On The Eucharist: Part Four

On The Eucharist: Part Four July 18, 2017

This is the fourth post on a series exploring the eucharist. Click here for part one, and here for part two, and here for part three.

 Eucharist, Late XI - Early XII Century, St Mary Perivleptos Church, Ohrid Icon Gallery. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Eucharist, Late XI – Early XII Century, St Mary Perivleptos Church, Ohrid Icon Gallery. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
While the mysterious transformation of bread and wine into Christ seems remarkable to us, we must understand that the processes involved are not without precedent. The world which we live in is in constant flux; things within it a changing all the time. Thanks to evolution, life forms emerge out of other, different forms of life, so that speciation itself demonstrates the mysterious forces of transformation which exist in the world of change. Jesus, the Word of God, works with creation and integrates it into himself, giving word to the new creation, to the new forms of life, outside of his eternal mind, so that the changes in creation can be seen taken place eternally within the eternal Word himself. What happens in time participates in eternity; likewise, thanks to the incarnation, what takes place in time is lifted into eternity are finds itself perfected, so that what the process of change aim for in time find themselves completed in their union with the Word made flesh.

In this fashion, Jesus takes bread into himself and transforms it within himself, completing and perfecting the processes which would have occurred if he had eaten the bread. In the liturgical rites, this is now done in a different modality of incorporation that if Jesus ate bread (for he does not need to do so to affect the change), and without the need of time (as he would if he ate it). The gifts handed over to him he takes unto himself and then renders it back to us, transformed by him into himself, so that we can receive him (and, mysteriously, be received into him). The act, the experience, the idea is able to be presented to us simply, but the mystery which lies behind that simplicity demonstrates a logical complexity when we try to embrace it with our human mind. We can simply state what it is we are doing, and why we believe we are doing it, but when we explore it, as we explore most other truths (scientific, mathematical, philosophical, et. al.), we find that the structures of human logic lead us to examine it through many different angles, as Florensky understood:

Our point of reference is the Eucharist. It is a combination of concrete actions, but for us the important thing is not that it exists in general but that we partake of it. Sacraments, saints, angels, rites, etc., not to mention the person of Jesus Christ, are metaphysically first for the religious consciousness, while logically they are the most complex, because Christ contains the whole fullness of being; every man can follow Christ, because every man can see himself in Him, can distinguish in Him such traits of his own character that he cannot see in himself because they have become darkened by dirt. [1]

We can believe and receive in simplicity, and share in the grace which is given, but the more we do so, the more our mind is filled with awe and we find ourselves shaken yet drawn in by the wonderment, contemplating what it is we receive. We realize that the physical form of what we eat hides from our senses the great truth of what we partake. This is not too unusual, for even in the material sciences, all kinds of truths are hidden from ordinary experience and yet are able to be discovered and proved to be true:  all we need to consider is how the atomic structure of the world is hidden from our ordinary sensual input, and yet we can ponder, explore, and map out that structure, and as we do so, we find that there are many levels of sub-atomic structures which we can find, showing the great complexity which lies behind the matter which we take for granted. With communion, we partake of something which is not only riddled with mysteries pertaining its material form, but also higher mysteries in relation to its spiritual reality. Thus, when we ponder what we receive, we begin to realize the essential properties of what eat follows metaphysical principles and rules even when we discern its physical qualities adhere to the rules and regulations of simple matter and what is to be expected from bread and wine.

What this means is that how we view physical bodies and how we view spiritual substances will differ from each other. What is physical, what is material, manifests itself in a form which can be broken down and examined according to material principles. It exists in time and space. It is able to be known according to its physical structure. It follows basic material rules: what is found at one place will be a different object (no matter how similar) from an object found at another place. Spiritual substances are not limited to time and place, and so are not able to be cut up and divided in the same fashion; what is spiritual can be manifest at many places at once in the material realm, and each place it finds itself in the material realm, it exists as a whole, not in parts. The soul, for example, is one and universal throughout its; each part of the body has the same soul, the same whole soul; the soul is not divided into parts but manifests itself fully wherever it is at. Likewise, spiritual principles which rule the physical world are able to be experienced in their whole form in each and every place that principle is encountered, even if the physical form which manifests that spiritual reality is not so universally encountered.

The eucharist is one and the same throughout the world, even if the physical form in which it is received is different. It is the substance of Christ: it is Jesus is. It is his flesh and blood, soul and divinity because the person of Jesus Christ is found in and with all of those together: his body is united to him and is with him and will always be with him as a result of the incarnation. To receive the fullness of Jesus, is to receive all of these – even if the physical manifestation in which we receive Jesus is that of bread and wine. Each piece of the bread, each drop of the wine, is itself the fullness of Jesus – it does not matter how it is divided and placed in the world, whether the physical form is a large piece of bread, or a crumb, what is received in it is the whole of Jesus and all of who he is in his person. It is a sacramental presence because it takes what it is found in nature and raises it up. The material form, the food, continues in its physical form to represent and signify what it is we are receiving, food, but it is more than a mere sign, but within the sign the reality of that sign is manifest in a form beyond the material form. The eucharist completes what is signified by the material for because it is our proper and perfect food, Jesus Christ himself.

