ChristianityRichly

Welcome to Christianity Richly

In Christianity on February 5, 2009 at 5:05 pm

Psalm 63:5 “My soul will be filled as if by rich food” (Jerusalem Bible).

Christianity Richly chronicles the ongoing conversion of a Catholic Christian drawn to the Faith by its truth, goodness, and beauty. That said, “The Church proposes; she imposes nothing,” wrote Saint John Paul II (The Mission of the Redeemer). May non-Catholics and even unbelievers always find that attitude here.

Please don’t miss the About page of this blog. Its link appears at the top of this page, under the headline “Christianity Richly.”  About explains the reasons for the blog. See the links for certainty, history, unity, authorityliturgycommunity, and sacramentality.

Comments on posts are always welcomed, but if you are planning to add your thoughts, then please read On Posting Comments.

All original content on this blog is Copyright ©2009-2016 Christianity Richly.  All rights reserved.  Posts may be linked or quotations of limited length reproduced with attribution to Christianity Richly. Questions and requests for more extensive reproduction may be sent to the author at this address: christianityrichly [at] gmail [dot] com.

Sacramentality

In Christianity on January 29, 2016 at 5:57 pm

Have you ever had the experience of going to a museum many times, yet finding something you hadn’t seen before — a painting you hadn’t noticed; an artifact from an earlier civilization you hadn’t paused to examine? Have you ever walked through a city you know well, but stumbled upon something you didn’t realize was there — a special shop, a statue or monument, a lovely park?

My experience with the sacramental nature of Catholic Christianity has been a bit like that. I knew from my earliest days in the Church that the seven sacraments instituted by Christ are the foundation of a Catholic Christian’s life: Baptism, Confirmation, and The Eucharist (Sacraments of Initiation), Penance and the Anointing of the Sick (Sacraments of Healing), and Marriage and Holy Orders (Sacraments of Service). God conveys grace through these sacraments.

The Electrifying Story
But only after some years in the Church did the sacraments begin to powerfully inform and strengthen my faith. Why? Because the sacraments are God’s ongoing expression of His electrifying engagement with us! They manifest His creating love, caring intervention, and constant presence to us, for our good.

Enfleshed Souls
What makes the sacraments electrifying? Just this: God created us as enfleshed souls. We each have a body. Each of us also has an eternal soul, the part of us that will live forever. The Catechism of the Catholic Church expresses this truth more formally: “The human person, created in the image of God, is a being at once [both] corporeal and spiritual.”¹ Moreover:

Spirit and matter, in man, are not two natures united, but rather their union forms a single nature . . . every spiritual soul is created immediately by God—it is not “produced” by the parents . . . it does not perish when it separates from the body at death, and it will be reunited with the body at the final Resurrection.²

Deep concepts, yes, but in his painting, Divine Generation, the French artist Louis Janmot expresses this in a way we can understand. We see the recently born child being embraced by its parents. But simultaneously, the child and its parents are being embraced by Christ, as angels kneel in reverence at the birth of this newborn eternal being “created immediately by God,” in the words of the Catechism. This is why abortion is such a grave sin — not beyond God’s mercy, but extraordinarily serious — because God is directly involved in the unborn child’s coming into being.

The Significance of the Sacraments
So what’s the point? The point is that we are not simply spirits who are expected (and equipped) to relate to God abstractly — by precept and principle alone.

This sounds strange, even heretical, to separated brothers and sisters in Christ who insist on sola scriptura, scripture alone. God’s written Word is vitally important, as St. Jerome said and the Catechism reminds us: “Ignorance of the scriptures is ignorance of Christ” (paragraph 133). But we weren’t created as incorporeal spirits. We were created as enfleshed souls, both spirit and matter.

How Do the Sacraments Address Enfleshed Souls?
Therefore, God comes to us not by precept alone, but in the sacraments. This is not surprising. If we love someone, we try to express our love in ways she or he will understand. We say, “I love you.” But we also do things that show we care. We don’t limit ourselves to one or the other. Neither does God.

The sacraments are God’s ongoing way of conveying grace, in love, to us. In the sacraments the invisible touches the visible. Each sacrament consists of matter and form. Think of “matter” as the visible, physical part of the sacrament (bread and wine, for example). Think of “form,” as the words spoken by the minister of the sacrament, asking the invisible Holy Spirit to make the sacrament effective; to make it become what truly it is, not just a sign but a means of grace.

