Category Archives: Common Priesthood

One in the Eucharist – April 27, 2016

Sacraments are rituals instituted by Christ, woven together with signs and symbols, (CCC 1145) that “make present efficaciously the grace that they signify.” (CCC 1084) St. Augustine described them as “an outward and visible sign of an inward and invisible grace.” They are not just symbolic, but are “real symbols,” which actually make present that which they signify. Sign and reality are one. Initiation into the sacraments initiates us into the mystery, or mystagogy, of Christ. (CCC 1075) They draw us ever deeper into Himself.

One such “real symbol” is the Eucharist. It is the real presence of Jesus Christ: body and blood, soul and divinity. The whole liturgical life of the Church is oriented towards the Eucharist. It is communion with the sacred flesh and blood of Christ into our bodies, and the sanctifying grace of His soul and divinity into our souls.

It is Jesus Himself who first speaks about His real presence in the Eucharist: “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you.” (Jn. 6:53-54) The word John uses for “to eat” is the Greek word “trogein,” which literally means “to gnaw”; you gnaw on real meat, not a symbol or an idea. Many of Jesus’ disciples and non-disciples alike are aghast at this, believing He is speaking of cannibalism. Roman pagan historians would later record false rumors of Christians participating in cannibalistic rituals – a clear misunderstanding of the Mass and the real presence. Jesus knows, of course, that this is difficult for them to believe, and says, “Does this shock you?” (Jn. 6:61) We know it did, because, as John records, many of His disciples abandon Him at this point. (Jn. 6:66)

After they leave, Jesus reassures His skeptical Apostles, telling them, “The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.” (Jn. 6:63) They cannot understand this with their fleshy, materialistic minds, but rather, by trusting in God’s supernatural power. This is not a cannibalistic ritual but a heavenly sacrament. Directly before Jesus’ Bread of Life Discourse, John relates two other miracles, Jesus’ multiplication of the loaves and Jesus walking on water. Both miracles reveal that physical matter, nature itself, is subject to Jesus. Immediately before we see the bread and wine becoming His flesh and blood, John demonstrates with these miracles that material boundaries are no constraint upon Jesus.

After Jesus’ death and resurrection, His appearances to His disciples further establish the importance of the sacraments. When Jesus first approaches the disciples on the road to Emmaus, “their eyes were kept from recognizing Him.” (Lk. 24:16) After He took bread and broke it, Luke says, “then their eyes were opened,.” (Lk. 24:31) Jesus illustrates that He is no longer with them as He once was, but will now remain with them sacramentally in the form of the Eucharist. He has demonstrated the Eucharistic formula for the disciples starting with the Last Supper. Now, the disciples continued this going forward as the beginnings of the Mass and Eucharist, devoting themselves “to the breaking of bread.” (Acts 2:42)

A millennium and a half later, at the Council of Trent in the 16th century, the doctrine of Christ’s real presence in the Eucharist was reaffirmed in precise language. Transubstantiation is ultimately the term they arrived at to define what happens in the mystical sacrament of the Eucharist. Under the veiled appearance of bread and wine, “the whole of Christ is truly, really, and substantially contained.” (CCC 1374; Trent 1551) Jesus becomes our spiritual food, and our “medicine of immortality.” (St.Ignatius, 110 AD) Receiving Holy Communion brings us into intimate union with Christ. Just as material food nourishes our bodies, so Holy Communion nourishes our spiritual soul. (CCC 1392)

Moreover, it also transforms us as a whole community of believers, the Church, into the Mystical Body of Christ. In the Mass, after the priest invokes the Holy Spirit, an epiclesis prayer, to transform the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ, he again, invokes the Holy Spirit, a second epiclesis, that those who eat the body and blood of Christ may be “one body, one Spirit in Christ.” He says, “Grant that we, who are nourished by His body and blood, may be filled with his Holy Spirit, and become one body, one spirit in Christ.” This is, in effect, a second transubstantiation: the transformation, by the power of the Holy Spirit, of those who eat the Eucharist into the one Mystical Body of Christ. This recalls Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane to the Father that His followers “may be one, as We are one.” (Jn. 17:11) The Eucharist unites us mystically together in Him as living sacramental realities.

