"You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you odd." ~Flannery O'Connor

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Corpus Christi Roundup

I'm back from slogging my way through snowballing computer problems this past week. It seems I accidentally deleted a key Windows XP "service" running in the background; when I discovered the error, my efforts to correct it so corrupted my registry that I had to reinstall XP clean on my reformatted hard drive. But that, as many of you know, is only the beginning. There's backing up one's data, starting from scratch with the operating system, downloads of patches, hardware drivers, applications, etc, then restoring and reorganizing one's data. Took me two days, working as I could between my duties and acts of friendship. But before I expire from exhaustion this weekend, I feel the need to say something about this belated feast of Corpus Christi, and to comment on a few of the many ecclesial events that occurred during my little interregnum.

The good news was that the U.S. bishops finally agreed on a "new" translation of the Order of Mass that is closer to the Latin of the editio typica of the Roman Missal. Such few specifics as I've heard make it sound very much like the interim ICEL translation used in the U.S. between Vatican II and the promulgation of the new Missal in 1970. I still remember that from my childhood. So this is not as bad as it might have been. Of course it is, painfully obviously, the work of a committee, which is what most bishops seem to prefer to the work of poets and mystics for the purpose at hand. But as committee work goes, it's a cut above the banal, tendentious translation we've suffered with for over thirty-five years. One of these days, perhaps—when most of us are dead—we might actually get the liturgy in English, which the Anglicans had since the days of Cranmer until they decided that contemporary was better. At any rate, I've given up hoping for the liturgy in Latin save in a few subcultural outposts that I can't afford to reach right now.

The bad news was legion, as it usually is. But I have had time for only one item: a non-debate about homosexuality at the ECUSA General Convention. On that, see my post at Pontifications.

What about, you know, Corpus Christi? Two related thoughts.

First, we are what we eat, if we eat it worthily. The phrase 'body of Christ' is a homograph: it has two distinct meanings. But unlike those of most homosgraphs (such as 'bark' or 'sanction'), the meanings are metaphysically related. The Eucharistic elements are, literally, the glorified body of our Savior; when we eat them in a state of grace, we collectively become his Body, the Church. That much should be familiar. To some Catholics and certain other Christians, it actually is familiar.

What's not so familiar is how and why we are the Body of Christ. We are his body because we, the Church, are his Bride whom he has married. We are thus one body with him, the body that is called "The Mystical Body of Christ." That is why human marriage, for the baptized, is a sacrament: a "mystery" expressing the still-deeper mystery of the love between Christ and the Church. The Eucharist is for the Church, spiritually speaking, what conjugal intercourse is for the truly married couple: both the sign and the instrument of their union.

In my experience, not even most faithful Catholics have a clue about that. They instinctively think of the Church as an institution or a hierarchy, whose ministrations we rank-and-file receive—when we want to and are considered eligible. While the Church does have those aspects, they are not primary. The Church is a marriage, a union; the distinction between hierarchy and faithful reflects that. And that's the point whose significance nearly everybody seems to miss these days.

The great Christological debates of the fourth through the seventh centuries were about the nature of the person of Christ. Was he truly divine? Was he truly human? If he's both, how are his divinity and humanity related? What is the nature of the union? Eventually, the Church came up with the formula: one divine person but two natures, one human and one divine (and if one person, then contra Nestorius, only one hypostasis; but that's for you theology geeks.) Once that got more or less settled, the East and West started fighting about other things, which eventually led to the great schism that started in 1054 and has persisted to this day. And it only took half a millennium for the Protestant schism to unfold. And so it would seem that the body of Christ, the Christ who is one, is divided.

Or is it? The most vexing theological questions of our day are ecclesiological, not metaphysical. But in a way, they parallel the older Christological debate. I believe we would do well to focus on the question how the divine and the human are related in the Mystical Body itself.
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