How Is Jesus the Eucharist?
Q. In the May/June issue of The Catholic Answer, Msgr. Charles Pope wrote, “There are many places wherein the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist is both taught and insisted upon in Scripture” (“Proof for the Real Presence,” TCA Faith). Then he goes on to write that Jesus says, “This is my body ... this is my blood.” My question is, “How can Jesus be in the Eucharist, if He is the Eucharist?”
Name withheld, via e-mail
A. It is difficult to know in what sense to answer this question, but it seems as though you are thinking of “in” only in physical terms. But, of course, “in” can be used in different senses. If I say, “Joe is in trouble,” I do not mean that trouble is a physical place, but rather that Joe is experiencing a reality that is problematic for him. He is in a reality called “trouble” but not a physical place called “trouble.”
And so Christ can be “in” the Eucharist in at least two senses. First, he is in the Eucharistic action, as the true celebrant of every Mass. The Eucharist is more than the Sacrament itself; it is the whole liturgical action that accomplishes it. Second, He is in the Eucharist as a reality described. He is not in the bread and the wine. There is no bread and wine to be in, they are transubstantiated with only the species, or accidents, remaining. But He is in the reality we describe as the Sacrament of the Eucharist. Thus the Council of Trent says:
“First of all, the holy council teaches and openly and plainly professes that after the consecration of bread and wine, our Lord Jesus Christ, true God and true man, is truly, really and substantially contained in the august sacrament of the Holy Eucharist under the appearance of those sensible things” (Decree Concerning the Most Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist, see Chapter 1: “On the Real Presence of Our Lord Jesus Christ in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist”).
Finally, we should say that language will certainly fall short in fully describing the mystery of the Eucharist. Indeed, this mystery is also caught up in the mystery of the Lord God’s transcendent and immanent presence to all creation. St. Paul could write of “one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Eph 4:6). And of Jesus, St. Paul writes, “He is the image of the invisible God, / the firstborn over all creation. / For in him all things were created all things in heaven and on earth, / the visible and invisible, / whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers; / all things were created through him and for him. / He is before all things, / and in him all things hold together” (Col 1:15-17). The Lord God is not some other existing thing in the universe of things, as if we could say, “There is a tree, this is a chair, and there is the Lord over there.” Rather, the Lord is existence itself.
These are mysteries: presence, immanence and transcendence, which our language does not easily accommodate. Thus even little words such as “in” fall short of describing a very great mystery.
Certainly, erroneous interpretations of Jesus being “in” the Eucharist must be avoided. And thus we can say what “in” does not mean here, but it is more difficult to say what it fully does mean since we are describing a reality that is wider and richer than our words can contain.
Is the Host a Vessel?
Q. I was talking to a teenager recently who said that Catholics consume the Host at Communion. She added that the Host is a vessel, a container, that contains the Real Presence of Jesus, that is why they call It a Host. I then asked the second-grade teacher, who was preparing her class for first Communion, what she teaches her class on what happens at the consecration. She told me that she teaches them that Jesus comes down and enters into the Host at that moment. When I disagreed in what she was teaching, she assured me that the minds of these young children were unable to comprehend the concept of consuming the body and blood of Jesus.
Albert Ehrman, via e-mail
A. Obviously there are many problems here. As remarked in the question just above Jesus is not physically inside the bread or wine. There is no bread or wine to be “in” since they are transubstantiated — that is, they go from being one substance (bread or wine) to being another: the whole Christ — Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity. Thus the bread and wine are not vessels that Christ goes into. While their appearances remain that of bread and wine, their reality is changed by the Lord who says, “This is my body … this is my blood.” He does not say, “My body is in this … my blood is in that.” Jesus further insists on this reality in John 6 when speaking to the Jews, who objected, and St. Paul surely insists on this in 1 Corinthians 11.
The word “host” has nothing to do with being a container. The word host is taken from the Latin word for victim, or sacrificial offering. It can also be used more generically to refer to the bread destined to become the Body of Christ. For the reasons just stated, Jesus does not come down and enter into the host. Rather, the bread called the host goes away, with only the appearances and other accidents (taste, touch) and becomes the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ.
As for what the minds of young children are able to understand, it was a not a problem for me to understand at age 7, when I received my first Communion, that it was Jesus. I was not confused. I did not know exactly how it was Jesus, but I believed. Children are actually better at accepting mystery than many adults. Frankly (and practically) the whole world is a mystery to children. But as time moves on for them, their understanding deepens about a lot of things. But regarding the Eucharist, the full mystery will never be fully comprehended by us. It is something we accept by faith and come to understand more deeply (though never fully) by the same faith.
