Saturday, June 10, 2017

Coming To Mount Zion: How The Catholic Mass Brings Us Closer To Heaven

I would like to thank my friend and mentor, Walid Shoebat, for posting a thought provoking question, "How do we approach Mount Zion" as laid out in Hebrews 12:22.  To answer such question, it requires to do some thinking such as asking and answering the question:
How can the kingdom of God be within us (Luke 17:21) yet the kingdom of God is not of this world (John 18:36)?
Answering this dilemma will answer the question of how St. Paul, in his epistle to Hebrew Christians, understood and how Catholic interpreted Hebrews 12:22.

It is truly a dilemma to solve the riddle of understanding the dual nature of the Faith - being present in the flesh and the spirit of the Faith.  The kingdom of God, as Jesus told the Pharisees, were within us yet as Jesus told Pilate, the kingdom of God was not of this world.  The only way to understand this is to understand the paradox nature of the Faith.

Paradox is defined as "a statement that is seemingly contradictory or opposed to common sense and yet is perhaps true" (Merriam-Webster).  The contradiction between the flesh and spirit is readily apparent in the question above.  The kingdom of God is within us, or among us, yet it is not of this world.  The answer is becoming a Christian brings the person into the kingdom of God.  For an apostolic Christian (meaning a Catholic or Orthodox, depending on what sect ones belong to) who was born in the faith and baptized, the child immediately is part of the kingdom of God, and is taught in the way of faith as Proverb 22:6 instructs, "Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it."

Yet, the kingdom of God is not of this world.  The ethics taught by the Church, often time, are in contradiction with the world.  It is a tricky balancing act for Christians to walk.  In one sense, it is like we have one foot set on terra firma while having the other foot suspended in mid-air, waiting to step in heaven.

With that in mind, St. Paul, addressing the Hebrew Christians told them they did not approach the physical Mount Sinai as the Israelites did in day of old, they:

[..] have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel.  Hebrews 12:22-24.
Any Hebrew Christians in the ancient time, to whom St. Paul addressed, would instantly recognize the implication he made.  This Mount Zion is presently in heaven, yet St. Paul told them they have come to it.  This raises the question, how?

Employing the dual nature of the Faith - fleshly and spiritual - and answering another dilemma raised by Jesus when He spoke to the Woman of the Well, "How do we worship at the heavenly Jerusalem?"

The woman said to Him, "Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet.  Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you Jews say that in Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship."  Jesus said to her, "Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father.  You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews.  But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth."  John 4:19-24
In spirit and truth, we worship at the heavenly Jerusalem, yet it does not quite answer how do we come to Mount Zion unless we look directly at the Catholic Mass.  It is at the Catholic Mass where hymns, chants, readings of the Scriptures, and the homily are done.  Then comes the liturgy where the breaking and distribution of the Eucharist are done.  In spirit, we approach God and the whole of heaven, and in truth, we listen and affirmatively response to the priest or bishop, if he is present, when they perform the Divine Liturgy.  Not only does the building contains pews, it also includes paintings, statues, and the dreaded icons.

It is quite the literal application of Hebrews 12:22.
St. Patrick Catholic Parish, New Orelans, Lousiana

A Russia Orthodox Church
An Egyptian Coptic Church
An Anglican Catholic Parish where I attend Mass
In the four pictures above, members who comes in the building to worship immediately have the sense of being in the present of the heavenly Jerusalem, a city that is invisible yet here and among the believers.  A paradox!  The icons simply represents the companies of heaven, the citizens who have already arrived there, to angels who stand ever ready to minister before God and assist us, to saints who have been perfected, to God the Judge, and to Jesus the Mediator, yet we are still here on earth while the heavenly Jerusalem is far off.

The Eucharist is part of the central focus on worship of God in spirit and truth, exactly as the Lord told the woman at the well.  In the picture of the Anglican Catholic Parish, on the altar, there is a covering that hides the Chalice and the Dish that will hold the Wine and Bread, which when consecrated through the prayer of the word, becomes Blood and Body of Christ.  This is the practice that was handed down from the time of the apostles.

The One Verse That Changed My Walk With God

Before I embraced the Catholic Faith via the Anglican Catholic Church, I would not have understood the application of the Eucharist if it were not for the love and patience of my Catholic and Orthodox friends over at, including my friend, Walid Shoebat.  Second, I also want to pay a small tribute to the Egypt Coptic Christians who were brutally murdered, and martyred, by the vicious gang of ISIS.  It was their testimony that spurred me to research the teachings of the Coptic Church and discovered how they were identical to the Catholic Church.  I am happy to announce in August, I will be confirmed as an Anglican Catholic, and I am at peace with this decision.

In Acts 2:42, "And they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers," (Emphasis mine), the underlined words was what convinced me the Catholic has it right.

The Eucharist is, literally and spiritually, the Body and Blood of Christ in the Sacrament of the Eucharist.  Quite literally, the word, Eucharist, is from Greek, eucharistos and eucharistia, each meaning "thankfulness, giving of thanks", and it also corresponds to Jude 12, "love feasts" where in the words of St. Paul epistle to the Corinthians, it is a feast where we "proclaim the Lord's death until He comes again" (1 Cor. 11:26).

To prove this was clearly taught from the early Church, I will turn to the Fathers of the Early Church such as Justin Martyr and St. Ignatius.

