Saturday, October 31, 2009

Theology isn't exactly brain surgery. Or rocket science.

The Darwins have been posting clips from That Mitchell & Webb Look. This one is pretty funny.

Just what is Transubstantiation?

I see a claim on Catholic blogs every now and then concerning the physical presence of the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist. No doubt there is a physical presence in the Eucharist, but it is of the accidents of bread and wine. Christ's presence is substantial and sacramental (as noted in canon 1513 of the Council of Trent) leaving no substance of bread and wine. However, the accidents are not the accidents of Christ's physical body (which would naturally be repugnant). The confusion goes back to the time of the scholastics, roughly the 9th century. It was resurrected after the Protestant Reformers also began to question the settled doctrine and Sacred Tradition.

A monk by the name of Radbert Paschasius made the claim that the Eucharist was, according to the Catholic Encyclopedia, "converted into the real body of Christ, into the very body which was born of Mary and crucified." A monk of the same Abbey by the name of Ratramnus argued that there was no conversion of the bread but that the body of Christ was present in a spiritual way. The latter was forced to concede his view although whether he actually taught the mere symbolic presence of Christ in the Eucharist is up for debate.

Later on, Berengarius of Tours clearly held an understanding that could not be reconciled with the doctrine, which later came to be known as Transubstantiation. He also believed in a spiritual (as well as intellectual) presence of Christ. So the question was not whether Christ presence was merely symbolic—that is, whether the Eucharist is an empty symbol or a symbol plus something more. The question was whether His presence was in spirit or in some greater degree. Protestants are divided on the view of symbolic or spiritual presence. Catholics and Orthodox hold that this presence is essential.

The term "Transubstantiation" was first used by Hildebert of Tours and found its way into official usage at the Fourth Lateran Council. St. Thomas Aquinas developed a fuller theology on Transubstantiation. However, this is not to say that the underlying concepts did not exist prior to the time of the scholastics. In fact, the metaphysical basis of this theology comes from the Aristotelian notions of essence (substance) and accidents. However, even many of the early Church Fathers demonstrate a fairly developed theology on this matter, particularly in the Greek Fathers of the East and with St. Ambrose in the West.

What, then, is Transubstantiation? It is when, during the consecration of the Eucharist, the substance of the bread and wine change into the substance of the Body and Blood of Christ while the accidents of bread and wine remain. The confusing word in this mix is "substance," which in common parlance refers to a thing's material. However, in Aristotelian metaphysics, the substance is that which "stands underneath" (substantia)—what most of us would now refer to as the essence of a thing—that which makes a thing what it is.

We are used to accidents changing. Bread that has been left out and is moldy is still bread (until the chemical composition completely breaks down). The accidents of a human being are two legs, two arms, genitalia, a torso, a head, and so on. The essence of a human being remains even if the accidents are altered. A person who loses a limb or is left without sexual organs because of an injury is still a human being. What's more, we expect the accidents of human being to change over time. We can even change both substance and accidents of a thing through chemical and phsyical processes. Burn a piece of bread, and eventually neither its accidents or substance remain.

Transubstantiation is the opposite of the process described above. It is when the change occurs to the substance or essence of a thing rather than to its accidents. What starts as bread and wine, through consecration by the words of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit, become something else. They become Christ's Body and Blood in essence—not spiritually but essentially.

To nonbelievers, this seems like nonsense on stilts. Granted, much of what Catholic and Orthodox Christians believe when taken in detail seems nonsensical. Of course, so does much of modern science, unless one understands the thinking that leads up to the conclusion. This fact is why atheists don't fair well in debates against Christians who have considered their faith through the eyes of reason. (And the same can be said for Christians who do not question and test what they believe against reasonable and consistent standards.) However, I can understand this skepticism, particularly to people who only accept a materialist view of the universe.

What has always puzzled me is how Christians consider it impossible for the God who created the universe from nothing and who revealed Himself through the Incarnation to transform the essence of bread and wine into His Body and Blood. It seems like a rather minor miracle* for someone who fed multitudes with 5 to 7 loaves, raised people from the dead, Himself rose from the dead, and altered the very course of history in the short span of 33 years through a ministry preaching love, mercy, and repentance. God, who created all things and holds all things in existence, and who transformed death and suffering into salvation, certainly has the power to change the substance of His own creation.

*Not to mention the fact that it flies in the face of the obvious words of scripture: "Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life within you." Usually Jesus explained when He was being unclear, but for some reason, He didn't "explain" His words in John 6:53 and was willing to let His disciples walk away. With the persistent witness of the early Church Fathers on the matter, it's a shame that many Christians dismiss 1450 years of Sacred Tradition.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Good evening, Plano!

