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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?

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.

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Can good liturgy be deduced from one single experience? I would hope that as the years pass, people grow and develop in faith through a consistently good experience of welcoming, preaching, and music--the tripod that seems to concern most Catholics, if not most Christians.

If I had my druthers, I'd probably worship in a Benedictine monastery all the time. But as a parish liturgist still far from retirement, that's not a practical thing. I hope I communicate a small collection of things to clergy, ministers, and people: details are important and errors are not, personal expressions are sometimes useful but narcissism is not, liturgy is as much good art as it is accurate ritual.

I realize and appreciate that people parish-shop. I hope the same souls realize that good liturgy takes time and that one-stop might not be enough to discern a good resting place.

 I have a pretty low bar:

  • the sermon should speak to the Gospel reading
  • people would actually shake my hand during the Kiss of Peace, not just give a reluctant little wave
  • the cantor- or whatever the songleader is called- sings in a way that I can actually sing along,too, not some high-pitched singing that I can't follow.  I don't care at all what the songs are (I have no problem with the St Louis Jesuits) as long as I can sing them.
  • Women are on the altar in some capacity.I would love to have women give the homily sometimes, I don't see what the big deal is about that.

I don't know what the rules allow, but it would be great in smaller Masses, if after the priest's homily, there would be time for people in the congregation to off their own reflections on the reading, if they wanted to.

I was at a weekday Mass in the South Bronx when a number of older  ladies started saying the Eucharistic prayers out loud when the priest was saying them. I was startled, but thought it was kind of cool. 

For me, it's the Gospels; that's the most important part of the Mass for me personally, hearing Jesus' teaching. I want to come away inspired to face another week a little better prepared to try and live  more like a Christian. I also think it is important to take some time to say "hello" and "thank you" to God, which I know we can do everywhere, but it seems important to make the effort to go to Church to do it.  I also appreciate having a little time to get some peace from all the clanging and clamor (I used to go to movies by myself to accomplish this).

All of these things I could do without a Church and outside of Mass. I also am looking for a community so I can be a Christian together with other people.

A welcoming environment is important for me, priest and deaon greeting people outside after Mass and members of the parish holding the door open and greeting people a they enter the Church.

Last week my husband thinking that we were a bit late asked the greeter if we were.  He said, "Not at all we're holding the Mass just for you." 

I should note here that at a gathering of young theologians a couple weeks at Boston College (the Catholic Conversation Project) this exact topic of local parish versus shopping constituted a major, all-evening conversation. For myself, I practice a Catholic "both/and": I go to my geographical parish, and also sing in a wonderful choir at a young adult mass in Washington DC on Sunday evenings. As a lay theologian, quite frankly it is valuable for me professionally to avoid restricting my view of the Church to one sort of parish experience or community. As a cantor and choir member, it is easy for that participation to be experienced as active and as a ministry. And in my past experience, I know exactly which parish I would point to in my past as dazzingly exemplary of what mass should be: St. Cecilia's in St. Paul, Minnesota. What distinguished St C's especially were three things: 1. good, skilled preaching, 2. high-quality music that elicited strong participation from the congregation (as appropriate for the parish's patroness!), and 3. a very close-knit community that actually knew one another. St C's liturgy was largely by-the-book - that is, the rites were followed and done well. But my experience was that it overcame the all-too-common "vertical/horizontal" debate over focus on God vs. focus on community. It was clearly and constantly both. Setting aside the issue of music, I would expect the vast majority of people to say similar things: good preaching/presiding (and this I think means a presidential style that strikes the right balance between reverence and warmth - I was at a parish one time where one associate got the nickname "Coach" because his entire liturgical style was like a pep rally leader; on the other hand, stiff, distant, fussy formality is off-putting) and good, genuine community. But I would also emphasize that these subjective goods make sense (to me) in part because of what the Mass is - and how it is a different thing than other kinds of prayer experiences. If I want contemplative peace or meditation on scripture, I might go to an empty church or light a candle at home or go hike in the mountains. When I go to mass, I want the celebration of Christ's sacrificial victory and an anticipatory taste of the heavenly banquet of the saints. In some sense, thankfully, I feel like I always get that, anywhere - that is the blessing of the fixed rite and the recognition that the banquet welcomes lots and lots of people, not just people I know. So occasionally I end up at the local 5pm Spanish mass - I know no Spanish - and it's still the mass, because I know the victory is celebrated and I am thrilled that I am in such a diverse heavenly banquet - even though I don't understand the homily or know personally those in the pews with me. But of course, everything that accentuates the celebration of the victory and the anticipation of the banquet helps.  

For me, the ideal of "full and active participation" ideal is a major factor --  like Claire said, the more I prepare and focus and participate, the more I benefit from being there, and so I value a liturgy that helps me to do that; it's also important for me to be surrounded by people who are also participating fully and actively (as much as circumstances allow). One of the commenters on the OSV column that Garvey links to says "Mass should be about God, not who is sitting next to you in the pew." Nope. Private prayer is about me and God. Sunday Mass is about sharing prayer with the parish community.

Our old parish was always packed on Sunday, but packed with people who arrived late, left early, and spent most of the time in between reading the bulletin. (A surprising number of childless adults never ventured beyond the vestibule/cry room, as though they were trying to stay as far as possible from the altar and still have it "count.") The effect was weirdly alienating. Even in my new parish, which has much more of a "community" feeling, there are times I feel like I'm the only one (besides my husband) within earshot who's bothering to say the prayers or sing the songs, or even listen to the readings. It's frustrating. I came to pray with them -- what did they come for?

I wonder sometimes whether it would help if the pastor made an effort to remind the assembly of our role. Not scolding -- "Quit showing up late, it's rude to Jesus!" -- but a positive approach, encouraging everyone to see Sunday Mass as a single prayer, start to finish, with our part as vital as his. Something we come to do, not something we come to watch. Couldn't hurt, right?

I've only ever been to one church since becoming a Catholic - the one within walking distance of my house and where I went through RCIA.  What I liked the most about the services ...

