Tuesday 18 August 2015

Mad Trad 6: E is for Eucharist

No role, lack of inclusion.
"As a lay pastoral associate... I am disappointed that the Prairie Messenger would decide to have a column whose goal or hope is to share a past generation's perceived Catholic tradition/heritage... Is this necessary or even marginally helpful to those challenged and angered by church structure, authority and tradition in the wake of clergy sexual abuse scandals?... When Dorothy Cummings McLean shares her own perspective on Catholic heritage, is she also going to include an explanation on the lack of inclusion and role that women had in a pre-Vatican II church?"  

Hello! It's Traddie Tuesday, the day I wax lyrical on traditional Catholic doctrine and praxis. Currently I have been posting my old Prairie Messenger columns, hoping they will find a more congenial audience. When I run out, I will write the last twelve I planned for the column. Knowing Canadian Catholic politics, I didn't think I'd have the chance to write more than 26.

It was great fun writing for The Prairie Messenger, waiting to be fired. That doesn't sound very professional, and I certainly didn't want to be fired. However, I had already been through the grinding wheels of the Spirit of Vatican II (not to be confused with the Holy Spirit), and you only die once. After that, you pop up every time you get knocked down again, like an inflatable clown.

No role, lack of inclusion.
Having been granted the opportunity, I preached traditional Catholicism to the unconverted as well as I could, in 800 word doses. Needless to say, there was opposition, and the courageous editor found herself having to justify to friends the inclusion of my writings in the paper. It was just all too clear that I was not singing a New Church into being.

Singing the New Song is expected of graduates of Canadian theology schools, and life can be very interesting for those graduates who discover that they are traditionalists who love the Church and are not interested in exchanging her for a new one. One of them told me he understood that he would have to suffer for the rest of his life, and I believe him. Nevertheless, time is on our side, to say nothing of all the devotions we have picked out of the recycling bin.

A Hard Teaching

It was twenty years ago. I was a teenager, picketing an abortion clinic with my friends. Across the street were fans of the clinic, hoping to outstay us. Who could hold out longer? It was a dreary game, especially on cold days.
“It’s Holy Thursday,” shouted an abortion clinic supporter. “Shouldn’t you be in church?”
There were various jeers from their side of the street and then:
“You know what? They eat their God. Ewwwwww!”
“Very truly, I tell you,” Jesus had said almost two thousand years before, in front of a rather different but still restive crowd, “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my blood and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them” (John 6: 52-56).
Cannibalism, then as now, was considered disgusting. Some of Jesus’s own disciples started murmuring, “This is a hard teaching; who can accept it?” They took his words literally, and Jesus did not say they had misunderstood. Many of them left. The Twelve, however, stayed.
Today many Catholics are confused about the Holy Eucharist, but the Church’s teaching has not changed. Like the Orthodox Church, and not like the reformed traditions, faith-filled Catholics hold that during the Eucharistic celebration, the bread and wine, “by the words of Christ and the invocation of the Holy Spirit become Christ’s Body and Blood” (CCC 1324). The body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ are present in the consecrated host and chalice. “This is my body” said Jesus at the Last Supper according to Matthew, Mark, Luke and Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. “This is my blood.”
“Whoever, therefore,” says St. Paul, “eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be answerable for the body and blood of the Lord. Examine yourselves, and only then eat of the bread and drink of the cup” (1 Cor 11:27-28).
St. Justin Martyr, in his letter to the Roman Senate around 150 AD, denies that the Eucharist is merely bread and wine but the flesh and blood of Jesus made flesh. He explains, “… [T]his food is called among us Εὐχαριστία [Eucharist], of which no one is allowed to partake but the [person] who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins, and unto regeneration, and who is so living as Christ has enjoined. For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Saviour, having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh” (Apology, 1, 66).
The Eucharist is also the symbol of our one-ness in the Lord. We Catholics, Orthodox and (in an imperfect way, which precludes their reception of the Holy Eucharist) other Christians are, symbolically, the Body of Christ. Perhaps this was underemphasized before I was born; it is certainly stressed now. At times this focus on us, the symbolic Body of Christ, has been at the expense of reverence towards the literal Body of Christ.
This irreverence is unfortunate and unnecessary. There is no war between the symbol and the sacrament. Meanwhile, whereas we can see the community, our imperfect senses cannot see either the humanity or the divinity in Holy Communion. We rely on faith. Irreverence erodes faith. Reverence fosters it.
St. Thomas Aquinas wrote a reverent hymn to the Holy Eucharist called “Adoro Te Devote.” I love it because it confronts the divide between our senses and our faith. Here are two verses of one translation:
O Godhead hid, devoutly I adore Thee,
Who truly art within the forms before me;
To Thee my heart I bow with bended knee,
As failing quite in contemplating Thee.

Sight, touch, and taste in Thee are each deceived;
The ear alone most safely is believed:
I believe all the Son of God has spoken,
Than Truth's own word there is no truer token.

Apparently belief in the True Presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist is on the wane. If this is true, Catholics are being failed by our priests, our catechists and, dare I say it, our liturgists, too.
No role.


  1. You're a talented writer, Seraphic. This column should be compulsorily read at every Mass around the world, perhaps on the Feast of Corpus Christi, as far too many of us Catholics are complacent about the nature of the Eucharist - I know I was when younger!
    Pity the Messenger didn't continue your column, but I understand the pressures your editor would have been under - Canada is one of the most liberal nations on Earth, and that has it's influence inside the local Church.
    Southern Bloke.

  2. Thank you! Yes, I believe the editor was squeezed and squeezed until she couldn't take it any more.

  3. When I read these columns (and now one of the complaints), I thank God that I was born when I was. I think I was very lucky to have been brought up when some 'resurgent' traditional ideas were floating - that it was okay to have the occasional sprinkling of Latin, a priest actually owned a biretta, or a school which actually taught us our prayers and our faith (although sometimes on the fluffy end, but that really wasn't their fault). I know people whine about the 70s being the worst time for the church, but I've really thought it was the 80s and early 90s where all the worst of the problems occurred.
    The really sad thing is, none of your posts have said anything truly revolutionary (or mad-tradish either). This is the faith and really the faith of all Catholics: trad, charismatic or otherwise. You've got to wonder why those who didn't like your column hated their history and traditions so much.

    1. Yes. So far I have posted one column on "Gosh, how come my father's experience of growing Catholic was so different from mine?", one on the Asperges, one on Benediction, one on Confession, and one on the Eucharist. Not exactly on the level of "the Pope should wear red shoes", are they? That said, given when the letter appeared, it looked to me that she panicked at the first column, or at most the first two.

    2. Must have been. Particularly because your tone struck me as just admiring the good things about our traditions rather than a call for all these things to be implemented immediately before work begins on restoring the 1917 Code of canon law and with it sex-segregated pews.

    3. Just admiring the good things about our traditions can be considered a counter-revolutionary act.

    4. Meanwhile, I have to admit that I did not hold back from a little gentle snarking, e.g. "The Dies Irae, which was sung at Requiem Masses for hundreds of years, depicts Judgment Day so dramatically that it inspired some of the greatest music ever written and was discarded as unpastoral in 1970." Hee hee hee!

  4. I enjoyed your columns at the time & was impressed you and the editor were able to hold out as long as you did. It was amazing to me how straightforward descriptions & happiness toward old traditions got so much criticism.

    I just don't get how the Church was able to survive without pastoral lay associates.


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