Tag Archives: Communion

A Few Observations on Therese Neumann, Laywoman, Mystic, and Stigmatic – October 24, 2016

Very rarely has a person reflected so many purported supernatural gifts as did Therese Neumann, a 20th century German mystic and stigmatic. Her renown nearly rivaled that of St. Padre Pio. Their gifts supposedly included bearing the sacred stigmata (the wounds of Christ), visions, bilocation, reading hearts, healings and conversions, among other phenomena. However, unlike St. Padre Pio who was canonized June 16, 2002 by Pope John Paul II, the Roman Catholic Church has not yet officially recognized Therese Neumann as a saint. She was known as a joyful woman who loved animals and flowers, and was particularly despised by the Nazis. By most accounts, Therese Neumann was an extraordinarily holy laywoman, as well as a Third Order Franciscan, who displayed a great devotion to Jesus and the Church. She truly lived as a “Servant of God.” After an investigative period for some years after her death, the Vatican officially opened proceedings for her beatification on February 13, 2005 by Bishop Gerhard Mueller of Regensburg, Germany. The process remains open to this day.

Regardless of the Church’s final ruling on Therese Neumann, we must recognize that the mystical component of her life falls squarely under private revelation, which no one in the Church is forced to accept. The Catechism states in no uncertain terms that the deposit of faith is closed, and there will be no further public revelation. (CCC 67) In certain limited instances the authority of the Church recognizes private revelations that are in line with magisterial teachings, in order to help the faithful “live more fully” the gospel. The Church obviously treads very carefully in these matters, so as to root out frauds and impostors. Indeed, the focus should never be directed towards sensationalism, but always towards faithful obedience to Jesus Christ and the Catholic Church. Still, in reviewing Therese Neumann’s purported mystical gifts, we may find inspiration for our own lives.

Therese was a stigmatist, that is, she bore the wounds of Christ on her own body. There have been numerous people in the history of the Church who have officially had the sacred stigmata, including St. Francis of Assisi and St. Padre Pio, and perhaps even St. Paul himself, as he suggests in his letter to the Galatians. (Gal. 6:17) In March 1926, during Lent, as Therese began to have ecstatic visions of Jesus in His Passion, she concurrently began to have the stigmata. The wounds of Christ began to appear on successive Fridays: first the wound to her side, just over her heart; then the next Friday, the wounds to her hands; and finally, on Good Friday, all five wounds. Months later, on Friday November 5, 1926, Therese received the full complement of Jesus’ wounds from His Passion: holes in both hands; holes in both feet; the wound to the side above her heart; nine wounds around her head from the crown of thorns; and wounds to her shoulders and back from the scourging and the Cross. It is estimated that she bore at least 45 wounds in total, meaning she bore the full wounds of Christ’s Passion, not just the Crucifixion. Perhaps even more shocking, the wounds never left her from that moment in 1926 until her death in 1962. As one biographer, Adalbert Vogl, put it, “Not one of the wounds ever disappeared; they never healed, and they were still imprinted on her body at the time of her death.”

Therese’s sufferings and visions conformed exactly to the liturgical calendar of the Catholic Church. Just as she received the wounds of the Crucifixion on Good Friday, so also were her visions and ecstasies aligned to the liturgical calendar. For example, when she initially received the sacred stigmata, it was during the liturgical season of Lent. Although Therese had the wounds of the Passion for the rest of her life, she only experienced the ecstasies of the Passion on Fridays, and only on Fridays during Lent and Advent, and on some of the sorrowful octaves. Thus, her experience of the Passion was connected only to the relevant liturgical days, and never during joyful seasons, such as Christmas or Easter. On the Fridays when she did not endure the Passion ecstasy, she would have a vision of the death or martyrdom of the saint whose feast day it happened to be, in recognition of the liturgical calendar. On All Saints Day, November 1st, she would have a 24-hour ecstasy and see souls of saints from Heaven, and similarly on All Soul’s Day, November 2nd, she saw saints from Purgatory. Based on the timing of the mystical experiences of Therese Neumann, it seems heaven honors with great respect the liturgical calendar; perhaps we should pay close attention to this as well.

One of the most remarkable aspects of Therese Neumann’s mystical experiences is that she evidently lived without food or water for much of her life. This supernatural phenomenon is known as inedia. It is not unheard of in ecclesiastical history, particularly with stigmatists, as reported in the life of St. Catherine of Siena, who supposedly ate no food for the last seven years of her life. Therese herself stopped eating food in 1922, and then stopped drinking nearly all water in 1926, and continued this way until her death in 1962. Her sole sustenance for 36 years was the Holy Eucharist. As part of this experience, she had no desire whatsoever to eat food or drink water. Solid food or liquids would be immediately expelled from her body, save her daily Holy Communion. Her physical sustenance depended directly on her reception of the Eucharist. If she did not receive the Eucharist on a given day, she would have an extreme hunger and fatigue until she received Him. Once when asked how she could live just on the Eucharist alone, she responded, “The Savior can do all things. Did He not say that “My flesh is real food, and My blood is real drink?”” (Jn. 6:55)

For 15 days in 1927, Therese was placed under strict observation and investigation at the behest of the Archbishop of Regensburg. The investigation was directed by a non-Catholic professor of Psychiatry, Dr. Ewald, and a prominent Catholic physician, Dr. Seidl, as well as four nuns, who were trained nurses. Their strict instructions were to work in two-person teams, never leaving Therese alone, day or night. They were to record, measure and photograph everything that happened over the course of the investigation. At the end Dr. Ewald reported Therese’s complete abstinence from food and minimal water intake to swallow Communion (about 45cc of water, although this was apparently discharged too). Despite losing some weight around the time of her Passion ecstasy, she then regained the weight back over the next few days. Her weight was the same, 121 lbs., on July 28th as it had been on July 13th, despite not eating anything.

The supernatural phenomenon of inedia highlights in a literal way the words of the Lord regarding the Bread of Life. Jesus said in the Gospel of John, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me shall not hunger; and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.” (Jn. 6:35) There seems to be a mystical connection between the sacred stigmata and embracing the Passion of Jesus, and inedia and living strictly off the body and blood of Jesus in the Eucharist. In consuming the body and blood of Jesus in the Eucharist, His Passion and sacrifice of the Cross may come to life in the events of our ordinary lives. In some extreme instances, the Passion and sacrifice of Christ come to life in an individual’s life in an extraordinary way, such as with Therese Neumann. The Eucharistic life is a life of redemptive and vicarious suffering. It is an embrace of the Cross of Christ. Therese Neumann lived this life of divine union par excellence. As St. Paul said “it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” (Gal. 2:20) This suffering is not without meaning. We know that we who suffer with Christ, for this short while, will also rise with Him to eternal life.

