Eucharist: Divine Presence or Divine Feeding?

May 22, 2020 | 6 comments

Christ present in the Monstrance, and within ourselves – as Tabernacles of the Lord

Aidan Hart calls for more attention to church teaching on the Eucharist as both food for the journey and the assurance of God’s presence within us as Tabernacles of the Lord.

One of the issues that has struck me powerfully during the current lockdown of Catholic churches is the talk by many members of the laity, and priests speaking on their behalf, about missing going to daily Mass and Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament or visiting their local church to pray. I recently heard of one priest in south Down exposing the Blessed Sacrament in a monstrance placed in his front downstairs window so that parishioners could drive or walk in and pray in front of the Blessed Sacrament!

The question has to be asked – What is the purpose of Sunday Mass? Or to put it another way – What is the primary purpose of Eucharist?

Is it ‘to put one into the presence of God’ and then to perpetuate that divine Presence in Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, or is it ‘to be spiritually fed, strengthened and healed by God’. The current theological custom of Eucharistic Adoration, although well-intentioned, is nevertheless bad theology. It is wrongly overemphasising the first principle of divine Presence in Eucharist while Sacred Scripture emphasises the more important second principle – Eucharist as divine feeding.

This is not to deny the substantial, sacramental and real presence of Jesus the Christ in Eucharist but rather to explore its primary purpose. At the Last Supper, which was a ritual meal during which Eucharist was instituted, Jesus asked His disciples to “take and eat; this is my body;…..drink…this is my blood” (Matthew 26). He did not say ‘take this and adore’, although the adoration of God was central to the Jewish faith. Therefore, Jesus offered Himself to His apostles and future followers as divine food.

What is the purpose of food? It is to give us health, strength and growth. In Eucharist Jesus offers us Himself as divine food to keep us spiritually healthy, to strengthen us in our faith and love of God and to help us grow in our ongoing awareness of His divine, perpetual Presence within us from the moment of our conception and in all creation.

Eucharist feeds us to remain faithful to that interior, divine Presence by the way we live our lives, interact with others and help spread the Kingdom of God’s unconditional love on that small part of the earth which we inhabit. Eucharist heals us of our sins and moral weaknesses; after we have confessed our sinfulness at the beginning of Mass and called upon God’s mercy, the priest, in the power of God,  absolves us of our sins in the prayer “ May almighty God have mercy on us, forgive us our sins, and bring us to everlasting life.” So, why Confession outside of Mass for those who attend Mass? In one Catholic church, the parish priest announces at the end of every Sunday Mass that he will be hearing Confessions immediately after Mass! Why, since he has just called on God’s forgiveness of our sins at the beginning of the Mass. What a contradictory message to the congregation every Sunday about God’s mercy and forgiveness offered to us during every celebration of Eucharist!

Both Old and New Testaments have many references to God assuring us that He is always present within us and around us; to give just one from the Hebrew Testament; Joshua 1:9; “the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”  And one from the Christian Testament; Mat.28:20 “I am with you always, to the end of the age.” That divine presence within us makes each and every one of us the tabernacle of God on earth. (cf. Revelation 21:3)

The Second Vatican Council in 1962, in Sacrosanctum Concilium 7 and 8 stressed five divine Presences; Jesus present in all seven sacraments, in Eucharist, in the celebrating priest, in all members of the congregation and in the bible readings.

“To accomplish so great a work, Christ is always present in His Church, especially in her liturgical celebrations. He is present in the sacrifice of the Mass, not only in the person of His minister, “the same now offering, through the ministry of priests, who formerly offered himself on the cross”, but especially under the Eucharistic species. By His power, He is present in the sacraments so that when a man baptises it is really Christ Himself who baptizes. He is present in His word since it is He Himself who speaks when the holy scriptures are read in the Church. He is present, lastly, when the Church prays and sings, for He promised:  “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matt. 18:20).”                                 (Sacrosanctum Concilium)

To pray in the presence of God we only have to pray while being aware that God is intimately present within us and all around us at all times. We only have to open our bible and meditatively read a passage, in the awareness that through this biblical word God is truly speaking to us and thus present to us.  Our homes are the tabernacles of God, the place where God’s ‘loving-kindness’ and forgiveness should be experienced always, strengthened and lived by all members of the family on a daily basis. It should also be the place where the family regularly prays together, reading and reflecting on a passage from Sacred Scripture and praying together before meals, thanking God for His gift of food and His blessing on all who helped bring it to our table. If a family gathering is not possible then we should pray on our own and during that prayer reflect deeply that God is present within us and all around us wherever we are.  How often have we heard that preached about?