As such, the Church comes together to offer “praise, sufferings, prayer, and work” in union with the sacrifice of Christ. (CCC 1368) We, by virtue of our common priesthood, can unite all that we are and do with the offering of the sacrifice of the Mass.  Jesus put an end to the millennia-old, ritualistic and violent bloodletting of the pagan ancient world.  Alas, He is the pure offering. For from the rising of the sun to its setting My name is great among the nations, and in every place incense is offered to My name, and a pure offering; for My name is great among the nations, says the Lord of hosts.” (Mal.1:11). Christ in the Eucharist transforms us into His image, so that His presence enters into the world again, and in us, continues His pure offering to the Father.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Baptism, Initiation into the Common Priesthood – October 15, 2015

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Mt.28:19-20)

“Baptism imprints on the soul an indelible spiritual sign, the character, which consecrates the baptized person for Christian worship.” (CCC 1280)

The sacrament of Baptism initiates us into the mystery of Christ. It is the essential rite to eternal life, and the beginning point of the whole Christian experience. (CCC 1213) In Baptism, God first demonstrates His self-communication to us. It imprints His indelible mark upon our souls configuring us to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The character of Christ is irrevocably sealed upon our minds and souls, configuring us to a new and eternal spiritual reality. (CCC 1272) It transforms who we are. A permanent ontological change takes place to our very being. Just as a material object or person is visibly sealed with a mark, defining who or what it is, or whose property it might be, so too, in Baptism, God marks our immaterial souls invisibly and permanently, claiming us as His own. It sets us apart. It can only be done once, and nothing can undo it. It is a necessary transformation. Jesus attests to it, saying, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.” (Jn.3:5) Baptismal water is a graced sign, a real symbol, which efficaciously applies the invisible grace it signifies. It does in reality, the sign it points to. We are washed of Original Sin, purified of all of our sins, and regenerated to eternal life. It consecrates us into the sacramental character of Christ’s paschal mystery, impressing upon us His saving grace of the Cross. (SC, 6) We are sealed with Christ’s imprimatur, conforming us to the God-man. (2 Cor. 1:21-22) He alone conquered sin, and death itself, so that by faith and grace, we too, who are flesh and blood mortals, may partake in His supernatural life. Baptism is necessary because Christ alone overcame death. We need His divine life in us, so we too will rise to eternal life. Baptism anticipates our own resurrection. Through it, we are grafted into communion with the Easter mysteries. The mystery of Christ becomes alive to us, and in us. Christ in His life, and in His Passion and suffering, and all that He was in His eternal and divine humanity, begins to unfold and live out in our individual lives. When we are immersed into the water, we are brought into His death, and rising from the water, we are brought into His life and resurrection. (Rom. 6:3-4) As the Catechism says, “It signifies and actually brings about death to sin and entry into the life of the Most Holy Trinity through configuration to the Paschal mystery of Christ.” (CCC 1239) We are made into a new living, Trinitarian reality; spiritually reordered towards the Father, configured to the Son, and filled with the Holy Spirit. We become adopted children of God, by faith and grace; baptized into the Son of God, we are made partakers in the divine nature by proxy, as He is in reality.

We are indeed remade into this new holy status as children of God, and temples of the Holy Spirit, and co-heirs with Christ. It makes us, first and foremost, Christian, and members of the Church, the Body of Christ, and gains us access to divine grace in the rest of the sacraments. It is our foundation for the supernatural life. But, it is also the first moment of a lifelong phenomenon of conversion. Baptism is more than just a single event, or a static state; it transforms us in such a way that we are perpetually drawn deeper into the living reality of Christ. It allows us to engage in the sacramental life and realize the mysteries of Christ in our being. It establishes a new dynamic in our consciousness, where our everyday circumstances are reinterpreted and contextualized within the divine humanity of Christ. Our humanity is elevated and divinized. We are afforded special offices. One of these is our incorporation into the common priesthood of the faithful, the baptized, and the ordinary. With a sacred chrism, the oil consecrated by the bishop, the newly baptized is anointed into Christ as “priest, prophet, and king.” (CCC 1241) We become sharers in Christ’s one eternal priesthood. As Lumen Gentium, the Dogmatic Constitution of the Church, says, “The baptized, by regeneration and the anointing of the Holy Spirit, are consecrated as a spiritual house and a holy priesthood.” (LG, 10) Even as Christ is the one true and eternal Mediator between God and man, He still graciously saw fit that we should also participate, to varying degrees, in His priestly office. As part of our baptismal right and dignity, we can exercise that priestly office by virtue of our association in Christ’s life, passion, and redemptive sacrifice.

