Bread of Life

 this is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die. (john 6: 50)
The miracle of God’s physical presence to us at every Mass is the truest testament to Christ’s love for us and His desire for each of us to have a personal relationship with Him. Jesus Christ celebrated the first Mass with His disciples at the Last Supper, the night before He died. He commanded His disciples, “Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19). The celebration of the Mass then became the main form of worship in the early Church, as a reenactment of the Last Supper, as Christ had commanded. Each and every Mass since commemorates Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross through the Holy Eucharist. Because the Mass “re-presents” (makes present) the sacrifice on Calvary, Catholics all around the world join together to be made present in Christ’s timeless sacrifice for our sins. There is something fascinating about continuing to celebrate the same Mass—instituted by Christ and practiced by the early Church—with the whole community of Catholics around the world…and in heaven.


Why does the Catholic Church believe Christ is really present in the Eucharist?
The Catholic doctrine of the Real Presence is the belief that Jesus Christ is literally, not symbolically, present in the Holy Eucharist—body, blood, soul and divinity. Catholics believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist because Jesus tells us this is true in the Bible:

“I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that a man may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh." The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’ So Jesus said to them,

"Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him” - John 6:48-56
Furthermore, the early Church Fathers either imply or directly state that the bread and wine offered in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper is really the body and blood of Jesus Christ. In other words, the doctrine of the Real Presence that Catholics believe today was believed by the earliest Christians 2,000 years ago!

This miracle of God’s physical presence to us at every Mass is the truest testament to Christ’s love for us and His desire for each of us to have a personal relationship with Him.

Sunday, November 14, 2010


by Dave Armstrong

 A non-Catholic wrote to me asking some questions (her words will be in red):

 Please help me to understand why the Catholic church mingles pagan practices and feast into their worship?

First of all, one would have to define "pagan," I suppose. All of God's creation is good. E.g., even one of God's greatest gifts, sexual intercourse, can be utterly immoral outside of marriage (fornication or adultery), but entirely sacred and righteous within marriage. The same physical act (or "practice") can be good or evil depending on the circumstances and meaning given to it. Likewise with many pagan practices, if they are not objectively or inherently immoral in and of themselves (e.g., cannibalism would be wrong in any event).

 I have been studying the Catholic Catechism and The Concise History of the Catholic Church by Thomas Bokenkotter. Mr. Bokenkotter quite plainly says that during the 4th century, due to influx of many pagans "forced" into the church, many pagan rituals were blended into the Christian faith (such as genuflection, incense, lighting candles,...).

 Bokenkotter is not an orthodox Catholic, as I understand it. So his account is not entirely trustworthy (though it interprets true events). His book was so bad I got rid of it (and I have dozens of books on Church history - many by non-Catholics).

 But this is a case in point. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with candles (one had to have light at night somehow prior to electric light bulbs), incense (which represented prayer in OT temple worship), or the submissive, venerating gesture of genuflection (after all, we make similar gestures to earthly kings and judges - even the innocent and quaint curtsey is a form of this, as is the oriental bow). So what if the pagans used them in a sense foreign to Christianity? We can adopt them, give them a new meaning, and so "reclaim" them for God and the Church, because the key to true worship and religion is the inner attitude and disposition; the heart (see, e.g., Mark 7:6-8, among many other passages). The outward gestures merely represent whatever meaning we choose to give them (except for the sacraments, which work and dispense grace in and of themselves).

 He also says that the feast instituted for Christmas and Epiphany were intentionally mingled with the pagan celebrations on those days.

 In a certain sense, yes. The quickest way to get rid of an old pagan religious belief and festival is to incorporate its outward aspects, while not compromising any Christian belief in so doing. So the Church placed the feast day of Christmas on December 25th precisely because that was the date of the Roman feast of the Unconquered Sun, or Sol Invictus (it is now thought by many scholars that Jesus was actually born in October). Result?: Sol Invictus eventually goes the way of the dinosaur. The Roman Feast of Saturnalia, which was held from December 1-23 also disappears, having been superseded by Advent. Thus paganism is defeated. And whatever remaining customs have a similarity to pagan practices, again, so what? No one even remembers the meaning of the old customs, and it is the inner meaning which is primary (or the application of the practice to Christmas, the Christ-child, etc.).

 So the pagans of northern Europe (like the ancient enemies of the Hebrews) perhaps used trees as idols; we use the evergreen Christmas tree as a symbol of everlasting life: life in the dead of winter - just as Christ brought life to the deadness of humanity and the Fall and original sin. The tree itself is a neutral (and, I might add, beautiful) object: a part of God's good creation. To think otherwise is pure superstition, which is ironic because it typifies the attitude of many rabidly anti-Catholic fundamentalists in their dislike (hatred?) of Catholic sacramentalism and such things as crucifixes and rosary beads and statues of Paul and Peter, or the archangel Michael (not to mention . . . . . egads!: the Blessed Virgin Mary!!!!!!!).

 They falsely accuse Catholics of superstition and paganism, even as they themselves hypocritically and ironically blatantly indulge in it, neglecting the crucial role of inner meaning and the heart (very Pharisaical . . .). They view a crucifix as a talisman or a charm. We view it simply as an aid to devotion to our Lord Jesus (an entirely different concept), just as Passover was a means of remembrance to the Jews for God's deliverance of them (Ex 12:13-14). Many other similar biblical analogies could be brought forth also.

 To the early Calvinists, e.g., church organs and stained glass windows - indeed statues of Christ Himself - were "clearly" idolatrous, so they smashed them. This is the ancient heresy known as iconoclasm (which some have traced to the influence of Islam). Much of this thought (knowingly or not) stems from a quasi-Gnostic suspicion of God's creation as evil.