In other words, the sacraments are:

Efficacious [i.e., effective; they actually do something] signs of grace, instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church, by which divine life is dispensed to us. The visible rites by which the sacraments are celebrated signify and make present the graces proper to each sacrament. They bear fruit in those who receive them with the required dispositions.³

The Importance of Preaching
In “The Renewed Understand of the Liturgy of the Word” (Liturgy in the Twenty-First Century), Fr. Allan White explains that while preaching is not one of the seven sacraments, preaching Sacred Scripture is a vital part of sacramental life:

. . . the everyday words of the minister, the everyday experiences of the congregation are fashioned by the Holy Spirit, operating by his power in the midst of the community, into a real presence of Christ the Word. Through the operation of His Spirit God takes up temporal, everyday realities to be transformed into the means whereby his supernatural grace is channeled.

Misconceptions
Thus, sacraments are not “priestcraft,” as I was once taught in a strongly anti-Catholic sect. Nor is the power of any sacrament affected by the worthiness or unworthiness of the minister of the sacrament, although God desires holy priests. The sacraments are effective because God’s power flows through them. The Maronite Rite of the Catholic Church shows this vividly, as the priest’s hands flutter over the bread and wine — like the Holy Spirit descending as a dove at Christ’s baptism (Matthew 3:16) — to remind us that it is the Holy Spirit Who actually changes the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ.

Nor are the sacraments magic: go to communion, get the wafer, and all is well. No. Re-read the the final sentence of the indented paragraph, above: the sacraments “bear fruit in those who receive them with the required dispositions.” The interior disposition — the heart attitude and intentions of the Catholic Christian — are vitally important. The sacraments are not get-out-of-jail-free cards, that permit one to live like hell, yet go straight to heaven.

Truth, Goodness, and Beauty
By addressing common misconceptions of sacramentality, however, we’ve digressed from the amazing grace offered to us through the sacraments; from their immense spiritual beauty!

Through the sacraments, God meets us where we are, as what we are. We are enfleshed souls, matter and spirit, on our individual life journeys. He is not indifferent to the needs of our bodies, any more than our souls. “Taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8) — eternally, yes, but temporally as well. “For the work of Your hands, I shout for joy” (Psalm 92:5).

Yet Christ also says, “Come . . . learn from me and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:29). We are flesh and spirit and God provides for both.

Thanks be to God for His almost inconceivable love in Christ, coming to us in both Word and Sacrament. That is Christianity Richly!

 

¹ Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 362. Click the link to paragraph 362, by all means, but read on through paragraph 368 for a concise definition of what we truly are as women and men.

² Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraphs 365–366.

³ Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 1131.

For Catholic friends who fear I’ve only scratched the surface of sacramentality, you’re right. A helpful discussion is here and the entire section of the Catechism of the Catholic Church about the sacraments begins here.

For sisters and brothers in Christ who find too few citations of scripture in this post, I encourage you to read this and this. You will find many more references to scripture, in the context of Christian reflection on the sacraments for millennia. For you — and also with you, I hope — I pray Pope Francis’ prayer intentions for January 2016:  “That by means of dialogue and fraternal charity, and with the grace of the Holy Spirit, Christians may overcome divisions.”

 

Constant Presence

In Christianity on December 11, 2015 at 8:25 pm

“And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”
Matthew 28:20

O changing wheaten wafer, that veils the changeless One.
— 
From The Pilgrim Pavement, by Margaret Ridgeley Partridge

__________________

To write about Jesus Christ’s constant presence in the Eucharist brings us into deep waters. The Catechism of the Catholic Church calls the Eucharist “the source and summit of the Christian life.”¹ This doctrine is also a point of division among Christians. Yet the waters, deep as they are, are not unnavigable. Nor are they so wide that the waters cannot be crossed by non-Catholic Christians.

Not Just for Catholics
Note that this is not an exclusively Catholic Christian belief. Anglicans believe similarly, hence Margaret Ridgeley Partridge’s text, The Pilgrim Pavement.² Similarly, many Lutherans believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. The LCMS Lutheran church in which I was confirmed placed gentle reminders into the hymnbook rack, asking those who did not believe in Christ’s Real Presence in the Eucharist to refrain from taking communion.

