Awe-Inspiring: Never Hungry Again

In our last post on the 4th century mystagogical catecheses, Rhoda explored the multivalence of the kiss of peace and the Eucharistic liturgy. In this our truly final post on the Awe-Inspiring Rites of Initiation, I’ll explore the nature of communion, participation in the body and blood of Christ, as reflected in the mystagogues.

Ambrose picking up on the kiss of peace compares the invitation to the altar to participate in the body and blood of Christ with Song of Songs 1:2 “Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth.” Participation in the Eucharist is receiving the very kiss of Christ for Ambrose:

He [Christ] sees that you are cleansed of all sin, because your faults are washed away [in baptism]. So he judges you worthy to receive the heavenly sacraments, and so he invites you to the heavenly feast: “Let him kiss me with the kisses of his lips.” … it is your soul or human nature or the Church that speaks; it sees that it is cleansed of all sin, and worthy to approach the altar of Christ: for what is the altar except an image of Christ’s body? It sees the marvelous sacraments, and says, “Let him kiss me with the kisses of his lips”: that is: “Let Christ give me a kiss” (Yarnold, The Awe-Inspiring Rites of Initiation, 142)

The Eucharist is the ultimate kiss of peace!

It is also the source of unending spiritual nourishment, the feast without end. Elucidating the feast in light of Psalm 23 Ambrose says,

So you have come to the altar, you have received the body of Christ….Listen to what blessed David says, who saw the mysteries beforehand in spirit: he rejoiced and said that nothing further was lacking. Why? Because he who receives the body of Christ will never go hungry again….The Church rejoices in the redemption of so many, and is exultant with spiritual gladness when she sees at her side his family clothed in white. You can find this in the Song of Songs (8:5; Yarnold, 143-4).

Never hunger, never thirst!

So, Cyril in the words of Psalm  34:8, invites you to “Taste and see that the Lord is good.”

“What is holy for the holy.” The offerings are holy since they have received the descent of the Holy Spirit [Epiclesis], and you are holy because you have been accounted worthy of the Holy Spirit [baptism]. The holy things therefore correspond with the holy people. Then you say: “there is one holy, one Lord, Jesus Christ.” For in truth there is only one holy, in the sense of holy by nature. We are holy not by nature but by participation, practice, and prayer. After this you hear the Cantor inviting you in sacred song to participate in the holy mysteries. His words are: “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” Entrust this judgement not to your bodily palate, but to faith which knows no doubt. For those who taste are bidden to taste not bread and wine but the sign of Christ’s body and blood. So when you come forward…make your left hand a throne for your right, since your right hand is about to welcome a king (Yarnold, 95-6)

To put it in the words of a much later Lutheran theologian, the hand becomes the manger in which Christ resides: “O Jesus Christ, thy manger is, my paradise at which my soul reclineth” (Lutheran Service Book #372).

The mystagogues intent is to point the newly baptized to Christ and to participation in him by faith. As Theodore of Mopsuestia concludes his catecheses:

It is not without good reason and careful thought that I have explained all these things to you in advance, my loving people….I wanted you to take up a disposition of soul worthy of the rite, and, as the blessed Paul advised you, to “set your mind on things that are above,” raising your thoughts from earth to heaven, from the visible to the invisible….You have come near the royal entrance-hall….As you step out of the sacred waters and express your resurrection by the act of coming up from them, ask for alliance with him so that you may show great vigilance in guarding what has been given to you (Yarnold 163).

Resurrected through baptism to join in the eternal feast and never go hungry again.