  •  the music and the chance to sing along  :)
  •  the homily relating the gospel reading to the present
  •  the priest coming down to shake the hands of the people in the front rows during the kiss of peace

I did try to make the service about an encounter between me and Jesus/God but it was too hard to concentrate on that with all that was going on, though sometimes during the singing I felt pretty euphoric.  I must admit that the eucharist wasn't especially moving or important for me - it felt solemn and I knew it was supposed to be important, but I didn't really know what I was doing and it didn't seem to affect me in the way it seemed to others.

Now that I don't go to church anymore I miss the music and the priest's homilies, but I can listen to music online, read very good homilies online, and my prayer life is unaffected by missing church.

 

 

A priest in our parish gave a sermon on the Mass and Eucharist. He made a comment about leaving Mass before the end.  I did not take it as a scold, because I never saw anyone leave early. It was more a joke.

He said: "You know, at the very first Mass, the only one who left early was Judas."

Mollie:

The thing that blows my mind are the people who talk during Mass.  In my former parish  in Jacksonville FL during Sundy Mass two elderly men were standing at the back of the side chapel, which opens to the main Church and where I was sitting. They were talking a wild streak (in whispers) almost from the very beginning of Mass. 

I said to myself: "If they talk during the Consecration, that will be the last straw for me."  They did and, as luck would have it, I had to pass in front of them on the way to Communion.

I said, "I teach high school students who are better behaved at Mass than you two."  Dead silence for the rest of Mass.

Ok, it was not my kindest moment, but, let me tell you, I could have said worse.

I would love to have women give the homily sometimes, I don't see what the big deal is about that.

Years ago, the Paulist Center in Boston tried pairing a woman lector and the priest for the reading of the Gospel. If the Gospel reading was five verses long, the woman would start reading about five verses before that and the priest would pick up the reading (without a break) at the point where the official Gospel began. It didn't last very long before the archdiocese shut it down - unfortunately. 

 

What counts as a “good” liturgy?
What counts as a “good” liturgy?

What counts as a “good” liturgy?

One that doesn't begin with "Good morning" nor end with "Have a nice day."    Everything else is gravy.

Years ago I teased my mother because one of our priests used to say at the end of Mass: "Have a nice day" and the congregation would respond: "Thank you, Father." I told her '"Why don't they respond: 'Have a nice day, Father.'"

So when I would leave for school: I would say to her: "Have a nice day" and she would respond "Thank you, Father."

A fond memory.

Good liturgy is when the celebrants, acolytes, EMs, cantors, lectors, etc. are "invisible"; that is, the Mass comes through them without their interrupting it with their own little flourishes or sense of being "on stage." I recently attended a funeral Mass in a small chapel to the side of the Church proper. The cantor used his Metropolitan Opera voice. With amplification. It was hideous.

I also prefer that priests begin their homilies with "In today's reading ..." or some such prelude that moves directly to the homily without an intervening joke or topical references to sporting events to be seen on TV later that day.

I do not want EMs to use my name at communion a la, "The body of Christ, Jean." I think it would be good if the altar servers did not wear flip-flops that go thwack thwack thwack up the aisle.

Finally, I think more parishes should think about dropping the hand-holding at the Our Father unless they can do it gracefully and in a welcoming way. Most people at the local parish stick out their hands right and left and grope around without making eye contact as if they were shutting their eyes, gritting their teeth, and thinking of England.. 

Many of these sins against decorum can, of course, be overlooked if those in charge of the liturgy convey a sense of sincerity and encouragement.

Jean:   I share everyone of your wishes. About your second one:  In our homiletics course, fifty years ago, the teacher urged us to tell a story at the beginning of our homilies/sermons.  "Long after they've forgotten what you had to say," he said, "they'll remember the story." I remember thinking two things: 1) I don't wnat them to forget what my point was, and 2) the Gospels are themselves stories either about Jesus or relating one of his stories, so why do we need yet another story? 

If the priest, the servers, the cantors, etc. do their job well, they will disappear into what they are doing. On the other hand, thinking of the celebrant, it bothers me a great deal when he rattles off the prayers with all the attention and feeling of the recorded voice that announces the stations at which the next train from Grand Central Station will stop.  Thus: "ThisistheLambofGodwhotakesawaythesinsoftheworldhappyarethosewhoarecalledtothesupperoftheLamb."

Just as bad are the ditties composed for the acclamation after the consecration, some of which might be considered too frivolous for bubble-gum commercials. Did their composers even think about the words these airy tunes would accompany: "Dying you destroyed our death..."  ?

 

I have always judged the liturgy to have been "successful" if I am conscious of being part of  the "we" (local, global, historical) that prays the Our Father in union with Jesus.  Not sure how that fits with the recently mandated translation of the creed (Nicene, Apostles) as "I believe"--for me this channels the liturgical flow in another direction.

Among other functions and meanings, for me the Eucharistic litugy is an “aesthetic apprehension of the group’s origin and story” (Lonergan, Topics in Education CWL 10:230) especially with regard to the Church as Boldy of Christ.

 

For me, I like the organizational flow of the liturgy; when each part moves seamlessly to the next. I don't like abrupt or awkward transitions. So the priests, lectors and servers move smoothly, deliberately and mindfully. I like it smooth.

I like when the congregation is similarly involved in the process and responds reverently.

Attentiveness, serenity, and yes joyfullness.

Friendliness but no gladhandling. Reflective homilies, adequate spaces for silence.

aesthetic apprehension of the group’s origin and story

 

Good phrase - exactly. Of course the aesthete will vary but it should be accessible to the community.

I like to experience something new at Mass. Could be almost anything: a new addition to a family in the parish, a fresh phrase in a hymn (or one I experience freshly), a fresh insight in a homily, something I hadn't noticed before about a Scripture reading. Something that lifts me beyond my previous perspective. Maybe that's not the same as a "successful" attendance at Mass, but it's what I like.

