Eucharistic Blasphemy

There is a prayer said by the Roman Catholic priest before he receives the Holy Eucharist, the Flesh and Blood of Jesus Christ, usually muttered so quietly that the congregation cannot hear. I’ll give you the version from the New Translation, because its awesome, you’re awesome, and thus you and the New Translation are going to get along dandily: “May receiving your Body and Blood, Lord Jesus Christ, not bring me to judgment and condemnation, but through your love and mercy let it be my protection in mind and body, and a healing remedy.”

This prayer is beautiful because it is frightened. It is awesome because it is awestruck. The priest is begging that he be made worthy for the sacrament, but the prayer also admits a rather breath-taking truth: If the Eucharist is not the amazing gift we say it is, than it is the most hideous blasphemy practiced on this earth. If we truly believe we are eating God, and we are wrong to, then we are the worst kind of blasphemers.

Christ was very clear when He told us, “this is my body,” and we Catholics take Him at his word. Apparently we trust this Jesus guy. But in obeying our Lord at every Mass, and receiving the Holy Eucharist, we often forget just how bizarre and radical the whole idea is. The truth is that Catholics can never be ‘fit into’ modern Christianity, for no matter how socially acceptable the prayer, music, Scripture, or declarations of faith in the Liturgy, we will always wrap it up by eating God. In case there is any wonder of what that actually means: We chew Him with our teeth, break Him down with our saliva, absorb him through our tongues, swallow Him, where he is soaked and pulled apart in our stomachs, and distributed into our blood and body. We are often accused of cannibalism. It is one of the few accusations that I like.

For we who chew on the flesh of the son of Man (In John 6:54-58, the Greek word used for “eat,” “trogo,” means literally to “chew” or to “gnaw.”) there is no doubt of whether we really, truly receive Him – why would we doubt Christ? – but there should always remain the slight fear that we will be smited, razed to the ground for our blasphemy. There’s always the prayer, “Let it not bring me condemnation…” And I believe there’s great value in restoring the sense of the inappropriateness of the Mass. If you cannot view it in its fullness, the next best thing is to view it as if you stumbled upon the event in a hidden grove, as if you spied on a secret rite. If you cannot return from recieving the Eucharist with the words, “Lord, could such beauty be possible?” on your lips, the next best thing is to whisper, “Good Lord, could this possibly be allowed?” Because the truth Jesus Christ professes is shocking; it must either be rejected as ludicrous or accepted as incredible, but woe betide the man who works to accept it as boring.

There was no boring acceptance in the crowd Jesus instructed, when he laid before him the world’s most maddening ultimatum: “Unless you eat my body and drink my blood, you shall not have life within you.” There was no recording of a group of men who realized that it was all just a symbol, nodded politely, and stayed. There were those who stayed, and those who left. And I have sympathy with the the crowd who left Christ that day. They stumbled upon a declaration so bizarre and seemingly blasphemous; they must have thought the earth would swallow the man whole. But Christ did not rephrase his words, he did not say, “Wait, come back! I was being metaphorical!” No, he repeats himself. “Eat me and live,” he says. And they leave. He turns to his disciples and asks them – I imagine with eyes blazing and face flushed – “do you want to leave me too?”

Note Peter’s response. It is not,”Oh yeah, Jesus, chew your flesh, we get it, makes sense.” It is the prayer of the priest. It is trembling faith in the person of Jesus Christ. “To whom shall else we go? You have the message of eternal life.” Peter holds Christ to his word. What else can he do? The people that stayed did not stay out of understanding, though that would come later. They stayed out of their radical trust in Jesus Christ. What awestruck reverence we would give the sacrament if we approached with this thought, “I am about to commit what would be the ultimate blasphemy, the eating of God, if it were not demanded by the only person with the power to allow such a thing; God Himself. And thus I receive His Flesh and Blood with fear and trembling, aware that Christ loves me so intensely that he would humble himself, even to the form of simple bread and wine, to dwell within me and I in Him.”

And that’s what we Catholics offer the world; the controversial view that Jesus Christ meant what He said. To a world obsessed with blaspheming God in every new and boring way possible, we present the one blasphemy God has allowed us, the beautiful contradiction, the terrible humility of our God. He, truly present in the Holy Eucharist, is our fierce pride and passion. And so we do things like this, and it’s awesome.

