Man Does Not Live by Bread Alone

Man Does Not Live by Bread Alone

Far too often, people will hear fallen-away Catholics say something like this: “I stopped going to church because I just wasn’t being fed.” What do they mean by this statement? What might the metaphor of hunger and lack of nourishment be able to teach us?

Those who dwell in the ambit of traditional Catholicism will rarely hear someone say: “I left because I just wasn’t being fed.” The reason for the difference is staring us in the face. Mainstream Catholicism offers a meager diet, while traditional Catholicism offers a banquet.

The basic problem begins with the Protestantized notion of Mass as a meal. It is, of course, a wedding feast—but it is the bloody nuptials of the Cross that we are making present in our midst in an unbloody manner. What we are coming together for is not first and foremost a meal, but a solemn sacrifice to God, an offering of adoration, thanksgiving, propitiation, and impetration to the Most Holy Trinity through Jesus Christ the High Priest and Head of His Mystical Body. This is the act of religion into which the Christian is baptized and for which he is deputed on earth, to enjoy its fruits forever in heaven. It is by participating in this act that the Christian is fitted to be intimately united with the Savior in the Sacrament of His Passion, which contains, as St. Thomas Aquinas says, Christus passus, the Christ who suffered for our sins.

A meal, in and of itself, is not an act of worship or of any other aspect of the virtue of religion, although it can be an integral part of a series of acts that, taken together, deserve to be called divine worship. Put simply, what human nature needs and desires, and what God demands and deserves, is the immolation of our hearts on the altar of the Cross, in union with the God-Man. This is the union of faith and charity that precedes and indeed permits the one-flesh union of the Eucharistic banquet.[1]

Consequently, the theoretical and phenomenological reduction of the Mass to a meal—a reduction characteristic of the views and practices of so-called “progressive” liturgists—turns upside-down the ontological and psychological order in which Catholics are to enter into the liturgy. They ought to be entering into it with holy fear through the gates of abnegation and humility before the mystery of God irrupting into our midst upon a stone altar of sacrifice, all the while surpassing our every thought and word. The faithful ought to be plunged into hieratic ritual and a silence that makes skimming the surface or running along easy tracks impossible. They ought to be faced with an unmistakable testimony of their own insignificance and peripherality. They ought to see, feel, hear, smell, that God is more real than anything created because everything created is forced to bow to Him, point towards Him, gather around Him—so that, if He did not exist, the entire content of what we are doing and the manner in which it is being done would be absolutely senseless and downright insane.

None of this, take note, is about meals, food, or drink… that will come later. Eating bread and drinking wine are everyday activities that are taken up by Christ and given a wondrous role to play in the economy of salvation—but only for those who no longer see them as ordinary, who have been so steeped in, so saturated with the ineffable Divine Presence, or so provoked by its absence and their emptiness, that they are driven to hunger and thirst for God, the living God. “When shall I see Him face to face?” is the inner cry of one who, being studiously ignored by a minister who never makes eye contact, is learning the hard lesson that it is not about me,about my “being fed,” my being caressed with a message of comfort or harangued into social awareness.

I will be fed, deeply nourished and satisfied, only when I let go of myself and seek God, who is the soul’s mysterious food. It is the soul that informs the body, and it is therefore the soul with a hearty appetite for grace, which it may desire under many different names and in many different ways, that renders a body susceptible to sacramental nutriment. This is why Jesus says, in a verse Protestants often misunderstand: “It is the spirit that quickeneth: the flesh profiteth nothing” (Jn 6:64). If we are not present in our souls to the Presence of the Lord, with living faith and actual devotion, our bodily action of walking up to receive a host or drink from a cup will profit us nothing. Nay rather, as St. Paul warns: “He that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh judgment to himself, not discerning the body of the Lord. Therefore are there many infirm and weak among you, and many sleep” (1 Cor 11:29–30).[2]

Some conclusions are inescapable. Man does not live by bread alone—even the Bread of Life. If we created a religion out of endless communion services, it would not be a religion suitable for man, nor would it be the religion instituted by Christ. In order to be properly nourished by the living bread of God, we must be duly prepared to receive it and profit from it. We are prepared through doctrine and devotion, through asceticism and aesthetics. The Latin prayers and chants, the liturgical gestures and postures, praying with Scripture and the Rosary, all of these build up in us an appetite and an aptitude for the Bread of God, and enable its flavor and nutriment to linger in us. We have to exercise the tongue, teeth, jaws, and muscles of our minds before we are ready to exercise those of our bodies, or at least we need to be doing both together; mere eating of a sacrament is no guarantee of any efficacy whatsoever. All the eating in the world will not divinize the soul as long as intellect and will are not focused on, engaged with, and tethered to the mysteries out of which the liturgy is woven.

