The original Ethics Alarms post, one of two this month implicitly critical of the Catholic Church, has spawned several remarkable and thoughtful discussions, as well as so many candidates for Comment of The Day that any choice among them is somewhat arbitrary. In the case of Ryan Harkins, I’m not even certain this is the best of his comments on the post, so many excellent ones did I have to choose from. Thus I urge readers to read the entire array, which, I regret to say, is impressive and educational even though it does not include my old friend Patrice, Catholic, theologian, and Church employee who has commented here frequently in the past.
I decided to pair two of Ryan’s comments, the first an overview providing context for my original post’s topic, the Church’s insistence that that the bread and wafers used in Communion include gluten. The second, a response to a series of queries from another commenter, delves into an eternal ethics debate topic, the nexus between God and ethics.
Here is Ryan Harkins’ Dual Comment of the Day on the post, Ethics Headline Of The Month: “Vatican: The Body of Christ Is Not Gluten Free”
Where to begin? The challenge of trying to explain some of the odder details of the Catholic faith is that many of those details don’t make sense without the context of the faith as a whole. So please forgive me if I seem to natter on about tangential matters.
So, let’s begin with a few definitions to make discussion a little easier. A Sacrament is a visible sign, established by Jesus himself, through which God conveys grace upon mankind. A Sacrament is composed of two parts, one spiritual and one material. The reason it possess both qualities is because Sacraments are designed for us, and a human person is a body/spirit composite. We are not purely material beings, nor are we ghosts in a shell. We are not a complete person without our bodies. Now, to have a sign that is purely spiritual would neglect the physical aspect of our existence. To have a sign that is purely physical would neglect the spiritual dimension of our existence.
The Eucharist is one of the Seven Sacraments of the Catholic Church. Catholics really, truly believe Jesus was serious when he said repeatedly, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you will not have eternal life.” When at the Last Supper, he blesses bread and wine and says, “Take this and eat. This is my body, given for you” and “This is the cup of my blood, which will be shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins”, Catholics believe that yes, Jesus truly held himself in his hands and gave himself to his apostles to consume. So the Eucharist is the Real Presence of Jesus, the fullness of his body, blood, soul, and divinity. When a priest says Mass and confects the Eucharist, Catholics believe that the bread and wine on the altar are transsubstantiated into Jesus. The accidents of bread and wine remain (so yes, consuming Jesus is problematic for anyone who has issues with the accidents of bread and wine), but the substance is entirely Jesus. The smallest drop from the chalice and the tiniest crumb of the loaf contains the fullness of Jesus.
Okay, so a Sacrament has a spiritual and a physical dimension, and the Eucharist obviously uses bread and wine for the physical dimension. Why bread and wine? In just reference to food and drink, we understand the Eucharist as a meal, and historically the greatest communal activity is the sharing together of a meal. In earliest Christianity, the Eucharistic celebration was in the context of the agape feasts, which eventually St. Paul instructed to tone down because people would become drunk and riotous at these feasts. The point, though, is that eating together is sign of communion (which is in part why the Eucharist is also called Communion). Jesus had prayed that “they may all be one, Father, as I am in you and you are in me,” and the Eucharist is the Sacrament Jesus instituted to make that possible. By consuming Jesus himself, we bring him into ourselves and are in turn incorporated into him. (You are what you eat, right?) Continue reading