Sunday, 19 August 2012

20th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Once, at a retreat, I attended Mass celebrated by a renowned Jesuit priest. It was peculiar Mass in that it did not follow the prescribed rubrics we all recognise. It took place in an open field and it moved according to the rhythm of the Stations of the Cross to culminate at the grotto of our Lady where there was an altar to celebrate the second part of the Mass, that is, the Liturgy of the Eucharist. It started to rain just as we were about to conclude the Liturgy of the Word. We were blessed enough to be able to take shade in the grotto where we stood behind the celebrant for the “Liturgy of the Eucharist”. At Communion time, I abstained and was consciously uncomfortable that I was sending a message of rejection. In the end, I found out that two other priests also did not receive. Not by any stretch of imagination could what we had be considered a valid Eucharist.
This Sunday we continue to linger on the topic of what the Eucharist is. It is the Body of Christ sacrificed and the Blood of Christ poured out. Ritual1 thus plays an important role in how the Eucharist ought to be celebrated. The recently introduced new translation of the Roman Missal highlighted a post-Vatican II phenomenon, the effect of which we are still experiencing today. In the process of updating the language and the rubrics of the celebration, we had unwittingly embraced a process which led to a desacralisation2 of the liturgy.
This Sunday, as Jesus insisted that His Body and Blood are real food and drink, a pertinent question for us to ask is whether the Eucharist should be emphasised more as a memorial of the Cenacle or should its focus be a re-presentation of Calvary.
According the Pope Benedict, an over-emphasis on Cenacle runs counter to scriptural witness but not only that. An over-emphasis on the Eucharist as meal has had implications that are far reaching. First, it opened the way to many a manipulation of the Eucharist. As noted before, the process of desacralisation included the embrace of popular music, the removal of communion rail, communion by hand and the adoption of the versus populum posture of the priest. In other words, the process of dumbing down saw to it that the form or the shape of the Mass became nothing more than a communal meal rather than it being what it was supposed to be: a sacrifice. In some cases, one cannot tell the difference between what is sung at a Senior Nite Party3 and what is sung in Church. I am sure you remember those days where so-called hymns were sung to the tune of “Blowing in the wind”.
Second, an over-emphasis on a meal setting has also desensitised us to the reality of Christ presence in the Eucharist to the point that our practices are not from a Protestant setting. For some, the Eucharist has become nothing more than symbolic sham. Observe how Communion is received. Many do not prepare before Mass, or they pay scant attention to the liturgy during Mass proper and the moment of reception, the posture indicates that they have no consciousness of What they are consuming. In fact, there may be no correlation between Whom4and What they receive simply because many understand that they are receiving merely a symbol; albeit, a powerful symbol.
But, the Gospel begs to differ. A check on the language will show that Jesus was very literal in His description of the Eucharist as being His Body and His Blood. Over the multitude’s objection, Christ did not mince His words. Instead, there was an insistence that bordered on vehemence. “Indeed” or “truly” or “certainly” are some of the translations to the Greek “Alethos” or truth. As a result, the Church believes that, Whatever and not just Whoever, walked the earth 2000 years ago, is What we consume. We eat the Body of Christ—His substance and His entirety.
Why do we need to eat His flesh and drink His blood? Protestants would argue that Christ spoke metaphorically as He did when He claimed Himself to be the gate, the way, thelight or the true vine. Would Catholics not be cannibalistic then? From the beginning of Christianity itself, the charge had been made against Christians that they were nothing but cannibals. In a culture of “personal” morality, an inculcated abhorrence that we may be cannibalistic is enough to drive us to embrace the relative comfort of Christ speaking, not the truth about His flesh and blood, but metaphorically or symbolically. But, there must be a reason why the Church never considered the Eucharist as merely symbolic but is truly the Flesh and Blood of her Lord and Saviour.
At the Incarnation, the physical Body of Christ came into existence. At His death on the Cross, the Mystical Body came into existence. At the moment of His death what had been only the physical Christ has now added members with whom He has united Himself as their head. The added members form the Mystical Body of Christ, otherwise known as the Church, and it is to this Body that He the head must tend.