Throughout the day it builds us up spiritually if, for a few seconds as we drive along, are out walking or are in our own home or office, we acknowledge that presence by mentally and prayerfully saying, for example:

”My triune God present within me and all around me, I praise You, I worship You and I adore You. I love You with all my heart and soul, and with all my mind and strength.”

6 Comments

  1. Martin Murray

    It is interesting how the Coronavirus pandemic has forced us to reflect on much of our church practices and theology which in the normal routine of things continue unquestioned. In this article the focus is on our theology of Eucharist, a central plank of Catholic belief and practice.

    I’m not a theologian and don’t claim any expertise in theology, but as a practicing Catholic I do however know what gets (or got) me out of bed on a Sunday morning to go to church and be part of a parish community. Central to that is my understanding of the Eucharist as the great ‘celebration of Incarnation’. By that I mean, the celebration of God present in all things and all things present in God. In this understanding nothing exists outside of God. There is no other place to be. Even our individually and sin (falling short) exists within God. Surely this is really something to celebrate.

    This way of understanding the Eucharist calls us to honour and respect the presence of God in all things, which of course includes all people but also in nature and animals. It does have implications for the inherited belief that the priest causes Christ to be present at the consecration of the Mass. For me that presence is already there in the bread and the wine. The priest’s role is to make us aware of it. As we acknowledge the divine in the Eucharistic elements we then extend that out to include the whole of creation, God incarnate.

    Does this make me less Catholic? I don’t think so. In fact I would say it makes me more Catholic in every sense of the word. I still believe in a very real presence in the eucharistic elements, but extend that to include everything. It certainly doesn’t make me any more mainstream Protestant in the sense of believing in a mere symbolic presence.

    It also for me wonderfully clears away all the unnecessary dualities that are seen in the very long list of who we place on the outside of our celebration. It also implies a response in how we live our lives in relation to our fellow human beings and in our treatment of the planet. In other words we don’t leave God on the altar or in the tabernacle at the end of an inconsequent and ineffectual ritual.

    Yes, we bring God out into the world with us at the end of Mass, but more importantly I feel we go out to find where God already is. Evangelisation becomes not bringing God to others, but rather helping others see the empowering and liberating goodness or ‘Godness’ within themselves and within society.

    It also does away with the need for exposing the Eucharist elements for adoration. Rather the current restrictions present us with an opportunity to slow down and better see, appreciate, honour and genuflect before the presence of God Emmauel, in our fellow human beings and all of creation.

    As I said before. If that isn’t something to joyfully celebrate, I don’t know what is.

    Reply
    • Aidan

      Well said Martin. I agree fully with all that you have written.

      Reply
    • soconaill

      Again, Martin, you say, as Aidan does, what has been missing during my lifetime from the homilies on ‘presence’ and the mission of lay people, of which in my experience our diocesan clergy have been taught so little. My guess is that were I to ask the typical priest what he considered the mission of the lay person to be he would answer ‘to turn up in church for the sacraments, of course’. And this explains the difference between ‘maintenance’ and ‘mission’ – and why our young men can no longer see the point of either Mass or ordination.

      Reply
  2. Kevin Walters

    I have read ,“No Real Presence, no Christianity”
    I have entered several empty non-Catholic Churches, during my lifetime and have always been struck by a sense of deadness, apart from one occasion, when in a small country Chapel I was confronted by a vase of freshly cut flowers on the altar: I felt the living beauty of His creation/presence before me.

    I believe that the reason for this is that I am subconsciously looking for the red Sanctuary Light with its gentle living/active flame that is usually situated close to the Tabernacle. It always provokes a feeling of recognition, in that I am not alone: a mutual presence is manifest/felt.

    Approximately fifteen years ago, one Sunday morning the Sanctuary lamp was not lit. This was the first time that I had encountered this in a Catholic Church and once again I felt this same sense of deadness. For most of my life I have always genuflected before His Divine Presence in the Tabernacle, but several years ago I became perturbed and so stopped. My reasoning for doing this, for some, may be a bit confusing, but made sense to me at the time, as I had become aware of what could be described as grandiosity by some of those following the Monstrance/ Ostensorium from the main altar to the side chapel in carrying a parasol (With other factors of control rather than humility) above it, in an ostentatious manner, accompanied by heightened emotion.

