Jesus, the New York Review of Books and Mass

Jesus at Table

I read something about transubstantiation in the New York Review of Books. Transubstantiation is the idea that Jesus is real in the Mass, substantially, and that a kind of magic happens in the Mass, performed by a priest, that changes bread and wine into Jesus. The NYR article was part of a review of Gary Wills new book, "Why Priests: A Failed Tradition" ("A Challenge to the Church" by William Pfaff). It got me to thinking.

In fact, I can't stop thinking about it.

First of all, it is unlikely that the mainly secular readers of the New York Review are interested in Jesus. They may be interested in food and table but not in Jesus. Second, how come we are still battling the Aristotelian notion between the substance and the accident of things and the Augustinian notion of the mass as something that originated in a leaderless communal meal? What are these two guys doing out of their pen or with their pens? Why would we have to fight about Jesus? Or tables? Or meals? Third, how come the Protestant ordination I participated in last weekend ended up with a communion meal, with the new ordinands serving up bread and wine as though it were a really big thing, now that they were truly empowered to do it. Fourth, how come I don't value more that power in my ordination? For almost 40 years, I have been presiding at communion tables. I never experience Jesus and always experience the memory of Jesus and the presence of his spirit. Why do I confuse the table with the table, the meal with the meal, the bread with the bread, the wine with the wine, Jesus with Jesus? Am I am accident or a substance here? Or just ordained into the "consubstantiation" tradition, the one with less magic attached to it?

How come I just can't get into the fight about the power to preside at the table? How come I'd rather have a holy meal, sometimes in diners and sometimes in churches? How come I'd rather eat with nuns (those who have adamantly no power to preside) than with priests (those so adamant about their power to preside)?

I can defend my naïveté or simplicity (choose your category) by remembering the original definition of "Presider." It is one who literally stands in front. Proestos is the word. When a person gives a meal to someone else, of course there is power present. The power to cook, to clean it up, to make it good, to not overdo how you cooked it, cleaned it up, made it good. Standing in front is what priests do but seriously, why over do it? Especially in the name of Jesus who took understatement to new heights. Jesus, for me, refused certain kinds of power, the over against and "top" kind, on behalf of other kinds of power, the with kind and the among kind. I like to enjoy a meal with him.