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"Today the concept of truth is viewed with suspicion, because truth is identified with violence. Over history there have, unfortunately, been episodes when people sought to defend the truth with violence. But they are two contrasting realities. Truth cannot be imposed with means other than itself! Truth can only come with its own light. Yet, we need truth. ... Without truth we are blind in the world, we have no path to follow. The great gift of Christ was that He enabled us to see the face of God".Pope Benedict xvi, February 24th, 2012

The Church is ecumenical, catholic, God-human, ageless, and it is therefore a blasphemy—an unpardonable blasphemy against Christ and against the Holy Ghost—to turn the Church into a national institution, to narrow her down to petty, transient, time-bound aspirations and ways of doing things. Her purpose is beyond nationality, ecumenical, all-embracing: to unite all men in Christ, all without exception to nation or race or social strata. - St Justin Popovitch

BENEDICTUS MOMENTS

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Wednesday, 6 June 2012

CORPUS CHRISTI: THE BREAD OF THE PRESENCE for Corpus Christi



In the temple in Jerusalem there were kept within the sanctuary twelve loaves of bread called "bread of the Presence" or "bread of the Face".   They were baked every week and laid on tables of stone  outside the sanctuary, awaiting the time at the end of the week when the outgoing priests consumed the bread in the sanctuary and the newly baked bread took its place.   Within the sanctuary the loaves were laid, together with some wine, on tables of gold.   They were covered with spices, aloes and myrrh, the same that were put on the dead body of Jesus in the tomb.  By the mere fact that they had been placed in God's Presence, they had been made holy, impregnated by God's Presence.

   Their function seems to have been a mute plea to God on behalf of Israel; like all sacrifices, a point of connection between God and his People with whom he enjoyed a covenant relationship.   It was this bread that David and his followers ate in order to stave off hunger; but they were obliged to remain ritually clean and not to have intercourse with their wives for a whole year afterwards. 

There is a certain parallel between the Jewish practice of of keeping the "bread of the Presence" in the sanctuary and the Catholic practice of keeping the Blessed Sacrament in a tabernacle in our churches.  

 Remember that the theological equivalent of the temple is not the church building, but rather the Eucharistic assembly which is focused, like all oher Eucharistic assemblies, on the Holy of Holies in heaven where Christ is seated at the right hand of the Father (St Stephen's vision in Acts and the theme of the Letter to the Hebrews).   The more this community is united to Christ in heaven, sharing with him his death and resurrection and being brought into the Presence of the Father, passing through the veil of the temple which is Christ's body, in the Eucharistic celebration(  ), the more intensely does the assembly become the body of Christ on earth.   One way that Christians in the West employ to focus on Christ in heaven between Masses, one that has proved very fruitful in the formation of saints, is devotion to the Blessed Sacrament, either in the tabernacle or exposed, or in procession as at Corpus Christi.  As well as being our food, our sharing in the Banquet of the Lamb, the Eucharistic Bread has become for us the "bread of the Presence" and "of the Face".

This bread has been made holy by the Father in Christ by the power of the Spirit.   It is the "bread of the Face" because Christ is the human Face of God; and it is a mute plea to the Father, pleading for the good of the Church and of the whole world, because Christ is the acceptable face of humanity in the presence of the Father.   The Blessed Sacrament is the reality of which the bread of the Presence is a mere shadow.

There are liturgists and Eastern Christians who will immediately protest that devotion to Christ in the Blessed Sacrament as presence took over in the Middle Ages from the true and classical role of Christ in the Eucharist as gift to the Father and to us in the Eucharistic action.   They point out that, in the Middle Ages, the main focus of the consecration was to make Jesus present, and the main means by which the laity benefited from that presence was through adoration.   Adoration became a substitute for communion.   However, after Vatican II, the main emphasis became communal sharing in Christ's body and blood, forming us into Christ's body.   Theologians after the Council have put the real presence into the context of communion sacrifice rather than something that stands by itself, independently of the Eucharistic action.

No wonder, then, that such services as Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament and the devotion of Forty Hours were dying out!   In some parts of the United States they ralk about old church and new church, and devotion to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament is very definitely old church and is to be discouraged on every possible occasion.   They say that, while the Mass is essentially a communal activity, devotion to the Blessed Sacrament is essentially individualistic.

Yet, devotion to Christ in the Blessed Sacrament is coming back!   It plays an important part in the devotional life of many of the new, post-Vatican II movements and in the most successful new monastic and religious communities.  And I am not talking about communities intent on putting the clock back, who want to re-create the pattern of life and liturgy as it was before the Council.   I am talking about environments where no one wants the Mass in Latin, all are content with the novus ordo, and the communal experience of their religion is at a high level.   It is even true among communities that wish to breathe with both lungs, who allow themselves to be influenced strongly by the Orthodox East, who use icons and say the Jesus Prayer, without forgetting that they from the Catholic West.

