Monday, 11 June 2012

The Feast of Corpus Christi: how to subvert belief in the Real Presence in Three Easy Lessons

One of the great ironies of the push, following Vatican II, for a greater focus on the Eucharist as the source and summit of the spiritual life, has been the utter subversion of belief in the Real Presence.

The Feast of Corpus Christi which we've just celebrated, or are in the process of celebrating depending on your time zone and liturgical calendar, provides an opportunity to reflect on just how this has happened.

Here are three ways error has been promoted, and some suggestions on what we can do about it.

1. Don't celebrate the feast!

The Feast of Corpus Christi was made a universal feast of the Church in 1263 precisely to counteract the problem of lack of belief we see today. 

These days, when it is needed more than ever, it is barely celebrated in most places.

Downplay the feast day itself

Part of that is unfortunate twentieth century history that needs to be reversed in my view. 

The feast survived Pope Pius X's purge of devotional feasts from the calendar. But it suffered at the hands of other twentieth century papal liturgical wreckovators.

Originally it has an Octave - that was abolished by Pope Pius XII in 1955. 

Originally it has a sister feast, of the Most Precious Blood - that was abolished by Pope Paul VI in the great 1969 calendar purge.  Ironically, Brisbane's Liturgical Commission's rant for the week at Liturgical Lines is on why reception under both kinds is preferable.  Just how this fits with the actual official instructions that reception under both kinds requires the explicit permission, and was originally only to be for special occasions such as for the bride and groom at their wedding, is unclear!

Originally the feast was celebrated on a Thursday, because the Eucharist was instituted on that day - these days, following the permission given by Pope John Paul II,  it has been shifted to the following Sunday in Australia and many other places.

Dump the Procession

Traditionally, the Mass ends with a Procession and Benediction.  Didn't happen either at the (one 7am sung by the priest only) EF Mass in my town on Thursday or at St Christopher's Cathedral on Sunday.  These days, Blessed Sacrament Processions for Corpus Christi are rare affairs (though good to see Archbishop Coleridge presiding at the Brisbane event this year).

Ignore the traditional texts

St Thomas Aquinas composed much of the liturgy for the feast, with texts that stress the necessity of faith in something the sense cannot perceive - great hymns like Pange Lingua, and the sequence Lauda Sion.

No surprise that the propers don't get much play these days - they don't get much play any day of the year!

Still, one could at least use the Sequence and hymns!

Yet at the Cathedral in Canberra this Sunday those texts got the barest homage possible in the form of a communion motet.  There was no sequence (and yes, it still is in the new missal!).  The hymns (it was a four hymn sandwich affair) and intercessory prayers centred heavily on the promotion of the common priesthood of all believers.  Orthodox homily notwithstanding, one has to assume this was a deliberate attempt to counteract one of the central messages of the feast, and blur over the notion that the ministerial priesthood, who alone can effect transubstantiation, differs essentially, and not just in degree, from the 'priesthood of the people'.

Insert secularism

The Pope commented, in his sermon for the feast this year, on the subversion of the very idea of liturgy, of the use of signs and symbols to sustain our faith.  There has been he said:

"..some misunderstanding of the authentic message of Holy Scripture. The Christian novelty of worship has been influenced by a certain secularist mentality of the 1960s and 1970s. It is true, and it remains valid, that the center of worship is no longer in the ancient rites and sacrifices, but in Christ Himself, His person, His life, His Paschal Mystery. Yet this fundamental novelty must not lead us to conclude that the sacred no longer exists".

Christ "did not abolish the sacred but brought it to fulfillment, inaugurating a new worship which is entirely spiritual but which nonetheless, as long as our journey in time continues, still uses signs and rites. These will only fall into disuse at the end, in the celestial Jerusalem where there will be no temple".

Moreover, the Holy Father went on, "the sacred has an educational function. Its disappearance inevitably impoverishes culture, and especially the formation of the new generations. ... Our Father God ... sent His Son into the world, not to abolish the sacred but to bring it to fulfillment. At the culmination of this mission, at the Last Supper, Jesus established the Sacrament of His Body and His Blood, the Memorial of His Paschal Sacrifice. By doing so he put Himself in the place of the ancient sacrifices, but He did so in the context of a rite, which he ordered the Apostles to perpetuate as a supreme sign of the true sacrifice, which is Him. With this faith, ... day after day we celebrate the Eucharistic Mystery, and adore it as the center of our lives and the heart of the world".

So what can you do

There are still a few days of the old Octave left.  Why not add the hymn Pange Lingua or the sequence Lauda Sion to your prayers each day up until and including Thursday (the old Octave Day)?  Or perhaps even Sunday if you are following the Novus Ordo calendar!

You might also think about lobbying your bishop to restore the celebration of the feast to the actual Thursday!

2.  Dump Eucharistic Adoration and Benediction

Traditionally belief in the Real Presence of Our Lord in the sacrament of the altar, belief in the transubstantiation that transforms bread and wine into the body and blood of Our Lord though their outward appearance does not change, was fostered through devotions such as Eucharistic Adoration and Benediction.