But, what are our priestly functions? Scripture and the Church say we are to make spiritual sacrifices. We are to offer up interiorly all of our actions, words, deeds, suffering, successes, and all that we do, for the glory of God and for the intercession of souls. The magisterium teaches that the baptized should “present themselves as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God.” (LG, 10 ) Every common thing in our ordinary existence can be extended towards God as a sacrifice in our common priesthood. We can offer up everything, including our prayers, sacrifices, fasting, bodily weaknesses, illness, even patiently enduring the things that annoy us, or nearly anything that may otherwise seem useless and worthless in the eyes of the world. God’s eternal priesthood is mediated in the implements of our material world. Our physical operations can have spiritual significance. We can exercise our priesthood, in such a way, that we can, in effect, “sacramentalize” all that we do. That is, we spiritualize our activity through faith and with the intention of offering reparation to God. This is how we become living sacrifices. As the magisterium explains, we can “exercise that priesthood in receiving the sacraments, in prayer and thanksgiving, in the witness of a holy life, and by self-denial and active charity.” (LG, 10) By ourselves, a branch separated from the vine, our actions have no spiritual power. But, united with Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit, our actions can be spiritually efficacious for reparation of our sins and the sins of others. This is our role in the communion of saints. We are mediators. Through initiation in Baptism and the imprinting of Christ’s priestly seal upon us, we become priests. We can use our willful intention to please God, in a particular activity, invoke the anointing of the Holy Spirit, and raise that up as a form of worship. So, we can, for illustration, use our being hungry on any given afternoon, or say, being stuck behind a slow driver in our morning commute, to invoke the Holy Spirit, and offer these annoyances up to God for the sanctification of souls. These are just two minor examples, but the possibilities are nearly endless. St.Paul explains these spiritual sacrifices. He says, I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church.” (Col.1:24) Christ deemed us worthy to take part in His priestly ministry, and left for us a portion of the redemption to offer up to the Father. He made us a living Church, actively carrying on His mission. Christ’s presence and power remain hidden now sacramentally, just as it did in His life then when He walked the earth.  Some people today see just bread and wine, and not the body and blood of Christ, as before they saw just the carpenter’s son, and not the Son of God.  Christ continues His priestly mediation for the world today through us. In this vein, St.Paul is dutifully acting out his priestly character. He offers intercession and mediation for the Church, through his own sufferings, in unity with the sufferings of Christ. We are called to do the same. Christ has deputized us. He appointed us His priests. It is our role to live as mediators and intercessors here on earth in imitation of Him. We are to stand in the breach for those entrusted to us.  Baptism is everything, but it’s also just the beginning.

Pray Without Ceasing: The Liturgy of the Hours – 5 October 2015

“Private prayer is like straw scattered here and there: If you set it on fire it makes a lot of little flames. But gather these straws into a bundle and light them, and you get a mighty fire, rising like a column into the sky; public prayer is like that.” St.John Vianney

The public prayer of the Church is the “Liturgy of the Hours,” also known as the “Divine Office.” (SC, 90) The Liturgy of the Hours unites the voices of the whole Church into a singular and constant prayer, a mighty fire, offered around the world, day and night. It – in conjunction with the liturgical sacrifice of the Mass – echoes Malachi’s “pure offering,” where “in every place incense is offered to My name” among the gentile nations “from the rising of the sun to its setting.” (Mal.1:11) The two liturgies, the Liturgy of the Eucharist and the Liturgy of the Hours, together form the central components of the Church’s public prayer life. This is the incense offered up to Heaven in God’s name. The Eucharistic sacrifice is obviously the primary liturgical focus, as we are offering Jesus’ body, blood, soul and divinity back to the Father. But, the Church’s offering of praise and worship, in the Liturgy of the Hours, is like an extension of the Mass. (CCC 1178) It is liturgical in nature, and it continues the Church’s public worship throughout the whole day, albeit in a complementary way to the Mass. As the Bishops state, “In the Hours, the royal priesthood of the baptized is exercised, and this sacrifice of praise is thus connected to the sacrifice of the Eucharist, both preparing for and flowing from the Mass.” (USCCB) We, as the Laity, can participate in this liturgy and offer up our sacrifices too, because of our common, baptismal priesthood. The Liturgy of the Hours is part of the Church’s response to Jesus’ exhortation to us to “pray always” (Lk.18:1) and to “pray without ceasing.” (1 Thess. 5:17) We pray always by consecrating and sanctifying our days and hours and minutes, and even our seconds, from moment to moment. Hence, the primary purpose of the Liturgy of the Hours is the sanctification of time. In it, we consecrate to God the phases of the day. (SC, 88) As the “General Instructions of the Liturgy of the Hours” highlights, “it consecrates to God the whole cycle of the day and the night.” The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, says it this way, By tradition going back to early Christian times, the divine office is devised so that the whole course of the day and night is made holy by the praises of God.” (SC, 84) It invokes an anointing of the Holy Spirit upon us, an epiclesis, from morning, to noon, to afternoon, to evening, to night sanctifying all that we do. As the letter to the Hebrews says “Through Him, then, let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God.” (Heb.13:15)