I know a parish in Lima that belongs to a movement that has St Seraphim of Sarov as one of its patron saints along with Padre Pio, and icons are painted.   It has perpetual adoration of the Blessed Sacrament all the year round, and this is organized entirely in the hands of the parishioners.   The community itself has adoration during the day in its own chapel.   Parishes are building Blessed Sacrament chapels so that people can come out of the noise of the city to pray in silence before the tabernacle

It is true that devotion to the Blessed Sacrament was a substitute for communion and that it was highly individualistic; but, nowadays, it is the norm to go to communion, and it is precisely where the new Mass is most successfully celebrated that devotion to the Blessed Sacrament is gaining ground.   The truth is that "communal" and "individualistic" are not opposites or mutually exclusive: in a balanced Catholic life, they complement each other.   Where people allow themselves to be carried along by what is communal without engaging their own individuality, the result is a crowd, not a community.   When individuals shut out the community in their devotions, then a whole dimension of Christianity is being shut out as well.   If Eucharistic adoration feeds peoples' individual devotion to Jesus in the sacrament, this should make their communal celebration of Mass all the more fervent; and this is what is happening.

The division between old church and new church is uncatholic, just as the division between East and West is uncatholic.   The Church depends on the Holy Spirit for its very existence and gains its fullness from the celebration of. Mass.   It is an identical Eucharist, an identical fullness, in East and West, and in every generation from the time of the apostles.   The limitations are entirely  our own: we forget, we neglect, we are spiritually lazy, we indulge in  prejudice, we are spiritually myopic and are sometimes downright stupid and sinful; and all this results in division.   Yet, all the time and everywhere, Jesus Christ is pro-active by his Spirit in word and sacrament, through our neighbour and in a thousand other ways, many unknown to us; he is the Good Shepherd looking for his sheep.   The history of his seeking in the Church we call Tradition.  No generation is more privileged than another.   The Holy Spirit  is not more active or less active after Vatican II than he was before.   All tap into the fullness of Catholicism that has its source in the Eucharist; and insights into the truths of faith do not become out of date when theologians declare them to be so.  

 A clear example of this is devotion to the Blessed Sacrament which now flourishes in a new environment.It can be said that, in Western Catholicism, where there is real holiness, there is devotion to the Blessed Sacrament.


   Edith Stein (St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross) put great emphasis on the Church as body of Christ and the communal dimension of Christian life; yet she drew great spiritual sustenance from her devotion to the tabernacle, and it was her last port of call before being shipped out to Auschwitz and death.   


Here is a quotation from the Servant of God, Dorothy Day, talking about the spiritual life of two other holy people: 


I first heard of Charles de Foucauld from Pierre Maurin in the early thirties when the work of the Catholic Worker was just beginning.   The biography by Rene Bazin appeared in 1920 and Peter had read it and had spoken often of men and women living in the world a consecrated life of manual labour, poverty and adoration.   Actually, he was speaking of secular institutes, though they were not known as such at the time.  He himself spent an hour a day in adoration, and I have told in my book The Long Loneliness how when I first met him and he proposed the Catholic Worker Movement, I went to meet him in a parish church and found him absorbed before the Holy Eucharist, so absorbed that I too sat in the church waiting for him for almost an hour.


Carlo Caretto, in his book Letters from the Desert writes of praying alone in the desert before the Blessed Sacrament:

A hamper of bread, a few dates, some water, the Bible.   A day's march, a cave.   A priest celebrates Mass and then goes away, leaving in the cave, on an altar of stones, the Eucharist.   Thus for a week one remains alone with the Eucharist exposed day and night.   Silence in the desert, silence in the cave, silence in the Eucharist.   One's whole natural strength rebels against it'

One would prefer to carry stones in the sun.   The senses, memory and imagination, all are repressed.   Faith alone triumphs, and faith is hard, dark, stark.

To place oneself before what seems to be bread and to say, "Christ is there, living and true," is pure faith.
But there is nothing more nourishing than pure faith, and prayer in faith is real prayer.
"There is no pleasure in adoring the Eucharist," one novice used to say to me.   But it is precisely this renunciation of all desire to satisfy the senses that makes prayer strong and real.   One meets God beyond the senses, beyond the imagination, beyond nature.

Finally, why don't our brethren the Orthodox pray before the Blessed Sacrament?   They share the same faith in Christ's real presence.   Surely, if he is there, why don't they pray to him? Well, for the last thousand  years they have had a different history.  Each history, theirs and ours, provoked different questions to faith; and thus we looked for and found different answers, different realisations, different "eureka moments", different theologies and different limitations.   Because no one can see beyond his own horizon, we often find it easier to see their faults than to see our own; and they see our faults more clearly than theirs.   Moreover, as we have different theologies in some areas, though with the same roots, we have different vocabularies.  Thus we often misunderstand each other.


This is true on devotion to the Blessed Sacrament.   We look for signs that we can recognise as devotion to the Blessed Sacrament, but do not find any.
In fact, their eucharistic adoration concentrates on the human heart that has received Christ in holy communion. The heart of the Christian is a tabernacle because Christ lives there.  We are inclined to neglect him.   We can even have a heart full of Jesus and a mind full of nonsense: spiritual schizophrenia!!   We must learn to live with him in our heart.  To get there they use the "Jesus Prayer".


The two forms of devotion, the Eucharistic presence in the tabernacle and the Eucharistic presence in the heart, are complementary, and we should go for both.

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