February 11, 2024

The Catholic state of play

by Interfaith

According to a recent Pew survey, 50% of US Catholics believe the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ, that is, they believe in the Transubstantiation.

The other half — a staggering 50% — think the change is ‘symbolic’.

Fr Dwight Longernecker — from whom I’ve filched this article — suggests a number of causes, the easiest to point a finger at being 50 years of ‘raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens’ catechesis, and most respondents here at IO seem to have an expeience of questions ignored or chopped off short.

Others (not here) blame Vatican II, and the liberalising of the Church, culminating in ‘Father Fabulous’ with his Day-Glo vestments, churches that look like a spaceships and music that seems to be a blend of Joan Baez, the Carpenters and campfire songs — in short, that religion should be hip, be cool …

This particular debate goes way back. The Fourth Lateran Council in 1215, the Council of Trent (1545-63). Trent was a response to the Protestant revolutionaries. Luther proposed “consubstantiation” and the Anglicans “receptionism”, while Calvin and Zwingli argued for a merely symbolic presence of Christ at the celebration of the Eucharist.

Modern Materialist Christian Man believes Christianity is a human endeavour, the product of a certain historical period and culture. As such, it not only may change, but it must change according to the time and culture in which it finds itself. In other words, Christianity is a relative religion. Not only is the Eucharist a symbol, it’s all a symbol/metaphor/analogy/myth.

(A note: Had the Church adopted this change with the times attitude, it wouldn’t be here today, any more than the structures of those times … even idealistic 60/70s Christian movements are dying as the generation passes …)

Modern Mysticist Christian Man (admittedly way, way less than 50%) believes that the dogmas of faith are not relative, but Revealed. The Incarnation, the Trinity, the Sacraments. The Words and the Deeds – the Eucharist and the entire Christian faith is not symbolic but supernatural. It is revealed by God, and as such transcends the vagaries of history and culture.

Longernecker makes a nice analogy:
In our downstairs bathroom we have a collection of family photographs. There I am as a child of two in my father’s arms. Next to it is a family photo when I am five, another when I am 12, then my high school portrait, my college years and then yesterday’s me … an old bald man. The physical form has changed, but in each photograph you can see it’s me. That invisible, unchanging person is my substance.

It is this “substance” of the bread and wine that changes, the ‘me’ of it. All that has happened is the ontological source has been affirmed and, if you like, actuated. If God cannot imbue the eucharistic species with his essence, than neither can man attain ‘enlightenment’ or ‘salvations’ or ‘deliverance’ or whatever you want to call it … God is more unlike us than we are unlike bread and wine. In fact God is nothing like us … so why we should think that we can achieve what cannot be achieved by any other collection of atoms in the cosmos, well …


Mystery religions are unfashionable, unless they wear their mystery on their sleeves. Same with spirituality, whatever … ‘no pain, no gain’, the motto goes, but what if there is pain but no gain to the authentic spiritual life? Not so enticing now, it seems …

… so we slide back into eros, into the ecstatic, the whoo-hoo of mysticism, that the mystic is imbued with some kind of ‘I-know-something-you-don’t know’ Mona Lisa smile, and if you can pull that off, and write a book, you’re made.

The religion of the age is scientism. It’s the basis of faith, or rather the basis of a faith that says if it cannot be empirically determined, it cannot be.

Me? I long for an authentic Christian Mystagogia — a deeper seating of the faithful in the Mysteries of the Church, a chance to drink from deep wells … but my God, would that put you at odds with the world!

Really, in trying to stay still, we’ve gone backwards. That diet is all too rich for us now. I read the lessons of St Augustine to the Catechumen and I’m staggered by what he tells them. Say that today and it won’t be long before someone cries heretic or insists its an assertion of pantheism, or a ‘spiritual analogy’.



Thomas Aug 6, 2019

Visit Thread: https://www.interfaith.org/community/threads/19154/




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