Good liturgy is when the celebrants, acolytes, EMs, cantors, lectors, etc. are "invisible"; that is, the Mass comes through them without their interrupting it with their own little flourishes or sense of being "on stage." -This comment from Jean says it for me too.

Not that good liturgy, sincere singing, prepared preavching, a sense of warmth etc are not important. But lacking what is ideal, the essential is that no one gets in the way of this proclamation of hope, peace and life. 

Then there are the moments when spirits can be lifted when God permits slips of the tongue, as when, on a very hot and humid day in a church without air-conditioning, I brought my brief homily to an end with this fine rhetorical sentence, "And so the lesson of the readings today is that we all can use a lot more humidity."

Or when, today, as a friend reports, the celebrant addressed the congregation and said: "Brothers and sinners..."  immediately recognized his slip and, red-faced, apologized to them all.

Brothers and sinners works for me, but maybe that's because I'm from Philadelphia.

Women on the altar in some capacity.

At the Mass I went to today, around the altar there were five priests including one bishop, and half a dozen altar boys. The readers, cantor, and even the people gathering the collection were all men. But that fact didn't register with me until I heard the intercession: "For all men of good will [in Syria, Lebanon, Egypt]..." and started wondering about women of good will in the Middle East.

the sermon should speak to the Gospel reading

In his homily, the bishop tried to explain, I think, that the gospel didn't quite mean what it seemed to mean. My take: today was not a good day for an improvised homily.

Yet the assembly was numerous (today was their feast day), attentive, and prayerful, so...  yes, "the Mass is the Mass". I enjoyed being among people who were praying. I will be back - but not often.

Today I attended Mass in a vacation city in South Jersey. As a result of our discussion here, I was more attentive to the "little things" that are involved when a community prays together.

The priest had such a stern look on his face and said the celebrant's words with so little feeling that it appeared he was bored.

I thought what a loss of a golden opportunity.

 

I think Claire should write up her "visitations" in journal form, perhaps a more serious take on liturgy than the often hilarious but not-very-serious Mystery Worshipper from ShipofFools! Maybe she could trade off with other contributors who all write under the same psuedonym a la Fr. Nonomen (though I guess he's just one guy).

Today I skipped church. Outdoor Mass and parish picnic. It's almost as bad as the Christmas Eve Children's Mass (which always reminds me of the connection between "Bethlehem" and "bedlam"). Outdoor Mass w/ Picnic is always too hot, not enough shade, it's hard to hear, and people are distracted by the smell of the hog roasting.  

Any thoughts about liturgies al fresco?

 

I would love to go to a Mass with a Pig Roast.

people would actually shake my hand during the Kiss of Peace, not just give a reluctant little wave

Today two persons besides my party shook my hand, but I watched with interest the people in the pews in front of me. In an elegant, well-practiced style reminiscent of tai chi, they all used a kind of "air kissing": two persons lean towards one another as though they are about to hug, stop and pause briefly when the first person's right cheek is almost in contact with the other person's left cheek but not quite, and repeat on the other side. There is no physical contact. Is it a local form of inculturation? As mentioned earlier, the diversity of the Catholic Mass liturgy is seemingly inexhaustible.

 

Well, dang, Irene! If I'da known you wanted to come, I sure would of invited you up here! There's grilled sweet corn, cole slaw, home grown sliced tomatoes, and any number of chocolate cakes turning to goo in the heat that ends up all over the front of small children. There were supposed to be recreational activities after the picnic, this year: three-on-three basketball, kids catching frogs and turtles in the culvert, and a euchre or cribbage tournament, the preferred social activity of all Midwesterners because it precludes the need for actual conversation.

The Mass is the Mass always.  Some preperation and always wanting to be there are key.  What brings it to the next level?  1. Celebrant with humility, reverence and simplicity.  2. Homily related to readings.  I'm fine with a story that "brings it home" or brings a new' fresh perspective.  3. Connecting with the community even if it happens to be awkward for some reason.  4. Good music is a joy.

I am blest with a wonderful parish and a pastor who is a true shepherd. 

The gift of communion is a major reason for why I am there.

Mary E Nolan

Last Sunday: Mass in a parish on the South Fork of LI. Pastor is from India. Parish is full of the local folks (not the 1 percent). We usually go to the family Mass when out there, when half the sermon is Q and A with kids (very effective and usually funny), and half to the "adults" who actually seem to enjoy the kids sermon. All based on the Gospel reading. This time we went to the "young people's" Mass. We may have been the youngest people there!! I am impressed by the way these parishioners (mostly Irish and Italian 70 and 80 year olds) respond so positively and warmly to their Indian pastor with his sing-song English. Appeal from Archbishops Fund featuring a short video of all sorts of people who do ministry in the Diocese of Rockville Center. Pretty impressive. I contributed!

This Sunday: Back home. Considered doing something spiritual rather than religious and staying home to read. Went though. Retired Fordham prof our celebrant, very popular...does the Gospel and always has a joke or witticism that fits perfectly. Congregation a bit sparse, but several people back from vacation which led to a long chattorama after Mass. Also: the choir on vacation, and to my ear that allowed the congregation to sound forth in a way that it doesn't when the very good choir sings and the very loud organ plays very loudly.

A bit off subject: In the days when parishes had five priests in residence, didn't people shop their celebrant within the parish as they now shop parishes, which usually has only one priest, the pastor?

I never heard of people shopping for the celebrant.  The time was more important.  At our parish in Kansas City, there were three priests.

Monsignor said the high mass at 11:00 with the "adult" choir, a highly trained choir led by a man who could sing and accompanied by the man's wife who could play the organ.  It was a German parish, and the tradition of great music survived.  The congregation did not sing, except for belting out Holy God We Praise Thy Name at the end.  

One of the assistants said the low mass at eight, and the newest assistant got the six.  In those days, no afternoon mass.

(No air conditioning, but men in coats and ties, women in "heels 'n' hose", hats, makeup, etc.)