Q. Some of my children do not want to say Happy Easter, but rather Happy Resurrection Day. Is it OK to say Happy Easter? What is the meaning of the word “Easter”?
Mary, via e-mail
A. Whatever we call it, Easter is plainly the solemn feast celebrating the resurrection of Christ. It is fine to say Happy Easter. The origin of the word Easter is complex. In the Greek language of the Gospels, the word pascha was used for the Hebrew word pesach, meaning Passover. Latin, too, took up this word, pascha. Christ is our Passover Lamb. Most of the European languages derived from Latin use the words derived from pascha such as Italian, pasqua; Spanish, pascua; and French, paques.
However, English drew from a different source. According to St. Bede (d. 735), the word Easter comes from the word Eoster, the Teutonic goddess of the rising light of day — that is, spring and of dawn. The Old German plural for dawn, or east, is ostern, and it also influenced the English word for Easter. As the English language developed, Easter came to denote that Sunday morning in spring when Christ, our true Light, rose.
Whatever pagan roots the word had (all our words have many different origins), the word Easter in present times clearly refers to the day of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
People are free to say, “Happy Resurrection Day,” but they ought to avoid a harsh stance which holds that others who do not say this mean something less proper. We do not. If they are too insistent or inflexible about their preference they can come off as annoying and their practice could become a countersign, showing a lack of charity in the very act of exchanging Easter greetings.
The fact is, the Church, when she is strong, is often able to take non-Christian practices (as long as they are not intrinsically evil) and often “baptize” them by giving them Christian meaning. That clearly happened here.
Nazareth to Bethlehem?
Q. We’re so used to reading the story of the Nativity and never give it a thought of the distance that Mary and Joseph had to travel. Nazareth is in the northern part of Israel, while Bethlehem is in the southern part of Israel. My question: How many miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem? Remember, Mary and Joseph traveled by donkey!
Patricia O’Grady, Hemet, Calif.
A. The distance is about 70 miles, through often hilly and difficult terrain. Even though Joseph and Mary (with Jesus in utero) may have taken the Via Maris (the road that traversed the relatively flat plain near the Mediterranean), there still came the part of the journey where they had to go “up to Jerusalem” and other nearby places such as Bethlehem.
The Jews spoke of going “up” to Jerusalem because of its relatively higher altitude to the terrain around it. Jerusalem is 2,550 feet above sea level. Bethlehem is 2,543 feet above sea level. As they made this climb from the coastal plain, or from Jericho, the Jews sang the “Psalms of Ascent.” And it was a literal ascent! One of them starts, “I rejoiced when they said to me, / ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord.… / Jerusalem.… / There the tribes go up, the tribes of the Lord/ … to give thanks to the name of the Lord” (Ps 122:1-4).
So, indeed, it was quite a journey. These were hearty people.
We tend to be sentimental about Christmas. But the reality is that the first Christmas featured great hardship: long journeys, no room at the inn, being away from family, the flight to Egypt and so forth.
You mention the donkey that Mary may have ridden. The Bible makes no mention of it. It is possible that a donkey was employed. But such animals were expensive and perhaps Joseph and Mary could not afford one. It may also have been difficult for Mary, at nine months, to sit on a donkey. It is possible she walked! Alternately, Joseph may have employed a cart or wagon pulled either by him or a beast of burden.
Who Is in Charge of Bishops?
Q. This question has been talked amongst us often and no one can find an answer. So, as a matter if curiosity, we hope you can answer it. When there is no cardinal in a diocese, who does the bishop have to answer to, other than the pope or a cardinal?
Name withheld by request, Coraopolis, Pa.
A. Bishops don’t answer to each other in this way. The bishop of a diocese (called an “ordinary”) answers directly to the pope and his designated representatives (usually the nuncio or other Roman officials). Auxiliary (assistant) bishops in a diocese do report to the ordinary of that diocese, but once they are appointed to lead a diocese, they report directly to the pope.
Titles such as archbishop or cardinal do not necessarily mean that other local or regional bishops report to them, unless the archbishop or cardinal is representing the pope in some matter or has a Roman office. Thus if your diocese does not have a bishop with the title cardinal or archbishop, it doesn’t mean that he reports to some nearby bishop with those titles.
When a diocese goes vacant, due to the death or transfer of the ordinary, an apostolic administrator is usually appointed until a new bishop can be named. If the apostolic administrator is a priest, he will likely report to a nearby bishop, at least as a formality. Sometimes an administrator is a neighboring bishop or an auxiliary bishop, and they report to the pope or his designated representative.
Our Lord’s Face?
