Monday, March 24, 2008

Holy Thursday 2008

“Two Immeasurably Profound Sayings:”

“This is My Body, this is my Blood”

“These two immeasurably profound sayings, which stand for all time at the heart of the Church, at the heart of the Eucharistic celebration, the sayings from which we draw our life, because these words are the presence of the living God, the presence of Jesus Christ in our midst, and thereby they tear the world free from its unbearable boredom, indifference, sadness, and evil. “This is my Body, this is my Blood:” theses are expressions taken from the Israelite language of sacrifice, which designated the gifts offered in sacrifice to God in the Temple. If Jesus makes use of these words, then he is designating himself as the true and ultimate sacrifice, in whom all these unsuccessful strivings of the Old Testament are fulfilled. What had always been intended and could never be achieved in the Old Testament sacrifices is incorporated in him. God does not desire the sacrifice of animals; everything belongs to him. And he does not desire human sacrifice, for he has created man for living. God desires some thing more: he desires love.”[1]

The Temple

The Temple is the Locus of “Extrinsic” Sacrifice of Animals. Perhaps the root of the bloody sacrifice of animals was to prevent the further corruption of Israel in its tendency to worship animal “god” of the surrounding nations. Michael Barber posts the following on his blog:

“Ever wonder why God asked the Israelites to sacrifice animals like cattle, sheep and goats? It’s not because God loves the smell of burning meat.Moses explains to Pharaoh why the Israelites must be allowed to go out to the desert to offer their sacrifices to the Lord; their sacrifices would be “abominable” to the Egyptians (Ex. 8:25-27). In other words, Israel was to sacrifice to the Lord the very animals the Egyptians worshipped as gods.In fact, we know that worshipping these gods was a major temptation for the Israelites. The Israelites end up worshipping a golden calf in Exodus 32.God wanted Israel to renounce the gods of Egypt and worship Him as the one true God. No longer would Israel serve other gods – God wanted them to serve Him.When Pharaoh refused to let the people go, God responded by sending 10 famous plagues on Egypt. The plagues symbolize judgment on the gods of Egypt.
● In turning the Nile to blood, God symbolizes his victory over Egyptians gods like Hapi, who governed the Nile (cf. Exodus 7:14-25).● With the plague of the frogs, the frog goddess Heket is mocked (Ex. 8:1-15).● The bull gods Apis and Hathor are judged in the destruction of the cattle (Ex. 9:1-7).● With the plague of darkness, the sun god Re is defeated (Ex. 10:21-23).But even after nine plagues Pharaoh refuses to let God’s firstborn son, Israel, go. Because of this God threatens the firstborn of the Egyptians, as He promised Moses he would. The Lord tells Moses that he will send his angel of death to slay the firstborn sons in Egypt and the firstborn male offspring of all livestock (Ex. 11:4-9).Yet, God gives Israel a way to save their firstborn sons - the Passover (Ex. 12:1-27).By slaying these animals God symbolically slaughters the gods of Egypt. The Lord explains, “I will smite all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgment” (Ex. 12:12). This is the event that finally breaks Pharaoh (Ex. 12:30-31). Moses leads God’s people out of Egypt, through the Red Sea and into the desert.”

The Temple: Non-existent in Exile: All the animal sacrifices took place in the Temple at Jerusalem. “With the Babylonian exile, Israel had lost its Temple. It could no longer worship God; it could no longer offer up its praises; it could no longer present the sacrifices of atonement; and it was bound to ask what should happen now, how its relationship with God could be kept alive, how order could be maintained in the world’s affairs. For that was what the cult was about, in the final analysis: maintaining the correct relationship between God and man, since only thus can the axis around which reality turns be kept true[2].”[3]

Israel as a People (defective) Replaces the Temple (“Intrinsic Sacrifice”): “This suffering of Israel is the true sacrifice, the great new form of worship, with which it could come before the living God on behalf of mankind, on behalf of the whole world. But there is still one point at which this remains incomplete: Israel is the suffering servant of God, who accepts God in his suffering and stands before God on behalf of the world, and yet it is at the same time stained and guilty and selfish and lost. It cannot play the part of the servant of God properly and completely.”

Jesus Christ, the New Temple [the Definitive Subject/Locus of Worship]: “Jesus, in accepting his death, gathers together and condenses in his person the whole of the Old Testament; first the theology of sacrifice, that is, everything that went on in the Temple and everything to do with the Temple, then the theology of the Exile, of the Suffering Servant.”
[5] This intrinsicism of becoming Himself the sacrifice is the import of Hebrews, chapter 9: “But when Christ appeared as high priest the good things to come, he entered once for all through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made by hands (that is, not of this creation), nor again by virtue of blood of goats and calves, but by virtue of his own blood, into the Holies, having obtained eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls and the sprinkled ashes of a heifer sanctify the unclean unto the cleansing of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the Holy Spirit offered himself unblemished unto God.
“And this is why he is mediator of a new covenant…As it is, he has appeared for the destruction of sin by the sacrifice of himself.”

