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Eucharist: Far More Than a Reenactment

Image: pixabay
Image: pixabay

Can Priests Really Change Bread and Wine Into Christ’s Body and Blood?

Q: My brother does not believe that a priest can change bread and wine into Our Lord’s body and blood. My brother argues that when Christ said, “This is my body” and “This is my blood,” he as God could make those changes.

My brother also points out that Jesus never said, “I give you apostles the power to do the same.” Jesus simply said, “Do this in memory of me,” meaning the apostles should reenact the Last Supper like a stage play so that people would remember Jesus.

I cited the Gospel of John (6:22-71) and said that this passage has real meaning only if Jesus meant that the apostles and priests after them had the power to give us Christ’s body and blood. My brother, however, wants more. He asks, “When did Christ give this power? How?”

A: Your brother seeks an explicit command that the apostles could turn bread and wine into Christ’s body and blood in the Eucharist. The Church has understood “Do this in memory of me” (Luke 22:19b) as precisely that command. Your brother chooses to interpret memory in a way different from how the Church has understood it over the centuries.

If your brother were correct about the Eucharist as a stage-play reenactment, why did St. Paul become so upset with the Christians in Corinth who brought their social and economic divisions into the celebration of the Eucharist, discriminating against poorer Christians (1 Corinthians 11:17-22)?

Paul then goes on to provide the New Testament’s oldest description of the Eucharist (11:23-34), including the warning, “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” (v. 27). How could Corinthian Christians participate unworthily in a reenactment?

The people who heard Jesus speaking about the bread of life in the passage from the Gospel of John that you cited realized that Jesus was not speaking about ordinary bread. We know this from their reaction and the decision of many disciples to leave Jesus (v. 66). Why would Jesus teach about the Eucharist if only he could celebrate it?

The entire Church believed in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist for almost 1,200 years before the Western Church accepted the term transubstantiation to describe its belief about the changing of bread and wine into the body and blood of Jesus during the celebration of the Eucharist.

The four Gospels were given to a faith community, which remains their best interpreter. Your brother is able to quote the Gospels only because the Church has cherished them and passed them on to each generation.

If your brother were correct in his interpretation, then there is no significant difference between the Eucharist celebrated in your local Catholic parish and the reenactment of the Last Supper as seen in movies or in stage plays.

Catholic actors who have portrayed Jesus in the world-famous Passion play in Oberammergau, Germany—or in similar contexts—know the difference between what they are doing and what a priest does at Mass on Sundays or weekdays. The priest acts in Christ’s name and on behalf of the Church.

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (#611), “The Eucharist that Christ institutes at that moment [Last Supper] will be the memorial of his sacrifice. Jesus includes the apostles in his own offering and bids them perpetuate it. By doing so, the Lord institutes his apostles as priests of the New Covenant: ‘For their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth’ [John 17:19].”

The Eucharist is the “source and summit” of the Christian life, as Vatican II’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church teaches (#11). That is far more than a reenactment.

Perhaps a prayer composed by St. Thomas Aquinas may say it best: “O sacred banquet, in which Christ is received, the memory of his passion is renewed, the mind is filled with grace, and a pledge of future glory is given to us. Amen.”

Spiritual Communion

Q: What is the Church’s teaching about spiritual communion? I haven’t heard about this in many years and wonder if it is still practiced.

A: Spiritual communion is a way of uniting oneself with Christ when the person is unable to participate in Mass because of great distance, poor health, imprisonment or some other reason.

No specific prayer is required for this, but people often begin with Scripture readings, devotional prayers or prayers from the liturgy. This reaffirms the individual’s desire to live as a follower of Jesus.

Invested With the Brown Scapular

Q: Several weeks ago was First Communion Sunday at our parish. Seeing the children having their pictures taken with their parents, grandparents and others evoked our own First Communions.
I asked my wife when these children would be invested with the brown scapular. She said that is no longer done. Do local bishops decide this sort of thing? Do pastors? Did Vatican II eliminate the scapular?

A: Let’s begin with a bit of background for anyone unfamiliar with this voluntary practice. A modern scapular consists of two decorated pieces of cloth connected by two cords or ribbons and worn over a person’s shoulder (scapula in Latin). Some people choose to wear a scapular medal. Some religious communities such as Benedictine monks and nuns, the Cistercians, Dominicans and Trappists have a full-length scapular (approximately calf to calf) as part of their habit.

According to The Essential Mary Handbook: A Summary of Beliefs, Devotions and Prayers (Liguori), the Church has approved eight Marian scapulars. The brown scapular, the oldest and the most popular, is linked to St. Simon Stock, an English Carmelite. Mary reportedly appeared to him in 1251 and recommended the wearing of a scapular, a visible sign of a person’s commitment to Christ after the example of Mary, the first disciple.

I am not aware that any parishes now have automatic scapular enrollment for First Communicants. Parents are free to promote this devotion among their children. The brown scapular is also linked to the Marian devotion of the Five First Saturdays.

An Internet search for “brown scapular enrollment” produces numerous links. People can also write the National Shrine of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, P.O. Box 2162, Middletown, NY 10940- 2162, or the Society of Mt. Carmel, 1317 Frontage Road, Darien, IL 60561.

Addressing Priests as ‘Father’

Q: Jesus said, “Call no one on earth your father; you have but one Father in heaven” (Matthew 23:9). Why do Catholics continue to call priests Father?

A: When Jesus said this, he was emphasizing the need for a religion that is at least as interior as it is exterior, for religious integrity and for a sense of service.

The passage you cited also says not to call anyone rabbi (teacher) or master (verses eight and 10, respectively).

Do you call your male parent Father? Don’t most Christians do that? If so, are they violating Jesus’ command? Christians have not understood Jesus’ command as preventing them from calling someone teacher. In our society, the term master is used rarely.

This is not to dismiss Jesus’ teaching on the subject of titles. Chapter 23 of the Gospel of Matthew opens with 36 verses on the scribes and Pharisees and ends with three verses of lament over Jerusalem.

If all of us strive for what Jesus requested, using the terms father, teacher or master in any context will cause fewer problems.

St. Paul described himself as a father to the Christians in Thessalonika (1 Thessalonians 2:11) and in Corinth (1 Corinthians 4:15). Applying the term father to priests is a custom and not an obligation.

Why 12 Stones If Judas Betrayed Jesus?

Q: On the Sixth Sunday of Easter, the second reading was Revelation 21:10-14, 22-23. This describes the author’s vision of the New Jerusalem with 12 courses of stones as its foundation, inscribed with the names of the apostles. How can there be 12 stones to represent the 12 apostles when Judas betrayed Jesus?

A. One Scripture passage often answers a question arising from another Scripture passage. That is the case here. Acts 1:15-26 describes the selection of Matthias to replace Judas. This happened between Jesus’ ascension into heaven and the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4). The 12 apostles emphasize the continuity of God’s revelation in the Bible: 12 tribes, 12 apostles.