Thursday, November 20, 2008

Unity and the Body According to Cyprian

Not long ago a Protestant friend of mine expressed some displeasure at the fact that Catholics excluded Protestants from the altar of the Eucharistic Sacrifice. To no avail, I tried to explain that the Eucharist is a sign of unity and full communion and further that to receive in disbelief would be a lie and to receive in a state of mortal sin would be to profane the Body while scandalizing the community.

The ubiquitous sign of unity for the Church is the Blessed Sacrament. The Body of Christ is one just as the Church is one and only those who share in the life of the Church (Christ’s life) may receive His Body. Thus, when commenting on the Lord’s Prayer St. Cyprian says “For Christ is the bread of life; and this bread does not belong to all men, but it is ours.” And further:
"Give us this day our daily bread." And this may be understood both spiritually and literally, because either way of understanding it is rich in divine usefulness to our salvation.
A sacrament effects what it signifies. Moreover, that one thing signifies another does not preclude it from effecting that thing or even from being that thing. Like a good Catholic, Cyprian affirms that it may be understood “both spiritually and literally”.
And according as we say, "Our Father," because He is the Father of those who understand and believe; so also we call it "our bread," because Christ is the bread of those who are in union with His body.
Notice it is for those who are in union with His Body and not those “animated by His Soul though in broken bodily communion”. That is, there is one Body of Christ – the Church and she is one as His Body is one. If she can be divided, so too can the Body of Christ be divided.
And we ask that this bread should be given to us daily, that we who are in Christ, and daily receive the Eucharist for the food of salvation, may not, by the interposition of some heinous sin, by being prevented, as withheld and not communicating, from partaking of the heavenly bread, be separated from Christ's body
Here, the Eucharist is salvific and mortal sin separates the believer from the Body of Christ. Those separated from the Body may not receive for this reason.
And therefore we ask that our bread— that is, Christ— may be given to us daily, that we who abide and live in Christ may not depart from His sanctification and body.
Cyprian is doubtlessly a student of Ignatius of Antioch who nearly 150 years earlier had said the same things:
To the Ephesians: Let no man deceive himself: if any one be not within the altar, he is deprived of the bread of God. that ye obey the bishop and the presbytery with an undivided mind, breaking one and the same bread, which is the medicine of immortality,
To the Philadelphians: Take heed, then, to have but one Eucharist. For there is one flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ, and one cup to [show forth] the unity of His blood; one altar; as there is one bishop, along with the presbytery and deacons, my fellow-servants: that so, whatsoever you do, you may do it according to [the will of] God.
But if there is further confusion regarding where this Body is on earth, Cyprian has already made his views on the primacy of Peter clear which I reviewed here. Again in this same document he says:
But the Lord prayed and besought not for Himself— for why should He who was guiltless pray on His own behalf?— but for our sins, as He Himself declared, when He said to Peter, "Behold, Satan has desired that he might sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, that your faith fail not.”
Notice how he links this passage to the unity of the true Church:
And subsequently He beseeches the Father for all, saying, "Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe in me through their word; that they all may be one; as You, Father, art in me, and I in You, that they also may be one in us." The Lord's loving-kindness, no less than His mercy, is great in respect of our salvation, in that, not content to redeem us with His blood, He in addition also prayed for us. Behold now what was the desire of His petition, that like as the Father and Son are one, so also we should abide in absolute unity; so that from this it may be understood how greatly he sins who divides unity and peace, since for this same thing even the Lord besought, desirous doubtless that His people should thus be saved and live in peace, since He knew that discord cannot come into the kingdom of God.
The last line is a loud clap of thunder in today’s pluralistic world. It silences the noise of various opinions regarding the Church. There is no discord in the kingdom of God. There is no discord in the Church. The Church is one and she is holy. Whatever discord appears among the Catholic Church – it is only discord insofar as those perpetuating it have separated themselves from the unity of the body.


Andrew Preslar said...

The Our Father is an intensely Eucharistic prayer isn't it?

I recently read, I think that it was over at Dave Armstrong's website, that the faithful would take home portions of the Holy Gifts in order to partake of them on an as needed basis. I suppose with daily mass this is no longer necessary, but either way we know whereof we speak when we pray "give us this day our daily bread," and "thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven" (cf., Our Lord's prayer in the Garden, this really is the essence of the Atonement, hence, of the Eucharist, wherein the Father's Name is hallowed) "forgive us our tresspasses (Atonement) "as we forgive those who tresspass against us" (worthy reception) and "lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil" (the effects of Holy Communion, cf., St Thomas Aquinas' prayers in preparation and in thanksgiving for reception of the Eucharist).

