Unleavened bread is required for a valid liturgy since, historically, leavened bread was considered unclean
What should we see at consecration?
What do you see when the priest elevates the host at the consecration during Mass? This isn’t a trick question, but it’s one that goes to the heart of how we, as Catholics, should view the world.
In my last column, as I mused on the feast of Corpus Christi, I mentioned that Jerusalem is present in your hometown because Calvary is made present again on the altar of your local Catholic church at every Mass. That remark upset a reader enough that she emailed to inform us that, “There is only one jerusalem [sic], and it is the capital of israel!!! [sic]” (She prefaced that line with another that I can’t reprint in a family-oriented paper.)
The reader’s claim, of course, is literally false, since scattered across the United States (and, indeed, around the world), there are many towns named Jerusalem. And it is false in a much deeper sense, one that corresponds to the truth I was expressing in that column. In both Ezekiel and Revelation, Jerusalem, the actual city, is seen as a “type” — that is, a foreshadowing — of heaven, the New Jerusalem. And some of the Fathers of the Church extend that typology to refer to the Church itself. The New Jerusalem is here, present in our midst, in the form of the Church, whose members partake in the reality of heaven even as we make our pilgrimage on earth.
The loss of the Christian imagination is one of the great tragedies of the modern age. It’s not that modern men and women take everything literally — we still talk about the sun rising in the east and setting in the west, after all — but that we tend to reduce everything to a single layer of meaning. The widespread loss of belief in the Real Presence, even among Mass-going Catholics, doesn’t flow from only believing what we can see with our eyes so much as it does from being unable or unwilling to perceive layers of meaning that cut across time and space to reveal deeper truths through mundane objects, such as bread and wine.
Which takes us back to my question: What do you see when the priest elevates the host at the consecration during Mass? We should see bread, of course; but we should also “see,” with the eyes of the imagination and the intellect, Christ breaking the bread at the Last Supper, surrounded by his disciples, including the one who would betray him. We should see Christ on the cross on Mount Calvary — with the good thief on one side and the unrepentant one on the other — and his mother and the disciple whom he loved at his feet. And we should see also, or perhaps hear in the words of Scripture, the sacrifices of Abel and Melchizedek, and the manna in the desert, and the bronze saraph Moses raised up so that the Israelites who were bitten by serpents might be cured. We should see the King of Glory sitting on his throne in the New Jerusalem, and the same King of Glory, the Son of Man, descending on the clouds at the end of time. We should see ourselves kneeling before him, as sheep or goats, asking, “When, Lord, did we see you?” (Mt 25:37) and trembling as we await his reply.
That one simple act — the elevation of the host — brings time past and time future into the present, and presents all of salvation history in the form of a disk of unleavened bread.
We can only see that, however, if we make the effort to cleanse our imaginations of all that is irrelevant to that moment, to rise above the considerations that make us see Jerusalem only in political terms, and to feed our imaginations instead on the words of Scripture and truths of our Faith handed down from the apostles through the means we call tradition.
We cannot see the manna in the host unless we know the story. We cannot see Jerusalem in our hometowns unless we understand that the Jerusalem of this world is just a foretaste and promise of the New Jerusalem of the next.
Scott P. Richert is publisher for Our Sunday Visitor.