewhere in the world.  The Synod produced the document, “The Eucharist: Source and Summit of the Life and Mission of the Church”.   (click on

http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/synod/documents/rc_synod_doc_20040528_lineamenta-xi-assembly_en.html).

             When we get to heaven, there will certainly be many surprises as St. Paul points out in 1Corinthians 2:9-10.  "What eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, and what has not entered the human heart, what God has prepared for those who love him."  Then my dear friend, you will discover for yourself and understand the truth of the Eucharist as God’s greatest gift on earth that you are depriving yourself of.  Patrick Madrid has written a series of books “Surprised By Truth” chronicling the conversion stories of 36 people and their journeys to faith with their intellectual struggles (see www.patrickmadrid.com) .

For other sources, click on http://fdlc.org/Synod.htm.  To see a short video that shows that many attempts were made to destroy the Church, but never succeeded because Christ will always be with His Church (Matthew 28:20) and the gates of hell will not prevail against it (Matthew 16:18), click on http://www.youtube.com/user/uCatholic.  


Other miracles are captured on http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jqsRDD6kXWY ……interesting, but some may be considered as questionable.  

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