The notion that the communion wafer and the altar wine are transformed – during every mass – into the body and blood of Christ. Not – as Fr. Tischner points out – a mere symbol of the body and blood of Christ – but the real thing. Transubstantiation. The central tenet of Catholicism.
It is reflected in the importance of the Last Supper, at which Jesus, aware of his impending death, in the presence of his disciples, brings bread and wine together with the words: 'Do this in memory of me.' And this has been ritualistically repeated in the Roman Catholic Church for the past 1,980 years (assuming the Crucifixion took place in 33 AD).
Fr. Tischner explains the importance of the bodily presence of Christ in the Eucharist as being an opposition to the Greek philosophy, which in itself was an escape from the body. “And here is God Himself saying 'This is my body.' For the Greeks, promises did not live in the body. For us, they do. We love our bodies, which is why we improve them as much as we can. St Francis of Assisi called his body 'his donkey', but then he had a kindly relationship with donkeys. I see in the Eucharist an enormous appreciation of the body. It is not a burden, but a positive value, a symbol of earthly hope, and hope in the eternal life, for our bodies will one day rise again from the dead.”
Jacek Żakowski asks to what extent is the transubstantiation a physical act, and to what extent is it something agreed among people – or a symbol. Fr. Tischer responds that during Mass, God is present in the communion wafer. “Present means: conscious”. WOW! That's a powerful assertion that I never heard in decades of religious instruction or church-going. Of course! To be present means to be conscious. So Divine Consciousness resides within the communion wafer? Whether mass is mumbled by a rather dim priest mechanically going through the ritual to a small, disinterested congregation, or whether it is held in a magnificent mediaeval cathedral and the priest holds his flock in thrall with a performance of deepest spiritual intensity?
Church-going is a mixed experience; sometimes I'm uplifted to new levels of spiritual enlightenment, more often than not I'm glancing at my watch and eyeing the exit. I'm sure it's like that for most.
Fr. Tischner does maintain one of the more important threads in this book – that the Church is a community of God, in history, and God will not be there unless we invite him. “The Eucharist is that reality through which, 'creating' God among us.”
“Creating God?” asks an incredulous Żakowski.
“Yes,” replies Fr. Tischner, “because if you don't come to this mass, and I don't come, then there will not be a Eucharist, so in some sense, neither will there be God in history! For two thousand years we carry it out, for two thousand years there are people on our earth that maintain that reality. If not for them, God would not be among us.”
A short chapter, barely six pages long, that only skates over the surface of the mystery of the Eucharist. My childhood memories of classes preparing us for First Holy Communion are still strong; there is still a lingering sense of wonder at the mystery, the ritual, the unique seriousness of it. Comparing other world religions, that climatic moment of the Catholic mass – when bread and wine are said to turn into the body and blood of the Divinity – is lacking in other religious services; they are commonplace without that quintessential mystery.
While accepting the intriguing logic of Fr. Tischner's assertion that God is conscious within the transubstantiatiated wafer – my question is – “and then what?” We swallow God's consciousness... what happens to us? I can now recall Sister Pauline at St Joseph's Church telling us six and seven year-olds that we enter a state of grace – I guess you either feel it or you don't. And the surroundings of an incense-filled cathedral with sunlight streaming through the stained glass and the singing of a choir of monks is far more likely to do it for me than a drab suburban church.
This time last year:
This time two years ago:
Changing seasons and one's samopoczucie
This time three years ago:
Stunning late-winter beauty
[these are among my most gorgeous winter photos ever]
This time four years ago:
Lenten fare - Jeziorki gumbo
This time five years ago:
Digging up Dawidowska