Saturday, March 11, 2006

Explaining Eucharistic Processions

My friend Matt at the blog From the Morning saw a show on the national Catholic cable channel EWTN earlier this week, that I happened to catch, too, which showed Samoans in a humdinger of a Eucharistic Procession. Read his post and see what an outsider looking in thinks of a bunch of people dancing and worshipping and laying lengths of cloth on the ground so a priest holding a "big cross" can walk on them. How does that look from the outside? Not so good, as can be read in the comments.

I knew what I was seeing immediately, and I found it a compelling, charming and warming demonstration of faith, the people worshipping with their whole selves. It stopped me in my tracks so I wasn't surprised that it caught the attention of Matt, a thoughtful and sincere Christian. But I had the ready reference of lifelong Catholicism of one intensity of another and of my own parish's annual Corpus Christi Procession. We go around the neighborhood, acolytes with the incense censer and candles and whole families and old people, everyone singing and kids throwing rose petals and the whole holy nine yards, although it could be better attended, hundreds rather than the thousand possible, given the parish population. We do our awkward human best to cope with the outpouring of God's Grace on us, and show our love as best as we can. (Some of us have a little annual fun by speculating on widening the procession route to take in the Bible Church down the block, really torquing up the incense and belting out a new version that goes "Tantum Ergo Yoo Hoo Fellow Christians! It's your worst nightmare going on by!")

Matt, my dear brother in Christ and fellow Illinoisian, asked me to write on the subject so he could link it. And here it is, as I understand it, deliberately not doing any research, just digging out what I know. I didn't want to this to be a book report cribbed out of the encyclopedia, but instead what I've learned and remember and enjoy and believe.

Why do Catholics process with the Eucharist? Because we hold the Blessed Sacrament in such high regard. We understand that when the words of Consecration are spoken by the priest, or are spoken by Jesus through the priest, more precisely, we are present at the once-for-all-time miracle of "This is my Body, this is my Blood" and we know that unless "we eat His Body and drink His Blood, we have no life within us."

We know that the change from bread and wine into the intimate gift of Jesus physically present, feeding us, giving us life, doesn't end with the recessional and the doughnuts-and-coffee. He doesn't take the gift back. Enough is consecrated to keep in reserve, to take to the sick and the dying. The Tabernacle holds this reserved Sacrament, and we can visit Jesus in that Sacrament, to spend time with Him in that special way. Yes, yes, yes, Jesus is in our hearts, if God wasn't constantly thinking of us, creating us, we would vanish and would never have been. There isn't a time when we are outside of God's Presence, but this a focus, a place of Grace, a concentration of His Love, that we can receive in Communion or merely rest with a while in prayer and meditation.

So we have Eucharistic Adoration: time spent in a "Holy Hour" or a "Holy Five Minutes" for that matter. A "little visit," our parents and teachers would urge us to make. That's why Catholic churches are usually open all day, some all night, so we can come, sit near the lighted sanctuary lamp, near the Tabernacle, and wrench our minds and hearts more or less open to hear God's Word of Truth and Love. On Good Friday, the doors of the Tabernacle stand open and the sanctuary lamp is blown out, there is no Mass that day. How cold and empty the church seems when we come to pray through the Passion!

In Adoration, some read, some sit quietly, some say the Rosary. Our Adoration is silent, although others have special Scripture readings and quiet music. I have been a monthly Adorer for an hour on first Fridays for about two years, for more time as we've expanded our Adoration hours to weekly stretches, and I usually tell people who are interested and curious that at the beginning, the first ten minutes seemed like an hour, and the last fifty minutes felt like ten minutes. Now I am more comfortable in prayer, and can pick up where He and I left off, like a telephone call. I'm much better, by God's Grace alone, at setting down distractions in peace, or wearily picking them up and praying about them, and then putting them down. I've read many of the spiritual classics, and the Scriptures of the day and the season, it's a great time to prayerfully read and stop and look at Him and ask Him to teach me from what I've read.

