Thursday, March 23, 2006

The Eucharist - Is it Really Jesus?

There are many different issues seperating Catholics and Protestants today. Each is extremely important in its own way. Ought we to base our doctrines on the Bible alone? Is a man saved by faith alone, or isn't he? Was Mary conceived without sin? These are clearly very important issues, and issues that are not to be taken lightly. Most of them may have an impact on our eternal destination, but if one really loves God, getting them right is important even if they didn't. With all the complexities of these issues, a person hardly knows where to begin and where to turn to determine the truth.

However, there is one doctrine that really stands out above the rest, and that is the Eucharist. The importance of the Eucharist cannot be understated. If Catholics are wrong, they are guilty of daily committing what is by far the most stupid act of idolatry in the history of man by worshipping a small piece of bread. On the other hand, if Protestants are wrong, they mock and denigrate God, and pass up the chance to be with Him every day, while Catholics have the strongest testimony to the truth of their beliefs possible: God Himself. This question, then, could be a great aid to those trying to decide who just don't have the ability or the time to go through an endless supply of theological books, documents, and arguements.

So then, the pivotal, all important question is simply, is the Eucharist really Jesus Christ? Does the evidence support this view? And is this evidence independent of other areas of disagreement, such as the authority of the Church?

Undeniably and overwhelmingly. In fact, the Bible provides all the information one could ever need to show this.

The last supper accounts provide some of the information. Matthew's gospel records this in chapter 26, starting in verse 20 when the 12 apostles sit down to eat the passover meal. It is critical to remember that this was a passover meal. The passover sacrifice was always to be an ublemished lamb (Ex. 12:5), and its bones were not to be broken (Ex. 12:46, Num. 9:12) Jesus was a passover sacrifice, and in keeping with the statutes of the Passover, He was unblemished, being without sin, and His bones were not broken (John 19:36). It is for this reason that He is called "Lamb of God." This is so important because God required that the Passover lamb be eaten in its entirety after shedding its blood (Ex. 12:8-10, 34:25, Num. 9:12) If the lamb was not eaten, the Passover sacrifice had not been kept. The Lamb of God had His blood shed on the cross, and after it must be eaten for the sacrifice to be kept. This is done through the Eucharist. In fact, the Passover sacrifice was instituted to save the firstborn sons, and sons are exactly what we become when we enter into faith with Christ (Mat. 5:9, 5:45, Luk 6:35, 20:36, John 12:36, Rom. 8:14-15, 8:23, 9:26, 2 Cor 6:18, Gal. 3:26, 4:5-6, Heb. 12:7-8). We must consume the Lamb if we, as sons, are to be saved.

The language that Jesus used at the last supper is also a big help in answering this question. As He said "Take this, and eat it, this is my body," He instructed the Apostles to "do this in remembrance of me." To our modern english ears this sounds as though the Lord simply wished the apostles to recall Him. However, the greek word which is translated as "remembrance" is very insteresting. It is anamnēsis, a word which had two important uses during the time of Christ. To the greeks, the word referred to a process by which an abstract idea moved into the material world. For example, Plato used the word to refer to the forms becoming realities to the people of this world. To the greek speaking Jews, the word had sacrificial meaning. In the greek Old Testament that was used by Christ and the apostles, the word is used to mean "memorial sacrifice" in Leviticus 24:7, Numbers 10:10, Pslam 38, and Psalm 70. In the book of Hebrews, the word is also used in a sacrificial way "There is in these sacrifices a reminder [anamnēsis] of sin year after year." (10:3) Therefore, from one standpoint Christ's words indicate the moving of His heavenly body into the material world, and from another they indicate the sacrificial nature of what He was commanding the apostles to do. In fact, even the word which is translated as "do this," poiein, carries sacrificial meaning. In the greek Old Testament, it is used 70 times in this way, such as in Exodus 29:38: "Now this is what you shall offer (poieseis) upon the altar: two lambs a year old, day by day, continually." Translating Luke 22:19 most literally and according to these etymological facts would mean Jesus said, "This is my body given for you; offer this as a memorial sacrifice of me."

The Bible continues to point to this idea in 1 Corinthians 11, where Paul gives his great instruction on the Eucharist. He uses the very same words as does Luke: anamnēsis and poiein. This gives even further insight into the meaning of anamnēsis. Jesus spoke the words of the last supper in Aramaic, not greek. Paul's letter to the Corinthians is one of the earliest writings existing about the Eucharist, even earlier than Matthew. When he wrote to the Corinthians, he had to translate Christ's words into greek. Corinth was a greek city and Paul chose the word anamnēsis realizing that the Corinthians would have understood it according to the greek usage, the passing from a heavenly existence to a material existence. On the other hand, Paul was Jewish rabbi who was very familiar with the Greek Old Testament. He understood the term also in its sacrificial meaning. Paul's use of the word conveys both the sacrificial and the transcendental meaning. (In fact, the Hebrew equivalent of anamnēsis, zikaron, also carried the transcendental meaning.)

