Wednesday, March 23, 2011

How the Eucharist benefits the world

The Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 1391 reads:
Holy Communion augments our union with Christ. The principal fruit of receiving the Eucharist in Holy Communion is an intimate union with Christ Jesus. Indeed, the Lord said: "He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him." (John 6:56)
From there the Catechism goes on to describe graces bestowed in reception of the Eucharist such as renewal of baptismal grace (1392), spiritual nourishment (1394), separation from sin (1393-1395), and commitment to the poor (1397). These benefits are all proper to the recipient.

But the power of the Eucharist transcends the individual recipient. In fact the spiritual life of the world depends on the celebration of the Eucharist. How can this be so?

The extended power of the Eucharist in Scripture

One of the many passages in Scripture referring to the Eucharistic sacrifice comes from St. Paul:
1 Corinthians 10:16 The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?
So in the Eucharist, we unite with Christ's sacrifice as well as the Church--which Paul calls Christ's body (Col. 1:24; Eph. 1:22-23, et al).

Those who comprise the Church are extended throughout the world (e.g. 1 John 2:2, Rev. 7:9). The bread which we break (1 Cor. 10:16) brings eternal life (John 6:51) and also unites us to the Church (1 Cor. 10:16). Since we are united to that Church, when we receive the graces of Christ's sacrifice, the whole Church is united to the graces of that sacrifice. That includes anyone in the Church, anywhere, past, present, or future. We know that Christ's sacrifice transcends time in this way because His death was a historical event which saves both those in the New Testament and those in the Old (Mat. 27:52).

So when we participate in Christ by taking the "cup of blessing which we bless" and the "bread which we break" we are suffering with Him in a time-transcending extension of the once for all historical sacrifice on Calvary. And since Christ's sacrifice is the means to salvation for the Church, the entire Church in all ages and places benefits whenever we participate in that sacrifice.

Participation in Christ's suffering and unity of the body

Participation in Christ's suffering is very native to the New Testament. Paul said "we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him" (Rom. 8:17). He told the Philippians how he longed to "share his sufferings." The Apostle Peter echoed the same theology:
1 Peter 4:13 But rejoice in so far as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.
This concept of rejoicing in suffering with Christ contributes to our understanding of how the Eucharist benefits the entire body of Christ. Paul writes:
1 Corinthians 12:26 If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.
And Paul further emphasized the indivisible unity of the "one body" of the Church (Eph 4:4, 1 Cor. 12:12). He ties this concept directly into the Eucharist one verse after 1 Corinthians 10:16 quoted above:
1 Corinthians 10:17 Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.
Further reinforcing the nature of the Eucharistic sacrifice as Christ's, Paul goes on to describe this taking of the bread and wine a participation "of the table of the Lord" (1 Cor. 10:21). He has already called the Eucharist a participation in the very blood of Christ's suffering. Referencing the "table of the Lord" fortifies his teaching that the Eucharist is indeed the sacrifice. He compares the "table" to the sacrificial "altar" of the Jews (1 Cor. 10:18). And he further compares it to "what pagans sacrifice" (1 Cor. 10:19). In the Old Testament, the concept of the Lord's "table" was the term used to describe where the Israelites offered sacrifice (Ezek. 44:15-16) which was the prefigurement of Christ's superior sacrifice perpetuated in the Eucharist (e.g. Heb. 9:23).

So adding all this up, what do we see? We see that participating in the Eucharist is a share in Christ's blood and the Church. His sacrifice is, of course, the source of salvation for the whole world. Therefore, since we sacramentally participate in the same suffering of His sacrifice by partaking in the Eucharist, the entire Church in every age and place benefits. After all, what happens to one member happens to all members since the body is united.

Thus, in partaking in the Eucharist we also show love of neighbor. When we rejoice, they rejoice. The devil's desire is the exact opposite of the Eucharist. The Eucharist is the grains of wheat united in "one bread, one body," bringing the Church everywhere together. The devil's desire is to "sift" the faithful "like wheat" that is not united (Luk. 22:31). The Eucharist brings unity to the Church. The devil brings division to the Church, and he incurs defeat whenever the Eucharist is celebrated.

