QUESTION: When the Bible says Jesus went into the wilderness for 40 days, does it literally mean 40, or is that just another way for saying “a long time”?
ANSWER: Numbers in the Bible are often not meant to be taken literally, but serve a symbolic function. Our suspicions are aroused especially with a number that recurs so frequently as 40. What would be the symbolic meaning of the number 40? On one level, it represents a longer period of time, but there is more. The longer time has content: It is a time of need, of struggle, of testing. There is in fact extra-biblical evidence for this usage as well. But in the Bible, a third level of meaning appears. Forty denotes a period of preparation for some special action of the Lord; it is a time of grace.
After the flood in Genesis, a new creation begins. After Moses converses with God, the covenant is renewed. After Israel's wandering in the wilderness, they will enter into the Promised Land. After Elijah's journey, God strengthens him to resume his prophetic ministry. After Jesus' temptation, he begins his public ministry; after the Ascension, we enter the age of the Church. At the end of the season of Lent, we celebrate Holy Week and the great feast of Easter.
Diocese of Boise Liturgical Commission
QUESTION: I have Celiac Disease, which is an autoimmune disease that leads to a very long list of medical problems by the ingestion of gluten, a protein in wheat, barley and rye. When I was confirmed Catholic in Easter of 2007, I began taking the Eucharist. The wafer is such a small piece of bread that it is not enough to make me physically ill. But, my doctor has told me that even the Eucharist once a week is enough to cause other medical problems and he has instructed that I do not eat this. I started taking the Eucharist by crossing my arms over my chest when presented with the bread and receiving a blessing instead of eating it. I then drink from the cup. To me this is an acceptable way of taking the Eucharist because I know that the bread and wine are both the body and blood of Christ and that one or the other is the same as taking both. But, when doing this, I have received a lot of strange looks and I have had Eucharistic ministers not want to pass me the cup of wine because they saw me receive a blessing from whomever is passing out the bread. I would like to know if what I am doing is okay or if I should be doing something different.
As a member of the diocesan liturgical commission, I was forwarded your email requesting information on receiving the Eucharist and celiac disease. This is a common and ongoing health issue for many Catholics, and should not pose an obstacle for you when receiving communion.
I understand that currently, you are requesting a blessing from the minister of the bread, and then going to the minister of the cup to receive the wine. While it is absolutely correct that you receive in its entirety the body and blood of Christ in either of the Eucharistic species on its own, I would probably recommend that you NOT first approach the bread minister for a blessing. Rather, it would probably be a better practice if you would process in line to communion like everyone else, but simply bypass the minister of the bread and go right to the minister of the cup to receive.
I say this for two reasons. One, purely practically, as you’ve already noticed, your current practice may give the impression that you may not validly receive the Eucharist, which could give some ministers concerns when you approach them to receive the Precious Blood after asking for a blessing from the minister of the bread. Two, more theologically, the purpose of the communion line for fully initiated Catholics is for them to receive the Body and Blood in unity with the entire Body of Christ: the faithful who are also receiving. To use the opportunity of receiving communion for a sort of split or dual purpose (first I get a blessing, then I receive the Eucharist) is probably not the best practice liturgically. This may seem like splitting hairs, and possibly it is, but it’s what I would suggest.
There is no reason you should have to make any sort of stop at the minister of the Bread; again, you’re quite correct in saying that you may receive the wine alone, and in doing so receive the Body and Blood of Christ in entirety. Possibly you should, if you are able, discuss this with your pastor so that he can inform the Extraordinary Ministers of people in the parish who might, for one reason or another, bypass the minister of the bread at communion. This might help those ministers understand that there are those who licitly receive the cup but might not choose to receive the bread. After all, many of the faithful receive only the bread.
I hope this helps; please let me know if you have any further questions or problems. Blessings!
Diocese of Boise Liturgical Commission