I have cried watching movies before.
I mean, if we’re being honest. The most recent time I cried watching a movie was at Easter, this year, when I watched, again, “The Passion of The Christ.” I was, and still am, in the latter stages of officially joining the Catholic Church and still kind of processing some things in my mind and heart. There comes the scene in the movie where Jesus’ cross is being lifted up and the scene flashes back and forth between the crucifixion and the Last Supper. As Jesus’ cross is lifted up, we see the scene where He lifts up the bread He will break and we see the lights come on for the Apostle John. It’s a powerful scene and I broke down. I tell that story to illustrate what I'm talking about today...
As my journey into the rich tradition of the Church deepened, I ran into another kind of hurdle.
First off, I didn’t even know that that meant. I had to look up the word Eucharist. Basically, it means “thanksgiving.” It’s a little more complex than that but that’s the basic meaning. Most Protestants call it “The Lord’s Supper,” or “Communion.”
I want to say very clearly here before I go much further: In discussing the Holy Eucharist, we must approach with great caution. Here’s what I mean by that. We are delving into things that are very great mysteries that we will never, on this side of the Parousia, fully understand. Having said that, this is really important and there are a lot of things about the Holy Eucharist that we can understand. Furthermore, what we cannot always understand by reason, we can accept by faith. My treatment on this post of the Holy Eucharist will by no means be exhaustive. Tomes have been written on this by many people way smarter than me. My intent is not to give a full theological treatment to this topic; rather, to discuss very briefly how I came to this position.
I want to begin this one, not by talking about Church history even though the Church has had much to say about this matter, but by considering the words of our Lord first. If you have a Bible, I suggest reading John 6 to start.
Once you read that, I think we’re pretty much done here.
Ha! I’m kidding. In all seriousness, that text is pretty clear. Jesus was abundantly clear. There’s not a lot of wiggle room there. He said (paraphrasing slightly), “You have to eat my flesh and drink my blood.” And, by the way, there was no mistaking what He said. It’s pretty clear from the text that the Jews knew exactly what He meant by what He said. In fact, it was so clear to them that they were like, “Is this dude nuts? We can’t eat his flesh and drink his blood.” Notice that Jesus didn’t back down. He didn’t say, “You’re misunderstanding me guys. I was speaking metaphorically. I didn’t mean what you think that means. It’s symbolic only.” He didn’t say that. In fact, He doubled down. And that’s when everybody started leaving. Do we really think people would leave if Jesus was speaking metaphorically?
Now let’s consider the Last Supper, at which Jesus instituted the Holy Eucharist. You can read Matthew 26, Mark 14, Luke 22 and even 1 Corinthians 11. I want us to first look at what Jesus said. This is super important.
Can I just be really brutally honest? One of the things that I became really frustrated with within my former Protestant tradition was a lack of taking seriously the plain meaning of the text of Holy Scripture. I mean, my Baptist people had no problem taking some texts literally but then the ones that made them uncomfortable were explained away by, “Well that’s not what that means.” Enough of that, back to the text…
Read those texts. What did Jesus say? He said, “This is My body….This is My blood.” He did not say, “This represents My body and blood” or “This is a memorial of My body and blood” or any other linguistic gymnastics Protestants want to do with this. Jesus, our Lord and Savior, said very plainly, “This is My body…This is My blood.”
I should just drop the mic and walk away now. I mean, really. Doesn’t this pretty much settle any debate, erase all doubts? It should.
What’s the point you may ask? Why is it necessary that Jesus do this and ask us to do this?
“He did this in order to perpetuate the sacrifice of the Cross throughout the ages and to entrust to the Church his Spouse a memorial of his death and resurrection.” (USCCB)
But isn’t it just bread and wine? I mean, it’s not really Jesus’ body and blood, is it? Why would something so “crass” be true? Why can’t it just be symbolic?
Because that’s not what Jesus has given us.
Because God inhabits and uses physical matter to give to us His grace. Water for baptism, bread and wine for sustenance. God uses His creation. I mean, He came in the flesh after all.
As I ran headlong into this, I was astounded to learn that the unanimous position of the early Church was of the real presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist.
There is so much more I could say, so very much more. But this is a blog post, not a doctoral dissertation. I am happy to recommend resources for you if you want to learn and study more.
For me, this has become an unspeakable comfort to me. Now I don’t have to conjure up some emotional feeling. Now I don’t have to wonder, “Is Jesus really here with us as we worship?” Now I don’t have to close my eyes and try really hard to imagine a spiritual concept. No, I have, we have, the Church has, before her very eyes week after week, day after day, a flesh and blood physical reminder…nay, the very body, soul and divinity of our Lord Jesus and not merely a reminder.
We have been given a very great gift by our Lord, Church! We have this most blessed assurance of the presence of our Lord in His very body, blood, soul and divinity in the Blessed Sacrament! Oh Church, what a gift of His grace!
Behold the Lamb of God who taketh away the sins of the world! Blessed are those who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb!
What’s with all this stuff about Mary?
