A rant, the Centurion, and frequent Communion

Have you ever kept a ratty old pair of jeans, or maybe a threadbare robe, maybe a pair of shoes that should have long gone to the dump simply because they are familiar?  "New and far more useful dish rags and sponges are in that packet under the sink.  Take a new one out and throw the old one away… yeech!"

For three whole decades people have been using the lame-duck ICEL version in most places where English is spoken.  There will be changes in the translation to parts both regular and rare, familiar and occasional.  When the changes are made, some people who haven’t had a chance to understand what the prayers really say in the Latin original are going to freak out, thinking that they are being robbed of something precious, something familiar.

When you are a beggar in rags, or simply aren’t thinking, a familiar rag seems pretty important. 

However, Holy Church clothes our liturgy, and us, in gorgeous words, magnificent verbal garments.  The Latin is overwhelming.  When the new translation is given to us, at last, don’t be tempted to cling to the rag. 

But, some people want us to beg for more rags. 

When you come to understand that the rag isn’t maybe as good as what you ought to have, indeed that you have all these years been robbed of what you were supposed to have, you might be less inclined to hesitate accepting, nay rather demanding, your rightful patrimony, and tossing aside the rag for the rag it is. 

So, we should strive to learn what we have now and what we ought to have had all along.  The Fathers can help us.

You probably don’t know much about Chromatius of Aquileia (+c.407).  He became bishop after the death of Valerian and he carried on a epistolary exchange with Rufinus and Sts. Ambrose and Jerome.  As a matter of fact, he tried to make peace between Jerome and Rufinus… yah right.
He wrote quite a few exegetical treastises, especially on the Gosepl of Matthew, to which we now turn our attention.

In his tr. in Mathaeum 39 (CCL 9A ) reflects on the Centurion and his declaration of faith in Jesus’ power to heal his servant.  

Whence that Centurian, even though he saw our Lord and Savior as a man according to the flesh, nevertheless recognized that He was God by the sight of his mind and of his faith.  So, it goes: Speak but a with a word and my servant will be healed, for he believed that He was present in all places by the power of His divine nature and it was enough that he would want to say a word to be able to cure all things, knowing He was the one of whom it was written: He sent his word and healed them.  And again: He didn’t cure them with a poultice but, O Lord, it was Your word which heals all things.   For he believed he was Him to whom the angels and archangels and all the powers of heaven were subjected in the obedience of servitude.  Whence also it was for him that he said: I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but speak but with a word and my servant will be healed, is understood to mean that his house is this world, defiled with the sacrileges of the gentiles and the superstitions of idols, which is attested to as unworthy for God.

Most of the Fathers make use of the Centurion as a symbol of the Gentiles, taking a hint from the Lord Himself about how God’s favor is also to be extended to them and not only to the Jews.  In the above, did you catch a foretaste of the great hymn of St. Thomas Aquinas (+1274)?  Can one of you say what verse I am thinking of?

Flipping a few centuries forward we find also a note or two from the interesting 13th century commentator Durandus (+1296 – Guillelmus Duranti senior, dictus Speculator) in his Ratione divinorum officiorum.  Durandus explained many of the words and gestures of the priest during Holy Mass, giving them very interesting allegorical interpretations which have continued to influence our thought about Mass even today.  Here is Durandus (4, 42, 30).  He is explaning the gestures and words of Mass (as it was in the 13th  century, mind you).  He uses the examples of the two officials of the New Testament, the Tax Collector Zacchaeus and the Centurion, to speak about those who desire to receive Communion daily or only occasionally.

There follows: "Howeverso often as you will have done these things" etc.  This clause, because it concerns the consecration both of the Body and of the Blood, must be said after the chalice is set down.  Truly we must use great discernment in the perception of the Body and Blood of Christ.  We must be very careful lest this matter be shelved, and danger of death is incurred, as the Lord strongly declares: Unless you will have eaten the Flesh of the Son of man and will have drunk His Blood, you will not have life in you.  But if someone takes (Communion) unworthily, as the Apostles puts it: he eats and drinks for himself judgment, namely of damnation.  And thus according to the same Apostle: Let a man test himself and thus eat of that bread and drink of that chalice, etc.

So, someone will say that one must receive Communion daily, but another will say the contrary. Therefore let each person do that which he will have piously believed must be done, for they didn’t conflict with each other, nor did one of them place himself above the other: as an example, Zacchaeus and the Centurion, when the one was happy to receive Christ in his home and the other said: Lord, I am not worthy that you enter under my roof.  This is what Augustine says: Some communicate daily of the Body and Blood of the Lord, and others receive only on certain days, for one has in this a free custom.

We should remember that frequent reception of Holy Communion is a very modern development.  However, perhaps not so many people always take stock of what reception of Holy Communion is all about.  They do not exercise any "discernment" of what they do.  Week after week they may even go to church on Sunday… well… maybe when there aren’t other things more interesting… and go forward for Communion as if they are going to get their parking ticket validated.  For those who are in the state of grace and who are truly participating with "active receptivity" nothing could be more advantageous than frequent Holy Communion.  And for those who aren’t… well….

We should have healthy awe-filled respect for the Blessed Sacrament and our reception of Holy Communion should never be taken for grant or made into a thing of little importance by the fact of our neglect.   Let the words of the Centurion be our constant reminder of the fearful act of receiving Communion.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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One Comment

  1. Jeff says:

    Ratzinger suggested once that it might be a good thing if Catholics sometimes voluntarily fasted from communion even when they were in a state of grace.

    I have done that on a couple of occasions and it seems worth considering.

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