Friday, January 21, 2011

This is my body, which has been given up for you

Yesterday I was doing a little research on Catholicism and people's reasons for believing it. My adventures led me into Eucharistic miracles, of which there are several notable, which I'll get into on a separate post. But I want to ramble a bit about the Catholic teaching of the Eucharist first.

Now, the Catholics believe that the Eucharist (that round, unleavened wafer) is the body, blood, soul and divinity of the Lord Jesus Christ, literally--but under the appearances of bread and wine. Symbolically, the wine represents his blood and the bread represents his flesh; however, Catholic dogma states that each is equally divine. To become the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus the wafer has to first undergo Transubstantiation, which is a fancy way of saying that at the critical point in the Mass when the priest requests God to change the bread into Jesus, that God hears his prayer and suddenly the bread is Jesus. God hears his prayer because at the Last Supper, Jesus spelled out how the Eucharist act would go down. If you've ever been to a Mass and heard a bell ring, this is why. Many times, especially back before speaker systems, the faithful could not hear a darn thing going on, so a loud bell was jingled so that everyone would know that the Transubstantiation had taken place. This event is the whole point of a Catholic Mass, and the most important dogma to the Catholics (right up there with papal infallibility and Mary's virginity).

Consecrated hosts are kept inside the church at all times, usually locked up in an ornate box called the Tabernacle. This perpetual presence of the living Christ is why Catholics genuflect before getting into the pew, and while walking around. I've known Catholics who won't walk with their back to the Tabernacle. Sometimes, if they are doing some sort of task that requires they walk across the church, they will diligently genuflect each time they pass back by...even when they're walking outside the church. Traditional Catholics, the Latin-Mass kind (and the kind I grew up with), often require their women to wear a veil (usually lace) over their heads any time they are inside a church. To see why Catholics create such a fuss over the veil, go to the FishEater's explanation on Catholic Veiling. Like many of the odd things Catholics obsess on, veiling is too exhaustive to summarize in this post.

The Eucharistic is the explanation for a lot of things about Catholics. They really care about being quiet in church because of respect for Jesus, as well as dressing modestly. The act of receiving Eucharist--in addition to being done while kneeling, only on the tongue and sometimes while hands being covered--must be done with the purest soul possible. If you dare receive the Eucharist with a mortal sin on your soul, you can multiply your guilt and damnation to hell by about 1,000. Venial and actual sins weren't the best to have while receiving, but it was acceptable if necessary. It is generally accepted that the spirit of Jesus will leave you about 15 minutes after you receive, at which time you can cease holy contemplation of God and go back to things like eating, talking, and daydreaming about that hottie wearing the floor-length plaid jumper.

I remember being taught, in all seriousness, about Jesus particles--google it if you don't believe me. Little invisible particles of Jesus floating around that must be prevented from spreading, and must be revered just the same as Christ himself. Traditional Catholics go absolutely psycho about this. So, to prevent Jesus particles they first use what's called a paten which catches any errant particles. The priest is the only one allowed to touch the host, so the host must go directly into a person's mouth. And don't chew, it's not polite. Traditional Catholics are quite scandalized by more modern Catholics who receive in the hand (spreading Jesus particles all over the place), don't have an altar rail and don't kneel or even genuflect to receive, and--gasp--chew Jesus like a snack. There's quite a division over this! I know personally traditional Catholics who will not attend a Novus Ordo Mass even when no other option is available, because of the lack of reverence and traditional music and such--all the while acknowledging that the Novus Ordo is a valid Mass (the word "valid" carries a LOT of weight in this context, trust me), and knowing that missing Mass is a mortal sin. Go figure. They will plan their travel around where a Latin Mass is. They will drive 3 hours one way every week to attend the nearest one, dragging along their dozen children in a commercial van. They will, like my mother, only move to cities where these Masses are readily available and supported by the local bishop. If a bishop is not Latin Mass friendly he might as well be the spawn of Satan, for all the hissing venom they throw his way.

This is one of the reasons why Catholics think they are so special, because God gave them the Eucharist and no one else. But the drama doesn't stop there. There have been endless arguments over the validity (again, that sacred word) of the Eucharist if the conditions aren't just right. Did the priest say the exact words just right? Did he correctly wash his hands with the special water first? Does it matter if the priest is a believer himself? Is he correctly ordained? And so it goes. There are very detailed, special requirements for priests' ordination. You've never met a religion more legalistic and detail-oriented than Catholicism.

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