Saturday, July 1, 2017

How long?

There has been no small amount of discussion among Lutherans about how long the flesh and blood of Christ are present in the earthly elements of bread and wine.  They range from near Zwinglians who are not so sure that the body and blood ever really touch the bread and wine at all to those often called Romanists who hold for that presence until consumption (and therefore have a case for reservation).  The receptionists will not even grant that Christ is present prior to reception -- a clear violation of the Formula of Concord which insists that the body and blood of Christ are both distributed and received.  Some have tried to pin an expiration date on Christ's presence (sort of like the one printed on the jar of mayonnaise in your fridge!).  Others appeal to Luther and the extra usus principle (apart from the use there is no sacrament) and use that to say that a time comes when Jesus flutters away and only bread and wine remain.  All of this seems rather strange and would be rather frivolous were it not for the often ordinary adoration of the Sacrament outside the Mass and the usual circumstance of the Mass and its benefits being described apart from the actual reception of the body and blood of Christ.

The Catechism of the [Roman] Catholic Church states it rather simply and plainly, “The Eucharistic presence of Christ begins at the moment of the consecration and endures as long as the Eucharistic species subsist” (CCC 1377).   It is one of those special moments when Rome does not go beyond the Word nor does Rome seek to define something in terms foreign to Scripture.  Christ is present as long as the Eucharistic species subsist.  It is at one and the same time an eloquent and yet terse statement -- albeit one that Lutherans get nervous about.

There is a rather amusing story of Saint Philip Neri who grew weary with a man who received the Holy Communion and then left before the Mass was ended. The man's apparent disregard for the Sacrament led Philip Neri to teach him something. The priest sent two altar boys with lighted candles to follow the man outside of the church. After a while walking through the streets of Rome, the man turned around to see the altar boys still following him. Confused, the man returned to the church and asked Philip Neri why he sent the altar boys. Saint Philip Neri responded by saying, “We have to pay proper respect to Our Lord, Whom you are carrying away with you. Since you neglect to adore Him, I sent two acolytes to take your place.”

While no one makes doctrine or informs practice on the basis of an anecdote, it is worth nothing that the Mass comes to a rather sudden and quick end after the Distribution -- a Post-Communion canticle and collect, benediction and dismissal, and perhaps a closing hymn.  In other words, about the 15 minutes or so when the after reception, and according to simple biology, the Eucharistic species ceased to subsist on their own within the body of the communicant.

As I have often said, the abuses associated with reservation should not in and of themselves preclude the practice.  Reservation does not imply or require adoration apart from the reception which makes Lutherans nervous.  But that is another discussion.  My point here is to address the artificial way we attempt to limit Christ's presence in the Eucharist to just a moment and, in fact, draw confidence away from His presence at all.  Our Lord is present in the bread and wine until the full usus of the Sacrament is complete -- no matter when that eating and drinking take place.  Anything apart from this reflects more human reason and/or our predisposition to insist that even the obvious cannot be true.  No one is served by arguments which attempt to explain why Christ is no longer present where He has promised to be.  Any Lutheran ought to recognize the truth in this.


Ted Badje said...

Apart from the word of God, we don't know. "Is" is "Is".

William Tighe said...

Pastor Peters - the other, late, Pastor Peters - demonstrated in his massive two-volume Th.D. dissertation (which I read nearly 20 years ago) that the "axiom" running "extra usum nullum sacramentum" was of Zurich/Zwinglian origin, and came into Lutheranism via Martin Bucer and Philip Melanchthon.

Padre Dave Poedel said...

Excellent article! The logical sequel are of the lasting presence of Christ in the life of the communicant! If we indeed receive the true Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist, then does it not follow that that Real Presence endures in the communicant? While not wishing to try to address how long and in what form, I emphasize how the invitation from Jesus to "take, eat....take drink" is an invitation from Jesus to the Christian to receive as one of the great mysteries of why Jesus would invite a sinner to receive Him and dwell in him, if not for the fact that in Baptism the communicant becomes worthy to receive because he is now justified for the sake of the same Jesus who died for him and rose again for him (Romans 6) and is now "in Christ". What a great joy!

Janis Williams said...

Excellent, Padre Poedel!

It seems to me the "hocus pocus" is in the hands of those who want to decide when Christ is present. Why do we bother with a pastor saying the Words of Consecration over the elements? Wouldn't it make more sense for the communicant to say them at reception?

Since we are not sure when "is" is, doesn't it make more sense to err on the side of reverence? I suspect the last thing we would have to worry about in a receptionist is for them to overdo reverence (for fear of being Catholic). We are dealing with mystery here. We don't and can't know all the details. If Christ didn't give details to His disciples but simply said, "This is My Body," then it IS. Would Jesus be pleased with overdoing our devotion and piety, or with our lack (not absence) thereof? We would be better to live as Pr. Poedel says, as if we carry the Living, Real Presence of Christ in us daily.

Anonymous said...

“1. We believe, teach, and confess that in the Holy Supper the body and blood of Christ are truly and essentially present, and are truly distributed and received with the bread and wine.” (Formula of Concord, Epitome, Affirmative Theses)

“6. We believe, teach, and confess that the body and blood of Christ are received with the bread and wine, not only spiritually by faith, but also orally; yet not in a Capernaitic, but in a supernatural, heavenly mode, because of the sacramental union; as the words of Christ clearly show, when Christ gives direction to take, eat, and drink…” (Formula of Concord, Epitome, Affirmative Theses)

“21. Hence we hereby utterly [reject and] condemn the Capernaitic eating of the body of Christ, as though [we taught that] His flesh were rent with the teeth, and digested like other food, which the Sacramentarians, against the testimony of their conscience, after all our frequent protests, willfully force upon us, and in this way make our doctrine odious to their hearers; and on the other hand, we maintain and believe, according to the simple words of the testament of Christ, the true, yet supernatural eating of the body of Christ, as also the drinking of his blood, which human senses and reason do not comprehend, but as in all other articles of faith our reason is brought into captivity to the obedience of Christ, and this mystery is not apprehended otherwise than by faith alone, and revealed in the Word alone.” (Formula of Concord, Epitome, Negative Theses)