Running to Win the Spiritual Race – May 19, 2016

William Shakespeare famously wrote “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players,” and so it is with us. Each of us “performs” each day on the world’s stage before the spectacle of our fellow man, and before the saints and angels in heaven, and under the watchful eyes of God. We act out our lives from moment to moment, for good or for ill, before the human and the heavenly audience. St. Paul says, “..we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels and to men.” (1 Cor. 4:9) The letter to the Hebrews depicts us as competing in a packed stadium filled with all the saints and heroes that have gone before us, cheering us on, competing in a race around the track. “..since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses . . . let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us..” (Heb. 12:1) St. Paul urges us to shed “every weight” of sin that slows us down so we can persevere and win the race. The cloud of witnesses, the saints in heaven, are not only cheering us on but also offering personal intercession for us. (CCC 2683) St. Paul must have been a great admirer of runners and athletic competitions, such as the Isthmian and Olympiad Games; he uses the running metaphor a number of times in his letters. To the Corinthians he says, “Do you not know that in a race all the runners compete, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.” (1 Cor. 9:24-25) St. Paul compares the spiritual life to an athletic competition, in which we should strive not for a laurel victory wreath but for the crown of eternal life.

How should we compete for this crown of eternal life? Much in the same way that an athlete must plan his or her exercise regimen each day to prepare for the race, so should we plan our spiritual regimen each day. We can exercise our souls with a schedule of daily prayer. In this way we can grow in faith and holiness, pleasing to God, and on the path to eternal life. First, we must discipline and train our spiritual selves. This can be difficult. It can be so much easier to sit back and watch a TV show or surf the internet rather than pray. I can find a million excuses not to pray at any given moment, but I have found my day is so much better if I do pray. My day is given direction and satisfaction, and a sense of purpose and connection to God. It sacramentalizes my whole day. The best way to approach our spiritual training is to have a simple, fixed schedule of prayer. Basically, we need a plan. It should be a simple one, accommodating our individual circumstances and responsibilities. The key is to faithfully stick to the plan as best we can, and repeat it each day and each week. If we do this, we can “pray without ceasing.” (1 Thess. 5:17) We can become, as St. Josemaria Escriva described, “contemplatives in the midst of the world.”

Here are some suggestions for us to include in our daily spiritual exercises:

  • The Morning Offering upon waking up
  • Pray the Rosary
  • Attend Mass and receive Communion
  • Pray the Angelus at noon
  • Pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet (maybe at the 3:00 hour)
  • Small acts of penance or mortification throughout the day
  • Grace before meals
  • Attend Adoration
  • Pray the Liturgy of the Hours (particularly, in the morning and evenings hours; see phone apps to assist with this)
  • Short conversations of mental prayer (a “heart to heart” talking and listening to God)
  • Spiritual Reading (Bible or other spiritual reading)
  • Meditate on the Stations of the Cross
  • A Nightly Examination of Conscience and Act of Contrition before bed

Of these, I have found it particularly important to never miss the Morning Offering or the Nightly Act of Contrition. These help frame our day and orient it completely towards God, sanctifying the hours of the day from morning to night. I also find saying the Rosary and the Chaplet of Divine Mercy particularly powerful, but this is my own particular spiritual affinity. Each of us should determine what we are drawn to personally.

It does not take much time to speak to God each day, even mere minutes. Yet, it can still be difficult. Much like our regular muscles, we need to exercise our prayer muscle to improve. The more we exercise our prayer life, the stronger and easier it will become. Prayer is our connection to Him. Our relationship with God will take on a much more personal flavor and commitment. God calls us friends and His children. He is personally interested in us, even down to the most minute details of our lives. Jesus said, “Even the hairs of your head are all numbered.” (Mt.10:30) This should give us comfort. God knows our hearts and thoughts. He hears everything we ask and tell Him. He cares about us more than we could ever imagine. We just need to make the time to speak and listen to Him. Our daily prayer schedules are part of our commitment to Him, and proof that we love Him. If we live this way, each and every day, and continue this over our lifetimes, a “compounding interest of prayer,” if you will, this is the stuff of saints. Then, we can come to the end of our lives, the end of our race and competition, and declare as St. Paul says, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” (2 Tim. 4:7)

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Lord of the Rings and the Eucharist

As J.R.R. Tolkien declared, “The Lord of the Rings is, of course, a fundamentally religious and Catholic work… the religion is absorbed into the story and the symbolism.” This is possibly no more obvious than in Tolkien’s description of lembas. As Tolkien introduced them into The Lord of the Rings, “The food was mostly in the form of very thin cakes, made of a meal that was baked a light brown on the outside, and inside was the colour of cream. Gimli took up one of the cakes and looked at it with a doubtful eye.” It was a special, almost supernatural, bread-like food given by the Elves of Lothlorien to the hobbit members of the fellowship on their journey. The elves describe the lembas to them saying, “..we call it lembas or waybread, and it is more strengthening than any food made by Men, and it is more pleasant then cram, by all accounts. … Eat little at a time and only at need. For these things are given to serve you when all else fails.” Lembas, or the “waybread,” is meant to sustain them in their deepest and darkest trials.

The Eucharistic tones and parallels are undeniable. The Eucharist has been called the “food of angels,” or as in Tolkien terms, the food of Elves. Gimli, the dwarf, initially even looked at it with a “doubtful eye” thinking it was just ordinary bread made by men, harkening the disbelief in the Eucharist among many, especially in the modern world. He quickly realizes this is not any ordinary bread. The unique and special qualities of lembas are depicted throughout the tale. As Merry and Pippin talk of it at one particularly stressful moment in the journey while trying to escape Orcs, “The cakes were broken, but good, still in their leaf wrappings. The hobbits each ate two or three pieces. The tasted brought back to them the memory of fair faces, and laughter, and wholesome food in quiet days, heedless of the cries and sounds of battle nearby.” They continue saying, “Lembas does put heart into you! A more wholesome sort of feeling, too, than the heat of that orc-draught. I wonder what it was made of.”

