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What makes for a "good" liturgy?

 Michael Garvey’s thread below, about parish-shopping, has prompted an intelligent discussion which I wish many priests would read and take to heart. I was particularly struck by Claire’s first post, and these two paragraphs:

These days I spend at least half of my Sundays exploring, going to parishes where I have never been before. I feel like a little bishop, witnessing the incredible diversity of Catholic Mass liturgy, yet learning to recognize what constitutes the common core. They have in common that if I prepare the readings in depth, get there early, watch everything, listen to every word of the liturgy and try to pray them, then at some point during Mass I will be filled by a sense of profound peace, of being refreshed, of having a new start for the week; and that's independent of the specifics of that particular celebration. So my impression is that this peace is the core experience of going to Mass. The other potential perks - uplifting architecture, moving music, arresting homilies, smiling pew neighbors, etc. - are just bonus, occasional unexpected gifts.

...Then there are some Sundays when I don't do my homework, and when everything about the Mass is banal, I essentially sleep through it with nothing to wake me from my slumber, and afterwards I find myself exactly as though I had not gone. What's the point? And did anything really happen?  I fear that that's the normal Sunday experience of many, and that is not nourishing. If one needs something special in order to participate, say, a particular style of music for example, then why shouldn't they go where they can find it? 

What I liked about Claire's comments was, first, her recognition of the importance of her own participation in determining whether a liturgy has “worked” for her, and, second, her listing of some of the elements that go into an actual event of a liturgy. And this second point prompts the following questions: If someone asked you why you go to Mass, what would you reply? What is it that you want from a liturgy? What counts as a “good” liturgy? What do you take away from a “good” liturgy?  What elements make for a “good” liturgy? How would you rank them in importance? An encounter with God? Receiving communion? The biblical readings? The music? A sense of community? The homily? The priest’s performance of the gestures and prayers? One’s own personal participation and effort? Reverence? Quiet? Other things?

Comments

Commenting Guidelines

Kathy, why not? What would be bad about a "scriptural" hymn?

Scripture is meant to be sung, liturgically, but in different ways than hymns. The Gospels and other readings should be sung. The antiphons and Psalms of the proper texts (introits, communios, etc.) should be sung. But hymns are not ordinarily like that in the Tradition. People like Sts. Ambrose and Ephrem, when they wrote hymns, referred (lots) to the scriptures, but didn't quote large chunks of scripture, usually. Instead, they made a comprehensive whole or synthesis of a number of points of scripture, bringing them together, almost in a homiletic style. I would be happy to post some examples if I can figure out how to make paragraphs.

Here are some things.

I hope these comments may contribute in some fashion to the discussion thus far:

When I have not let myself be distracted by the frequently irrelevant homily or poorly chosen and/or poorly “performed” music or, less frequently—but more difficult to ignore, the learning of “new” English responses which are linguistically offensive, I have been “led to that full, conscious, and active participation in liturgical celebration which is demanded by the very nature of the liturgy" by allowing myself to “go with the flow” of the liturgy’s dynamic structure.

There is little doubt that the liturgy has a structure—otherwise the rubrics as providing a certain “standard operating procedure” are meaningless. To say that that structure is dynamic is to say much more.  It is to claim that the structure is self-structuring. Such a claim is the basis for my contention that Eucharistic liturgy is best understood—insofar as mystery is understood—as a celebration of the Body of Christ by the Body of Christ. 

As self-structuring the Eucharistic liturgy is “organic”.    “Study of an organism begins from the thing‑for‑us, from the organism as exhibited to our senses. A first step is a descriptive differentiation of different parts…

And so, I will begin not with an hypothesis but with a descriptive differentiation of the parts as I have experienced them when I have consciously and actively participated by allowing myself to go with the flow. And, consistently, my experience has been that the flow culminates in the community’s praying the Lord’s prayer.

We begin, come to, are gathered and greeting as individual sinners in the penitential rite. 

We attend to the saving word in the Liturgy of the Word. 

We profess our acceptance of the word in the Creed.

How does the plural “we” (Πιστεύομεν) in the doctrinal context relate to the liturgical context?

We pray “through” and “in” the history of the church in the Eucharistic prayer.  The climax comes when the community is gathered around Jesus who is really present to say the our Father—especially in its eschatological orientation. 

We are given our “daily” bread as testament to and provision for the promise of the kingdom to come. 

Such, it would seem is the experiential meaning which comes as a result of going with the flow.  The meaning is symbolic; like all symbols, it disposes us because the Eucharistic data, what is given in a through active participation, unlike the data of science, already has a meaning, a history.

The best liturgies for me were celebrated in three small parishes with ethnic roots that had been left on the hillside to die of benign neglect.  Instead, they remained solvent and spiritially potent.  Two of them have since been euthanized because  the death by natural causes did not occur  in a timely manner.

I have tried to analyze why they provided me with an emotional connection to faith where others have failed.  Here are some of the ingredients:  small space, small congregation, same celebrant every week, unconventional pastor - initelligent and learned but with simple presentation, the liturgy lovingly prepared by parishioners of uncertain abilities (e.g. the altar flowers, the music),  people doing their best and wearing their best, even if it is their least faded jeans.  These gatherings were a motley communion of aspiring and unselfconscous saints.  Amplification was not needed.  At one of the priests used to say "Take this and eat it" in the same kind and quiet tone that he would offer a potato chip at a social gathering.  All of this gave me the Eucharist as an experience rather than a ceremony. 

 

I finally admitted to myself a few years ago that liturgy was no longer supporting my spiritual life.

That is a disturbing comment. Anne persevered for decades; went to several parishes, but stayed for a long time and got involved in several ministries; has an active prayer life. I am puzzling over her 6:07 pm comment. Once again it bring up the alien, unwelcome idea that maybe the Eucharist is not necessarily central to our faith. When I see teenagers who don't go to Mass, I think: "If only they realized what they're missing!" or "If only they took their faith seriously!" or "It takes time to build an appreciation of the liturgy." But in this case, I don't know what to say. Something doesn't add up but I don't know what.

 

 

Claire --

I suspect that the basic reason some people no longer attend Mass is because they don't thoroughly connect the meanings of "Creator of all that exists", "Absolute Love", "Our Father", "Jesus of Nazereth"  or "Holy Spirit" with that stuff on the altar, whatever that is, that looks like bread and wine. I suspect that the images they connect with it vary widely.  

The image of some is that of a sort of a highly ethereal being, so ethereal it almost isn't there, a being who would really prefer not to be bothered with us, or who is so indifferent to us that it never truly hears our prayers, much less answers them.   Yes, this "God"  is an *It*, not a Who.  It's just a rigid maxi-being  who doesn't truly understand the real lives we live outside of church.  It treats my problems as unreal!  For some unexplained reason called  "Original Sin"  It positively dislikes us.  Or maybe for some people the image is of a Great Pretender who doesn't truly have the power to forgive sins, who can't actually give us life eternal, who only claims to love us, and certainly doesn't really love us enough to send Jesus that we might have eternal happiness.  Eternal happiness?  Who thought that one up?  

So Mass isn't really what the Church says it is, what our holy neighbors tell us.  The skeptics are right -- it's a sham ritual with no redeeming social value.  So why attend?

