Wednesday, December 31, 2008

St. Ignatius of Antioch on the Eucharist

As 2008 comes to a close, let us look at the words of St. Ignatius of Antioch in his letter to the Smyrnaeans, written around 107 A.D, shortly before his martyrdom. Speaking againsts the Docetists, who held the view that Jesus did not have a physical body, but only the illusion of a body, St. Ignatius wrote:

They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they confess not the Eucharist to be the flesh of our Saviour Jesus Christ, which suffered for our sins, and which the Father, of His goodness, raised up again. Those, therefore, who speak against this gift of God, incur death in the midst of their disputes. But it were better for them to treat it with respect, that they also might rise again. It is fitting, therefore, that you should keep aloof from such persons, and not to speak of them either in private or in public, but to give heed to the prophets, and above all, to the Gospel, in which the passion [of Christ] has been revealed to us, and the resurrection has been fully proved. But avoid all divisions, as the beginning of evils.

As early as 107 A.D., it is clear that Catholic doctrine held the Eucharist to be not a symbol of Jesus' flesh and blood, but his actual flesh and blood. The Eucharist is, as St. Ignatius says, a "gift of God," which we need to "treat...with respect" so that we "might rise again." As we prepare for mass and approach the Eucharist on the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God, let us keep these things in mind.

Monday, December 29, 2008

St. John Chrysostom on the Eucharist

I came across this passage from St. John Chrysostom's The Priesthood, cited in William A. Jurgens' Faith of the Early Fathers, Volume 2, #1118, p. 89.

When you see the Lord immolated and lying upon the altar, and the priest bent over that sacrifice praying, and all the people empurpled by that precious blood, can you think that you are still among men and on earth? Or are you not lifted up to heaven?

The imagery may be rather distasteful to many modern ears. The violence of the word "immolated" and the image of people drenched in the Precious Blood of the Lord may seem gruesome, even barbaric. However, St. John Chrysostom conveys a number of important ideas in this short passage on the Eucharist.

First, Jesus suffered a violent, unjust death for our salvation. It is easy for us to sanitize that death, become complacent about it, even forget about it.

He reminds us that it is through the Blood of the Lamb that we are saved, the fulfillment of the original Passover where the blood of lambs was put on the lintel of doors to protect the Israelites from the killing of their first-born (Exodus 12:21-30). He reminds us of those in Revelation who had "come out of the great tribulation" and "washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb" and now stood before the throne of God to serve him (Revelation 7:14-15).

Finally, he uses the color of purple rather than red to indicate the Lord's Precious Blood to remind us of our royal inheritance through Baptism, where we share with Christ the characteristics of priest, prophet, and king (see The Catechism of the Catholic Church, section 1268).

St. John Chrysostom reminds us that ours is an Incarnational faith, a faith of the body and of the senses, as well as of the spirit and the mind.

Friday, December 26, 2008

On Faith

As we continue to celebrate the season of Christmas, when we recall the great gift of the Incarnation, it is good for us to consider some ideas raised by Rose Murphy in her article in the December 26th National Catholic Reporter.

She is struggling with her faith. She rejects many teachings of the Church, yet still feels connected to the Church. While I certainly do not agree with her rejections of these doctrines, I want instead to focus on the nature of faith, reason, obedience, and journey.

Murphy writes this:

Impossible now to recapture that ardent, unquestioning faith I had as a child, and into adulthood: that Christ was physically present in communion, that I had a special guardian angel, that certain prayers chipped away at Purgatory time. Even after outgrowing those fantasies, I continued to keep a core faith in the larger Church tenets: that Jesus was the Son of God, that he died for my sins, that I was preparing for an afterlife where I would see God and presumably my parents and all those who had gone before me. Today all of that doctrine is hazy to me, not so much rejected as irrelevant. I know now that humans can never penetrate the idea of God; certainty is – and has always been -- an illusion.

It is saddening that she feels that the Real Presence in the Eucharist is a "fantasy" and "irrelevant." She believes that Jesus is the Son of God (which is probably most explicitly depicted in the Gospel of John) but does not acknowledge his Eucharistic theophany (also explicitly described in the Gospel of John in the Bread of Life discourse in Chapter 6).