As the hobbits journey deeper into danger and to the very epicenter of evil, Mount Doom, the lembas play an increasingly significant role. Sam and Frodo are following their path of self-sacrifice, even to the possible end of laying down their lives for the love of their friends, for which, in Christian terms, “there is no greater love.” They are analogously on their way of the Cross. On the contrary, the evil characters find the lembas repulsive. Tolkien describes the Orcs’ reactions saying, “But I guess they disliked the very look and smell of the lembas, worse than Gollum did. It’s scattered about and some of it is trampled and broken, but I’ve gathered it together.” When the two hobbits reached the point when there was “no hope anymore” came Tolkien’s most poignant description of the lembas: “The lembas had a virtue without which they would long ago have lain down to die. It did not satisfy desire, and at times Sam’s mind was filled with the memories of food, and the longing for simple bread and meats. And yet this waybread of the Elves had a potency that increased as travellers relied on it alone and did not mingle it with other foods. It fed the will, and it gave strength to endure, and to master sinew and limb beyond the measure of mortal kind.” The lembas sustained the two hobbit sojourners in their darkest hour, not by feeding them necessarily physically but by feeding their will. The waybread also evokes the viaticum, “a provision for the journey,” that is, the Communion given to people on their deathbed. It is the Eucharist for the journey, or the “waybread,” home towards one’s death. There are differences however. For one, lembas are not described as having any divine qualities, whereas the Eucharist is the divine sacrament of the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ. Additionally, the Eucharist is not just meant for times when all else fails, as lembas are described, but rather for our daily journeys. The two hobbits on their way fraught with death and destruction relied completely upon this waybread.

We too are all on our journeys to our inevitable deaths. Christ has left us His Body and Blood in the heavenly sacrament of the Eucharist.  It is our sustenance in this life. It is our waybread. Like the humble and seemingly weak hobbits, we must take our waybread in order to heroically, and against all odds, ascend the Mount Dooms in all our lives and complete our missions. As Tolkien confessed, he at first unconsciously, and later consciously, wove Catholic ideas and themes into the story. Tolkien was not out to re-create a Christian world or myth. Rather, he tried to create a literary myth to point towards the truths of the real world. The primary thrust of the story, as Tolkien said in one of his letters, is “about death and the desire for deathlessness,” two notions central to mythology and Christianity. As G.K. Chesterton spoke of Christianity as the fulfillment of myth, “The Catholic faith is the reconciliation because it is the realization both of mythology and philosophy. It is a story and in that sense one of a hundred stories; only it is a true story.”

We are the real-life Sam’s and Frodo’s. They are metaphors of us, as Christians, taking up our crosses, amidst our tribulations, while being sustained by the Eucharist. Though we are “weak” and “ordinary” people (hobbits if you will), we can achieve great and heroic ends by staying on the narrow paths of our simple faith journeys. Our lembas, the Eucharist, strengthens our wills and spirits, and presses us up the mountain, even when we would rather turn back and give up. But, it is up to us to choose: to give up or to not give up; to follow Christ or to not follow Christ. Tolkien’s literary myth spells out the lucid choice each one of us is to make of our own freewill between life and death, and good and evil. As Frodo laments the fact that the evil ring has come into his possession and the apparent hopelessness of the situation, Gandalf says to him: “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” And so it is with each one of us to decide. Yet, as Tolkien slowly reveals Aragorn, the Christ-King archetype, he repeatedly declares to Sam and Frodo, “be not afraid.” In the end, even if, as Frodo, after our long journeys into the darkness, we remain faithful, but seemingly fall short in our mission, God’s grace can still save us.

The 100th Anniversary of Our Lady of Fatima (long version) – February 24, 2016

“And a great portent appeared in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.” (Rev. 12:1)   

The Angel / 1916:

This spring 2016 is the one hundred year anniversary of the Fatima apparitions. It is true that Mary, Our Lady of the Rosary, did not begin to appear to the three shepherd children, Lucia, Jacinta, and Francisco dos Santos, in Fatima, Portugal until May 13, 1917. However, in the spring of 1916 they were first visited by the “Angel of Peace,” who prepared the way for the apparitions of Our Lady of Fatima the following year. The angel appeared to them “whiter than snow, transparent as crystal when the sun shines through it and of great beauty.” He spoke to them, “Do not be afraid. I am the Angel of Peace. Pray with me.” The angel returned to three shepherd children again in the summer of 1916, and then again, lastly, in late September-early October 1916. The angel imparted heavenly entreaties to them for prayer, conversion and intercession; sacrifice and reparation; while imploring them to adoration and devotion to the Holy Eucharist.

The Virgin Mary later told Jacinta that war is a punishment for sin. In the spring of 1916, when the angel first appeared, Europe and the world were already embroiled in the “Great War,” World War I. It began on July 28, 1914, with an Austro-Hungarian declaration of war against Serbia, and an invasion soon after. Eventually, the German Empire, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Turkish Ottoman Empire, and Bulgaria had joined forces to form the “Central Powers” in a war of aggression against the main Allied countries of Britain and the United Kingdom, France, Italy, Russia, and later on, the United States. There were many more countries obviously involved too, making it the first truly global conflict. It was “the war to end all wars,” and by the end of it, on November 11, 1918, over 17 million people had died. Portugal, for its part, had, at least initially, remained neutral, yet they ended up losing over 7,000 Allied combatants, and over 80,000 civilians as well due to disease, hunger, and the worldwide Influenza pandemic.

By the spring of 1916, Germany and the Allies were locked into their positions, along trench lines, in a grueling battle of attrition, and poison gas attacks, on the Western Front across northern France. Along the Eastern Front, Russian and Romanian forces continued to fight bitterly against German, Austro-Hungarian, Turkish and Bulgarian troops. During the time of the angelic apparitions in Fatima in 1916, one of the largest battles of World War I was raging at the Battle of Verdun, along the Meuse River in France. Here, during the ten month long campaign, French and German forces suffered cumulative losses of over 300,000 dead and over 700,000 casualties. During the same time period from July to November 1916, the British and French, backed by the first ever use of tanks (British) on the battlefield, engaged the Germans at the Battle of the Somme River. The five month long assault resulted in over 1,000,000 men being killed or injured, including the shrapnel wounds of a German soldier, Adolf Hitler.

