Sunday, September 6, 2015

Communion from the Chalice
We are all familiar with the words of Jesus when He instituted the Sacrament of Holy Eucharist.  There are four accounts in the New Testament, one in each of the first three Gospels and one in St. Paul’s 1st epistle to the Corinthians.  All four accounts relate that in addition to the words over the bread, followed by the breaking of it and distribution to his followers, Jesus took a cup/chalice and said: take this all of you and drink of it, etc.  We are familiar with these words because we hear them uttered by the priest (in persona Christi) every time we attend Mass.
One of the really big questions we have to ask ourselves as followers of Christ is: how long can we ignore what Christ is telling us what to do and still expect to be on the road to Sanctification.
Those versed in Liturgical history are familiar with the fact that as early as the writing of the New Testament, the Eucharist was simply identified as the “breaking of the bread” and therefore presumed to be sharing from a common loaf rather than individual wafers.  It is also common knowledge that Communion was distributed under both species until the eleventh century ( i.e. in the Western Church; it has always been maintained in the Eastern Rites.)  Even the most recent General Introduction to the Roman Missal admits this.
From the earliest days of the Church believers have always theologized, or tried to probe more deeply into the revealed mysteries.  Thus, e.g. we have had some development in our finite understanding of such mysteries as the Trinity, the Incarnation and the role of Mary, mother of Jesus.  The Eucharist is no exception.  Believers inevitably came to question in what sense is the resurrected and glorious Christ truly present in the Eucharist.  Not surprisingly the answer was not immediately unanimous.  The arguments broke out into controversy in the 8th century among the monks of Flanders (northern modern France and Belgium).   Over the next century or two, the consensus finally became that Christ’s presence in the Eucharist was far more than merely symbolic, but actual physical presence (remember we are dealing with a mystery).  As a result of this realization both clergy and laity became much more concerned about exercising proper reverence for the real presence.  It was at this time that individual hosts were introduced by reason of the fear of spilling crumbs containing the real presence.  Simultaneously the Chalice was now withheld from the laity out of fear that since it continued to taste like wine, it might be spilled or otherwise abused by the laity.   Incidentally, another by- product of the new mentality of extreme reverence led to a severe drop off of communion reception by the laity out of a sense of unworthiness, and replacing reception was the practice of Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.
So, e.g. during the time of St. Thomas Aquinas, in the thirteenth century,  the Church instituted the feast of Corpus Christi, with the emphasis at the time on processions, benedictions and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.  St. Thomas, by the way is the theologian who finally worked out the doctrine of concomitance, i.e. even though the laity were now receiving only one species, each specie contained both the body and blood of Christ.  This was in direct response to the fact that the chalice had been withdrawn from the laity, and was a defense of the then current practice, because he realized that a defense was necessary.
One should know that nevertheless there were some agitations from time to time that  reception from the Chalice should be restored to the laity out of concern for fidelity to the instructions of Jesus.  The Western Church, however had to face the really worrisome rebellion  in central Europe by the Bohemians led by Jan Hus  in the fifteenth century, who among other things demanded the restoration of the Chalice.  Considering the quirks of human nature, it is not surprising that the response from Rome to such a threatening rebellion was a resounding no!  Not long thereafter in the following century along came Martin Luther, who also advocated restoring the chalice to the laity.  Bear in mind there was now room for considerable confusion among simply folk as to whether they were in a Catholic or Lutheran liturgy.  Rome’s answer, not surprising under the circumstances, once again was no to the chalice for Catholics (to make clear the distinction from Lutherans).  Thus we were frozen in a confrontational reaction to those threatening the unity of the Church.
Only in the beginning of the twentieth century, under the aegis of St. Pius X did the Church allow Communion to be given to children and once again advocate frequent Communion.  For many of us who have studied and lived in the era of Vatican II reforms, it is manifestly evident that fifty years are but a drop in the bucket when trying to get the faithful to embrace reforms.  So, e.g. when the Church’s Canon Law was previously reformed (1917), more than a decade after Pius X’s advocacy, it had to include a law requiring Catholics to receive Communion at least once per year.   Meanwhile as frequent Communion finally came back,  liturgists were once again agitating for the return of the Chalice to the laity, as the original tradition of Christ’s Church, and as uninterruptedly maintained by the Eastern Rites.
It is hardly surprising that Vatican II, called ostensibly to address the role of the Church in the modern world, as the very first item on its agenda, dealt with liturgical reform, and among many other things in reforming the Western (note once again, not the Eastern) Rite, restored the chalice to the laity.
Fifty years later, what do we see in our Parishes?  One in five?  One in six.  Indisputably only a minority listening to Jesus words: “Take and drink, all of you…” seem to be taking Him at His word.  Certainly there are justifiable exceptions, e.g. alcoholism, having an infectious ailment such as a cold or the flu, or having a weakened immune system which can’t tolerate even the chance of contact with germs.  But are these exceptions statistically the majority we see ignoring the Chalice?
The fullness of the Sacrament of the Eucharist is the reception of the bread and the wine as the Sacramental signs indicating Christ’s body and blood.  Listen to His Words!

