Skip to comments.Reflections of Cardinal Ratzinger on the Eucharist
Posted on 04/16/2005 5:40:36 AM PDT by Kolokotronis
The concept of communion is above all anchored in the holy Sacrament of the Eucharist, the reason why we still today in the language of the Church rightly designate the reception of this sacrament simply as to communicate. In this way, the very practical social significance of this sacramental event also immediately becomes evident, and this in a radical way that cannot be achieved in exclusively horizontal perspectives. Here we are told that by means of the sacrament we enter in a certain way into a communion with the blood of Jesus Christ, where blood according to the Hebrew perspective stands for life. Thus, what is being affirmed is a commingling of Christs life with our own.
Blood in the context of the Eucharist clearly stands also for gift, for an existence that pours itself out, gives itself for us and to us. Thus the communion of blood is also insertion into the dynamic of this life, into this blood poured out. Our existence is dynamized in such a way that each of us can become a being for others, as we see obviously happening in the open Heart of Christ.
From a certain point of view, the words over the bread are even more stunning. They tell of a communion with the body of Christ which Paul compares to the union of a man and a woman (cf. I Cor 6,17ff; Eph 5,26-32). Paul also expresses this from another perspective when he says: it is one and the same bread, which all of us now receive. This is true in a startling way: the bread the new manna, which God gives to us is for all the one and the same Christ.
It is truly the one, identical Lord, whom we receive in the Eucharist, or better, the Lord who receives us and assumes us into himself. St Augustine expressed this in a short passage which he perceived as a sort of vision: eat the bread of the strong; you will not transform me into yourself, but I will transform you into me. In other words, when we consume bodily nourishment, it is assimilated by the body, becoming itself a part of ourselves. But this bread is of another type. It is greater and higher than we are. It is not we who assimilate it, but it assimilates us to itself, so that we become in a certain way conformed to Christ, as Paul says, members of his body, one in him.
We all eat the same person, not only the same thing; we all are in this way taken out of our closed individual persons and placed inside another, greater one. We all are assimilated into Christ and so by means of communion with Christ, united among ourselves, rendered the same, one sole thing in him, members of one another.
To communicate with Christ is essentially also to communicate with one another. We are no longer each alone, each separate from the other; we are now each part of the other; each of those who receive communion is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh (Gn 2,23).
A true spirituality of communion seen in its Christological profundity, therefore, necessarily has a social character, as Henri de Lubac brilliantly described more than a half century ago in his book, Catholicism.
For this reason, in my prayer at communion, I must look totally toward Christ, allowing myself to be transformed by him, even to be burned by his enveloping fire. But, precisely for this reason, I must always keep clearly in mind that in this way he unites me organically with every other person receiving him with the one next to me, whom I may not like very much; but also with those who are far away, in Asia, Africa, America or in any other place.
Becoming one with them, I must learn to open myself toward them and to involve myself in their situations. This is the proof of the authenticity of my love for Christ. If I am united with Christ, I am together with my neighbour, and this unity is not limited to the moment of communion, but only begins here. It becomes life, becomes flesh and blood, in the everyday experience of sharing life with my neighbour. Thus, the individual realities of my communicating and being part of the life of the Church are inseparably linked to one another.
The Church is not born as a simple federation of communities. Her birth begins with the one bread, with the one Lord and from him from the beginning and everywhere, the one body which derives from the one bread. She becomes one not through a centralized government but through a common centre open to all, because it constantly draws its origin from a single Lord, who forms her by means of the one bread into one body. Because of this, her unity has a greater depth than that which any other human union could ever achieve. Precisely when the Eucharist is understood in the intimacy of the union of each person with the Lord, it becomes also a social sacrament to the highest degree.
Ping for discussion. For those of you who think it merits it, ping to your lists, please. This was posted on Pontifications, an Anglican blog. There is also an interesting reflection on the nature of confessional churches there by Met. John Zizoulis which is worth the read in the context of what +Ratzinger is saying.
On the reason of the Institution of this most holy Sacrament.