The Pope spoke on this at the Mass he celebrated for the Feast this year at St John Lateran.  Spero news reports:

"A unilateral interpretation of Vatican Council II has penalized this dimension", the Holy Father explained, "effectively limiting the Eucharist to the moment of celebrating Mass. It is, of course, very important to recognize the importance of celebration, in which the Lord calls His people, bringing them together around the table of the Word and Bread of life, nourishing them and uniting them to Himself in the sacrificial offering. This interpretation of the liturgical gathering, in which the Lord works and achieves His mystery of communion, naturally retains all its validity, but a rightful balance must be restored. ... By concentrating our relationship with the Eucharistic Christ only on Mass we run the risk that the rest of time and space is emptied of His presence. Thus our perception of Jesus' constant, real and close presence among us and with us is diminished".

"It is a mistake to establish a contrast between celebration and adoration, as if they were in competition with one another. The opposite is true. The cult of the Blessed Sacrament represents the spiritual 'environment' within which the community can celebrate the Eucharist correctly and truthfully. Only if preceded, accompanied and followed by this interior attitude of faith and adoration, can liturgical activity express its full meaning and value", the Pope said.

What can you do?  

If there is a Church that offers Adoration in your town, go visit and spend some time there this week.  If there isn't, try finding a priest you think might be sympathetic to arrange an occasional hour of Adoration. 

And it is not too soon to start thinking about planning a Eucharistic procession for next year's Feast of Corpus Christi!

3.  Promote heretical views of the Eucharist

Inevitably at this time of the year, assorted condemned heresies around the Eucharist pop up out of the woodwork and make their way into parish bulletins and sermons!

Indeed, the problem was so acute at the time of Vatican II that Pope Paul VI actually interrupted the Council in 1965 in order to put out an encyclical,  Mysterium Fidei, to counteract errors on this subject.

What the Church actually believes is this:

"Jesus Christ is present in the Eucharist in a unique and incomparable way. He is present in a true, real and substantial way, with his Body and his Blood, with his Soul and his Divinity. In the Eucharist, therefore, there is present in a sacramental way, that is, under the Eucharistic species of bread and wine, Christ whole and entire, God and Man." (Compendium of the Catechism, No 282)

What occurs at Mass is transubstantiation.  As a result, we owe the Blessed Sacrament the duty of latria, worship.

The classic heresies (there are no new heresies, just old ones recycled!) that pop up at this time of year, Paul VI notwithstanding, include:
  • consubstantiation - the Lutheran view that the Body and Blood co-exist with the bread and wine after the consecration.  No - the bread and wine become the actual Body and Blood of Christ; they cannot be two things at once (and thanks to Cardinal Wolsey for drawing my attention to the Lutheran origins of a picture I unfortunately chose for the feast!);
  • transignification - the idea that the bread and wine take on a new meaning or significance but the reality does not necessarily change.  Explicitly condemned by Pope Paul VI, it got a run in a Ballarat parish bulletin drawn to my attention by a reader, in a piece by Sr Veronica Lawson RSM;
  • transfinalization - the idea that the words of consecration lead the bread and wine to serve a new function (such as to arouse the faith of the people in Christ's redemptive love).  It is the theology that underpins the 'litany' for the Feast presented for the feast over at Cath News' anti-faith project.  And of course its chief advocate was Karl Rahner, quoted on the Eucharist in a companion piece by a Jamberoo nun over there.
What can you do?

If you see or hear heretical expositions of the meaning of the Blessed Sacrament, consider complaining.  It may not have much impact on your priest, bishop or Rome, but eventually it must add up!

Consider writing your own, orthodox alternative reflections, or identifying a particularly good write up by someone else, for inclusion in next year's parish bulletin or diocesan newspaper.

Get your priest on the mailing list for the Congregation of the Clergy's sermon notes, sent out each week to help priests searching for material.

Keep the Pope especially in your prayers (perhaps you could say a rosary for him, although leaping up at 2.45am in order to say it at the same time as he does each day may be asking a little bit too much of those living in Southern Hemisphere time zones!), for, inter alia, his defence of the Real Presence and other key doctrines.

Oh, and add your vote to the Cath News must be reformed/abolished/prayed for poll up at the top right of this blog page (115 people have voted as at Monday am, with votes equally split between reformed or abolished)!


A Canberra Observer said...

thanks for a very nice piece

It is very clear that the bulk of Catholics in this country, clergy and laity alike, would be embarassed to express such public devotion.

Matt R said...

Consubstantiation (where both the substances of Christ's body/blood) and the substance of the bread/wine is held by some Lutherans as their own personal doctrine on the Real Presence. However "sacramental union," where the consecrated elements are united to the Body and Blood of Christ by virtue of the institution, and requires an affirmation of the Real Presence on the receiver's part, is actually the traditional Lutheran doctrine.