Monday, April 27, 2009

St. Justin Martyr on the Eucharist

"No one may share in the eucharist with us unless he believes that what we teach is true, unless he is washed in the regenerating waters of baptism for the remission of his sins, and unless he lives in accordance with the principles given us by Christ. 
We do not consume the eucharistic bread and wine as if it were ordinary food and drink, for we have been taught that as Jesus Christ our Savior became a man of flesh and blood by the power of the Word of God, so also the food that our flesh and blood assimilates for its nourishment becomes the flesh and blood of the incarnate Jesus by the power of his own words contained in the prayer of thanksgiving.
The apostles, in their recollections, which are called gospels, handed down to us what Jesus commanded them to do. They tell us that he took bread, gave thanks and said: Do this in memory of me. This is my body. In the same way he took the cup, he gave thanks and said: This is my blood. The Lord gave this command to them alone. Ever since then we have constantly reminded one another of these things. The rich among us help the poor and we are always united. For all that we receive we praise the Creator of the universe through his Son Jesus Christ and through the Holy Spirit. 
On Sunday we have a common assembly of all our members, whether they live in the city or in the outlying districts. The recollections of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as there is time. When the reader has finished, the president of the assembly speaks to us; he urges everyone to imitate the examples of virtue we have heard in the readings. Then we all stand up together and pray. 
On the conclusion of our prayer, bread and wine and water are brought forward. The president offers prayers and gives thanks to the best of his ability, and the people give their assent by saying, "Amen." The eucharist is distributed, everyone present communicates, and the deacons take it to those who are absent. 
The wealthy, if they wish, may make a contribution, and they themselves decide the amount. The collection is placed in the custody of the president, who uses it to help the orphans and widows and all who for any reason are in distress, whether because they are sick, in prison, or away from home. In a word, he takes care of all who are in need. 
We hold our common assembly on Sunday because it is the first day of the week, the day on which God put darkness and chaos to flight and created the world, and because on that same day our savior Jesus Christ rose from the dead. For he was crucified on Friday and on Sunday he appeared to his apostles and disciples and taught them the things that we have passed on for your consideration." 
St. Justin Martyr  100AD - 165AD
First Apology in defense of the Christians

I love this quote from St. Justin. He clearly states that the bread and wine are not mere symbols and are not common. But that the two elements when consecrated by the priest, indeed transform into the sacred Body and Blood of Christ. This is ancient and modern Catholic theology. Also, St. Justin opens by stating that not just anyone can receive, but there are some criteria that's required of each communicant. He states only those who have received the Sacrament of Baptism can participate in the Eucharist. He also must believe in what the Catholic Church teaches. And lastly, he must be in a state of grace to partake of Christ. This is ancient as well as modern Catholic theology. Praise be to God.
This who scene St. Justin describes is quite different from the way our Protestant brothers and sisters administer Communion. In most Protestant denominations anyone can receive, even those not Baptized. Also, their bread and wine (most use juice...where's that in the Bible?) is looked at as mere symbols with only Christ present spiritually. Granted, we as Catholics too believe Christ is present spiritually and also recognize the symbology involved in the Sacred Elements. The difference is that the Church through the ages has always undisputedly believed it to be the transformed, literal Body and Blood of Christ. This has not changed, nor will it ever as it has in the Protestant denominations. This Eucharist was given to us for spiritual nourishment and sustainment as we pilgrims here on earth make our way to heaven. I've witnessed a few times their elements are swept up with a vacuum cleaner or tossed in the trash or poured down the sink. St. Justin, and indeed all the Saints, would have a heart attack if they witnessed such a scene. Although, given the situation of our separated Protestant brother and sisters, we as Catholics and Orthodox know that no transformation takes place and it's still mere bread and juice due to their lack of Apostolic Succession and Holy Orders. However, it still bothered me this occurred for the simple fact they were referring to it as Christ's Body and Blood (still symbolically), through they don't mean so literally. I notified the pastor this was happening and I have no doubt he took care of the issue. 
The Fathers of the Church, throughout our 2000 year history, speak in the same manner as St. Justin (100AD - 165AD) regarding the very real and actual presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. I love the continuity and stability of our one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. May God continue to protect his Holy Catholic Church and also continue to lead our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI as supreme head and leader of the Church on earth. Viva La Papa!  

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