(Going to confession on Sat. involved shopping for the confessor, of course.)

Here is my list of why I attend Mass each Sunday - and sometimes daily when time permits:  Receiving the body and blood of Jesus Christ (the most important for me), praying with a welcoming community and that includes discussing about my favorite sport teams with parisioners before Mass, great homilies by our parish priests who include humor - great jokes - at the begnining, great reflections (wouldn't dare say homily) once a month by our lay pastoral associate who is a woman and great music.  Sometimes I attend the 7:30 am Mass when I feel like listening to the traditional hymns. Otherwise, I normally attend the 5:00 p.m. Mass when our youth choir sings.  I love the modern, upbeat liturigal music.  Further, I love liturgies that are simple, right to the point - no fluff like liturgical dancers or lots of latin and boring chants. I look forward to quiet prayer in our side chapel after the Mass. And I have to add that I don't like the new Roman Missal translations.

 

In Paris the archbishop has instructed parishes to not publish the names of celebrants, so as to prevent people from choosing the Mass according to who is the homilist. Once I heard a riveting homily at Notre Dame, but there is no way for me to know when that same preacher will be on again (I asked). I went back a few times, hoping to be lucky, but never heard him again, so I gave up. So I know that somewhere nearby there is a homilist who touches my heart, but he is hidden. It is one of the small ways in which hierarchs make us feel their power and put obstacles in the way of our conversion.

 

In my childhood parish the kid's Sunday Mass was at 9. You had to go and your parents went with you. There were two priests who received sighs of delight when they appeared on the altar. Both were good, but one was really good. You could feel the kids sit up and take notice when the best one appeared; little head nods when the second best showed up. Anybody else (any of the other three priests) had to swim against the tide of irritation that was sent forth because they were the wrong celebrant. Yes, yes, we all knew about ex opere operato; but that goes only so far.

...and people are distracted by the smell of the hog roasting.

Jean, speaking as someone who is CBNR, I think that if you guys just pushed the hog roast to after the liturgy by incorporating the slaughter of said hog as part of the liturgy (i.e., as a blood sacrifice), then things would probably go better.

Thanks to all for this wonderful set of observations and reflections.  I love the call-and-response nature of the liturgy.  I'm grateful for any celebration of the Mass that brings that incarnates that aspect of it.

Speaking of priest-shopping, this just in from Eric Metaxas's book on Dietrich Bonhoeffer (all right, not "just" in; the book was published in 2010, but I was reading it just now):

(Bonhoeffer was working in Spain with/for Pastor Friedrich Olbricht.) "On Easter, with Olbricht away, Bonhoeffer preached again and the next week too. Each time he challenged his hearers and somehow won them over. It soon happened that whenever Bonhoeffer was scheduled to preach, the congregation grew noticeably. Olbricht noticed and promptly discontinued announcing the preaching schedule."

In Paris the archbishop has instructed parishes to not publish the names of celebrants, so as to prevent people from choosing the Mass according to who is the homilist. 

Announcjng the celebrant has never been the custom here. I usually go to the same Mass each Sunday. Last week it was the pastor; today it was a retired priest who helps out when needed - no advance notice. 

On the other hand, the Franciscan shrine in Boston lists on their website the names of the priests who are scheduled to hear confessions at different times throughout the day. 

I was away from my parish today and had the opportunity to celebrate Mass at my cousin's parish in a Boston suburb. Some family members were present including those who are likely not regular church goers. It was the "youth" mass and there was a very skilled contemporary ensemble. Though I didn't notice many youth, I was pleasantly surprised to realize that the people were singing with gusto. Though I was celebrating my 40th anniversary, the pastor told me I needed to share the preaching time with a woman speaking on behalf of the Propogation of the Faith. Her remarks were well prepared but when she began soliciting sign ups for those who wanted themselves and their deceased loved ones remembered in 40 Masses each day "forever", I found myself wondering how she distinguishes herself from Tetzel. The Mass connected me to God with all its different elements. That's what always counts for me. So what that I was required to go to the tabernacle to fetch the hosts consecrated at prior Masses. It's what they do there and I was a guest. People were glad to greet and congratulat me on the way out. All in all, a great encounter with The Lord of all kindness.

About five years ago, I undertook a pilgrimage of sorts.  Over the course of 18 months, I worshiped with a parish community other than my own about two out of every three Sundays.  Because I went some parishes more than once, the result was that I attended Sunday Mass at about 45 other places, most of them within the urban county where I live, which has 90 parishes for about 250,000 Catholics.

These experiences were extraordinarily diverse.  Many were wonderful surprises, and there I confess that there was the occasional surprising or even jarring disappointment.  Most were a mix of good and not-so-good elements.

Overall, I came to appreciate the diverse experiences that my fellow Catholics are attracted to, or sometimes subjected to.

  • Churches that were full and empty and somewhere in between.
  • Processions that were elaborate and simple, well-done and careless or perfunctory.
  • Readings that were proclaimed with conviction, and some that I could barely understand.
  • Homilies that mostly could have been better, but that also that tended to be better and evidence more preparation than what they are often reputed as.
  • General intercessions from the chair and from the congregation that were conventional, moving, trite, and inaudible.
  • Priests who prayed the Eucharistic Prayer (this was before RM3) with varying levels of quality: some in quiet monotone, but most with reverence and passion, including a few who seemed to make the prayer itself sing, even though they weren’t singing.
  • Music probably evidenced that greatest variation – in both presentation and participation; the best, regardless of style, were those where the people seemed to express the prayers in their hearts through their singing; the worst were places where the selections were musically or pastorally in conflict with one another or the liturgical moment. 
  • In some places, quiet and incense were used effectively.
  • People usually behaved as a community worshiping together, though sometimes this was not very evident. 

As I tried to take in all of this, I could see that in each of these parishes, there are people who belong and attend out of choice, and who even see their parish as a special place, regardless of how I may view their liturgy.  I also came to a greater appreciation for the benefits of being a member of a community, not just a visitor – even an occasional visitor to the same parish.  I believe that the people I worship with can help to deepen my experience of the immanence and the transcendence of God.