It was in this context of savage war that the Angel of Peace first appeared to the innocent children Lucia, Jacinta, and Francisco. He invited them to pray with him, as he bowed down touching his forehead to the ground, similar to as Muslim men pray five times a day. [It is interesting to note that God chose the small village, Fatima, in Portugal for these occurrences, as it is named after Muhammad’s favorite daughter, Fatima, from the time of Moorish Muslim occupation. Bishop Fulton Sheen attributed this to God’s attempt to reach out to and convert Muslims, who, in fact, do hold Mary, as the mother of Jesus, in high respect within Islamic tradition and the Quran. Perhaps, they will one day be converted, in part, as the Aztec Indians were through the intervention of Our Lady of Guadalupe.] At this first appearance, the angel taught them the “Pardon Prayer.” He prayed, “My God, I believe, I adore, I hope, and I love You! I ask pardon of You for those who do not believe, do not adore, do not hope, and do not love You.” This is the heavenly entreaty for us to pray intercessory prayer for others, especially for those who do not worship God. This is one of the central messages of Fatima: to pray for the salvation of souls. Upon departing, the angel told them, “Pray thus. The Hearts of Jesus and Mary are attentive to the voice of your supplications.”  

In the summer of 1916, the angel appeared again to the three children. One day during the siesta hours the children were relaxing and playing games, when the angel appeared, gently admonishing them, “What are you doing?” Then, he entreated them, “Pray! Pray very much! The Hearts of Jesus and Mary have designs of mercy on you. Offer prayers and sacrifices constantly to the Most High.” The angel was exhorting them to live a strong prayer life, to pray constantly and to offer sacrifices to God. The children continued to pray the Pardon Prayer he had previously taught them. Upon questioning the angel of how they should make sacrifices, he said, “Make of everything you can a sacrifice, and offer it to God as an act of reparation for the sins by which He is offended, and in supplication for the conversion of sinners. You will thus draw down peace upon your country. I am its Angel Guardian, the Angel of Portugal. Above all, accept and bear with submission, the suffering which the Lord will send you.” With that, the angel made known to them that they should offer sacrifices to God as reparation and intercession for the conversion of sinners. They should also humbly bear any sufferings that God sends into their lives, as a form of intercession on behalf of sinners.

In late September or early October 1916 (Lucia did not recall the exact date), the angel returned again one last time. This time he came to teach them to pray and adore the Holy Eucharist and to receive Communion. He came with the chalice in his left hand with the Eucharistic host suspended over it, with drops of the precious blooded falling into the chalice. Bowing down, again touching his forehead to the ground, he taught them another prayer, “Most Holy Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, I adore You profoundly, and I offer You the most precious Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ, present in all the tabernacles of the world, in reparation for the outrages, sacrileges and indifference with which He Himself is offended. And through the infinite merits of His most Sacred Heart, and the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I beg of You the conversion of poor sinners.” With that, the angel then offered the Eucharist as Holy Communion to the children. The angel said to them, “Take and drink the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, horribly outraged by ungrateful men. Make reparation for their crimes and console your God.” This underscored the importance of the Mass and the Eucharist; in it, we receive the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ to dwell within us. God wants us to receive Him and adore Him in the Eucharist. The angel also tells us to “console your God.” God has made Himself vulnerable for us, and because of us. He is hurt by our sins, especially our mortal sins, and the thought of the eternal loss of His children. God’s main goal in the Christian faith and the Catholic Church is to save our souls, as we are all sinners in need of His forgiveness, mercy and grace. Thus, by our intercession and sacrifices on behalf of others, we can atone for their lack of prayer, lack of faith and lack of sacrifice. We can be co-redeemers with Christ, by uniting our sacrifices to His one eternal sacrifice and infinite merits, for the salvation of souls. By virtue of our Baptisms, we are baptized into the priesthood of Christ, and so, we can offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God in atonement for sin. In this way, we can, in fact, console God by renouncing ourselves for the good of others.

For the next seven months or so, the three little shepherd children contemplated and practiced these spiritual things the angel had taught them. Yet, in early 1917, Europe and the world were still engulfed in total war, unspeakable carnage, genocides and revolutions. Of note, the Ottoman Turks were in the process of exterminating 1.5 million Armenian Christians, along with Greeks and Assyrians, in the ethnic and religious genocide of their territory. Along the Western Front, the Germans had established a second defensive position called the Hindenburg Line. The first-ever aerial warfare was well underway as the Allies and German planes, including the German ace Manfred von Richthofen, the “Red Baron,” clashed in the skies over Europe, fighting for air superiority. Naval and submarine warfare continued around the North Sea, as Germany tried to cut-off the British Isles and sink American ships. On April 6, after repeated German U-boat attacks, the U.S. finally declared war on Germany. To the East, British and Indian troops were fighting the Turks in Mesopotamia. Then, in March and April 1917, Russia, faltering and in the midst of revolution, overthrew the Czar, Nicholas II, and established a new provisional Russian Democratic government. Consequently, on April 16, a political agitator, Vladimir Lenin, returned from years in exile in Switzerland, and went back to Russia with his radical Bolshevik Party.

Our Lady / 1917:

It was amidst these years of swirling, manmade evil, and chaos, and devastation, that on May 13, 1917, the first apparition of Our Lady appeared to the same three shepherd children, Lucia, Jacinta and Francisco, seven months or so after they had last seen the Angel of Peace. Mary appeared to the children as they tended to their flock of sheep in a field, Cova da Iria. Shining “more brilliant than the sun,” Mary said to them, just as the angel had, “Do not be afraid. I will do you no harm.” When Lucia asked her where she was from, she replied, “I am from Heaven.” Mary focused her message along the same lines as the angel had done: on prayer, reparation and the Eucharist. She asked the children if they would be willing to accept the suffering God sends them as an act of reparation for sins and the conversion of sinners. Again, this gives insight into how heaven views our roles as intercessors and priests who can offer sacrifice on behalf of others. We are called to stand in the breach! Then, the children, led by an interior impulse, fell on their knees and recited this prayer, “O Most Holy Trinity, I adore You! My God, my God, I love You in the most Blessed Sacrament!” As the Catechism teaches us, the Blessed Sacrament, Holy Communion, is the source and summit of the Christian life. Before departing Mary made one more request of them, “Pray the Rosary every day to obtain peace for the world, and the end of the war.” Just as she indicated that sin is the cause of war, so too Mary shows them that by prayer, and specifically praying the Rosary, we can bring about peace. Sin brings conflict, suffering and war, whereas prayer brings resolution and peace. Interestingly, her request to pray the Rosary every day is the same and only request she repeated at all six apparitions. This is one of the central spokes of Fatima, to pray the Rosary everyday.