Not Just a Belief  
Yet Christ’s ongoing presence with us in the Eucharist is not simply a belief. In our postmodern world, some of your friends and mine imagine they can believe one thing, and you or I can believe another—but all those “beliefs” can be true. No. Christ’s Real Presence can be believed or rejected. But it cannot be dismissed with “Well, I’m sure that’s true for you.” His body, blood, soul, and divinity are either present in the bread and wine or they are not. And if they are, if He is really present in the Eucharist, then this fact becomes the third door³ into the most compelling possible story.

Not a Complete Explanation
It would be tempting to continue here with an explanation of the Eucharist, how it is celebrated in the liturgy of the Church, and even why—if Christ is really present—the bread still looks and tastes like bread; the wine still looks and tastes like wine.

But these topics are explained elsewhere. See this FAQ on the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ website. Or read the Catechism of the Catholic Church for this stunningly beautiful and much more complete explanation.

It would also be tempting, if Christianity Richly were a theological textbook rather than a celebration of Christ’s riches, to address the opinions of some who reject the Real Presence (e.g., John Calvin and Charles Hodges, whose views were the foundation for much of my early Christian experience).

Real Incarnate Love
But rather than conclude this post with explanations that can be found elsewhere, I want to share something I witnessed that helped me link all three parts of the Gospel account, the electrifying story of God’s creating love, the His caring intervention, and Jesus Christ’s constant presence with us in the Eucharist.

Catholic Christians express the truth of the Real Presence in the Eucharist is by bowing deeply or genuflecting to Christ, before being seated, as we enter the pew. Similarly, Catholic Christians kneel to honor and worship Christ in the Eucharist at times separate from liturgical worship. Such times are called “Adoration.”

What did I witness? One day while I was at Adoration in a small chapel, one of the parish priests entered and removed several of the consecrated hosts in which Christ is present. He probably was going to take Christ in the Eucharist to the sick of the parish. Whatever the reason, the speed with which he entered and departed struck me as inconsistent with the solemnity of Adoration. Then the realization hit me:

No, no! The priest’s entrance, the gathering of the Eucharistic Bread, and his departure were exactly right. St. John explained, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled . . . ” (1 John 1:1).

When God came into the world as the babe we adore at Christmastime, he was touched and handled by His mother—to bathe, to change, to embrace in love—the same way the priest entered the chapel and handled Christ in the Eucharist. 

When Christ’s cousins and friends roughhoused with Him during His childhood, as all boys do, His divinity was veiled. He was touched and handled in a way that was completely inconsistent with the fact He was (and is) the Second Person of the Trinity.

When Christ was seized by the chief priests, officers, and elders of the temple in the Garden of Gethsemane, He was handled in a way that was much more than rough.  And when He was scourged and nailed to a cross as a human criminal, the God of the universe permitted Himself to be handled as if He were even less than a mere man.

In all of this, Christ was “veiled,” as Margaret Ridgeley Partridge’s wonderful hymn text says: O changing wheaten wafer, that veils the changeless One.

  • He was veiled in the womb of The Blessed Virgin Mary
  • He was veiled as a newborn child in the manger
  • He was veiled in his youth, recognized simply as Joseph’s son
  • He was veiled during His public ministry and teaching
  • He was veiled to those who did not believe, and at times seemingly, even to His followers
  • He was veiled as He was seized by the mob, taken before Pilate, scourged, and crucified
  • He is veiled today in us as we fall into sin, division, or “casual Christianity”—yet we are members of His Church and His mystical body

At any point, the Second Person of the eternal Triune God could burst forth with more power than a nuclear bomb. Yet He did not. He remained veiled; hidden to human eyes, revealed only to the eye of faith that saw the reality beneath the veil of humanity.

Is it so difficult, then, to see His Real Presence veiled in the Eucharist? He gives Himself to us in the Eucharist and remains truly with us— not just “spiritually” or abstractly but Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity veiled in bread and wine—until the end of the age.

This is creating love, shown through God’s caring intervention, and His constant presence with us until the end.

This is a compelling, electrifying story! And this is certainly Christianity Richly.

 

¹ Catechism of the Catholic Church,  ¶ 1324.

² The Pilgrim Pavement.  The copyright holder for this work is uncertain, but the complete text (not reproduced here), along with Vaughan Williams musical setting, is available on Chandos Records, Vaughan Williams: Symphony #5. This text served as the basis for a post on Christ’s Real Presence four years ago, here, where you will find a shorter meditation.

³ See Evangelical Catholicism, near the end of the post, for an explanation of how the elements of the Gospel record—which are most compelling, most electrifying to us—become “doors” into that story.