Confirmed in Catholic teaching

The Catholic Church teaches how the entire Church throughout the world and in every age benefits whenever the Eucharistic sacrifice is celebrated. Here are some examples from official Catholic resources (emphasis mine):
For in [the Eucharist] Christ perpetuates in an unbloody manner the sacrifice offered on the cross, offering himself to the Father for the world's salvation through the ministry of priests
–The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Instruction on the Worship of the Eucharistic Mystery, 9.c.3. Quoted in Vatican Council II: The Conciliar and Post Conciliar Documents, edited by Austin Flannery, O.P., Liturgical Press, Collegeville, MN, 1977, p. 103

Remember, Lord, those who have died and have gone before us marked with the sign of faith, especialy those for whom we now pray, N. et N. May these, and all who sleep in Christ, find in your presence light, happiness, and peace.
Eucharistic Prayer I, Roman Canon, Mass of the 1970 Missal

Lord, may this sacrifice, which has made our peace with you, advance the peace and salvation of all the world. Strengthen in faith and love your pilgrim Church on earth; your servant, Pope N., our Bishop N., and all the bishops,with the clergy and the entire people your Son has gained for you. Father, hear the prayers ofthe family you have gathered herebefore you. In mercy and love unite all your children wherever they may be. Welcome into your kingdom our departed brothers and sisters, and all who have left this world in your friendship.
Eucharistic Prayer III, Roman Missal, 3rd Edition

Then, we pray [in the anaphora] for the holy fathers and bishops who have fallen asleep, and in general for all who have fallen asleep before us, in the belief that it is a great benefit to the souls on whose behalf the supplication is offered, while the holy and tremendous Victim is present. . . . By offering to God our supplications for those who have fallen asleep, if they have sinned, we . . . offer Christ sacrificed for the sins of all, and so render favorable, for them and for us, the God who loves man.
–St. Cyril of Jerusalem, quoted in Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1371

[T]he priest alone can complete the building up of the Body in the eucharistic sacrifice. Thus are fulfilled the words of God, spoken through His prophet: "From the rising of the sun until the going down thereof my name is great among the gentiles, and in every place a clean oblation is sacrificed and offered up in my name". In this way the Church both prays and labors in order that the entire world may become the People of God, the Body of the Lord and the Temple of the Holy Spirit, and that in Christ, the Head of all, all honor and glory may be rendered to the Creator and Father of the Universe.

That the Sacrifice of the Mass is propitiatory both for the living and the dead.....Wherefore, not only for the sins, punishments, satisfactions, and other necessities of the faithful who are living, but also for those who are departed in Christ, and who are not as yet fully purified, is it rightly offered, agreebly to a tradition of the apostles.

If any one saith, that the sacrifice of the mass is only a sacrifice of praise and of thanksgiving; or, that it is a bare commemoration of the sacrifice consummated on the cross, but not a propitiatory sacrifice; or, that it profits him only who receives; and that it ought not to be offered for the living and the dead for sins, pains, satisfactions, and other necessities; let him be anathema.

The souls of the departed can, however, receive “solace and refreshment” through the Eucharist, prayer and almsgiving. The belief that love can reach into the afterlife, that reciprocal giving and receiving is possible, in which our affection for one another continues beyond the limits of death—this has been a fundamental conviction of Christianity throughout the ages and it remains a source of comfort today.
–Pope Benedict XVI, Spe Salvi, 48
EDIT 10/23/12 TO ADD: The offering up of the Holy Mass benefits not only the saints for whom [in whose honor] it is said, but the whole Church of God in Heaven, on earth and in Purgatory.
–St. John Vianney, the CurĂ© of Ars (quoted in Prayers and Heavenly Promises compiled from approved sources by Joan Carroll Cruz, p. 9) 

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Book Review: The Rite

The Rite (2010 paperback) by Matt Baglio is one of the best books I have ever read. I give it 9 out of 10 stars.

This is the book that served as the inspiration for the movie The Rite (2011) starring Anthony Hopkins, which I reviewed in January.

Both mediums, particularly the book, pleasantly treat the subject of exorcism as one that requires caution. But the book is much better than the movie. The book is non-fiction and follows the training of San Francisco priest Father Gary Thomas as he journeys to Rome to learn the trade of exorcism (the movie character Michael Kovak is said to be based on a Chicago-area exorcist). We are given in most chapters glimpses into the mind of Father Gary for whom exorcism was mostly an alien enterprise prior to his Roman visit. The reader sees through Father Gary's eyes for the first time truly horrific and unexpected events. Yet there is always a balance of humility and a desire for prudence in this learning priest's disposition. Due consideration is always given to science in accord with the Church's advice to utilize the examinations of medical doctors. One of the exorcist's primary goals is to discern when a disorder is natural or supernatural.