Q. My question is about the Shroud of Turin. Our belief is: Upon the disciples’ entering the tomb there were two cloths, one at the foot of the area and the other, a small one rolled up, in another section of the tomb. The small one is supposedly covering Our Lord’s face. If it was covering the face, how is it that the shroud shows that a clear imprint of Our Lord’s face is on there. If the small cloth was indeed covering His face, how could the imprint be on the shroud? We had a showing of a copy of the shroud in one of our churches in the area. It was very interesting and showed Our Lord’s face clearly on it. Can this be explained?
Helen Turan, Binghamton, N.Y.
A. We can only speculate as to an answer. You are correct that a special cloth (called a sudarium) covered the face of those buried in the ancient Jewish way. The Gospel of John does indeed mention this cloth as you describe (see 20:6-7).
|I. Pilon / Shutterstock.com
How the cloth did not prevent the outer linen from receiving the etching of the face is unknown. But, of course, if the shroud is in fact the burial cloth of Jesus, we do not know how the image was made in the first place. Was it a radiant energy, a refulgence of light, or some other unknown process? But whatever it was, why suppose it couldn’t go through many layers of cloth? When I am using a magic marker, sometimes the ink bleeds through several sheets of paper. I think this is about the best we can do in surmising the answer to a question like this.
By the way, the facecloth you described is said to be one of the relics held by the cathedral in the town of Oviedo, in the north of Spain. St. Isidore (560-636), bishop of Seville, is said to have brought the cloth to Spain. But there is no clear image on this cloth. Only blood and fluid stains are visible to the naked eye. Scientific analysis however seems to confirm that the stains (more of which are visible under a microscope) do line up with the dimensions of the face on the Shroud of Turin.
All this, as you say, is quite interesting, but not of the essence of our faith. Yet the mysterious image on the shroud is surely fascinating and tends to confirm the truths of our faith!
Receiving Christ’s Presence?
Q. I know the Christian soul in the state of grace has the Blessed Trinity in his soul in a spiritual way. So when we receive the Eucharist, Christ’s Presence, how can we invite Christ into our souls when He is already there? You can tell from my terminology I am no theologian. Hope you can get the gist of my meaning. I enjoy learning from The Catholic Answer.
Bill Harvey, Willow Grove, Pa.
A. At one level you speak to a reality of the Eucharist that we call “concomitance.” This means that, in receiving the Body of the Christ in the Eucharist, we are not just receiving the human flesh of Christ, but his whole self: Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity. But receiving His Divinity, we must recall that there is one Divine Nature, shared fully and equally by the Three Persons. Jesus says that He and the Father are one. Thus to receive Jesus is also to receive His Father and the Holy Spirit in a real though more mysterious sense.
To repeat, in partaking of the Eucharist, we are united to Christ, who as the Second Person of the Trinity is also united to the Trinity — that is, the Father and the Holy Spirit. Jesus points to this mystery when He says, “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him” (Jn 14:23).
Your second question is not unlike one answered above. How can God go where He already is? For indeed, if the Holy Spirit already indwells the human person by grace, why then does holy Communion exist as either necessary or additional to God’s presence already in us after baptism? In this we must address the fact that one mode of presence, though related to others, does not replace them. And thus the presence of Jesus in the Holy Eucharist speaks not only to Christ’s presence as divine, but it also brings His presence to us in terms of His bodily existence. In this way He feeds us not just with His divine nature, but also His human one.
The mode is therefore more diverse and has effects more diverse in us. If it is true that we come to the Father only through Jesus (see Jn 14:6), then it follows that the deeper our union with Him — Soul and Divinity, but also Body and Blood — the deeper our union with the other members of the Trinity will be. Perhaps by analogy we can see how several medicines may well be better than one. Thus for God to offer himself to us in diverse ways — bodily, spiritually and divinely — conforms to our diverse nature as body and soul.
A good way to summarize all this is to say that we ought to get as close to Jesus as possible in the Eucharist, so that we can, by the unity of Christ to the Father and Spirit, grow closer to the Trinity.
What Does It Mean to Covet?
Q. I am confused about the Ninth Commandment. What does it mean to covet? What if two couples are really good friends and one man thinks, if something were to happen to my wife if she were to die, and in the other couple the man would die, maybe his wife and I would get together and even get married some day. Not that he would ever want either one to die. Would that be coveting your neighbor’s wife?
Name withheld by request, Duluth, Minn.
A. There exists within each of us a whole range of appetites or desires. We desire everything from food, security and temporal goods to affection, friendship, sexual union and a sense of being loved and respected. In themselves these desires are good, and they help protect and foster important aspects of our lives. However, since the human race labors under the effects of original sin, our desires tend also to have an unruly dimension. Frequently we desire things beyond what we know is reasonable or just. This is what coveting means.
