Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Eucharist, The Heart of Life

I was talking with a friend the other night, and she asked what the Catholic teaching on the end of the world (eschatology) was--whether we expected Christ to come again, or whether we thought that he came at each Mass.  I said, "Both."

As Dr. Hahn lays out explicitly, Jesus comes to us in the Mass in a uniquely strong sense.  Excerpts:
...The Eucharist is the parousia. I have given many lectures on this subject since 1999, when I published The Lamb's Supper: The Mass as Heaven on Earth. In that book, I examined the Book of Revelation in light of the liturgies of the Church and of Israel, and I examined the Church’s Mass in light of the biblical Apocalypse. Most of my readers and listeners were aware that the Book of Revelation had something to say about the coming of Jesus at the end of the world. Few knew, however, that the Book of Revelation had anything to say about Jesus’ coming in the Eucharist.

The idea seems alien to faithful churchgoers in the twenty-first century. Yet it was commonplace to Christians of the first, second, and third centuries; and, to scholars of history—whether Catholic or not—the notion appears so pervasive as to be obvious. The great historical theologian Jaroslav Pelikan, writing as a Lutheran, observed of the early Church: “The coming of Christ was ‘already’ and ‘not yet’: he had come already—in the incarnation, and on the basis of the incarnation would come in the Eucharist; he had come already in the Eucharist, and would come at the last in the new cup that he would drink with them in his Father’s kingdom.”

Though a final parousia will one day come, the Eucharist is the parousia here and now. Anglican scholar Gregory Dix wrote that this notion was “universal” by the third century, and probably long before, since he adds that there are no exceptions to this rule: “[N]o pre-Nicene author Eastern or Western whose Eucharistic doctrine is at all fully stated” holds a different view...
So at the Mass, the eschaton--the end of time and history, the end of the world--is present. The fulfillment of all desire--God--comes to us to be eaten and to transform us by our eating, by word and sacrament, bathing us in the blood and water which poured forth from his side on the cross. As Stephen Colbert said, "You are what you eat." So at the Mass, when we eat his body and drink his blood, we are drawn into communion with Christ, and through Christ, with the Father and the Holy Spirit.  As we are transformed, so too is the cosmos.  As Pope Benedict teaches:
...The substantial conversion of bread and wine into His body and blood introduces within creation the principle of a radical change, a sort of "nuclear fission," which penetrates to the heart of all being, a change meant to set off a process which transforms reality, a process leading ultimately to the transfiguration of the entire world, to the point where God will be all in all (cf. 1 Cor 15:28).--Pope Benedict XVI, Sacramentum Caritas, art. 11
With every Eucharist, with every transubstantiation, with every time of communion between human beings and the Triune God, every aspect of the cosmos is touched. Humans participate in all layers of reality, being creatures of matter and spirit. As we are transformed, every part of creation is transformed. The end of the world comes as God becomes all in all, gradually permeating the cosmos until the forces of evil and privation, the forces of the devil, are pressed to a last stand. That shall be the great confrontation between anti-Christ and the Church, between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman, where he shall crush the head of the serpent, and the serpent shall bite at the heel of the Body of Christ. Good shall triumph. God shall be all in all, leaving no room for the denizens of hell. They shall be cast into the outer darkness, where there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.

And to receive the Eucharist is to come to live his life, and love with his love.
No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draw him, and I will raise him on the last day.  It is written in the prophets: ‘They shall all be taught by God.’

Everyone who listens to my Father and learns from him comes to me.  Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father.  Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life.  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.”--John 6:44-51
So we are called to live Eucharistic lives in this world, lives of thanksgiving and self-donation, lives of charity and bearing those crosses which God has laid upon us for the life of the world.
...By his command to "do this in remembrance of me" (Lk 22:19; 1 Cor 11:25), he asks us to respond to his gift and to make it sacramentally present. In these words the Lord expresses, as it were, his expectation that the Church, born of his sacrifice, will receive this gift, developing under the guidance of the Holy Spirit the liturgical form of the sacrament. The remembrance of his perfect gift consists not in the mere repetition of the Last Supper, but in the Eucharist itself, that is, in the radical newness of Christian worship. In this way, Jesus left us the task of entering into his "hour." "The Eucharist draws us into Jesus' act of self-oblation. More than just statically receiving the incarnate Logos, we enter into the very dynamic of his self-giving." (21) Jesus "draws us into himself."--Pope Benedict XVI, Sacramentum Caritas, art. 11

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