But, what is the Liturgy of the Hours? How is it performed? The Liturgy of the Hours is a set of psalms, antiphons, scripture readings, canticles, hymns, intercessions and other prayers offered at seven canonical hours throughout the day. These seven Hours are: (1) Lauds or morning prayer (about 6am); Daytime prayer: (2) Terce or third Hour (about 9am), (3) Sext or sixth Hour (about 12 noon), and (4) None or ninth Hour (about 3pm); (5) Vespers or evening prayer (about 6pm); (6) Compline or night prayer (about 9pm); (7) Office of the Readings or formerly Matins (traditionally around midnight; but now, anytime in the day). These are the prayers the Church offers up twenty-four hours a day and 365 days a year. Now, envision what is really happening here. As the earth turns on its axis and the hours shift from time zone to time zone, groups of Christians pass the prayer-baton to the next ones continuing the spiritual relay across the globe. Believers together all singing, chanting, and praying, one after another, the same ancient prayers of the Church; lay people along with the ecclesiastical hierarchy, and even with the Pope himself. The Liturgy of the Hours is more than a simple private devotion, such as a particular novena. Rather, it is said as a form of prayer in unity with the broader body of believers; it is no less than the universal Church coming together every day in liturgical, public worship. The Catechism describes the Liturgy of the Hours as “intended to become the prayer of the whole People of God. In it Christ Himself “continues his priestly work through his Church.” (CCC 1175) As a liturgical work, we exercise our priestly function in the Divine Office in unity with the high priest, Christ. The Church, as the bride of Christ, prays to her bridegroom, Christ. And together, the bride and bridegroom sing praise to the Father. (CCC 1174) The Liturgy of the Hours is an unending dialogue of love between God and man. Sacrosanctum Concilium beautifully describes it:

“Christ Jesus, high priest of the new and eternal covenant, taking human nature, introduced into this earthly exile that hymn which is sung throughout all ages in the halls of heaven. He joins the entire community of mankind to Himself, associating it with His own singing of this canticle of divine praise.” (SC, 83)

The Liturgy of the Hours connects us back with our most ancient traditions. Christians inherited the idea of the seven canonical hours in the day from Judaism. As David wrote in Book of Psalms, Seven times a day I praise you for your righteous ordinances.” (Ps.119:164) In the Book of Daniel, Daniel’s shown praying three times a day, presumably morning, afternoon and night. (Dan.6:10) These traditions were then carried forward with the first Christians. In the Book of Acts, the Apostles pray specifically at various canonical hours in the day, such as St. Peter praying at noon and again at three o’clock. (Acts 3:1; 10:3; 10:9; 10:30; 16:25) These are the same prayers Jesus would have known and would have prayed. Now, how can we, today, continue forward this ancient prayer into our modern times? Most of us know with evident certainty that our daily lives are awash in clutter, stress, noise, duties, work and responsibilities. It is not easy to pray the seven canonical Hours of the Divine Office. Not easy, especially with young kids, or with a highly demanding job. So, depending upon circumstances, having that time available can be quite difficult. Nevertheless, the Church encourages us to pray what we can, especially if possible, the three major hours of morning, evening, and night prayers. We need to adapt the Liturgy of the Hours to meet our particular circumstances and the rhythm of our day. It should not be a burden, but rather, a sanctifying joy. Although there’s something nostalgic about owning the physical breviary (the book containing the Liturgy of the Hours), I have found it much easier to use an online App for my phone, such as the ‘Divine Office’ app. In this way you always have it at your fingertips (as long as you have your phone), and you won’t have to carry around a large book. It’s very easy to use.  At this point, the most important thing is to just get started, and do what we can. Let the prayers cultivate our days into a sacramental life. It will help provide a spiritual framework to our hours; blessing us from our waking moments till drifting off to sleep. So, let us stop here, and pray as every Liturgy of the Hours begins, “O God, come to my assistance. Lord, make haste to help me.” (Ps.70:1)

The Second Transubstantiation, One in the Eucharist – 25 September 2015

“The Eucharist is “the source and summit of the Christian life.” (CCC 1324)

The idea of living the sacramental life is to order all that we do and all that we are, by way of our intentions and invocations, to be one with Jesus Christ. We can live in union with Jesus in our most ordinary of circumstances each day. Yet, both the foundation and the pinnacle of the sacramental life are found in the sacraments themselves. As per the Catechism, “The sacraments are efficacious signs of grace, instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church, by which divine life is dispensed to us.” (CCC 1131) They are efficacious, or produce the intended effect in our souls, in order to sanctify us. The sacraments are the source and continuation of the divine life of Jesus Christ for the world. Indeed, the whole liturgical life of the Church revolves around the seven sacraments. These are, of course: Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist, Penance, Anointing of the Sick, Holy Orders, and Matrimony. Christ did not leave us orphaned when He left this world. (Jn.14:18) Rather, Jesus said, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Mt.28:20) When Jesus founded His Church, the Catholic Church, He intended to continue on living amongst us through the grace of His sacraments and the power of the Holy Spirit. Christ does act directly through His Church via the sacraments. Jesus’ real presence endures. He is with us always.