Okay, actually Addison, Texas, I guess, but Plano is pretty much where I'm spending my days training this week. I had a fairly uneventful flight in yesterday, albeit delayed by an hour, which put me smack in the middle of Dallas rush hour during a fairly decent rain shower. Not wild about doing 70 MPH in the rain when I don't know where I'm going. Next time, I rent the GPS.

I had hoped to get some more of my theology homework done this evening (DVD lectures by Marcellino D'Ambrosio). However, after my typical first-night hotel experience (about four hours of sleep total), and a busy day getting lost in perhaps the most secure corporate environment I've ever encountered, I just don't have a whole lot of energy left. Think I'll pack it in early.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Why doesn't the Church allow intercommunion?

A few weeks ago I served as lector at Mass. Typically, when we attend Mass, we sit either in the north transept of the cathedral or, if we are serving as lectors, in the south transept. This allows us a view of the front row of either opposite side of the nave. On this particular day, a young man was sitting in the front pew on the opposite side. He clearly wasn't familiar with the liturgy and seemed to be pretty ambivalent about being there. When communion came along, he seemed unsure of what to do, so eventually (well after the rest of his pew had gotten up and into the communion line), he slowly ambled to the center aisle, got in line, and went up to receive the Eucharist.

Now, I've seen people pocket hosts before and immediately leave the Church, and I've seen other people who seem to treat as a light snack that they leisurely nibble. I'm more concerned with the former, but the latter also betrays poor formation. I left my pew to speak with the young man in question. As it turned out, he had consumed the host and didn't realize that he wasn't really supposed to join in. I caught up with him later to explain a bit and to invite him back (as well as to apologize for putting him on the spot, although I don't know that anyone else even noticed).

I've since decided that I'm going to embark on a book project in my <fe>voluminous spare time</fe>—specifically, a guide for non-Catholic visitors to the Catholic liturgy. The book would explain some basics about Catholic worship, note some of the distinct doctrines pertaining to statuary, saints, and, of course, explain why non-Catholics or non-Orthodox should not receive the Eucharist. To phrase this question correctly, why do Catholics reserve the Eucharist for Catholics and Orthodox only?

Note that phrasing because it is important. I did not write, "Why do Catholics exclude non-Catholics from communion?" The reason for my choice of phrasing stems from the intent of the Church. It is not meant to exclude but to make clear that communion means something. It is not merely sharing a common ritual or empty symbol but a sharing of an essence that binds us together in faith. That bond is part of what we call "communion," but there are external manifestations in other aspects of Catholic doctrine and liturgy. In addition, there are serious theological differences that make full communion elusive. Eucharist, being the foremost sign of communion in the Church, naturally stands as representative of commonality of doctrine, liturgy, and faith. Where there is no commonality, there is really no communion, despite how we might act ritually.

Protestants are fond of attributing to St. Augustine the following statement when discussing the matter of doctrine: "In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity." Sadly, there seems to be considerable disagreement about whether he actually made this statement. However, even had he made the statement, one is still left with a question: who decides what is and what is not essential?

Continuity of Apostolic succession (episcopacy) is also a critical matter, as the validity of some sacraments in a Church depend on this continuity, which is why only those churches considered to have valid sacraments may intercommunicate, given the appropriate circumstances.

For Catholics, a proper understanding of authority and of the Eucharist are essential. For the early Church, Apostolic authority and the uniqueness of the Eucharistic mystery were essentials. These cannot be dismissed as minor details for us because we have always considered them essential.* Always. To ask Catholics to dispense with these elements (and others) would be like asking Jews to recast their understanding of themselves as a people without any reference to the Exodus or Passover. They are foundational aspects of the faith. They may not be the only foundational aspects, but they are foundational and essential nonetheless.

So very high on the list of reason for restricting intercommunication is the serious matter that we are not in communion so long as we have such divergent opinions on basic matters of faith. It doesn't mean Catholics hate people of other faiths or wish to see them outside of God's grace. It is a recognition, and also a respect for, the fact that we have serious doctrinal differences that we cannot just brush aside. We take non-Catholics seriously when they say that they don't believe what we believe, particularly concerning the Eucharist.

However, that's not the only reason. There is also a matter of Christian charity. The Church has always maintained that we must prepare ourselves to be worthy** to receive the Eucharist by examining our consciences to ensure that we are not guilty of any grave sin that has not been confessed. As St. Paul states in 1 Corinthians 11:27-29:

Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself.