 

Jeff, what is your experience in term of liturgical details? I should have taken notes so I could speak with more confidence, but here are my impressions:

- Latin: I am surprised that Latin has almost disappeared from the liturgy. A large majority of Masses have not a single word of Latin! Even in monasteries, and even in Italy (unless I just got unlucky) or in the Holy Land.  I personally regret it, because having a sprinkle of Latin helps me connect to Christians of the past, because I find that music beautiful, because many old people, if you ask them about it, remember it with nostalgia and would be grateful for an occasional Latin song, and because a little bit would help me participate when I travel to countries whose language I do not speak. I am not sure why there is such a complete rejection of Latin. If I had my way, the Mass normally would have the Kyrie in Greek and the Sanctus and the Agnus Dei in Latin, and a few times a year the assembly would be exposed to the Gloria, the Credo, and to one or another favorite Marian hymn in Latin.

- Music: people sing more than they have a reputation to. The music, by and large, seems to be the principal effort of parishes towards liturgy. On the music itself, it seems that people do the best that they can given the taste and skill of the volunteers in each parish. (The music is usually better in the US than in France.) My main regret is the poverty of the lyrics. More often than not, the words are banal, generic. That was not the case in the 70s, when the lyrics were Scripture-based and I built much of my understanding of the faith by pondering the words I was singing. 

- Lectors: there is a surprisingly large and maybe growing minority of parishes with superb lectors. I think that there is a general widespread awareness of the importance of the readings.

- Women: currently it seems to me that the majority of parishes have altar boys only. It did not use to be like that. I believe that the hope is that, like in the past, having male altar servers will foster vocations to the priesthood. Personally, I think it's an illusion that smacks of desperation.

- Preaching:  the homily is always directly connected to the readings. The majority of the time, it is solely focused on the gospel. It is normally not particularly engaging, but there is usually something in it for the person who makes the effort to listen. But by and large, it is ineffective. The preaching style is typically better in the US than in France.

- Welcome: people in France are more reserved than in the US. It used to be that one would not talk to strangers until a formal introduction had taken place. The idea of welcoming people by talking to them informally even though you don't know them is alien to traditional French culture. I imagine that the protocol is: first, anonymously come a few times. Then, once the pastor knows your face, shake his hand after Mass a few times (assuming you're lucky enough that it's always the same priest and that he likes to stand and greet people after Mass.) Then tell him your name and introduce yourself. Then he may introduce you to a couple of people. Make sure to remember their names and always say hello to them after that, and then the next time the parish has a social event, with luck they'll introduce you to a bunch of other people, who at that point may already be aware of your existence and ready to meet you.  In terms of behavior towards people on the margins: Don't Ask Don't Tell.

- Clericalism: clericalism is alive and well among lay people in France. You never contradict Father to his face (behind his back is another matter, of course). What Father says is what goes (unless it's impossible for lack of volunteers or passive resistance by inertia). Pastoral councils are a rarity. When I mention accountability and financial reports, people look at me as though I had landed from the moon. The modus operandi is: willing parishioners make themselves available, and Father decides how best to use them. People would not dream of taking initiatives. There is no sense of an equal partnership to jointly discuss needs. It  seems to me that, except for music, there is very little lay leadership, and that parishes are still not adequately prepared to deal with the decrease in the number of priests and the aging of remaining priests. 

- Prayer: I have the impression that the liturgy is more alive than, say, twenty years ago. In most places one gets the sense that many people are there not by mere habit but because they have chosen to be there. The number of Masses has diminished and the number of people attending may be small, but  they want to be there. We pray together. 

 

Re: Paris, I would imagine that this decision is quite possibly related to the many immigrant priests, whom people might seek to avoid when possible for reasons having to do with culture, accent, or plain old prejudice.

"My main regret is the poverty of the lyrics. More often than not, the words are banal, generic. That was not the case in the 70s, when the lyrics were Scripture-based and I built much of my understanding of the faith by pondering the words I was singing.  - See more at: http://www.commonwealmagazine.org/blog/what-makes-good-liturgy#comments."

This comment from Claire prompts a question that perhaps someone can answer: What happened to the music of Lucien Deiss? Very scriptural in content,It was used quite commonly in the 1970's but seems to have disappeared from the usual canon today. I wish that some of his pieces could be recovered.

a) Women giving the homily. I recall with great pleasure going to a small church in Europe, where a woman did just that, the priest seated behind the altar and smiling benignly. As far as I could make out from my less than fluent German, it was a pretty good homily too. I asked my local diocese under what conditions a woman preacher might be permitted, and in response I got a lot of words and citations from canon law which generally seem to have provided the answer, "Never." I would think it a very good idea if women, or even -- gasp -- members of the laity could preach. Quite apart from everything else, it might catch the attention of the congregation and cut down on the incidence of wool-gathering.

b) allowing the people to offer their own reflections on the readings. Wonderful idea. How many of us have been to children's masses, in which the priest invites the children to gather round the altar while he reads the gospel, and then in the homily, asks them for their views, and engages them in conversation?

I expect that it's all right to do this with children, because they can easily be put in their place if they raise awkward questions, but adults are too dangerous and too fearsome to be allowed to talk.

I remember Fr Deiss's music, have copies of both volumes of "Biblical Hymns and Psalms" -- I even attended a workshop he gave at a local parish (in the 70s, in NW Washington).  A few of his pieces (All the Earth, Keep in Mind) are still to be found in OCP's Breaking Bread for this year.  But most of it does seem to have disappeared, at least in the US.  I don't know why, and would be interested to know.  

Irene Baldwin August 24, 2013 - 12:43pm

When you are next in San Francisco, come here:  www.mhr.org.

(1) happens all the time.  If it didn't the presider would hear about it ASAP.  We get lots of guest presiders and they all know that we expect good preaching; not a 7-10 minute lesson in pablum and boredom.