RE women homilists: There is apparently some "back door" way to make this happen. Typically, Father gets up and says a few words after the Gospel, introduces a theme for the homily and "turns it over" to a woman who has some first-hand knowledge or expertise to impart. She does her speaking below the ambo. So it's not technically a homily. At least that's the way I've seen it done once or twice at the local parish, and the woman was always a nun. When the woman is done, she goes back to her pew, and Father ends with a few words of his own.

In one of the Episcopal Churches we attended many years ago, the priest set up a "guest sermon" series (I think so he could go on vacation and not burden the supply priest with homiletic duties). These ranged from wonderful to utterly dreadful (and heretical). Some of the latter were given by women. So I've got no yen to hear a woman sermonize, just to hear a woman. And what the priest did wasn't exactly allowed. Only priests and some deacons are allowed to give sermons in the Episcopal Church, and for good reason.

A RCC parish bent on hearing from women can always figure out ways to make this happen outside the Mass--Bible study, RCIA, marriage preparation, CCD, etc. etc. My kid hears a lot from a woman about religious matters, but whether he listens is a whole other deal. 

Music? That needs to be a whole other discussion. I really would like to know more about the whys and wherefores of Catholic hymnology and why some things are considered good or bad (and not just someone's learned opinion). But attempts by Catholic music directors to explain their abhorrence for the hymns of my grandmothers ("What a Friend We Have in Jesus," "Peace Like a River," "Just As I Am," or anything recorded by Mahalia Jackson or Tennessee Ernie Ford) make me feel bad and stupid.

Jean:  I appreciate your comments about some of the music of your childhood that is evidently persona non grata.

My partner and I spent about 15 years attending a non-denominational church that featured a wide variety of music (reflecting the backgrounds of the attendees) and I grew to appreciate some of those hymns you mentioned above.

We re-poped and now at our current parish we have an excellent music program.  However, once in awhile I'll see a piece of music that we will sing (all published in our bulletin) and when the organist or pianist starts the tune is one of golden olides that I remember, but the words have been "Catholicized."

I have asked our music director about it and he tends to get a bit sniffy about the real words ... too Protestant.  However, they usually are better than some of the dreck that has been attached to the original music.

Everytime I hear "Just As I Am" I get all teary-eyed.  The older I get the more I realize that I am a Protestant in a Catholic parish.  To quote from "The Lord of the Rings" ....

 

PIPPIN: "Well, that isn't so bad."

GANDALF: "No. No, it isn't.”

 

 

Claire --

I suspect that one basic reason some people no longer attend Mass is because they don't thoroughly connect the meanings of "Creator of all that exists", "Absolute Love", "Our Father", "Jesus of Nazareth"  or "Holy Spirit" with that stuff on the altar, whatever it is, that looks like bread and wine. I suspect that the images some people connect with it vary widely from the images presented by the Church, so their understands of Mass differ widely.  

The image of some is that of a being which is present out of some sort of nobles oblige -- a being which would really prefer not to be bothered with us at all.  It's a highly ethereal being, so ethereal it almost isn't there, so far away it can't really hear our prayers.  Yes, this "God" is an *It*, not a Who. It's  a maxi-being which is so transcendent, so far above us in every way that it can't truly understand our little lives on Earth and doesn't really care.  For some unexplained reason called  "Original Sin"  It positively dislikes us.  

Or maybe sometimes the image is of something which is a Great Pretender who doesn't really have the power to forgive sins or actually give us life eternal, who only pretends to love us, and certainly doesn't love us enough to send Jesus that we might have eternal happiness.  (Eternal happiness?  Who thought that one up? A sweet ditzy nun?)  

So Mass isn't really what the Church says it is, what our holiest brethren tell us it is.  The skeptics are right -- it's a sham ritual with no redeeming social value.  So why attend?

Truth to tell, sometimes I share some of those images.  Sometimes it's hard not to.  But that's where faith comes in.  What is God truly?  How is He present to us?  What does He want from us? 

You know, Ann, that may well be many people's view, but I really don't think it's Anne's problem. Look at her comment  again (near the bottom of page 1): lifelong faithful, prayer groups, parish ministries, and even weekday Mass ... she's doing everything right.  If we fail with people such as her, we have a big problem.

 

Sorry for that double post.  I thought the first one didn't go through.  

Jean, not sure what sort of hymnological reasoning that you're looking for that isn't a learned opinion of somebody.

Claire --

But Anne also says that "the eucharist is not especially meaningful".  

Ann, I thought she meant that receiving communion did not particularly thrill her, not that she doubted the Real Presence; that her assent was intellectual but not emotional. If a lifelong committed Catholic cannot "see" how awesome it is that Christ comes to us again and again under that form (an awe that can be felt even while one may simultaneously be uncertain of the existence of God), don't we have a problem? Isn't it a form of failure of transmission of the faith?

Claire ==

Agreed.  But I think that the specific problem for many Catholics is that their image of God -- what they think God is, is in fact a very inadequaate, limited or unclear one.  I don't know that this is Anne's problem, but I'm sure that in many cases the images that Catholics use when thinking of God is a rather paltry one.  Often it seems to be the very common " venerable old man with a gray beard" who doesn't *really* care about us.  Is this a failure of education?  Indeed it is, but I sometimes wonder what catechists and seminarians are taught about God, at least some of them.  

Remember how in Milton's "Paradise Lost" Satan is a more appealing character than God is?  I suspect that happens to a lot of us.

I really would like to know more about the whys and wherefores of Catholic hymnology and why some things are considered good or bad (and not just someone's learned opinion). But attempts by Catholic music directors to explain their abhorrence for the hymns of my grandmothers ("What a Friend We Have in Jesus," "Peace Like a River," "Just As I Am," or anything recorded by Mahalia Jackson or Tennessee Ernie Ford) make me feel bad and stupid.

Jean - I'm sorry that you've been made to feel that way.

One of the issues here is that music, as an art, and a particularly experiential/subjective one, is very difficult to talk about objectively.  I believe it's to Martin Mull that this little bromide is attributed: "talking about music is like dancing about architecture".

But probably more importantly, there are some specific criteria that have been established to program hymns and other sacred music into liturgies, and a fair amount of formation and training is needed to be able to apply them in a professional, lawful and artistic way.  So when a professional person who has all that training needs to explain/justify a particular judgment to someone who doesn't have that same background, it can be difficult to have the conversation.  It's like if a very good tennis player tries to play a tennis match against someone who had never played tennis - it could be frustrating for both parties.  (Or like when I ask you questions about journalism :-)).  This doesn't excuse the music director: as part of the job, he/she *must* be able to talk with untrained parishioners, just as a doctor just be able to talk with patients like me that know absolutely nothing about medicine or science.  But whereas, you always answer my dopy journalism questions with patience, because you're a teacher as well as a journalist, some music directors aren't that good at communicating (which is a pastoral issue, of course, but it's the reality).