These sacramental celebrations are, in fact, rituals instituted by Christ that are woven together with signs and symbols (CCC 1145) that “make present efficaciously the grace that they signify.” (CCC 1084) They are outward signs, a visible activity, which reveals the invisible reality. St. Augustine described them as “an outward and visible sign of an inward and invisible grace.” The washing by water in Baptism is the sign of the true reality of God’s spirit washing away our sin. However, these are not just symbols or symbolic, but rather, “real symbols,” which truly are what they represent. They are efficacious symbols that reveal a hidden reality. The water, as symbol, infused with sacramental grace does truly sanctify us in reality, albeit a hidden reality. It does what it symbolizes. In them, we proceed from the visible to the invisible and from the sign to the thing signified. Sign and reality are one. Initiation into the sacraments is to initiate us into the mystery of Christ (“mystagogy”). (CCC 1075) For the early Christians, the faith wasn’t simply going to Church on Sunday, it was an all-encompassing faith, sacrament-alizing their lives, living in communion with God and with each other. The sacraments lead us to Christ, drawing us ever deeper into His mystagogy. They draw their power from Christ Himself. For Christ Himself is the ultimate sacrament of God-made-present, just as the Church too, as the Mystical Body of Christ, is the efficacious sign, or sacrament, of Christ in the world.

Since Christ Himself is the supreme sacrament, the fountain of grace, we can approach Him directly to dispense His grace upon us. We can unite ourselves with Him in our daily activities to sacramentalize our ordinary lives. This is the sacramental life. Yet, we also know Christ established His sacraments through the Church as the divine avenues by which grace is issued upon us. Specifically, He established in the Church the seven sacraments for initiation, healing, personal commitment, and to impress an indelible character on our souls. The seven sacraments of the Church are the way. They are the path of salvation and holiness.  They draw us ever deeper into the mystagogy of Christ. The blood and water that issued forth from the side of Christ on the Cross, flows to us today as His grace and mercy in the sacraments. They bring forth the real presence of Christ to us and help conform us to His image. With those ideas in mind – His real presence and the transformation of us into His image – the sacrament par excellence is the Eucharist. The sacraments and the whole liturgical life of the Church are contained and oriented towards the Eucharist. For, the Eucharist contains the real presence of Jesus Christ, body and blood, soul and divinity, and ever transforms us into Himself. As the Catechism says, “For in the blessed Eucharist is contained the whole spiritual good of the Church, namely Christ Himself.” (CCC 1324)

The real presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist has been there from the beginning. The scriptures and Jesus Himself testify to this. After Jesus’ death and resurrection, two of His disciples were downcast walking on the road back to the town of Emmaus. Jesus approached them, “but their eyes were kept from recognizing Him.” (Lk. 24:16) He began to teach them about all the scriptures related to what would happen to the Messiah. Jesus was so compelling that the disciples’ “hearts were burning” within themselves, and they asked Him to stay longer with them. Then, the Gospel writer Luke captures so succinctly what happens next: “When He was at the table with them, He took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized Him; and He vanished from their sight.” (Lk.24:31) Jesus uses this post-resurrection appearance to teach them the importance of the Eucharist. They were unable to see Jesus until He consecrated and broke the bread. As the disciples later testified, “how He had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.” (Lk.24:35) Jesus illustrates that He is no longer with them as He once was, but will now remain with them, sacramentally, in the form of the Eucharist. He uses the same Eucharistic formula as at the Last Supper, when He instituted the Eucharist. At the Last Supper, “Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it He broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.” (Mt.26:26) Jesus did not say this is a “symbol” of My body, rather, in no uncertain terms, “This is My body.” Jesus reinforced in Emmaus, what they initially called “the breaking of bread,” and what Jesus had instituted at the Last Supper, the Eucharistic sacrifice of His body and blood. Now, the disciples continued this going forward as the beginnings of the mass and Eucharist. As St.Paul says, “They devoted themselves… to the breaking of bread.” (Acts 2:42)

