I would be a rich man if I had a dollar for every time I have been confronted in my priesthood by people who have insisted that we Catholics do not take the Bible literally.
Well, several weeks ago, in clarifying what had to be used as bread and as wine for the Eucharist, the Vatican was taking the Bible on its word. Without mentioning any other Christian denomination, the ruling from Rome in effect says that the use of fruit juice or bread baked with additives and so on does not comply with the Bible. Who is taking the Bible seriously now? Who is taking the Bible literally?
This basically is the point. The New Testament is very clear. At the Last Supper, in establishing the holy Eucharist, the Lord used “bread” and “wine.”
No one disputes this fact, but the question arises as to what is bread and what is wine? The answers seem obvious, but they are not necessarily so.
If we follow the Bible, we therefore have bread and wine that Jesus and contemporaries would have regarded as bread and wine, not what we today, in our culture, see as bread or wine.
Look at wine, for example. Wine is fruit juice that has been allowed to ferment, meaning that elements within it, with time and other processes, have turned into alcohol. Fruit juice that has not fermented very simply is not wine.
At the time of Jesus, the fruit juice used to produce wine was grape juice, but it was wine because fermentation had occurred. It contained alcohol. Without alcohol, it was not wine.
When the Catholic Church insists upon wine for the Eucharist, it is following the Bible to the letter.
Jesus used bread, as bread then was understood. Bread is wheat flour mixed with water and baked. It was not corn flour mixed with milk. It contained no chemicals to lengthen its shelf life or spices for flavor.
So, when the Church demands bread for the Eucharist, it is defining bread as Jesus would have known bread, not as it has been adapted over the centuries in different places.
This has happened over time. Public and scientific knowledge of alcohol addiction, and the treatment of alcohol addiction, has reached the point that it widely now is assumed that anyone who suffers from the disease of alcoholism cannot even taste alcoholic beverages without running the risk of relapse.
Alcoholism affects so many people. To allow Catholics with this disease to receive the Precious Blood, which still possesses the accidents of wine, producers of sacramental wine, in a process unknown at the time of Christ, reduced the alcohol in the wine to the point, at times, it was by definition no longer wine but, strictly speaking, something else.
Science discovered that some people are allergic to certain properties of grain, for example of wheat, and producers of sacramental bread have removed these ingredients of flour that prompt allergic reactions, in the end creating a product that would not have been considered bread at the time of Jesus.
The Vatican ruling in these matters brought all these practices into line.
At the Last Supper, the Lord instructed the Apostles to “do this in memory of me.” He did not tell them to mimic, or to replace, the Last Supper with something that they or future generations might invent, however praiseworthy the intentions.
The Church follows exactly the practices of Jesus and the Apostles. It requires water for baptism, olive oil for anointing, and it is why bishops must lay their hands on candidates at ordinations.
This is reading the Bible literally.
Msgr. Owen F. Campion is OSV’s chaplain.