Christ gave us Himself so that we might get His strength to be His Body. In the Eucharist, we become what we eat. In this context, on the Solemnity of Corpus Christi, the carrying of a Monstrance and processing through the streets speaks volume to each one of us: members of the Mystical Body of Christ carrying the Body of Christ signifying the intent of every member to become more Christ-like and best way to do it is to eat His Flesh and drink His Blood.5
We are not cannibals6 for desiring to consume the very Flesh and Blood of Christ because they are life. The Christ present in the Eucharist is not Christ dead but alive and resurrected. Furthermore we do not eat a part of Christ but we consume the whole of Christ—His divinity and His humanity, His body and soul. It follows that at Communion, it does not matter whether we receive a big piece of bread or small piece of host. They both contain the same essence of Christ. This also explains why we do not need to give communion under two species.7 Eating the bread already means we have consumed the whole of Christ.
In summary, to receive the Eucharist is a profound act because it is as close as one will ever get to Christ our Lord in this life. Christ Himself wants us to have His life and so, in the delivery of so precious a gift, the Church our Mother must do all she can, through the proper celebration of her rituals, to ensure that her children are fed with nothing less than the very Bread of eternal life; the Bread that can guarantee eternal life.

1 Rituals provide certainty over the outcome of what we are celebrating. Two points can be noted here. Firstly, note that there is a thin line that separates magic from mystery. Magic—incantations, symbolic actions, mantras—attempts at manipulating the “divine” in order to accomplish one’s will. But, in the case of the Church’s liturgy, rubric is not the attempt to control the divine. Instead, it becomes the only guarantee we have that what the pew receives is no less than what Christ and His Church intended for the recipient. In today’s world where the accent is on the expression of “individuality”, faithfulness to the rubrics expresses a humble desire to submit to the Divine will. Thus, if magic is defined by the will of the magician, then true worship expressed by through the rubrics is defined by the will of the One worshipped – in this case, the Lord Jesus. Secondly, insistence on adherence to rubrics is not a sign of intolerance. Instead, the more something is important, the more “rules” are needed for us to be certain. For example, the more a person is allergic to say, peanuts, the more we need to be “certain” that the food cooked and served should contain absolutely no trace of nuts in it. The Church’s insistence on liturgical rectitude is indicative of her high regard for the Body of her Lord and Saviour.
2 By no means was the process restricted to the Eucharist. For example, the Sacrament of Baptism de-emphasised Original Sin and was re-visioned as a sacrament of community.
3 This is not a commentary on the Senior Nite Party but rather of the liturgy. Liturgy was no longer Divine Liturgy but a communitarian liturgy simple because its focus was on us rather than on God to whom we owe honour, worship and glory.
4 Is it any wonder why Jesus Christ “cannot” be the Saviour of the world? He is anything but God made man—a social worker, a psychologist and better still, a revolutionary leader. He liberates more than He can save.
5 The necessary caveats apply. We prepare ourselves to receive Him worthily. It does not denote perfection on our part.
6 An experience of the past might illustrate how we can understand our distaste at the suggestion of cannibalism. Those of Chinese ethnic background and old enough may remember how parents introduce solid food to a baby. I remember watching my aunty chewing the rice in her mouth before giving the masticated food to the baby. At that time, there was no suggestion of germs or bacteria. Certainly we would not get the Americanism we are accustomed to coming from children “Ewww”. The change in how we perceive the practice suggests that our distaste is perhaps an expression of a psychological barrier rather than a real objection to cannibalism. But, to put to rest the ghost of cannibalism, it must be reiterated that Catholics do not eat the “dead” flesh or drink the “dead” blood of Jesus. Instead, consuming the Eucharist is union with Life itself, which every act of cannibalism so intends but can never be achieved.
7 From Eucharisticum mysterium, Instruction on Eucharistic worship and repeated in GIRM #281:  Holy Communion, considered as a sign, has a more complete form when it is received under both kinds. For under this form (leaving intact the principles of the Council of Trent, 84 by which under either species there is received the true sacrament and Christ whole and entire ), the sign of the Eucharistic banquet appears more perfectly. Moreover, it shows more clearly how the new and eternal Covenant is ratified in the Blood of the Lord, as it also expresses the relation of the Eucharistic banquet to the eschatological banquet in the Kingdom of the Father (cf. Matt. 26: 27-29). Here complete form refers more to the theological aesthetics than to the “content” of What we are receiving.