Paul notes physical illnesses and even death among those who have eaten unworthily. At very least, we are concerned about spiritual health. Receiving Eucharist in a state of mortal sin is itself gravely sinful. We as Catholics do no good to someone by encouraging them to an act that may, given the circumstances, be sinful. If we do, then we are also morally liable for whatever spiritual damage ensues.

*I write this in full recognition that some Catholics don't understand this teaching or, if they do understand it, don't accept it in the way that the Church means it. There are also people who understand it in a flawed fashion.

**Of course, we can only be worthy once we have accepted Christ's forgiveness for our sins. So worthiness is contingent on Christ's grace, not on our actions.

***<fe> = irony

Sunday, October 18, 2009


I've had a slight uptick of vistors since Julie D. and Mark Shea posted my prayer requests. Welcome! I will try to post something amusing in the upcoming days. Tomorrow night is our local Theology on Tap, and I will be providing music, along with my band, Dark Night Lifting. Unfortunately, our drummer has a conflict and has to be in Ontario, Ore. with the BSU Blue Thunder Marching Band, so we will have a guest drummer.

I might share a little about a couple of book projects I might be taking on (as if I really need something more to do).

Grace and peace to you all!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Rite of Candidacy Today

Greetings, everyone. As of today, I'm officially a candidate for the diaconate, and my wife has been accepted for lay ministry formation. The Rite of Candidacy and Rite of Acceptance for Lay Ministry Formation took place today at Holy Apostles Catholic Church in Meridian, Idaho, Bishop Michael Driscill presiding.

We've been in training for the last 15 months and have another three years to go, but this is the first official rite along the way. I have to say that doing both diaconal formation and grad work in theology simultaneously is a bit challenging, but I'm happy to bee steeping heavily in the theology, history, and liturgy of the Church.

Please pray for all of us who were accepted today that we will serve God and the Church faithfully along with our priests and bishop.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Prayer Request for Convert

After my last presentation at our parish RCIA group, I spoke to a young lady who was struggling to learn more about the faith. She was raised a Methodist in a very anti-Catholic environment. She was never really very interested in that faith, and she drifted into atheism befor heading off to college.

Now, amazing things are happening to her and bringing her to the Church, but she is struggling. She doesn't know enough to defend her fledgling faith from her so-called friends who are ridiculing her desire to join the Church, and she'll be facing additional stress when she informs her mom of her desires.

Please storm Heaven with prayers for this young lady. She needs all the help she can get.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Don't they know I have homework to do?

The BSU footbal team, that's who. When they start off by rlling the opposing team in the first quarter, I don't sweat it much and just pop in now and then to check out the score. They;re playing this one against Tulsa a little too close. However, they're up by 4 at the hlaf, so I shouldn't complain.

And there are more important things... like my homework.

And the Prices are welcoming their new addition into the world today. I think that trumps the other stuff handily.

Friday, October 09, 2009

That award...

You've heard about the latest award that Obama's been given haven't you?

HT. to Ace of Spades HQ

UPDATE: My clock radio is set for KBSU at 6:00 AM. Very literally, the first thing I heard this morning was that President Obama had one the Nobel Peace Prize. My wife and I responded in the exact same words: "Bleh."

First, that's an awful way to wake up. At very least, they should've delayed the announcement until everyone had had an opportunity to down a cup of coffee or tea. Heck, they didn't evehn wake up the President to tell him. Why did they have to launch us out of our morning reveries pre-revery?

Second, as anyone who is conscious has noted, he hasn't really accomplished anything yet. When Europeans are thinking this award might be a poison chalice, perhaps there's an indication* that the praise has been overwrought. For Pete's sake, if you want to congratulate us for breaking out of the bonds of racism, please remove your own shackles first. Maybe then you can actually put your hands together.

I find Obama the man unobjectionable as an individual, even though I vehemently disagree with his beliefs. I find the icon of Obama that has been raised up and paraded about to be disturbing.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Outrageous Accordion Piece

I take back my post on Gary Larson's cartoon. This young man is a virtuouso.

Most accordions I've seen have a two and a half octave to three octave range. I've never seen one with the range this one has. Amazing work.

HT to Patrick Madrid.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Vistors from the Phillipines

I get occasional hits from the Phillipines nad in fact had a few tonight from someone who is diligently doing his or her theology homework despite the horrendous weather. Know that we're praying for your safety and for God to grant you all comfort during this difficult time.

If you would like to donate to support relief efforts in the Asia Pacific region, you can do so at Catholic Relief Services.