Most of us latch onto a song because we like it, whatever that means - somehow, in some way, it resonates with us, and it may also cause memories and connotations to well up within us.  Music directors are aware of those effects and associations and emotions, but there is a lot more they need to consider: for example, are the lyrics theologically sound; does the piece accord with the requirements of the liturgy (which may require, for example, that a specific text that cannot vary be used at a particular point); is it within a reasonable vocal range of the congregation (many professional recording artists have ranges that are way above-average, and they like to show them off in their recordings); does the parish community have the resources and talent to pull off a particular song; and there are a number of other considerations as well - including, sometimes infuriatingly, that a director may just plain not like a particular song.

 

Jim P. --

About the choice of hymns -- it seems to me that one person's sentimentality is another person's sentiment.  How do choir masters distinguish between the two?  Is there some criterion, preferably objective?

Hi, Ann, I have to admit I'm a little unclear on the distinction between sentimentality and sentiment.   But I'd think about it this way: there are two parts to a song: the lyrics and the music.  I don't know of objective criteria for determining the quality of either one.  

Frankly, I think a good deal is driven by some sort of elite critical consensus: just as anything written by Shakespeare or Wordsworth is assumed to be worthwhile, and anything composed by Bach or Mozart is thought the same, there is a sort of 'name recognition' that drives a lot of what is programmed in liturgies.  Coursework in English poetry and music appreciation may help mold the untutored person to conform his or her tastes and judgment to the critical consensus, i.e. helps us appreciate why Hamlet or the B Minor Mass are great.   But I've never heard of objective criteria for discerning why it is that Hamlet is greater than Coriolanus.  

And to some extent, the same subjective molding occurs in the world of liturgical music.  We saw it at work earlier in the comments about Lucien Diess.  He had achieved a name that was a byword for worthwhile compositions for the liturgy. Figuring out how to crack the list of name-composer bywords is something that hundreds of liturgical composers spend a lot of time working on :-)

 

Jim, thanks. Last year for Lent, I decided to sing a hymn a day. I mostly used "Breaking Bread," but in some cases, the words were different from the ones I knew; it would be interesting to learn how/why the lyrics were changed ("Immortal, Invisible" in BB is quite different from the Anglican version.) Sometimes I sang hymns that weren't in BB, but meant something to me. It was an uplifting exercise, and one my son sometimes enjoyed joining in. I realize we can't trust feelings when it comes to grace, but I certainly felt happier that Lent than I usually do.

Kathy, yes, I wrote that did sound dumb, and I wrote it without thinking it through. 

Duh, do over: Yes, what I wrote DID sound dumb (and so did the edit). 

Jim P. --

About the difference between sentimentality and sentiment  --

As I learned it, you might say that sentimentality is the eliciting of a *disproportionate* emotion of a sympathetic or even self-approving kind, while sentiment is not disproporitonate.  Sentimental thoughts are for the sake of making us feel enjoyable emotions.  The emotions are not really directed at the subject that elicit them.  Nostalgic emotions are often sentimental ones -- we sometimes enjoy remembering events or things that at the time were not all that enjoyable.  (One of my wise room mates once said:  "Women have more romances than men ever dream they do".  Think about it.)

Hymns can be sentimental.  The lyrics are there for us to enjoy -- but the subject is not really what the hymn is about, the hymn is really about our trivial emotion that accompanies the hymn  In other words, sentimental poetry doesn't *express* emotion so much as *elicit* emotion. Consider this stanza of "Bring flowers of the rarest".  It's partly about the flowers themselves, and it's nonsense, but calculated to make us feel good:

Their lady they name thee,
Their mistress proclaim thee,
Ah, grant that thy children on earth be as true
as long as the bowers
are radiant with flowers, 
as long as the azure shall keep its bright hue 

Flowers don't choose anything, don't proclaim anything.  Bowers don't last all that long (the wood rots because of the clinging plants).  And how can azure, as long as it IS azure, stop being  bright blue?  The whole thing is just over the top.  But sentimental poetry typically pours out pleasant words, even if nonsensical, to produce pleasant feelings.  Yes, our minds work like that -- words associated with pleasant meanings, even when nonsense in conjunction with other pleasant words, make us feel good even when the total is senseles.   

But poems expressing honest feelings don't make stuff up, they tell it like it is.

P. A.  Flattery is similar to sentimentality in that it too has as its object to elicit pleasant feelings.

Ann O:  you wrote a comment speculating as to why some people don’t find the mass to be “meaningful”.  You suggested that their vision of God is of someone uncaring or remote “so far away it can't really hear our prayers” and they can’t connect this remote, uncaring God with the bread and wine of the altar and you suggest that this is a failure of education. That may be the case with some.

Claire, you responded with a reference to my earlier comment. You said – “If a lifelong committed Catholic cannot "see" how awesome it is that Christ comes to us again and again under that form … don't we have a problem? Isn't it a form of failure of transmission of the faith?” That too may be the case with some, but probably not too many.

Claire, some people simply change over a lifetime, their understanding changes as the years go by. My understanding of God has changed and so the role of formal liturgy in my life also changed.

 I can’t speak for anyone but myself, but will try to explain a bit about why I find that the mass is not the best way to nourish my spiritual life - for me. Not for others.  It is a combination of factors, I suppose. Those factors may differ with each individual who does not find the mass to be a truly important part of their spiritual life. For me, the factors include the liturgy itself, a large assembly of people who say the same prayers, listen to the same readings and even hear the "same" homilies over and over - the repetition can stop being familiarly comfortable and begin being boringly familiar after a few decades..  I prefer small groups rather than large, something that is almost impossible to find even at the earliest mass on a Sunday in suburbia of a large metro area. A handful of people praying together in a small group is much more community than the assembly of hundreds at mass on Sunday. There is a great deal of discussion on this thread about music. For some, this is very important to their experience of mass and there are endless arguments about it. For others, such as myself, the best music at mass is no music at all. I am an introvert, I need quiet to recharge, and that includes quiet for recharging spiritually. That is one reason I started going to mass on weekdays instead of on weekends. There were relatively few people, no music, a simple liturgy and quiet. 

 Over the years my understanding of God evolved. Rather than experiencing God as a remote, uncaring figure, I increasingly felt God to be a loving presence, so close - surrounding us all the time, accessible in the very air we breathe. God can be seen in all of creation, God can be heard in all the sounds that surround us, and in our own hearts, especially when we sit in silence. I know, this sounds like a lot of fuzzy new age stuff to sophisticated Catholic theologian types - but this is what I have come to believe about God. Since God envelops us with love all the time, everywhere, and we can experience this if we just stop and look and listen, then mass becomes simply one way to experience God’s presence, not the only way or the “best” way – at least not the “best” for everyone.

Also, as I got older, I became less and less comfortable with the language and images used – the “sacrifice” of the mass, the implication that God demanded a horrible death – a blood sacrifice – in order to forgive human sin and that sacrifice is being repeated at every mass, everywhere. The images of “eating” Jesus’ flesh and “drinking” Jesus’ blood are very off-putting. God is near all the time – the “Real Presence” is everywhere, all around us. Nobody needs to “consume” Jesus’ flesh and blood in the form of bread and wine. Some don't find that idea to be awesome at all. I am very Protestant in this - I believe that the words of the Last Supper are metaphor.

