“God is not contained in a piece of bread or a cup of wine,” declares jesus christ
RACHEL We continue our broadcast here in the Church of the Cenacle, and by cellphone we are receiving quite a few messages. Some people congratulate us, others are indignant. A lot of questions are also arriving by way of our studios. A short while ago, Jesus, while we were off mike, you were making a somewhat ironic commentary. Would you mind repeating it?
JESUS What I was saying, Rachel, is that if I had suspected what a hullabaloo was going to raised about what we ate during that final meal, we’d have done better to go without food that night!
RACHEL Jokes aside, you referred before to Saint Paul and a situation that occurred in the community of … I think you said it was Corinth. What happened exactly?
JESUS I wasn’t there, because I had left already. But they told me about it.
RACHEL And what did they tell you that left such an impression?
JESUS Well, it’s something happened that in a city called Corinth, and I’m not even sure where that is. It seems the people there used to get together to give thanks to God. And while some of them were eating to their heart’s content, others were practically starving. Paul took them to task, and quite rightly. What kind of a community is it where rich people are feasting and poor people are starving? What kind of a Passover could Moses and the pharaoh celebrate together, the oppressed alongside the oppressors?
RACHEL Well, it might be better for you not to visit some Christian churches, because you’d be in for a big surprise. The front-row seats are for the authorities, the military officials, the richest families; they put the whites up front, the blacks behind; the whites up front, the Indians in back.
JESUS They do that?
RACHEL Worse still, they give the consecrated bread to dictators, murderers and torturers, and they deny it to women simply because they’re divorced.
JESUS They really do that?
RACHEL If you only knew…
JESUS Rachel, you were talking before about “substance”. It’s not the substance of the bread that needs to change, it’s the substance of the heart. We need a new heart, capable of loving and sharing.
RACHEL But tell me something, Jesus if you did not institute the Eucharist that Holy Thursday, then what are priests doing in your name when they celebrate mass?
JESUS I imagine that they’re proclaiming the good news to the poor. That is what I want them to do in memory of me.
RACHEL And what about those magic words, I mean, those mysterious words which the priests say, so that God will come down from heaven, so that he will land on the altar and hide himself in the host and then in the tabernacle?
JESUS You’re an intelligent person, Rachel. God has given you a mind and a heart, and he has given the same to the listeners of your radio station as well. Do you think that God, who cannot be contained in the universe, who has no beginning and no end, would be likely to lend himself to this kind of trickery? What a small God that would be, an abracadabra God, like the magician that Philip met in Samaria!
RACHEL If I’ve understood your words well, you’re doing away with a lot of things eucharistic theologies, whole libraries of weighty tomes, processions using the Blessed Sacrament, monstrances, chalices, perpetual adorations, Tantum Ergos, the Council of Trent and Sunday mass!
JESUS Listen, Rachel, do you hear that? It’s the wind. You can’t catch it, because it blows where it will. Neither can you capture God in a church, or in a piece of bread or a cup of wine.
RACHEL I still have a thousand questions, but now I don’t even know what I should ask you.
JESUS What is greatest, Rachel, God has revealed in what is simplest. In bread, there is bread. In wine, there is wine. And in community, when that bread and that wine are shared, when all is shared in common, then God becomes present.
RACHEL Friends, don’t lose faith, … I mean, don’t lose our signal! Stay with us for our next broadcast. From Jerusalem for Emisoras Latinas, Rachel Perez.
ANNOUNCER Another God is Possible. Exclusive interviews with Jesus Christ in his second coming to Earth. A production of María and José Ignacio López Vigil, with the support of the Syd Forum and Christian Aid.
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Miracle, magic, marvel
During the first centuries of Christianity both men and women could preside at the eucharistic celebrations – there was no distinction made. Starting in the fifth century presiding at the Eucharist became a function exercised exclusively by “presbyters” (elders, or priests), who had by then become “professionals of the sacred”. In the Fourth Lateran Council (1215) it was established that no one could celebrate the Eucharist (that is, say mass), unless he was a priest validly and licitly ordained.
During the Middle Ages devotion to the “eucharistic miracle” reached exaggerated proportions, effectively robbing the Eucharist of its symbolic and communitarian character (sharing a meal and the words of Jesus) and endowing the priests who performed that “miracle” with “magical” powers. This obsessive fixation with the “miracle” that occurs at every mass has lasted down to our own days and is still encouraged by the Catholic authorities. In 1935 Pope Pius XI stated that in reality the priest has power over the very body of Jesus Christ and make him present on our altars (encyclical “Ad Catholici Sacerdotii”), and in 1947 Pope Pius XII reaffirmed that on our altars Christ offers Himself daily for our redemption (encyclical “Mediator Dei”).
Heart muscle and clotted blood
The official Catholic doctrine on the Eucharist has given rise to some ridiculous devotions. One of the most extraordinary is the one called “the greatest eucharistic miracle in history”: what is supposed to be a piece of Jesus’ heart and five clots of his blood have been preserved in a church in Lanciano, Italy, since the year 700; this marvel is supposed to have occurred when a monk had doubts about the “miracle” that his words worked on the host and the chalice when he celebrated mass.
The Catholic writer Stephanie Falasca comments on this miracle, using scientific terms: True flesh and true human blood. They belong to the same blood group: AB. In the flesh there are present, in section, the myocardium, the endocardium, the vagus nerve and, because of the notable thickness of the myocardium, the left cardiac ventricle: it is, then, a heart that is complete in its essential structure. In the blood are found present the normally fraccionated proteins in the same proportion as we find them in the serum-protein pattern of normal fresh blood. … Even though they have been left in a natural state for twelve centuries, without any type of preservation or mummification, and exposed to the action of physical, atmospheric and biological agents, this flesh and this blood present the same characteristics as flesh and blood that are extracted fresh from a living body.