(2) hell, you can even count on a hug, unless you look like you'll faint if that happens.  Then a vigorous shake will be extended.

(3) we use professionals to do just that, i.e., they are paid musicians.  They know how to lead and we are all good at making a joyful noice unto the Lord.

(4) women abound around the altar, and women giving the homily happens periodically ... and God hath not smote us into many pieces yet.  (What Abp Cordileone doesn't know, doesn't hurt him.  If he does know, he shuts up.  We are an actively vibrant parish with no debt and money in the bank.  And we know what financial solvency means to a bishop.)

The downside?  There are so few parishes like ours.  And, if you come, you'll have to get used to seeing 'those people" in great profusion, loving God, each other and the visitors who regular come.  (There are no strangers in our parish.)

A picture is worth more than any words ... and here are a lot of pictures to give you an idea of how a great parish looks and celebrates:   http://www.flickr.com/photos/mhr_sf/collections/72157626561594067/

Re: Lucien Deiss - a number of his works are in the one-volume Christian Prayer (which dates from the 1970s), and it is a pleasure to sing those scripture-infused lyrics, even when I am singing them alone.

His compositions tended to have irregular meter, which made them a bit less accessible for cantors.  And they were composed for the organ, which has fallen a bit out of favor the last couple of generations.

Perhaps another factor is that the St. Louis Jesuits, in the 1970s, were also composing works with scripture-infused lyrics, but generally with regular meter and scored for guitar, and easily arranged for piano and C instrument.   And situated more in a 'pop' vein.

Musically, I've thought that Deiss's compositions were in the original spirit of the liturgical renewal - their modes and the chant-like quality of their settings.  That the church largely hasn't kept his repertoire alive says something about church music today.  For one reason and another, conventional thinking about music programming, and conventional practice, would tend to preclude Deiss compositions from being chosen.

FWIW, people with an interest in some of the great contributors to the original liturgical renewal might be interested in this Liturgical Pioneeers site.  In addition to  Deiss, there are biographical sketches/remembrances of Joseph Gelineau, Jan Vermulst, and many, many others.

http://liturgicalleaders.blogspot.com/2008/09/alphabetical-listing.html

 

This is an interesting discussion for me because I finally admitted to myself a few years ago that liturgy was no longer supporting my spiritual life.The parish was way too big to be a  community (I grew up in a town that had a total population that was considerably smaller than my parish's population), the readings and homilies were so familiar after so many years that even when I tried to force myself to pay attention, I would drift off (there are only so many ways that priests come up with to talk about the same scripture passages). Like Crystal, the eucharist is not especially meaningful. Etc. It's my "fault" I suppose, but once I was honest with myself, I started to shed my guilt over finding Sunday mass to be an obligation rather than meaningful.

For years I attended mass with 500- 700 others at the same time, at one of 7 masses during the weekend for a parish of 3400 families (not individuals). Even though I was pretty much always active in one or two ministries, I did not know anywhere close to 7% of the congregation that Tom says that he does, but maybe a couple of dozen of those who were involved in the same ministries that I was.  I was around enough so that the pastors knew my name, but I wasn't a priest groupie.  Very often I did not recognize even a single person in the pews on Sunday.

I found that weekday masses in a small chapel of another parish were better - more contemplative, with no music at all, a simple liturgy, brief homily, no smells and bells to distract. I belong to a small centering prayer group and it feels much more like a real community than did Sunday mass with 700 strangers.  After 30 years in one parish, I did parish shop (other article). After hanging in through four pastors, a fifth arrived and changed the dynamics of the parish and its nature very dramatically. To use shorthand, it changed from being a  "Vatican II" parish to an EWTN parish. Many long-time parishoners left for green pastures after a while.   Although my new parish felt more "comfortable", it also made me face the reality that Sunday liturgy had been empty of real meaning for a long time.  My husband had come with me for 30+ years on Sunday although he is not Catholic. So I agreed to join my husband as often as I could at an Episcopal parish on Sundays.

The  exception to repetive homilies came when I started attending that  Episcopal church with my husband, a church with a woman priest as well as a male priest.  It took a minute for my brain to absorb what she was saying the first time I heard her speak,  a homily on Mary's visit with Elizabeth. I was stunned into sitting up and listening and didn't have to fight to pay attention because she was talking as a woman as well  as a priest. She was talking as a mother.  She brought feminine insights and understanding to that scripture that no male priest I have ever heard had ever done. I felt like standing up and shouting "YES, YES!" - you understand!  You really understand!   I still go to that church with my husband frequently, because she touches my mind and soul through her homilies in ways that no male priest ever has, and, I would suggest, cannot - because they are male celibates and they don't understand certain things in  their brains, or their hearts, or in their bodies. This priest had conceived and carried a child, she had given birth, she had nurtured the child, she had been a frightened new mother, and several years later, she was a somewhat frightened single mother. She understood Mary and Elizabeth in her own body memory as well as in her heart and her head.  So her homilies are not as often repetitive - not to me, anyway, because I spent almost 60 years listening to scriptures as filtered exclusively through the minds and experiences of celibate men. 

It is somewhat amusing in a way, because this Episcopal church's liturgy is very much what so many Catholics say they want - we attend Rite I, primarily because of the time it is offered. It is more traditional than Rite II, with thees and thous, classical music (Mozart missas etc), the Agnus Dei, Gloria, Sanctus are often sung in Latin (as well as other hymns), and the Kyrie in Greek. It is a small, historic church and we even kneel for communion (in the hand though).  Rite II is the less formal liturgy, popular with families.  It seems to me that the Catholic church could do the same on Sundays - offer liturgies with different styles of music -  and maybe cool down the endless liturgy wars (My preferences in music are better than your preferences in music, Latin is better than English, NO, English is better than Latin, etc, etc, nanny, nanny, boo,boo)

I'm not sure hymns should be "scriptural," in the sense of paraphrases. The more ancient way of hymns is to incorporate allusions to scripture.   F 

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.

