Friday, November 21, 2014

Bread and Wine

(Devil’s advocate for church reform)

Jose Paul (Delhi)

One of our great Kerala catholic shepherds shouted at the top of his voice “Wine is an integral part of our religious practices. As long as the church exists, as long as the world exists, we will use wine for our religious practice”.  This pronouncement came immediately after an announcement of supporting the government for prohibition of all the alcoholic drinks and encouraging the govt. to close down all the liquor shops in the state by revoking their licenses for the sale of liquor.

I am not saying that wine is not an integral part of the Mass today. I have only one doubt. Can the Catholic Church survive without use of wine in our mass? I was looking back to the time and place where Christ lived as a man. He came into this world as the Son of Mary and Joseph, a Jewish family. He lived and practiced the culture and customs of that of the Jews and that of the place.  It could be that wine was an integral part of all the celebrations with these people. It must have been a regular drink in all their meals as it is even today in some areas in Europe. We see that Mother Mary asked Jesus to do his first miracle of converting water into wine as the wine at the marriage house got over.

During the last supper Jesus said, breaking the bread, ”This is my body.” Did He mean any type of bread or He meant the staple solid food they ate regularly?  When he took wine and said “This is my blood”, did He mean wine as His blood or any drink they drank at the time of the supper? According to the custom of the place they must have used bread and wine as part of their supper.

When He said “do this in memory of me” we the faithful decide to follow His instructions. In the beginning of Christianity, the faithful used their food, may be bread and wine or whatever they ate as food and drink. The practice carried on. As time passed the bread took different forms and now we have reached a universal “bread type” almost all over the world and we call it “host”.  Anyway this was not the bread Christ consecrated. But we have found our own way of making bread according to convenience and consecrated it daily to represent the body of Jesus. This bread of ours has no semblance to the real bread Jesus broke in the last supper. But in the case of wine, we wanted the real wine as the drink even in places where wine is not a common item of our daily food and in celebrations. Did Christ state that only wine can be his blood.  Can any liquid that the common man uses as a drink (may be fruit juice, milk, butter milk, coconut water or even pure drinkable water) serve in the place of wine?  If wine is essential for the transubstantiation to take place, it should be given to every person, lay men and clergy, who receive communion. If not, is the communion not complete?

What I am doubtful is that if we changed the type of bread, why not we change the drink also to any drinkable item. How can you say that “as long as the Catholic Church exists, till the end of the world we will use wine as it is an essential part of our faith”? Is wine a symbolism for any form of drink or will Christ wanting wine as his blood? Or is it because our words are not capable of converting any other form of drink into the blood of Christ? Again, If it so essential for the Catholic spiritual service of communion, is it enough that only the priest have the blood of Jesus? Should we, the Catholics, laity and clergy together cry out that our church will not survive if we don’t have wine and that spirit is essential for our spirit?

There are occasion in His life, Christ had to drink bitter liquid or vinegar when he was thirsty on the Cross. None of our leaders of the church ever drink these as part of their service because He did not say “Do this in memory of me.” 

I have come across some Kerala catholic families leaving outside Kerala who did not have the opportunity of getting host or wine, when a priest visited them, converted their lunch or dinner along with other catholic families from the neighborhood into a Eucharistic celebration. Are we going to say that it was wrong to do that?

Another thing that I am finding difficulty to understand is that the communion is only for Catholics who have undergone a reconciliation process. We forget that Jesus came into this world to save the sinners. He may be happy to be in the heart of saintly persons. But He will love to be received by those who are in need of His presence to purify them. Jesus is pure and immaculate. He can never be contaminated by any form of evil. He will purify the hearts of these people from all the evil thoughts and actions. Therefore, can communion be given to all people irrespective of caste and creed? I repeat the words of Pope Francis “Who am I to judge” others .This is a very important statement from the Head of the Church. Our great shepherds have to take a leaf from these words and reform our own Church.

In our Colony, years back we used to have Christmas Mass at mid-night of 24th Dec. This service used to be in open grounds with tarpaulin shamianas. All the Catholic families in and around the area and a lot of non-Christians also come for this service. The priest used to make sure that there are lots of cake pieces cut and kept on the altar.  During the communions time, the priest announces that only the Catholics must come for receiving communion and that after the mass we will all share the” Prasad” as a token of love and friendship. I wondered,whether during the consecration, Jesus came only into the host or whether he blessed the cake also with his presence. Jesus is not our slave. He knows the hearts in which he wants to enter to sanctify them. What are we to believe? Will Jesus be contaminated by the sinful Catholics and faithless non-Catholics? Will Jesus cleanse and sanctify the hearts of those sinful Catholics and also bring light to the hearts of the non-believers?

It appears that all these rules and regulations are made by the organized Catholic Church as if the Church, clergy and those who believe the clergy’s commands as inspired by God. May be they might have established these rules with the sincere and honest intentions. Anyway, we all have to be aware that these rules and practices are created not by Jesus but by those who got into powerful positions after the organized Church became organizationally, socially, economically and politically powerful. All these rules and practices are man-made and can be changed by man if found faulty, defective and short of being in resonance with the dreams of Jesus. Jesus will be with us in our attempt to reform His Church.

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