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  • Mindy Goorchenko

    Interesting perspective, Marc. I don’t entirely see that this prayer “admits a breath-taking ultimatum” that it is possibly blasphemous, as the Liturgy is very clear about what is actually happening. The Divine Liturgy as celebrated in the Byzantine Church contains this very prayer, essentially (the new translation of the English Mass will be much more similar to this), which the whole congregation prays prior to receiving Holy Communion:

    “O Lord, I believe and profess that You are truly Christ, Son of the Living God, Who came into this world to save sinners of whom I am the first. Accept me today as a partaker of your mystical supper, O Son of God, for I will not reveal Your mysteries to your enemies, nor will I give you a kiss as did Judas, but like the thief I profess You remember me, O Lord, when You come into Your Kingdom. Remember me, O Master, when You come into Your Kingdom. Remember me, O Holy One, when You come into Your Kingdom.

    “May the partaking of these Holy Mysteries, O Lord, bring me not judgment or condemnation but the healing of soul and body.

    “O Lord I also believe and profess that this which I am about to receive is truly Your most precious Body, and Your life-giving Blood, which, I pray, make me worthy to receive for the remission of my sins, and for life everlasting. Amen.

    “O God, be merciful to me, a sinner. O God, cleanse me of my sins, have mercy on me. O Lord, forgive me for I have sinned without number.”

    There is no possibility here of professing that “this may actually be blasphemy” or even of maintaining a healthy fear, as you put it, that it may actually be blasphemous. Rather, the blasphemy occurs when we do not believe in the truth of His Holy Presence actually and truly present in the Sacraments, or receive Him in a way that condemns us, per 1 Corinthians 11:27-29 (and actually, the descriptions of behavior explained prior to these verses:

    Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord. 28A person should examine himself, and so eat the bread and drink the cup. 29For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself.

    I’m probably just being picky, but I see your interpretation as slightly “made up” when, in the context of the Liturgy, it seems to say something different. We should be more concerned about ourselves ACTUALLY BLASPHEMING and then receiving Him, rather than receiving Him and thinking about how great it is that we would be blaspheming if Jesus had not given the grace to receive Him!

    • Marc

      no, no, no you misread. I said “if it wasn’t what we say it is” namely, a thing promised to us by Christ, than it would be blasphemy. But it is. I’m not saying the priest’s prayer makes it ‘possibly blasphemous’ I’m saying the priests prayer acknowledge’s that the event of eating God – if it is something we do when we should not – would condemn him. If this is the impression that came across, Imma start rewriting.

    • Chris Hora

      This reminds me of talks which I have heard by Scott Hahn and others … who beg forgiveness for when they have received the Eucharist without being fully aware of what they are receiving.

      I have had similar experiences to Marc, where I have pondered what the Eucharist looks like from outside the Catholic Church. From someone who doesn’t understand … it looks like we are worshiping a cracker and a cup of wine. In which case, it is either completely true … or the most horrific blasphemy that the world has ever known.

    • Andrew Patton

      Unworthy Communion is the second-most blasphemous thing a person can do: second only to the deliberate desecration of the Eucharist. That is what the potential blasphemy is: not the eating but the possibility that the communicant is unworthy to receive.

  • Julie Turner

    Hey, man, I love your blog! But since the move I can’t find the new rss feed… Help?

    • Mary

      Hi Julie!
      Scroll and follow the arrow! Good luck.

  • Penny Farthing1893

    I have to admit that in my movie-drenched mind, when I am tempted to receive Communion when I need to go to Confession, I always picture the melting Nazis at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark. I also love that prayer that the priest says (it’s in the Tridentine Mass too, along with a ton of other mind-blowing stuff that I hopes makes it into the new translation)

  • Sleeping Beastly

    Love your blog, Marc. Thank you!

  • Molly

    Eastern Orthodox Communion prayers are like that as well (and very long, because we insist on repeating just about everything at least three times in ten different ways).

    “For it is not with careless heart that I approach thee, O Christ my God, but I come trusting in thine infinite goodness, and fearing lest I may be drawn afar from thee and become the prey of the wolf of souls.”

    Is it only the priest that says prayers like that, or everyone?

  • Grace

    Adoration flash mob FTW!

  • First Communion Dresses

    Thank you for this great write up about the Holy Eucharist.