Wednesday, February 16

body and blood, hand and mouth

So, I am reading through the comments on another blog and I come across this from my friend JD talking about 'by mouth' vs. 'by hand'.
"When we receive the Eucharist at Mass, it is not a community of people giving it to us, not the priest (or EMHC) but Christ Himself giving Himself to us, and graciously so. To reach out and "take hold of the faith" and "our relationship to the divine incarnation" is really quite antithetical, symbolically speaking, to the posture of a creature before its Maker and Saviour. Grace is received, not taken hold of."
Once again...JD is planting seeds and making me think.  Often times, we disagree, but I have always found his commentary to be thoughtful and earnest.  Rather than spewing all over someone elses' blog, lemmie break this down sentence-by-sentence here.

When we receive the Eucharist at Mass, it is not a community of people giving it to us, not the priest (or EMHC) but Christ Himself giving Himself to us, and graciously so.  
Yes, I agree that the Bread of Life and Saving Cup are not from the priest or the people.  The power within those elements (and the transformation which that power precipitates) comes from God and She alone.  This line of thought obviates in persona Christi and (even more heretically) the necessity of an ordained presbyter to celebrate the Eucharist.  Where I would disagree, at least in part, is that the public celebration of Eucharist DOES bind us, as a local faith community and as a larger communion, together as the Body of Christ.  Ergo, my brothers and sisters are such because of the bond we share in Communion, not only with Christ but also with each other in Christ.

To reach out and "take hold of the faith" and "our relationship to the divine incarnation" is really quite antithetical, symbolically speaking, to the posture of a creature before its Maker and Saviour.

As to the idea that we should be more humble and servile before the symbols of the Saviour...Mayhap.  We have gone through the public rite of reconciliation, we have affirmed, communally, that we are unworthy to recieve the gifts of salvation and grace, and yet we are called to the table.  I shall answer the call as Isaiah did - "Here I am, Lord."  More specifically (and this is addressed at greater length below), my humility is reserved for my Divine Creator and Saviour, not the priest, who is no different than I am.

Grace is received, not taken hold of.

As to the symbolism of the Grace being received, not taken hold of, it outlines the solid difference between myself and many other, more traditional catholics.  To my mind, to say that Grace is received, one must be willing to take it just as God is willing to give it.  That God is willing to grant that Actual Grace is a matter of faith, but your reception of the Grace is a matter of your own willingness to accept and hold onto it.

From what I know and recall of the 'by mouth' Eucharistic tradition, one lines up with the others and take your place at the rail, kneeling and assuming a position subservient to the priest (who is in persona Christi).  At that point, one passively waits until the priest follows down the line, gets to your place and dispenses the blood-less sacrifice into your open mouth.

In our tradition, I walk up to the front of the altar and stand as an equal of the priest with my hand outstretched to recieve the transformational gifts from God.  The priest, as an agent of the Body of Christ and my sister in Christ, presents the host and offers it me.  I, as her equal and brother, look her in the eye, acknowledge the power within the host, and accept it from her.  Finally, I internalize the received gift of Grace and transformation by my own hand, giving thanks and glory to God.

In short, in the first scenario, the recipient is a passive observer who has submitted themselves to the priest-as-God, spoon-fed like an infant by mother church.  In the second scenario, the recipient is an active participant who receives the gifts with open hands, but also open eyes to see that the Grace comes from God through the elements, not the priest or the church.


  1. This is a most interesting exchange, and I think you for the chance to have it in friendship and Christian charity.

    To quote:
    "In short, in the first scenario, the recipient is ***a passive observer** who has submitted themselves to the priest-as-God"

    With you I agree our response to God should echo that of Isaiah: "Here I am Lord!" (Isaiah 6: 8) . In a beautiful way, Isaiah's response here prefigures the Virgin's Fiat (Luke 1:38) which, if you studied Latin, is an excellent example of the **passive** jussive subjunctive: "Let it be done so to me according to Thy Word".

    The Virgin Mary is an image of the human soul, whose response to God is a passive allowance of the physical and spiritual entrance of His Word into her by the Holy Spirit.

    But to continue your example, the Word comes to Isaiah, and he accepts it- but not before the Sanctus. Granted a vision of the six winged Seraphim, crying "Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of Hosts, the whole world is full of His glory", he first responds "woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts!" (6:8)

    And a Seraphim descends from the altar in heaven and cleans his lips with a burning coal held by a tong. Only then is the Word of God placed in his mouth. In the old rite, a beautiful prayer drawn from this passage was always recited before the deacon proclaimed the Gospel. Of course, now that symbolism was axed.

    If a mere coal of God comes from the altar in heaven by an angel who can not touch it with his fingers, in order to purify the mouth of a prophet to receive the Word, how much more so the mouth of an ordinary sinner who receives not only the Word, but that very Word made Flesh!? With His sinful lips cleaned not by an angel, but by God's Christ?

