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.

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