Everything for Catholics comes down to the Eucharist. Catholics enshrine and embody the most radical aspect of Christianity primarily because Jesus' incarnation goes way beyond a three-year stint as an earthen inhabitant. None of us can fully grasp the grand and marvelous aspects of our creator.
His Trinitarian persons are one thing (pun intended), but asking his followers to ingest his DNA to transform our bodies is almost incomprehensible.
Image by Michael Gaida
By John Pearring
In our weekly discussion, fleshed out by Lou's presentation this week, an awakening of sorts sparked one of our better emotional and intellectual exhibitions. In a summary rephrase of the actual words, a few men mentioned the following, and then one after the other spoke up.
"At every Catholic Mass, we’re in the presence of heaven, and every time we sing the Gloria, we’re singing it along with all of the angels and saints in heaven."
One of us, who voiced shock at the reality — envisioning angels and saints joining us at every Mass — started a firehose of surprise and wondrous agreement. Quite a few of the fellas confirmed not just the significance of celestial occupants with us but the impact the holy presence of heavenly beings have had on their faith.
"I never saw Mass in the same way, ever again." I think three men said those exact words.
Is it true? Do Catholics believe that the angels and saints join us at every Mass? We discovered that the truth is unavoidable, but few Catholics know it. Or, at the least, few remember that celestial hosts and immortal saints always show up.
Because the Christ Jesus isn't just represented by the host of the Eucharist but is truly there in body and blood, the heaven's residents will be there too. The mass is considered heaven's spiritual portal. Meaning the spirits attend and amplify God's physical presence in the Eucharist. Their presence is the ultimate explanation of why humans fall into adoring stupors. Where God lives, the angels are there. Where Jesus shows up, the saints are present. The celebrity and groupie phenomenon we see daily comes from a yearning, not some stupefied nonsense. Jesus is the ultimate celebrity. We are among the holy groupies. The unparalleled celebrity of Jesus Christ naturally includes a retinue of heaven's creatures and our natural desire to be included.
Everything for Catholics comes down to the Eucharist. Catholics enshrine and embody the most radical aspect of Christianity primarily because Jesus' incarnation goes way beyond a three-year stint as an earthen inhabitant. None of us can fully grasp the grand and marvelous aspects of our creator. His Trinitarian persons are one thing (pun intended), but asking his followers to ingest his DNA to transform our bodies is almost incomprehensible.
The body and blood of Jesus explain the presence, then, of angels and saints. As one of the fellas said in our discussion, "Aren't our Guardian Angels there with us at Mass? Where else would they be?"
From Jesus' own words, the Eucharist is essential to our faith, and its miraculous transformation at Mass takes place under heaven's watchful and adoring eyes. At first, Jesus told his followers in the framing of scripture. He couldn't explain the sacred mystery of the Eucharist without context. His disciples set Jesus up by mentioning the bread of Manna.
So they said to him, “What sign can you do, that we may see and believe in you? What can you do? Our ancestors ate manna in the desert, as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”
So Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave the bread from heaven; my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”
So they said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”
Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst."
A metaphor, then. Manna was real, and Jesus must have meant to use that as a metaphor, a representation of who he is. Or, so we may think, as the folks questioning him surely thought. But, no.
I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died; this is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”
The Jews quarreled among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us [his] flesh to eat?”
That's the expectation, right? Jesus is making a point about his role as the Messiah by exaggeration. He doesn't mean this literally, does he?
Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink."
And there it is. He told this to his disciples. He wasn't fashioning an argument for the Pharisees. He was nailing down a divine design, a planned future of the church he was establishing. They didn't yet know about his coming sacrifice, a lamb slaughtered. The images were barely connecting.
John is careful in this process of teaching by Jesus. He makes clear that Jesus left no room for confusion.
"Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever.” These things he said while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.
While teaching in a synagogue, John made sure we knew where he said this. That's a holy place, a sacred space for truth. A representation of the extension of the Holy of Holies in the Temple.
Then many of his disciples who were listening said, “This saying is hard; who can accept it?”
Since Jesus knew that his disciples were murmuring about this, he said to them, “Does this shock you? What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before?. . . But there are some of you who do not believe.” Jesus knew from the beginning the ones who would not believe and the one who would betray him.
The teaching is set. The current Mass, a place for Jesus' translation of the violent sacrifice into a Manna from heaven, combines all of history's sacred events. The forgiveness of sins, the paschal mystery within the Jewish Passover meal, naming of the Saints, and gathering in faith.
The Eucharaist is probably the most controversial issue in Christianity. And the Mass, by its very definition, captures the unimaginable thought that Jesus' sacrificial relationship to bread and wine began before his crucifixion. Even before Abraham and Isaac.
As a result of this, many [of] his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him. Jesus then said to the Twelve, “Do you also want to leave?”
The presence of Jesus in the Mass is undoubtedly hard teaching. Our brothers and sisters in faith separate on this crucial teaching. You can find volumes of explanations that differ from the Catechism teaching I greatly simplify here. At the root of this teaching, Jesus is physically present in the Mass and the holy places consecrated on our altars and resident in our tabernacles. We get two eons of consistent doctrine in the Catholic faith from that teaching.
The visions of holy attendants date from the earliest days of the Church. St. Augustine said, “The angels surround and help the priest when he is celebrating Mass.” St. John Chrysostom famously wrote, "When the Eucharist is being celebrated, the sanctuary is filled with countless angels who adore the divine victim sacrificed on the altar."
It's too much to contain. Too incredible to grasp. Far too merciful and gracious to ingest without reverence. And there is proof of it. The saints and angels confess and witness to the reality of our Eucharistic faith, constantly opening windows into heaven and inviting us to see, taste, and feel.
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