Wherefore, our Saviour, when about to depart out of this world to the Father, instituted this Sacrament, in which He poured forth as it were the riches of His divine love towards man, making a remembrance of his wonderful works; and He commanded us, in the participation thereof, to venerate His memory, and to show forth his death until He come to judge the world. And He would also that this sacrement should be received as the spiritual food of souls, whereby may be fed and strengthened those who live with His life who said, He that eateth me, the same also shall live by me; and as an antidote, whereby we may be freed from daily faults, and be preserved from mortal sins. He would, furthermore, have it be a pledge of our glory to come, and everlasting happiness, and thus be a symbol of that one body whereof He is the head, and to which He would fain have us as members be united by the closest bond of faith, hope, and charity, that we might all speak the same things, and there might be no schisms amongst us.
*IMO, Card. Ratzinger is right on the money and what he says fleshes-out what Trent taught Dogmatically. I love Card. Ratzinger. While I wish he were more militant vis a vis Islam, I think he'd make a fantastic Pope.
Let us not fall into temptation and assume that we can choose to be good. We are not good. But in Christ, and through Christ, we are evolving towards that goodness, being fed that Nourishment to sustain us in that transformation.
What does the transformation, as the final "product" entail? It entails triumph of the Spirit over our the flesh. It entails triumph of the spiritual over the material. It entails triumph of the heavenly over the earthly. It entails placing God first, and everything else second. Are we there yet? I doubt it!
That's the problem with celibacy in the Latin Church - it is mandated. Celibacy is a "natural" progression from being enslaved by the flesh to being free in the Spirit of such passions. It is a stage we may reach one day on earth, but few do. Those who have been "transformed" have no passions, earthly possessions or attachments, and sped their lives in constant prayer, which -- by the way -- keeps them from committing sin.
The Eucharist does not do that, nor is it indeed to do that. The Eucharist is not a "magic pill" that transforms us from ugly ducklings into beautiful swans. It is manna indeed, the bread and drink of Life everlasting, the Cleanser and the Purifier of our souls. For, no sooner do we take the Body and Blood, do we continue to sin, pollute, and corrupt our body, thought and acts.
The Eucharist does create a community -- ekklesia -- of believer united in Christ and is therefore a communion of the faithful.
"That's the problem with celibacy in the Latin Church - it is mandated."
Yes, it is. But consider it in light of all else you have written. Those men who should present themselves for priesthood are the ones who have already gone that far down the journey. Those who have not, yet, should work on their own spiritual state before seeking ecclesial office to shepherd others.
It is an extremely demanding standard, celibacy, for those still tied too heavily to the flesh. And it is precisely those who shouldn't be seeking holy office, but holy contemplation.
Jesus and Paul both recommended the celibate state. That the Latin Church has made that high standard THE standard, it seems to me, is an effort to put faith into practice.
O Light of Heaven
come down to earth,
come down in the guise
of translucent white bread
held in the hands of your priest,
for all your children to see,
those who believe,
those who deny,
but reality is what it is.
If they could but see,
the light cascading out,
like a supernova
with tidings of peace and hope
see the angel host
bowing down to the ground,
flashing their wings
and overwhelming joy.
like a true lover
you come to us
waiting to be loved in return.
Fill our hearts with that radiant fire,
that joy that only comes from heaven,
until we, too,
fall to our knees,
and in response to our Lover's call,
our souls whisper,
My read of what the Cardinal is saying indicates to me that he is writing about two connected things. First, the transformation which Kosta discusses and second, the nature of the Church as a Eucharistic communion. As to the first, I agree with Kosta, the Cardinal leaps from the reception of communion to full theosis. As an Orthodox Christian I can't see that. Its all too easy and indeed the Eucharist is not a "magic pill". The Orthodox prayers for before and after the Eucharist lay out well what we believe (lex orandi, lex credendi again!):
"BEFORE RECEIVING HOLY COMMUNION:
I believe, O Lord, and I confess that Thou art truly the Christ, the Son of the Living God, Who camest into the world to save sinners, of whom I am first. I believe also that this is truly Thine own pure Body, and that this is truly Thine own precious Blood. Therefore I pray Thee: have mercy upon me and forgive my transgressions both voluntary and involuntary, of word and of deed, of knowledge and of ignorance. And make me worthy to partake without condemnation of Thy most pure Mysteries, for the remission of my sins, and unto life everlasting. Amen.
