Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Advent 2008: Week One Wednesday

We resume our study of water, as the first step of our larger study of food. Lest you think I have gone too far away, let me remind you that water enters into both of the Eucharistic species: a drop of water is added to the wine during the Offertory (with a special prayer said as this is done!), and the flour of wheat cannot become bread except for the addition of water - the only other substance permitted in its making. I do not know if any prayer is said when the Eucharistic breads are actually made - it is a curious question. But let us see that prayer from the Offertory:
Deus, qui humanae substantia dignitatem mirabiliter condidisti, et mirabilius reformasti: da nobis per hujus aquae et vini mysterium, ejus divinitatis esse consortes, qui humanitatis nostrae fieri dignatus est particeps, Jesus Christus Filius tuus Dominus noster: Qui tecum vivit et regnat in unitate Spiritus Sancti Deus: per omnia saecula saeculorum. Amen.
[Missale Romanum]

O God, Who established the nature of man in wondrous dignity, and still more admirably restored it, grant that through the mystery of this water and wine, we may be made partakers of His Divinity, Who has condescended to become partaker of our humanit, Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, Who with You lives and reigns in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God world without end. Amen.
[Tr. St. Joseph Daily Missal]
Now, there is a lot to say about that "mystery" but I cannot go into it here. You can start with St. John [Jn 19:34, 1Jn 5:6-8] if you wish.

But water plays a role in both bread and wine, and in both we are strongly reminded of the idea of union of a making-whole. This not some simple poetic or theological notion - but is borne out by the very details of the physical chemistry of the substance! Behold:
The fact that water is liquid at ordinary temperatures whereas all the hydrides CH4, NH3, HF, PH3, SH2, and HCl of elements near to oxygen in the Periodic Table are gases, indicates interaction of an exceptional kind between neighbouring molecules. That these interactions are definitely directed towards a small number of neighbours is shown by the low density of the liquid compared with the value (1.84) calculated for a close-packed liquid with molecules of similar size, assuming a radius of 1.38 Å as in ice.
[Wells, Structural Inorganic Chemistry, 567; emphasis added]
Again, we might talk about the topic of "neighbour" here, and make allusions, but you can do that for yourself. For now, we need to see another aspect of this mysterious water, though one which arises beause of the fact that water is liquid at most ordinary temperatures of our Earth. In order to see it, we need to ascend the scale of dimension, and see water as a liquid - that is, very large quantities of molecules, and not simply one, or even five as they mostly will be:
The idea that water is in a general sense structurally similar to ice allowing of course, for greater disorder in the liquid than in the solid, is confirmed by the X-ray diffraction studies. ... at 1.5°C mean [average] number of nearest neighbours [is] 4.4 ... at 83°C [it is] 4.9.
The first thing to notice - the thing that delights little children - is that water flows. Because we are on Earth (and not in interstellar space!) our water is subject to gravity and as St. Francis remarked, our Sister is "humble" (or lowly) - She seeks the lowest place! Such a property opens the whole topic of hydraulics - the various uses of water, not as a chemical, but as a means of transport.

I do not mean ocean-going vessels, or even rowboats. What I do mean ought to be hinted at by the allusions to the Mass I gave earlier. I mean blood. In mentioning this I do not wish to begin a shoehorning into some other planned work, but because I am trying to get something done, even haphazardly, I find I have to anticipate a future discussion of anatomy and development. You see, the question comes down to this: Why is there blood at all? Some people will try to get evolutionary and say it has to do with the "primeval sea" but that's not a reason. Any real engineer would understand, just from my mentioning the word "hydraulics"! And the poets might have guessed, because of my mentioning of neighbours - and of transport. There's a matter of scale, and the whole point of having blood is to permit growth beyond the microscopic size! (In my printed text, I might have to put insomething about what "osmosis" is, and how it works, but I am skipping that for today.) Growth? You mean - like - in the womb? Yes, for that is where it starts, and those developmental anatomists have learned what is going on:
As a mammalian embryo advances through the stages characterized by cleavage, morula, blastocyst and germ layers, it satisfies all its metabolic needs by simple, diffusive interchanges with the fluid medium in which it is immersed. But as the embryo continues to gain size and begins to take form, a functioning circulatory system becomes necessary in order to make use of the required food and oxygen obtainable from the mother's blood. Hence it is that the heart and blood vessels are the first organ system to reach a functional state. [Arey, Developmental Anatomy 375]

The mammalian embryo, having practically no yolk available as food, is dependent for its survival and growth on the prompt establishment of relations with the circulation of its mother.
[Patten, Foundations of Embryology, 289]
All this is made possible because water is a liquid, and because there is that interaction of an exceptional kind between neighbours, due to that partial dipole in the mystic molecular cross called H2O.


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