Sunday, June 7, 2015

Corpus Christi: Gnawing on a Hard Saying

It's Corpus Christi Sunday: the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ.

Weather permitting, we'll have a Corpus Christi procession here in Sauk Centre. That photo is from last year's event. I won't be walking, but I plan to take photos, posting them later today.

Taking what looks like a bit of unleavened bread for a walk makes sense to Catholics who understand our faith — maybe not so much to other folks.

Corpus Christi is Latin for Body of Christ, and what happens to unleavened bread connects to why we've been celebrating ever since that first Easter. (April 20, 2014)


(Adoration chapel in Sauk Centre, Minnesota (2013))

I spend an hour each week in that room, doing something that's generally not even close to my top-one-hundred favorite activities: 'doing nothing.'

That's how Eucharistic adoration felt when I started two years back. Staying awake hasn't been a struggle lately, although I'm not sure how midsummer afternoons will be this year. (July 14, 2013)

Folks have many ways of spending their time in the chapel: praying; meditating; reading, either the Bible or one of the many booklets of prayers and meditations kept there. Lately I've started doing prayers from "The Catholic Prayer Book."1

So, what's the big deal with spending time in that room? It's a nice place: quiet, comfortable, with plenty of reading material. But what's important is the Eucharist in that monstrance: the cross-shaped thing on the table.

My eyes perceive the Eucharist as a disk of unleavened bread: a perception confirmed by other senses each time I receive the Eucharist at Mass. That's all anyone has seen, touched, and tasted for the last two millennia — for the most part.

Some Eucharistic miracles, like the one at Bolsena, aren't well-documented. Others, like what happened at the St. Longinus monestery in Lanciano, are.

Besides documentation, the Lanciano incident left a bit of flesh and five globs of blood.

CSI, Lanciano

(From Junior, via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.)
(Monstrance in the Lanciano shrine, 1971 analysis results.)

At the time, some 1,300 years back now, The Frentani city's name was Anxanum at the time. The city had been sacked by Goths, destroyed during the Lombard invasion, rebuilt around a castle built by the new rulers, and I'm getting off-topic.

Anyway, a Basilian hieromonk (It's a real word) doubted that Jesus Christ was really present while saying the Words of Consecration.2

I'm pretty sure that's happened quite a few times before and since — but this time the unleavened bread became flesh, and the wine became blood.

The flesh and blood have long since dried out, but they're still in a church in Lanciano.

The most recent analysis of them I know of was made in 1971. Odoardo Linoli, professor of anatomy and pathological histology/chemistry and clinical microscopy, found that the flesh is human cardiac tissue.

The blood is type AB, the same blood type found on the shroud of Turin. The blood's sero-proteic percentages are consistent with fresh normal blood. Linoli found no trace of preservatives.3

I suppose someone could have been maintaining a scam for all these centuries, making forgeries using technology we don't have yet, but my guess is that a simpler explanation is true.

When Jesus said "eat my flesh," and "this is my body," our Lord meant it. (Matthew 26:26; Mark 14:22)

"This Saying is Hard"

Our Lord didn't mince words about what's needed:
"Jesus said to them, 'Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.

"Whoever eats 19 my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day.

"For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink."
(John 6:53-55)
Matthew 26:26-29 says pretty much the same thing, with emphasis on the forgiveness of sins.

"Eats," in John 6:54, isn't the verb Greeks used for nice human-style eating. It's the verb for how animals eat. "Munch" or "gnaw" are somewhat equivalent words in today's English. (John 6, footnote 19, NAB)

One of the things I like about Jesus is that our Lord doesn't avoid awkward realities.

John 6:60-66 starts with many of our Lord's disciples saying "This saying is hard; who can accept it?" — and ends with many of them leaving.

I'm in Simon Peter's position: I must accept the reality of the Eucharist. There is no other viable option:
"Jesus then said to the Twelve, 'Do you also want to leave?'

"Simon Peter answered him, 'Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.