Mary appeared again to the three children on June 13, 1917. She repeated her request of them to return there on the 13th of each month, and of course, to pray the Rosary daily. Mary told them that Jesus wished to establish a worldwide devotion to her Immaculate Heart, which “will be your refuge and the way that will lead you to God.” This is another central component to the apparitions, that is, to offer devotion and reparation to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. To honor her along with her Son, Jesus Christ, and the devotion to His Sacred Heart, given previously to the world through revelations to Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque. Mary was kept immaculate, without sin, at her conception. She became a suitable dwelling place for the Word of God. Yet, God did not force her to accept becoming Theotokos, the God bearer, but asked her assent, through her own freewill, to bear the Son of God. It is in Mary’s fiat, her yes to the archangel Gabriel, saying “Let it be done to me according to your word,” (Lk 1:38) that Jesus came into the world. Our salvation was contingent upon Mary’s obedience and compliance with the divine plan. Thus, Jesus asks us to honor her, as our spiritual mother, through which, grace, mercy and redemption entered the world.

The Secrets

The following month, on July 13, 1917, Mary imparted a secret message in three parts to the children. By now many people were following the happenings at Fatima and making requests, such as healings, of the children to ask Mary. It is interesting that Mary’s response to Lucia is that it would be necessary for such people to “pray the Rosary in order to obtain the graces” they were requesting. Now, the first secret was a terrifying vision of hell, shown to them for a brief instant. She wished to show them that eternal damnation is real, and that is the place where sinners go upon death if they do not amend their lives. She taught them to plead to God on behalf of sinners living in mortal sin and in danger of being eternally lost. She said, “Sacrifice yourselves for sinners, and say many times, especially whenever you make any sacrifice: O Jesus, it is for love of You, for the conversion of sinners, and in reparation for the sins committed against the Immaculate Heart of Mary.” Again, her focus is on prayer and sacrifice for the conversion of sinners and reparation to her Immaculate Heart. This is a stark reminder of how vitally important it is to live a holy life, close to the Church, and avoiding sin, because our eternal destiny hinges upon it. As horrible as it is that millions of people had lost their lives during World War I, losing your soul is far worse. God is much more concerned about the soul than the body. It is because of this that Mary requested a special prayer to be said at the end of each decade of the Rosary: “O my Jesus, forgive us, save us from the fire of hell. Lead all souls to heaven, especially those who are most in need.” Fatima is an urgent plea to stay on the narrow path to heaven.

In the second part of the secret message, Mary conveyed to the children a warning that if mankind did not stop offending God, another war would happen, far worse than the current war (ie, WWI). She said, “If what I say to you is done, many souls will be saved and there will be peace. The war is going to end; but if people do not cease offending God, a worse one will break out during the pontificate of Pius XI. When you see a night illumined by an unknown light, know that this is the great sign given you by God that He is about to punish the world for its crimes, by means of war, famine, and persecutions of the Church and of the Holy Father.” Of course, as we now know, that this all came to pass. Hitler and the National Socialists, Nazis, came to power in 1933. During the reign of Pope Pius XI, Germany annexed Austria and invaded the Sudetenland in 1938, marking the beginnings of aggression by Nazi Germany and World War II. This was heralded on January 25-26, 1938 by an extraordinary aurora borealis that illuminated the skies over Europe. Newspapers across Europe and America recorded the event. The January 26th edition of the NY Times has an article describing how Europe was “startled” by the brilliant display of lights. They were “pulsating beams like searchlights in dark red, greenish-blue and purple.” One person described it as a “shimmering curtain of fire.” Indeed, people from all over Europe, fearful and panicked that war had begun, called police stations and fire departments asking, “Where is the fire?” The true fire was soon set ablaze across the world, as it plunged into a second global conflagration.

Continuing in this third apparition in July, Mary also warned them, “To prevent this, I shall come to ask for the consecration of Russia to my Immaculate Heart, and the Communion of Reparation on the First Saturdays. If my requests are granted, Russia will be converted and there will be peace. If not, she will scatter her errors throughout the world, provoking wars and persecution of the Church.” In this, Mary focuses attention not upon the Central Powers, but upon Russia. This might have seemed odd at the time. At this point in 1917, Russia was still part of the Allies, and was busy trying to establish a democratic government after the overthrow of the Czar, which put an end to the 300 years Romanov dynasty rule. Mary knew, however, the brutal atheistic Marxist regime that was emerging from the rubble of Russia’s Christian past. For the rest of the 20th century, atheistic Communism did run rampant from Russia and Eastern Europe to Red China and countries around the world, enslaving and killing tens of millions of people, and persecuting the Church.

First Five Saturdays Devotion

Mary did, in fact, come back again appearing to Lucia on December 10, 1925, while she was a postulant for the Congregation of Saint Dorothy Sisters in Pontevedra, Spain. The holy Virgin mystically showed her Heart covered and pierced by thorns from “ungrateful man” with their “blasphemies and ingratitude.” It was here that the Virgin Mary asked us to “console” her and make reparation to her Immaculate Heart. She said, “..I promise to assist at the hour of death, with the graces necessary for salvation, all those who, on the first Saturday of five consecutive months, shall confess [their sins], receive Holy Communion, recite five decades of the Rosary, and keep me company for fifteen minutes while meditating on the fifteen mysteries of the Rosary, with the intention of making reparation to me.” This is the wonderful promise of graces necessary for our salvation, which the Virgin Mary makes to us, if we fulfill the first Five Saturdays devotion. This notion, for a holy, grace-filled death, is in the Hail Mary prayer itself, when we pray “..pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.” The devotion is not difficult. As she outlined, on the first Saturday of five consecutive months we must (1) go to Confession; (2) receive Holy Communion in a state of grace; (3) recite five decades of the Rosary; (4) meditate on the fifteen (now twenty) mysteries of the Rosary, all with the intention of offering reparation to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Lucia believed that peace and war, and the salvation of souls were dependent upon spreading and fulfilling the First Five Saturdays devotion.   

