Cleansing Fire

Defending Truth and Tradition in the Roman Catholic Church

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When the Flock isn’t fed, it starves …

September 21st, 2020, Promulgated by Diane Harris

When I wrote “Feeling Angry and Betrayed” back in early August, I said that 75 days without the Eucharist was “starving,” and so it was. Some folks might have felt that in a world where human beings are sadly dying every day, from lack of food or from contaminated water, my words were inappropriate, lacking in sensitivity, or melodramatic.  I disagree, and I hope in this post to explain why, and to propose principles to limit such an offense against souls in the future.

Is it worse to starve souls than to starve bodies?

Yes, I would say so. Consider Matthew 10:28 “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” What does starving from lack of our “soul-food” actually mean? Likely it is different for each person, regarding his or her own spiritual practices before and during withholding the Holy Eucharist, the resources one has available, the length of time involved, the spiritual activities, if any, which one tries to substitute, the support or harassment one receives, and the trauma associated with the reason for a lock-down, such as riots, plague, war etc. Some effects may be more temporary, others more enduring. Because it is the Church herself, administering both the rules and the pain through her bishops and priests, even if at the behest of civil government, it would not be surprising to have pastoral relationships damaged, burdening attempts to return to ‘normalcy’ in spiritual practice. It would not be surprising to have permanent soul-damage done through long term denial of the Holy Eucharist at the hands of the most trusted.

What is meant by “long term?”

Certainly the 75 days and longer, without any end announced or anticipated during the COVID-19 lock-down, is long term. Consider that God Himself uses 40 days as an expiatory period or a testing period, for the rain in the flood, for the exploration of the promised land by a delegate from each tribe, for Christ’s 40 day fast in the desert, for Lenten fasts and practice. Forty years of wandering in the desert tracks similar “40” imagery. In beatings and whippings, the number of lashes was not supposed to exceed 40, and just to be sure there was no error in counting, the limit was often set at 39 as a mercy (Christ may have received more due to the leaders hatred of Him, and their judgment of blasphemy.) St. Paul makes this ‘mercy of 39’ clear in 2 Corinthians 11:24 when he describes physical abuse by the Jewish leaders:  “Of the Jews five times I have received at the hands of the Jews forty lashes less one.”

Is it a sin to deny Communion to someone who would otherwise be permitted?

It is just a matter of my opinion, and looking forward to some discussion, but I believe it is wrong to be deprived of the Holy Body and Blood of Christ, at the hands of her presbyters, which exceeds Christ’s own fasting from bread; i.e. forty days. It seems more appropriate to make 39 days the absolute limit without receiving relief, significant relief, and not a mere token day or two. The figure of 75 days is grossly excessive and damaging compared to key scriptural events, and I would advocate that the Church should explicitly have a rule for the protection of her flock that a Church-imposed Eucharistic deprivation on a community may not exceed 39 days in any one, or even more, liturgical years.

Why is this so important to declare now, before the next lock-down?

 

Church governance during the pandemic has already become the basic practice one can AT A MINIMUM expect in the next plague and thereafter. If there isn’t some self examination, reform, and accountability, longer and longer periods will prevail until the churches are de facto closed. Prayer for more courage in the leadership of the Church is also absolutely needed. Bishops are given control of their dioceses but it is highly unlikely that every single bishop chose the same policy for his diocese, and that not one diocese nationwide broke ranks for the good of souls.

What does the Church Herself say about the importance of Holy Eucharist?

There is a mandatory annual period in which a Catholic MUST receive Communion. When I was growing up there were six precepts of the Catholic Church. Now there are seven, but there is still the requirement “to receive the sacrament of the Eucharist at least [once] during the Easter season.” But that doesn’t condone only receiving once a year. How could a gift so precious, if truly believed, not be sought weekly, or even daily? Daily? Really?

In the wonderful and illuminating book by Brant Pitre “Jesus and the Jewish roots of the Eucharist”, in the chapter on the Manna of the Messiah, the author analyzes the words of the Lord’s Prayer, the prayer that Christ Himself gave us. Pitre focuses on the words “Give us this day our daily bread” and wonders at the repetitive aspect of “this day” and “daily.” His analysis leads to the better translation through St. Jerome: “Give us this day our supersubstantial bread” and “Give us this day our supernatural bread.”

With such a prominent position in such a prominent prayer, one cannot help but wonder how frequently the real meaning of that verse is ignored – praying to have access to the Holy Eucharist, and wondering why the presbyters don’t tremble at taking away from the people what God asked them to request!

What should we expect in such crucial times from papal leadership?

Let’s consider the words associated with the first papal installation, on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. Some people (in my opinion) seem to miss the point and only see what they think is a 3-part ritual by which Peter reaffirms his love for Christ and is forgiven of his sins. But I don’t believe that happened after brunch on shore; it seems to have happened instead on Resurrection morning, and here’s why.