But sometimes we want to celebrate that in a more public way, a moving profession of faith, a party of faith. So out we go, into the street with the Blessed Sacrament in a monstrance, walking, perhaps in meditation on the painful walk on the way to Calvary, or the walk along with the Apostles to the mount to see Jesus ascend into Heaven, or to the top of the mountain to hear the Beatitudes, or to the sea, to see Him climb into a boat and teach. They're all good.

It's no wonder that FTM didn't recognize what he saw: Eucharistic Processions, along with May Crownings and other big events fell out of favor in many Catholic parishes in the 60's through the 90's, when the world demanded hipness and relevance in everything and don't trust any institution over 30 and so on. Too many in the Church got self-conscious and put aside these ancient devotions, with disastrous results. Some of the European immigrants who built and filled our churches brought fantastic Procession customs with them, but put them away with their other "foreign ways" after some time in the US.

If you compare any parish with Eucharistic Adoration to any others with "relevant" Masses, the differences are obvious, even to the unbelieving eye. The Adoring parish is full, full of young, large families; lots of vocations to religious life; generous and unstinting charity one-on-one and in large organized ways; passionate love for Jesus and an irresistable joy that draws people like, well, Jesus draws people to the Father. The "relevant" parishes tend more towards the old hippies, dissatisfied with everything, seeing Jesus as a good man (at least He's not a "groovy guy" anymore - I can't wait for the 60's to be over), the Mass as a "meal," "WE (meaning us right here, making up our own rules) are church," and all religious activity merely as social service projects for the "right" causes. I over-generalize here, because every icky parish has its sound beating heart of faith and love and every vibrant parish has its icky sticky corners of dissent. But the personalities are shaped by their love of Jesus in the Eucharist. Period.

So that's why we walk and sing. That's why we keep the doors open. It comes from what Jesus left in His Church, how He promised to "be with us until the end of time."

Have I left anything out? Any questions?


Kansas Bob said...

Regarding ...

we know that unless "we eat His Body and drink His Blood, we have no life within us."

... I think that we eat and drink because we have His life within us ... those without His life do not have a place at the Lord's table.

MTR said...

Pretty cool that we both caught the same show. A second 'coincident'

Anonymous said...

Kansas B raises the everlastingly discussable question "does grace power our faith, or does faith invite and channel grace?" He knocks, but we have to open, but we have to seek to find....

I'd say that all have a place at the Lord's table, and sometimes their manners are terrible, but the host brings them in and feeds them all the same. He comes to seek and save all, and those who love and obey and repent participate most fully in His Grace.

KBob, how do you determine who does not have a place? Can a man come to the table who doesn't have a place, and how does he or us know it? If you come back, I wish you'd enlarge on the idea of who has a place...

In the meantime, though, as a Catholic, I KNOW I am fed, that I in that moment meet Christ as the Life-Giver. I know this both by what the Church has taught us, fueled by Scripture and Sacred Tradition handed down through the Apostles, and just because I know what happens in my soul and heart, not a repeatable emotional high, but real new knowledge and strength and love that I could not develop on my own.

Therese Z said...

MTR, I thought exactly the same thing. I think that show came on earlier than I tend to be home, or have the TV on. The scene you described caught my whole attention, too - bless that Holy Spirit that fuels the universe, huh?

The Confessionator said...

*sigh* I wish we did Eucharistic processions around here. they are so beautiful...

Kansas Bob said...

Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself.(1Cor 11:27-29)

This is the scripture I was thinking about when I earlier commented. Each person needs to evaluate for himself whether he should partake of the sacrament ... those who have His life within them are welcome ... others should not partake.

Unfortunately, in many churches, leaders make this determination and thus the grace of the Lord's table is not open to all.

Therese Z said...

Interesting. The difference between "recognizing" and "being worthy of." I think of that strictly within the context of faith: knowing, by the constant teaching of the Church, with the knowledge left behind by Jesus Christ, that the elements are changed into the Body and Blood of Christ.

"Being worthy of." THAT's a whole different ball of wax. The church should be able to set forth standards of behavior and belief (commandments, etc.) and those who examine themselves truly and are aware that they are not in a state of grace should not receive, and if they do, dire consequences are identified in Scripture. Barring people forcibly, more or less: does anyone do that, actually? Even in Catholic churches, horrible sinners can come forth and receive and nobody can stop them, leaving them to God's mercy.