Of course, Jesus is the one who first spoke about Himself as “the bread of life.” (John 6:35) He goes into a long discourse, the Bread of Life discourse, which greatly offended and scandalized many of His followers and non-followers alike. Jesus continues, “the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” (Jn.6:51) It is interesting to note that John uses the Greek word “sarx” here to denote the word “flesh.” Sarx can only mean real flesh. Sarx is the same word John uses at the beginning of his Gospel in regard to the Incarnation when he states “The Word became flesh.” (Jn.1:14) Thus, he links the Eucharist with the Incarnation. In the synoptic Gospels and the Pauline epistles, in regard to the Eucharistic formulation, they use the word soma, which means “body.” But here, in the Bread of Life discourse, John specifically uses the word sarx six times! As Jesus emphasizes, “for My flesh is true food and My blood is true drink.” (Jn. 6:55) Not just an idea or mere symbol. The Eucharist is a Real Symbol. It is what it signifies. Yet, the disciples and the Jews were scandalized by this “hard saying.” Nonetheless, Jesus does not back off, but more forcefully emphasizes the point. He says: “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat My flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day;” (Jn. 6:53-54) The word John uses for “to eat” is the Greek word “trogein,” which literally means “to gnaw.” He’s emphasizing that you gnaw on real meat, not a symbol or an idea. Not surprisingly, many of Jesus’ disciples and non-disciples alike were aghast at this; believing He was speaking about some sort of cannibalism. Jesus, of course, knew this, and so, He asks them, and by way of extension, He asks us, “Does this shock you?” (Jn. 6:61) We know it was too much for many to bear, because as John records, many of His disciples abandon Him at this point. (Jn.6:66) * After they abandon Him, Jesus reassures His skeptical Apostles. He tells them, “The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.” (Jn.6:63) Or, in other words, Jesus is telling them not to understand this with their fleshy, materialistic minds; But rather, they should understand it by trusting in God’s supernatural power. This is not a cannibalistic ritual, but a heavenly sacrament. **

The Council of Trent in the 16th century reaffirmed the belief of the real presence in the Eucharist and spelled out in precise language the nature of the sacrament. The Council reaffirmed that by the consecration of the bread and wine, “there takes place a change of the whole substance of the bread into the substance of the body of Christ our Lord and of the whole substance of wine into the substance of His blood. This change the holy Catholic Church has fittingly and properly called transubstantiation.” (CCC 1376; Trent 1551) Transubstantiation is ultimately the term they arrived at to define what happens in the mystical sacrament of the Eucharist. Under the veiled appearance of bread and wine, “the whole of Christ is truly, really, and substantially contained.” (CCC 1374; Trent 1551) Jesus becomes our spiritual food. He is our “medicine of immortality.” (St.Ignatius, 110 AD) Jesus loves us so much that He desires to be consumed by us; to merge with us, and merge us into Himself. As Jesus said, “Those who eat My flesh and drink My blood abide in Me, and I in them.” (Jn. 6:56) The real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist is not an end in itself. The purpose of the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist is for us to consume Him and be in communion with Him. Receiving Jesus in Holy Communion is meant to bring us into intimate union with Christ. It deepens our relationship with Him. Just as material food nourishes our bodies, so Holy Communion nourishes our spiritual soul. (CCC 1392) You are what you eat. Holy Communion transforms us into the image of Jesus Christ.

Our personal salvation and transformation are not the only goals of Holy Communion. It also transforms us, as a whole community of faithful believers, the Church, into the Mystical Body of Christ. St.Paul wrote to the Corinthians, Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” (1Cor. 10:17) The Eucharist lifts us up into union with Christ, and unites us all as one in His Mystical Body. (Mysterium Fidei, 70) All who partake in the body and blood of Christ, “enter into communion with Him and form but one body in Him.” (CCC 1329) In the mass, after the priest invokes the Holy Spirit to transform the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ, he again, invokes the Holy Spirit, a second time, that those who eat the body and blood of Christ may be “one body, one Spirit in Christ.” This is in reality the second transubstantiation; the transformation of those who eat the Eucharist into the one Mystical Body of Christ. This recalls Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane to the Father that His followers “may be one, as We are one.” (Jn 17:11) Just as the Holy Spirit transforms the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ, so does He transform us into the Mystical Body of Christ. The Eucharist unites us together mystically in Him.