The third Secret of Fatima also was given to the children that day on July 13, 1917. Whereas the first Secret was a vision of hell, and the second Secret concerned warnings about World War II and the spread of Communism, the third Secret was more enigmatic. It was a symbolic prophecy concerning the future sufferings of the Church, if the warnings of the other secrets were not heeded. In the vision, the children saw an angel with a flaming sword about to set the world on fire, crying out “Penance, Penance, Penance!” The flames from the sword, however, died out before they reached the earth, when they met the “splendor that Our Lady radiated..” The intercession of Mary on behalf of the world staved off divine chastisement. People, however, have to embrace a constant state of conversion; a metanoia, a constant turning away from one’s sins. The rest of the symbolic vision showed the Church, including the Bishops and Pope, climbing a large mountain, where they were attacked, killed and martyred. Although some have disputed the official interpretation, the Church has said this vision is a representation of the martyrdoms of the saints and Church through the 20th century, especially under the atheist, Communist regimes, and the attempted assassination of Pope John Paul II.

In the next apparitions in August and September 1917, Mary again reiterated the need for prayer, in particular the Rosary, and conversion, especially to save sinners. In August, Mary said, “Pray, pray very much, and make sacrifices for sinners; for many souls go to hell, because there are none to sacrifice themselves and to pray for them.” Christians, by virtue of our Baptism into the priesthood of Christ, can offer our prayers and sacrifices on behalf of other souls. As Christ suffered for our sins and redeemed humanity, so too, can Christians, as mini-Christs, offer suffering and prayer for others. Indeed, many prayers and intercessions were needed for others, for as these apparitions were happening, the war lingered onwards. On the Western Front, the Third Battle of Ypres in Belgium was raging, and resulting in approximately half a million casualties by the Allies and the Germans. Russia continued to battle the Central Powers along the Eastern Front, in which, by the end of the war, both sides had suffered over 5,000,000 casualties in total. By October, in the Middle East, T.E. Lawrence, “Lawrence of Arabia,” a British officer and diplomat, was leading an Arab revolt against the Ottoman Turks in the Sinai and Palestine. Carnage, death, uprisings and revolutions continued to rule the day.

The Miracle of the Sun

This set the stage for the sixth and dramatic final apparition of the Virgin Mary to the three small shepherd children on October 13, 1917.   She had also promised a sign, a miracle to show all present that she was really appearing in Fatima. In anticipation of this promise, an estimated 70,000 people came out in October in the driving rain to witness the final apparition. They were not disappointed. Mary spoke to the children again saying, “I am the Lady of the Rosary.” She implored them to continue to pray the Rosary every day and not to offend God anymore with our sins. Then, as she ascended back up to heaven, she reflected light from her hand onto the sun. This is when the great crowd there witnessed the “dancing of the sun” as it seemed to spin, and zigzag and shoot off multicolored beams of light. It grew larger in size, and brightness, although the light did not hurt their eyes. The sun looked like a spinning wheel of fire that seemed to detach itself from its place in the sky and fall downwards close to the earth, frightening and terrifying the crowd. Many people began to pray and confess their sins out loud, thinking it was the end of the world. After the miracle was over with and the sun returned to its normal place and brightness, people realized that their clothes and the ground, which had been soaked in the rain, were now completely dry.

Yet, at the same time that many people witnessed the dancing of the sun, the seers, and some of the people, witnessed something different. Lucia described seeing at first, “..St. Joseph with the Child Jesus and Our Lady robed in white with a blue mantle, besides the sun. St. Joseph and the Child Jesus appeared to bless the world, for they had traced the Sign of the Cross with their hands.” Next, Lucia described seeing “..Our Lord and Our Lady; it seemed to me that it was Our Lady of Dolours [Sorrows]. Our Lord appeared to bless the world in the same manner as St. Joseph had done.” Then, finally Lucia and the seers saw Mary one last time “..resembling Our Lady of Carmel.” The first apparition they saw was that of the holy family. God was showing the world the need to strengthen the bonds of marriage and the Christian family unit, as represented by the perfect model of St. Joseph, Mary and the Child Jesus. Jesus lived most of His life as part of a family. By His life in a family, Jesus sanctified all families, raising them up by His sanctified humanity. God blessed the family, as our model, because He knew the unrelenting attacks on the family that would come for the rest of the century and into the 21st century. We know now the scourge modernity has had on the family unit, from divorce, broken-marriages, single parent homes, adultery, abortions, sexual abuse, same sex marriages, and negative forces of every kind. The tragic breakdown of the family has been the single most interiorly corrosive development to the fracturing of modern culture and society. It is also interesting that in the first vision, St. Joseph, as the father figure, is the one to bless the world. Again, stressing the importance of fathers and fatherhood in the family and society. In the second apparition, Jesus and Mary appear and bless the world. Lucia said Jesus appeared as “the Perfect Man” and Mary appeared as “Our Lady of Sorrows.” She attributed the meaning of this as a call to perfection in the Christian life, following the examples of Jesus and Mary in all things, especially in sacrifice and suffering. In the last apparition, the children saw Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, in a religious habit, which Lucia attributed as a call of our total consecration to God, a call to holiness and to our intimate union with Him.

Russia

Immediately following the last apparition in Fatima in October 1917, more cataclysmic events befell the world, particularly with Russia, as Our Lady had placed so much emphasis upon. On November 6-7, 1917, the Bolsheviks, led by Vladimir Lenin and Leon Trotsky, overthrew the provisional democratic government in Russia, in the “October Revolution,” (by the Russian calendar).  Soon thereafter, in March 1918, the new Bolshevik Russian regime signed a peace treaty with the Central Powers, the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, effectively withdrawing from WWI and abandoning their alliance with the Allies. The Bolsheviks instituted a Soviet, non-democratic government based upon Marxism, without private enterprise or land ownership, repression of political rivals and ideas, and massacring their opponents, especially priests and the Church. They nationalized all of the Russian Orthodox Church property, sought to destroy all Christian practices, such as religious instruction, Sunday masses and holy days. The Bolshevik Communists sought to wipeout Christianity completely from Russia, and replace it entirely with atheistic materialism. Over the next couple of years, the Communist “Red Terror” campaign swept the country as the Communists and their secret police engaged in imprisonment, mass killings and gruesome torture of anyone, especially the Church, not seen as loyal to the new State. The era of Communist Russia had begun, and, as Our Lady had warned, to spread their errors around the world. From the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe to China, Cambodia, Vietnam, North Korea to Africa, Cuba, and Latin America, it is estimated that Communists killed approximately 94,000,000 people in the 20th century; the largest collective massacre of peoples driven by a single ideology in the history of the world.  Systematic mass killings and genocides became state run programs. For seventy years, Communism metastasized from one country to the next, and fought a Cold War with the United States and the West, but as Mary had predicted in the July 1917 apparition, “..in the end, my Immaculate Heart will triumph.” And so it happened, with the eventual consecration of Russia and the fall of the Soviet Union.

