by Fr. Tom Collins
The humble reverence and love of Pope Francis for those suffering the crippling effects of poverty is a profound inspiration for many, both within and outside the Catholic Church. And these attitudes have deep roots in the mystery and ministry of the Eucharistic Christ, which are often overlooked.
The first of these is the fact that the Eucharistic Christ is the source, sustenance and summit of the life of the Church. As such, He is always dynamically investing Himself into the life and ministry of His Bride. This is important to note, since some serious errors have infected the thinking of many theologians and liturgists regarding the nature of the Real Presence of Christ as the Blessed Sacrament. The first of these is the idea that Jesus comes to us in the Blessed Sacrament. This is what Luther taught. But the Church teaching on this matter is that Christ is really present to us as the Blessed Sacrament. Luther viewed the sacred elements as merely a means of conveyance, analogous to an automobile, whereby Christ comes to the soul. Through
the doctrine of transubstantiation, though, the Church proclaims that the sacred species are not merely a means of conveyance, but actually Jesus Himself, giving Himself totally to the one receiving Him in the state of grace.
Thus it is that the Blessed Sacrament is not merely a mode of Christ’s presence, analogous to an e-mail, a phone call, or a text message, but rather the whole Christ Himself, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity, sharing His very Self to the one receiving Him. Likewise, this presence must be real, not merely symbolic. For if God is perfect love, He must be able to love not merely by giving Himself symbolically, but perfectly and substantially. By way of analogy, we expect that a husband would love his wife really, and not merely symbolically. And, theologically, we must ask whether, if the best Christ Himself can do is to give Himself in love symbolically, how can a Christian be expected to be better than God by giving his life to Christ substantially?
This bring up another error that undermines our ability to evangelize. There is a school of thought among liturgists that Christ is somehow more dynamically present as the Blessed Sacrament during the liturgy than He is in the tabernacle. Some even go as far as to say that distributing hosts from the tabernacle during Mass would be like inviting someone to dinner, and then serving them leftovers. Aside from viewing the Person of the Eucharistic Christ as merely an object, such a perspective would indicate that there are two Christ’s – the dynamic Christ present during the liturgy and the static Christ, waiting in reserve in the tabernacle in case He is needed at Mass or to nurture the infirm, who cannot get to Mass. And aside from denying the reality of Christ’s preferential option for the suffering poor (implying that Jesus only wants to give Himself to them in a secondary and static manner) such theology also implies that each Mass is so autonomous (alienated?) that using Hosts from Masses offered at other times by other congregations would somehow infringe on the integrity of that Mass, since such action would indicate that such a Mass was somehow in communion with other Masses, in which the sacrifice of Christ was also efficaciously re-presented.
Such a theology, though still popular in many circles, is seriously flawed. In reality, there is only one Mass, Christ’s redemptive sacrifice on the cross. All Masses offered after this Mass are thus integrally interlinked. And the Eucharistic Christ is always dynamic and transformative.
All this leads to the importance of recognizing the radically transformative theological insights conveyed by St. Paul in I Corinthians 6:15-20, 10:14-17 & 21-22, and 11:23-31. In the first of these sections, Paul stresses to the Corinthians the fact that, through their baptism into Christ, their bodies are members of Christ’s Body. Thus any act of fornication by them would not only be a sin of impurity, but also a desecration of the Body of Christ, of which they were members.
In the next passage, I Cor 10:14-17 & 21-22, Paul reminds them that, since they are now baptized into Christ, they must reject any participation in pagan sacrificial meals. In dealing with this issue, he consistently uses dual reference to show the conflict between the two sacrificial meals, indicated here by italics.
Therefore, my beloved, avoid idolatry. I am speaking as to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I am saying. The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because the loaf of bread is one, we, though many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf. Look at Israel according to the flesh; are not those who eat the sacrifices participants in the altar? … You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. Or are we provoking the Lord to jealous anger? Are we stronger than He?Note that, when Paul is referring here to the Eucharistic Christ Himself, he consistently uses dual terminology. But when he focuses on the fact that the Eucharist proclaims their unity as the Body of Christ, he only refers to “the loaf of bread”, with no reference to the cup. Also note that the Corinthians, though in danger of “provoking the Lord to jealous anger” by their sacrilegious conduct, have not yet done so.
The third passage (I Cor 11:23-31) addresses the problem of cliques developing in the gatherings of the community, which marginalize and embarrass the poor. Here again, we must note Paul’s careful use of double references to the Eucharistic Christ, again shown here in italics.
For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus, on the night He was handed over, took bread, and, after He had given thanks, broke it and said, “This is My body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of Me.” In the same way also the cup, after the supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood. Do this, as often as you do it, in remembrance of Me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until He comes.
Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord. A person should examine himself, and so eat the bread and drink the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks condemnation on himself. That is why many among you are ill or infirm, and a considerableHere we see Paul addressing two issues. The first is the need to receive the Eucharistic Christ with the proper spiritual dispositions of reverence and purity of heart. Those who do not do so will eventually be held accountable for the sin of sacrilege. The second issue is the failure to discern the sacredness of Christ in the His body of the worshipping community. Note that Paul does not use here the dual terminology he uses to refer to the Eucharistic species, but the singular term, body, which he first used in 10:17. Also note that, whereas the punishment for the sins of idolatry and of sacrilege is only threatened, the punishment for not recognizing the sacredness of each member of the body of believers is already taking place in a major way.
number are dying . If we discerned ourselves, we would not be under judgment.
In view of the above, I am reminded of the wisdom of Mother Teresa, who repeatedly pointed out that there is nothing as awesome, beautiful or transformative as the humility of God. Christ is so humble that He patiently endures the suffering inflicted on Him by idolatry and by sacrilege. But when the sacred dignity of the poor and marginalized members of His body is violated, punitive consequences become quickly manifested in the community. And providentially, as we care for the poor, we are liberated through them from our own debilitating poverty, which keeps us from recognizing the wisdom, joy and solidarity of sanctifying love into which we are invited through the Mystical Body of Christ.