Murphy goes on to say, "More and more, I see Christ as a rebel, an advocate for the poor, an agitator, an outsider who spoke truth to power and paid the ultimate price for it." While Jesus certainly is these things, Murphy is reducing Jesus to a human savior, much as the kind many of the Jewish faithful were expecting when Jesus came to overturn their expectations. However, Jesus turned out to be bigger than their (and our) conceptions of God.

Murphy still feels the tug of faith despite her doubts and rejections:

Intellectually, I can reject much of the Catholic Church, but emotionally it reels me in whenever I wander from it. I am still nourished by certain Mass rituals: the Prayers of the Faithful (with touching reminders of so much pain among my neighbors), the Sign of Peace and the communal grasp of another hand, the preparations for Eucharist, and the walk up the aisle to receive communion. Just what am I receiving? I know the act of communion matters to me, feeling the host on my tongue is significant, but I don’t know why.

I have sympathy for Murphy at this stage in her faith journey because this is the point I was at about ten years ago when I returned to the Church after almost a decade and a half in atheism. The Mass was like a magnet to me, even though I did not understand why. I went back to Mass before I believed in God again. I felt drawn. I have since come to understand that there is not a dichotomy between faith and reason, between the intellect and the emotions.

I moved from the place where Murphy is now to where I am today (and I still have far to go in growing closer to God), not by my own virtue, but by faith given to me as a gift which at some point I finally had the good sense to accept, even when I didn't fully understand the gift. And I never will fully understand the gift. The Eucharist is probably the supreme example of a matter of faith that is impenetrable through reason (whereas many other doctrines of the Church are very accessible to reason). Catholicism is a wonderful blend of mystery and sense, the spiritual and the physical.

Towards the end of her article, Murphy says that she sees "Christ as a symbolic son of God" and that "Receiving the spiritual nourishment of communion then becomes a reminder of so many people who lack food or the means to acquire it. " I cannot believe in such a small, banal god as that.

Because I have been on the part of the road of faith where Murphy is now, I know that God can bring her further down it. Tonight, when my children and I prayed a decade of the Rosary, I said a prayer for Rose Murphy to grow in her faith, to see that reason and emotion can lead her to embrace the Church's doctrines. May she pray, too, that we will grow further in our faith.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Charles de Foucauld

The Lord is near at hand!

As we prepare for the Feast of the Nativity of the Lord, some words from Charles de Foucauld can help us in that preparation.

Father de Foucauld, or "Brother Charles of Jesus" as he is known, served in the Holy Land before going to North Africa. He was murdered in 1916 on December 1 by marauders.

Brother Charles is best known for his wonderful "Abandonment Prayer":

Father, I abandon myself
into your hands;
do with me what you will.
Whatever you may do,
I thank you.

I am ready for all,
I accept all.

Let only your will be done in me
and in all your creatures.
I wish no more than this, O Lord.

Into your hands
I commend my soul;
I offer it to you,
with all the love of my heart,
for I love you, Lord,
and so need to give myself,
to surrender myself
into your hands,
without reserve,
and with boundless confidence,
for you are my Father.

Brother Charles also gives us important food for thought about the Eucharist as it relates to the Advent and Christmas seasons:

What happiness! God is with us, God is in us, our God in whom we are
and act, God who is close to us in the Tabernacle. O my God, what more do
we need? How happy we are! Emmanuel, "God with us," these are, for
all intents and purposes, the first words of the Gospel...and the last words are
"I will be with you until the end of time."


The Eucharist is Jesus, it is all Jesus! My Beloved Jesus, you are
whole and alive in the Eucharist, as fully as you were in the home of the Holy
Family in fully as you were amidst your Apostles. In the
same way, you are here, my Beloved and my All.


To adore the Holy Host, that should be the foundation of every human's


These passages are found in an excellent book called, 15 Days of Prayer with Charles de Foucauld by Michel Lefon, pp. 73-75.

Come, let us adore him.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Blessed Mother Teresa and the personal and social nature of the Eucharist

As a follow-up to Pope Benedict XVI's December 10, 2008 general audience, here is Blessed Mother Teresa talking about the relationship between the work of the Missionaries of Charity and the Eucharist:

Our lives have to continuously feed on the Eucharist. If we were not
able to see Christ under the appearance of bread, neither would it be possible
for us to discover him under the humble appearance of the bruised bodies of the

Mother Teresa shows us a moving example of what Pope Benedict called "the personal and social character of the Sacrament of the Eucharist."

