Sunday, August 19, 2007

The Sacrament of Christ's Body and Blood

Richard Hooker

THE grace which we receive by means of the holy eucharist does not begin life, but continues it. Therefore, no one receives this sacrament before baptism because nothing dead can take nourishment. The thing that grows must be alive in order to grow, and if our bodies did not constantly waste away it would not be necessary to have food to restore them. Perhaps the grace of baptism would be sufficient for our eternal life if our spiritual being were not impaired each day af-ter our baptism. In the life to come, where neither body nor soul can decay, our souls will require this sacrament as little as our bodies will require physical nour-ishment. However, as long as the days of our warfare shall last, and as long as we are subject to decay and growth in grace, the words of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, will remain true, "Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you." [Jn. 6. 53.]

Life is the true end for man, and those who have received a new life through baptism are told what kind of food is necessary to continue that new life. Those who wish to live the life of God must eat the flesh and drink the blood of the Son of Man, because his flesh and blood are a part of the diet which we must have in order to live. In infancy we are incorporated into Christ by baptism, and receive the grace of his Spirit, and we receive it without knowing that we are re-ceiving it; but in the eucharist the gift is received in another way, because we know by grace what the grace is which God gives us. We see the stages of our growth in holiness and virtue, and we recognize their existence; and we know that the strength of our life begun in Christ is Christ. We realize that his flesh is meat and his blood is drink; and these things we do not merely imagine, but we really know. They are so truly known that by faith we taste of eternal life when we re-ceive the body and blood given to us in the sacrament. The grace of the sacrament is recognized as the food which we eat and drink.

Just after the feeding of the five thousand on the Sea of Tiberius, [Jn. 6. 25 ff.] the Disciples learned from Christ that his flesh and blood were the true source of eternal life, not because of the bare force of their own substance, but because of the dignity and worth of the Person who offered them and still offers them up as a sacrifice for the whole world. The Disciples also learned that the body and blood were a life for each particular man only by being received by him himself as an individual. They understood this much although they did not yet perfectly understand what was the consequence of such a doctrine, and they did not understand until they gathered together for no other reason which they could imagine except to eat that Passover which Moses had instituted.

Then, they saw their Lord and Master take the chosen elements of bread and wine in his hands, and, with eyes lifted to heaven, consecrate and bless them for the endless good of all generations till the world’s end. Thus, by virtue of his divine benediction, these elements were made forever the instruments of life, and thus the Disciples were the first who were commanded to receive them, and the first who were promised, if they duly administered them, that the bread and the wine would be the channels of life and the vehicles by which his body and blood would be brought to them, and this was a promise not only to them but to their successors.

All of this had happened, and they had heard him say, "Take, eat; this is my body; drink ye all of it; for this is my blood." [Mat. 26. 26–28.] Could they have done what he had told them to do, believed what he had promised, and experi-enced the results he had promised, and not have been filled with a kind of fearful admiration for that heaven which they saw within themselves? We are taught by their joy and comfort that this heavenly food is given for the satisfaction of our empty souls, and not for the exercise of our investigating and overly subtle minds.
If we have any doubt as to what is expressed by these admirable words, let that one be our teacher as to the meaning of Christ, to whom Christ himself was a schoolmaster. Let our Lord’s Apostle be his interpreter, and let us content our-selves with his explanation, "The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the com-munion of the body of Christ?" [1 Cor. 10. 16.] Is there anything clearer and easier than the fact that just as Christ is called our life because we obtained life through him, so the parts of this sacrament are called his body and blood because when we receive these elements we do receive the body and blood of Christ?

We say that the bread and the wine are his body and his blood because through their instrumentality we participate in his body and blood, and that is a valid assertion because we quite properly give the name of the effect to the cause which produces it, for the cause is in the result which grows out of that cause. Our souls and bodies receive eternal life, and this life in them has as its source and cause the Person of Christ, and his body and blood are the source from which this life flows. The influence of the heavens is in plants, animals and men, and in everything which they make alive; but the body and blood of Christ are in that com-municant to which they minister in a far more divine and mystical kind of union, a union which makes us one with him, even as he and the Father are one.

The real presence of Christ’s most blessed body and blood should not be sought for in the sacrament, but in the worthy receiver of it. The very order of our Savior’s words agrees with this interpretation of the meaning of the sacrament. First, he says, "Take, eat;" and only after that does he say, "This is my body." First, he says, "Drink ye all of it;" and only after that does he say, "This is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins." [Mat. 26. 26–27.] It was only after the eating that the bread became the body of Christ; it was only after the drinking that the wine became his blood. The only interpretation that seems appropriate to these words of Christ is that which says that the bread is his body, and the cup is his blood only in the very heart and soul of the receiver, and that the sacramental elements themselves really exhibit, but do not really contain in themselves, that grace which it has pleased God to give us by means of them.

