21 May 2010

Inseparable Truths: Christ’s Eucharistic Presence is Rooted in the Mystery of the Incarnation

“Whereas it is ordained in this Office for the Administration of the Lord's Supper, that the Communicants should receive the same kneeling; (which order is well meant, for a signification of our humble and grateful acknowledgment of the benefits of Christ therein given to all worthy Receivers, and for the avoiding of such profanation and disorder in the holy Communion, as might otherwise ensue;) yet, lest the same kneeling should by any persons, either out of ignorance and infirmity, or out of malice and obstinacy, be misconstrued and depraved: It is hereby declared, That thereby no adoration is intended, or ought to be done, either unto the Sacramental Bread or Wine there bodily received, or unto any Corporal Presence of Christ's natural Flesh and Blood. For the Sacramental Bread and Wine remain still in their very natural substances, and therefore may not be adored; (for that were Idolatry, to be abhorred of all faithful Christians;) and the natural Body and Blood of our Saviour Christ are in Heaven, and not here; it being against the truth of Christ's natural Body to be at one time in more places than one."
The text you have just read is the infamous “Black Rubric” first placed into the Church of England’s Book of Common Prayer in 1552 (the text above is from the 1662 edition). It was not a part of the original submission of the Prayer Book to Parliament, but was added at the last minute. Because it was done in haste, and nobody notified the printers, this particular rubric (rule of conducting the service) was printed in black ink instead of the customary red. The name stuck, and to this day the mention of the Black Rubric to any liturgical student will immediately hearken back to this passage. The name is apt, however, for very different reasons – for it was with the implementation of the 1552 Book of Common Prayer that Anglican Eucharistic theology was forever placed under suspicion by Lutheran and Roman divines, as well as by the Orthodox.

Today, the Black Rubric holds little sway among English churchgoers, or among those who partake of the Anglican patrimony, except in some of the jurisdictions of Anglican heritage which align more closely with the theology of the Genevan Reformation. But with the suggestion that the 1662 could be the baseline liturgy considered in the nascent Anglican Church in North America (ACNA), the historic Anglican position concerning the Eucharist is once again coming under a degree of scrutiny, at least in certain quarters.

In keeping with the Black Rubric, Article 28 of the Articles of Religion affirms a rejection of any local presence of Christ’s body and blood, using these words: “The body of Christ is given, taken, and eaten in the Supper, only after an heavenly and spiritual manner. And the mean whereby the body of Christ is received and eaten in the Supper is Faith.”

The classical defense of this position, as explained in the Black Rubric, is tied to the ‘truth of Christ’s natural Body’, which the text says can only be in one place at one time. There is a serious flaw, however, with such an argument, and it is laid out starkly in the twentieth chapter of St. John’s Gospel:
“On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them…” John 20:19 (ESV)
The disciples are meeting in a closed room, the door is not only shut, it is locked. The text does not say that Jesus spoke to them and that they opened the door. It does not say that Jesus stood at the window and conversed with his followers. It says, simply, that Jesus came and stood among them. This would, it seems, require Jesus to pass through the wall, the door, the roof, or some other structural element of the room where the disciples were meeting. I have, on several occasions in my life, attempted to walk through a door or a wall (usually not on purpose). I have never once been successful. I’ve had the bruised arms and stubbed toes to prove it. My natural body is completely and utterly incapable of walking through a wall and leaving both my body and the wall intact.

The Black Rubric, and indeed much of Reformed Eucharistic theology (as it is practiced, at any rate) misses out on this one key point. Christ’s natural body has been glorified. It has been fundamentally changed, just as our bodies will be fundamentally changed on the Last Great Day. As a result, the limitations on Jesus’ natural body are non-sequitor arguments against a real Eucharistic presence. What limited his natural body has no bearing on his glorified body, and thus on his presence in the Eucharist.

Both the Articles and the Black Rubric hold an element of truth – the very real substances of bread and wine remain in the celebration of the Eucharist. They have to, in fact, for two reasons: first, because St. Paul, in 1 Corinthians 11 identifies the Sacrament in both terms (bread and wine as well as body and blood), and second – perhaps most importantly – because to deny that Christ can indwell within the Sacrament is to deny the fundamental central truth that sets Christianity apart from every other religion on the face of the planet – the Incarnation itself.