FattyPants said...

"... and those who examine themselves truly and are aware that they are not in a state of grace should not receive, and if they do, dire consequences are identified in Scripture."

I'm still trying to work all of this stuff out for myself, and I'm curious about this statement. What "dire consequences" would be involved by receiving Communion while not being in this "state of grace"?

My understanding is that hell is the ultimate consequence of unbelief (or rejection of God's grace), but are there further dire consequences, i.e., earthly consequences of taking Communion even though a person is "aware that they are not in a state of grace"? If not, then said consequences would already be forthwith unless God's grace is received. Are these "dire consequences" really related to the Sacrament of Holy Communion at all?

Also, can't we receive God's grace at anytime? Otherwise, it wouldn't be grace at all, but something we have to somehow earn.

I guess I feel like these "dire consequences" muddy the field a bit about how we are actually saved: by grace alone through faith. And if that is really the case, then all of the Sacraments and rituals in the world (or lack thereof) won't, by themselves, add or subtract to the salvation of your soul.

Therese Z said...

FPants (and you STILL have the best commenter name on the Internet!) look at the quote in KBob's comment from 1 Cor 11 about "eating and drinking judgment on oneself." The older texts say "perdition on oneself." Either way, those are the dire consequences I meant.

You said "I guess I feel like these "dire consequences" muddy the field a bit about how we are actually saved: by grace alone through faith. And if that is really the case, then all of the Sacraments and rituals in the world (or lack thereof) won't, by themselves, add or subtract to the salvation of your soul."

First, we should immediately set aside the word "ritual" which merely means a repeated action. A Sacrament is "instituted by Christ, to give grace" says the old Baltimore Catechism. Rubbing a rabbits foot on our head before we step up to bat is a ritual; the Mass, which is ordered strictly in a ritual, so nobody can fool around with it, becomes, with the Consecration of the bread and wine, a place for Sacrament.

We were and are saved by Jesus' once-for-all atonement for our sins, we didn't deserve and we can never hope to deserve it.

But how do we relate to God, by faith and with His Grace? Physically in this physical world? We are told so explicitly in Scripture that "Baptism now saves you." We are told to "do this in remembrance of [Him]." We are joined to "let no man put asunder" in marriage or we are ordained to religious life; we are anointed if we are sick; we receive forgiveness by the power to forgive given to the Apostles; we are fed by His Body and Blood.

God instituted these actions as the normative way of relating to Him in our physical selves. Our relationship with Him is not just with the Word, but the Word made flesh, who dwelt among us. (God isn't limited by the Sacraments, obviously, and we know that people can be saved and live a holy life without access to them or knowledge of them.)

But we were left His Church, the pillar and bulwark of all truth, against which the gates of hell won't prevail, with the Holy Spirit to guide and protect it until the end of time, and within that church we exist, and within that church (which my entire life is within, work, family, sex, sleep, charity, etc, etc, etc, I don't mean merely the physical building I go to, or the people there I kneel next to) we meet Jesus at special times, in special ways, in the Sacraments.

So we are saved by His Grace, which we cooperate with in faith, but we relate to Him through His Sacraments, and that relationship is a specific channel of His Grace.

I'm feeling a little incoherent. Did this make sense?

Rosalind said...

As Catholics, we often forget the unthinkability of outward appearances of worship toward what to the naked eye are "things" like a wafer of bread. The mindset of Catholics is that we're looking through what is apparent to the reality of heaven that lies beyond, but that's highly confusing to someone not accustomed to outward expressions of inward reality.

A friend told me a story from an ecumenical Charismatic retreat that took place quite a while ago in a convent motherhouse. Several of them were going to pray in the chapel after evening prayers, and one of the Catholic guys was explaining to a Protestant friend about the proper signs of reverence in the presence of the tabernacle. His friend's response was, "You mean you believe that's really JESUS in there?" He was told that, yes indeed, Jesus was in there. They knelt together on the bottom step of the altar, and before many minutes had passed, the young Protestant man was face down in adoration.

Yep, it's really Jesus. That's why receiving Communion is such a big thing. It's not just a big thing to us -- it's a big thing.



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