Saturday, March 3, 2018

There is only one eucharist but is there only one way to eucharist?

Cardinal Sarah will not have majority support of the Catholic Communion for his latest outburst against diabolical ministry, this time charging that:

"“The most insidious diabolical attack consists in trying to extinguish faith in the Eucharist, sowing errors and favouring an unsuitable manner of receiving it,” the cardinal wrote.“Truly the war between Michael and his Angels on one side, and Lucifer on the other, continues in the heart of the faithful: Satan’s target is the Sacrifice of the Mass and the Real Presence of Jesus in the consecrated host.“Why do we insist on communicating standing in the hand? Why this attitude of lack of submission to the signs of God?“[Receiving kneeling and on the tongue] is much more suited to the sacrament itself. I hope there can be a rediscovery and promotion of the beauty and pastoral value of this manner. In my opinion and judgment, this is an important question on which the church today must reflect. This is a further act of adoration and love that each of us can offer to Jesus Christ.”"
But he makes a point to ponder about the purpose of the eucharist: in his view it is the epitome of adoration. That is, eucharist is (or should be, as exemplified by our posture in receiving) pure worship.

I suggest a triangle of such points, for us to ponder.

At another point of the triangle is eucharist as nurture or nourishment. This is readily exemplified in our Kiwi Anglican practice, flowing from our belief that baptism is entry to communion, so even the youngest child may receive. Thus some of our communion distributions involve a somewhat chaotic stream of people in which some stand to receive, some kneel, none receive on the tongue, this one holding out one hand, that one offering one hand placed upon the other, here a child reaches up to take the bread, there a parent breaks off a corner of a wafer to place in their baby's mouth (ok, some receive on the tongue!). We Kiwi Anglicans can scarcely say our children at such moments are engaged in an act of adoration. We can say that we wish our children to receive the nourishment of the body of Christ, that we want Christ's saving life to infuse their young lives. On the matter of posture, Presbyterians might offer a comment here: if eucharist is nourishment then the posture of sitting down to ingest the meal of Christ is appropriate.

For the third point of the triangle, imagine a slightly different scene, as we will have today at our Diocesan synod when we debate That Topic, a eucharist in which people diametrically opposed to each other on a matter of importance doctrinally* nevertheless share in the one bread of Christ signifying both belief and intention that they are one body of Christ,** in both cases, whatever aspects of adoration and of nourishment are present, the eucharist is fellowship in Christ. Participation through shared bread and cup is just that, participation in Christ. The appropriate posture here, incidentally, might be a circle of people standing, passing the plate and cup to one another, a circle and a movement of love, one to another.

Thus the citation above about Cardinal Sarah's plea for eucharist as pure worship is a challenge to the other points of the triangle. But the other points in the triangle are also a challenge back to Cardinal Sarah: it is not diabolical to distribute and to receive communion in ways which emphasise the eucharist as nourishment and as fellowship.

Incidentally, a lovely Anglican response to Cardinal Sarah is offered by Covenant and Catholicity in a via media post which reminds us that the rubric of the BCP provides for (requires) Anglicans to kneel when receiving, though the receiving is in hands placed in a supplicatory manner. However kneeling betokens rails.

The strictness of Cardinal Sarah re the way to eucharist is matched in an article on possible intercommunion between Catholics and Protestants (when married) by the strictness of response which emphasises the whole panoply of sacramental system in order for communion to be received. [Update: see also this caveat.]

In my own mind I am with the German bishops and not with their critics because their point is that our communion in Christ is about a shared understanding of the real presence of Christ and not about a shared understanding of how the real presence of Christ in communion comes about. When Christ taught us about his flesh and blood in John 6 the implication is that we receive that teaching and believe it. There is no implication about the role of human ministry in communion, let alone requirement as to what we believe about that ministry.

Cardinal Sarah's challenge, interestingly, is not only a somewhat severe challenge to ecumenical unity across the Christian world, a unity which only reaches true maturity in Christ when we not only meet together in council but also in communion, but also to Catholic unity itself. The practice he urges and the invective he brings against its diabolical counterpart is not actually conducive to unifying the post Vatican II Catholic church itself.

