Where is Jesus?

Where is Jesus?

Michael Apthorp

In an editorial in the June 2011 issue of Liturgy News Rev Dr Tom Elich, the Director of Brisbane's Catholic Liturgical Commission, comes to the startling conclusion that when we receive Communion we are not actually receiving Jesus: "The risen Christ no more enters our mouth than he is prisoner in the tabernacle." If we suppose otherwise we are labouring under a "misunderstanding", because "In scholastic terms, locality belongs to the accidents of the bread and wine, not the substance of Christ's body".

But this is, quite literally, nonsense, because "accidents" (in the technical philosophical sense) are by definition mere properties or qualities, not stand-alone "substances". So it makes no sense to think of such qualities as moving around independently of the "substance" to which they are now attached, the Body, Blood and Person of Christ.

Furthermore, Catholic doctrine is almost the opposite of what Fr Elich asserts: locality does indeed belong to the transubstantiated bread and wine, now the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ himself, and when Catholics receive the consecrated hosts Christ really does enter their mouths, bodies and souls. This is the doctrine defined by the Council of Trent in 1551 and supported by the current Catechism of the Catholic Church, Section 1382: "To receive communion is to receive Christ himself." And as Dr Edward Sri puts it, "In holy communion, Our Lord enters our bodies, joining himself to our souls in this most intimate union" ( A Biblical Walk Through the Mass, Ascension Press, 2011, p. 13).

The earlier part of Fr Elich's argument is hardly less peculiar. But first, some background.

In the current Mass translation, just after the priest's "This is the Lamb of God ...", the congregation responds, "Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed." This translation obscures the details of the allusion to the centurion's words to Jesus in the Gospels: "Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my servant shall be healed" (Matthew 8:8; cf. Luke 7:6-7). But fortunately the new translation follows Matthew's wording exactly, changing only "my servant" to "my soul", which is precisely what the original Latin does in the Mass.

Now Fr Elich, though rather grudgingly admitting that the new translation is more accurate, challenges its necessity and claims that there is a "danger with the phrase enter under my roof that people will take it at face value and say, ah yes, the roof of my mouth." He alleges that "This is not just a quaint misunderstanding but enshrines an unhelpful theology."

But the current German translation of this passage is just as literal as the new English translation and does not seem to have aroused any controversy over the past 40 years, even though Germans have an equivalent term for our "roof of the mouth" ( Dach des Mundes). Moreover, if some communicants do actually see a parallel between the centurion's words and the roof of their mouth, they will not be far off the mark, as I have implied above. Finally, it seems perverse to regard the accurate translation of an evocative Scriptural allusion as a "danger". Rather, it is Fr Elich's strange interpretations that will cause confusion.

In a leading article by the editor of an official diocesan organ graced by the incumbent Archbishop's imprimatur, one might normally have expected something better and sounder than this.

Brisbane, Qld

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