"We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.' "
(John 6:67-69)
As a Catholic, I'm obliged to receive the Eucharist once a year — minimum — and I'm expected to be at Mass each Sunday. Adoration of the Eucharist is a good idea, transubstantiation is what we call the bread and wine becoming flesh and blood, and there's a lot more to say about it. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1373-1381, 2177-2183)

I receive the Eucharist each Sunday, by the way. It's my compromise between the bare-bones minimum and daily Mass. Maybe someday I'll stop being a night owl and make morning Mass part of my routine, and that's another topic.

I understand and accept that our Lord really is present at each Mass, but don't understand how bread and wine become body and blood. As I said last week, I like to understand things: but God's God and I'm not. Some things I can't understand. (May 31, 2015)

Two Millennia and Counting

Accepting that our Lord really is physically present at each Mass is easier for me, now that Peter's Bark has been under under way for two millennia.

As Gamaliel said, "if this endeavor or this activity is of human origin, it will destroy itself."

Since then, the authority my Lord gave Peter has been passed along to hundreds of Popes: including recognized Saints; terrible administrators; and Benedict IX, who was kicked out twice and sold the Papacy once.

An outfit "of human origin" would have torn itself to bits by now: several times. And that's — what else? — yet another topic. (September 14, 2014; July 13, 2014; April 27, 2014)

Finally, a bit of what three recent Popes said about the Eucharist:
"...Really partaking of the body of the Lord in the breaking of the Eucharistic bread, we are taken up into communion with Him and with one another. 'Because the bread is one, we though many, are one body, all of us who partake of the one bread'. In this way all of us are made members of His Body, 'but severally members one of another'...."
("Lumen Gentium," Pope Paul VI (November 21, 1964)

"...It is most fitting that my first stop among the Korean people should be in a church such as this, where the minds and hearts of the faithful are constantly raised up in adoration before Christ in the Most Holy Eucharist,
  • Christ offering himself to the Father in Sacrifice for our salvation;
  • Christ giving himself to us to be eaten as the Bread of Life, so that we, too, may give ourselves for the life of others;
  • Christ consoling and strengthening us on our earthly pilgrimage with his abiding presence and friendship.
"In beholding the Word made flesh, now sacramentally present in the Eucharist, the eyes of our bodies are united with the eyes of faith in gazing upon the presence 'par excellence' of Emmanuel, 'God with us', until that day when the sacramental veil will be lifted in the Kingdom of heaven. ..."
("Eucharistic Adoration in the parish church of Nonhyondong," Homily of St. John Paul II (October 7, 1989))

"...Actually it is wrong to set celebration and adoration against each other, as if they were competing. Exactly the opposite is true: worship of the Blessed Sacrament is, as it were, the spiritual 'context' in which the community can celebrate the Eucharist well and in truth. Only if it is preceded, accompanied and followed by this inner attitude of faith and adoration can the liturgical action express its full meaning and value...."
("Solemnity of the Sacred Body and Blood of Christ," Pope Benedict XVI (June 7, 2012))

Why we celebrate:

1 "The Catholic Prayer Book;" Msgr. Michael Buckley (Compiler), Tony Castle (Editor); Servant Books; Revised Updated edition (February 22, 2013)
Paperback ISBN-13: 978-1616366100.

2 The Words of Consecration in English are "This is my body, this is my blood." My language wouldn't be close to its present form for more than a thousand years when the Anxanum/Lanciano incident happened, and I've been over that before. (May 24, 2015)

3 ("The Eucharistic Miracle of Lanciano:Historical, Theological, Scientific and Photographic Documentation," Fr. Nicola Nasuti, OFM Conv.)


Brigid said...

Missing space: "eat. "Munch" or"gnaw" are somewhat equivalent"

The Friendly Neighborhood Proofreader

Brian H. Gill said...

Well, that was an easy fix. Thank you, Brigid. :)

Michael Seagriff said...

You wrote: "I like to understand things: but God's God and I'm not. Some things I can't understand"...and neither the Apostles initially - Where would we go Lord, we know you have the words of eternal life? So they accepted what they did not understand knowing God would not condition there salvation on the impossible and trusting that in His time they would come to understand. They did and so will we. God bless you Brian. I enjoy reading your posts (most of the time).

Brian H. Gill said...

Thank you, Michael Seagriff.

About the Apostles - indeed. About understanding: as you said, full understanding isn't required for faith. Just as well, under the circumstances.

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