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Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Convert Questions

Our convert readers have come out of the woodwork in droves! Welcome! It makes our day to see so many people coming to the Church. Now, if you could just all go have a talk with Anne Rice, the poor thing.

In any case, we still have a Mary issue to clear up and then a new question that will test your new found faith. First, we head to Mary World (one of my favorite places).

Sister, what about the concept of dormition? My understanding is that Mary did not actually die, but entered a phase of something like sleep, and was then assumed bodily into heaven. Can you help to clear this up?

BTW, I am a convert also.

Fasten your seat belt. We have to travel through time, schism and tradition.

You do realize that there are two 'branches' of the Catholic church? The Roman Catholic Church, that's us, over here, and the Greek/Russian Orthodox Church, that's them over there. And while we don't agree about every single thing, we do agree that the Virgin Mary was assumed into heaven.

Here's where the flight is going to get a little bumpy, so take a deep breath and dig your nails into the armrest. The "Dormition of the Blessed Mother" is the Eastern Orthodox Church's feast of the Assumption, defined as "the falling asleep or death of Mary and her subsequent assumption into heaven".

So there's your 'falling asleep' idea. This is not the end of the discussion yet, so the seat belt light is still on.

In the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Pius XII actually made an Infallible Papal decree on the Assumption (Munificentissimus Deus, Latin for "the most bountiful God" written in 1950). He said this:

"Finally the Immaculate Virgin, preserved free from all stain of original sin, when the course of her earthly life was finished, was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory, and exalted
by the Lord as Queen over all things, so that she might be the more fully conformed to her Son, the Lord of lords and conqueror of sin and death."

Take a deep breath. The question of Mary's death is left open.

And it would seem that the Eastern Orthodox Church also leaves the question open. But the fact is that the Eastern Orthodox Church actually teaches that Mary did die. The word "Dormition" is the word for Mary's Assumption and...how she got there....but they actually teach that she died.

In the Roman Catholic Church, although the Pope officially left it open, if you actually read the Ex Cathedra decision in its entirety, you'll find that Pope Pius refers to Mary's death several times.

The generally accepted theology on the subject, therefore, is that Mary did die because Jesus died and she is His Number #1 follower. So she followed Him by dying. But it's not official, unless you are in the Eastern Orthodox Church. Then, even though the definition of Dormition uses open language, Mary died. And if you are Roman Catholic, you pretty much believe Mary died.

If this were a math question and we were to round up to the nearest number, we'd be saying Mary died.

I'm going with that.

I wouldn't take my seat belt off just yet. We still have this:

I too am a convert to the Church, which I'm very happy about, easily the best decision of my life, and I have a question similar to the one you address in this post.

Could you please explain the doctrine of the Real Presence? I once asked a priest about it, but he just got mad, and I stopped talking about it. How can the wafer and wine become the real body and blood when they still look like bread and wine? Do they mean spiritually? In which case, using the word real doesn't seem right.

Thanks for helping me with this.

I can't help you with this. The doctrine is very simple. During the Mass, the bread and wine change into the physical Body and Blood of Christ. We don't mean spiritually or symbolically. We mean the Real Deal, hence the term, Real Presence.

How can this happen?

Once there was nothing, not even a great void of space. Just nothing. And somehow, there are more galaxies than we will ever be able to count, more stars, more planets. On this planet, we have a complex system of self sustaining life. From nothing.

The human body alone is like a galaxy, a mind boggling complex system of molecules and atoms, DNA strands and cells. It is recreated again and again with the start of single cells meeting and dividing and yet each individual created is unique. There are millions and millions of people in the world right now, and there are millions and millions of them who have lived before us, each utterly unique. Every dog, cat bird and flower, fish and otter, unique.

Ever see the eye of one fly? Flies see at a 275 degree angle. A fly. There are zillions of flies.

God did that.

The Real Presence? No sweat.

Can we understand how God does these things? No.

There is one thing I can help you with, that you will find very, very valuable as a Catholic. This is the term "Sacred Mystery". This term refers to things that God has done that we will never be able to understand because we are human. They are beyond our scope and capability and always will be.

An even more valuable tip that cradle Catholics well know: "Sacred Mystery" is "Catholic" for "just let it go".


notanillusion said...

I understand what you say by Sacred Mystery, my problem has always just been actually believing and feeling that the bread and wine have become Christ. I want to, I always have, but it's never clicked. (I'm a lapsed cradle Catholic with 12 years of Catholic school.) Any suggestions on how to get my brain/soul/heart/whatever make the leap?

Matthew Zwilling said...

Hi! Just wanted to clarify, the Eastern Orthodox Churches are not within the Catholic Church. There are Eastern Catholic Churches, but those are comprised of Eastern Orthodox Churches who have decided to come into communion with the Catholic Church. Eastern Orthodox are not in communion with the Catholic Church, so they're not Catholic.

And regarding the Real Presence, I think it wouldn't be too much to mention substance and accidents. Substance is the reality of what is really there while the accidents are what we sense is there. The substance of the host changes while its accidents remain intact. In effect, its "breadness" remains intact, since our senses still perceive it as bread, but in reality its substance is Christ.

Anonymous said...

Another convert (5 years now) here who loves your blog! Thanks for all you do SMM! ;)

not a minx, a moron, or a parasite said...