Moreover, the members of the Church come together to offer “praise, sufferings, prayer, and work” in union with the sacrifice of Christ. (CCC 1368) We, the Body and by virtue of our priesthood, unite all that we are and do, with the offering of the Head, the one and eternal Priest and Mediator, Jesus Christ, in His passion and death. Body and Head united, we offer our sacrifice together to the Father in the Eucharist and the sacred liturgy of the mass for the intercession of all humanity and the salvation of our souls.  The Eucharist and the sacred liturgy of the mass draw us “day by day into ever more perfect union with God and with each other, so that finally God may be all in all.” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 48) In the fifth century B.C. the Hebrew Prophet Malachi (מַלְאָכִי) prophesied a time when not only the Jews, God’s chosen people, would worship the one, true God, but all the Gentile nations around the world would too. People everywhere would not make bloody or burnt sacrifices, but rather, each day they will make a pure and acceptable offering to God’s holy name.  This has found its fulfillment in the Christian Eucharist and mass.  Jesus puts an end to the millennia-old ritualistic blood-letting.  He is the pure offering. For from the rising of the sun to its setting My name is great among the nations, and in every place incense is offered to My name, and a pure offering; for My name is great among the nations, says the Lord of hosts.” (Mal.1:11) 

*As an aside, it’s interesting to note that various early Roman pagans had spread false rumors about Christians that they participated in cannibalistic rituals. This was probably from their false understanding of the Eucharistic meal. As recorded by Roman pagan historians, this smear was used as one of the excuses to persecute the early Christian Church. Yet, it also lends extra-biblical credence to the idea that the first Christians believed in the real presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist.

**It’s also interesting to note that directly before Jesus’ Bread of Life Discourse in John 6, John related two other miracles. The first was Jesus’ multiplications of the loaves. This has obvious Eucharistic connotations. The next was Jesus walking on water on the Sea of Galilee. Both miracles reveal that matter, the elements and nature itself are subject to Jesus. In other words, just before Jesus discusses bread and wine becoming His flesh and blood, John demonstrates by these miracles, that material boundaries are no constraint upon Jesus.

The Common Priesthood of the Faithful – 18 August 2015

Do you know that you are a priest? Many of us Catholics are unaware of our own priesthood. Yet, this office of priesthood was conferred upon us in the Sacrament of Baptism, and later again, reaffirmed in the Sacrament of Confirmation. Of course, most of us are far more familiar with the first aspect of the Baptismal rite. That is, when we are immersed into the baptismal water, or the water is poured over our heads – and we’re blessed three times in the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. By this sacred rite, we are made into “a new creation” (Rom.5:17), our sin forgiven, and “grafted into the paschal mystery of Christ.” (Sacrosanctum Concilium 6) For as Jesus said, “Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.” (Jn 3:5) However, there is a second aspect to the Baptismal rite, in which we are anointed with the holy chrism oil. Then, as the holy unction is applied to our heads, the priest or deacon prays over us, “As Christ was anointed priest, prophet and king, so may you live always as a member of His holy people, sharing everlasting life.” And with that anointing, we become sharers in Christ’s threefold offices of priest, prophet and king. In particular, a share in the eternal priesthood of Christ is stamped upon our souls. This is not a metaphorical or allegorical priesthood, but a true priesthood; Christ’s priestly character is indelibly marked upon our souls. We should absorb this idea to the very core of our being: You are a priest!

The priesthood of the faithful is not an obscure idea. The Magisterium itself spells out the priestly nature of our Christian vocation. The Catechism refers to the “whole community of believers” that “through the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation” are “consecrated to be ..a holy priesthood.” (CCC 1546) We, as Catholics, are definitely use to thinking of a strict separation of powers between the ecclesiastical hierarchy and the laity; the former, with priestly powers, and the latter, without. Part of this is from the emphasis, and perhaps over-correction, by the Church and the Council of Trent in response to the Protestant Reformation. Martin Luther and the Protestants of the 16th century rebelled, of course, against the Catholic hierarchy and the validity of the Sacraments, among other things. In defense, and rightly so, of Apostolic succession, the Priesthood and the Sacraments, some of these ideas, such as a priestly community of believers, were somewhat forgotten. Now, centuries later, this is part of the spirit of Vatican II in trying to recover these long-faded notions and empowering the laity. Documents such as Lumen Gentium, the “Dogmatic Constitution on the Church,” and later, Pope John Paul II’s Christifideles Laici, or “The lay Faithful,” are attempts, partially, at retrieving this common priesthood of the faithful.  Of course, this idea goes back way beyond the Middle Ages too. It goes all the way back to the Apostles and the Bible itself. Even St.Peter, the chief Apostle, passionately implores us as if we could hear him now, “..and, like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (1 Pet.2:5) Later, he again tries to impress upon us, and emphatically so, the ontological nature of who we truly are, “But you are ‘a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation..’” (1 Pet.2:9) This is unequivocal and direct. It should really shake us to our foundation, and awaken us from any stupor that there’s nothing special in being a Christian. We should remind ourselves often of our dignity through Christ. Clearly, this was not a foreign concept to the Apostles then or to the Magisterium now. It is a consistent dogma understood throughout the history of the Church: all baptized believers are priests of Christ.

