Wednesday, January 30, 2008


The Eucharist (Greek, eu- , “good”, and charis, “favor”), the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ—the Lord’s Supper, Holy Sacrifice, Holy Mass, Holy Communion—is, in the words of St. Josemaria, “the center and root of a Christian’s spiritual life” (Christ is Passing By, No. 87). Prefigured by Melchizedek’s offering of bread and wine (Gen 14:18), the Passover Meal (Ex 12, 13), and the manna in the desert (Ex 16), the Eucharist anticipates the Marriage Feast of the Lamb (Rev 19:9). The Church teaches: "At the Last Supper, on the night he was betrayed, our Savior instituted the Eucharistic sacrifice of his Body and Blood. This he did in order to perpetuate the sacrifice of the cross throughout the ages until he should come again, and so to entrust to his beloved Spouse, the Church, a memorial of his death and resurrection’" (CCC, No. 1333; quoting Sacrosanctum Concilium, No. 47). The Eucharist is ‘the source and summit of the Christian life’” (CCC, No. 1334; quoting Lumen Gentium, No. 11).

At the Last Supper (Holy Thursday), our Lord brought the apostles to that one single sacrifice on Calvary, which was still to take place the following day (Good Friday). In a similar, mysterious way, the Mass brings the faithful to that one single sacrifice on Calvary which took place close to 2000 years ago, and the Body and Blood of our Lord to all the faithful down the centuries, as the Lord Himself commanded, “Do this in remembrance of me” (1 Cor 11:24); because, “unless you eat the flesh of the son of man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you” (Jn 6:53). Some theologian has made the observation: Adam and Eve fell by eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil; mankind is saved by eating the fruit of the tree of the Cross.

He who turned water into wine (Jn 2:1-11) and who multiplied five loaves of bread to feed five thousand men (Jn 6:1-14) could certainly change bread and wine into His Body and Blood. It is precisely the scene of the multiplication of the loaves that opens Chapter Six of the Gospel of St. John, as a prelude to our Lord’s Bread of Life Discourse.

“Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life’ (v. 35)… ‘I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.’ The Jews quarreled among themselves, saying, ‘How can this man give us (his) flesh to eat?’ Jesus said to them, ‘Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you…For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him…Then many of his disciples who were listening said, ‘This saying is hard; who can accept it?’...As a result of this, many (of) his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him” (vv. 48-66).

Our Lord meant this teaching to be taken literally, which his audience also understood literally, which is why many of them left, and why our Lord did not hold them. Instead, “Jesus then said to the Twelve, ‘Do you also want to leave?’ Simon Peter answered him, ‘Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God’" (vv. 67-69).

"Because Christ our Redeemer said that it was truly his body that he was offering under the species of bread, it has always been the conviction of the Church of God…that by the consecration of the bread and wine there takes place a change 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. This change the holy Catholic Church has fittingly and properly called transubstantiation. The Eucharistic presence of Christ begins at the moment of the consecration and endures as long as the Eucharistic species subsist. Christ is present whole and entire in each of the species and whole and entire in each of their parts…The Catholic Church has always offered and still offers to the sacrament of the Eucharist the cult of adoration, not only during Mass, but also outside of it, reserving the consecrated hosts with utmost care, exposing them to the solemn veneration of the faithful” (CCC, Nos. 1376-1378).

St. Josemaria writes: “Think of the human experience of two people who love each other, and yet are forced to part. They would like to stay together forever, but duty — in one form or another — forces them to separate. They are unable to fulfil their desire of remaining close to each other, so man's love — which, great as it may be, is limited — seeks a symbolic gesture. People who make their farewells exchange gifts or perhaps a photograph…They can do no more, because a creature's power is not so great as its desire.

“What we cannot do, our Lord is able to do. Jesus Christ, perfect God and perfect man, leaves us, not a symbol, but a reality. He himself stays with us. He will go to the Father, but he will also remain among men. He will leave us, not simply a gift that will make us remember him, not an image that becomes blurred with time, like a photograph that soon fades and yellows, and has no meaning except for those who were contemporaries. Under the appearances of bread and wine, he is really present, with his body and blood, with his soul and divinity.” (Christ is Passing By, No. 83)


Tuesday, January 15, 2008


Purity, or chastity, is the virtue (stable or habitual disposition) which firmly inclines a person towards the right use (or non-use) of the sexual faculty. Chastity in marriage means using the human capacity for sex according to its authentic nature and purpose; and, as Pope Paul VI enunciated in his 1968 Encyclical Letter Humanae Vitae, the ends of marriage, or more specifically, of the “marital act”, are “the union of the spouses and, inseparably therefrom, procreation” (HV, No.12). Thus, a rule-of-thumb: sex is good, but it must be within the context of an exclusive and indissoluble marriage and it must be open to life.

