Clearing the Heart to See the Truth

The Pope, the Eucharist, and Mary

The Pope, the Eucharist, and Mary. These three words summarize the most vivid area of disagreement between Catholics and other Christians. Most converts will admit that confusion with one of these realities was the last obstacle they had to overcome before finally entering the Church. As to those who do not convert, Catholic teaching on these three areas appears extravagantly theoretical and foreign to the basic gospel message. After all, where is “transubstantiation” in Scripture? What about “infallibility” or “immaculately conceived”? The Catholic doctrines concerning Mary, the Eucharist, and the Pope seem to many to be utterly groundless innovations of a Roman theology that has become hopelessly speculative.

After all, what’s the point? Why do we need Mary and the Pope and the Eucharist? Why become distracted with these fringe issues when all that matters is that the Christian grow in divine life? All we want, all we need, is a personal relationship with God.

Fair enough. That is all we want, and that is all we need. But there are two things to keep in mind when we talk about a personal relationship with God. The first is that God isn’t a person, He’s Three Persons. The second thing to remember is that a personal relationship can only be cultivated if there’s a point of contact – it might be through words, or through physical connection or through some other kind of expression, but you can’t build a relationship in a vacuum. So the question becomes: what are those contact points where Christians can relate to God, where they can cultivate a loving connection between themselves and the Father, Son and Spirit? Well, the answer of the Scriptures and the Catholic Church of today is pretty clear; those contact points are Mary, the Eucharist, and the Pope.

 

The Pope: Point of Contact with the Father

            The Catholic Church has always seen the establishment of the papacy as being rooted in Matthew 16:13ff, where Christ gives Peter the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Before doing so, however, Jesus quizzes the Apostles on what people are saying about his identity. Of course, the poll comes back inconsistent, inconclusive and ultimately, inaccurate: “John the Baptist,” “Elijah,” “Jeremiah,” or some other prophet. So you can’t get the truth about Jesus just by doing a survey. Then Jesus asks the Apostles as a group, “Who do you say that I am?” The Apostles are silent. No one, apart from Peter, says a word. Maybe that’s why the Orthodox, who still have successors of the Apostles, haven’t been able to call a general council since they separated from the Pope. Apart from Peter, they are silent. In any case, Peter steps forward and gets the right answer, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

How does Jesus react? By saying this, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.”

What, then, is the source of Peter’s gift, of Peter’s true and reliable profession of faith? It is the heavenly Father. He who before all Ages uttered the Eternal Word now gives His revealed word through the lips of Peter, the Rock.

People form relationships through words. If there’s someone you love, you ask that person to tell you about themselves, and they tell you by talking. God the Father speaks to us still, He expresses the truths about who He is and what He has done. And He speaks these words clearly, and reliably, through Peter and through Peter’s successor, the Pope. The Pope is the verbal contact point between us and the First Person of the Trinity, so that the teachings of the Holy Father can enable a relationship with our Father who Art in Heaven.

 

The Eucharist: Point of Contact with the Son

When Christ gave His Apostles the command, “Do this in memory of me,” they obeyed by the solemn and perpetual celebration of the sacred Mass. When Christ assured them, “Know that I am with you always, even to the end of time,” we understand that assurance to refer to His physical abode in the tabernacle. When Jesus said, “my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink,” (Jn 6:55) Catholics imagine the taste and texture of the Host.

Of the Three Persons, only the Son took on flesh, and it is that same flesh which the Catholic Church treasures in the sacrament of the Eucharist.

People form relationships through bodily contact. Two men are brothers when the same blood runs in both their veins, and we become brothers of Christ because His blood, which we drink from the sacred chalice, runs in our veins as well. A man and a woman have a spousal relationship which they express by the commingling of their bodies, and we become Christ’s brides when we receive his Sacred Body into ours. Friends embrace upon meeting each other, and surround each other with their arms, but a Catholic embraces the Second Person of the Trinity by eating Him, and surrounding Him with his whole physiology.

Like Thomas, we can touch the risen Christ, not only with our fingers but with our tongues, for we have been given the Eucharist, the physical contact point which lets us cultivate a relationship with the Son of God.

 

Mary: Point of Contact with the Holy Spirit

            The Holy Spirit, for most Christians, is the Trinitarian Person with whom it is hardest to cultivate a relationship, because the forms He assumes are deeply mysterious. Take the Baptism of Christ; there we hear the Father speak, and the Son is present in the flesh, but the Spirit comes as a dove. How can we have a relationship with a dove?

Yet if we can hear the Father’s words through the Pope, and if we can touch the Son’s flesh in the Eucharist, perhaps we can see the work of the Spirit in Mary.

Mary is the one who gives us a picture of what the Holy Spirit is doing. After all, Mary is the one who is “Full of Grace” (Lk 1:28), which means that she was so suffused with the Spirit that there was never an disparity between what the Spirit wanted from Mary, and what Mary did. The result is, if we want to see the effects of the Holy Spirit on a mere creature, like ourselves, we have only to look at her. That’s why the Holy Spirit’s impact on the world is done through the Blessed Virgin. When the Holy Spirit causes the Christ to enter the world as an embryo, it is in Mary’s womb. When the Holy Spirit creates the Church on Pentecost, Mary is there (Acts 1:14).

Sometimes people cultivate relationships by just looking. We can relate to an artist through his artwork, we can learn from an expert by watching, and we can interpret the meaning of certain visible actions, as in the case of sign-language, in such a way that brings us closer to the agent.

