Sunday, February 16, 2014

A reader asks, "Aren't Catholics committing idolatry at Mass?"

I received an inquiry by email this morning that I thought would make a good post:

Dear Sir,

I viewed your interview on the Journey Home on EWTN. I was a catholic till the age of 58 and have since moved on. I would like to know how would you justify worshiping the Eucharist in the light of the 1st commandment, are you not worshiping a created God ?

Thank  you 

My response:

First, thank you for contacting me.  I think you have actually provided the answer to your own question:

In the Eucharist I worship Jesus.  Now, a Jewish person in the first century would say that anyone who worshiped Jesus was guilty of violating the First Commandment - "worshiping a created God." The moment that the all-holy ("holy" meaning "completely separate") God became a man, and the apostles worshiped Him (see Mt.28:17; Jn.20:27-28), we Christians became susceptible to such a charge.

You and I of course know that this charge is false, because the man we are worshiping is God and man, so the worship that we extend to Him in the flesh is no sin.  On the contrary, to understand that this man is God, and to fail to render Him the worship He is due, would be sinful.  The Catholic Church holds, as it has since Christ founded her, that Jesus' words, "This is My Body ... this is My Blood," transform the bread and wine presented in the Eucharist - at a level far deeper than our senses or instruments can register - into His Body and Blood.  This is the SAME Body and Blood that the Apostles worshiped in union with His Divinity.

This is really a continuation of the original "scandal" of the Incarnation- the thought that the eternal God would take flesh and die upon a Cross was a scandal to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles (1 Cor.1:23-25); but we Christians recognize it as the wisdom and power of God.  Our belief in the Eucharist flows directly from this:  We believe that the God Who abased Himself to the point of being born as an infant in Bethlehem (the name means "House of Bread") and laid in a feeding trough for animals (Lk.2:16), loves us to the point of giving us the flesh and blood He assumed - along with His Divinity - as food for our bodies and souls.

This was the difficult teaching that caused "many of his disciples" to abandon Him (Jn.6:60).  Jesus insisted on it to the point of requiring assent to it from the Apostles, "Do you take offense at this?  What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending where He was before?" (Jn.6:61-62).  Jesus' teaching has always been a difficult one for people to wrap their heads around, this teaching that the SAME flesh He offered in sacrifice upon the Cross is given to us, to bring us into Communion with Himself and the Father (Jn.6:51).  This is what St. Paul reiterated, "Consider the practice of Israel; are not those who eat the sacrifices partners in the altar? ... The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? (1 Cor 10:18,16).

The most powerful words on this point of course come from our Lord Himself,  “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat [“phogein” in Greek, the usual verb for “eat”] the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life within you; he who eats [“trogein” in Greek, meaning “to munch or gnaw”] my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.  For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me.” (John 6:53-56, NIV)

This Eucharistic Flesh we worship is the Flesh of the God-Man, and that is why it cannot be an act of idolatry.  Is that at all helpful?

Your brother in Christ,


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