To remind ourselves of the ‘forgiveness” event, separate from the ‘installation’ even, we need to revisit the Gospel of John, which logically reads as being the last of the four Gospels composed, or at least the last published. While corroborating the Synoptic Gospels, there is still quite a bit of new information found in John’s Gospel. That he lived well into ‘old age’ gives perspective to his words — John basically saw it all. He was also the apostle who was part of the threesome – Peter, James and John – which often accompanied Jesus as a witness to private miracles, and who also could speak authoritatively about the details long after all the other apostles had been martyred.

We don’t need to revisit Chapter 16 of the Gospel of Matthew, in which Christ names Peter as the future head of the Church on earth; i.e. the Vicar of Christ. At that point in His ministry, Christ makes known his choice of Peter, but in the future tense:  That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (KJV)

Yet Peter denied Christ three times during the Lord’s trial. Can you imagine being Peter and waking up that Saturday morning to the cockcrow, if indeed he could have slept at all, and feeling an overwhelming sense of guilt and shame in the eyes of Christ, the Father, and the entire world! And the torment of living through the entire day of what we call Holy Saturday, into the wee morning hours of Easter Sunday!

It seems as if Christ’s own compassion for Peter led to an early meeting between them soon after the Resurrection, and is mentioned by both Luke and later by St. Paul, that Christ met with Peter prior to including the other 10 Apostles at the Sunday night supper. There are some who would delay the reconciliation meeting to the breakfast reported by John on the shores of Galilee, but I don’t think so. I think the first order of the day on Easter Morning was to bring forgiveness to Peter, and that we know little of that meeting is because it was effectively a meeting under what we would later call the seal of confession.  After the disciples return from Emmaus, presumably early evening on Easter, we read Luke’s recounting:

Luke 24:34-36: “… the Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon! Then they (the disciples from the road to Emmaus) told what had happened on the road, and how He was known to them in the breaking of the bread. As they were saying this, Jesus himself stood among them.”

It seems not too much of a stretch to perceive Christ’s tending to the forgiveness of Peter’s sin as a top priority on Easter Morning, especially with John’s recounting of the institution of the Sacrament of Penance on that very evening in the Upper Room. So, what then happened on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, when Christ asked Peter three times “Do you love me?” Although Peter’s answer was lacking the word ‘agape,’ for a truly sacrificial love, nevertheless, it was sufficient for Christ to install Peter as His Vicar on Earth, in a three-part ‘swearing in’ ritual. Why didn’t Christ do it immediately after Peter was forgiven? One might surmise that since Peter was being given leadership over the whole church, including over the other disciples, it was important for them to witness the ‘ritual,’ and that Peter hadn’t lost his stature due to denying Christ. John was certainly a witness to all of this story; he was the only evangelist to mention it, as he added to the fourth Gospel what was already known among the Christians, but still needed to be said.

What powers did Christ give to His vicar? and why?

Relative to the suspension of the Holy Eucharist during the pandemic, it is important to ‘hear’ what powers and orders Christ gave to His Vicar. He did not tell Peter to get a bible recorded, or to avoid persecution, or to build structures, organize committees or assemble a catechism. He told Peter in the very last of all the Gospel chapters: “Feed My lambs … tend (feed) My sheep …feed My sheep.” The emphasis is clearly to make available to God’s flock the food they need. Can anyone doubt that is the Eucharist? The singular command given by Christ to His Vicar was to feed the flock. Again, let’s ask, how can prelates and presbyters not cringe at the idea of personally denying the flock their food for 75 days? And how far are they willing to go in the next pandemic? With precedent unfortunately already set, now it must be clearly and forcibly reformed well before the next lock-down occurs. I do wonder how Jesus would feel about every diocese in the entire country basically being cowed by the government or by their own fear; i.e. being more sheep than the sheep.

Without belaboring the subject much further, it is also important to remember that Christ came to tend His own flock because they had been so neglected by the Levitical priests. One consideration of the end-times may be that Jesus comes again because of neglect of the flock, as well as to judge. When I read how the shepherds feed themselves and not the sheep, I think of 75 days of their confecting and consuming the Eucharist while the sheep received none. And from Jeremiah and Ezekiel, we can read warning words:

“Therefore thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who care for My people: “You have scattered My flock, and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. Behold, I will attend to you for your evil doings, says the LORD.” Jeremiah 23:2

“Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel, prophesy, and say to them, even to the shepherds, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD: Ho, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep?”’ Ezekiel 34:2

“You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fatlings; but you do not feed the sheep.” Ezekiel 34:3 

“Thus says the Lord GOD, ‘Behold, I am against the shepherds; and I will require My sheep at their hand, and put a stop to their feeding the sheep; no longer shall the shepherds feed themselves. I will rescue My sheep from their mouths, that they may not be food for them.” Ezekiel 34:10

 

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