Friday, November 21, 2008

The 40 Hours Devotion 2008

Corpus Domini at Viterbo, from "An Artist in Italy" by Walter Tyndale, (1913)

The Exhortation to the Praises of God

Let the whole of humanity tremble, the whole world shake and the heavens exult when our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God, is present on the altar in the hands of a priest!
O admirable heights and sublime lowliness!
O sublime humility!
O humble sublimity!
That the Lord of the universe, God and the Son of God, so humbles Himself that for our salvation He hides Himself under the little form of bread!
Look at the humility of God and pour out your hearts before Him!
Humble yourselves as well, that you may be exalted by Him.
Therefore, hold back nothing of yourselves for yourselves so that He who gives Himself totally to you may receive you totally.
-- St Francis of Assisi

We had the 40 Hours Devotion this week at out parish. The deacon was in conversation with Anne not too long ago – they're both involved in religious education – and he related his observation that out of his 10th grade CCD class, at least 80% of the students claimed not to believe in the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.

Now there is something to work on… If that’s the case, it is not only a shame but a tragedy, because the Eucharist is the cornerstone of our faith. God's people had manna in the desert to sustain them when they were wandering in the desert in Exodus from Egypt, searching for the Promised Land, and we also need bread for the journey as we make out way through our own forms of exodus today, whatever they might be.

A few weeks ago, Fr. Ron Rolheiser wrote a column called The Many Faces of the Eucharist. I’ll close with some excerpts…

Christians argue a lot about the Eucharist. What does it mean? What should it be called? How often should it be celebrated? Who should be allowed to fully participate?

There are lots of views on the Eucharist:

For some it is a meal, for others it is a sacrifice

For some it is a ritual act, sacred and set apart, for others it is a community gathering, the more mess and kids there the better.

For some it is a deep personal prayer, for others it is a communal worship for the world.

For some it is a celebration of sorrow, a making present of Christ’s suffering and thus the place where we can break down, for others it is the place to celebrate joy and sing alleluia.

For some it is a ritual remembrance, a making present of the historical events of Jesus’ dying, rising, ascending, and sending the Holy Spirit, for others it is a celebration of God’s presence with us today.

For some it is a vigil act, a gathering that is essentially about waiting for something else or someone else to appear, for others it is a celebration of something that is already present that is asking to be received and recognized.

For some it is understood to make present the real, physical body of Christ, for others it is understood to make Christ present in a real but spiritual way.

Who’s right? In truth, the Eucharist is all of these things, and more. It is like a finely-cut diamond twirling in the sun, every turn giving off a different sparkle. It carries different layers of meaning, some of them in paradoxical tension with others. There is, even in scripture, no one theology of the Eucharist, but instead there are various complementary theologies of the Eucharist.

In the end, it defies not just theology professors, but metaphysics, phenomenology, and language itself. There is no adequate explanation of the Eucharist for the same reason that, in the end, there is no adequate explanation for love, for embrace, and for the reception of life and spirit through touch. Certain realities take us beyond language because that is their very purpose. They do what words cannot do. They also are beyond what we can neatly nail down in our understanding.

And that is true of the Eucharist. Any attempt to nail down its full meaning will forever come up short because it will always eventually get up and walk away with the nail!


Garpu said...

at least 80% of the students claimed not to believe in the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.

Buh, what? Where the heck are they getting this? I honestly don't know what's worse: that statistic or our fellow pew-sitters who police the Eucharist.

Maria said...

Hi Jeff,

Thanks for posting this. I like your blog too!

Jeff said...

Hi Jen,

Deacon Tom is really good with kids and they speak very frankly and openly to him.

I'm trying to remember back to 10th grade, and to discern whether or not this would have been the common response back then, too. It's been quite a while. :-) Maybe it has something to do with the age. Maybe they should move confirmation back to 8th grade, when cynicism about what adults have to say to them hasn't fully set in yet.

Hi Maria!

You're welcome. Thanks for visiting!

Maria said...

That's cool the kids have someone they can speak to with such confidence. Kids need that. I read somewhere that some diocese was moving confirmation to 6th grade. One of the priests at my parish believes First Eucharist should come later than 2nd or 3rd grade.

I teach 3rd grade catechism and am amazed by what the kids know, but still think they're so young for such an important sacrament.

Liam said...

Is it that they know the doctrine but don't believe it, or they don't know the doctrine?

Jeff said...


It's great that you take the time to teach. My Orthodox friends like to proudly tell me there's no age limit for the Eucharist in their church.

I don't know, Eucharist and Reconciliation sort of go together, and as far as first Reconciliation is concerned, it's hard for me to imagine them doing it any younger than they currently are.


I think they know the basics around the doctrine, but I don't think they've been encouraged or challenged to think about it too deeply. Deacon Tom would certainly have explained the doctrine to them, he's intensely eucharistic.

I'm inclined to take back a little bit of what I said earlier about 10th graders and adults.

Now I'm more inclined to say that what 10th graders believe about the Eucharist is gathered from the cues they are picking from their own parents and from what they get (or don't get) out of it. My experience tells me that we can go around and around forever about the best way to do religious education, but most of this stuff really does come from home, if it can be traced to anywhere in particular.