You see, God is omniscient, immortal, immutable, infinite, omnipresent (and a bunch of other big terms!). It is contrary to the nature of God, one would therefore think, for God – or any member of the Godhead – to be otherwise; yet Jesus Christ, the Son of God, became mortal, finite, and located in a specific physical construct at a particular point in the history of our universe. The one whom the whole world could never hope to contain was somehow united with our humanity and born among us in time and in flesh. In the mystery of the Incarnation and Nativity of our Lord, the core of the historic teaching of the Church on the Eucharistic Mystery is found; and we echo it each and every time we recite the Nicene Creed.

In the Creed we confess that Christ is ‘of one essence’ or ‘substance’ with the Father, and that, by the power of the Holy Spirit, he was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, becoming man. To behold Jesus, one could not tell that this son of Mary was anything special. Isaiah prophesied that much:

“Who has believed what he has heard from us? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.” Isaiah 53:1-3 (ESV)
Only once before his death did the physical body of Jesus reveal in any way his Divine nature: at his Transfiguration. Though many external signs pointed to his divinity, and through in him humanity and divinity were united, it was only the brief moment of the Transfiguration when Christ’s glorified nature was revealed to anyone – then to Peter, James, and John. In the wake of the Resurrection, however, the glorified body of Christ, revealed at the Transfiguration, becomes the permanent body of the Savior… and it is of this Body that we receive and of this Blood that we drink in the celebration of our Lord’s Holy Supper.

If we reject the idea that Christ’s body and blood can be made present under the forms of bread and wine, we must – if we are logical – reject the Incarnation itself. For just as it is against the truth of human nature (specifically man’s natural body and blood) to be present in multiple places at once, it is against the truth of God’s divine nature to be limited in time and space. If we reject Christ’s presence in the Eucharist, we reject his incarnation, his redemptive work, and his eternal kingship – as well as our own resurrection and glorification at the last great day.

The ancient faith of the Christian Church can easily be summarized with these words, “This is my body; This is my blood”. Christ has promised that the bread and wine of the Eucharist are his body and blood. If we deny this fundamental truth, we deny the ability to take Christ at his word which, in turn, undermines the totality of Scripture, and leaves us cast adrift and hopeless in a sea of doubt and despair.

One need not adopt Roman theories of Transubstantiation and practices of adoration to receive in the Eucharist the grace, peace, and mercy that God has promised in his Word to all who participate in the Sacrament. One needs to simply accept that Christ is faithful to what he has spoken, and that he will bring it to pass. Indeed, many abuses which were occurring in the Roman Church at the time of the Reformation needed to be addressed and corrected, and the use of the Eucharist was one of them. However, rejecting the Real Presence does not simply reject Transubstantiation… it rejects the Incarnation itself, especially when it is couched in language like the Black Rubric or the text of Article 28.

I encourage all of my Christian brothers and sisters to give serious consideration to what a rejection of the Doctrine of Christ’s Real Presence in the Eucharist does to the rest of our Christology, indeed to the totality of our theology, before persisting in an irrational rejection of one of the most precious comforts afforded to believers, being united with Christ’s body and blood in the Sacrament of the Holy Supper.

Indeed, there were many who, even in Christ’s time, could not accept the idea that Christ could give his flesh for food and his blood for drink…

“When many of his disciples heard it, they said, "This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?" But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, "Do you take offense at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe." (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) And he said, "This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father."

After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the Twelve, "Do you want to go away as well?" Simon Peter answered him, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” John 6: 60-69 (ESV)

3 comments:

Dr.D May 25, 2010 at 9:32 PM  

Very good presentation of the Real Presence. You are correct in saying that we need not accept Transubstantiation in order to accept the Real Presence, and that it is absolutely essential that we must accept the Real Presence. Well done, Father.

Father D+

Father Robert Lyons May 26, 2010 at 11:20 AM  

Thanks for your feedback, Dr. D!

Rob+

Bill Farnham May 26, 2010 at 7:54 PM  

Well, good job. Nicely done. John's Gospel gives us pretty firm instruction that unless we eat his flesh and drink his blood, we cannot dwell with him in us.

All original material (C) 2007-2010 by Father Robert Lyons.

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