I don’t know about you, but I’m still celebrating the Feast of Corpus Christi — the celebration during which Catholics praise God for the gift of Holy Communion, Corpus Christi, Body of Christ. Its official date was last Thursday, but many countries transfer the celebration to the following Sunday.
What was Marshall McLuhan’s relationship to the Eucharist? This foremost media professor-philosopher, an adult convert to Catholicism, was a daily communicant. Philip Marchand relates:
McLuhan maintained that daily reception of this sacrament was as necessary to him as his daily bread. It was the most efficacious channel of divine grace for a Catholic; and intellectually, the Sacrament was a keystone in McLuhan’s thought. The fact that real bread and real wine were transformed, through the actions of the priest, into the real Body and real Blood of Christ was the ultimate refutation of both materialism and gnosticism, the denial of the supernatural world and the denial of the natural world. It also meant that Christ blessed the very senses of the human body, giving humans an advantage even over the angels.
To me as a Catholic, the fact that Holy Communion was so integral to McLuhan’s thought is plain. Throughout his writings and lectures, he focuses on the effects of media on the entire human person – and indeed on all of humanity. Even small children in preparation for their First Holy Communion can explain that receiving Jesus will affect the way we think, the way we speak, the way we treat others, our health, our prayer life, etc.
Marchand follows McLuhan’s thought so well:
McLuhan believed that in the beginning was the Word, and that the Word became flesh, which is to say that the original sign and its referent were one and the same. We can see why he thought his theories were, as he put it, “Thomistic to the core.” Following Aquinas’s analogical reasoning, he concluded that the sound of any word reverberates with the first creative utterance and potentially contributes to the realization of God’s continuing presence in His world. This is why McLuhan was drawn to the sacraments, especially the Eucharist. For him the doctrine of transubstantiation made perfect sense. It is the archetype for all symbols. As the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ, so on a lesser level all our representational systems from the alphabet to video’s electron grid can put us directly in touch with the object behind the sign and, thereby, proximately in touch with the Real Presence that stands behind this world, guaranteeing that however “monstrous and sickening” it may sometimes appear, it is nevertheless worthy of redemption.
McLuhan’s biographer W. Terrence Gordon notes that, a year before he died, McLuhan had promised to deliver a lecture on the Eucharist and media. How I would have enjoyed hearing such a lecture! Now, we pray, he’s enjoying the Everlasting Feast.
Catholics: Modeling McLuhan, may all our media endeavors be Eucharistic at their core.
(Marchand source is Marshall McLuhan: The Medium and the Messenger, MIT Press, 1998. Emphases are mine.)