Explaining Eucharist to child; defending Mary Magdalene

| Father Kenneth Doyle | November 19, 2015 | 0 Comments

Q. At Mass recently, after listening intently to the words of consecration, our 4-year-old granddaughter whispered to my wife, “Is wine really blood?” How would you answer her question? Also, would your answer be different for a 7-year-old, a teenager or an adult taking RCIA classes?

A. First of all, I credit your granddaughter for her attentiveness, and only wish that many of the grown-ups at Mass were so sharply focused. Next, the short and completely truthful answer to her question is, “Yes.”

At Mass, following the consecration, what started as wine has now been changed into the blood of Christ. That is the “mystery of faith” that the Church has taught for 2,000 years. (St. Aquinas, in his 13th-century “Summa Theologica” noted that the priest, in repeating the words of Jesus, does not say, “This bread is my body”; he says, instead, “Hoc est enim corpus meum,” which is simply, “This is my body.”)

This is the “hard saying” referred to in the sixth chapter of John’s Gospel. Jesus had said, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.”

Even though many disciples would not accept that teaching and walked away, Jesus made no attempt to call them back by saying that he had only been speaking symbolically.

Now having said this, I don’t think your granddaughter needs to know all of that right now. Little children think in pictures, so I’m not sure that I would mention “body and blood” at all.

I might say something like, “It still tastes like wine, but it’s different now, and special; it’s Jesus coming into our souls to help us be good.”

I’m not even sure that a teenager is ready for a philosophical explanation of transubstantiation, but in fairness I think that I would try — as I certainly would with an adult Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults catechumen. (I would explain that the “accidents” of bread and wine remain — the taste, smell, texture — but that, in the Mass, the “substance” is changed into the body and blood of Christ.)

Q. I was chatting with a friend who is a Buddhist. She does not have a deep knowledge of the Bible and she talked about Mary Magdalene as a great sinner and former prostitute who developed a romantic relationship with Jesus. I wanted to correct her, but I couldn’t find the right words. Can you help me?

A. Your friend has perhaps been influenced by the novelist Dan Brown, who suggested in his book “The Da Vinci Code” that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene and fathered a child by her.

Dan Brown is in the entertainment business. He is a writer of fiction, and this is what he has done. There is no historical basis for the scenario he has created. Mary of Magdala first appears in Luke’s Gospel as a woman from whom seven devils had been expelled.

There is no scriptural evidence to link her to the sinful woman mentioned a chapter earlier in Luke who, at the Pharisee’s house, washed the feet of Jesus with her tears and dried them with her hair.

What we know from the Gospels about Mary Magdalene is that she was a loyal disciple of Christ who, along with other women, helped to support his work financially. She witnessed his crucifixion and his burial, and she spoke with the risen Lord on Easter Sunday morning and reported his resurrection to the apostles.

Besides the lack of any hard evidence for his fanciful assertions, I would want to ask Brown this: If Mary Magdalene and Jesus really were married and had a child together, then why, from the cross on Good Friday, did Christ assign John to take care of his mother and make no provision for his “wife” and their “child”?

Father Doyle writes for Catholic News Service. A priest of the Diocese of Albany, New York, he previously served as director of media relations for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at askfatherdoyle@gmail.com and 40 Hopewell St., Albany, NY 12208.

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