That brings me to another great quality of this book. There are some tangents from Father Gary's direct experiences. These tangents are typically informative and are useful in understanding the subject matter in general. For instance, on page 204, Baglio finishes a discourse on several scientific studies into potential possessions and human disorders with: "If true, quantum entanglement could help to explain how things like healing from a distance, or the power of prayer, actually work." Baglio's prudential consideration to detail and explanation make me suspect his witnessing of the Church's cautious training on exorcism lead him to the same prudence.

As well, the book is fraught with side comments on exorcism from a other exorcists including Father Gabriel Amorth who is Rome's chief exorcist, and a good number of other exorcists with whom the author had contact. This is a critical part of the value of this book. For those interested in the subject of exorcism, comparing and contrasting the experiences of actual exorcists is invaluable. The reader learns throughout the book that demons often exhibit similar behavior when manifesting. Yet sometimes behaviors are unexpected. This is where the array of experiences among the exorcists is especially useful in developing the Church's knowledge of the subject matter. Just as scientists throughout the world compare and contrast their various results to accelerate the learning process, so too do these appointed exorcists. This book is fantastic for detailing a variety of demonic behaviors.

One one occasion, Baglio describes the disparity of experience by different people present at the same exorcism (page 149): "During the exorcism, Father Gary had the overwhelming sensation that the room was suffocatingly hot, while the priest from Indianapolis smelled a terrible 'over-powering' stench." Were multiple demons at work? Was the same demon attempting to confuse? Was there something about the priests that made them each sensitive to particular phenomenon? It is details such as these that inform students of the subject much of the mystery involved in discernment and liberation and why so much care must be taken.

Contrary to one of the weaknesses of the movie, the book's Father Gary is not a "doubting" figure with a flippant attitude like his parallel film character. Father Gary enters the arena not knowing what to expect. He may ask himself "why," as the reader learns during a description of a near-fatal accident earlier in Father Gary's life, but he does not exhibit the sustained defiance of many shaky priests that are native to some Hollywood productions.

One of the saving grace of the film was echoing some of the book's details of exorcisms. The book The Rite is especially valuable for its first-hand accounts of actual exorcisms. During these scenes, my eyes were glued to the dramatic and detailed accounts of levitation, demonic dialogue, feats of strength and contortion, and other phenomenon that baffle even scientists. Those looking for a window into the actual battle of the experience will not be disappointed. From the first page, the struggles and tactics of demons during an exorcism are detailed.

A humorous moment preserved in the film, perhaps taken from the book, was a priest answering a phone during an exorcism (page 103). In comparing the two works, this parallel detail stood out since it was unusual. The book follows the moment with a description of how the priest immediately returned where he left off and the victim resumed the same disposition she had when she left. This additional information in the book leaves the reader with the feeling that the exorcist was in complete control, whereas in the movie the viewer is left wondering if Anthony Hopkins' character is crazy.

The book The Rite also includes a number of other valuable details. This includes pertinent Scriptural verses, reference resources, and perhaps most valuable to anyone is information on those most at risk for possession. Baglio often refers to the victim's experiences in the occult prior to their admission to exorcism.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Should earthquakes shake faith in God?

First, let me offer sympathy and prayer for those suffering as a result of the recent Japanese earthquake and subsequent tsunami. Their trial is severe, unimaginable, and horrific. I do not want my attempt to address a theological issue here to be incorrectly seen as a selfish insensitivity to that reality.

That being said, I want to Scripturally and philosophically address a reaction that invariably is made by skeptics whenever a tragedy dominates the headlines. And I would like to remind any reader that this is not an exhaustive explanation of death and suffering. There are many resources I would encourage anyone to explore such as Padre Pio's Secrets of a Soul, Dr. Peter Kreeft's Making Sense Out of Suffering, C.S. Lewis' The Problem of Pain, or any of Fr. John Corapi's talks on suffering.

Anyway, I read two skeptical posters at the forums make similar comments today. I remember back in the day watching the South Park movie (not a good example for kids by the way!) hearing the same basic line in the face of disaster: "Where is your God when you need him?"

Along with sympathy for the victims of the tragedy, I do have sympathy for the skeptic's reaction. It is no easy thing for a human being to feel at a loss while simultaneously believing God loves him. Even a faithful Christian might feel unsettled by the innocence afflicted by such a disaster.

The reason I think this reaction is common is because in the human mind, there is often an equation of suffering or death with evil. If God permits an innocent person to suffer, He therefore must not love that person.

I think some strains of Christianity, such as those who espouse a "prosperity gospel" have an inadequate response to tragedy and God's love. However, I think Catholic theology can make sense of such suffering.