From Justin Martyr (a.d. 110-165) , in his First Apology, he declares:

And this food is called among us εὐχαριστία [the Eucharist], of which no one is allowed to partake but the man who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins, and unto regeneration, and who is so living as Christ has enjoined.  For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Saviour, having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh.  For the apostles, in the memoirs composed by them, which are called Gospels, have thus delivered unto us what was enjoined upon them; that Jesus took bread, and when He had given thanks, said, "This do ye in remembrance of Me, this is My body;" and that, after the same manner, having taken the cup and given thanks, He said, "This is My blood;" and gave it to them alone.  Chapter LXVI, (Emphasis mine)
From St. Ignatius (a.d. 30-107), in his Epistle to the Smyrnaeans, said:
See that ye all follow the bishop, even as Jesus Christ does the Father, and the presbytery as ye would the apostles; and reverence the deacons, as being the institution of God.  Let no man do anything connected with the Church without the bishop.  Let that be deemed a proper Eucharist, which is [administered] either by the bishop, or by one to whom he has entrusted it.  Whereever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude [of the people] also be; even as, wherever Jesus Christ, there is the Catholic Church.  Chapter VIII, (Emphasis mine)
It is clear from the two early sources that the Catholic Church, coined by St. Ignatius by the way, clearly believed the Eucharist was seen as literal Body and Blood of Christ.  Furthermore, St. Ignatius made it clear that the bishop has the authority, or authorize his underlings,  to consecrate the Eucharist.  This is also confirmed by a reading from St. Irenaeus (a.d. 120-202), in his address of refuting Gnostics who reject the Eucharist:
Then, again, how can they say that the flesh, which is nourished with the body of the Lord and with His blood, goes to corruption, and does not partake in life?  Let them, therefore, either alter their opinion, or cease from offering the things just mentioned.  But our opinion is in accordance with the Eucharist, and the Eucharist in turn establishes our opinions.  For we offer to Him His own, announcing consistently the fellowship and union of the flesh and Spirit.  For as the bread, which is produced from the earth, when it receives the invocation of God, is no longer common bread, but the Eucharist, consisting of two realities, earthly and heavenly; so also our bodies, when they receive the Eucharist, are no longer corruptible, having the hope of the resurrection to eternity.  Chapter XVIII, 5, Against Heresies: Book IV (Emphasis mine).
Once again, St. Ireneaus presents and validates the argument of the paradox of the Faith consisting two realities: earthly and heavenly.  Since the Mass brings the believers to Mount Zion, the heavenly Jerusalem, while on earth, then it would make sense the Eucharist is the same.  In his address through his five volume in refuting heretics, mainly the Valentinians, it is clear that St. Ireneaus believed in the presence of Christ in the Sacrament of the Eucharist.

It is why St. Paul wrote, again, to the Hebrew Christians, "We have an altar from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat," (Hebrews 13:10), because as Justin Martyr said, only those who accept the teachings of the Church are permitted to consume the Eucharist.

Just as the old temple service under the old covenant employs the five sense of the body, the new temple service, too, employs the five sense of the body plus one.  Faith is the sixth sense that allows the five sense to "see", through a veil that is, the heavenly Jerusalem where the earthly temples are enjoined with the heaven, with angels, with firstborns enrolled in heaven (see 1 Peter 3:18-20), to God the Judge, to the saints (those who died for Christ), to Jesus the Mediator, and to the blood (the Eucharist).

The Great Problem

The great problem that lies with those who are outside the apostolic Church are the confusion surrounding the idea that the Eucharist, offered during Mass daily, is what St. Paul hinted at in the Hebrews epistle, including the Epistle to the Corinthians (see chapter 11).  To them, the communion is simply a memorial done as shown in the Upper Room in the Gospels, and nothing more.  To them, I simply ask the question, "If the communion is just a simple memorial, why does partaking in the communion and consuming them in an unjust manner brings death?"

St. Paul strongly warned, "Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord," (1 Corinthians 11:27, emphasis mine).  Bear in mind, though, St. Paul was not part of the apostles when Jesus instituted the Eucharist as the new Passover, yet, as St. Paul instructed the Corinthians, he received it directly from the Lord Himself, and established nothing new except to reaffirm what the apostles were already teaching as established in Acts 2:42.

The second problem is ignorance.  Detractors of the Catholic Church argues that the death of Christ satisfy the animal sacrifices, to which we simply affirm as truth, and objects to the Eucharist.  The response is this, "The drink and grain offering, as established by the Law of Moses, never was abolished, but instituted by Christ Himself."

In Numbers 15, God established the Drink and Grain Offering as Law to be offered alongside the blood of animals.  Get it?  The Drink and Grain Offering was, wait for it, a peace offering made to the Lord.  It is why Christ established the Drink and Grain Offering as a peace offering and to be done as puerperal offering and proclaiming the Lord's death.

St. Paul drives this point home to the Ephesians:
For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity.  And He came and preached peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near.  For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father.  Ephesians 2:14-18, (emphasis mine).
The Eucharist grants us the grace and gift to come closer to God and He to us.  It is a great mystery that requires our sixth sense, faith, and to accept it by faith.

Finally, because Christ has torn down the veil that blocked access to the Holiest of Holy, the middle wall of separation, we have access.  That is why in the photographs of the different buildings, we have no veil except a sense that there was once something there, but now is open and accessible to those who believe and accept the realities of Faith.