Reflections on Worship of the Eucharist

Recently I attended a funeral for the sister of a woman I hold dear. It happened to involve Roman Catholic mass, which meant it involved communion, and hence the Eucharist and transubstantiation. While my main concern was, of course, the mourning of an individual’s passing, something struck me during the service, and hit me harder than it had before. This was when the priest held aloft the Eucharistic host, during which people knelt. I remained seated, refusing to kneel, and would have continued refusing to kneel even if I was asked to do so on pain of expulsion. I had attended Roman Catholic masses and Eastern Orthodox liturgies most of my life, and it was the first time it truly hit me what was unfolding in that room.

The Council of Trent outlined that, to the Roman Church, the elements used during the mass become the literal body and blood of Christ.

Wherefore it is most true, that as much is contained under either species as under both; for Christ whole and entire is under the species of bread, and under any part whatsoever of that species; likewise the whole (Christ) is under the species of wine, and under the parts thereof. [Thirteenth Session, Ch. 3; source]

And likewise:

And because that Christ, our Redeemer, declared that which He offered under the species of bread to be truly His own body, therefore has it ever been a firm belief in the Church of God, and this holy Synod doth now declare it anew, that, by the consecration of the bread and of the wine, a conversion is made of the whole substance of the bread into the substance of the body of Christ our Lord, and of the whole substance of the wine into the substance of His blood; which conversion is, by the holy Catholic Church, suitably and properly called Transubstantiation. [ibid, Ch. 4; ibid]

Most of all, and the point of this blog post, we are to worship the Eucharist as we worship God Himself.

Wherefore, there is no room left for doubt, that all the faithful of Christ may, according to the custom ever received in the Catholic Church, render in veneration the worship of latria, which is due to the true God, to this most holy sacrament… [ibid, Ch. 5; ibid]

And again:

And finally this holy Synod with true fatherly affection admonishes, exhorts, begs, and beseeches, through the bowels of the mercy of our God, that all and each of those who bear the Christian name would now at length agree and be of one mind in this sign of unity, in this bond of charity, in this symbol of concord; and that mindful of the so great majesty, and the so exceeding love of our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave His own beloved soul as the price of our salvation, and gave us His own flesh to eat, they would believe and venerate these sacred mysteries of His body and blood with such constancy and firmness of faith, with such devotion of soul, with such piety and worship as to be able frequently to receive that supersubstantial bread… [ibid, Ch. 8; ibid]

Similarly, from the online Catholic Encyclopedia:

The Adorableness of the Eucharist is the practical consequence of its permanence. According to a well known principle of Christology, the same worship of latria (cultus latriæ) as is due to the Triune God is due also to the Divine Word, the God-man Christ, and in fact, by reason of the hypostatic union, to the Humanity of Christ and its individual component parts, as, e.g., His Sacred Heart. Now, identically the same Lord Christ is truly present in the Eucharist as is present in heaven; consequently He is to be adored in the Blessed Sacrament, and just so long as He remains present under the appearances of bread and wine, namely, from the moment of Transubstantiation to the moment in which the species are decomposed… [source]

Returning to the Council of Trent, regarding the seriousness of this topic:

CANON I.-If any one denieth, that, in the sacrament of the most holy Eucharist, are contained truly, really, and substantially, the body and blood together with the soul and divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ, and consequently the whole Christ; but saith that He is only therein as in a sign, or in figure, or virtue; let him be anathema.

CANON II.-If any one saith, that, in the sacred and holy sacrament of the Eucharist, the substance of the bread and wine remains conjointly with the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, and denieth that wonderful and singular conversion of the whole substance of the bread into the Body, and of the whole substance of the wine into the Blood-the species Only of the bread and wine remaining-which conversion indeed the Catholic Church most aptly calls Transubstantiation; let him be anathema.

CANON VI.-If any one saith, that, in the holy sacrament of the Eucharist, Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, is not to be adored with the worship, even external of latria; and is, consequently, neither to be venerated with a special festive solemnity, nor to be solemnly borne about in processions, according to the laudable and universal rite and custom of holy church; or, is not to be proposed publicly to the people to be adored, and that the adorers thereof are idolators; let him be anathema. [Thirteenth Session; ibid]

The bowing and kneeling during the mass or liturgy itself is directed towards the Eucharistic host and wine.

In the liturgy of the Mass we express our faith in the real presence of Christ under the species of bread and wine by, among other ways, genuflecting or bowing deeply as a sign of adoration of the Lord. [Roman Catholic Catechism, 1378; source]

It was the realization of all this that hit me as almost everyone in the church, save myself and my beloved beside me, knelt down before the altar. When the priest holds aloft the elements of the Eucharist, it is to be treated exactly as if Christ himself were in the room. What’s more, the taking of the Eucharist is attributed to the justifying work of Christ’s sacrifice:

The body of Christ we receive in Holy Communion is “given up for us,” and the blood we drink “shed for the many for the forgiveness of sins.” For this reason the Eucharist cannot unite us to Christ without at the same time cleansing us from past sins and preserving us from future sins… [ibid, 1393; source]

From a less official source:

“Christ,” Father Hardon writes, “won for the world all the graces it needs for salvation and sanctification.” In other words, in His Sacrifice on the Cross, Christ reversed Adam’s sin. In order for us to see the effects of that reversal, however, we must accept Christ’s offer of salvation and grow in sanctification. Our participation in the Mass, and our frequent reception of Holy Communion, brings us the grace that Christ merited for the world through His unselfish Sacrifice on the Cross. [source]

All this grants to the hosts of the Eucharist the same divinity and justifying power as Christ himself.

