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August 24, 2004

Wheat in a Land of Milk and Honey

It's clear that Jeremiah Lewis and I aren't going to iron out our underlying differences of spiritual understanding discussing — on blogs — the ingredients of the Eucharist at Roman Catholic Mass. Therefore, I'm not going to get into the doctrinal debate with him. I do, however, respect Jeremiah's thought and writing, with which I more often than not agree, so I want to offer something by way of reply to his latest post on the issue.

He still hasn't argued against the tradition of requiring the Eucharist to be made of wheat in the way that Christ argued against the use of qorban to skirt around a Commandment. For all of his Biblical exegesis, Jeremiah manages no more than to suggest that Scripture doesn't provide any direct instruction that Communion must be accomplished with wheat bread. Well, fine. I'm certainly not going to jump into the midst of our differing approaches to the Bible. I will, however, note that one of the contingencies to which I made reference was belief "in the divinely sanctioned necessity of an institutional Church that collects and passes along the wisdom of thousands of years, under the direct guidance of God." The point still stands that the practices of the Church oughtn't be attacked as a proxy for the core beliefs if Christians are to work together in this crumblingly secular world — not to mention saving each other's soul.

If Jeremiah disagrees with the Catholic approach to religion — which is very thorough, very structured, and, yes, sometimes "highly involved and doctrinally complex" — then he ought to address that topic directly. Frankly, should he do so, I'll cede the right to reply to other Catholics who have more knowledge and experience arguing over the degree to which we can rightly presume to know what is and isn't important in the Bible and why and how. I suspect that the broader discussion will revolve around the "having it both ways" approach evident when Jeremiah writes:

This begs the question: does Scripture require us to imitate, to the minutia of each detail, the Communion supper as first celebrated by Jesus and his disciples? Be imitators of Christ: does this mean in every manner and every symbolic and physical action, or does this Scripture point to a life of spiritual obedience, likened to Christ's obedience to God in all things?

Well, do Catholics have to produce "minutia of each detail" to prove the necessity of wheat? Or do they have to let go of Biblical example to get at the real spiritual lesson? And if the latter, how do they determine what symbolism and physical actions spiritual obedience requires?

Even before we could begin hammering away at such questions, though, it seems to me that there's a deeper disagreement — one that may not be possible to resolve through discussion:

Yet Christ's power and redemption is not a physical, chemical process. The bonds of the physical were indeed broken when Christ rose again, defeating death and securing us a place beside the Father. Had Christ ministered and died in Asia, his Last Supper may very well have been a rice cake.

Isn't Christ's power and redemption physical? Did He break the bonds of the physical? Every Gospel but Mark tells of some form of physical contact on Jesus' part after the Resurrection. Indeed, Jesus' physicality was necessary to convince Thomas that He had risen. "Touch me and see," Jesus says in Luke, "because a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you can see I have." He then asks for something to eat. The physical remains important. Does Jeremiah expect himself to be resurrected without some sort of chemical activity?

As for a Christ of the Far East, all I can say is that God surely could have become man in a land of rice. But He didn't, and I see nothing in Scripture that gives Jeremiah license to suggest that the time and place of Christ's coming was as inconsequential as the presence of gluten in the Eucharist.

Posted by Justin Katz at August 24, 2004 10:15 PM
Religion
Comments

I wonder if communion would ever survive a rational basis test. ;)

Posted by: Ben Bateman at August 24, 2004 11:01 PM

This whole issue is absurd for one reason: The priest has the power to consecrate the host regardless of how the host is composed. It seems that those who favor "gluten ueber alles" not only are ignoring that point; they are actually saying that God will deny a priest the ability to consecrate if the host is not made of the "right" material. Since when is the priest's ability to consecrate dependent on the host's composition? In fact, where has it ever been argued in Catholic theology that the composition of the host takes precedence over the priest's ability to consecrate?

Unfortunately, this is just another example of a legalistic approach to the sacraments that obscures their true meaning.

Posted by: Joseph D'Hippolito at August 26, 2004 1:03 AM

"The priest has the power to consecrate the host regardless of how the host is composed." Nonsense. The Church has the authority to determine the required matter and form. Of course, the matter is bread and wine. If the question then becomes, what exactly qualifies as bread or as wine, then the Church must (must) concomittantly possess the authority to determine that, too.

"They are actually saying that God will deny a priest the ability to consecrate if the host is not made of the 'right' material." Um, no. That's what YOU are saying. What THEY are saying is that bread has to be bread and wine has to be wine. And saying that the required matter and form are the required matter and form is something that Catholic theologians have been saying for centuries.

Aw, heck. Why don't we just nuke those legalistic SOBs?

Posted by: ELC at August 26, 2004 1:34 PM

So, ELC, how would you handle the problem of giving the Eucharist to Catholics who through no fault of their own either are allergic to or cannot digest gluten? I'm sure you know that there are gluten-free hosts available for such people.

Besides, if the host is concecrated, don't the elements "become" Christ's Body and Blood "under the appearance" of said elements? Doesn't that render the whole "wheat v. rice" issue moot? Is Christ's appearance going to differ substantially if the host is made of rice instead of wheat?

ELC, it is one thing to have power to do something. It's quite another to exercise that power. St. Paul said that what is lawful is not necessarily what is expedient. This whole issue takes away from God's power to concecrate through the priest and the nature of Christ in the Eucharist -- and concentrates attention on the power of the Church.

As far as being a "legalistic SOB" goes, ELC, your nuke is in the mail. ;) Do you prefer hydrogen or cobalt? :P

Posted by: Joseph D'Hippolito at August 26, 2004 1:58 PM

o, ELC, how would you handle the problem of giving the Eucharist to Catholics who through no fault of their own either are allergic to or cannot digest gluten? I'm sure you know that there are gluten-free hosts available for such people.

Quite easily - they partake of the cup only. End or problem. If it were me however, I would try a small fraction of the host and check antibody levels. If it didn't seem to be a problem, that's the way I would proceed.

Posted by: Elena at August 26, 2004 3:06 PM

Well, Elena, how is partaking of the cup only a legitimate form of communion, especially since Christ consecrated both bread and wine?

Posted by: Joseph D'Hippolito at August 26, 2004 3:09 PM

Because Joseph, in the Catholic Church we believe that the host is the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ and the wine is the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ. Two different "species" but all of Jesus. For years the Catholic church only offered communion under the species of the host, and in fact today that's all many shut-ins receive because of the difficulty in transporting the Precious Blood without spillage.

So to a Catholic, you are receiving communion, fully Jesus present, in even a crumb of the host, or just a drop of the wine, both or just one, it makes no difference.

Posted by: Elena at August 28, 2004 12:53 PM

Elena, how does that belief square with Christ's consecrating bread and wine separately during the Last Supper and definining them separately as "body" and "blood," respectively? I'm not trying to be a jerk; I'm serious.

Posted by: Joseph D'Hippolito at August 28, 2004 3:18 PM