Ann:   The notion of transubstantiation is not, of course, specifically Thomist; it antedated him. In fact, it's been argued that he grew less enthusiastic. While it occurred many times in his early commentary on the Sentences of Peter Lombard, it appears rarely in the late Summa theologia. And at Trent they took pains to make sure they weren't canonizing Thomas's doctrine.

Jean:  I can't give you any reason why the doctrine of transubstantiation or of the perpetual virginity of the Blessed Virgin Mary would help you follow the "Prime Directive(s)."  I don't suppose it was ever thought that they would. As you imply, there is nothing necessary about either doctrine, but arguments could be constructed to show how they both fit into a comprehensive and coherent Christian worldview. Some times I think that one of the worst mistakes made by theologians was when they decided that things could not make sense unless they could be shown to have been or to be necessary. But from the first Fiat l to the last trumpet, it's all shot through with contingency and freedom--God's freedom, first, of course. The world does not have to exist. We don't have to exist. Christ did not have to exist. Etc., etc.  And yet it all holds together so wonderfully well!

Jean,  I believe that in some way without the Eucharist we die, so I am concerned by everything that gets in the way: rules against divorced and remarried Catholics, statistics about the decrease in the number of priests, but also self-imposed exclusion because of perceived lack of faith (or for other reasons). But it seems that in your case there is a solution:

1. go to confession, expose your issues

2. accept what the priest tells you

If he says you're good to go, you can then receive communion. If not, he'll lay out a path leading there. Voila! Problem solved!

Fr. K, thanks again for your patience. I second Claire's posts above. 

A couple of thoughts. Perhaps you have never heard a Protestant discuss the Catholic understanding of the eucharist in terms of cannibalism because we hang with different crowds. You are a theologian and a university professor and you meet mostly with peers, often in formal conferences and meetings. I suspect that the peers who are Protestant would approach discussing differences in understanding of the nature of the eucharist using different terms than do [at least some] ordinary, everyday, non-theologian Protestants, such as my late father-in-law and a few others I have known. As professionals at gatherings of other religious professionals, it is likely that they would not use a word like cannibalism but would discuss the issues at a more 'intellectual" level. The problem is that we ordinary people (about 99% of the church) do not have graduate level educations in philosophy and theology nor are we employed full-time in professions that rely on either discipline, so it is harder for us to understand what you are saying even when we want to.

You wrote: 

….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.

Next was a quote from Hoskyns saying much the same thing.  And so I still must ask – why does this not equate to cannibalism?  These quotes imply that Jesus is describing the eating of (his own) human flesh and the drinking of (his own) human blood in a very literal way and not, as you note, in a metaphorical sense.  You and Hoskyns both mention gnawing and munching on the flesh (meat).  [Merriam Webster: cannibalism: the usually ritualistic eating of human flesh by a human being]

You also say that Jesus' presence is not "natural" but is "sacramental" and that this does not raise the images of cannibalism that Jesus's own words raise.  But does not this distinction again raise the issue of Jesus using these words in a metaphorical way?

You seem to be saying that transubstantiation is not turning bread and wine into flesh and blood “literally” but “truly” while at the same time emphasizing that Jesus himself used language that would normally be understood as describing cannibalism. This is all very confusing.

So the second question is - and maybe your response will clarify this issue for me - why would Jesus use  words with the implications of cannibalism to describe what human beings must do in order to have “life”?

I have read a couple of very brief summaries of other views of the eucharist – including explanations by Augustine and Henri de Lubac, which are much more palatable (sorry). I hope to have time to read a bit more about them and am hoping that de Lubac isn’t so heavy on theology-speak that I won’t be able to understand him!

Finally, even without worrying about the issue of how literally to understand the bread and wine in terms of Jesus’s (human) flesh and (human) blood, there is another question – how is God any more “present” in the eucharist than elsewhere?  What is less “Real” in God’s presence in creation apart from the eucharist?  I’m sorry to have such elementary questions, but these are questions I avoided even thinking about for much of my life.

Claire, how do we "die" without the eucharist? In what sense? Did the 99.9+% of human beings who have lived on this planet in the uncountable millenia of human history who never received the eucharist in a Roman Catholic church "die" in whatever way you are referring to?

I would like to add another thanks, Fr. K.  I have asked these questions of other priests and also of Catholic educators (but at the undergraduate or Adult Ed level of Catholic education) and nobody has ever taken the time to even try to respond.  They either avoid the question (I'm busy, I'll have to get back to you" and they don't) or refer me to the Catechism or some other document, or simply parrot.  It makes one wonder if even the average priest has a good understanding of this teaching.

Many scholars agree that the concrete, even crude, language that Jesus uses points to a eucharistic referent and not simply to the metaphor of his word as the Bread of Life.  Perhaps we can agree that he wasn't holding his arm out to be munched upon. There had, then, to be some other way in which one could eat his flesh and drink his blood. This other way, not natural but sacramental (Trent), removes, for me at least, any implication of cannibalism. 

(I pointed out Jesus' use of the crude language so that some of your Protestant interlocutors might recognize that if the problem of cannibalism arises at all, it arises first, not because of Roman Catholic doctrine, but because of His statements.)

Eucharistic presence is the presence of Jesus Christ. This is not the presence of God in all of creation or in hearts and minds of those who love him. I would not necessarily rank these various forms of presence in terms of "more" or "less," but certainly Christ is present differently in the eucharist. 

Anne, that was a quote from a homily I heard a few years ago. I looked it up now and just realized that the preacher had stolen it from a long homily by pope Benedict, his 2005 homily during the Italian Eucharistic congress. See  http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/homilies/2005/documents/hf_ben-xvi_hom_20050529_bari_en.html. Skip the paragraph in which he bemoans the state of the vast and scary world in typical Benedict darkness; omit the section where I think he misinterprets the reaction of the people protesting  "How can he give us his flesh to eat?" (Jn 6: 52); and stop before the section on unity and ecumenism, which strikes me as inferior to the rest and put together in a more awkward manner. The rest, to me, is striking. Here is one nice bit that gives a little historical grounding:

The chosen theme [of the Eucharistic congress] - "Without Sunday we cannot live" - takes us back to the year 304, when the Emperor Diocletian forbade Christians, on pain of death, from possessing the Scriptures, from gathering on Sundays to celebrate the Eucharist and from building places in which to hold their assemblies.

