Thursday, June 10, 2010

06-06-2010: Corpus Christi

Corpus Christi
Genesis 14:18-20 / Psalm 110 / 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 / Lauda Sion / Luke 9:11-17
Today we celebrate the Feast of Corpus Christi, the Body of Christ. From the beginning Catholic and Orthodox Christians have maintained the belief that, by the power of the Holy Spirit and the words of the validly ordained priest, ordinary bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ during the Mass. Thomas Aquinas would offer the word transubstantiation as a way to understand the mystery. Thomas taught that whatever makes the bread bread and whatever makes the wine wine -- that whatever -- is what becomes the body and blood of Christ. The bread and wine retain the appearances (“the accidents”) of bread and wine, they continue to look and smell and taste like bread and wine, but their substance, their essence, is what becomes the Body and Blood of Christ Himself.

It’s ironic, to say the least, that this most profound of mysteries should rest on a whatever, synonymous in teenage parlance these days with the unimportant; signifying that nonchalant, couldn’t-care-less attitude, usually embodied by your average teenager who shrugs his shoulders at the teacher who just threatened him with detention or at the suggestion he be more thoughtful of those less fortunate -- yeah whatever.

Whatever has become our contemporary expression of taking things for granted. It couldn’t possibly be what Thomas meant when trying to illuminate the mystery of transubstantiation. Or could it? Maybe that attitude that sees things as so ordinary and unglamorous is the key for us moderns to realize the import of the sacrament of Christ’s body and blood: a double mystery, if you will – for both Jesus’ divinity and his humanity remain hidden under the appearance of ordinary bread and wine. What could be so unspectacular, so ordinary, than bread and wine; so mundane, we necessarily take it for granted. One might wonder at the wisdom of Pope Pius X when, at the beginning of the twentieth century, he encouraged Catholics to receive communion as often as possible. Doesn’t the commonplace breed a whatever attitude? Just imagine asking the elderly lady sitting next to you in church on Palm Sunday if, given a choice, which would she rather receive: communion or palm? Is there any doubt what her answer would be? After all, she’d probably say, I can always receive next week – but the palm

A consumer culture, some would say, rests on the perceived necessity to satisfy a need immediately and often. Perhaps the Church has not been immune to such a culture either. Every major address offered by a bishop or theologian, of late, must conclude with a reference to the Eucharist as the be-all and end-all of everything. If it really was what they claim it to be, wouldn’t it be more obviously so and, thus, less a need to point it out constantly ad infinitum. When I used to say Mass for the Missionaries of Charity (Mother Teresa’s nuns) there would be a placard in the sacristy meant for the priest to read before beginning Mass. Say this mass, the saying went, as if it were your first Mass, your last Mass, your only Mass. A nice, pious sentiment – but can anyone really do that especially since it probably will be but the first mass of several that very day. It seems to be just a fact of human nature that routine robs us of that feeling of awe. Let’s face it: if you had the means to eat at Peter Luger’s every night, wouldn’t it lose it’s ‘specialness’ regardless of how delicious the steak was?

On the other hand there’s something to be said for routine. Daily routines can become rituals which provide our lives with order. Studies have shown that rote recitation of prayers, like the rosary, can produce calm and a sense of well-being. The frequent reception of communion might also work in this way, inviting us to consider the possibility that the ordinary, the mundane, the commonplace of life has the propensity for just the opposite. Ordinary people at their most unattractive, average situations no matter how boring, possess the possibility of transformation. It’s like that aloof and ostensibly uncaring teen who seems not to be paying attention to anything or to anyone (especially his parents): we know, though, that his whatever is just a coy and clever cover-up for his intense desire to pay attention and be paid attention to - what St Thomas called an accident as opposed to a substance. The whatever of transubstantiation transforms potency into actuality. Bread and wine retaining the accidents of their once-nature, covering up the awesome and powerful possibilities of their now-nature: divinity in a sliver of bread, in a sip of wine, “heaven in ordinarie.” Yeah, whatever.


[N.B. It’s that time of year once again to sign off on these Pastoral Reflections and give the patient readers of this column a well-deserved break! Until September…tfb]

24 comments:

  1. 在莫非定律中有項笨蛋定律:「一個組織中的笨蛋,恆大於等於三分之二。」............................................................

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  2. 世間事沒有一樣沒有困難,只要有信心去做,至少可以做出一些成績。..................................................

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