 I realize that I am theologically unsophisticated compared to most here. But sometimes it seems theology complicates rather than clarifies. I no longer fight it.  Now I just seek out that which spiritually nourishes and no longer worry too much about that which does not.

 I fear that I am very unclear and suspect some here will dismiss what I say, thinking that I just don’t “understand” what the church teaches. Perhaps I don’t – in spite of a great deal of formal education in what the church teaches. And in my case, there are also years of informal education on my own.  None of what I say applies to anyone but me. There is no right and wrong - those for whom mass is important will continue to find it to be an important part of the spiritual life. Those who are not spiritually nourished by mass find other ways to support the spiritual life.

I am sorry - somehow the entire texts of Ann and Claire's posts got appended to my comment.  I'm not sure how this system works for copy/paste etc. When I re-read my own comment before hitting save, that text was not there, although I had copied and pasted them earlier into a word document.

Anne - Recently one Sunday I was in a remote, wild, beautiful place, several hours away from civilization. I said, somewhat wistfully: "I guess I'll have to miss Mass today". A Jewish friend who was with me spontaneously reacted: "What do you mean? This is just like church. All you have to do to see God is look all around you!"

On the blood sacrifice that appears to be demanded by a mean God, my favorite explanation is by Herb McCabe on a text about Good Friday and the Atonement, but I keep having to go back to it and rediscover it because I forget. Why is it so hard to internalize?  Maybe because you're right and the wording of the prayers at Mass tend to be misleading, not well adapted to contemporary understanding.

 

 

Anne Chapman:

I repaired your post to eliminate the quotations from Ann O. and Claire.

Your report on your spiritual journey and its implications for your participation in the eucharist have, of course, to be accepted as an honest description of how you got to where you are, and none of us can pass judgment on it.  I do want to make comments on two points you make. You wrote: “

Over the years my understanding of God evolved. Rather than experiencing God as a remote, uncaring figure, I increasingly felt God to be a loving presence, so close - surrounding us all the time, accessible in the very air we breathe. God can be seen in all of creation, God can be heard in all the sounds that surround us, and in our own hearts, especially when we sit in silence. I know, this sounds like a lot of fuzzy new age stuff to sophisticated Catholic theologian types - but this is what I have come to believe about God.”

I don’t regard your present beliefs as “fuzzy new-age-stuff”; and I think it’s infinitely closer to the truth than your “experiencing God as a remote, uncaring figure.” I am very sorry if that was once your notion of God–I find it hard to imagine what it would be like to experience that. When Augustine said of God that he was more inward than my inmost self, and that if you wanted to find God, you had to “return to your heart,” and that one moves toward God not by moving one’s feet but by changing one’s heart–views that can would be echoed thousands of times not only by theologians but by hymn-writers and preachers and poets–he was closer to your present views than to your earlier ones.

Later, you wrote: “Also, as I got older, I became less and less comfortable with the language and images used – the “sacrifice” of the mass, the implication that God demanded a horrible death – a blood sacrifice – in order to forgive human sin and that sacrifice is being repeated at every mass, everywhere. The images of “eating” Jesus’ flesh and “drinking” Jesus’ blood are very off-putting. God is near all the time – the “Real Presence” is everywhere, all around us. Nobody needs to “consume” Jesus’ flesh and blood in the form of bread and wine. Some don't find that idea to be awesome at all. I am very Protestant in this - I believe that the words of the Last Supper are metaphor.

To refer to the Mass, and to the cross beforehand, as a sacrifice by no means implies “that God demanded a horrible death–a blood sacrifice–in order to forgive human sin,” a matter on which we have already had several threads on this blog. Sacrifice-language is, of course, found in the New Testament, but without the implication you derive, and it would be difficult, I think, for the Church simply to jettison it. As for eating Christ’s flesh and drinking his blood, that language comes from Jesus in John 6, and is implied in the narratives of the Last Supper in the three Synoptic Gospels, and so once again we’re not likely to drop it. The Church has taken “Do this in remembrance of me” as a command it must obey. Again, to speak of the Real Presence of Christ in the eucharist is not to deny his real presence elsewhere–see above–but it is to make a claim about a real presence in the eucharist. I can understand, however, why you would not wish to participate in the thanksgiving of a church whose view of its central worship differs so greatly from yours. I respect your honesty in the matter, while I very much am sorry that you have gone from among us.

Fr. K, thank you for your response. My early impressions of God as mean Judge is the one conveyed in my parochial school, and it was an impression shared by most Catholics I know who were educated in parochial schools in the 1950s. This was a gotcha God - one who would damn an 8 year old to hell for all eternity if she ate a hot dog with her friends after swimming on a hot summer Friday and had the bad fortune to be hit by a car going home, not having confessed this deliberate mortal sin. We were taught that only Catholics would go to "heaven" (my two best friends as a child were Jewish and Protestant and I didn't think much of this teaching and rejected it in 3rd grade), we were taught that it was a sin to even enter a Protestant church or a Jewish temple unless it was for a wedding or a funeral. This God we were learning about was not a kind God. It seemed there were an almost endless number of rules and sins that could trip us up and send us to hell unless we went to confession before we died.

Fortunately, I grew up and realized that what we were taught in those 1950s parochial school classrooms was misleading at best, dead wrong and harmful at worst. But young children cannot discern these things very easily.

Could I ask you to please explain to me your understanding of the eucharist as eating Jesus' flesh and drinking Jesus' blood. Perhaps my Catholic school education (which included college) mislead us once again. We were taught that the substances of bread and wine were changed - literally - into the flesh of Jesus and the blood of Jesus and that what appear to be bread and wine are only the accidents of bread and wine - their appearance was not what they actually were. They are "really" flesh and blood. I have found that most Catholics shy away from anyone asking about this in the context of cannibalism which is consuming human flesh and blood. Nobody wants to think of the eucharist this way, but I have not yet read or heard a good explanation as to how this differs from cannibalism. And certainly nobody would take communion if what they were consuming was not the accidents of bread and wine but flesh and blood. 

The Episcopalians (at least those whom I know in a single parish, including the two priests) believe in the Real Presence of Jesus in the eucharist. They use that term. But they don't believe in transubstantiaton - they believe in the divine presence and that the eucharist is "spiritual food", but not that it is literally the flesh and blood of Jesus under the form of bread and wine. 

I have read up on transubstantiation a number of times, but never long theological treatises as I don't have the theology background to understand most of them. I have yet to find an explanation that would explain away the implications of cannibalism to an ordinary person

Thank you for your help on this.

 

There is a Commonweal article (not light reading) by Terence Nichols, http://www.commonwealmagazine.org/‘-my-body-0 that contains this paragraph raising your point:

Modern commentators speak of the Eucharist as a meal of fellowship, in which Christ gives himself to us and makes himself present. In the traditional understanding of transubstantiation, however, it is hard to see how the Eucharist can be a meal. What exactly are we eating? It is not the bread and wine, since after the consecration they are no more. Certainly it is not the literal, physical, flesh and blood of Jesus, which would make us cannibals (I cannot think of a faster way to empty the churches than to emphasize this interpretation). Therefore we are eating the glorified body and blood of Christ. But these are spiritualized matter, not physical in the way that bread and wine are physical, so it is hard to see how they constitute a meal.

but he repeatedly warns

 The traditional understanding of transubstantiation has no analogy in nature and is therefore difficult to understand and to believe.