In Abitene, a small village in present-day Tunisia, 49 Christians were taken by surprise one Sunday while they were celebrating the Eucharist, gathered in the house of Octavius Felix, thereby defying the imperial prohibitions. They were arrested and taken to Carthage to be interrogated by the Proconsul Anulinus.

Significant among other things is the answer a certain Emeritus gave to the Proconsul who asked him why on earth they had disobeyed the Emperor's severe orders. He replied: "Sine dominico non possumus": that is, we cannot live without joining together on Sunday to celebrate the Eucharist. We would lack the strength to face our daily problems and not to succumb.

After atrocious tortures, these 49 martyrs of Abitene were killed. Thus, they confirmed their faith with bloodshed. They died, but they were victorious: today we remember them in the glory of the Risen Christ.

There is much more in that homily. Here are a couple of other quotes that I like.The Mass is an occasion to draw strength from Christ: I can relate to that.

In today's Gospel, Jesus has explained to us, through the gift of manna, for what bread God wanted to prepare the people of the New Covenant. Alluding to the Eucharist he said: "This is the bread that came down from heaven. Unlike your ancestors who ate and died nonetheless, the man who feeds on this bread shall live forever" (Jn 6: 58).

In taking flesh, the Son of God could become Bread and thus be the nourishment of his people, of us, journeying on in this world towards the promised land of Heaven.

We need this Bread to face the fatigue and weariness of our journey. Sunday, the Lord's Day, is a favourable opportunity to draw strength from him, the Lord of life.

And then, this next paragraph, which I think is related to Joe's comment on Christ being so very close to us, closer than we are to ourselves (I forget exactly how he worded it - he was quoting someone) - so if we lose Christ, we lose ourselves: that's a way of dying...

Moreover, this is not an arbitrary journey: the path God points out to us through his Word goes in the direction inscribed in man's very existence. The Word of God and reason go together. For the human being, following the Word of God, going with Christ means fulfilling oneself; losing it is equivalent to losing oneself.[my emphasis]

And again:

"Let me solemnly assure you, if you do not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you" (Jn 6: 53). Truly, we need a God who is close to us. In the face of the murmur of protest, Jesus might have fallen back on reassuring words: "Friends", he could have said, "do not worry! I spoke of flesh but it is only a symbol. What I mean is only a deep communion of sentiments".

But no, Jesus did not have recourse to such soothing words. He stuck to his assertion, to all his realism, even when he saw many of his disciples breaking away (cf. Jn 6: 66). Indeed, he showed his readiness to accept even desertion by his apostles, while not in any way changing the substance of his discourse: "Do you want to leave me too?" (Jn 6: 67), he asked. Thanks be to God, Peter's response was one that even we can make our own today with full awareness: "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life" (Jn 6: 68). We need a God who is close, a God who puts himself in our hands and who loves us.

Isn't it beautiful how he presents the Eucharist as the occasion for God to be close, really close to us? Finally this last quote is related to our discussion about the mechanics of the Real Presence.

Christ is truly present among us in the Eucharist. His presence is not static. It is a dynamic presence that grasps us, to make us his own, to make us assimilate him. Christ draws us to him, he makes us come out of ourselves to make us all one with him.

I note, by the way, that he did not use the word "transubstantation" anywhere. Maybe, like Joe and Trent, he has some reservations about the use of that word.

I realize that you might prefer if I said my own down to earth, hastily put together construction of how without the Eucharist we cannot live, but after reading that homily, I have to say that I don't really want to try to find my own words. The contrast would be too great.

 

So the second question is - and maybe your response will clarify this issue for me - why would Jesus use  words with the implications of cannibalism to describe what human beings must do in order to have “life”?

I think one answer is proposed by pope Benedict. I'm not sure I agree with the beginning, but here it is in full. See what you think of this!

However, we have heard that at his first announcement, instead of rejoicing, the people started to murmur in protest: "How can he give us his flesh to eat?" (Jn 6: 52). To tell the truth, that attitude has frequently been repeated in the course of history. One might say that basically people do not want to have God so close, to be so easily within reach or to share so deeply in the events of their daily life.

Rather, people want him to be great and, in brief, we also often want him to be a little distant from us. Questions are then raised that are intended to show that, after all, such closeness would be impossible.

But the words that Christ spoke on that occasion have lost none of their clarity: "Let me solemnly assure you, if you do not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you" (Jn 6: 53). Truly, we need a God who is close to us. In the face of the murmur of protest, Jesus might have fallen back on reassuring words: "Friends", he could have said, "do not worry! I spoke of flesh but it is only a symbol. What I mean is only a deep communion of sentiments".

But no, Jesus did not have recourse to such soothing words. He stuck to his assertion, to all his realism, even when he saw many of his disciples breaking away (cf. Jn 6: 66). Indeed, he showed his readiness to accept even desertion by his apostles, while not in any way changing the substance of his discourse: "Do you want to leave me too?" (Jn 6: 67), he asked. Thanks be to God, Peter's response was one that even we can make our own today with full awareness: "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life" (Jn 6: 68). We need a God who is close, a God who puts himself in our hands and who loves us.

If anyone is still interested in metaphysical explanations of the Eucharist, here is are some relatively clear summaries  of various theological positions on the matter by Alvin Kimel.  

http://pontifications.wordpress.com/transubstantiation/

Much ado about a mystery that is bound to be limited by human metaphors as well.  But there are some clarifications, e.g., the "presence" of Christ in the Eucharist is not the same thing as his *identification* of Christ and the Eugharist. and there is more on the Eucharist as sign.

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