Monday, November 22, 2004

The Eucharist 

RCIA tonight is Chapter 14: The Eucharist. Here is where my Methodist example diverges most strikingly with my Catholic learning. In the Methodist Church, we had Communion, at most, once a month. We had several ministers over the years who had communion quarterly. The methods of Communion in the Methodist Church vary widely. Sometimes we went to the rail, to our knees, where tiny cups of juice and bowls of centimeter-sized bread, cut in squares waited for us. We would partake, pray silently, then return to our pews as others took our place. Sometimes we would be served in our pews, with trays of cups and tiny squares of bread being passed down the pew like collection plates. Sometimes we would go to the front, as Catholics do, to servers who would offer a loaf of bread, we would tear off a piece, dip it in the juice (intinction) and eat it. Whatever the method, we had no belief that the actual body and blood of Christ existed in the bread and wine, there were no rules regarding spills or disposals or cleanups. Anyone and everyone could partake, from the littlest child to anyone visiting. The state of your soul had nothing to do with it.

Now I must make a most difficult transition. I must believe and understand that the body of Christ and the blood of Christ, through the actions of the priest, are made present in the bread and wine (transubstantiation). I must believe that I am actually eating the flesh of Jesus of Nazareth and drinking his blood. This is why the leftover bread/host if placed in a tabernacle, this is why we genuflect . . . because the body of the Christ is present in the Church, in the tabernacle.
Anyone who eats the bread or drinks the wine unworthily is answerable for the body and blood of the Lord. Everyone must examine himself and herself and only then eat of the bread or drink from the cup, because a person who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of Christ is eating and drinking his own condemnation. (1 Cor 11:26-29)
We are not to eat for at least one hour before Mass, we are to show respect in our clothing and demeanor. We are to express our unworthiness in the words of the centurian, "Lord, I am not worthy." The Eucharist cleanses us from past sins by wiping away venial sin. It preserves us from future mortal sins and gives us the graces to repent of past mortal sin. Catholics are not allowed to take communion in other churches because we do not want to imply that we agree with what those Churches believe about the Eucharist.

Other cultures of the past have practiced transubstantiation and the eating of God. The Atzecs in ancient Mexico, the Aryans of ancient India and the Brahmans, for example, all had ceremonies for turning rice cakes or bread in the flesh of God to be eaten by their people. (Golden Bough: Eating the God) The Passion of Christ is also something many ancient cultures practiced. (Golden Bough: Saturnalia). As a Methodist, I believe these to be an example of prevenient grace, the grace that draws people to Christ before they even know about Christ. I don't see a conflict between that belief and what Catholics believe. I've come to a certain understanding about Christianity in my own mind since reading so much more about what Catholics believe: it seems like God made a pact with the Jewish people and He then moved them here and there among different cultures where they picked up new customs and understandings that have resulted in Christianity. As if God was building a religion from a recipe card: mix the Jewish faith with Babylonian customs, mix the result with Greek and Roman customs, stir with conflict, add the Passion.... you get my drift. The Eucharist is an ancient, perhaps inherent, practice and belief of human kind.

It has become my turn to practice and believe.

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