Maybe that is why discussions of transsubstantiation quickly become technical arguments reserved to a few specialists. It is difficult for us because we don't have words and we can't relate it to the things we know. 

 

 

Eating the body of Christ certainly does present a terrible problem if the image used in thinking of "eating the body" is an image of a cannibalistic act of taking a bit bite out of a living person with a view to killing him/her and eating it.  Totally repulsive.

So, as with so much in Catholic teaching, it seems to me that the meaning must be a metaphorical one.  I find the image of the gestation of a child in its mother's womb to be useful when thinking of the Eucharist. When we think of a child gestating in its mother's womb, the thought of the baby's taking in part of the body of its mother and turning it into its own body is not a repulsive image at all.  Rather, we see it as a beautiful and intimate sharing of life itself.  And so it is in the Eucharist. Christ shares His body with us and thereby shares not just His body but His very life.

 

it occurs to me that the reason that so many people find the dogma of "transubstantiation" to be unacceptable is because they have confused the changing of the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ with the consuming of the host and "wine".  They're two different miracles.  I have no problem with transubstantiation, but would find it repulsive to think of Communion as what cannibals do.

Fine theological point here: Episcopalians may (and many do) believe in transubstantiation, the notion of the Real Presence having been expanded some time ago to include transubstantiation. At the communion rail, you are offered the "the body of Christ, the bread of heaven" and "the blood of Christ, the cup of salvation," which expresses both the physical and metaphorical aspects of the sacrament.

The post-communion prayer thanks Christ for having "accepted us as living members of your Son, our Savior" and "fed us with spiritual food in the Sacrament of His Body and Blood," again emphasizing that we are Christ's, physically and in spirit" after receiving the Eucharist.

As a former Episcopalian and lapsed Catholic, I'm not sure I ever truly understood the nature of the sacrament in the Catholic sense because Catholics and Anglicans tend to talk past each other on this. Anglicans tend to assume that the Real Presence is the same as transubstantiation (it is not), and Catholics tend to assume that Anglicans view Holy Communion as simply a commemoration as many Protestants do (which is untrue). 

As a putative Catholic, I was content to believe that God worked a miracle at every Mass, turning the bread and wine into whatever was needed to make us part of the body of Christ, physically and spiritually, and not get too worried about exactly what these substances were, However, I think that's really only a belief in the Real Presence, and one of many reasons I no longer receive in the RCC. 

[I] was content to believe that God worked a miracle at every Mass, turning the bread and wine into whatever was needed to make us part of the body of Christ, physically and spiritually, and not get too worried about exactly what these substances were. However, I think that's really only a belief in the Real Presence, and one of many reasons I no longer receive in the RCC

Jean,  that is not a good reason to not receive communion in the RCC. Your scruples are excessive. One does not need a degree in theology to receive communion. Pope Pius X said that "Holy Communion is the shortest and safest way to Heaven" and lowered the age of first communion to 7 years old. How many 7 year olds can explain and affirm a belief in  transubstantiation? There are several stories of his giving communion to children as young as 4 years old, see http://www.heritage-history.com/?c=read&author=forbes&book=pius10&story=eucharist . So, be reasonable and cross that reason off your list. Goodness gracious! 

 

Claire, your response surprises me and frustrates me a bit. It also runs counter to everything I learned in RCIA. Coming to Catholicism as an adult requires--indeed, RCIA directors demand--more than a child-like understanding of the sacraments, particularly Communion. There's a reason Catholics don't give it to just anyone and requires someone be of the age of reason and have instruction.

As for four-year-olds receiving, I've only seen that in certain Uniate churches and those in the Anglican communion, and I think that must be awfully rare.

Your last couple of comments had been thought-provoking (they are making me contemplate singing hymns as a project for Lent next year, enrolling my daughter if possible), as usual. As you know, I have been mystified by your refusal to receive communion. Your requirements are so stringent that they would eliminate at least 99% of the faithful. The frustration is mutual.

I have participated in a RCIA program for a year as an observer. The candidates had limited time and little background. What I have seen is an effort to explain on one side, to understand and to accept on the other, but no demand that people do more than their best attempt. Of course!

 

As for the way in which Christ is present in the Eucharist, like all the mysteries of the church, I think that our understanding of it grows by experiencing it.  (Grace, effectiveness of the sacrament,...). Even if that understanding stays implicit. Come to think of it, maybe that's what pope Benedict had in mind when he said that "it is the faith of the simple that knocks down false gods".

 

"Anglicans tend to assume that the Real Presence is the same as transubstantiation (it is not),"

Jean,

My theological education stopped with high school, but what you say looks like what I learned.  I would just say that "transubstantiation" is the name of the process of going from bread and wine to body and blood of Christ, which, of course, makes Him really present with us again.

I'm wondering if your RCIA teacher was as knowledgeable as s/he pretended to be and probably on the scrupulous, rule-following side.  When I was a child I knew a 4 year old girl who made her first Communion because she knew all the answers to the Catechism questions.  Her family was good friends with the Asst. Pastor so he knew the child quite well and knew that she really did know the Catechism.  (Very smart little girl!)

 

Ms. Chapman:

I confess that it has never arisen in my mind whether receiving the eucharist is a form of cannibalism, and until now I’ve never met anyone who thinks that it might be. I suppose the reason is that there is nothing in the actual receiving of the eucharist that at all resembles or suggests cannibalism. I wonder if the question doesn’t arise from the kind of logic that led to something I did hear as a boy: that you shouldn’t chew the host because you’d be chewing the body of Christ–as if He could be hurt by it!

The Council of Trent may have defined that “transubstantiation” is a very fit way of naming “the conversion of the whole substance of the bread into the substance of the Body of of Christ our Lord and of the whole substance of the wine into the substance of his blood”; but that it was most fittingly called that then does not mean that it will always be the most fitting way of expressing the eucharistic mystery in every age, and in particular after the word “substance” has undergone considerable transformations in science and in philosophy.

  The council of Trent says that transubstantiation is an excellent way to express the truth about the Eucharist; but there are difficulties about ‘substance’ at the present time that did not exist at the Council of Trent.  Solving those difficulties in a convenient way, and so on, is one thing; but deserting what was meant at the Council of Trent is another (Bernard Lonergan).

In the past, and also in the present, the word “substance” has often been taken to refer to some deep dimension of a thing, its “real reality,” underlying mere appearances. In Bernard Lonergan’s terms, it is as if “beyond the unities grasped by the scientist [or by common sense apprehensions] there is a deeper reality, a metaphysical essence, apprehended by philosophic intuition.” (I imagine a kind of metaphysical atomic microscope that can peer really really deeply into a rock and there discover what “rockness” is. “But what is this philosophic intuition?” Lonergan asked; “I have looked for it and failed to find it.”)

Some such notion may lie behind certain ways of describing or even of thinking about the real presence of Christ in the eucharist, as if that really, really deep reality can be whisked away from under the appearances of bread and wine and the Body and Blood of Christ whooshed in as the new really, really deep reality. This follows what Lonergan called a “naive realism” that thinks of the real as “already out there now real.”

