Exodus and Eucharist

eucharisticon23 For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” –1 Corinthians 11:23-25
New Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition
“The Institution of the Lord’s Supper”

On the night of the Last Supper, Jesus and his closest friends and community were gathered for a ritual Jewish observance of Passover.

Passover is an observance of the way that God led the Israelites out from slavery in Egypt in a covenant of protection that was sealed with the blood of a slaughtered spring lamb.

On the night of the Last Supper, the embodied God reveals that He will free the people from the tyranny of sin once again, but this time God himself will be the sacrifice of flesh and blood for all people.

Holy Eucharist is about as ‘meta’ as it comes. It is endlessly self-referential; the followers of Christ re-enact a revelation of sacrifice and salvation, that is in and of itself a re-enactment of a revelation of sacrifice and salvation, that is a product of sacrifice and salvation, and so on back to the source. Its origin is in an ancient Hebrew ritual of protection that predates Exodus, then as path to liberation from slavery in Egypt, and ultimately to a resurrection from literal death and salvation for all people. The sacrifice that is motherhood is not absent from this narrative either, as St. Augustine reminds us, “Jesus took His flesh from the flesh of Mary.”

Mary is the literal Tabernacle of God, there is no redemption story in Christ without the faith and acceptance Mary has of God’s Will. Moreover, charis is the Greek word for grace and it has its origins in fertility and beauty goddess. The chalice is often a feminine symbol and when filled with a red wine, well, its reasonable to draw some connections especially when one considers the way we pray to the Mother, “Hail Mary, full of Grace, the Lord is with thee.” Mary is the Eucharist just as much as her son, a fact which is very controversial within Christianity. For example, Catholics are accused of idolatry for their reverence to Mary but remain adamant that transubstantiation of the Eucharist can only occur if the individual performing the ritual has a penis because Jesus had a penis and apparently needed a wand to perform the trick. However, there are protestant sects that would disavow the worship of Mary but see no conflict in allowing a woman to preside over the Eucharist. Eucharistic theology has been in conflict since the ritual was formalized.

Before delving too deeply into Eucharistic theology, let’s go back in history.

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Christ and The Women Of The Body

Michelangelo's Pieta
Michelangelo’s Pieta

 

It’s been said before and it will be said again, but Catholicism has a palpable paganism to it that is very hard to miss. It’s there in the saints and the relics and the icons, many of whom are directly appropriated or adapted from many traditions, myths, and regions of the world. There are the rituals, the costumes, the long holy festivals, the murmuring, and decadence. Catholicism is deeply conservative but I always grew up thinking of Protestants as being conservative and severe with their prohibitions against gambling and drinking and smoking. An old school Irish Catholic was the Monseigneur of my childhood parish and he saw no sin in reviewing the racing form with a cigar in his mouth just outside the church and he enjoyed beers in our small downtown and he certainly knew his way around a swear word or two.

On one hand, any good Catholic will scowl at the comparison to paganism but start up talk about stripping the church of its art, music, pageantry, statues, incense, strained glass windows, or Mariology and see what kind of reaction you get. Get rid of the saints? Are you out of your mind? How on earth would you get through the passage of ordinary time? Who is going to intercede on your behalf for anything from getting a semi-sinful relative out of purgatory or preventing you from choking to death on a fishbone as a child?

Though the Catholic Church has absolutely condemned the body in many of its teachings, it affirms it when it doesn’t overly concern itself with micromanaging the immediate affairs of its congregants. When the political battle for the legal status of abortion is removed, one can see an absolute adoration of fertility. The fixation on suffering is that on the corporeal experience of pain and immutable corporeal reality. The central thesis of the religion is that God took human form and experienced everything that the body does to better know and love us and out failings. It was to take on a first person experience of this body that God designed rather than the view of the creator. There is an active theology of the body at play and this hardly the first or the most astute commentary on it so much as a slight furtherance to encourage consideration of a preferential option for female body workers as those who tend to something sacred.

I say this as I continue to move from solidly from sex work to birth work and into death work. These rites have been largely in the domain of the feminine for a long time but under patriarchal capitalism shifted into the domain of men and law. Sex work is criminal and so often is independent birth and death work by women. When men manage these affairs, there is less legal interference and often the law is constructed to privilege their process of obtaining control in the first place.  The more I serve the body in its sexual, reproductive, and deconstructive modalities the more I can see that we are not in charge. I can point to things I know to be biological law and I can point to instances that break those laws. I know that we do not have ultimate control of life or death. Working with sexuality, birth, death and also with harm reduction for substance use and overdose compels these thoughts after awhile.

The Christ story is one of God born unassisted from a broke teenager burdened by laws that condemned her reproductive choices: an unmarried pregnancy was already a major problem within her own culture but on top of that there was a death sentence ordered for her child. Mary and her son, Jesus, were in mortal danger of patriarchal laws claiming authority over her reproductive choice. She had to be a brave young woman not in some ‘not choosing abortion’ trite way but because she was willing to violate all kinds of laws (in modern parlance, Mary would be violating federal, state, county, and city laws all at once and would probably have Interpol on her ass today for moving across borders to commit these crimes) to carry out God’s will. It’s exceptionally notable that she gave birth unassisted because some douchebag innkeeper wouldn’t even make room for a miracle in his hotel.  The fabled Magi of the bible are pagan astrologers of traditions that are not the regional economic dominants who foretold this revolutionary birth in their own traditions but there are also medieval traditions that talk of midwives who heard the cries of the Christ child and came immediately to attend and assist in the stable.

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