Tuesday, August 02, 2005

This Is My Body: Part I

Ryan's first question:
I'm particularly interested in the personal affective response of Protestants, in particular you personally, to Catholic belief in Christ's real presence in the Eucharist. That I mean is, if Protestants were to suspend disbelief for a moment and ty to imagine that what Catholics believe about the Eucharist is true, what would Protestants be personally feeling and thinking about it? (I feel like I am explaining myself clumsily, yet I'm not sure how to say it better.)

I'm afraid I can't speak for Protestants, but only for this Protestant.

So, if I assumed the Eucharist to be true, what would my thoughts be?

Well, my first thought would be on reconciling scripture to it. There are parts of scripture which I believe contradict the Catholic understanding of the Eucharist. My first thought would be, "Can I interpret this in a way that doesn't break the rules of interpretation while supporting my new understanding of communion?" I know that answer probably betrays the part about suspending disbelief, but that's how my brain works.

Unfortunately, overcoming that barrier would be difficult. There are verses that make the Catholic doctrines regarding salvation and the Eucharist very difficult to reconcile together. For example:

John 6 is probably the central passage of discussion when it comes to Eucharistic debate. In verse 53, Jesus says, "I tell you the solemn truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in yourselves." (NET) Now, Catholics generally argue (at least, those that I've discussed the issue with) that the relevant passages of John 6 have Christ referring to the Eucharist. But this is a problem, given verse 53. Catholics also teach that Protestants are Christians, that they are part of the Church (separated, but still subject to her). Verse 53 seems to indicate, though, that if a person does not consume Christ, the Eucharist by Catholic interpretation, that a person can have no eternal life.

So then . . . how does a Protestant find salvation? Most of the major Protestant denominations reject the idea of transubstantiation (The Episcopal Church is the only one I can think of that does not). I have heard many Catholics give strange "loop-hole" type explanations as to how one can still be saved without partaking in transformed Eucharist, but this only seems to avoid Jesus telling us "the solemn truth."

What are my final thoughts on what I would think? Well, once I finished wrestling with doctrinal and denominational issues (for I would have to join a church that supported my newfound position), I'd be excited about the prospect of being able to have a literal, physical interaction with the living God, my very savior.

But I suppose that only further deepens the mystery.

1 comment:

Ryan Herr said...

I recommend that my response to Part II be read before my response to Part I.

In this comments, I'm not so much trying to persuade as I am trying to simply help clarify authentic Catholic belief.

Here are my alliterative attempts to describe the relationship between the Eucharist and salvation, between the Eucharist and eternal life:

The Eucharist is less like a prerequisite for heaven, and more like a preview of heaven.

The Eucharist is less like a ticket to heaven, and more like a taste of heaven.

You've quoted John 6:53: Jesus said to them, “I tell you the solemn truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in yourselves.”

It's my opinion that this verse should be interpreted in light of one of the most famous verses in the Bible:

Jesus replied, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)

Our ultimate longing is not merely to live forever. Our ultimate longing is union with God. When Christ speaks to us of Life, he speaks to us of Himself.

For the purposes of discussion, try to imagine for a moment that the Eucharist is wholly, truly, and substantially the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ.

Then consider two Christians. All that we know of these two Christians is that one receives the Eucharist this Sunday, and the other does not.

What do we know?

We know absolutely nothing about the faith or the sanctity of these two believers. This might be silly, but let me repeat: We know absolutely nothing about the faith or the sanctity of these two believers.

But, we do know that Life who is Christ present in an objectively different way in the Christian who receives the Eucharist than in the Christian who does not.

(We are still presupposing for the purposes of the discussion that the Eucharist is wholly, truly, and substantially the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ.)

Let me clarify that of course the Eucharist is not the only mode by which Jesus Christ is present to the world today. Any such claim would be profoundly unscriptural.

Nevertheless, I do not know of any other mode which claims to be the presence of Jesus Christ in a way even similar to the Eucharist: the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ, wholly, truly, and substantially.