There was a parallel in the early development of Trinitarian thought as when Tertullian said that the three in the Trinity were of the same substance because they were made of the same stuff. To the contrary, St. Athanasius said that the Son was of the same substance as the Father because the same things could be said of the Son as were said of the Father, except that only the latter was named Father. In other words, the divine “substance” is not to be imagined as some really fine, filmy, reality that the Three share in common; the divine substance is what becomes known from the true judgments about God expressed in biblical statements about the Three named Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Similarly, with regard to the eucharist: transubstantiation does not refer to removing the deep stuff underneath all those accidents and replacing it with divine Stuff. Just as the substance of bread–what bread is--refers to what is known by intelligent grasp and rational affirmation, so also what continues to look and taste like bread is now believed to be the Body of Christ, and why? Because Truth itself said it is: the Catholic Church has always taken Jesus at his word: “This is my body”; “this is the cup of my blood”; “My flesh is real food, and my blood is real drink.” The Panis angelicus: Credo quidquid dixit Dei Filius: Nil hoc veritatis verbo verius [I believe whatever the Son of God has said. Nothing could be more true than the word of Truth]. Lonergan: “What was meant at the Council of Trent was not terrifically difficult: this is my body; my body is not bread; this is not bread.” Lonergan thought that this was the essential dogmatic teaching of Trent; he didn’t think it was any more determinate than that. “Substance” at Trent was a heuristic notion. 

If the Body of Christ is truly present in the eucharist, it is obviously present in a sacramental mode, in mysterio, as the medieval thinkers used to say. One could even say that Christ is really present symbolically, as long as the two adverbs are both affirmed, something that many people today do not think can be done. “Is it real, or is it just a symbol?” you’ll hear people say, as if we have to choose between the two. The Church’s faith is that Christ is truly, really, present in the mode of mystery, sacrament, symbol. Whether this sort of approach would help illuminate other ways of expressing the eucharistic mystery (consubstantiation, etc.) remains to be seen. In any case, for me, that this is a genuine presence in mystery is enough to exclude any suspicion of cannibalism.

A very good dissertation, which discusses some recent theologies of eucharistic presence, can be found at: http://www.lonerganresource.com/pdf/dissertations/Eucharist%20and%20Crit...

JAK --

Why don't we have to choose between Christ's-being-presence-as-the- Eucharist and His being a symbol of that presence?  Unless you're going to define "symbol" in a non-standard way, how can you coherently say the Eucharist (Christ) is both the thing signified and a sign of that thing which is signified.  A sign is by definition *other than* the signified.

It is true that Christ is the Word (a sign) and that He symbolizes something besides Himself (the man Jesus symbolizes God, etc.).  But Jesus-the-symbol-of-God is not the same thing as Jesust-the-individual-man-Who-symbolizes-Himself.  

Anne, if you're still reading and if you happen to be confused, know that I am now completely confused. Any comment I might try to make would only show my obvious ignorance, naive realism, or other errors. I give up, for now. (If it's clear for you, more power to you!)

 

Claire, I have been out of town. I will try to catch up with the thread. I am glad to hear that you are confused, because it just seems to get more and more confusing  from what I can determine from quickly skimming the comments.

Fr. K, I will have to re-read your post more carefully because I must admit that I don't understand what you are trying to say. Also I am surprised that you have never ever heard of "eating his flesh and drinking his blood" within the context of cannibalism. I guess you don't know many Protestants or read Protestant books and articles.  I never thought about it that way either until my father-in-law (a Protestant!) made a comment to that effect many years ago. After that I became very aware that this is a common understanding of Catholic eucharist for many Protestants.  For many years  I ignored the implications of the eucharist being the body (literally) and blood (literally) of Jesus.  But, as the years went by, more and more of what I had been taught in Catholic schools and universities seemed  "off" - atonement, sacrifice of the mass, transubstantiation among many other Catholic teachings. I can't quite figure out what you are saying, except perhaps that theology has evolved so that eating Jesus's flesh and drinking Jesus' blood and the doctrine that the bread and wine are changed into the substance of Jesus's flesh and blood  and not bread and no longer wine no longer really means what all we good Catholic kids were taught (including at the college level).

But, as I said, I simply skimmed the posts and will go back to them tomorrow and will try to understand a bit better. I do appreciate the comments of all as this is a very difficult teaching for me to understand.

=Claire --

One last try --

ISTM that the bone of contention here is the meaning of "substance".  JAK's explanation of Rahner's view of substance, is not like what I learned of Aquinas' theory.  As I mentioned above, Rahner's meaning seems contradictory to me, but Aquinas' isn't..  

The way I learned it, Aquinas' adopted Aristotle's definition of 'substance', and Aristotle's  grew out of his philosophical and biological questions.  He noted that each living thing had a certain unity through time and exhibited certain predictable patterns of behavior.  He reasoned that there must be a reason, something intrinsic to the organism which sustains its unity and causes its orderly changes that we can grasp with our senses.  

For instance, a little kitten is a unit which  grows in an orderly, predictable way -- it doesn't end up  turning into a  dog or a rosebushes or a human being.  Neither does it split into three tkitties, which run all around for a few weeks, and then fuse somehow into one unit again.  Aristotle reasoned from the unity of the cat/organism and from its unified, predictable sequence of changes that there must be something real and intrinsic within the thing which is part of the thing that causes the specific ways it develops and acts.  He called this principle its "substantial form".  It under lies the obvious changes.  Where it comes from might be mysterious, and, true, we can't grasp the substantial form of the kitty the way we see its shape or hear its meow, but we reason to the existence of a persistent principle/form which preserves the unity and determines the cat's properties, including its behavior patterns.  

("Substance" for Aristotle  is composed of both matter and form, but I won't go the matter part -- it's pretty obvious that the material part of us is part of our basic self too.  How that can be is a  big question.)

Notice well:  you can't grasp the form with any of your senses.  (Hume was right about that.)  You have to *reason to* its existence.  But just because you can't see it, etc., that doesn't mean it's unreal.   And, yes, there are problems with this explanation, but it also has great merit, I think.

My simple-minded understanding of transubstantiation is that the matter is already there on the altar as part of the bread.  What changes is the substantial form of the matter -- the form of the bread goes out of existence, and the form of the Lord becomes present in the matter by a miracle.  The matter of the bread is now His matter, not the bread's. 

I think we need a whole thread or 20 on transubstantiation, including a consideration of what transubstantiation is *not*. 

Ann, that is similar to what I told me catechism kids:

"Who are you? Your body when you were 3 years old was quite different from your body now as a 13 year old. You looked completely different then. Maybe every cell was different, even. Yet, you are the same person now as you were then. There is only one person, one "you".  So, who is that person? There is what you see, and then there is what is real. You, the real “you”,  are more than just your physical body – but you are linked to it, of course.  So your body is only the physical, visible part of yourself,  and it is linked to the real "you", the reality behind it, linked to it until you die.

