Monday, August 23, 2004

Some of you may have heard about the new controversy concerning the Eucharist that has erupted in New Jersey. I am amazed that so many people that I know from out of state have contacted me about it. Apparently it has been on the national news, and since it all started here in my diocese.

A recap; a little girl with celiac disease (a severe allergic reaction to gluten) was scheduled to receive her First Holy Communion in May 2004. Her mother spoke with the parish priest about her daughter's condition. The priest offered to use the extremely low gluten hosts that have been approved for use by the Vatican, and many doctors have said that they should be fine for people with celiac disease, but the mother refused to allow her daughter to receive any gluten. Then the priest offered to allow her to receive the Precious Blood, but the mother again refused to allow it, saying that she did not believe it right to EVER give a child alcohol. Apparently the mother then found a priest who agreed to use a rice wafer for Holy Communion. When my bishop came to sign the canonical books, her refused to sign for the girl in question (instructed the priest to removed the record that she had received her 1st Holy Communion) because invalid matter was used, thus the sacrament was invalid. The mother is "outraged," the girl is "very sad," and the mother has decided to appeal the decision of my bishop to Cardinal Ratzinger.

Of course this has been front page news in the papers, and now it is becoming a national news item. Of course the press has been doing their typically incompetent coverage of the Catholic Church; not showing the slightest understanding of the theological issues involved. It is just another example of emotivist journalism, and the long documented history of "Know-Nothingism" and anti-Catholicism in the USA. The Asbury Park Press even compared the Catholic Church to the Methodists and Lutherans, who the Park Press said are also Communion based churches and who both allow the use of non-gluten hosts.

OK, first a brief theological analysis of the issue (I warmly invite Frs. Tharp and Hamilton to add their insights, and correct me if I miss something). As I am sure all CRM readers know, Catholics believe that the Eucharist IS the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. That the bread and wine that is offered, after the words of Consecration, become actually the Body and Blood of Jesus; that the substance of bread and wine is completely changed into the substance of Christ Jesus. Nothing of the substance of bread and wine remain (although the accidents of bread and wine; e.g., color, taste, smell, etc. typically remains). Catholics believe Jesus' words as being true; when He said that He was giving us His Body and Blood as Real food and Real drink (cf. John's Gospel, Chapter 6) that he really was giving us His Body and Blood. Also, we follow what Jesus commanded us when He said "Do this in memory of me." Thus since He used bread, made with wheat, and wine (fermented juice of the grape) at the Last Supper, we too must use the same materials.

The Church's theology calls this miraculous transformation, Transubstantiation (the changing of substances). I am sure that someone with a more extensive philosophical background can give a better explanation of "substance" and "accidents", but here is how I explain it to kids I am preparing for their 1st Holy Communion. There is a difference between "what a thing is" and "what it looks like" (OK, I know this is only addressing one of the classes of accidents); for example look at pictures of you taken as a baby, a 7 year-old, a teenager, from college, and now. You probably look very different, but you are the same person (in the essence of who you are, or the esse). Thus what a person looks like does not change who they are. Now in the miracle of consecration, the "what it is" is changed, while the "what it looks like" stays the same. Since we are dealing with the "substances" and not just the "accidents" it does matter what we use.

With all due respect to our Methodist and Lutheran brothers and sisters, they do not have the same sense of Communion as Catholics. Methodists believe that Communion is just a sign of our fellowship with Christ and each other. They do not believe that the Eucharist is really Jesus' Body and Blood. Since it is just a sign, the matter of the sign does not make a difference, so they can use what ever they want. Now the Lutherans do believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, however they do not believe that the substance of the bread and wine are changed, rather the substance of Jesus' Body and Blood adheres to the substance of the bread and the substance of the wine (the theological term is consubstantiation). Since the bread and wine are merely the vehicle for the substance of Christ, again, the matter of the vehicle becomes less important.

Now my RageMonkey speaks; I find it hypocritical of the press, who are the first to wave the "separation of Church and State" when they feel that the Church is butting its nose into what they don't like and says is a public matter, but they have no problem butting their nose into what is clearly an internal Church matter, the discipline of its sacraments. My bishop is just doing what he is required to do to protect the validity of the sacraments. While I can empathize with the little girl's desire to receive the Eucharist, and the frustration that she and her mother must feel, they were given viable options. I just don't buy the resistance to allow her daughter to receive the Precious Blood because it would have alcohol. There is more alcohol in cough medicines. And when the mother says that she is not trying to change the Church or cause trouble, then why go to the press with it? Submit your appeal through the proper of channels. Scripture even sets the standard for handling these types of issues.

It is another example of a "Burger King" mentality -- that we can get things "my way." Also, the Eucharist is first and foremost the GIFT of our Lord's Body and Blood. We do not have the right to demand a gift.

Let us keep all the involved parties in our prayers.

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