    Around the same time I had a similar awareness when I followed a group of parishioners leaving the Church after mass to go and pray outside an Abortion Clinic. The praying by some was vindictive, as its vocal emphasis (Heightened emotion) stressed words of condemnation, rather than repentance (Change of direction) and compassion. They appeared to think that they owned (the judgement of) God.

    The question I had placed before myself in effect was this, can His physical presence be held in isolation by His ‘creatures’ in a box or Monstrance or be stolen desecrated and misused, as

    “Heaven is My throne and the earth is My footstool. What kind of house will you build for Me, says the Lord, or what will be My place of repose? Has not My hand made all these things”

    Without the flame in the sanctuary lamp His presence is not known /felt, as it could be said, that if there was no consecrated Eucharist host within the tabernacle, the same sense of a mutual presence is manifest/felt and on the spiritual plane, it would be the real acceptance of God’s presence. As in the symbolic everlasting light, or eternal flame that shines before the altar of sanctuaries in many Jewish places of worship.

    A lit candle metaphorically speaking could be described as the Trinity, the source (candle/ mass) of all creation (Matter/Flesh). The Holy Spirit, His Will within the candle/mass igniting and giving life to the flame, seen as His living Word, Jesus Christ, who in shedding His light gives light to our consciousness, for us to see and know His Will, that emanates from the source and mystery of our Creator/ Father.

    “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life”

    When the priest says the “Body of Christ” we say Amen a declaration of affirmation and for me He is present when devoured as we become ‘living’ tabernacles, living being the operative word. Without this affirmation in faith, would the bread of life give life to an unbeliever? Is it not the willing acceptance/consent of His living presence within the Eucharist that gives life to our spirit that wells up into eternal life, as the flesh profits not.

    It could be said that the bread and wine are the ordained means to “total change basic reality” to draw us into the spiritual constant reality before God of His Divine Presence (Eternal living sacrifice) now and always present before/within us, when we willingly say in faith Amen, as we partake of the living bread of life and transforming Sacrificial Cup of eternal salvation.

    This reflection has for me solved my initial concern of making a genuflection, as with the bush of fire before Moses

    “Take off your sandals because this place where you are standing is holy ground”

    A genuflection, an act of humility, is more than in order before the ‘acknowledged’ reality of the mystery of the divine. His presence in this holy place, before Him in His tabernacle, while the Sanctuary flame stirs from deep within our subconscious, His living Inviolate Word “this is my body” and so it is.

    kevin your brother
    In Christ

    Reply
  3. Kevin Walters

    Those who receive the Spirit are also empowered to give witness to Jesus in the world while He the Holy Spirit sanctifies our hearts in creating a dwelling place for Himself (The Divine presence) to reside within us.

    After the crucifixion in the upper room we see those who had travelled the road of enlightenment/self-realization with Jesus (The Word Made Flesh) hide in fear from the Jews while now knowing the full reality of their brokenness (Betrayal and cowardice) before our Father in heaven, it could be said that their hearts were now readied to receive The Holy Spirit as a humble heart is His dwelling place, as in “I am leaving you with a gift–peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid”

    Prior to the Pentecost we see Man’s understanding of the righteousness of God manifest by Prophets, such as, in Elijah’ murderous blood bath of the vile prophets of Baal, with all their wives and innocent children. He then also hides in fear because “I have been very zealous (Ruthless) for the Lord” Similar to St Paul’s murderous persecution of Christians while James and his brother John wanted to call down fire on a Samaritan town; they were rebuked by Jesus. Prior to this rebuke Jesus called James and John, Boanerges, which meant “sons of thunder” (Mark 3:17) – probably a reference to the positive side of their bold and zealous personalities.

    A Personal understanding of 1 Kings 19:11-12

    A wind there was (of Pride), rude and boisterous, that shook the mountains (Heavens) and broke the rocks (Holy precepts) in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not to be found in the wind (of my bluster). Nor in the storm (High expectations of life) and earthquake (Of self-made foundations/delusions) leading to the Fire (of suffering/Reality of the Selfhood) and after the fire, the whisper of a gentle (Uplifting) breeze

    For men of good intent on the Worldly plain It is natural to want prevail over evil (especially in others) to call to account and punish those who do evil, this desire comes from a worldly feeling of self-righteousness but as seen by Elijah’s inspired self-realization, God is known through His gentleness, as in a gentle breeze.