Sex is ordained by nature for procreation— “reproductive system” is the term for the collection of body parts involved—and it is an abuse, a moral disorder, to use it in denial of its procreative end. Thus, contraceptive sex is immoral, just as it is immoral to eat for the sake only of satisfying the appetite, in denial of the end proper to the “digestive system”, which is the nourishment and preservation of the individual's life. The pleasures involved in eating, and in sex, are nature's ways of helping man to achieve necessary ends he might otherwise neglect to his injury. Parenthetically, while contraceptive sex is immoral, natural family planning methods are morally licit precisely because they consist in the non-use of the sexual faculty during the fertile periods—there is no abuse.

Of course, sex is different from eating: “For, unlike food, which is necessary for the individual, procreation is necessary only for the species, and individuals can dispense with it.” (The Way, No. 28) That individuals can dispense with sex is affirmed by those who have lived holy celibacy.

Eating is directly ordained to the good of the individual, while sex is oriented to the good of the family and society (preservation of the species). This is why the immorality of contraceptive sex is less obvious (to the individual) than that of gluttony (the unbridled appetite for food and drink, where induced vomiting, to allow one to continue eating or drinking, is the moral equivalent of contraception). The undesirable consequences of the abuse of the sexual faculty (on family and society) may not immediately affect the individual actor, unlike those arising from over-eating or drunkenness. Also, the pleasure involved in sex is more intense than in eating, as nature's way of compensating the individual for serving the social purpose. Most people would still eat, knowing they need to in order to live, even with only the gentle prodding of the appetite; but very few would think of marriage and raising a family without the strong urge accompanying the marital act. Even so, the analogy stands: gluttony leads to the death of the individual; sex in denial of its procreative purpose leads to the death of the family and society.

It can be argued that the purpose of the human sexual faculty is served already in the loving union of the partners; and that there is no need to advert to procreation. But then, to deny the procreative end of sex would remove the rational basis for the very existence of the institution of marriage. Indeed, an indissoluble marriage is necessary precisely because sex is intended by nature for procreation, including the upbringing and education of the offspring—so fragile in the developing stages—which requires a lasting partnership of the father and mother, i.e., lasting independently of the changeable preferences and circumstances of the parties. If sex is not for procreation, the institution of marriage would be meaningless.

It is precisely because of the obvious procreative purpose of sex that even primitive cultures have some kind of marriage institution. The common good (perpetuation of the tribe) requires a social “mechanism” to ensure the welfare of the offspring. Thus, to isolate the conjugal act from its procreative purpose, so as to justify contraceptive sex, would also justify divorce (no need for permanence in the partnership of the spouses) and homosexuality (no need for procreation), and so would open the floodgates for social disaster—broken homes, juvenile delinquency, the AIDS epidemic, etc., not to mention the problems of shrinking or aging populations in those nations that have early on adopted birth-control policies, confusing issues of social-justice, economics, etc., with supposed over-population.

All human life is good. Pregnancy is not a disease. Responsible parenthood does not consist in having few children but in the efforts of parents to discharge their vocation to the procreation and education of offspring. And peoples and nations do not become richer or happier because their members are few.

St. Josemaria writes: “We all know from experience that we can be chaste, living vigilantly, frequenting the sacraments and stamping out the first sparks of passion before the fire gets started. And it is precisely among the chaste where the most clean-cut men from every point of view are found. And among the impure abound the timid, the selfish, the hypocritical and the cruel—all characters of little manliness.” (The Way, No. 124) And chastity in marriage means respecting its ends: “No Christian married couple can want to block the well-springs of life. For their love is based on the Love of Christ, which entails dedication and sacrifice. Moreover, as Tobias reminded Sara, a husband and wife know that ‘we are children of saints, and we cannot come together in the way of the Gentiles, who do not know God’.” (Furrow, No. 846)