Before Mass, the bread and wine on the altar are just bread and wine. After consecration, they are changed. A new link has taken place between the visible and the invisible: the physical appearance is still that of bread and wine -  every physical experiment would confirm that, and you digest it just as you would digest regular bread and wine - but the reality behind it is that it is now really Christ. What  appears to be bread and wine is now the physical part of Christ. It is the visible body of Christ."

That seemed to go over pretty well at the time, and it is roughly similar to your comment, but  I am quite confused by Joe’s comment. By drawing an analogy with something that the kids know, or at least, of which they have some notion, namely, their sense of self, I am not really explaining anything about “substance” but merely appealing to their intuition, which Joe seems to dismiss, if I get his drift.  Is this “naïve realism”? And what does “already out there now real” mean? Confusing. The parallel with the Trinity does not help at all, because it draws an analogy between something hard to understand and something else hard to understand.  “The divine substance is what becomes known from the true judgments about God expressed in biblical statements” – but that limits the substance of God to what’s written in the bible, which does not make sense to me – also confusing.  “The Son was of the same substance as the Father because the same things could be said of the Son as were said of the Father, except that only the latter was named Father “ – but is that true also in reverse, i.e. is it true that “the same things could be said of the Father as were said of the Son, except that only the latter was named the Son”? No, that’s not true. Only the Son was born of Mary. Only the Son was crucified. Only the Son resurrected.  So – also confusing. Then, a link to a 300-page treaty: I might as well give up right now. Then there are some other people’s claims that “the Body of Christ” refers to the glorified body of Christ as he appeared to Mary of Magdala after the resurrection, so that one could also talk as “the arm of Christ” as being in the Host. The arm of Christ, veins and bones and all, in the Host? That seems absurd to me. Unless they mean that Christ glorified is a spiritual body, not a physical body? But that’s not true (see Thomas). So – also confusing.

So I thought I had a way to think about the Real Presence that, without really explaining anything, still seemed to make some sense, at least, could be communicated, but now it is possibly accused of being “naïve realism”. But I am so confused that I am not even sure whether that's the case.

Hm, I am realizing that the tone of my last comment was a bit ornery. Joe, I liked your last-but-one comment on many levels, but I just could not make any sense of your last comment, probably by lack of background knowledge.

In thinking about Holy Communion in light of the original question--what makes good liturgy--it might be interesting to look at the various Eucharistic Prayers. The words of Christ clearly direct the disciples ot "eat" and "drink," and those words do not vary among the five prayers.

But I zeroed in on the part right after the Mystery of Faith, where the priest beseeches God to be present and seems to be the point where the words try to express what is happening.

receive the most holy Body and Blood

partake of the Body and Blood of Christ

nourished by the Body and Blood of Your Son

partake of this one Bread and one Chalice

accept us also, together with your Son, ... in this saving banquet

Also useful for comparison are the phrases from the Eucharistic Prayers that express the hoped-for outcome of Communion are significant; they ask that we may be

filled with every heavenly grace and blessing

gathered into one by the Holy Spirit

filled with his Holy Spirit, may become one body, one spirit in Christ

gathered into one body by the Holy Spirit,

gathered into one Body in Christ

endow[ed] with hIs very Spirit

I'll refrain from offering my own thoughts, half-formed and inarticulate at this point, on seeing these phrases set together, but, if the thread isn't played out, I'd be interesting to know if these words and phrases, taken together, spark any new insights in anyone else.

Anne Chapman:

I know a good number of Protestants and have even taken part in ecumenical dialogues formal and informal, and at none of them did I ever hear the accusation that Catholics are cannibals. 

Instead of saying that the bread and wine are “literally” the Body and Blood of Christ, I would prefer to say that they “truly” are the Body and Blood, and that may be what you too mean. (See Jn 6:55: “For my flesh is true (alethes) food, and my blood is true (alethes) drink.” Raymond Brown says the adjective could be said to have adverbial force: “My flesh truly is food, my blood truly drink.”) To say “literally” seems to me to obscure the manifest fact that Christ’s Body and Blood are present in a most mysterious manner. And this mysterious manner of true presence suffices to exclude any cannibalistic implications.

The graphic language of eating Christ’s flesh and drinking his blood is found in John 6:51-59, where, as most scholars seem to agree, the discourse on the Bread of Life changes its focus. Where previous references to himself as the Bread of Life can be interpreted to mean Christ as bread by his word, these scholars think that in these last verses the reference is also eucharistic. Jesus encounters the objection: “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” but he does not reply by saying, “Oh well, I’m speaking metaphorically,” but by pressing the point: “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you shall not have life in you.... For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.” The Greek word for “eat” in that sentence means literally to chew or gnaw or munch (“to eat so as to be heard”), so that in his reply Jesus draws even further away from a merely metaphorical claim. If some people fear cannibalism here, it’s because of the graphic language that Jesus himself used.

Here is the comment of Edwyn Hoskins, an influential Anglican priest and biblical scholar, commenting on the objection that Jesus was exhorting to anthropophagy:

The Lord’s answer is first an even more explicit repetion of what He had said, adding that they must not only eat the Flesh of the Son of man, but also drink His Blood, and that only by so doing can they life in themselves. To eat of His Flesh and to drink His Blood is as necessary for salvation as to believe on Him who alone has seen the Father (v. 47). The former is the inevitable corollary of the latter. Then follows a further repetition of the provocative words, but substituting munch for eat. This rather vulgar word...makes the Saying more provocative still. No room is left for any “spiritualizing” interpretation. The eating and drinking of the Flesh and Blood of the Son of man involve a real physical eating and drinking, although the Flesh and the Blood are altogether misconceived if they be thought of, as the Jews are determined to think of them, as the mere material of the human Body of Jesus, instead of being rigorously defined in terms of the significance wrought out and manifested in His sacrificial death. The apparent contradiction implied in the insistence that there must be a real physical eating and drinking of what is grievously misunderstood if it is interpreted purely physically is resolved and explainied only if the conscious reference to the Eucharist is perceived. The Eucharistic food and drink are physically bread and wine, spiritually the Flesh and Blood of the Son of man; together they constitute the true food and drink of the faithful: the true food and drink because they effect the sacred union of the Son of God with those who believe on Him, and thus communicate eternal life and guarantee immortality. It is now abundantly clear that the incarnate Son of God, the Son of man, is the Bread who came down from heaven, and that the manna is they type of the Son and of the Eucharistic Feast: but only the type. They who ate the manna died; they who feed upon the Son of man will live for ever (The Fourth Gospel, 297-98)

Ann O.:

First of all, I should make it clear that Trent’s adoption of the term “transubstantiation” and its articulation of that as “the conversion of the entire substance of bread into the substance of the Body of Christ” does not depend on Aristotelian (or Thomist) theories of substance. At Trent they carefully avoided canonizing any particular explanation of the mystery, as, for example, when they avoided speaking of the “accidents” of the bread and wine. 

As I learned Aristotle and Aquinas, “substance” refers to the concrete individual thing, and not simply to the “form” of a thing. I think that if the tradition and Trent had seen the mystery as a simple change in the substantial form of the bread's matter, as you suggest, they could have easily spoken of it as a “transformation” and not as a “transubstantiation.”