 Even well-known Protestant Church historian Philip Schaff - no friend of the Catholic Church, and often a severe critic of it -, while deeply ambivalent about some of these "pagan customs," nevertheless sees the essential utility and "Christianness" of the Catholic Church's traditional approach to such things:

This connection [to pagan Roman festivals] accounts for many customs of the Christmas season, . . . and gives them a Christian import; while it also betrays the origin of the many excesses in which the unbelieving world indulges in this season, in wanton perversion of the true Christmas mirth, but which, of course, no more forbid right use, than the abuses of the Bible or any other gift of God . . . Besides, there lurked in those pagan festivals themselves, in spite of all their sensual abuses, a deep meaning and an adaptation to a real want; they might be called unconscious prophecies of the Christmas feast. Finally, the church fathers themselves confirm the symbolical reference of the feast of the birth of Christ, the Sun of righteousness, the Light of the world, to the birth-festival of the unconquered sun, which on the 25th of December, after the winter solstice, breaks the growing power of darkness, and begins anew his heroic career.
{History of the Christian Church, vol. 3: Nicene and Post-Nicene Christianity: A.D. 311-600, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1974; reprint of the rev. 5th ed. of 1910, pp. 396-397}

 Another question I have is why is Easter called Easter, which the Catholic Encyclopedia clearly states is the name of a goddess of some sort. I don't understand.

 The etymological derivation of "Easter" is said to be uncertain. The Venerable Bede (8th c.) thought it was connected to the Anglo-Saxon spring goddess Eostre. But see (if that is true), this is again the incorporation of an old custom into Christianity ("Christianizing" or "baptizing" human custom) in order to supersede the old paganism and give the rituals an entirely new meaning. A word is not evil in and of itself. Even sacred words usually have secular origins (e.g., the Greek Christ simply meant "anointed one").

 We observe the Apostle Paul "incorporating paganism" in a sense when he dialogues with the Greek intellectuals and philosophers on Mars Hill in Athens (Acts 17). He compliments their religiosity (17:22), and comments on a pagan "altar with the inscription, 'To an unknown god.' " (17:23). He then goes on to preach that this "unknown god" is indeed Yahweh, the God of the OT and of the Jews (17:23-24). Then he expands upon the understanding of the true God as opposed to "shrines made by human hands" (17:24-25), and God as Sovereign and Sustaining Creator (17:26-28). In doing so he cites two pagan poets and/or philosophers: Epimenides of Crete (whom he also cites in Titus 1:12) and Aratus of Cilicia (17:28) and expands upon their understanding as well (17:29).

 This is basically the same thing that the Church does with regard to pagan feasts and customs: it takes whatever is not sinful and Christianizes it. To me, this is great practical wisdom and a profound understanding of human nature. The frequent Protestant assumption that this is a wholesale adoption of paganism per se, and an evil and diabolical mixture of idolatry and paganism with Christianity is way off the mark. Hopefully, the above defense will answer this "reasoning" adequately. After all, the Apostle Paul is clearly guilty of mixing paganism and Christianity also. :-) Remember, it was Paul who stated,

To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some. (1 Cor 9:22; NRSV - read the context of 9:19-21).
In my opinion, the Church's practice concerning Easter, Christmas, All Souls Day, All Saints Day, etc. is a straightforward application of Paul's own "evangelistic strategy," if you will. That puts all this in quite a different light, when it is backed up explicitly from Scripture. The early Church merely followed Paul's lead. Furthermore, skeptics of Christianity trace the Trinity itself to Babylonian three-headed gods and suchlike, and the Resurrection of Christ to Mithraism or other pagan religious beliefs, but that doesn't stop Protestants from believing in the Triune God or the Resurrection. So this whole critique eventually backfires on those who give it.

I have made great strides in understanding the faith of the Catholic church and the need for Apostolic Tradition, but these things are tremendous stumbling blocks to me, a pentecostal, Bible beater.

It never hurts to ask for further understanding. You asked honest questions without a judgmental attitude from the outset. I appreciate that. You let me present a Catholic defense. Many non-Catholics (sadly) never even get to that point: they assume that the Catholic Church is pagan, the Beast, antichrist, etc., etc. without ever allowing it a chance to explain its teaching and practices. So I highly commend you. For further reading, see related links on my Church page : "Catholic 'Scandals' " section, "Misc." Also, I have additional links on this page, about the meaning and origins of Christmas customs, which will shed light on the Church's thinking in these matters: Dave's Old-Fashioned Christmas Page .


Rosemi said...

Interesting to here your perspective.

Michael Gormley said...

Not my perspective, Rosemi, but Dave Armstrong’s!

Tortoise said...

Regarding the history of Catholicism, it began in the Roman province of Judea and was founded by Jews. If Jesus Christ was not God, then Catholicism is a Jewish heresy and as such would not be Pagan anyway.

During the early centuries of the Church it is alleged that Catholicism assimilated Pagan mythologies and beliefs and reproduced them in itself.

As illustrated above, much of this assimilation was insubstantial insofar as dictating belief - the core elements of Catholic theology were known by the end of the first century and recorded in Biblical and oral Tradition.

Certain geometric symbols, patterns, practices, etc., have been pointed to as having Pagan connotations, however, their presence may be coincidental, or it may be because that symbol was absorbed and given a new meaning - its presence is not latent evidence of Pagan belief held by some sort of elite nucleus of Catholic hierarchy.

Much the same is found today; the pentagram is a Catholic symbol pertaining to the five wounds of Christ ("Sir Gawain and the Green Knight" is the most famous illustration from history of its Christian origin) but today is associated with occult practices - no one would accuse someone of being a secret Christian today because they wear the pentagram around their neck.
Symbols, practices, designations, etc., naturally evolve through common use.