    Jesus says “Learn from me for I am meek and humble of heart”

    So, the battle has to be fought on the Spiritual Plane if it is to bear lasting fruit, we do this this when we walk with the Holy Spirit in humility. (St Bernard, Humility; a virtue by which a man knowing himself as he truly is, abases him-self).
    At Pentecost we see the Holy Spirit descend and then separate onto the Apostles conferring within them (and now to those who serve Him) the power of Truth. The Truth bears witness to Itself and needs no embellishment, as those who are of the Truth hear His voice. It could be said that authority comes with Truth and those who serve It. (As manifest in a humble heart)

    So, mankind needs to see the light of the Holy Spirit dwelling/working within us, as only a humble Priesthood/Church can lead mankind away from evil, as a humble heart (Church) will never cover its tracks or hide its short comings, and in doing so confers authenticity (Holiness), as it walks in its own vulnerability/weakness/brokenness in trust/faith before God and mankind. It is a heart (Church) to be trusted, as it ‘dispels’ darkness within its own ego/self, in serving God (Truth/Love) first, before any other as the Holy Spirit (Divine Presence) cannot dwell in an untruthful heart as “The Truth” will not permit evil to hide itself. We are ALL sinners, but being honest with ourselves and others permits us to walk in humility (friendship) with the Holy Spirit, where no deception or lie is tolerated within ourselves or between each other.

    Christ reveals that the Holy Spirit will “convince the ‘unbelieving’ world of sin, and of justice and of judgement;” he will “teach…all truth;” and will “glorify” Christ.

    Words of condemnation have their place, but it is the whisper of a gentle breeze’ bearing witness to the Truth, dwelling within a humble heart, which glorifies God as it permits others to see and believe in His merciful gentle ‘living’ Face/heart, which leads others to contemplate/know/follow Him in humility also.

    “Father forgive them they know not what they do”

    Here we see His understanding of the human heart and the compassion that He had for all of mankind. Reflected in Isaiah 42:3 “He won’t break off a bent reed or put out a dying flame, but he will make sure that justice is done”
    There is no self-righteous anger, rather a call for mercy and insightfulness for all those sinners who dwell in darkness. Which was manifest in His total self-giving on the Cross, for all men.
    As with the Centurion who stood facing Him as He hung on the Cross “The people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned” The divine spark had been ignited within the Centurion, a new understanding had commenced as he exclaimed

    “This man was indeed God’s Son.”

    kevin your brother
    In Christ

    Reply
    • Kevin Walters

      An addendum to my post above on 28/05/2020 at 1:08 pm

      We can look to St Mother Teresa as a modern-day example of Christian Charity in the way she spread the Gospel through works of charity and her confrontation with a fallen sinful world. In her confrontation with the promotors of abortion (The Clintons) it was not in a ranting emotional bluster, driven by self-righteous indignation. See the link

      https://www.ncregister.com/daily-news/how-mother-teresa-challenged-hillary-clinton-on-abortion

      An extract from the article given via the link, the parts highlighted in bold text emanate from a gentle humble (Loving) heart, which is what my post is all about.

      “This was not the end of the relationship, which Hillary has always looked back upon with fondness. In the short time she had left on earth, Mother Teresa continued to try to change Clinton’s view on abortion. According to Hillary, “she sent me dozens of notes and messages with the same gentle entreaty. She dealt with the first lady with patience and kindness, but firm conviction: “Mother Teresa never lectured or scolded me; her admonitions were always loving and heartfelt,” wrote Hillary, adding that she had “the greatest respect for her opposition to abortion.” Mother Teresa saw in Hillary a potentially huge convert to the pro-life cause, and never gave up, but to no avail”

      I take umbrage with the statement “to no avail as only God knows the full long-term effects that her firm conviction and the persistent actions of Mother Teresa will have had on Hilary Clinton and those around her, as those who walk with Holy Spirit, produce good fruit, the seeds of which are often sown unseen within human hearts, at the time of their encounter with Him.
      Mother Teresa will have known this and trusted in the workings of the Holy Spirit, knowing that all enlightenment comes from God and because of this she would not have been driven to distraction or bitterness as the peace that He gives to His true disciples, cannot be taken from them.

      It could be said that these actions by Mother Teresa spring from “a gentle breeze” living (Dwelling) within her loving humble heart.

      “If you judge people, you have no time to love them.” – Mother Teresa

      kevin your brother
      In Christ

      Reply

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