But I agree entirely that neither the form nor the substance is accessible to the senses but has to be reasoned to–that was Lonergan’s (not Rahner’s) point: the substance is what is grasped by intelligence and affirmed by judgment. It’s not something one “intuits” by a kind of metaphysical electronic microscope.

Claire: 

You wrote:

Who are you? Your body when you were 3 years old was quite different from your body now as a 13 year old. You looked completely different then. Maybe every cell was different, even. Yet, you are the same person now as you were then. There is only one person, one "you".  So, who is that person? There is what you see, and then there is what is real. You, the real “you”,  are more than just your physical body – but you are linked to it, of course.  So your body is only the physical, visible part of yourself,  and it is linked to the real "you", the reality behind it, linked to it until you die.

I have some difficulty in accepting this as a description of a human being, particularly the suggestion that the real person is simply “linked” to his body. The real “you” is not a reality “behind” the body. One’s body is not something one has; it’s something that one is. The body is as integral to one’s humanity as one’s soul. Your view comes too close to Platonism–you know the soul as like the driver of a car who can step away from the car without loss to what he “really” is. And so I don’t think this analogy is adequate to the relationship between Christ’s Body and the bread.

Here’s how I would put it. Before consecration, the judgment is true that the bread is bread and the wine is wine. After consecration, that judgment is false. The true judgment now is that this is the Body and the Blood of Christ. Nothing in the appearances, of course, could lead to this judgment. The Church makes this judgment only because Christ made it: “This is my Body. This is my Blood.” Christ’s judgments are true. Therefore, this is no longer bread: it is the Body of Christ. This no longer is wine: it is the Blood of Christ. Lonergan maintained that this is all that is required by the Tridentine dogma.

As for my comparison with “homo-ousios” (consubstantial) as used at Nicaea, the point was not to get into the utter mystery of Trinitarian relationships, but to note that the naive realism that thinks that things are “of the same substance” because they’re made of the same thing (as Tertullian held) has to be overcome. On Athanasius’s interpretation, the essential meaning of the word “homo-ousios” or “consubstantial” was to be located in the fact that the Scriptures attribute to the Son the same things they attribute to the Father, except for the name “Father.” Substance is what is known through true judgments, and if the same things are said in true judgments (those of the Scriptures) of both Father and Son, then they must be of the same substance.

I was simply suggesting that when it comes to the use of the word “substance” or “transubstantiation” in eucharistic theology, the same principle could be applied. At one point it is true that this is bread; at a later point that judgment is no longer true. If what in one judgment was truly said to be bread now is truly said to be the Body of Christ, then a change of substance has taken place, because a substance is the reality of a thing known by true judgments.

One last thing: Trent condemns anyone who denies that the Body and Blood of Christ are "truly, really and substantially" contained in the eucharist and says instead that they are present "as in a sign or a figure or in power." Earlier Trent had distinguished between (a) Christ's sitting at his Father's right hand "in accord with his natural mode of existence" and (b) his being "sacramentally present in his substance" in the Eucharist.  Christ's presence in the Eucharist, then, is not "natural" but sacramental, and I don't believe that a sacramental presence raises the spectre of cannibalism when, in obedience to him, we eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood.

Joe: you are very generous with your time. Food for thought.

You're also very patient and persistent, and you don't seem to take offense very easily, nor for long. You're also knowledgeable and your wording is precise. It seems that you're probably often right. You're almost always extremely clear (notwithstanding my earlier complaint), and you're always interesting. It is good that you exist.

"As I learned Aristotle and Aquinas, “substance” refers to the concrete individual thing, and not simply to the “form” of a thing. I think that if the tradition and Trent had seen the mystery as a simple change in the substantial form of the bread's matter, as you suggest, they could have easily spoken of it as a “transformation” and not as a “transubstantiation.”

But I agree entirely that neither the form nor the substance is accessible to the senses but has to be reasoned to–that was Lonergan’s (not Rahner’s) point:"

JAK --

OK, so Trent didn't *say* that it was a change in form.  But if Trent were avoiding all theological *explanations* it's not surprising that they would avoid such a particular statement. But Trent didn't *preclude* such an explanation. What Trent has left us with, then, is a *description* of the end of process, not an *explanation* of steps of the process.  Except that the very word "TRANS SUBSTANtiation" indicates that Trent was still thinking in Thomistic mode, that there is a going from one substance to another substance.  It allows us to call the changed element whatever we want depending on our theological loyalties.  (Don't the Orthodox theologians have a somewhat different explanation?)

Yes, the substance, in the case of material things, does include matter/body.  I did mention that matter is part of the substance, but that the matter of the bread and wine is not the problem in the question of transubstantiation, so I didnt' pay it much attention.

What really puzzles me is whey so many people have such strong reactions against the very word "transubstantiation".  Is it because it's such a long word and the length just adds to the puzzle for them?

 Sometimes I think that most people have trouble with it because it sounds like some sort of primitive magic  --- making something remarkable happen by merely saying some special sounds.  Maybe this shows the influence of the phrase "hocus pocus" that so many Protestants throw at the Mass.  If that is all the liturgy is, then I say the hell with it too.  So now we're down to the question:  what sort of power is the priest exercising in the Mass -- magic or calling down the real, mysterious power of the infinite God?  And how can the liturgy reflect the fact?  

 

.

 "the substance is what is grasped by intelligence and affirmed by judgment. It’s not something one “intuits” by a kind of metaphysical electronic microscope"

JAK --

Granted, the substance is not "grasped" in the same direct way that our hands grasp empirical data. The object known by touch acts *directly* on our bodies, but substance is *only reasoned to* by a process going from premises to conclusion, so our awareness of its reality is only indirect.  Yes, once the concept of substance is "grasped", it is no doubt re-used in more intuitions of particular substances. But we are lead to the concept by reasoning about an actual, partly-changing, partly-unchanging thing.

P. S.  You're right -- I said "Rahner" when I was thinking of Lonergan.

Trent condemns anyone who denies that the Body and Blood of Christ are "truly, really, and substantially" contained in the Eucharist and says instead that they are present "as in a sign, as a figure, or in power."

 I'm not a denier. If transubstantiation is how God effects the faithful becoming one with Christ through communion, then that's how it works. Same thing with the perpetual virginity of Mary. If God needed her to be a lifelong virgin, then she was. But it's never been clear to me why those details were important or how they would help me better follow the Prime Directive(s), love God with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself.

These were questions I asked in RCIA that really received no answer. I never get any answers from other Catholics that make any sense. So I've always felt like a fraud as a Catholic because I realize that not denying is not the same thing as believing. And in the general atmospher that now exists in the Church, where Catholics argue amongst themselves about who should or should not be receiving communion, I get so wrought up about it that it's a relief to dispense with it. Except on the days when Raber and I fight about why I don't receive, which always reminds me that we were happier before we started fighting about religion.

Yes, my personal problems to wrestle with, and I'm sorry to drag them in here. I always hope there will be some kind of epiphany that shows me I belong among the faithful. But the explanations always end up making me feel worse and more lonely. I took a long hiatus from this blog. Apparently not long enough.

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About the Author

Rev. Joseph A. Komonchak, professor emeritus of the School of Theology and Religious Studies at the Catholic University of America, is a retired priest of the Archdiocese of New York.