First, as apologist Jimmy Akin once wrote on his blog:
[God] gives all of us an infinite amount of [the gift of life] because, once we are created, we will endure forever. After the resurrection, we will all--every one of us--have an infinite amount of physical life ahead of us. What we are discussing, therefore, is whether some of us receive an infinite amount of physical life plus a varying amount of finite physical life as well.
When someone dies to the terrestrial, temporal universe, it is by no means the last word. If the Catholic truth that eternal life awaits those who lived faithfully to the divine movements in their hearts, then no amount of measurable, temporal punishment can possibly compare to an eternal reward. The temporal suffering is obliterated by an eternal life with no suffering.

So why is there suffering at all, even if temporal? Catholics understand suffering to have value for the soul as well as humanity itself. Catholics believe that the path fallen man must take to be reunited with God in eternal joy is through Jesus Christ who opened this door for humanity through his suffering on the cross. Thus, if Jesus Christ was truly God incarnate, and if he willingly permitted himself to endure suffering at the hands of his own creatures, then even if we do not fully understand the scope of suffering, we can see a great testament from divinity himself that there is purpose to suffering.

In Catholicism, we believe suffering is a means to be united with Christ's salvific work on the cross. St. Paul teaches about the salvation of mankind with the included caveat: "provided we suffer with him" (Rom. 8:17). Temporal suffering, as Christ experienced on the cross, is a sequential prerequisite to resurrection into eternal life. That would include even infants who must undergo temporal death despite never having committed "actual sin."

As well, in Catholicism, suffering is seen as a mechanism of cleansing a person of the effects of sin, conforming him to the spotless being he shall be in the next life. This takes place as an extension of the singular sacrifice of Christ (see CCC#1473 and preceding). A non-Catholic who does not believe in the temporal consequence of sin will not recognize the value of suffering in this way.

Not to limit this apologetic to Scripture or even exclusively Catholic theology alone, we can in some way grasp the idea that something once perceived valueless can be of the utmost value. As Dr. Peter Kreeft said in his talk Making Sense Out of Suffering a few years ago, if a baby in the womb could rationalize, he would say to himself, for example, why do I have feet? There are no sidewalks here! While the existence of feet in his current domain appears valueless, the next domain beckons their use and feet are of value.

Another example is one that is used as a Christian figure of God's relationship to mankind (although it is evident to anyone): The father-child relationship. Fathers (or mothers) discipline their children. Sometimes it can come in the form of letting a child touch a sharp weed so that the child will learn the danger of the action. The father could lovingly inflict or permit suffering for a variety of reasons including that the child misbehaved or did something detrimental to himself that the father did not want the child to repeat. The discipline is applied to the child for a) reasons the child does not understand, and b) for reasons that result in the improvement of the child's person. If we look at this example categorically, then we must admit not all infliction or permission of suffering equals evil or lack of love even if the recipient does not recognize value in the pain.

If a skeptic recognizes the love of a parent who permits his child to suffer for that child's betterment, then he must acknowledge God could similarly do the same. God's permission of suffering can rationally have an entirely loving motive behind it.

There's an animated science series featuring a "Dr. Quantum" that covers various topics including quantum physics and spatial dimensions. One of the videos is called "Flatland." In the video, Dr. Quantum exists in 3-dimensions just as any terrestrial human being does. He stands over a "flat" universe in which dwells 2-dimensional "Pac-man-looking" people. The 2-dimensional people understand only length and width. Depth is inconceivable to them. Nothing in their existence can be used to depict depth either. Dr. Quantum dips his finger into the 2-dimensional world. A 2-dimensional character only sees an expanding and shrinking circle as Dr. Quantum's finger passes into and out of the 2-dimensional surface. From her perspective, Dr. Quantum is a circle who varies in size. She cannot conceive of the reality beyond her 2-dimensional perspective.

The analogy can help us understand God's perspective. God as an eternal, extra-terrestrial being has a perspective and understanding of reality beyond that of terrestrial man. He may see more of suffering than we see.

In summary, if this world is not the final say, it is specious to measure the value of any divine action or permission based on man's temporal reaction. It is specious even for a skeptic to conclude that if suffering and death occur that God must therefore not love or perhaps not even exist. There are enough signposts in the terrestrial domain that show how suffering can have value.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Papacy debate

In 2008, I did a public formal debate online at Christian Forums on the papacy. The topic was Rome's universal authority was known for all ages. My portions of the debate are posted under the username MrPolo. Here is a link to that debate. Enjoy!

Related post: See the Particular Atonement debate here.