Our focus in communion must be Christ himself and not our practice in receiving. It is Christ who nourishes us, who binds us in fellowship and who draws us to adore himself.

As in other recent posts I will not take comments on That Topic or which veer towards discussing it. The topic here is the eucharist, how it is distributed, how it is received and who may share in it.

*we have other non-doctrinal matters today to consider that I think will demonstrate some strong disagreements.
** yes, of course, on this particular matter we may end up in schism, but it won't be today.


Anonymous said...

Thanks, Peter.

Cardinal Robert Sarah often makes this kind of comment - the surprise is that he is Pope Francis' appointment to this significant position. It does not easily fit with the image of Pope Francis that is normally promoted.

Those meeting at the Council of Nicaea (325) were horrified to hear of places where people knelt on Sunday. They made a rule (Canon 20) that, at least on Sundays and during the 50 days of the Easter Season, people were to pray standing. This continued a tradition that was around at least a couple of centuries earlier, for in Tertullian's De Corona (ch. 3) that tradition is described as being longstanding.


jonathan said...

Anyone know how the first recipients of the first communion would have received it? (I.e. presumably intelligent speculations as I don't think we have that detail from Scripture...) Jonathan

Anonymous said...

Jews met in local gathering places—synagogues—to worship and pray and to teach and to learn Torah. They had long integrated many of these practices into their homes as well, combining worship, meals, and prayers. The early followers of Jesus emphasized these activities as well but with modifications. Their central ritual, the Lord’s Supper or Eucharist, took place during a meal. The bread for the meal was broken beforehand and shared out with the appropriate words of remembrance about Jesus. The cup of wine was drunk at the end and passed around in the same ritual way. The meal was then followed by the appropriate religious entertainment, as opposed to the usual pagan fare, and this seems to have meant worship in a style modern Christians would identify as Pentecostal or charismatic. When Paul describes one of these gatherings in Corinth he says that people brought songs to the meeting that they had composed. During the gathering they spoke in tongues, prophesied, and prayed for miracles, healings, and deliverance.

Douglas A Campbell. Paul: An Apostle's Journey. Kindle 593-600.


Anonymous said...

Peter; Pliny the younger’s letter to the Emperor Trajan indicates informal services; though whether the description qualifies as a eucharist is unclear.

“They asserted, however, that the sum and substance of their fault or error had been that they were accustomed to meet on a fixed day before dawn and sing responsively a hymn to Christ as to a god, and to bind themselves by oath, not to some crime, but not to commit fraud, theft, or adultery, not falsify their trust, nor to refuse to return a trust when called upon to do so. When this was over, it was their custom to depart and to assemble again to partake of food--but ordinary and innocent food”.


Father Ron Smith said...

re Nick's comment: Certainly doesn't sound like any Eucharist I've attended.

Anonymous said...

Why do the azymites rage? Why do the doctrine-developers imagine a vain thing?

Sarah's preface incorporates by reference the claims of the book itself, which chronicles and then opposes the theology that has led to the challenged practice. Absent the book, one cannot fairly evaluate the argument, although like Peter in the OP one can arrive at other conclusions by other arguments.

What is interesting about the sentiment itself-- whether right or wrong in its pastoral context-- is the notion that revealed truth allows, not a best practice and an alternate or two, but exactly one practice which is itself divinely revealed, in this case by the Angel of Peace at Fatima and the examples of Mother Teresa and Karol Wojtyla. Belief in this sort of liturgical *precisionism* was normal in the Middle Ages (see the link), and remains so in mainstream Orthodoxy, but it has been out of vogue in the West for a long time.

One must believe something like it, if one is going to infer doctrine from practice, as many Anglicans wish to do. Yet as Peter implies in the OP, because variant practices are practised in the Body, such inferences tend to divide it.

One cannot overcome a strong presumption against a divisive teaching unless one can show that each of the alternates to it is a plain mistake. But that requires just the sort of systematic thinking that those making inferences from practice alone are usually trying to avoid.