Nowhere, in all of scripture, are the elements of communion given the traits that masses or liturgies attribute to it. Those who might turn to the language of John 6 forget that, early on in Christ’s sermon, he demonstrates that eating and drinking are equated with coming and believing (John 6:35). In no way was Christ being literal in his wording regarding eating and drinking any more than he was when he told Nicodemus he had to be born a second time (John 3:3), or he told the Samaritan woman he was water (John 4:13-14). Those who turn to the last supper forget that the primary role of the last supper was remembrance of Christ’s sacrifice (Luke 22:19; 1 Cor 11:24-25), and was performed in the context in which the Jews celebrated the Passover and remembered their freedom from Egypt; Christ’s declaration of “It is my body” was no more literal than when the Jews declared regarding their meal of lamb “It is the Passover” (Exo 12:11). Nowhere was there anything said about it becoming his literal body and blood, nor about the atoning work of his sacrifice on the cross being given through it. Rather, it was meant to point us to that single, once-for-all act which did it for us, which was Christ’s death and resurrection.

At this funeral, when this occurred, I did not bow to the Eucharist, nor did I get on the cushions and kneel. I simply sat down and attempted to be respectful to those around me. I would not have shown any honor or worship towards it even if I had been threatened expulsion. It was plain idolatry. I could not be an idolater. I recognize that these words may cause some readers to stumble or feel enraged, but they are not written with malicious intent, but from a heart with a love for God’s truth. If any one desires to see me change my way of thinking, I of course welcome any attempt, but it will have to be from God’s Holy Writ, and by God’s command. I cannot embrace any form of worship that is not explicitly permitted by God Himself. God bless.

UPDATE – July 24, 2012: In the combox below, it has been contested that this is not idolatry, as Roman Catholics direct this worship towards the Trinitarian God, even if it is directed at the host itself. Hence it cannot be idolatry, as it is not worship directed towards another god, but the true God Himself. However, worship of any single object, even if in the name of God, is still idolatry.

Many are familiar with the story of the golden calf, and many know that it is idolatry. Many more, however, fail to remember that the Hebrew people directed worship of the LORD God towards the calf.

And he received the gold from their hand and fashioned it with a graving tool and made a golden calf. And they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it. And Aaron made a proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a feast to the LORD.” And they rose up early the next day and offered burnt offerings and brought peace offerings. And the people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play. [Exo 32:4-6; emphasis mine]

The people referred to the golden calf by the plural “gods,” and yet Aaron identified their feast as that being a feast towards the LORD. The people were holding their feast in the honor of God, but it was directed towards the calf. I don’t need to quote the rest of this story – most people know how it goes, and know that God isn’t too pleased with this.

Some choice words from other men on this:

But this intimation of an Egyptian custom is no proof that the feast was not intended for Jehovah; for joyous sacrificial meals, and even sports and dances, are met with in connection with the legitimate worship of Jehovah (cf. Exodus 15:20-21). Nevertheless the making of the calf, and the sacrificial meals and other ceremonies performed before it, were a shameful apostasy from Jehovah, a practical denial of the inimitable glory of the true God, and a culpable breach of the second commandment of the covenant words (Exodus 20:4), whereby Israel had broken the covenant with the Lord, and fallen back to the heathen customs of Egypt. [Keil and Delitzsch Biblical Commentary]

and Aaron made proclamation, and said, tomorrow is a feast to the Lord; that is, he gave orders to have it published throughout the camp, there would be solemn sacrifices offered up to the Lord, as represented by this calf, and a feast thereon… [John Gill]

Aaron made proclamation, and said, To-morrow is a feast to the Lord-a remarkable circumstance, strongly confirmatory of the view that they had not renounced the worship of Jehovah, but in accordance with Egyptian notions, had formed an image with which they had been familiar, to be the visible symbol of the divine presence. [Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary]

Their sin then lay, not in their adopting another god, but in their pretending to worship a visible symbol of Him whom no symbol could represent. [Albert Barnes]

Aaron, seeing the people fond of their calf, was willing yet further to humour them, and he built an altar before it, and proclaimed a feast to the honour of it (v. 5), a feast of dedication. Yet he calls it a feast to Jehovah; for, brutish as they were, they did not imagine that this image was itself a god, nor did they design to terminate their adoration in the image, but they made it for a representation of the true God, whom they intended to worship in and through this image; and yet this did not excuse them from gross idolatry, any more than it will excuse the papists, whose plea it is that they do not worship the image, but God by the image, so making themselves just such idolaters as the worshippers of the golden calf, whose feast was a feast to Jehovah, and proclaimed to be so, that the most ignorant and unthinking might not mistake it. [Matthew Henry]

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