Coveting does not include momentary desires that occur to us and which we dismiss as being unreasonable or inappropriate. Rather, coveting involves the willful entertaining of inappropriate or excessive desires.
Regarding the Ninth Commandment, which forbids coveting the spouse of a neighbor, there is here the forbidding of willful and excessive desire for the spouse of another, with the will to possess them.
Coveting goes beyond adultery because, when one covets the wife of another, he seeks to end her spousal relationship with her husband to have her for himself. Adultery (which is sometimes committed in an act of weakness, sometimes with persistence and malice) endangers a marriage by introducing infidelity. But coveting actively seeks to end the marriage in order to have the spouse of another for one’s self.
What you describe is not coveting. It is more of a remote form of wishful thinking. It is likely important to curb thoughts in this matter since they are not helpful in either a marriage or the friendship that is shared with another couple. It might be rather harmless “what if” thinking. But it shouldn’t be allowed to grow. It is also a mild form of fantasy, and indulging too much fantasy is seldom helpful for us in living in reality and cherishing what we have.
How To Pray For The Poor Souls In Purgatory
Q. How do you pray for the poor souls in purgatory? What does it mean to do that, and what are the benefits? Are there special prayers?
Helena, via e-mail
A. Any prayer or pious act applied to the souls in purgatory can be a way to pray for them. The most effective manner of praying is to have Masses offered for them or to apply the fruits of your own attendance at Mass. The Rosary, too, is a wonderful way to pray for them.
We pray for the souls in purgatory because they are undergoing the final purifications that are necessary for most of us after we die. This is because Scripture says of heaven: “nothing unclean will enter it” (Rv 21:27). Jesus also made a promise to each of us when he said, “So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48).
Most of us realize that few leave this world as perfect or pure, even if they are in friendship with God and in a state of grace. Some final work must be done to take away any final attachments to sin, any rough edges, any sorrows, regrets or hurts. These things are surely disclosed when we appear before the judgment seat of Christ (see 2 Cor 5:10).
How this purification is done is mysterious, but Scripture gives two images, one consoling and the other more vigorous. The Book of Revelation supplies the consoling thought that, regarding the dead, Jesus “will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, [for] the old order has passed away” (Rv 21:4). The more vigorous text comes from St. Paul, who speaks of a fiery purgation the dead will pass through on the day of judgment: Each one’s work will become manifest, “for the Day will disclose it. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire [itself] will test the quality of each one’s work. If the work stands that someone built upon the foundation, that person will receive a wage. But if someone’s work is burned up, that one will suffer loss; the person will be saved, but only as through fire” (1 Cor 3:13-15).
So on account of this judgment and purification (that seems necessary and is taught), we pray for the dead that this process be swift and that they be in the full glory of heaven soon.
It is the instinct of the Church that our prayers help, which is an ancient practice, stretching back into the Old Testament (see 2 Mc 12:40-46). It is our wish to assist these souls and speed their purifications that may be necessary and that they may be undergoing. We are not always sure of how time here relates to time there, or even if they experience time as we currently do. Yet, still, it is our instinct to pray and assist them in those final finishing touches, as the Lord completes His masterpiece.
Rev. Msgr. Charles E. Pope has a Master of Arts in Moral Theology from Mount St. Mary’s University, Emmitsburg, Md. He was ordained to the priesthood on June 24, 1989, and is currently a pastor in Washington, D.C.
|Pope Benedict XVI and the Shroud
“I have stood before the Holy Shroud on various occasions but this time I am experiencing this pilgrimage and this moment with special intensity: perhaps this is because the passing years make me even more sensitive to the message of this extraordinary icon; perhaps and I would say above all this is because I am here now as the Successor of Peter, and I carry in my heart the whole Church, indeed, the whole of humanity. I thank God for the gift of this Pilgrimage and also for the opportunity to share with you a brief meditation inspired by the subtitle of this solemn exposition: ‘The Mystery of Holy Saturday.’
“One could say that the Shroud is the icon of this mystery, the Icon of Holy Saturday. Indeed it is a winding-sheet that was wrapped round the body of a man who was crucified, corresponding in every way to what the Gospels tell us of Jesus who, crucified at about noon, died at about three o’clock in the afternoon. At nightfall . . . the eve of Holy Saturday, Joseph of Arimathea, a rich and authoritative member of the Sanhedrin, courageously asked Pontius Pilate for permission to bury Jesus in his new tomb which he had had hewn out in the rock not far from Golgotha. Having obtained permission, he bought a linen cloth, and after Jesus was taken down from the cross, wrapped him in that shroud and buried him in that tomb (cf. Mk 15: 42-46).” — Pope Benedict XVI at Turin, Italy, May 2, 2010