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Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe

versão On-line ISSN 2224-7912
versão impressa ISSN 0041-4751


VAN DER WALT, B.J.. Looking for new perspectives on Mass and the Lord's Supper. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2016, vol.56, n.1, pp.238-256. ISSN 2224-7912.

This investigation provides a follow-up on a previous contribution in this journal (cf. Van der Walt, 2015) which, from a historical-philosophical point of view, dealt with four different sixteenth century views about Christ's presence at Mass and the Lord's Supper. In the present article, of a more systematic-reflective nature, an effort is made to arrive, from a Christian philosophical perspective, at some new perspectives on the celebration of this sacrament. Since the new can only be clearly stated by contrasting it to the old, the first main section compares the Catholic and Reformed views by indicating some of their major differences as well as similarities. One of the most important differences is that in the first (Catholic) viewpoint an explanation of Mass was attempted from a philosophy of being, while the second in its view on the Lord's Supper tended to employ an anthropological model in which either the intellect (Zwingli) or the emotions of the heart (Calvin) served as a key. The following four similarities are also identified, the first being that both groups tried to theorise and thus comprehend, albeit in different ways, the sacrament. However, in their use of biblically foreign philosophies to do so, the full meaning and power of this sacrament was narrowed and obscured. In their views on the sacrament a second similarity is evident between the Catholic distinction between nature and supernature (grace) and a similar Reformed distinction between a worldly and heavenly kingdom. The third similarity - reducing the meaning of the sacrament to either something bodily or spiritual - is that both groups of thinkers based their understanding on dichotomist anthropologies of body and soul/spirit. A fourth similarity is also evident, because both viewpoints contained (different) mystical tendencies. The second main section provides a more detailed analysis of the philosophical presuppositions of both viewpoints. Regarding the Catholic perspective, attention is given to the following: its philosophy of being, its distinction between a realm of nature and grace and its idea about substance. In the case of the Reformed viewpoint, critical reflection is focussed mainly upon its dichotomist anthropology, emphasising certain faculties of the soul or spirit in order to faithfully understand and be spiritually strengthened by the Lord's Supper. Against this spiritualising tendency the author prefers a holistic, biblically-oriented view of concepts like "soul", "spirit", "body", and "flesh". Since all these concepts indicate the whole human being from different perspectives, the entire wo/man partakes in the Lord's Supper. With this critical review of both Catholic and Reformed views in mind, the third main section outlines an attempt to arrive at a more biblically-sound perspective on the Lord's Supper. This is done by paying careful attention to what Christ Himself did and said when He fulfilled the promise ofthe Passover and introduced the first Holy Communion as recorded in Matthew 26:26-29, Mark 14:22-25, Luke 22:14-20, also referred to by Paul in 1 Corinthians 11:23-26. The fact that Christ did not only officiate at that ceremony but that He also explained its meaning, draws one's attention to the importance that Word and sacrament, in spite of their own distinct nature and purpose, should never be separated or the one regarded as more important than the other. A mother not only tells her child that she loves her/him, but confirms her words with a kiss. Likewise God's words of love in the Bible are confirmed by His kiss of love in the sacrament. We hear God's Word, but also see and taste the bread and wine. Christ's command "eat... and drink" should be regarded as a friendly invitation to participate in something very special. "This is My body... this is My blood" should not be interpreted literally but as symbolic language. Nor should these words be understood in a dichotomist way(referring to a separate bodily component of Christ's humanity) but indicating the sacrificial death of Christ as a full human being. The sacrament also did not strengthen his disciples merely spiritually, but promised the restoration of their full humanity, their total human existence. In Christ's request "do it in remembrance of Me", remembrance should not be understood as a mere rethinking or emotional experience of what He did in our place. Remembrance, for instance, not only tries to explain something, but also to consider its meaning; it is also not confined to the past, but encompasses past, present and future. Finally, attention is asked for Christ's words that the cup symbolises the new covenant. The biblical concept of a covenant is that God in his steadfast love takes the initiative to establish such a relationship, while man as a religious being has to respond in obedience to all God's ordinances, summarised in his law of love. This religious relationship is furthermore fundamental and encompassing, not to be confused with or confined to spiritual personal devotions or worship in church. After man's disobedience to this covenantal relationship, Christ established it anew. This glorious fact is commemorated at His Supper. Understood in the past in a more or less ontic or anthropological (e.g. intellectual or emotional) and therefore mystical way, the Lord's Supper may be viewed more appropriately as a very rich covenantal, religious feast of remembrance, encompassing every aspect of being human, celebrating God's incomprehensible love (Ephesians 3:18-19).

Palavras-chave : accidents; anthropological dichotomy; Aquinas; Thomas; body or flesh; Calvin, J.; Mass and Lord's Supper; (new) covenant; ontology and anthropology; Passover; philosophy of being and philosophy of mind; religion;(semi)mysticism; soul or spirit; substance; unio mystica"; Zwingli, U.

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