Sister, I'm so thankful for your blog!

mph said...

Please advise me of a saint or saints whose intercession would help me with the following on going (for years) problem with neighbours. Vindictive damage and attempted damage to property by the children, not to mention glaring, shouting abuse and general nuisance all brought on, as far as I know because we've spoken to the parents a couple of times about them throwing stones at the window and knocking on the door a few years back. Lately this has got worse as they had a visit from the police and I suspect they've decided it was us who called them (wrongly). We've just had to talk to the parents again about new damage, but they don't care at all and just deny it's their little angels and make excuses - e.g. "kids will be kids". To be honest this is affecting my whole well-being and causing no end of stress. I would love to move house because of this, but would feel a bit sad about having to, I had no desire to move before all this started years ago. We also can't afford to. Please don't tell me to just put up with it and stop whinging - I've tried, unsuccessfully. Also, talking to the kids or their parents seems pointless. I really need some heavenly help with this!

Anonymous said...

Matthew, I believe by your definition of Real Presence, (that it its substance is Christ, but that its accidents are still bread) Episcopalian's believe in the Real Presence. Thoughts?

Anonymous said...

You've talked a lot lately about how it's a sin to sell blessed items. Is it a sin to buy blessed items? I saw a suggestion recently to buy up old religious articles from pawn shops/thrift stores/garage sales/etsy/etc and give them a home in which they are appreciated. It seems to me there is a VERY good chance many of these things have been blessed. Is it better to buy them or not? If I know (not just suspect) an item has been blessed, is it a sin to buy it?

Anonymous said...

Episcopalian's? You mean Episcopalians, my dear (plural, not possessive!) Just because it ends in "s" doesn't mean you get to use an apostrophe. It is reserved for showing possession.

Likewise, the belief of many Episcopalians in the Real Presence does not give their ministers the power to change bread and wine into the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ. And that is exactly why my Episcopalian priest converted to Catholicism 27 happy years ago, and we are so blessed to have him as our pastor!
For more on that, read the letters of one of the most famous Episcopalian converts, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, who wanted to much to believe in the Real Presence.

HBanan said...

Yep, Episcopalians believe in the Real Presence; not sure if they believe con- or trans-substantiation though. Some Lutherans also believe in the Real Presence too.

There are a lot of writings on the Eucharist. I am not sure where a new Catholic should begin; it would depend on your background in philosophy I would guess. St Thomas Aquinas wrote a lot about it and also wrote nice devotional prayers, to put it mildly, and more recently Henri de Lubac wrote some books on the Eucharist. I am sure there are some modern, accessible apologists who have written on the Eucharist. You might try Mark Shea's "This Is My Body: an Evangelical discovers the Real Presence." He is a convert from an Evangelical church so if you are from that tradition, his explanation might be most helpful. He also has a blog (http://markshea.blogspot.com) and you could probably write to him too for more a better explanation than I can give.

I also really like JPII's encyclical on the Eucharist:

Michael said...

Thanks for answering my question, Sister.

Marty said...

I think the place to start with the Real Presence is Jesus' own Words, especially the long discourse in John 6 including "My flesh is true (real) food, and My blood is true (real) real drink." And of course the Last Supper "This IS My Body... This IS My Blood..."

Eve said...

Maybe this will help...

Jeanne said...

Our priest said something the other day that really helped me understand this. He said, "Jesus said this is my body and this is my blood; but if I had to stand up here on the altar and eat a man's flesh and drink a man's blood that would be very, very hard and disgusting to me. So he made his flesh and blood into wine and bread, two foods that have sustained mankind...two foods we find very tasty...yet they remain his flesh and blood. He comes to us in ways we can understand and in a way our bodies can assimilate into every cell."

TL said...

Hi there!

My comment is for notanillusion. The Eucharist has only the appearance of bread and wine. When it is consecrated it becomes body and blood.

I am discovering cradle Catholic after years of making "I <3 Jesus" macaroni necklaces. The best way I was convinced was through learning about Eucharistic miracles.

Mrs. deSouza said...

This August post of yours was the first hint I had that Anne Rice had strayed from her faith. It has bothered me ever since, and recent interviews I have heard and read prompted me to actually write her (via Facebook). To my surprise (and admiration) she wrote back!

She is a very passionate woman, and highly moral. She is still very focused on God, but renounced Christianity (the organized religion, though Catholicism is #1 on her blame list). The phrase that most upset me was when she called the church "anti-life". :( I'd love to know what you would have to say to her. I don't think she'd object to my passing on her words:

"Christie, I don't want to say things that upset you. But the church in my experience has never been pro-life. It just isn't. You know what happened when Sr. Margaret Bride provided a life saving abortion for a dying mother in ...an emergency room in Phoenix.
She was condemned. Catholics wanted for the woman to have been
forced to die. Catholics voted against child labor laws and against women's suffrage. I do think today that the majority of the practicing Catholics are pro life, but not the hierarchy. I am a fallible person, a sinner, a hypocrite. i didn't leave because the church had fallible people in it. I left because I couldn't remain complicit with the public actions of the hierarchy. I do think the church is reforming itself, but is it moving fast enough? No. A pope who condemns condom use in AIDS torn Africa is not pro-life. But I do think the generation coming up with do much better."