In this way we can form a relationship with the Holy Spirit through Mary. She is His masterpiece and the manifestation of His work.[1] If we would meditate on what the Holy Spirit does, we can see it done in Mary, for “In Mary, the Holy Spirit fulfills the plan of the Father’s loving goodness.”[2] She is the visual contact point, the “Sign”[3] which lets us cultivate a relationship with the Holy Spirit. It may be difficult to build a strong connection with the Holy Spirit using the images of fire, wind, cloud or a dove, but it isn’t hard to build a strong connection with the Holy Spirit using that most beautiful image of the perfect Woman and Mother.

 

The doctrines of the Church concerning the papacy, the Blessed Sacrament and the Mother of God, aren’t extras. They aren’t just intellectual conclusions that Catholicism entails, for whatever reason, which might be interesting for people with a lot of time on their hands but don’t matter much to everybody else. They are the bridges by which the Father, Son and Holy Spirit make Themselves accessible, so that we can form a relationship with Them, a relationship which is constitutive of a holy life on earth and unending joy in Heaven.



[1] C.f., Catechism of the Catholic Church, #721, “Mary, the all-holy ever-virgin Mother of God, is the masterwork of the mission of the Son and the Spirit in the fullness of time. For the first time in the plan of salvation and because his Spirit had prepared her, the Father found the dwelling place where his Son and his Spirit could dwell among men. In this sense the Church’s Tradition has often read the most beautiful texts on wisdom in relation to Mary.Mary is acclaimed and represented in the liturgy as the ‘Seat of Wisdom.’ In her, the ‘wonders of God’ that the Spirit was to fulfill in Christ and the Church began to be manifested.”

[2] Ibid., #723.

[3] C.f., Ibid., #2674, “Mary, his mother and ours, is wholly transparent to him: she ‘shows the way’ (hodigitria), and is herself “the Sign” of the way, according to the traditional iconography of East and West.”

 

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8 Responses to “The Pope, the Eucharist, and Mary”

  1. Ed says:

    One of the three points of contact with God should be the most important One of all—The Holy Spirit, The Paraclete, the Helper.
    Jesus said:”And I will ask the Father and He will send you a Helper, who will never leave you.” (John 14:16). Mary, the Eucharist and the Pope are useless without the power of the Holy Spirit in your life. The Holy Spirit can be reached without Mary’s intercession. Note Pope Peter’s exhortation:”Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”(Acts 2:38).

  2. collins says:

    I think there is no need for all these explanations, everything is clear from the bible. People should first know how the bible came. Who peter is, the role of mary and what she said, how christ instituted the eucharist. All these are clear.

    • Myriam says:

      For you perhaps is it clear, also to me, but I know a lot of christians, even catholics, who could’nt explain it by themself. I like it very much. Thanks to the auteur.
      Myriam

  3. Kevin McElroy says:

    The Protestant complaints about these dogma seem to be based most precisely in the fact that they are “physical and material” points of contact (we call them “sacramental”), that they establish a direct material connection to the divine. The danger of this is gnostic, because the church has thereby claimed to have a very “physical and material” authority over the world, rather than a spiritual one.

    The Church has been somewhat a victim of history in this. When Rome collapsed, the Church took over as the de facto government of Europe, a position which it is very doubtful that Jesus ever intended for it. The death of Jesus was the ultimate example that the way of God is not the way of the natural world, the law of power, the law of the jungle. Rather, the Church should be a “voice in the wilderness” with “nowhere to lay its head”, a “suffering servant”.

    So the Protestant complaint is that the claim of Sacramentality has been the source of abuse of spiritual authority, which is the greatest danger and error of spiritual authorities. In the middle ages it can be argued that this abuse was true, the Church really claimed it could dictate behavior on pain of death, condemnation to Hell, calling the Pope “the Lord God Pope”, indulgences, and other such corrupt excesses.

    So I guess this opens the question, to what degree does the divinely instituted Church get to claim a material authority over earthly behavior? It is human nature to want this, and the Church is ultimately run by flawed, sinful humans. Where does God himself draw the line of legitimate authority? Is the concept of “Christendom” ever an Earthly reality, or ever an eschatological fantasy? Of course the Creator is omnipotent, but would it ever be His way to exert this physical privilege over his Creation, or is free will primary? And therefore to what degree is the Protestant complaint against the worldly excesses and spiritual abuses of the historic Roman Church a legitimate one?

  4. One word: Mary’s FIAT, without which we – the Church – would not be here. Gonzalo T. Paalcios, Ph.D. author of “The Virgin Mary’s Revolution”.

    • Tom in Thailand says:

      Please clarify: Are you one of the people who would like to have Mary be declared ex cathedra a fourth Person of God? In Latin fiat lux means let there be light with God doing the letting and fiat is an active verb. Mary’s reply is in the passive voice form of the word. There is a major difference between God doing something and somebody else accepting having something done to them by God.

      • Myriam says:

        Without Mary’s Fiat, Jesus became not human, not the Christ who came to save the world, to save each of us. So, Mary’s YES to the Father was necessary. But she is not God. Because she is the mother of Jesus, we call her also the “mother of God”.
        She is the “daughter from the Father”, the “Mother of the Son” and the “espouse from the Holy Spirit”. Not being God, but united with the Holy Trinity in a very special way. I readed once, before the creation from the world, she was already in Gods mind. Myriam

  5. Marcus Grodi says:

    Excellent reflection! Very, very helpful! Thanks, John-Mark!

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