Of Thy Mystical Supper, O Son of God, accept me today as a communicant; for I will not speak of Thy Mystery to Thine enemies, neither like Judas will I give Thee a kiss; but like the thief will I confess Thee: Remember me, O Lord in Thy Kingdom.
May the communion of Thy Holy Mysteries be neither to my judgment, nor to my condemnation, O Lord, but to the healing of soul and body. Amen.
AFTER RECEIVING HOLY COMMUNION:
I thank Thee, O Lord my God, for Thou hast not rejected me, a sinner, but hast made me worthy to be a partaker of Thy Holy Things. I thank Thee, for Thou hast permitted me, the unworthy, to commune of Thy most pure and Heavenly, Gifts. But, O Master Who lovest mankind, Who for our sakes didst die and rise again, and gavest us these awesome and life-creating Mysteries for the good and sanctification of our souls and bodies; let them be for the healing of our soul and body, the repelling of every adversary, the illumining of the eyes of my heart, the peace of my spiritual power, a faith unashamed, a love unfeigned, the fulfilling of wisdom, the observing of Thy commandments, the receiving of Thy divine grace, and the attaining of Thy Kingdom. Preserved by them in Thy holiness, may I always remember Thy grace and live not for myself alone, but for Thee, our Master and Benefactor. May I pass from this life in the hope of eternal life, and so attain to the everlasting rest, where the voice of those who feast is unceasing, and the gladness of those who behold the goodness of Thy countenance is unending. For Thou art the true desire and the ineffable joy of those who love Thee, O Christ our God, and all creation sings Thy praise forever. Amen."
As to the Eucharistic Community, I think that as an Orthodox person I can say that the Cardinal is advancing an Orthodox position, if I understand him correctly and that when refering to the Eucharist, he is not simply refering to the actual reception of the Body and Blood but also and more expansively to the entire Liturgy. A noted Greek Orthodox theologian, Fr. Thomas Fitzgerald wrote:
"....The Eucharist is the most distinctive event of Orthodox worship because in it the Church gathers to remember and celebrate the Life, Death, and Resurrection of Christ and, thereby, to participate in the mystery of Salvation.
In the Orthodox Church, the Eucharist is also known as the Divine Liturgy. The word liturgy means people's work; this description serves to emphasize the corporate character of the Eucharist. When an Orthodox attends the Divine Liturgy, it is not as an isolated person who comes simply to hear a sermon.
Rather, he comes as a member of the Community of Faith who participates in the very purpose of the Church, which is the Worship of the Holy Trinity. Therefore, the Eucharist is truly the center of the life of the Church and the principal means of spiritual development, both for the individual Christian and the Church as a whole. Not only does the Eucharist embody and express the Christian faith in a unique way, but it also enhances and deepens our faith in the Trinity. This sacrament-mystery is the experience toward which all the other activities of the Church are directed and from which they receive their direction.
The Eucharist, the principal sacrament mystery of the Orthodox Church, is not so much a text to be studied, but rather an experience of communion with the Living God in which prayer , music, gestures, the material creation, art and architecture come into full orchestration. The Eucharist is a celebration of faith which touches not only the mind but also the emotions and the senses.
Throughout the centuries, Christians have seen many dimensions in the Eucharist. The various titles which have come to describe the rite bear witness to the richness of its meaning. The Eucharist has been known as the Holy offering, the Holy Mysteries, the Mystic Supper, and the Holy Communion. The Orthodox Church recognizes the many facets of the Eucharist and wisely refuses to over-emphasize one element to the detirement of the others. In so doing, Orthodoxy has clearly avoided reducing the Eucharist to a simple memorial of the Last Supper which is only occasionally observed. Following the teachings of both Scripture and Tradition, the Orthodox Church believes that Christ is truly present with His people in the celebration of the Holy Eucharist. The Eucharistic gifts of bread and wine become for us His Body and His Blood. We affirm that these Holy Gifts are transfigured into the first fruits of the New Creation in which ultimately God will be "all in all...."