Mary did come back again to ask for the consecration of Russia. This time it was on June 13, 1929, twelve years later, while Lucia was a postulant with the Sisters of Saint Dorothy in Tuy, Spain. Lucia had a vision of the Trinity, and then, Mary came to announce, “The moment has come in which God asks the Holy Father, in union with all the Bishops of the world, to make the consecration of Russia to my Immaculate Heart, promising to save it by this means.” We know, unfortunately, now through the long gaze of history, that the full consecration of Russia, with all the Bishops and the Pope, was delayed for various reasons and not fulfilled until 55 years later, when Pope John Paul II completed the consecration in St. Peter’s Square in Rome on March 25, 1984. That same month, in which, in March 1984, Mikhail Gorbachev became the head of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the Soviet Union. A year later, in March 1985, hardline Communist leader Konstantin Chernenko died, and Gorbachev became the General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. He soon began to initiate his program of Perestroika (“restructuring”) and Glasnost (“openness”), which altered the whole trajectory that the Communist country had embraced for seventy years. Gorbachev reached out to the Russian Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholics, and began pushing for religious freedom and liberty again. As a sign of the great conversion happening in the East, the Berlin Wall, a symbol of Iron Curtain repression, was torn down in November 1989. Finally, on Christmas night, December 25, 1991, President Gorbachev announced his resignation and the dissolution of the Soviet Empire. The Evil Empire was no more. The fifteen countries of the Soviet Republic were now free to become independent countries, and miraculously all happening virtually without war and bloodshed. In fulfillment of Mary’s promise, when the consecration happened, Russia was converted, and “a period of peace” has been granted to the world. One has to wonder now, some years later, in 2016, with a world in percolating turmoil, if that period of peace is coming to an end?

Consequential events continued in the next month, in December 1917, when the British captured Jerusalem, and then, Palestine and Syria, ending four centuries of control by Muslim Ottoman Turks. It was in this year that British foreign diplomat, Lord Balfour, sent a letter, the “Balfour Declaration,” to Jewish leaders indicating that the British government’s “..view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.” This led to the years of the British Mandate (1920-1948), when Britain controlled Palestine. It paved the way for the fulfillment of Jewish Zionist aspirations to return to their ancient homeland and reconstitute the state of Israel. This was propelled in the 1930’s and 1940’s with anti-Jewish pogroms in Europe, and of course, the Holocaust of the Jews in Nazi Germany. Eventually, on May 14, 1948, the Jewish people in Palestine won their war of independence and declared the new state of Israel. This opened the way for the Jews to return to Israel with an ingathering of their diaspora from around the world, which many saw as fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies of Ezekiel and Isaiah. The Jewish Israeli and Arab Muslim conflict remains to this day a central dispute in international geopolitical affairs.

On October 4, 1918, nearly a year after the last apparition of Fatima, Germany requested an armistice, and on November 11, 1918, it officially surrendered, ending World War I. In the midst of that, however, in 1918 and 1919, a worldwide Flu pandemic killed around 50 million people, including two of the child seers, Jacinta and Francisco Santos, while Lucia ended up living much longer (until February 13, 2005), as Mary had predicted. Yet, the groundwork was laid for a second worldwide conflagration in World War II, in which over 60 million were killed. In the June 13, 1929 apparition in Tuy, Spain, Lucia had a final vision, of the Blessed Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit; with a supernaturally illumined Cross, and Eucharistic imagery of a chalice and a large host with drops of blood issuing from the side of Jesus, with the words “Grace and Mercy.” She also saw Our Lady below the right arm of the Cross, with her Immaculate Heart in her hand. Mary was again at the foot of the Cross, just as she had been at the original crucifixion of Jesus. This is the same place we go to every Mass, to receive in Holy Communion, the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus, into our lives. God was imploring us again to turn away from sin, to embrace the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and to receive Jesus in the Eucharist. The message of Fatima is just as relevant today, 100 years later, as it was in 1916-1917. We receive the grace and mercy of God through the sacrificial offering of Christ in the Eucharist. We see Mary, our spiritual mother, there too, leading us to God, just as Jesus from the Cross had beckoned the beloved disciple, St. John, and us, to embrace His mother as our own, “When Jesus saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing near, He said to His mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then He said to the disciple, ‘Behold, your mother!’” (Jn. 19:26-27)

The Mystical Body of Christ – October 30, 2015

A real symbol is both a symbol and a reality. It symbolizes a reality, but it also has the real presence of the reality it symbolizes. The symbol, in a real symbol, is so intimately identified with the reality of it that the symbol makes present the reality. It is more than just a representation. The symbol and the reality are one. Yet, even though the symbol and the reality are inseparably bestowed, they are also identifiably distinct from each other. The best illustration of a real symbol is the human body. The human body is the real symbol of the soul. It both symbolizes the reality of the soul and it actually makes present the essence of the soul, or the reality of self. In St.Thomas’ words, the soul is the substantial “form” of the “matter” of the body. (Summa, I, q.76, a.1, a.4) When we think of a human person, we think of a united being of body and soul, forming one human substance. We know that the human person is more than a physical body. It is also a rational, immaterial, and immortal soul created directly by God that lives on after the death of the body. The body and soul are distinct. Nevertheless, the body is not simply a cocoon possessed by the soul. Rather, the body individuates the soul, permanently. The two principles, body and soul, are forever linked and conformed to each other. Man is a composite being, in which body and soul are separated at death, but reunited, in eternal form, in the final Resurrection. (CCC 366) The corporeal matter of the body and the spiritual form of the soul make one human person. As the Catechism teaches, “spirit and matter, in man, are not two natures united; but rather their union forms a single nature.” (CCC 365) Human nature is the body and the soul together. Therefore, the body is the real symbol of the soul, because it symbolizes the soul and also makes the soul present in reality.