The Letter to the Hebrews
For the weekday Masses starting  Monday January 12th until Saturday February 7th, i.e. for four weeks, the first reading is from the Letter to the Hebrews.  When heard just a little bit at a time, it may well be difficult to follow what it is all about.  In addition, this letter, because it is written by a convert from Judaism in order to encourage fellow Jewish converts to persevere in their conversion, quotes from the Old Testament Scriptures of the Jews to support his exhortation some 35 times.  But in doing so he doesn’t  explicitly say he is quoting  but rather simply says something like: “it is said, or “just as he said” (presuming the Scriptures are God”s word).  Therefore, unless we are very familiar with the Old Testament, when we hear the Letter from the Hebrews proclaimed from the sanctuary, we may not recognize that at times we are hearing the Old Testament being used to further an argument to believe in the New.
And what might be the basic argument?  It was accepted that the Messiah would be from the family line of David and would therefore be a king.  Jesus fit this expectation.  What they did not expect was that He would also be a priest, one who offered the perfect sacrifice –i.e. obedience – even unto death – to God.
Recall from the Acts of the Apostles that in the early days after Christ’s ascension, the disciples continued to go to the Temple in Jerusalem to pray.  But then, when they reflected that Jesus said that He Himself was a new temple not made of stone, they began to see that the Jerusalem Temple and the old hereditary Levitical  priesthood were no longer relevant.
How to argue this insight?  The author of the letter to the Hebrews used the same style used by his Jewish contemporaries  in interpreting the Scriptures.  He used as a type, the priest Melchizedek  found in the book of Genesis, i.e. one who appeared as it were out of nowhere and therefore we don’t know his background or what might have happened to  him after father Abraham gave him a tenth of his possessions.  And so psalm 110 proclaims that Melchizedek’s priesthood is forever.  The author of the letter to the Hebrew’s takes this as a foreshadowing of the forever priesthood of Christ.
Note that the style used  by the author of this letter– in many ways similar to the way a sermon might progress, often repeats himself in order to drive home his point:  we have a new once and forever sacrifice offered by a new kind of priest based in the person of Christ, and that sacrifice is not of animals but of a perfect obedience to the will of God. As the prophet Amos preached: God desires obedience and not sacrifice in the old sense.  Or as Jesus taught us to pray: “Thy will be done on earth ….as it is in heaven.”
By the way, during the sacrifice of the Mass, what we are called to do before all else is to join Christ’s sacrificial mentality of perfect obedience to whatever God asks of us. Because we have not yet perfectly put on this mind is why we have to keep coming back to try again and again
What was the allure of Baal?
How often do we find in the Old Testament references to the infidelity of God’s chosen people by their worship of the false god called Baal?  Chronologically it seems that this was an ongoing problem for the Israelites which lasted hundreds of years, starting from the time of Joshua right up to at least the Babylonian captivity, some seven hundred years later.  Perhaps it would help to consider the following. During their final days in Egypt, the Hebrews were more or less slaves of the Egyptians, at least to the degree that they were heavily involved – involuntarily, mind you – in some of the major construction projects of the Pharaohs.   As such their time and energies were wholly dedicated to those projects.  It would appear that for the most part, the Pharaohs provided the foodstuffs which kept them going on a daily basis.  Moses became their leader and led them out of Egypt, not because they had as yet personally experienced the true God/Yahweh as he had, but because he reminded them that God had promised their fathers Abraham and Isaac, their own land to the north as their inheritance.  At that point they experienced Yahweh as a powerful God who could overcome the Egyptians and allow them to miraculously escape.  The price was to worship Yahweh and NO OTHER.  The book of Exodus tells us that all too often they longed for “the good old days” in Egypt rather than the hardships of the wilderness, and as a result God punished them by letting a whole generation pass before introducing them into the promised land under Joshua.  Consider therefore, when they entered the promised land they had not been farmers for generations.  They had to learn how to be successful farmers if they were to survive.  Who would teach them how, but the local Canaanites?  How did the Canaanites farm?  Bear in mind this is the pre-scientific age.  Among other things the weather in Canaan is peculiar in that for the most part it rains only in the springtime.  The Canaanites planted their seeds in early spring and then prayed to the fertility gods that the rains might come and their crops be successful (It’s not that important exactly how they worshiped, which had its own enticements).  To oversimplify a bit, the fact is that the rains did come and they did have successful crops and prospered.  What were the Hebrews to think?  Wouldn’t it be easy to think if one is going to be a farmer and therefore to eat isn’t the Canaanite tradition the way to go about it?  All their contemporaries believed in multiple gods (In fact in Biblical Hebrew, the word for god has only a plural form – no singular). Their contemporaries had various gods depending on various needs. The Hebrews experience of Yahweh did not include the experience of successful farming.  Yes, the commandments mediated by Moses demanded belief in only one God.  The challenge to that faith seemed to be that while recognizing Yahweh as the most powerful, wouldn’t it be prudent to play it safe and included the fertility god Baal to make sure there was food on the table?  The issue it would seem was the human tendency to straddle the fence, to compromise.  It wasn’t so much that they were directly denying Yahweh was God as implicitly doing so by hedging their bets, as it were.  As stated above at the beginning, it took a very long time to get the message that God does not tolerate fence straddling and compromise when it comes to our relationship with Him. We can’t have both God and mammon, however alluring a little mammon might be.