Worshipping with wheat
This article is in response to Monday's Inside Column entitled, "All Praise Wheat."
I appreciate Mr. Connolly's concern that in requiring the use of wheat as the matter of the Holy Eucharist, the Catholic Church has missed the point of the sacrament. There is, however, one point that I would like to make. The Catholic religion is at its core a religion of particularities. The most important of these is that the Son of God took on human nature and thus entered human history, in a particular time and place. Jesus Christ's teaching and example are meant for all women and men, but he lived and taught in the highly particular geographical and cultural setting of early first-century Palestine.
A sacrament is a divine reality expressed in and in fact brought about by, human signs. Moreover, the symbols and metaphors available to individuals for self-expression vary from culture to culture. That is why the symbolism used in the sacraments reflects the time and culture of Jesus, which differ in many ways from our own. For example, we now use oil neither to anoint our rulers nor to condition our athletes, so that the symbolism of the anointing in Confirmation and Holy Orders is somewhat foreign to us. Nevertheless, we continue to use oil. To do otherwise would be to deny the historical rootedness of our faith, upon which the sacraments depend.
Moreover, Catholics believe that it was Jesus himself who instituted the sacraments, at least in their essential features. When he instituted the sacrament of the Eucharist, he used wheat bread and grape wine. There are of course certain further decisions that the Church can and does make on its own authority, such as whether to use leavened or unleavened bread. But because the Church does not presume to know exactly why Jesus did things the way he did, and because it must respect his choice, it cannot change the basics of the sacrament. Luckily for Jenny Richardson, however, the pastors of the Church will surely allow her to receive the whole Christ, body, blood, soul and divinity, under the appearance of wine — as even infants do in the eastern churches.
South Bend, IN
February 5, 2001
All Viewpoint Stories for Tuesday, February 6, 2001