The Church is the real symbol of Jesus Christ. The Church symbolizes the continued presence of Christ in the world, and it also makes present Christ in reality. Just as the soul animates the body of a person, so too, the Holy Spirit animates the body of the Church. (CCC 797) As the encyclical Mystici Corporis Christi, or “On the Mystical Body of Christ,” makes clear, the Church is a body (MCC, 14), and specifically, the Body of Christ. (CCC 805) She is both visible and invisible, and human and divine. (CCC 779) She is the physical symbol of a hidden reality. In that sense, the Church is like a sacrament. (CCC 775) She is the visible sign in communicating God’s invisible grace. She is the efficacious instrument, and real symbol, of Christ’s redemption by which man is reconciled with God. (CCC 780) The Holy Spirit “forms,” as it were, the “matter” of the body of the Church. Just as the body is formed in the likeness of the soul, so too, we are formed into the likeness of Christ. We are recreated in His image. (Rom.8:29) This is begun at Baptism and continues in a lifelong process, so that we “may become daily more and more like to our Savior” (MCC, 56), and are being “transformed into the same image from glory to glory.” (2 Cor.3:18) This self-communication of Christ to His believers is primarily through the sacraments, where we are “united in a hidden and real way to Christ in His passion and glorification.” (LG, 7) In Baptism, we are conformed to His likeness; in Confirmation, we are sealed with the Holy Spirit; and in the Eucharist, we are brought into communion with Him and with each other. Christ is as intimately connected with His followers as the soul is with the body. Lumen Gentium puts it this way, “For by communicating His Spirit, Christ mystically constitutes as His body those brothers of His who are called together from every nation.” (LG, 7) The Church is the Mystical Body of Christ. (CCC 779) It is for this reason that when the risen Jesus confronts Saul on the road to Damascus, who is on his way to persecute and kill members of the Church, Christ says, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute Me?” (Acts 9:4) Christ is actually present, under veiled form, in His community of believers, the Church. As Jesus says, “For where two or three are gathered in My name, I am there among them.” (Mt.18:20)

Hidden divine realities are often times expressed in the world through symbolic reality, as has been discussed in regards to the soul and the Church. In a similar way, Christ is the real symbol of the eternal Word of God. In His humanity, Christ symbolizes, in bodily form, the manifestation of the divine and eternal Word, but He also is, in reality, the Son of God. In a similar fashion, within the Church, grace is primarily conferred on us through the symbolic reality of the sacraments. This is most especially true in the Eucharist. Christ is symbolically present under the veiled species of bread and wine, but Christ is also actually present in reality in the Eucharist. At consecration, with the transubstantiation, His body and blood, soul and divinity truly become present, even though our “eyes were kept from recognizing Him.” (Lk.24:16) Christ is the primordial sacrament from which grace is bestowed upon the Church; itself, a type of analogous sacrament; which, in turn, confers grace upon us in the actual sacraments themselves. Sanctifying grace flows from Christ, to the Church, and to the sacraments. We, the community of believers, initiated and sustained by the sacraments, are thence drawn into the symbolic reality of Christ. We become symbols of Christ and manifest His real presence in our lives. We are taken up into the mysteries of His life. (LG, 7) As such, we, the Church, who are the Body of Christ, are drawn into close union with Jesus Christ, who is the Head of the Body. (MCC, 81) St.Paul reveals this to us saying, “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. (1 Cor.10:17) Since we all partake of the one Eucharistic “bread,” we are united into communion with Christ, and consequently, with each other. (LG, 7) This is a constant theme of the New Testament. As St.Paul teaches the Romans, “So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another.” (Rom.12:5) The effect of the Eucharistic sacrament, or in Thomistic terms, “the Res Tantum,” or the “final reality” produced by the sacrament, is our unity with God and with each other, i.e., the coalescing of the Mystical Body of Christ. As Jesus Himself testified, “Those who eat My flesh and drink My blood abide in Me, and I in them.” (Jn.6:56) We are made one in the symbolic reality of Christ’s Body.

To this point, the main purpose of the Church is to be the “sacrament of the inner union of men with God” and the “sacrament of the unity of the human race.” (CCC 775) In Gethsemane, Jesus prays to the Father for the Church’s communion with God and with one another, or in other words, for the Communion of Saints, “so that they may be one, as We are one.” (Jn. 17:22) As part of this oneness, the Church’s mission is to take care of each other, and not just corporeally, but also, spiritually. God wills that the Church take part in the redemptive mission of Christ, and become “as it were, another Christ.” (MCC, 53) Christ’s redemptive work merited superabundant grace for us, of which the Church contributed nothing. (MCC, 44) Yet, Christ’s passion and death “merited for His Church an infinite treasure of graces.” (MCC, 106) God could have chosen any way possible to distribute those graces, but He chose that the Church should take an active role in the work of redemption; thus, conferring a special dignity upon His members. The magisterium teaches “not only does He share this work of sanctification with His Church, but He wills that in some way it be due to her action. This is a deep mystery..” (MCC, 44) This deep mystery pervades every member of the Body of Christ. For, Christ wills that His Mystical Body, we, the Church, carry on His salvific mission here on earth until the end of the world. It is an utterly serious responsibility, for “the salvation of many depends on the prayers and voluntary penances” of her members. (MCC, 44) We can petition God to apply our own prayers and mortifications, our “spiritual sacrifices,” in union with the infinite grace of Christ’s Passion, towards the salvation and sanctification of other souls, and in particular, on behalf of sinners. We can be co-redeemers. Again, this is not from anything we have done or earned or merited. We can do nothing without Christ. All grace is from Him. Christ simply wills that we should share in His work. The encyclical says we must offer our “prayers, works, and sufferings” every day to the Eternal Father. (MCC, 109) In this way we resemble Christ (MCC, 47) in our intercession and mediation for the whole human family. Being one body, we must have “the same care for one another.” (1 Cor.12:25) As individual members of the Mystical Body of Christ we must be rustled up from our slumber with a “supernatural charity” for the good of all men. (MCC, 97) We can do this by remaining faithful to the Church. When we abide as members united in His Mystical Body, He too abides in us by the Holy Spirit. We become a living symbolic reality, where Christ is truly present in the world again.

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.