Jesus Christ, the New Covenant: Jeremiah predicted the new Covenant (31,31) “which will no longer be limited to physical descendants of Abraham, no longer to the strict keeping of the law, but will spring from out of the new love of God that gives us a new heart. This is what Jesus takes up here.”
[6] He who is both God and man, by dying “institutes true blood brotherhood, a communion of God and man; he opens the door that we could not open for ourselves.”[7] The ontological strength of the Covenant between God and man is the one Person, God, who is God and man with the two distinct and autonomous natures dynamized by the same divine Person of the Logos. The divine Person of Jesus Christ is both cry and response in Himself.

Keep in mind that Jesus Christ is not an exception to man, but the prototype: “In reality it is only in the mystery of the Word made flesh that the mystery of man truly becomes clear. For Adam, the first man, was a type of him who was tot come, Christ the Lord, Christ the new Adam, in the very revel ation of the mystery of the Father and of his love, fully reveals man to himself and brings to light his most high calling.”
[8] Therefore, since Christ is the intrinsic gift in and of Himself, so also every man is called to make the sacrifice of his very self as “another Christ.”

Christ as Temple Is Kingdom

The major orientation of Ratzinger-Benedict XVI is the recovery of the experience and knowledge of God. That experience and that knowledge come from revelation as the very Person of Jesus Christ. He resolutely insists that Revelation as Person is not reducible to words and propositions. Or, as he says it: “I have my doubts as to whether the quintessentially Catholic, as a living structure, can be captured in a formula.”[9] Or, in remarking about his habilitation thesis of the 1950’s, “the term ‘revelation’ was applied only, on the one hand to that ineffable act which can never be adequately expressed in human words, in which God makes himself known to his creature, and, on the other hand, to that act of reception in which this gracious condescension of God dawns upon man and becomes relation. Everything that can be grasped in words, and thus Scripture, too, is then testimony to that revelation but is not revelation itself[10] (underline mine).

The Core of the Message of Jesus Christ: The Kingdom

Before Easter, It is All Kingdom:

“The core content of the Gospel is this: The Kingdom of God is at hand. A milestone is set up in the flow of time; something new takes place. And an answer to this gift is demanded of man: conversion and faith. The center of this announcement is the message that God’s Kingdom is at hand. This announcement is the actual core of Jesus’ words and works. A look at the statistics underscores this. The phrase ‘Kingdom of God’ occurs 122 times in the New Testament as a whole; 99 of these passages are found in the three Synoptic Gospels, and 90 of these 99 texts report words of Jesus.”[11]

After Easter, It is All Christology: “In the Gospel of John, and the rests of the New Testament writings, the term plays only a small role. One can say whereas the axis of Jesus’ preaching before Easter is the Kingdom of God, Christology is the center of the preaching of the Apostles after Easter.”[12]

The Modernist Alfred Loisy commented on this: “Jesus preached the Kingdom of God, and what cam was the Church.” Benedict XVI remarked: “These words may be considered ironic, but they also express sadness. Instead of the great expectation of God’s own ZKingdom, of a new world transformed by God himself, we got something quite different – and what a pathetic substitute it is: the Church.

“Is this true? Is the form of Christianity that took shape in the preaching of the Apostles, and in the Church that was built on this preaching, really just a precipitous plunge from an unfulfilled expectation into something else? Is the change of subject from ‘Kingdom of God’ to Christ (and so to the genesis of the Church) really just the collapse of a promise and the emergence of something else in its place? Everything depends on who we are to understand the expression ‘Kingdom of God’ as used by Jesus, on what kind of relationship exists between the content of his proclamation and his person, as the proclaimer. Is he just a messenger charged with representing a cause that is ultimately independent of him, or is the messenger himself the message? The question about the Church is not the primary question. The basic question is actually about the relationship between the Kingdom of God and Christ. It is on this that our understanding of the Church will depend.”

The Answer: “Jesus himself is the Kingdom; the Kingdom is not a thing, it is not a geopraphical dominion like worldy kingdoms. It is a person; it is he. On this interpretation,. The term ‘Kingdom of God’ is itself a veiled Christology.”

And What Does This Mean? Benedict responds: “When Jesus speaks of the Kingdom of God, he is quite simply proclaiming God, and proclaiming him to be the living God, who is able to act concretely in the world and in history and is even now so acting. He is telling us: ‘God exists’ and ‘God is really God,’ which means that he holds in his hands the threads of the world. In this sense, Jesus’ message is very simply and thoroughly God-centered.
The new and totally specific thing about his message is that he is telling us: God is acting now – this is the hour when God is showing himself in history as its Lord, as the living God, in a way that goes beyond anything seen before. ‘Kingdom of God’ is therefore an inadequate translation. It would be better to speak of God’s being-Lord, of his lordship.”