Let us all live lives which continuously feed on the Eucharist so that the Eucharist may bring us closer to Jesus and to others, especially the poor. As we near the Nativity of the Lord, let us remember that he chose to come in poverty. Let us be poor in spirit and rich in compassion for those poor in the material necessities of life. But let us remember Mother Teresa constant warning about the spiritual wealth of the materially poor, and the spiritual poverty of the materially wealthy.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Pope Benedict XVI's General Audience of December 10, 2008

In his weekly General Audiences, Pope Benedict XVI has been talking about St. Paul, since this is the Year of St. Paul. In his general audience for December 10, 2008, he discusses how we enter into the "new beginning," or "new history" initiated by Christ. He then goes on to discuss two of the three sacraments of initiation: baptism and the Eucharist. The Pope says that St. Paul hands down the tradition of the Last Supper "as a precious treasure entrusted to his fidelity." This is the responsibility of the Church, tasked with faithfully perpetuating the Eucharist in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. As individuals, we are tasked with faithfully receiving the Lord in the Eucharist.

There are many good points which the Pope makes here, but I want to concentrate on the Pope's discussion of 1 Corinthians 10:16-17:

The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the Blood of
Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the Body of
Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all
partake of the one bread.

In this passage, he sees "the personal and social character of the Sacrament of the Eucharist." His words are noteworthy on this point:

Christ personally unites himself with each one of us, but Christ himself is also
united with the man and the woman who are next to me. And the bread is for me
but it is also for the other. Thus Christ unites all of us with himself and all
of us with one another. In communion we receive Christ. But Christ is likewise
united with my neighbour: Christ and my neighbour are inseparable in the
Eucharist. And thus we are all one bread and one body. A Eucharist without
solidarity with others is a Eucharist abused. And here we come to the root and,
at the same time, the kernel of the doctrine on the Church as the Body of
Christ, of the Risen Christ.
"A Eucharist without solidarity with others is a Eucharist abused." This thought is worth dwelling on. We get a sense of this in Matthew 5:23-24: "So if you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift." In the past, some people have felt that Eucharist adoration was such an abuse. But we can be in solidarity with others, even when we are not physically with them. In fact, praying before Christ in the Eucharist should bring us very close to others.

Let us treat the Eucharist as a "precious treasure" each time we receive Christ, and let this precious treasure help us to treasure our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Strength, Salvation, Eucharist

More on Christina Rossetti. One of her poems is called, "The Three Enemies." This poem is based on the traditional teaching of the three sources of tempation: the flesh, the world, and the Devil. In the poem, Rosetti sets up a call-and-response format where one speaker makes a comment about the main speaker, and the main speaker turns that comment to a spritual end.

Here's the poem in its entirety:



"Sweet, thou art pale."
"More pale to see,
Christ hung upon the cruel tree
And bore His Father's wrath for me."

"Sweet, thou art sad."
"Beneath a rod
More heavy, Christ for my sake trod
The winepress of the wrath of God."

"Sweet, thou art weary."
"Not so Christ:
Whose mighty love of me suffic'd
For Strength, Salvation, Eucharist."

"Sweet, thou art footsore."
"If I bleed,
His feet have bled; yea in my need
His Heart once bled for mine indeed."


"Sweet, thou art young."
"So He was young
Who for my sake in silence hung
Upon the Cross with Passion wrung."

"Look, thou art fair."
"He was more fair
Than men, Who deign'd for me to wear
A visage marr'd beyond compare."

"And thou hast riches."
"Daily bread:
All else is His: Who, living, dead,
For me lack'd where to lay His Head."

"And life is sweet."
"It was not so
To Him, Whose Cup did overflow
With mine unutterable woe."


"Thou drinkest deep."
"When Christ would sup
He drain'd the dregs from out my cup:
So how should I be lifted up?"

"Thou shalt win Glory."
"In the skies,
Lord Jesus, cover up mine eyes
Lest they should look on vanities."

"Thou shalt have Knowledge."
"Helpless dust!
In Thee, O Lord, I put my trust:
Answer Thou for me, Wise and Just."