By the way, I ordered my Patrology the other day, so struck was I by envy of yours.

Tim A. Troutman said...

Mike Aquilina also talks about that common practice (taking some of the consecrated Host home for daily communion) in his book "The Mass of the Early Christians".

Did you get the set or order them individually?

Andrew Preslar said...

The set- lazy, plus I really do try to get hardcovers whenever financially possible; Ignatius Press softcovers are nice though; God bless them and their aesthetic sensibilities! Although, I do recall that it was the young C.S. Lewis who cared about how his books were bound, the older Lewis despised such concerns- too busy reading, I guess.

As to the post:

No Protestant-respecting Protestant should want to receive communion in the Catholic Church, if you do so desire, you should convert; otherwise, I suspect your desire to be a form of self-assertion- I HAVE MY RIGHTS!- especially if you are an american.

If you believe that the consecrated elements truly are the Body and Blood of Christ, and substantially nothing else, then your only option, other than remaining a heretic within some Protestant denomination or group, is to convert to the Catholic Church or else the Orthodox Church.

The fact that these are, in terms of full communion, mutually exclusive options is a standing rebuke to all sacramental Churches, Roman or Eastern. These ancient, historical churches, contiguous with the beginning, need to get their act together. Having the Eucharist, our sins pertaining to disunity are greater than the same sins among the Protestant communions.

Tim A. Troutman said...

Yea, I agree and hopefully we'll see some real progress in the next decade or so. I don't know of all the history regarding the separation but I do know that Rome has had her arms wide open for at least 40 years now. The East needs to step up to the challenge.

Andrew Preslar said...

The East has so done, as you know, at various times and in various ways, including that mediaeval council, don't remember which, where a non-enduring reunion was acheived. In the 16th century and beyond, many millions of Orthodox have been received into the papal fold. Recently, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople has been making strong overtures of peace and reconciliation, which Rome has gratefully acknowledged.

What has happened on the Romeward end over the past 40 years is basically the Latin Church getting its act together in a more theologically informed and pastorally unified and universal way than had previously been the case.

The EP does not, of course, speak for the Orthodox Church, no one does, which is one of the reasons that reunion has failed in the past. I have heard rumors of a pan-Orthodox Council in the making. That could be a real game-changer, for better or worse.

Amy said...

Your friend doesn't seem to be aware of his own Protestant history, either. It's only recently that "open communion" has been a practice among some Protestants and Evangelicals.

Phil Snider said...

As a Protestant, I've never really understood the pressing need for some Protestants to, as it were, storm the table in an Roman Catholic Eucharist. I've not really understood because I understand that the Roman Catholic church and the Anglican Church simply aren't in communion and I think that is something that, while I personally think I would qualify (as I identify both as a catholic (note the small c) and as believing in Real Prescence), I can't get away from. Besides, the Roman Catholic church has made its position clear and I think, if we are to be truly ecumenical here, we should respect that.

I had to put that into practice six years ago, while I was in teacher's college. The teacher candidates were divided into cohorts or groups of students which determined where one might get placements. I talked my way into the Catholic Edcuation and Social Justice cohort and I'm very glad I did. It was very good to be with people who believed in God and thought of their role as teachers as a vocation. I had had some hopes that I would get a job in a Catholic school, but the policy of the Catholic boards where I live to accept Catholics (this was ironic because it meant that nominal Catholics could get a job where I, who often was closer to Catholic doctrine than they were, couldn't. But that is water over the bridge). Still, I don't regret my decision.

The Eucharist came up, of course, in this and I made the conscious decision not to take the host, but to go up for a blessing. What I found over time is that it gave me a chance to meditate upon the divided Church in the world today. That is, I could grieve for the divisions in Christianity and, in a sense, it was a spiritual discipline not to receive Communion in that context. I know we differ on how to look at the divisions in Christianity, but I hope you can appreciate that my experience showed me that even the practice of exclusion from the table can be taken as a chance to reflect on our divisions as Christians. I even got the chance to talk about that with my Catholic peers as well, so I think the experience had its benefits.

What I wish for my fellow Protestants who are getting upset about this issue is that they should try to get over their personal sense of insult and start thinking about what this is saying about our divisions and what has led us to them. I firmly believe we all, Protestants, Catholic and Orthodox, should be meditating and grieving for these divisions. Perhaps, ironically, the Roman Catholic practice of excluding non-Catholics from the Eucharist gives us just the occasion to do that.