Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Eucharistic Amazement

Interesting article in The Catholic Herald describing an encounter between Patrick Madrid and a Mormon who doubts that Catholics really believe in the Real Presence, as they don't show suitable reverence:

The Mormon repeated his earlier remark, saying: “I’m not trying to be disrespectful or anything, but I just don’t think Catholics believe what you believe on this issue.” But what he said next was an even larger indictment: “If I believed what you believe… if I truly believed that it is really God himself and not just a symbol, I would fall flat on my face and be prostrate before it – him. I would be so overcome with awe and worship. And I’ve never seen any Catholic show that kind of respect. So… I guess they just don’t believe it.”

Madrid concludes that the Mormon “had spoken a terrible truth so clearly and with such devastating accuracy that it’s all I could think about for the rest of our discussion”. The “life lesson” he learned was that Catholics do not always edify and evangelise non-Catholics; indeed, “We can also dis-edify, discombobulate and de-evangelise them without ever trying… simply by dint of our sheer laziness and complacency and our lack of reverence for sacred things.”

I have to admit I'm disinclined to agree with both the Mormon and Patrick Madrid here, strange as that sounds.

First off, let me be clear; of course I think we should show respect to the Eucharist. We shouldn't chew gum, have our hands in our pockets, or check our mobile phones while going up to receive Communion. No argument there.

But can we ever show the Eucharist the respect, the "awe and worship", that it deserves? I'm inclined to believe that we can't, and we have to be realistic and sober about this.

I speak from experience. I'm always trying to cultivate the "Eucharistic amazement" that St. John Paul II urged us to cultivate, but I've stopped feeling guilty about my failure to do so. I don't think it's really within my control. Our imaginations are sluggish, limited, wayward. Trying to prod one's imagination into a greater response seems rather artificial to me

Surprise and amazement are transient emotions and they can't be prolonged indefinitely. I remember watching an interview with the Beatles in which the interviewer asked whether they were surprised by the level of their success, and added that they didn't look surprised at all. Paul McCartney replied that they were surprised-- but that it was impossible to go around looking surprised all the time. "You'd look mental", he said, pulling an exaggerated surprised expression. I think he's right.

I've often found myself thinking along these lines when I hear debates about the traditionalist liturgy vs. the ordinary liturgy. I agree that the traditionalist liturgy is more reverential, but surely the difference is infinitesimal when we compare it to the mystery that is being celebrated? Sure, it's better to kneel to receive, than to stand. But isn't the Mormon right, and wouldn't lying flat on our faces be even more reverential? Wouldn't it always be possible to come up with something more reverential, or to fault whatever liturgy exists as not sufficiently reverential?

That is why it seems to me that a decent, sober, calm reverence should be sufficient, and why the Ordinary Form seems perfectly fine when celebrated properly.


  1. It's coincidental that you would mention that. I just got back from Adoration, where I hadn't been terribly recollected until a sudden awful moment of "don't you realize, thoroughly realize Who that is?" It rather paralyzed me. Instinct said I ought to fall on my face on the ground. There are some wonderfully devout Filipina ladies I have seen adoring, who do just that, without a qualm. I just stayed where I was, though, trying, in my own overly self-conscious way, to come up with a gesture, a word fitted to the immensity of the occasion. Of course I couldn't.
    You're right. There doesn't seem to be anything one can do that is sufficient for such company. I don't think that means we oughtn't to try to give it our best. Even if that is just an increment better. It might not be anything compared to the immensity of God, but on the limited human scale of what we have to offer to Him--why not try for the upper limits of our capability? Ideally, anyway.

    "Trying to prod one's imagination int a greater response seems rather artificial to me."

    I heartily agree. I don't remember if you said it, or if you were quoting somebody else, but I think in one of your posts, you said, something to the effect that human beings can't stand too much reality. Maybe part of Heaven's glory is that we *can* take in such a reality, and revel in its wonder from age to age. But here, yes, the moment passes, and we have to fall back on faith, and be thankful that there rites and words we might use that express more than either our understanding or our feelings.

    1. It was T.S. Eliot who said we can't bear very much reality.

      I suppose you are right about aiming for the upper limits of our capability. But then I find myself wondering to what extent it is real or to what extent it is induced. Like contemplating a famous piece of art and not being sure whether your response is your own or because you know you're supposed to feel such a response. Like Newman, I have a distrust of all that is "unreal", at least in these matters. It's a difficult quandary-- for me, anyway.

    2. Ah! I recognize the line, now that you say so. And "Murder in the Cathedral" was something I actually liked quite a bit. The play, I mean. Not the murder.

      Yours seems an extremely pertinent concern. If we are to bring God our best, by all means, we ought to bring Him our most honest selves, our most genuine reactions to His being, not parrot some ascetic we read about. (Even if, as Lt. Cmdr. Data said, "We must become more than we are." That doesn't mean we ought to become somebody else.) And, if God made us rational beings, it is not surprising if we prudently weigh our reactions.

      (None of which negates my admiration for the Mormon gentleman's observation, which is not something I will forget in a hurry.)

    3. I can't believe you quoted a Next Generation line I don't recognize!

    4. Well, I scarcely have much of an advantage--I was going through some old papers last week and found the quote and attribution in my handwriting, so it was stuck in my mind! But the circumstances of its speaking are quite out of my memory.

  2. All that wordiness and I rather passed over your main point: "Wouldn't it always be possible to come up with something more reverential, or to fault whatever liturgy exists as not sufficiently reverential?." You are quite right in prescribing that we should be realistic about that. Man, we could work ourselves into a state where we would never even go into such a Presence, otherwise! Liturgy is a stickier matter for me.