Paul's Letter the the Corinthians holds even more evidence that the Eucharist truly is the body of Christ. In chapter 10, he asks, "Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf." (16-17) The only way that the cup could be a participation in the blood of the Lord, and the bread a participation in his body, would be if the cup contained His blood and the bread was His body. Paul then writes, "Consider the people of Israel: Do not those who eat the sacrifices participate in the altar? Do I mean then that a sacrifice offered to an idol is anything, or that an idol is anything? No, but the sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons, not to God, and I do not want you to be participants with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too; you cannot have a part in both the Lord's table and the table of demons." (18-21) He speaks of eating sacrifices in the same passage as speaking of the Eucharist. He says that eating sacrifices is a participation in the altar, just as receiving the Eucharist is a participation in calvary, the altar of Christ's sacrifice. He then goes on to make the distinction between sacrifices to idols and those made to God, saying that one cannot both participate in the sacrifice of pagans and also participate in the sacrifice to God, which he has just identified as the Eucharist.

In chapter 11 Paul continues to discuss the Eucharist, strengthening the case even further. In verse 27, he says that "whoever 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." The only way that one might profane the body of the Lord would be if the Eucharist really were His body. Paul then goes on to explicitly say that the Eucharist is the body of the Lord, as he warns that, "anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body eats and drinks judgment on himself." (29) Lastly, in verse 30, he says that many were sick and dying from committing this sin. This is very reminiscent of the Jews who died from touching the Ark of the Covenant, where the Lord truly dwelt, because they were impure with sin.

Even given all of this, the most strong evidence that the Eucharist is truly Christ's body may be found in John chapter 6. This chapter overflows with Christ speaking of eating His body and drinking His blood. Those who reject that the Eucharist really is Christ make one criticism of this passage. They say that the context shows Christ is speaking symbolically. In the beginning of chapter 6, Jesus feeds the 5,000 with his maraculous bread. Then , in verse 34, the people ask Jesus to always give them this bread. Christ then replies that He is the bread of life, and in verse 35 says that those who come to Him will never go hungry. This context, some say, shows that Jesus' references to eating Him are merely symbolic.

However, the passage clearly shows that this is not the case. After Christ speaks of giving the people His flesh, the desciples ask "how can this man give us his flesh to eat?" (52) Here they are interpreting Jesus' words to mean He will give them His literal body to eat. Instead of correcting them, Jesus uses even more direct and strong language. First, he makes the well-known statement, "I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you." (53) He then continues in verse 57 to say, "Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who eats me will live because of me." The greek word used in this verse, trogon, is not the standard word for eating, but actually conveys the idea of chewing. Christ does not then simply say that we must eat his body, but that we must chew His body. Chewing is not symbolic. After this, the desciples question Jesus again, asking, "This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?" (60) Jesus does not ease their fears by clarifying that He is speaking symbolically, but rather says that the fallen nature of flesh cannot comprehend spiritual truths, and that the desciples must think spiritually, and listen to His words of truth: "Does this offend you? What if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life." (61-63)

Some claim that Christ's statement that "the words I have spoen to you are spirit" is a claim that the words are symbolic. However, in asking the question "does this offend you," Christ affirms His previous statements. Moreso, the fact is that the word "spirit" is not interpreted as meaning"symbolic" anywhere else in the Bible. More importantly, and perhaps most importantly of all, immediately after this we are told that many stopped following Jesus after this. If the Eucharist is not the body of Christ, then Jesus allowed many desciples to walk away from Him, and to walk away from eternal life, simply because of a misunderstanding. Twice the desciples voiced their concern over His statement that they must eat, even chew, His flesh, and twice He reaffirmed His words, even letting many leave Him instead of clarifying further. In fact, there are other Bible passages where Christ does correct such a misunderstanding, as He does in Matthew 16:5. He does not even call them back as they start to leave. Instead, He turns to the apostles and asks, "Do you want to leave too?"(67)

The biggest problem with the idea that Christ is speaking symbolically in John 6 is that the statement to eat someone's flesh was a Semitic expression which meant to persecute and betray them. Just as we have expressions today, like "its raining cats and dogs," or "I'm so hungry I could eat a horse," the Semitic peoples did, too. This was one of them. In fact, The Bible uses this expression several times. Psalm 27:2 says, "When evil men advance against me to devour my flesh, when my enemies and my foes attack me, they will stumble and fall. " In Micah 3:2-3, the prophet writes, "Listen, you leaders of Jacob, you rulers of the house of Israel. Should you not know justice, you who hate good and love evil; who tear the skin from my people and the flesh from their bones; who eat my people's flesh..." Isaiah uses the form of speach in chapters 9 and 49 as well. If Christ was speaking symbolically, He would have been telling the desciples that if they did not persecute and betray Him, they would have no life in them. The Jews who followed Christ would not have gotten the symbolic meaning oout of Jesus' statements that we do today.

