This Is My Body
Intelligent Catholics do not think that in the eucharistic celebration the priest magically turns bread and wine into flesh and blood, as Richard Dawkins, the theologically ignorant one, imagines. Bread and wine become body and blood because they are a sign of the unity of the Church. Transubstantiation does not happen on the level of matter but in the realm of sign. Bless me, will say the theologically ignorant one, if ever there were an equivocation this is it. Not so. But what can that mean?
The precious insight that Darwin gave us is that life is a unity. I think genetic biologists have stressed far too much our close genetic relationship to our immediate kin group in competition with other kin groups. That’s true. But they tend to forget that because we have genes we are connected in an untorn network to everything else that also has, has had or will have genes. Even more profoundly this community of being is shared by everything that materially exists through the exchange of electrons. Electrons are both particles and waves. Not particles that on other occasions are waves. But particles that are waves and waves that are particles. On the level of particle they are here and not there, this and not that, come into existence, albeit for a very short time, and pass away. But on the level of wave they are everywhere and nowhere, everywhere present, existing outside, or better inside, space and time. Let’s not forget that our bodies are made of cells, cells are made of molecules, molecules are made of atoms, and atoms are made of protons, neutrons and electrons. We will not go to heaven. In the depths of our being we are already dwelling in the further dimension of reality that, for want of better word, we naively call heaven. Deep inside ourselves we already exist inside space and time, but we are not conscious of it.
On one level everything is this and not that, separate, locked up in itself, comes into being and passes away. But on another level everything is a unity that is outside space and time, the unity that for want of better word we call God. There is no God existing somewhere beyond the sky and beyond the rainbow who made everything that exists somewhat as you might construct a watch. The theologically ignorant one will be pleased to hear that. There is only the unity of everything in a further dimension of reality. The sign, the token on this earth, of that ultimate unity of all mankind and all things is the Church. And the sign of the sign is the eucharist. We call it, rightly, communion. Consider the words in a poem. They are on one level only tokens of the thoughts in the poet’s head. They are signs. But they are not symbols in the sense that in a code 0001 might represent the letter a and 0002 might represent the letter b. You might just as easily have 0003 and 0004. But in a poem the words are saturated in the meaning of the poem, they are the poem. You can’t say Shall I 0005 or 0006 for that matter you to a summer’s day. The outside sign is an intrinsic part of the process whereby thoughts become even more real by taking physical form. There is a real presence of the thoughts in the words. Christ’s body is present on the altar in this sense. We believe that the Church is the body of Christ because it is a sign that in the further dimension everything, but everything, is the body of Christ.
Modern brain science tells us that the brain turns all our sense impressions into arbitrary codes. Does that mean that we just make up everything that is out there? I don’t think so. The codes code for what is out there but we only make it meaningful, make it fully what it is by understanding it and knowing it. Our knowledge of them enters deeply into what things themselves are. Think of a national flag. The love of country it represents isn’t floating somewhere in the air or only in our minds. The flag has become saturated with the meaning we have endowed it with. It is the sign of our love of country that makes that love palpable. You can’t say hey wave a flag the German one will do just as well as the Union Jack. The Union Jack, in an interesting resonance of the word, matters. So it is with the eucharist. We bring intangible realities that we cannot physically grasp into the world of material reality, we make them real (and – so interestingly – real and realise come from the same root, things become real because you realise that they are) through signs. Signs matter because there is a real presence of the thought in the sign. The flesh and blood of Christ are really present on the altar because of the faith of the Church that the physical body of Christ that walked round Galilee is in its transcendent state that very unity of everything that is. There is no Richard Dawkins lookalike rushing through geography and history in a refrigerated vehicle – out of my way! out of my way! – with Christ’s body and blood.