Everybody confesses that the grace of baptism is poured into the soul of man, and that although we receive it by means of water, it is neither located in the water, nor is the water changed into it. Why, then, should men think that the grace of the eucharist must be in the elements before that grace is in us who receive the sacrament?

The fruit of the eucharist is participation in the body and blood of Christ. There is not a single sentence in Holy Scripture that says we cannot be made partakers of his body and blood by means of this sacrament, unless the body and blood are contained in the elements or the elements converted in them. Christ’s words about his body and his blood are words of promise, for when he says, "This is my body," and "This is my blood," [Mat. 26. 26–27.] he promises us his body and his blood.

We all agree that Christ really and truly carries out his promise by means of the sacrament; but why do we trouble ourselves by such fierce contests about consubstantiation and the question whether the elements themselves contain Christ or not? Even if consubstantiation or transubstantiation are true, it does not benefit us, and if they are not true it does not handicap us. Our participation in Christ through the sacraments depends upon the cooperation of his omnipotent power, and that power makes the sacrament a means of creating his body and blood in us. Whether there is or is not such a change in the elements themselves, as some people imagine, need not make any great difference to us.

Let us, then, accept that in which we all agree, and then consider why the rest should not be considered superfluous rather than urged as necessary. In the first place, it is generally agreed that this sacrament is a real participation in Christ, and that by its means he imparts his full Person as the mystical head of every soul who receives him and thereby becomes a very member incorporate in his mystical body, which is the blessed company of all faithful people.
In the second place, it is also agreed that the communicant who receives the Person of Christ through the sacrament also receives the Holy Spirit who sanctifies the communicant as it sanctified Christ who is the head of all those who participate in him. In the third place, it is commonly held that whatever power or virtue there is in Christ’s sacrificed body and blood we freely and fully receive by this sacrament. In the fourth place, it is agreed that the result of the sacrament is a real transmutation of our souls and bodies from sin to righteousness, from death and corruption to immortality and life. In the fifth place, all believe that the sacramental elements are only corruptible and earthly things; therefore, they must seem to be an unlikely instrument to work out such admirable effects in man. For that reason, we must not rest our confidence in these elements themselves, but put our trust altogether in the strength of his glorious power, which he can and will give us. Through these his gifts and creatures of bread and wine, he will give that which he has promised to give us.


Anonymous said...

I have always thought that the debate over whether the Eucharistic elements objectively become the Body and Blood of Christ before or after partaking to be entirely academic. What can be proved from Scripture and Tradition is that consecration and partaking go hand in hand. They should not be separated.

This is seen in the Eastern liturgical tradition, which was never touched by the Scholastic and Reformation debates. Indeed, in the East, the sacraments/mysteries (including the reserved sacrament) never were and are not now venerated or adored apart from partaking. In fact, Eastern tradition regards Western Benediction and Exposition as "bread idolatry." Yet, quite ironically when you consider that Easterns are functionally Receptionist, their divines usually consider the formal doctrine of Receptionism a heresy -- perhaps because it over defines and rationalizes the Mystery in a spiritual way to more or less the same degree that Transubstantiation makes the Mystery too material.

In sum, lets not debate the Mystery of Holy Communion, the Mass, the Divine Liturgy, the Lord's Supper in an intellectual manner. Let us prepare ourselves to receive it worthily, to grow in Christ and allow him to grow in us, and to live as it becomes the recipient of the Gospel.

Rev. Dr. Hassert said...

Indeed. In the Divine Liturgy in the East the elements are reverenced before and after what we in the West would call "the consecration"--the Russian Orthodox theologian Alexander Schmemann makes a point of this and says things that could come right out of the quote from Hooker. And you are right in pointing out the the Eastern Orthodox do not practice extra-liturgical devotions with the elements at the center of the rite--the Western Orthodox do, but this has been because most were Anglo-Catholics or Romans. It is not a part of Orthodox tradition, for it is based on the Scholastic theories. Sadly, such stuff from a great theologian of the East like Schmemann+ sounds "protestant" to our Western ears, worn by the debate or "when" and "how" in the Mass. It is not "protestant," just another way of thinking about the Eucharist, a way of thinking that would have made more sense to Cranmer and Hooker then the debates of the Scholastics. I'll post some from Schmemann+ next week.