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The Liturgy of the Eucharist: The Preparation of the Gifts (3)
Author’s Note: Soon Finding the Plug will be considering the Eucharistic Prayer. Which Eucharistic Prayer would help you the most to Find the Plug? Vote here.
“By the mystery of this water and wine…”
Even as the bishop, priest, or deacon pours the wine into the chalice and adds a little water he contemplates the mystery that it symbolizes. “Mystery” in the sacramental sense goes beyond something being unknown and in need of solving; it means something is revealed by God, often something being done by God and veiled in a way that only faith can penetrate. This revelation happens by way of earthly realities we see right before our eyes.
In the mystery of the water and wine those earthly realities are not only being prepared to become the Blood of Christ in a few moments, but also symbolize the wondrous exchange between divine and human nature that is brought to us through Christ.
“…may we come to share in the divinity of Christ…”
The wine in this moment symbolizes the divine nature of Christ, and shortly it will be transubstantiated into his Blood. However, Christ is not just divine; he is human. That small splash of water mixed into the wine represents Christ’s human nature, a nature he assumed upon the Incarnation and has had ever since. That splash of water symbolizes our point of entry into communion with God through Christ: human nature.
Ancient cultures had a tradition of mixing water with wine. For the ancient Greeks drinking unmixed water was a sign that you were uncivilized, an alcoholic, or risking insanity. In the first centuries of the Church it was asked how divine and human nature could unite in Christ without the human being consumed, or how anything so divine could be truly human at all. The Church taught, and teaches, that the human and divine nature of Christ are united in his Person, thanks to the Incarnation, without either nature being mixed or changed (cf. Council of Chalcedon, DS 302) thanks to the Incarnation, and they will stay that way. Neither nature takes away from the other.
Divine nature doesn’t benefit from human nature, since it is perfect and lacks nothing, but, as this part of the prayer reminds us, human nature benefits enormously, because we all share human nature and Christ, by assuming a human nature, enriches it as well by enabling it to be as noble as it was meant to be in the mind of God, its Creator. The large amount of wine in proportion to the small bit of water added to it symbolizes how human nature through Christ’s Incarnation is drawn into divine nature, something rich and enormous in comparison.
The process begun by the Incarnation is about to be brought to perfection in the sacrifice of Christ’s Body and Blood and in our reception of Holy Communion. The water is not annihilated by the wine—they don’t change each other; the water blends with the wine’s richness without losing its identity—divine and human nature remain. Through the sacraments humanity is not only restored, but enriched in comparison to its woeful state after the Fall. In imitating Christ we show humanity to be something more beautiful that we could have ever imagined in a post-Fall world, and by Communion with him we participate in divine life and love and receive grace to live humanity to its fullest, following Christ’s example and receiving his aid.
“…who humbled himself to share in our humanity.”
The water in the chalice is miniscule in comparison to the wine, not only in terms of quality, but of quantity. Human nature is miniscule in comparison to divine nature. This disproportion gives us a deeper appreciation for what an act of humility Our Lord made by choosing to assume human nature. Having a human nature meant Christ did things in a human way without denying his divinity: he could do both, but didn’t “cheat” in the work of Redemption by resorting to his divine nature to endure what he suffered. His Incarnation and everything after was a Personal choice, made for us. How often the pitfall of trying to make ourselves seem greater and more important tempts us. Our Lord teaches us the exact opposite is what we should seek. His humility shows the depth of his goodness and love.
Philosophers speak about necessary and contingent being. In short, God is necessary (Creator who didn’t need to create and needs nothing at all to exist or to be complete), and we’re all contingent (creatures that didn’t have to be created). God didn’t have to create us, but he chose to do it out of goodness and love, just as he didn’t have to redeem us, or redeem us by becoming man and sacrificing himself upon the cross.
Picture your life as a rich cup of wine, and then picture what it would be like to reduce it to a drop of plain water: strip away titles, honors, benefits, riches, and abilities that you deserved. You now have an inkling of what the Incarnation was like for Our Lord. He has humbled himself in sharing our humanity. Let’s be humble in realizing that he wants us to share in his divinity and live accordingly.
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