But then, what does it mean to be a priest? And how do we, as the laity, exercise this common priesthood today? The Protestants of the 16th century clearly committed a grave error in dismissing the ecclesiastical priesthood. As the saying goes, they threw the baby out with the bath water, or in this case, they gutted the Church to undo some Clericalism. Yet, in a sense, as bad as that is, they helped to restore, perhaps indirectly over time, the charism of the lay faithful. Now, there are two participations – which we Catholics understand to differ, in essence – in the one priesthood of Christ: One being the ministerial or hierarchical priesthood of bishops and priests; and the other, the common priesthood of the faithful. The ministerial priesthood is at service to the common priesthood by building up and leading the Church, and administering the Sacraments. Moreover, the ministerial priest, by virtue of Holy Orders, acts “in persona Christi Capitis.” (CCC1548). That is, Christ Himself – in the priest – is present to His Church. Yet, we the laity, are also priests. We participate in both the one, eternal priesthood of Christ as well as the salvific mission of the Church. But, how to do this? As the New Evangelization is calling us, we have to rediscover, if you will, the way the first apostles and disciples lived this common priesthood. As priests, we are to offer praise and sacrifice to God in intercession for ourselves and for the salvation of others. We are to be charitable. And so, in a very real way, we can offer mediation for the sins and unbelief in ourselves and members of our family, our friends, or really anyone in the world, or in purgatory for that matter. Our lives should be a dynamic interaction of presenting ourselves to God through holiness, prayer and sacrifice. St.Peter’s instruction should be our mantra; to be a “royal priesthood,” by building up ourselves as “spiritual houses,” and offering “spiritual sacrifices.” This is the key to our common priesthood of the faithful.

Bearing in mind the priestly nature of our Christian vocation as well, St.Paul exhorts the Romans, “to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship.” (Rom.12:1) We should consecrate our ordinary, daily lives to God. We should offer up all that we do each day as a sacrifice to God on behalf of ourselves and for each other. The Magisterium again points the way. Lumen Gentium and the Catechism exhort the laity, “For all their works, prayers, and apostolic undertakings, family and married life, daily work, relaxation of mind and body, if they are accomplished in the Spirit – indeed even the hardships of life if patiently borne – all these become spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (LG 34/CCC901) Our priesthood is a priesthood of the ordinary. Our sacrifices are spiritual ones, offered up and borne within the daily routines of our ordinary lives. The beauty of the priesthood of the faithful is that we can carry out our sacrifices in the midst of whatever situation we are living in. Our priesthood does not require an altar or a temple per se, but only the simple moments of our ordinary lives, consecrated within the temples of our bodies and souls. Our family life, our jobs, our commutes, our joys, our stresses, our relaxation, even our simple actions, walking, breathing, all can be consecrated and offered to God. As many as the varied activity of a person’s life – no matter how small or how mundane – so can be offered up as a spiritual sacrifice pleasing to God. We can exercise our priesthood in cooking dinner and cleaning the house. Indeed, we should consecrate to God all of our activities for the whole day – each day – starting first thing in the morning and until we go to sleep. Our priesthood is simple. It’s lived out in the ordinary implements and raw materials that we find in each day in the midst of the world. But, in order for our priestly actions to be efficacious they must be united with the one, true priest, Jesus Christ, and His life and culmination in the sacrifice of the Cross. For as Jesus said, “I am the vine, you are the branches… because without Me you can do nothing.” (Jn 15:5) We simply must offer the intention of living these – our daily lives, actions, thoughts, deeds – for God.  This is the mission of the laity, in the common priesthood of the faithful, to unite our lives – wherever we may be and whatever we may be doing – with that of Jesus Christ, and by virtue of our priesthood, offer up ourselves as spiritual sacrifices. In this way we can build up the Mystical Body of Christ, the Church, and plead for the salvation of others. For as the Magisterium teaches, “And so, worshipping everywhere by their holy actions, the laity consecrate the world itself to God.” (LG34/CCC901)

Prayer in the events of each day and each moment

“Prayer in the events of each day and each moment is one of the secrets of the kingdom revealed to ‘little children,’ to the servants of Christ, to the poor of the Beatitudes. It is right and good to pray so that the coming of the kingdom of justice and peace may influences the march of history, but it is just as important to bring the help of prayer into humble, everyday situations; all forms of prayer can be the leaven to which the Lord compares the kingdom.” (CCC 2659-2660)