Besides being repugnant, such a materialist “miracle” provokes a materialist question: How could the risen Jesus live without such a vital organ as his own heart?
According to Falasca, “miracles” of that sort – real flesh and blood on the altars of priests tormented by doubts of faith – have happened twenty-five times, including ten in Italy and seven in Spain. She states, though, that the wonder of Lanciano is the only one that has been submitted to “rigorous scientific analysis”. The Vatican has approved the “miracle” of Lanciano. In 2004 Pope John Paul II wrote the following to the archbishop of Lanciano: For us Christians, the Eucharist is everything: it is the center of our faith and the source of all our spiritual life. … This is especially true for the community of Lanciano, guardian of two eucharistic miracles which, in addition to being highly esteemed by the faithful of the place, are the destination of many pilgrimages from Italy and from all over the world.
Without inequality or discrimination
Jesus tells Rachel of what he heard about the community of Corinth, where people celebrated the Eucharist, but in the midst of great inequality. Paul wrote them a letter reprehending them for such conduct (1 Corinthians 11,17-34). Jesus also mentions the meeting between Philip and Simon the magician, which is recounted in the Acts of the Apostles 8,9-13.
James, the brother of Jesus, who led the church of Jerusalem until he was murdered by the High Priest Ananias in the year 62, was also mindful of Jesus’ teaching about inequality. In his letter he warns about discrimination or “partiality” when celebrating the Eucharist: Brothers and sisters, don’t hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ of glory with partiality. For if a man with a gold ring, in fine clothing, comes into your synagogue , and a poor man in filthy clothing also comes in; and you pay special attention to him who wears the fine clothing, and say, “Sit here in a good place;” and you tell the poor man, “Stand there,” or “Sit by my footstool;” haven’t you shown partiality among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers. Didn’t God choose those who are poor in this world to be rich in faith, and heirs of the Kingdom which he promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Don’t the rich oppress you, and personally drag you before the courts? Don’t they blaspheme the honorable name by which you are called? (James 2,1-7)
A space of equality
The early Christians insisted that the eucharistic celebration should be a space of equality and justice, where people shared words, food, and even possessions. The first Church Fathers spoke also in this vein. For example, Saint Justin preached: The Eucharist is the moment in which Christians give to the needy, according to what each one has. And Saint Cyprian: When the rich do not take to mass that which the poor need, they do not celebrate the sacrifice of the Lord. When the emperor order an assault on the inhabitants of Thessalonica, Saint Ambrose wrote him a letter saying: I will not offer the sacrifice of the mass before you, if you should dare to attend.
In describing the beginnings of the early church, theologian Hans Kung refers to the new Christian “ethical ideal” of justice and equality: What was truly surprising and attractive to many outsiders was the social cohesion of the Christians, such as it was expressed in worship: they were “brothers” and “sisters” without distinctions of class, race, or education; everybody could take part in the Eucharist. Generous voluntary offerings were made, usually during the worship service. Such offerings, administered and distributed by the bishop, provided assistance for the poor, the sick, orphans and widows, travelers, those serving prison terms, the needy and the elderly. In this respect correct living (ortho-praxy) was more important in the daily life of the communities that correct teaching (ortho-doxy). In any case, this was an important reason for the exceptional success of Christianity. … This loving revolution, this revolutionary movement “from below”, in the end imposed itself on the Roman empire.
Sharing is of the essence
Sharing is the essential note of the eucharistic meal. Theologian John Dominic Crossan writes: The Eucharist is a real shared meal. The accent is on the breaking of the bread, which is a sign of sharing. The emphasis is not so much on the wine as on the cup, which can also be passed from one person to another. A Eucharist without sharing is nothing. For that reason Paul (1 Corinthinas 11,17-34) and the Didache condemn those who do not share with others in the eucharistic suppers. We can never prescind from that in the Eucharist: it is food and drink, the material bases of life offered equally to all, and in them can be found the presence of God and of Jesus.
The Didache is an ancient book that was discovered in the 14th century. It is neither a letter of the first disciples nor a gospel, but it is a vital source for knowing the history of early Christianity, since it served the first communities as a manual of instructions and helped them stay faithful to the teachings of Jesus.
Knowing how to sense the wind
At the end of the interview Jesus speaks to Rachel about the wind, to help her understand that there are realities that cannot be understood rationally; they can be grasped only by the spirit, a spirit that is free and open. In John’s gospel, Jesus uses the metaphor of the wind (John 3,8). A story told by a Indian Jesuit also portrays “the wind” as an element that “describes” the way that leads us to the Mystery of God.
According to this story, an American visiting China asked a young elevator operator: “What is China’s religion?” The young fellow took the visitor out on a balcony and asked him: “What do you see?” He answered: “I see cars and stores.” “And what else?” the young man asked. “I see people, flowers, trees, birds.” “And what else?” he asked again. “I see how the wind moves.” “Well,” said the young fellow, “that is the religion of China: a way of looking at reality. We start off from lifeless things, we move on to living beings, and we end up with what is invisible and free, what we cannot capture.”
Many contemporary theologians believe that when China becomes the next world power, the West will have to face the challenge of the Asian religions. Buddhists, Hindus, Taoists, and Confucians will ask us questions that western Christian culture is not ready or able to answer, because we do not possess even the basic conceptual tools needed to comprehend what is at the heart of their visions of the world, of life, and of God. And we don’t possess them because we have forgotten about the “wind”, because we cannot see it and we are not taught to feel it.