When Is This To Happen? Now! “We see, then, that the divine lordship, God’s dominion over the world and over history, transcends the moment, indeed, transcends and reaches beyond the whole of history. It inner dynamism carries history beyond itself. And yet it is at the same time something belonging absolutely to the present. It is present in the liturgy, in Temple and synagogue, as an anticipation of the next world; it is present as a life-shaping power through the believer’s prayer and being; by bearing God’s yoke, the believer already receives a share in the world to come….

“Something new is here, something that finds expression above all in such statements as ‘the Kingdom of God is at hand’ (Mk. 1, 15), it ‘has already come upon you’ (Mt. 12, 28), it is ‘in the midst of you’ (Lk. 17, 21). What these words express is a process of coming that has already begun and extends over the whole of history. It was these words that gave rise to the thesis of ‘imminent expectation’ and made this appear as Jesus’ specific characteristic.”

Conclusion: The Kingdom of God is the Person of Jesus Christ. The Kingdom of God is present wherever the Person of Christ is present. But each of us is baptized into Christ in order to become Christ little by little. And since the Christology of the divine Person is to be pure relation to the Father, the anthropology (cf. Gaudium et Spes #22) that implies that Jesus Christ is prototype from Whom Adam is a “type”) translates this into a becoming Christ by the “sincere gift of self” (Gaudium et Spes #24). And so, one is Christ by imaging and baptism, but not fully yet. And to that measure, the Kingdom of God is already begun, but fully achieved yet.

And this is the specific of the vocation and mission of Opus Dei. Jesus Christ wants to be placed at the summit of all human activities by each person becoming “another Christ.” By becoming Christ (by progressive self-giving), the Kingdom of God becomes present. God becomes present and active in the world as “Lord” via the ordinary secular activity of those who are in development to become Christ.

The Sacrifice of the Mass: The Mass is Calvary. Calvary is the action of Jesus Christ obeying the Father – to death. The divine Person of the Logos, who is Jesus Christ, has never ceased being the Son “at the right hand of the Father.” When He assumes the human nature of the man Jesus of Nazareth, He does not cease to be the Son eternally at the right hand of the Father. He does not cease to be eternal while He is active in time. Hence, the activity of obedience (the Personal mastering of His human will and raising it to the power of self-gift) to death on Calvary that took place in time 2000 years ago, continues to be the activity of a divine Person who is eternal, and hence instantiates that Personal act whenever, and wherever, His Flesh and Blood are made present in time and space. That is, the one and same Personal act of radical self-gift to death is repeatedly taking place wherever there is the Transubstantiation of bread into Flesh, and wine into Blood. That is the action of God as Lord that becomes immanent in history as “Kingdom.” This is the meaning of “Thy Kingdom come!”

To share in and receive this act of Christ is to begin to live it out in the street as our own personal act of work – and secular, remunerated work. As it stands, we are in a position of “non-posse” (not able) to make the gift of self. We literally don’t have it in us as created and sinful to perform such a radically perfect act. We need to receive the power from Christ to make His act our own so that we can live it out continuously, even in the small, secular activities of ordinary life. Hence, the Mass must be the center and root of daily life that is aching to be filled with the Self-transcendence of God

[1] J. Ratzinger, “God Is Near Us,” Ignatius (2003) 32.
[2] Dennis Prager, “Judaism’s Sexual Revolution: Why Judaism(and then Christianity) Rejected Homosexuality,” Crisis 11, no. 8 (September 1993: “When Judaism demanded that all sexual activity be channeled into marriage, it changed the world. The Torah’s prohibition of non-marital sex quite simply made the creation of Western civilization possible. Societies that did not place boundaries around sexuality were stymied in their development. The subsequent dominance of the Western world can largely be attributed to the sexual revolution initiated by Judaism and later carried forward by Christianity.”
[3] J. Ratzinger, “God is Near Us,” op. cit 32.
[4] Ibid 34.
[5] Ibid. 38
[6] Ibid 38.
[7] Ibid.
[8] Gaudium et spes #22.
[9] J. Ratzinger, “Salt of the Earth,” Ignatius (1997) 19.
[10] J. Ratzinger, “Handing on the Faith and the Sources of Faith,” in Handing on the Faith in an Age of Disbelief Ignatius (2006) 29.
[11] J. Ratzinger, “Jesus of Nazareth,” Doubleday (2007) 47.
[12] Ibid 48.
[13] Ibid 56.

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