Let me turn now to the Catechism, which I hope will help clarify Catholic belief.

The Catechism can be found online here. Most of these quotes are specifically from here.

A couple things to start off with:

Italics are the original emphasis of the text, and bold is my own added emphasis.

The Catholic Church often refers to herself with feminine pronouns.

The Catechism makes heavy use of quotes, with sources in footnotes. When Scripture is cited, I have added the verses from the footnotes into the text. I have not imbedded the citations to Church councils or other writings outside of the Scripture canon.

Okay, here we go:

Christ Jesus ... is present in many ways to his Church: in his word, in his Church's prayer, "where two or three are gathered in my name," (Mt 18:20) in the poor, the sick, and the imprisoned, (Mt 25:31-46) in the sacraments of which he is the author, in the sacrifice of the Mass, and in the person of the minister. But "he is present ... most especially in the Eucharistic species." ... In the most blessed sacrament of the Eucharist "the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ and, therefore, the whole Christ is truly, really, and substantially contained. This presence is called 'real' ... it is a substantial presence by which Christ, God and man, makes himself wholly and entirely present. (CCC 1373-1374)

What faith confesses, the sacraments communicate: by the sacraments of rebirth, Christians have become “children of God,” (Jn 1:12, 1 Jn 3:1) “partakers of the divine nature.” (2 Pet 1:4) Coming to see in the faith their new dignity, Christians are called to lead henceforth a life “worthy of the gospel of Christ.” (Phil 1:27) They are made capable of doing so by the grace of Christ and the gifts of his Spirit, which they receive through the sacraments and through prayer. (CCC 1692)

In the sacraments of Christ, the Church already receives the guarantee of her inheritance and even now shares in everlasting life, while “awaiting our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Christ Jesus.” (Titus 2:13) (CCC 1130)

CCC 1404
The Church knows that the Lord comes even now in his Eucharist and that he is there in our midst. However, his presence is veiled. Therefore we celebrate the Eucharist “awaiting the blessed hope and the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ,” asking to “share in your glory when every tear will be wiped away. On that day we shall see you, our God, as you are. We shall become like you and praise you for ever through Christ our Lord.”

CCC 1324-1327
The Eucharist is “the source and summit of the Christian life.” … “The Eucharist is the efficacious sign and sublime cause of that communion in the divine life and that unity of the People of God by which the Church is kept in being. It is the culmination both of God’s action sanctifying the world in Christ and of the worship men offer to Christ and through him to the Father in the Holy Spirit.” Finally, by the Eucharistic celebration we already unite ourselves with the heavenly liturgy and anticipate eternal life, when God will be all in all. (1 Cor 15:28) In brief, the Eucharist is the sum and summary of our faith. …

CCC 1336
The first announcement of the Eucharist divided the disciples, just as the announcement of the Passion scandalized them: “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” (Jn 6:60) The Eucharist and the Cross are stumbling blocks. It is the same mystery and never ceases to be an occasion of division. “Will you also go away?”: (Jn 6:67) the Lord’s question echoes through the ages, as a loving invitation to discover that only he has “the words of eternal life” (Jn 6:68) and that to receive in faith the gift of his Eucharist is to receive the Lord himself.

CCC 1391
Holy Communion augments our union with Christ. The principal fruit of receiving the Eucharist in Holy Communion is an intimate union with Christ Jesus. Indeed, the Lord said: “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.” (Jn 6:56) Life in Christ has its foundation in the Eucharistic banquet: “As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me.” (Jn 6:57)

(many more fruits of Holy Communion are discussed in CCC 1391-1401).

Anyone who’s made it this far has already read quite a bit.

However, if you’re up for more, these two links address in different ways some of the questions brought up about “Is the Eucharist required for salvation?”

Presbyterian Theologian Charles Hodge’s Objection: Is the Catholic Eucharist Absolutely Necessary for Salvation?

“Is the Mass a True Sacrifice?” (in the form of one of those fake dialogues)