The liturgy woven out of these mysteries will not be just any human attempt at actualizing the virtue of religion, a “do-it-yourself” liturgy, but will necessarily be one of the traditional liturgical rites of the Church, Eastern or Western. These rites began with the apostles and matured through centuries of men and women exercising this virtue in union with Christ and one another, and by the guiding power of the Holy Spirit. Just as man is a body-soul composite, so too is worship a body-soul composite: as the human soul informs the human body, so does tradition inform the “body,” or external manifestations, of the liturgy. If we want a truly Christian liturgy, therefore, it soul must be Catholic, i.e., not a product of a human committee sponsored by ecclesiastical authority, but the result of the organic development of apostolic tradition spread across time and space, and thus truly universal or catholic (kata holos, according to the whole). This is the liturgy to which the Catholic soul is proportioned by its baptism, which not only equips the believer for communion with the entire Church, triumphant, suffering, and militant, past, present, and future, but also inclines him to act and suffer as a member of the whole Body.

It is not surprising, then, that one who has been so equipped and is so inclined by the character of baptism will find it nearly impossible to be satisfied with a liturgy that is not catholic or universal in the manner described—indeed, that is not even liturgical in the full sense of the word. He may not be able to describe the problem; he may not even be consciously aware of the problem as a problem; he may become bored, have doubts, get lazy, drift away, and eventually find himself among the “nones” about which Bishop Barron manages to speak so voluminously without ever identifying the deepest underlying cause, which is the dissolution (or, at least, banishment and inaccessibility) of the normal and normative way by which Christians encounter the transcendent mystery of God, the splendor of Christ, the gentle but insistent pull of the Holy Spirit.[3]

The fallen-away is someone who “just isn’t being fed”—and why? It is not religion he is rejecting, nor adoration, nor a quiet place under the Tree of Life; he is rejecting the ersatz religion of the table of plenty, the social trough, the bread and circus. Would that he could encounter religion for the first time! Would that he could worship in fear and trembling, resting at the foot of the glorious Cross, and have nothing to do with “meals” and “suppers” at which, even today, the Son of Man is betrayed!

The pretense has reached Orwellian levels when you have a college theology professor writing a book called Bored Again Catholic: How the Mass Could Save Your Life in which the author accepts, as a given, that the liturgy will bore youths, and then encourages them to “embrace” the boredom. Why do we have to pretend that the Bugnini-liturgy is not at fault, that it is not largely responsible for this epidemic of boredom? That our situation is the fault of everyone and everything else—but has no essential connection with the ill-starred liturgical reform, which went light-years beyond (or beneath) anything even broached in the Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium? Does the fact that millions of Catholics walked away in the sixties and seventies, and that the mainstream Church continues to experience paltry success in attracting or retaining young people, really have nothing to do with the radical make-over of our divine worship, to the point that it seemed neither divine nor worshipful?

The evidence is in; we are, in fact, drowning in it. If authors are admitting that the new liturgy is boring and that young people can hardly become interested in it, they are giving away the game. If, in contrast, young people and young families are found in abundance wherever the traditional Mass has been allowed to take root, they are testifying to the same truth from the opposite angle: this rich majestic old Latin liturgy has a power of attraction, a spirit of mystery, a palpable beauty, a plenitude of prayer that the modern anorexic version lacks. The one is “fat” and nourishes, the other thin and fails to feed.

Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God—including the liturgical tradition that He conceived in His wisdom and uttered in His Providence.

 

NOTES

[1] See my article “The Priority of Religion and Adoration over Communion”, published October 9, 2017 at New Liturgical Movement.

[2] Catholics who attend the traditional liturgy will have this apostolic warning placed before their consciences at least three times a year. The architects of the Novus Ordo, however, made sure that these verses appear nowhere in the entire liturgy, at any time. See my article “The Omission that Haunts the Church—1 Corinthians 11:27–29,” published April 11, 2016, at New Liturgical Movement.

[3] In his Erasmus Lecture “Evangelizing the Nones,” Bishop Barron eruditely identifies various cultural contributors to modern irreligiosity—but never mentions the elephant in the room: the dumbed-down, totally inadequate liturgy that we are supposed to pretend is at the center of our lives, but that wouldn’t be enough to sustain a false religion, let alone the true one. I suspect that Desiderius Erasmus, had he been able to hear this lecture named after him, would at least have raised a skeptical eyebrow, if not launched full-tilt into a withering satire.

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