    From this the profound symbols of the old liturgy spring and unite the Sanctus of Isaiah with the Benedictus of the Gospel, the "Here I am" of the prophet with the Fiat of the Virgin, his humble "non sum dignus est" with that of the centurion, the altar of heaven with the altar of earth---the Divine Liturgy of the angels around the throne of God with the worship offered by human beings on earth.

    With your other comments, I think you fundamentally misconstrue the purpose of the priesthood and actually tend towards forgetting it is a sacrament. This, especially more so with "facing the people" worship, where the priest tends to be mistaken for his personality and so all the questions of social equality are dragged in. The man is nothing, too many Catholics, both lay and clerical, forget that. We don't act like the Eucharist is mere bread- because it is not. Neither, in the course of the liturgy, should we regard the priest for how he appears. He works in persona Christi. This is simply historical Catholic sacramentalism, anything else is not Catholic nor apostolic. St. Francis, the paragon of a Medieval social gospel and a great critic of the Church's corruption and decay, would kiss the hands of even the most disdained priest for the work that they did on the altar.

    Rather, the person of the priest should be, as much as possible, annihilated in divine worship. This is the purpose of the liturgical garments and the generous fact that, in the old rite, we have to see his face as little as possible. I prefer ad orientem worship for that reason. I'm sick of priests. "Turn around, I don't want to look at it you, you're a bit of a fool" is how I feel on most days. I'm at the point where I bring supplementary readings for the sermons.

    But just as God became incarnate as a particular person in history, and did not just beam God the Son into each of our hearts, so these objective factors (such as the reception of valid orders) matter a great deal.

    Thanks for listening.

    In Christian peace,

  2. *thank!* I hate those kind of errors...

  3. Second correction, there is not "est" on the "non sum dignus". Perhaps its a spiritual quirk to be overly fond of the verb "to be".

  4. JD,

    Thank you for your thoughtful and substantive reply. I am all too aware that my thought processes are outside the orthodox methodology and I often look at things from a perspective which could offend. Understand that my aim is that of St. Dominic and, like him and his blackfriars, I shall follow the Truth no matter where it may lead. My goal, especially with this blog, is to document my thoughts and to spur useful discussion that spurs on folks to find that aforementioned Truth. I am also keenly aware that the Eucharist is at the center of Catholicism, RC or otherwise, and to even discuss such things is to invite a whirlwind. I would hope you would read my comments with the same kindness and charity which you so eloquently expressed.

    Certainly, Isaiah was cleansed of his sin before he had the temerity to 'volunteer', but part of our standard liturgy is the penitential rite during the Daily Offices (non-Eucharist) portion of the liturgical service. Thus, one is cleansed and prepared to participate in the Eucharist celebration.

    Regarding with so much else, personal experience forms context. For myself, there are RC priests in this arch-diocese who hold their license to recite the Epiklesis and the words of Institution as a form of Sacradotal superiority and it is THEY who trans-substantiate the elements. That is, in my opinion, dross. As you point out (echoing St. Norbert), the priest isn't where it's at. The Divine performs the miracle of transubstantiation, not the priest.

    I am not questioning the call which they have received nor the ontological change which has occurred due to their journey towards ordination (any more than I would my own), but to revere such individuals with a supernatural awe as many in laity do, let alone to encourage such behaviour, does nothing but distance the priest from those he (or she) is to serve.

    I would point out that the concept of in persona Christi is not nearly as historical as the Magisterium would have one believe. Just as they are a product of Vatican I, the idea of in persona Christi has it's roots as far back as the early 20th century, being formalized at Vatican II. That aside, if one considers that the miracle of transubstantiation occurs by the power of God and not due to the priest, in persona Christi should read in vicarius Christi for a vicar is a substitute, a representative who has no power of their own.

    I do not doubt for an instant regarding the sacramental nature of the Eucharist. It is an inescapable fact of the rite. I will argue, however, that many seem to misunderstand the point of it. The principal fruits of the sacrament are not forgiveness of sin (that is a by-product). That is not just me, but the Council of Trent ("chief fruit of the Eucharist does not consist in the forgiveness of sins".(Sess. XIII. can. v)). Rather, it is the union with Christ and the Body of Christ in love (Decr. pro Armenis: adunatio ad Christum) as well as the spiritual nourishment which the transformed elements provide(Council of Trent, Sess. XIII. can. v). I mention this because it seems, in general, that the restorative nature of the Eucharist seems to be emphasized to the point that the other, principal effects are nearly ignored.

    Now that I've rambled on forever, I'll say this. Much of what I have put down is due to my own experience and prayerful thought. Could I be wrong, even horribly wrong? Yup. That's the "fear and trembling" part. I also know that it is my personal way...and my way for now. Your way is your own and, if it is different than mine, I would consider it because are each unique and have different cultural backgrounds and experiences. I have no doubt that as long as you assiduously cling to it, that it shall lead to eternal reward.



    P.S.- you are not worthy to be? My, Dr. Freud, but that is a slip. :)