Saturday, 29 May 2010

Bede and the Eucharist

There’s been a lot of talk recently in the cave about the Eucharist and in particular about the discipline that surrounds the Eucharist (we are like that, I’m afraid, in this cave). Coincidentally, St Bede’s Ecclesiastical History is being read as part of our home education curriculum at the moment, and this recently sprang from the page.

When [King Sabert] departed for the heavenly kingdom he left three sons, all pagans to inherit his earthly kingdom. These were quick to profess idolatry, which they had pretended to abandon during the lifetime of their father, and encouraged their people to return to the old gods. It is told that when they saw Bishop Mellitus offering solemn Mass in church, they said with barbarous presumption: “Why do you not offer us the white bread which you used to give to our Father Saba (for so they used to call him), while you continue to give it to the people in church? The Bishop answered, “If you will be washed in the waters of salvation as your father was, you may share in the consecrated bread, as he did; but so long as you reject the water of life, you are quite unfit to receive the bread of life.” They retorted: “We refuse to enter that font and see no need for it; but we want to be strengthened with this bread.” The Bishop then carefully and repeatedly explained that this was forbidden, and that no one was admitted to receiving the most holy Communion without the most holy cleansing of Baptism. At last they grew very angry, and said: “If you will not oblige us by granting such an easy request, you shall no longer remain in our kingdom.” And they drove him into exile, and ordered all his followers to leave their borders.

St Bede, Ecclesiastical History of the English People, Book 2 Chapter 5.

It is fascinating to note the attraction that the Eucharistic species holds for the pagans in this story. Perhaps this is simply down to straight misguided superstition, or perhaps it displays some residual guilt on the part of those who have rejected the truth. Perhaps it is just a straight power play. We might even hope that it reflects an attraction residing in the objective nature of the Eucharist itself. But a second feature of the story lies in the presumption of those who may not approach the Eucharist; they still believe they have a right to do so. This story seems to be repeated down the centuries: why would those who reject the Church and all that it teaches wish simultaneously to approach it and receive nourishment from what the Lord has entrusted it to give?

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