If you have been around the Internet in the past few days you might have encountered a meme putting side by side a picture of Beyonce as a sort of sun queen and a picture of a weird sun thing that you may have seen in a far away corner of the V&A, with the question: who wore it better? and a bunch of Catholics going mad because blasphemy.
If you have been puzzled by it, worry not. What you have seen is a Catholic meme and that’s a Beyonce VS Jesus (implied) show off. And obviously Jesus wore it better, although she still looks lovely.
I probably sound to you like I’ve gone crazy (you’ve only noticed that now?). However, I haven’t, really. The monstrance (as that’s the name of the object) is used to expose the true body of Christ (CCC Part 2, Section 2, Chapter 1, Article 3, 1376) to the faithful.
If you have watched Downton Abbey as many times as I have, you will remember a scene at the servants’ supper while the Bishop was a guest of the Earl (in an attempt to sway Tom from baptising his daughter Catholic, but he was being ganged up against by every young person at the table). Alfred made a comment about being happy to be CofE and the dashing, better educated and all around wasted downstairs Thomas asked him what was his position on transubstantiation in order to embarrass him.
So that’s basically what we’re talking about today. If you, like Alfred, aren’t a theological geek, then this is for you.
If you know enough Catholics you may be aware of the controversy about giving communion to the divorced and civilly remarried. There are two doctrinal aspects to this question: the indissolubility of the sacrament of marriage, and the need to approach the Eucharist in a state of grace (aka not like me right now. Just yesterday the Babylon Bee published an article that is literally about me). If I have one pet peeve unrelated to the traddies, it’s former Catholics who become Protestants so they don’t have to go to confession before going to communion.
The whole point of it is “don’t commit mortal sins”, and/or a long list of venial sins that make you question whether or not it’s worth considering yourself a Christian, and I think it’s a great gift from the Church that someone is there to remind us that God forgives us when we are truly sorry, and give us some wise advice while at that. I still have a hard time receiving this gift, but it’s a great gift nonetheless. Or maybe it’s precisely that great gifts are harder to receive.
I don’t really hold it against them because I’ve only learnt about the Eucharist properly when a history student studying the Reformation, and then the theory became more real once I walked into the chapel at my first Youth 2000 retreat. But it really bothers me that so many people don’t seem to appreciate just what the Eucharist really means. There is a reason why the Church demands that you are in a state of grace to receive it, and it’s not because the Church is rigid, or St Paul was rigid because, really, it started back then…the reason is that we are approaching the real presence of Christ, and that demands appropriate reverence.
Think of it this way. What do you do when you go on a date? If you’re anything like me you spend the best part of 2 hours making yourself look clean and pretty, putting a little more effort that you otherwise put only on very special occasions like your birthday party at the Dorchester. A lot more effort usually goes into what you look like on your wedding day, right? Have you ever seen a bride that wasn’t beautiful? Even Nessa in Gavin & Stacey dressed up for the big day. You do that out of love, or at least because you like the person and want them to like you back. So why, as a Christian, it seems so absurd to polish up (spiritually, and I would argue with your outward appearance too, but that’s secondary) before going to Communion? It just doesn’t make any sense to me why people think it’s such a huge demand.
Polishing up and proper pomp goes back to the monstrance we started with. They are elaborate, even more than many thrones of kings and queens, because since we believe in transubstantiation then they are the throne of the King of Kings. You might wonder why we bother with such expensive things, but the Lord has rebuked the man in Matthew 26:6–11. Beauty has always been at the centre of things that relate to God (most of the Book of Exodus revolves around the topic) and Jesus never said a thing about the Temple in the Gospels. Even Dorothy Day, who was most passionate about the poor, has always supported the beauty of the church. Defending the reconstruction of the cathedral in San Francisco after a fire, she said: “The church has an obligation to feed the poor, and we cannot spend all our money on buildings. However, there are many kinds of hunger. There is a hunger for bread, and we must give people food. But there is also a hunger for beauty – and there are very few beautiful places that the poor can get into. Here is a place of transcendent beauty, and it is as accessible to the homeless in the Tenderloin as it is to the mayor of San Francisco. The Cathedral in San Francisco is one of the few places where the poor can go and sit down and be with God in beauty…”
I guess my point is that, for us Catholics, the Eucharist is quite literally a taste of heaven. Inaccessibility should make you strive for a quicker santification and a deeper intimacy with Jesus rather than say “But the Eucharist is the viaticum to help me reach that, it’s not fair, I’m going elsewhere.” Yes, the Eucharist is what helps you get there. It can do it in many other ways than by receiving it, too.
If you really understand the teaching of the very long section of the CCC on the subject (the aforementioned CCC Part 2, Section 2, Chapter 1, Article 3), then you’ll see Communion like meeting your beloved (have you ever read the Song of Solomon? Like have you ever seen my favourite film, Once Upon a Time in America, with the to-be Countess of Grantham? I’m not going to spoil that for you, go see it even if it’s 4h long) and not just as remembering the Passion and its sacrifice to God, or a communal exercise for the Church to be together and hold hands and share things.
Jesus said: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; . . . he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life and . . . abides in me, and I in him” (John 6:51, 54, 56).