Thursday, May 19, 2011
Christ Unifies Through His Body And Blood
Matthew James Bellisario 2011
It is the very person of Jesus Christ in His full divinity and humanity that saves and elevates mankind above his natural end, to his supernatural end. The Lamb of God was slain to take away the sins of the world. He is the perfect Sacrifice and without Him nothing is made perfect, and none can stand before the dread judgement seat that awaits each and every one of us upon death. It was His sacrifice that gave us all the chance to become “sons of God.” Jesus told each of his disciples that they would partake in His very Body and Blood. Scripture is clear that Christ intended this to be a literal partaking, that is a literal partaking of His entire person, which was instituted at the Last Supper. The Gospel of John gives an account of Jesus’ words preceding the sacrificial Supper in the upper room, “I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh...Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed.”
The words of Christ are plain, it was the same body of His which would be given up on the cross that would be given to His disciples to eat and drink. You cannot accept that His true Body was given on the cross and yet reject that His true Body would be given to eat. For He makes it clear they were one in the same Body. The sacrifice and the Body of Christ are presented in the Divine Liturgy, or what is known as the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in the West. Many at the time Jesus spoke these words did not believe Him, or they out-rightly rejected Him. They murmured much like the Protestants do today, "This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?" Yet Jesus replied, “Do you take offense at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of man ascending where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh is of no avail; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you that do not believe.” These are certainly not the words of metaphor, since Jesus then watched many of them leave Him, not making any effort whatsoever to clarify His direct words. When he sat with His disciples in the upper room he clarified further, “This is my body which is given for you: Do this for a commemoration of me. This is the chalice, the new testament I my blood, which shall be shed for you.”
It is this action, “do this” (the Divine Liturgy) and these words which unite every ancient and apostolic Church on the face of the earth. Every Catholic, Orthodox and Oriental Church which has an apostolic foundation, understands Jesus’ words literally. Each also believes that they have valid apostolic lines of a priesthood which remain in continuity with Jesus and His first apostles. These very words are what brought me out of the darkness of Protestantism. Despite the differences that remain among the Catholic and Orthodox, these words and the divine action of the Divine Liturgy, which results from them, continue to forge a deep bond. Once a person is honest enough to take Jesus’ words as they were spoken, and how they have been historically interpreted among all the ancient Churches, then one can no longer remain a Protestant. These words give life, and they are words which divide the sheep and goats. Those who believe are like the sheep who are guided by the Divine Master, those who reject Christ at His word are the goats, which are cast out into the darkness. “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give them life everlasting: and they shall not perish for ever, and no man shall snatch them out of my hand.”
The Catholic Church teaches that the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass presents the real Body and Blood Of Our Lord after the consecration takes place over the Gifts. The Council of Trent (Thirteenth Session) defined this teaching further, “In the first place, the holy Synod teaches, and openly and simply professes, that, in the august sacrament of the holy Eucharist, after the consecration of the bread and wine, our Lord Jesus Christ, true God and man, is truly, really, and substantially contained under the species of those sensible things... And because that Christ, our Redeemer, declared that which He offered under the species of bread to be truly His own body, therefore has it ever been a firm belief in the Church of God, and this holy Synod doth now declare it anew, that, by the consecration of the bread and of the wine, a conversion is made of the whole substance of the bread into the substance of the body of Christ our Lord, and of the whole substance of the wine into the substance of His blood; which conversion is, by the holy Catholic Church, suitably and properly called Transubstantiation.” The key word here is substance, that is its essence, or that which “something is.” The substance of the Eucharist is Jesus, the entire person, in His full humanity and divinity. Likewise the Orthodox Churches teach the same. Although they traditionally did not seek to explain this substantial change as the Catholic Church did after the brilliant scholastics like the Angelic Doctor, Saint Thomas Aquinas came along, which further explained the accidents or the appearance which remained, they have always acknowledged the change in substance or essence. Likewise they have always acknowledged that what the eyes see is not what the Eucharist is in its essence after the consecration.
For example, a book used a standard source for Orthodox dogmatic theology titled, Orthodox Dogmatic Theology by Protopresyter Michael Pomazansky, gives the following detailed explanation of what the Mystery of the Eucharist is in Orthodox dogmatic theology. I think it is worth quoting at length because I constantly observe dishonest Calvinist apologists like James White, Turretin Fan, and those who run in such circles, claiming that the Orthodox do not believe in this substantial change. I even ran across a Protestant blogger named Rhology who has claimed that the Orthodox believe what he believes as a Calvinist. As we will soon see, this is not true. The text (taken from pages 283-284) explaining the Orthodox belief reads, “In the Mystery of the Eucharist, at the time when the priest, invoking the Holy Spirit upon the offered Gifts, blesses them with the prayer to God the Father: “Make this bread the precious Blood of Thy Christ; changing them by the Holy Spirit”- the bread ad wine actually are changed into the Body and Blood by the coming down of the Holy Spirit. After this moment, although our eyes see bread and wine on the Holy Table, in their very essence, invisibly for sensual eyes, this is the true Body and the true Blood of the the Lord Jesus, only under the “forms” of bread and wine.” The teaching is clear here, again the key word is essence, which is what something is or its substance. To make the teaching more clear however the text continues. Unfortunately for the Calvinist apologist, it makes it clear that Orthodox teaching is not the same as their heretical doctrine, but in line with Catholic teaching. “Thus the sanctified Gifts (1) are not only signs or symbols, reminding the faithful of the redemption, as the reformer Zwingli taught; and likewise, (2) it is not only by His “activity and power” (“dynamically”) that Jesus Christ is present in them, as Calvin taught; and finally, (3) He is not present in the meaning only of “penetration” as the Lutherans teach (who recognize the co-presence of Christ “with the bread, under the form of bread, int he bread.”); but the sanctified Gifts in the Mystery are changed or (a later term) “transubstantiated” into the true Body and true Blood of Christ, as the Saviour said: For My flesh is meat indeed, and My Blood is drink indeed (John 6:55).
Here we can see that the words of Christ in which he explains the Eucharistic Mystery is what binds all ancient Christian Churches together. Even those Oriental Churches which split around 451 teach the very same. The Orthodox Coptic Church likewise teaches, “As the bread that is transubstantiated to the Body of Christ was previously grains of wheat having become bread after much grinding, kneading and baking, and the wine that is transubstantiated to become the Blood of Christ was previously many grapes pressed to become liquid, so too all the community of believers, partaking of the Holy Body and Precious Blood, become one in Christ.” I could go back and quote many Church Fathers as well to provide further evidence of this apostolic Christian belief, but as they say, the proof is in the pudding. Every ancient Christian Church which has existed from apostolic times are in complete agreement on this doctrine. This is what unites us, and it is what I believe will heal the other theological rifts that exist between us.
It is my deepest hope that all who call themselves Christian will examine the words of Our Lord and take them seriously, and then take a sober look at how these words have been interpreted among all of the ancient Churches. An honest examination of both will lead to the conclusion that Protestantism is simply not an option. Once a person sees the real Christ as He has given Himself on the cross and in the Church’s valid liturgies among the ancient Churches, Protestantism vanishes into the thick fog that it arose from, and blows away with the early morning breeze. Jesus’ words and action in the Divine Liturgies is what ultimately makes a true Church. Those who do not have Christ in this manner are not united in Him as He has intended them to be. Remember these words, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.”