Saturday, June 05, 2010

Passive Professors and Holy Conviviality

O sacrum convivium!
in quo Christus sumitur:
recolitur memoria passionis ejus:
mens impletur gratia:
et futurae gloriae nobis pignus datur.

O Sacred Banquet
in which Christ is held:
the memory of His Passion is recollected:
the mind is filled with grace:
and the pledge of the glory to come is given to us.

St Thomas Aquinas
(my translation)

Even with the little Latin I have, what strikes me grammatically about St Thomas' words is that all the verbs are passive. Perhaps this is necessary for the focus to be on the opening three words, the object of devotion, the Sacred Banquet. It does however suggest something else to me.

I have recently lost an old acquaintance, Professor Paul Malliavin at a grand age of 84. I only met him once, but over breakfast we shared mathematical ideas and the elder gave the novice much encouragement, for which I am grateful even now after leaving the citadel of academia for the gymnasium of the classroom. Just one meal, a breaking of the fast, and I was changed.

Was the professor changed? Well, yes, in that he'd never met me before and afterwards he had some small knowledge of a frantic little English mathematician - that's definitely a change. Beyond that I know no more and I pray that the venerable gentleman is being/has been/will be transported to eternal rest in the Lord.

I don't know which tense to use. Is the tense important? In that my temporal life is ordered, this is how I make sense of the world around me, so tense is incredibly important if I am to make decisions or reflect on my encounters in life. There is however a point in which tense is irrelevant.

I am changed because of breakfast with Professor Malliavin and that change is clearly still affecting me because I am writing this now. One meal, and the change continues throughout my life. At that one moment in time,that one little continental breakfast in a hotel in Bielefeld, Professor Malliavin and I were living together, we were convivial, sharing that state of being called Life.

As Christians, this should not surprise us. We are partakers in a meal that changes us and, if we receive it correctly, it changes us for the better. It is an activity in which, despite our activity, we are entirely passive and carried along on the current of liturgy. We have to be aware of our own passiveness (yuk), to become aware of our internal Mary and focus away (just for a time) from our external Martha.

St Thomas focuses on the Sacrum Convivium as the subject of this beautifully poetic reflection on the Sacrament of the Mass on Corpus Christi. It becomes for him an Holy Conviviality, a sharing of Life set apart from living. In our action we cease to become active. In receiving the Sacrament, we are received; in grasping for God, we are grasped; in consuming the Lord, we are ourselves drawn into Who He Is even as He is drawn into who we are.

Notice also that, not only are we entirely passive here, but so is Christ through His own volition. He once allowed Himself to be broken by the actions of our wickedness, He allows Himself to be broken for us in the fraction, but nonetheless He is still wholly one Christ when we receive Him - our action has had only the effect of distributing Him to these who hunger and thirst for Him.

So we come to this meal - God with men - and all of us are passive, despite the illusion of any actions which are necessarily temporal and bound by tense. St Thomas reminds us that the grace of the Sacrament is beyond tense. but rather becomes a Sacrament of pure being/substance/essence - whatever you wish to call it - a Sacrament of pure Life despite activity, an Holy Conviviality.

O Sacrum Convivium

1 comment:

poetreader said...

Of late, from an always very good blog, this has become a very special one, each post leading deeper than the one before into things that are nearly (or even absolutely) impossible to speak. This post surely comes to such a place, and, yet more strikingly, leads one (certainly me) to meditate on this very inexpressibility.

In the Eucharist, we are transported to a realm where our perception of time or tense, of activity or passivity, even of "is" and "is not" become irrelevant. We see bread, we see wine, but we encounter a living presence of what was once, though briefly, the most shaking demonstration of death that ever was; and we are in the present, and so is He in His presence, but the present is not in this moment distinguishable from the past in which He died, or from the eternal future in which He shall ever reign.

We receive what we cannot obtain save by the sovereign will and gift of God, and yet, though passive, we receive by active taking, and, though our own strength cannot obtain, yet if we do not take, if we are not active in our passivity, we do not receive.

Herein we touch Mystery at which human language and thought can only point, but never can comprehend. Thank you for stirring me to think in this diection.