Religion: October 2004 Archives

Sacramental realities

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Last February, I was in Florida for a conference. I had the opportunity to go to Mass in a completely unknown to me parish, which always is an interesting experience. I got to the church early, and took a few minutes to read the covers of the missalette. There were the usual instructions on who can and who cannot present themselves for Holy Communion, and as usual, I was struck by what is and isn't included in the standard statement.
Allow me to quote from the USCCB's 1996 statement:
Because Catholics believe that the celebration of the Eucharist is a sign of the reality of the oneness of faith, life, and worship, members of those churches with whom we are not yet fully united are ordinarily not admitted to Holy Communion.
This is a true statement, as far as it goes. But I don't think it goes far enough, and in fact I think the limitations is reveals may also show some insight into not only problems with our relationship with out Eucharistic Lord, but also problems in our marriage relationships, and possibly even problems with vocations to the consecrated celibate life.
The statement basically ignores that in the reception of Holy Communion, we physically partake of Our Lord - Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. It is much more than a sign of unity.
The Eucharist is one of the seven Sacraments instituted by Jesus the Christ for His Church. A sacrament is a physical sign - as we are physical people. Christianity is at core an incarnational religion. "The word was made flesh, and dwelt among us". Carne - meat. We are made of meat, and our worship, our religion needs to acknowledge that. There are many heresies, old and new, that seek to ignore, deny, or denigrate that reality. If we see Eucharist as primarily a spiritual event and not also a physical event, we run the risk of creeping towards heresy.
The thought that struck me that Sunday in Florida was something like this.
Our Holy Father Pope John Paul II has spoken about marriage having both a unitive aspect and a procreative aspect. True sacramental marriage incorporates (another 'flesh' word) both of these aspects. The mutual giving love of the spouses is enfleshed in the marital act, which if open to life, also then displays the procreative aspect - whether or not that particular marital act actually leads to new life. We cannot demand that gift of life from God - but our openness is vital to a completely sacramental marriage.
True communion, in the form of sharing Eucharist, also involves a unitive and procreative aspect. By welcoming Jesus into our bodies, we may become gifted with the opportunity to share that new life of salvation with others through evangelization, either formally or informally (by living a Christ-centered life).
Our culture has focused almost exclusively on the unitive aspect of marriage and has for the most part downplayed the procreative aspect. Hence so many marriages that end up in trouble and when examined, turn out to be non-sacramental in nature.
Have we likewise been so focused on the unitive and community aspect of the Eucharist that we have lost something important here as well? Are there ways in which, in reception of communion, we are doing the equivalent of accepting only part of Christ into our bodies, into our lives, onto our selves?

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This page is a archive of entries in the Religion category from October 2004.

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