In Praise of Tradition—St. Justin Martyr in the Office of Readings


In Catholic circles, being “traditional” carries with it certain important connotations. Typically, “Trads” are associated with those Catholics who frequent the Latin Mass and are loath to attend the “Novus Ordo” Mass of Paul VI. I’m not one of those “Trads,” though I do appreciate the Latin Mass. My home parish is a Novus Ordo church that does the Mass quite reverently and uses a lot of Latin and incense in the liturgy. Many of the ladies in the parish wear veils, and the men typically wear a jacket and tie. So while I don’t fit the standard definition of a “Trad,” nevertheless, I consider myself quite traditional in my Catholic faith.

It seems to me that respect for tradition can take many forms. It isn’t exclusively manifested in one’s liturgical preferences. And one way that my own traditional leanings manifest is in my choice of reading material. My first books looked a lot like the Dead Sea Scrolls. St. Issac of Nineveh, Evagrius Ponticus, St. Dorotheos of Gaza, St. John Cassian, St. John Climacus, St. Benedict, the Bible—these ancient sources supplied my early reading material. For the first few years of my Catholic reversion, I had no idea who Scott Hahn was, and I hadn’t yet discovered EWTN.

This was the reason I developed such a fondness for the Office of Readings in the Liturgy of the Hours. It is chock-full of old guys in the Church. This past Sunday included a reading from the dusty archives of St. Justin Martyr. And does he set the world straight on what the Church did and taught in the second century:

No one may share the eucharist with us unless he believes that what we teach is true, unless he is washed in the regenerating waters of baptism for the remission of his sins, and unless he lives in accordance with the principles given us by Christ.

We do not consume the eucharistic bread and wine as if it were ordinary food and drink, for we have been taught that as Jesus Christ our Savior became a man of flesh and blood by the power of the Word of God, so also the food that our flesh and blood assimilates for its nourishment becomes the flesh and blood of the incarnate Jesus by the power of his own words contained in the prayer of thanksgiving.

The apostles, in their recollections, which are called gospels, handed down to us what Jesus commanded them to do. They tell us that he took bread, gave thanks and said: Do this in memory of me. This is my body. In the same way he took the cup, he gave thanks and said: This is my blood. The Lord gave this command to them alone. Ever since then we have constantly reminded one another of these things. The rich among us help the poor and we are always united. For all that we receive we praise the Creator of the universe through his Son Jesus Christ and through the Holy Spirit.

Office of Readings, 3rd Sunday of Easter

Scripture and Tradition on the Eucharist

The selection from Justin Martyr above is only an excerpt. You really ought to read the whole thing for yourself. It shows us that both Scripture and Sacred Tradition were important sources of authority, just as St. Paul had taught in his Epistles. And what that ancient authority taught about the Eucharist should sound familiar:

  • It is truly the body and blood of Christ, transformed by the words of consecration that Christ gave us at the Last Supper.
  • It is only for believers who have received baptism.
  • Sinners may not partake of the sacrament.

Unworthy Reception

The reason why Justin Martyr’s teaching is so familiar is because it has been the constant teaching of the Church from the beginning down to the present day. And there is a reason for this. It’s non-negotiable. We know this from St. Paul who taught that the penalty for unworthy reception of the Blessed Sacrament is death:

Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.  —1Cor. 11: 27–30, RSV

Pope Francis and the German Heretics

St. Paul makes it quite clear that the inviolability of the Blessed Sacrament is indeed a non-negotiable doctrine and that punishment awaits those who transgress it. Nevertheless, it has been challenged repeatedly since Francis became pope. He himself invited these challenges, when in Amoris Laetitia, he left open the possibility of communion for those living in adulterous second marriages. Some seminaries are now imposing this heresy on their future priests.

Meanwhile, the German bishops are trying to extend the sacrament to non-Catholics. . . .

How is this going to end? The future indeed is uncertain. But of this much I am certain. If the hierarchy doesn’t get its act together and defend orthodox, Apostolic Christianity, we are going to learn the hard way that, as St. Paul wrote—

God is not mocked.

Gal. 6: 7, RSV

A Final Note

For some time now, it has become apparent to me that some Traditionalists hold controversial and heterodox opinions. The time I have spent on social media has exposed me to these views. And I have been amazed at their growing popularity. Most distressing to me is the palpable contempt they express for Pope John Paul II. Thus, it seems necessary to have a look at their views and examine them a bit more closely.

One major opinion of this group is the idea that Vatican II is heretical or schismatic. There is a tendency among some of these people to treat Pope Francis and the Germans as if they were no different from John Paul II. In their view, the current mess is just a logical development of the Vatican II era, and thus proves how wrong Vatican II was all along.

Obviously, I’m not going to tackle this big issue now at the end of an article. But I wanted to point out that, in fact, the Office of Readings undermines the idea that the Vatican II Fathers are of one mind with Pope Francis and the German heretics. If they were, St. Justin Martyr’s second century writings on the Eucharist would have never been included in the 1970 revision of the Liturgy of the Hours and Office of Readings. The revision added selections of Vatican II documents to the daily Office of Readings, certainly a move that would displease those Traditionalists who reject Vatican II. But the fact that the new Office integrated those Vatican II readings with the Bible and early Church Fathers shows that the architects of Vatican II saw their work, not as a disruption, but as a continuation of the deposit of faith and revelation. Certainly the same cannot be said for Francis and the Germans, who made it only too clear this past December of their firm intention to throw out the deposit of faith and replace it with the latest dreck from the social sciences.

Thus, the new Office of Readings, to my mind, serves as an important piece of evidence that the Vatican II fathers always intended to be orthodox—an obviously very low priority for the current regime of heretics.

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