I remember thinking that a lot as my journey into the historic Church deepened. This was several years into the journey and I was beginning to hit some walls. Ecclesiastical structure (the episcopate) had fallen pretty quickly. I mean, any serious reading of the 1 Timothy text in the Greek and the subsequent structure of the early Church just destroys any objection to the episcopal structure of the Church.
But I hit this snag with the Marian dogmas. I look back on it now and can’t really pinpoint why I was so uncomfortable with this, why I fought it so much. I honestly believe it had to do with several things. I had, as I’ve mentioned, been raised in a Protestant home. But it wasn’t just that I was raised Protestant. I was raised in a Protestant home that taught that the Catholic Church was literally evil and idolatrous. I mean, I remember at one point being told that the Pope was probably the Anti-Christ. It’s kind of sad to me now that I look back on it.
So I think that had a lot to do with it. But it was also, in my mind, illogical. I know that makes me sound really arrogant and, to be honest, I really was. I guess I thought that if it didn’t make sense to me, then it must not be right. Can I be brutally honest with you right now?
I suspect you have the same problem. I suspect we all have the same problem. We won’t say it out loud but, in practice, we act as though, if it doesn’t “make sense” to us, then it must not be true…or at very least is suspect. We moderns are pretty narcissistic and really lack humility. But that’s another post for another time.
So I think for me it was all the background noise of the Catholic Church being evil and my own hubris.
But, back to the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Let’s define the Marian dogmas really briefly. I want to emphasize that this is very brief. I can’t really do justice to these in a limited space like a single blog post. So, very quickly, the Marian dogmas are:
A second thing to note on this objection is the Hebraic understanding of “brothers and sisters.” The Hebrew understanding of family was quite different than our own western understanding. We hear family and most of us think “nuclear family.” In other words, we only think of family and use the terminology of brother and sister for our immediate family. The Hebrew understanding was a bit different and included other relatives. In fact, from what I understand, the same word for “brother” in Hebrew was also used to mean cousin etc. So you can see how that language is imprecise.
A final answer to this objection is another Hebrew understanding. It was the duty of Jewish children to care for their aging parents. In the case of the Blessed Virgin, it would have been the responsibility of the eldest son to care for his mother after the death of the father. So, in this case, Joseph had presumably died (almost all scholars agree on this) and now Jesus, at His crucifixion, was also dying. He had to pass on care of His mother to someone in the family, a brother or sister. But there was no one there to pass that care on to and so Jesus passed that on to the Apostle John. You may say, “Yes but the Bible says that Jesus’ brothers and sisters didn’t believe in Him being the Messiah.” While that is true, it would not have removed their covenantal duties under Jewish law to care for their mother, had she been their mother.
I would also note that there is biblical precedence for this type of occurrence. In the Old Testament we have both Enoch and the prophet Elijah who are assumed into heaven. On a logical note, I ask you this. If we know the locations of the tombs of certain saints and even of the Saviour and we venerate those sites, don’t you think that we would know where the Blessed Virgin was buried? Don’t you think we would have some type of church building or statue built there?
It took me a long time to wrap my head around this. In fact, I’ll be honest. It was literally only yesterday that God opened my heart to see some things in Holy Scripture that sealed this for me. I had accepted this as a historic teaching of the Church and was willing to submit to it. But yesterday something happened that I can only describe to you and let you decide.
I was driving home from work last night, listening to a podcast on my drive. It was a conversation between Dr. Scott Hahn and another guy (Lawrence Feingold I think) about what they called the “integration” of the Old Testament and New Testament. In other words, you cannot understand the New Testament apart from the Old, nor the Old Testament without the New. In other words, what St. Augustine said. If you don’t know what that is, read my last post. As I was listening to this conversation, it was like a light switch flipped in my heart and I said out loud, “And Adam named the woman Eve because she was the mother of all the living, just as Mary is the mother of all those who have new life in Christ.”
So when we read the OT, we must understand that many things that we see there are prefigurements, foreshadowing, whispers of what is to come in the NT when the Messiah is revealed. In light of reading Holy Scripture this way, we see some things (and the Church has seen some things) about the Blessed Virgin.
The new Garden where the faithful find perfect peace with their Creator.
The new Eve, the mother of all those who live by faith as the Church.
The new Ark of salvation who carries those who have faith in God through the floods of this world to the new world of God’s new creation.
The new Tabernacle where God dwells.
The new Sarah who carries in her womb the true and better Israel.
The new Rachel who weeps for her children in their pain.
The new Ark of the Covenant who bears the Word of God.
The new Hannah who rejoices in her miraculous conception.
The image of the Church who says to God, “Be it done unto me…”
The mother of all the faithful at the foot of the Cross when our Lord says, “Behold your Mother.”
The Queen Mother of heaven crowned with the stars of heaven who gives birth to the Messiah.
The one who gives birth to the seed of Eve who will and has crushed the serpent’s head!
(Credit to Ben Harris for this litany)
Can you see it? Can you see the scope and beauty of what God has done in becoming flesh and choosing His vessel? Can you see her as God has given?
Behold thy Mother, Church!
Behold the one who, in her flesh, has born the incarnate Word of God, who now calls you brother and sister!
Behold thy Mother, through the Son, who is given from the Father in the unity of the Spirit before all time!
Behold and worship Christ the Lord!