The way we receive the whole Christ no matter the physical manifestation is explained, then, by Guitmund of Aversa as way to understand that there are not many bodies of Christ being received, but the one and the same in each material particle which the faithful eats:

Thus the whole Host is the body of Christ in such a way that each and every separate particle is the whole body of Christ. Three separate particles are not three bodies, but only one body. Nor do the particles themselves differ among each other as if they were a plurality, since the one particle is the whole of the body as the rest of them are that same body. [2]

Likewise, then, it is the same Christ, the same one Christ, the same one Lord, which is found wherever the eucharist is held up for veneration and adoration. We see it in separate physical bodies, separate pieces of bread and separate chalices full of wine, but yet, despite the material division, there is the same one Lord who is able to be encountered in each and every place the eucharist is to be found:

And so Christ’s body is to be understood to be ‘in one place,’ namely visibly in human form; but his truth, that his, his divinity, is everywhere. His truth, that is, his true body, is on every altar wherever the Eucharist is celebrated. [3]

We can say that Christ is with us corporeally because of the physical form of bread and wine which we receive. The physical manifestation is corporeal, following the rules and laws of ordinary physics; essentially it is Christ, but our sensual reception is of the physical form which lies before us. So long as it is there, Christ is present with us, giving himself to us, giving himself substantially to us in corporeal form. We receive him corporeally, but as he comes to us in his complete person, with a corporeal form and a sacramental reality, so we are able to receive him in our whole person, to be nourished in body as we are lifted up and engraced in the spirit. As long as the corporeal presence is there, then his presence is there, and he is working with us in that presence to transform us and lift us up beyond ourselves, as Hugh of St. Victor wrote:

Thus then in His sacrament now He comes temporarily to you and He is by means of it corporeally with you, that you through His corporeal presence may be raised to seek the spiritual and be assisted in finding it. When you hold His sacrament in your hands, He is with you corporeally. When you take in in your mouth, He is with you corporeally. When you eat it and when you taste it, He is with you corporeally. Finally in sight, in touch, in taste, He is with you corporeally. As long as the sense is affected corporeally, His corporeal presence is not taken away. [4]

It is proper to be both because Jesus, the New Adam, took on our physical and spiritual nature, and he renders to both his saving grace: “Now seeing that this Adam is spiritual, it was meet that both the birth and likewise the food should be spiritual too, but since we are of a double and compound nature, it is meet that both the birth should be double and likewise the food compound.”[5] It is spiritual, as St. John of Damascus explained, but not in a way of rejecting the physical; it is holistic, allowing the spiritual side to be nourished through the physical form of bread and while, giving us, in our whole person, what we need to be nourished and lifted up into Christ. Through communion, we receive God’s transformative, deifying grace. We also see that the means by which we receive Christ helps us realize that our physical form is to be included in our salvation, that it is not to be cast off; we are to become members of Christ with the fullness of our person kept intact. Those who would question the possibility of our flesh being saved are shown by Christ he intends to save it, and so he gives himself to us through it. Our body, therefore, is capable of receiving “the gift of God” as St. Irenaeus explained because it literally receives the thanksgiving gift of the eucharist in itself:

When, therefore, the mingled cup and the manufactured bread receives the Word of God, and the Eucharist of the blood and the body of Christ is made, from which things the substance of our flesh is increased and supported, how can they affirm that the flesh is incapable of receiving the gift of God, which is life eternal, which [flesh] is nourished from the body and blood of the Lord, and is a member of Him?— even as the blessed Paul declares in his Epistle to the Ephesians, that “we are members of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones.”[6]


 

[1] Pavel Florensky, At the Crossroads of Science & Mysticism. Trans. Boris Jakim (Kettering, OH: Semantron Press, 2014), 93-4.

[2] Guitmund of Aversa, “ On The Truth of the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist,” in Lanfranc of Canterbury: On the Body and Blood of the Lord and Guitmund of Aversa: On The Truth of the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist. Trans. Mark G. Vaillancourt (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 2009), 105.

[3] Peter Lombard, The Sentences. Book 4: On the Doctrine of the Signs. trans. Giulio Silano (Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies, 2010), 51 [X.iv-1.5].

[4] Hugh of Saint Victor, On the Sacraments. Trans. Roy J. Deferrari (Cambridge: Medieval Academy of America, 1951), 314.

[5] St. John of Damascus, “On the Orthodox Faith” in NPNF2(9): 82.

[6] St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies in ANF(1):528.

 

 

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