Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Honoring Christ's Presence in the Eucharist and the Poor


Christ is not only present in the Holy Supper, but also in the poor and oppressed…The Presence of Christ in the Eucharist and in the Poor are closely related. Ignatius of Antioch (+107) made the connection very clear in his Epistle to Smyrna. Christians are to care about real needs and suffering. Again, just as Christ himself teaches us that he is truly present in the bread and wine, he also teaches us that he is truly present in the poor, sick, naked, thirsty, hungry, imprisoned and oppressed…The pomp and ceremony which is traditionally associated with the High Mass is vain, unless we also have solidarity with the poor and oppressed. For only then are we truly worshiping the Body and Blood of Christ. - Lance 

And so our Redeemer's visible presence has passed into the sacraments. - Pope St. Leo the Great
Christianity is a Sacramental, Incarnational religion. God fills the whole creation, matter is sacred. God works through material means. We believe that God cares about creation, and reveals God's self through created matter. Jesus did not need to use mud, spittle and water to heal people, yet, the Gospels record that he did in fact do so- "A man that is called Jesus made clay, and anointed mine eyes, and said unto me, Go to the pool of Siloam, and wash: and I went and washed, and I received sight."- John 9.11, KJV (c.f., John 9.6-15).

We believe our God appeared in human form and took on a human body (Psalm 40.6,7; John 1.14; Hebrews 5.7-9). But it is not just a body that he wore as it were; God truly became a human being. Christian faith confesses that Jesus Christ is truly and fully human, and truly and fully divine. He gave his life for the life of the world.

And it is by God’s will that we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.-Hebrews 10.10,14, RSV. 
In the Holy Eucharist, the consecrated bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ.

St. Cyril of Jerusalem taught his catechumens this mystery in his Catechetical Lectures:


"1. Even of itself the teaching of the Blessed Paul is sufficient to give you a full assurance concerning those Divine Mysteries, of which having been deemed worthy, ye are become of the same body and blood with Christ. For you have just heard him say distinctly, That our Lord Jesus Christ in the night in which He was betrayed, took bread, and when He had given thanks He brake it, and gave to His disciples, saying, Take, eat, this is My Body: and having taken the cup and given thanks, lie said, Take, drink, this is My Blood. Since then He Himself declared and said of the Bread, This is My Body, who shall dare to doubt any longer? And since He has Himself affirmed and said, This is My Blood, who shall ever hesitate, saying, that it is not His blood?


2. He once in Cana of Galilee, turned the water into wine, akin to blood, and is it incredible that He should have turned wine into blood? When called to a bodily marriage, He miraculously wrought s that wonderful work; and on the children of the bride-chamber, shall He not much rather be acknowledged to have bestowed the fruition of His Body and Blood?


3. Wherefore with full assurance let us partake as of the Body and Blood of Christ: for in the figure of Bread is given to thee His Body, and in the figure of Wine His Blood; that thou by partaking of the Body and Blood of Christ, mayest be made of the same body and the same blood with Him. For thus we come to bear Christ in us, because His Body and Blood are distributed through our members; thus it is that, according to the blessed Peter, we became partakers of the divine nature.

St. Cyril of Jerusalem: Catechetical Lectures - Lecture XXII on the Body and blood of Christ

St. Cyril clearly teaches that if Jesus can turn water into wine, he can surely transform bread and wine into his Body and Blood. It is by partaking the Sacred Mystery of the Eucharist that we are deified.

Today's epistle reading is from 1 Corinthians, and teaches the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist:

The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? - 1 Corinthians 10:16-17, KJV

Archbishop Michael Ramsey of Canterbury (+) said in his book, the Gospel and the Catholic Church, that it is "a special pleading" to try and deny that this passage teaches the Real Presence of Christ in the Holy Supper. Christians from the very beginning have always believed in Christ's corporeal presence in the celebration of Holy Communion.

What's more, our Lord himself taught the doctrine of his Body and Blood, which we read in today's Gospel:

"I am the living bread 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." The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?" So Jesus said to them, "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. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me. This is the bread which came down from heaven, not such as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live for ever." - John 6:51-58, RSV


Some Christians object and say that he is not speaking of the Eucharist. They say that Jesus could not have been speaking about the Eucharist because it was not being celebrated yet. But this is a rationalist argument, which does not understand the type of literature the Gospel is written in. Early Christians would have understood this passage in John's Gospel, which does not include a narrative of the Last Supper, to refer to the Holy Eucharist.
This is made clear by the witness of St. Ignatius of Antioch, a bishop consecrated by Peter himself, and a disciple of John:

They (the Docetists) have no care for love, no thought for the widow and orphan, none at all for the afflicted, the captive, the hungry, or the thirsty. They even absent themselves from the Eucharist and public prayers, because they will not admit that the Eucharist is the self-same Body of our Saviour Jesus Christ which suffered for our sins... - Epistle to the Smyrnaeans 6-7. 

The witness of Ignatius and many other early Christian writers is that Eucharist is indeed the very Body and Blood of Christ.

But Ignatius teaches that Christ is not only present in the Holy Supper, but also in the poor and oppressed. The opponents that Ignatius is criticizing in the passage above not only deny the Presence of Christ in Holy Communion, but fail to care for those oppressed and poor.
The Presence of Christ in the Eucharist and in the Poor are closely related. Christianity, as Bishop Desmond Tutu says, is a materialistic religion. Christians are to care about real needs and suffering. Again, just as Christ himself teaches us that he is truly present in the bread and wine, he also teaches us that he is truly present in the poor, sick, naked, thirsty, hungry, imprisoned and oppressed (c.f., Matthew 25.31-46).

We cannot worship Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, but fail to recognize him in the oppressed:

"You cannot claim to worship Jesus in the Tabernacle, if you do not pity Jesus in the slums. It is folly - it is madness - to suppose that you can worship Jesus in the Sacraments and Jesus on the throne of glory, when you are sweating him in the souls and bodies of his children." -Anglican Bishop Frank Weston

St. John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople, also gives a power teaching this truth, connecting Christ in the Eucharist with Christ in the poor:

"You make golden vessels, but Christ himself is starving. You make golden chalices, but fail to offer cups of cold water to the needy. Christ, as a homeless stranger, is wandering around and begging, and instead of receiving Him you make decorations."

If you wish to honor the Eucharistic Victim, offer your own soul for which the Victim was immolated. Make your own soul all of gold. If your soul remains viler than lead or clay, what good does it do to have a golden chalice? Do you wish to honor the Body of Christ? Then do not disdain Him when you see Him in rags. After having honored Him in Church with silken vestments, do not leave Him to die of cold outside for lack of clothing. For it is the same Jesus Who says, “This is My Body” and Who says “I was hungry but you would not feed Me. Whenever you refused to help one of these least important ones, you refused to help me.” The Body of Christ in the Eucharist demands pure souls, not costly garments. But in the poor He demands all our care. Let us act wisely. Let us honor Christ as He Himself wishes to be honored; the most acceptable honor to one whom we would honor is the honor which He desired, not that which we ourselves imagine. Peter thought he was honoring his Master by not letting the Lord wash his feet; and yet it was just the opposite. Give Him the honor which He Himself has asked for, by giving your money to the poor. Once again what God wants is not so much golden chalices but golden souls.

- St. John Chrysostom

The pomp and ceremony which is traditionally associated with the High Mass is vain, unless we also have solidarity with the poor and oppressed. For only then are we truly worshiping the Body and Blood of Christ.

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