"And Might."--
"Get thee behind me. Lord,
Who hast redeem'd and not abhorr'd
My soul, oh keep it by Thy Word."

For our purposes here, I want to focus on her section on "The Flesh," where Rosetti writes:

Sweet, thou art weary."
"Not so Christ:
Whose mighty love of me suffic'd
For Strength, Salvation, Eucharist."

The Eucharist is the supreme antidote to the three sources of tempation. Through the transmission of grace, the Eucharist (as do all the sacraments) gives us the strength to fight the tempations of the flesh, the world, and the Devil. Through the Eucharist we travel toward our salvation. "I am the living bread," Jesus says, "which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh" (John 6:51). Jesus transforms the temptations of the flesh and the world here through the Eucharist. In fact, Jesus goes further about the necessity of the Eucharist: "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day" (John 6:53-54).

Strength, Salvation, Eucharist. Christ came into the world to give us himself in the flesh to transform the flesh and the world. This is the true gift of Christmas, which cannot be found at a store, but can be found at your local Catholic parish.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

In the Bleak Midwinter

I've been reading Christina Rosetti's poetry recently. Rosetti was a nineteenth-century English poet (1830-1894). She was a High-Church Anglican, and her religious sensibilities were often very consonant with Roman Catholic belief and practices, although she broke off an engagement with a man who became a Catholic because of his decision.

Her best known poem is probably "A Christmas Carol," which was put to music by Gustav Holst (1874-1934) and is known as "In the Bleak Midwinter." I had never noticed this carol until this year. The music especially is so moving. Here is the poem:

A Christmas Carol

In the bleak mid-winter
Frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak mid-winter
Long ago.

Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him
Nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away
When He comes to reign:
In the bleak mid-winter
A stable-place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty,
Jesus Christ.

Enough for Him, whom cherubim
Worship night and day,
A breastful of milk
And a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him, whom angels
Fall down before,
The ox and ass and camel
Which adore.

Angels and archangels
May have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim
Thronged the air,
But only His mother
In her maiden bliss,
Worshipped the Beloved
With a kiss.

What can I give Him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd
I would bring a lamb,
If I were a wise man
I would do my part,
Yet what I can I give Him,
Give my heart.

This is a good hymn for Advent, too, because it focuses not only the coming celebration of the birth of Jesus, but also on his second coming ("Heaven and earth shall flee away/When He comes to reign"). My favorite stanza is the one about the angels and Mary ("Angels and archangels"). I love the contrast between the adoration of the heavenly host of angels--the worship of the King by his subjects--and the silent, hidden love of a mother for her child. This two-fold nature is what we are called to: we are to worship the Lord who is transcendent and infinite, but we are also called to love him in a close personal relationship, and we can do that because he took on an intimate, finite, human nature, in addition to his divine nature. And it is this bodily worship through the kiss that brings us back to the Incarnational and Eucharistic nature of this great feast of the Nativity of our Lord. Through Eucharistic adoration, we are able today to do what the Magi and the shepherds did so long ago. And in the reception of the Eucharist, we are able today to do what his mother did so long ago.

There are many beautiful versions of this carol, but here is one of my favorites, by Corinne May.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Eucharistic Christmas Novena

After a lengthy hiatus, I am returning to this blog.

I learned about a Christmas tradition I did not know about. A co-worker mentioned that she and her family go to church each day for the nine days before Christmas (December 16 through December 24) as a novena. I have never said a novena before, and I thought now might be a good time to start. I looked up Christmas novenas and found two. One is Christmas Novena (often called St. Andrew's Christmas Novena). Another is based on the "O Antiphons" and the Liturgy of the Hours.

I wanted to write a Christmas Novena with a Eucharistic perspective, and so came up with the following:

Eucharistic Christmas Novena

Come, Lord Jesus.
Son of the living God,
You came in weakness, not in strength;
in poverty, not in wealth;
in servitude, not in dominion.
Mary gave You her flesh
that You might share in our humanity;
You give us Your flesh
that we might share in Your divinity.
Prepare in our hearts a crib
where love may be born anew this Christmas
and every time we receive You in the Eucharist.

I humbly ask that You grant my prayer,

if it be consistent with Your holy will,
love of my neighbor,
and the progress of my soul:
(make your request).