Feast of Corpus Christi 2021
Deacon Tom Vert
Posted: June 6, 2021
“How do we want to be known?”
I think we would all say that Christians and Catholics have a bit of a tarnished image these days. Whether it is the getting too involved in political battles in the US, or the abuse scandals in the world, and the Canadian residential schools tragedy.
People listening to these reports might think of Catholics as exclusive, thinking only of themselves and their image, or even worse.
In the history of the church over 2000 years we have truthfully had highs and lows in the faith, from the joys and excitement of the first centuries, to the Crusades, to Vatican II and everything in between.
“How do we want to be known” is a great question to ask on the feast of Corpus Christi, with the Eucharist as one of our defining characteristics.
So, we have to go back and say what is the Eucharist, what is the history behind it, and is it the same know as it was 2000 years ago?
I was raised as a “cradle Catholic” as they say which means I grew up going to church because I was supposed to, but really had no idea what was going on or why.
Even with seminary training as a deacon, my knowledge increased but there is so much more to learn, and the more I learn, the more I want to know.
Recently, I have been studying the Eucharist, asking “why all these Eucharistic prayers?” “Why is Eucharistic prayer #1 so long and why do we use #2 so much?”
Are these prayers even close to what Christ said and did, and did the early Christians do the same? Did they believe in the real presence of Christ? If the Eucharist is the source and the summit – do I really understand it?
I found a great book from an Italian theologian that reviewed the history of the Eucharist and it is fascinating.
Remember that Jesus and all his apostles were Jewish, so how did the Last Supper align with those traditions and yet become something new?
The gospel tells us that Jesus and his apostles were going to celebrate the Festival meal in the upper room.
From Jewish history we know that Jesus would have celebrated over a large table with the group. He would have said a prayer called the Qiddush, which is a blessing before a meal and includes a blessing of the cup, and then a blessing of the bread.
Christ followed the tradition of his faith, but of course added to it by signifying his sacrifice on the cross by the submission of his body and blood. This changed it from a festival meal to the Lord’s supper which changed things forever, and he asked his followers to “do this in remembrance of me”!
We know that the early church followed the Lords’ guidance, by imitating the Sacrament of Christ’s sacrifice.
We have the first record in St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians in 53AD: “For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”
We then have a document called the “Didache” or the Teaching of the 12 apostles in 100AD. “Now concerning the Thanksgiving (Eucharist), thus give thanks. First, concerning the cup…And concerning the broken bread”
The core of the Eucharistic celebration was maintained in the early days, but all the prayers we have now were not there. The key lines were said and then the thanksgiving and prayers to the “best of the presider’s ability.”
There was only one loaf of bread used and this signified the one body of Christ. This is all of us together nourished with the same loaf and we leave the church empowered to live the Christian life as one!
The altar was a large table in a house just like in the upper room which imitated the gathering of Christ and the disciples.
This is one major change at Vatican II that brought us back to the original. Before Vatican II, the priest would have his back to the congregation and say the prayers silently alone.
Now we have a table of celebration in which the priest faces us, and we all gather around the table. On the table of celebration, we put everything forward, our sins and weaknesses as well as our talents and gifts. Everything celebrated together so we support each other, and God supports us through his real presence.
Vatican II deemed that the faithful should participate actively, consciously and devoutly in the Eucharistic celebration and should no longer be outsiders or silent onlookers. It is not a rite to be watched from behind, but a celebration to be lived, the same as it was in the time of the Corinthians.
Eucharistic prayers were added over time in order to help the priests with the “words to the best of their abilities”.
EP #1 was developed in Rome ~600AD and was the prime rite used in Rome a around the world exclusively until the 1960’s.
EP #2 which we use the most is the shortest but also the most authentic to the original 1st and 2nd century rites as it was written closer to 200AD
There are about 8-10 other EP’s that can be used for a variety of purposes.
So back to the question “how do we want to be known”?
Historically we see 3 key characteristics that defined Christians in the first century:
- Eucharist – the early Christians would gather for “the Lord’s Supper” and emulate what Christ told them with the bread and wine – “do this in remembrance of me”. This would be done in an inclusive manner once a week in a small house church.
- Inclusivity – Christianity was the first religion in the empire that included rich and poor, Jews, Greeks, Africans, Romans, slaves, tradespeople, merchants, etc., – all were allowed in just as Jesus taught when he ate and drank with anyone including tax collectors and prostitutes
- Treatment of the poor – the Christians were known not only for taking care of their own poor with help after the Lord’s Supper celebration; but also, the poor in the community and sending help to other Christian groups
These three characteristics should still be the same today – we are to be inclusive and accept all into our communities.
We are to celebrate the Eucharist as Christ told us too and we are to reach out to help those on the peripheries of life that need us.
So, we have to reflect on this key question “if someone were to watch me for a month, what kind of Christian would they deem me to be”?
Let us ask the Holy Spirit to continue to act in our lives to show the Christianity that God wants to shine forth to the world by asking ourselves:
“How do we want to be known?”