There is in fact far more evidence that the Eucharist is indeed the body of Christ than I have presented here. The early Church fathers were unaninmous in their belief that the Eucharist was the body of Christ, many of them even using language that is similar to the language of transubstantiation. Those men who learned directly from Peter and Paul, men such as Ignatius of Antioch, deemed the opinions of those who did not confess the Eucharist to be the body and blood of Christ to be heretodox. On top of all of this are the many Eucharistic miracles that have occured over the centuries, such as the breathtaking miracle of Lanciano. In these miracles, hosts have visibly become flesh during consecrations What's more, the blood types of all of them have been the same, AB, the same as the blood that was found on the Shroud of Turin. However, even discounting all of this, the fact is that the Holy Bible itself shows clearly and inarguably that the Holy Eucharist is indeed the body of Jesus Christ, our Lord and our God.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Is Mortal Sin Too Harsh?

The reason that people have a problem with mortal sin is because they look at things from the standpoint of God punishing the sinner. That's not really the best way to look at it, and it’s not entirely theologically correct either.

To make it really simple, let me explain it this way. God is infinite. Men are not. Men are not compatible with God. For a man to live in the realm of God would be like for a man to live in the ocean - we just aren't born with what we need to do that. Now man has devised a piece of equipment to let him survive under water - scuba gear. God has also devised a sort of "equipment" to allow man to survive in Heaven - sanctifying grace. When a person is baptized, he is given the sanctifying grace, which is a bit like "God's scuba gear." Much like the Protestant understanding of things, God gives us this "scuba gear" totally free based on faith. Through Jesus Christ, our sins are forgiven, so He does not take away the gear every time we sin. That's a good thing, because as we go through life we commit sins all the time.

But the thing is, this divine scuba gear really is pretty bulky, and it takes up all the room there is on the soul. Just like a scuba diver can't fit a football uniform on over his gear, we can't fit anything else on over God's sanctifying grace - His eternal scuba gear. But sometimes in life, some, or most, people see something they want to put on their souls. Maybe it is the overcoat of fornication, or the three piece suit of murder, or even the casual dress of missing Mass on Sunday. When we want to put these things on our soul, we have to take that scuba gear off, first.

That may sound a bit silly, and it sort of is, the way I explained it. But it makes the point. Mortal sins don't send us to Hell so much because God is punishing us. They send us because in committing them we reject the sanctifying grace that lets us exist in Heaven. We can't do them without rejecting that grace. People don't understand mortal sin because they see it as God rejecting us for one act, whereas in reality, it is us rejecting God. As everyone knows, it only takes rejecting God once to reject Him.

This is where Catholic theology is far closer to mainline Protestantism without Protestants really realizing it. They say that God gives us justification completely free, regardless of if we sin or not, by the merits of Jesus Christ. The thing is, Catholics say that too, we just recognize that we can still reject God. You can reject Him by literally saying it, or by doing something that conveys the same meaning. Does a husband have to actually tell his wife he is mad at her, or would, say, punching her do the same thing? Obviously our actions can convey messages. The mortal sin isn't just in the sin - it’s that the sinner is rejecting God and His offer of salvation. It's the act of saying, "I want this more than I want God."

That's another good way to look at it. Part of the problem is the term salvation. It's a correct term, but it tends to make us look at things the wrong way by our own faults, not the fault of the word. Even St. Paul used the word, after all. But remember that Jesus didn't really talk about salvation. He talked about inheriting eternal life, or inheriting the kingdom of God, or attaining eternal life. St. Paul did, too. This is a much better way to talk about things. Salvation carries the notion of a person being rescued from something, in this case sin and hell. This is truly what Christ does, but its more than that. God created us as free creatures. He deeply wants us to come and live with Him, but He won't force us. He offers us heaven, and we then have to make the choice. That's what life is all about - making that choice. As we start our Christian life, we are on the 'yes' side.

This may be a little off color, but it’s the best thing I can come up with now. When two people are starting to engage in the marital act, the woman may at any time decide she doesn't want to do it and she may ask to stop, even though she already made the major choice to start in the first place. Now some men won't listen to this, and it becomes rape. God doesn't do this. If we decide we don't want to be with Him, even after we've made the choice to at first, He stops. He doesn't force us. He respects us. If we decide, after accepting His invitation, that we'd rather go live somewhere else, He will accept that. That is mortal sin. It is turning down God's invitation after we have accepted it. The thing is, as we walk away from His house, God is always begging us to come back. "Please," He says, "come in - I will really make you feel at home!" But He never forces us. If we reaccept His invitation, this is confession. It is all about our choices, not God simply punishing us.