Have I missed the Cardinal's point?
However, it is the starting point and subsequent Communions can, if we cooperate with the Sanctifying Grace it gives us, make us more Christlike as we continue to live the Sacramental life.
Simon Peter, servant and apostle of Jesus Christ: to them that have obtained equal faith with us in the justice of our God and Saviour Jesus Christ.
2 Grace to you and peace be accomplished in the knowledge of God and of Christ Jesus our Lord.
3 As all things of his divine power which appertain to life and godliness are given us through the knowledge of him who hath called us by his own proper glory and virtue.
4 By whom he hath given us most great and precious promises: that by these you may be made partakers of the divine nature: flying the corruption of that concupiscence which is in the world.
bump for later.
When we speak about the reality of Christ's nature being in us, we would be speaking foolishly and impiously - had we not learned it from Him. ...And these elements (Body and Blood of Christ) bring it about, when taken and consumed, that we are in Christ and Christ is in us. Is this not true? Let those who deny that Jesus Christ is true God be free to find these things untrue. But He Himself is in us through the flesh and we are in Him, while that which we are with Him is in God.
Several readers above (including myself) come to the same conclusion that the author is conflating communion with full theosis at several points in the article.
Is this an error on the part of the readers, or the writer?
If several people in a room hear you say something you didn't intend, it doesn't indicate that you believe what they heard, but it may mean you could have communicated your thoughts a little more clearly so people aren't easily left with false impressions.
I personally think what Ratzinger wrote is mostly pretty good, but it would be much better if he had qualified his statements more clearly to contrast this (partial, progressive) transformation with a complete one. At no point in the article does Ratzinger firmly emphasize that this transformation is partial, or a gradual progression. Several statements leave the reader with the opposite impression.
I don't think for a second that Ratzinger believes communion brings us to full theosis -- but I think his writing unfortunately leaves the reader with some false impressions and ideas. It is important to express these things very clearly, to avoid confusion.
It just needs to be cleaned up a little. With more clear qualifications of his statements, it would be in the same spirit of as the writings of the holy fathers.
"Of course, Card Ratzinger did not say what Kosta reread him to have said. No Catholic ever thought First Comunion/Eucharist immediately transformed us into Christ-like beings."
Now you see, I read him to be saying just that, as did Kosta and Mount Athos at a minimum saw how his writing could be read that way. To tell you the truth, my reading was influenced no doubt by what the nuns taught us as children back in the pre Vatican II days. I remember Sister Mary Whoever telling us that after communion our souls were perfectly white and that if we got hit by a bus crossing the street after Mass, we'd go straight to heaven. Of course, we were maybe 8 years old and she was no theologian, but it appears that at least the image stuck in one little Greek boy.
I see your point about the rejection of grace; that's Orthodox and I had always assumed that an "orthodox belief" in the nature of the Eucharist was necessary for its salvic properties to be efficacious (otherwise "unworthy" reception?).
What about +Ratzinger's comments on the Eucharist as "the" or "a" defining element of the Church, and is he using the term the same way Father Thomas is, which is to say expansively?
St. John Chrysostom (PG 59:261)
This blood is the salvation of our soul; it cleanses our souls, it beautifies our soul; ... it makes it shine even more than gold. Through the pouring out of this blood, it becomes possible to walk the path of heaven.
St. Augustine, Sermons,  A.D. 391-430:
That Bread which you see on the altar, having been sanctified by the word of God, is the Body of Christ. That chalice, or rather, what is in that chalice, having been sanctified by the word of God, is the Blood of Christ. Through that bread and wine the Lord Christ willed to commend His Body and Blood, which He poured out for us unto the forgiveness of sins. If you receive worthily, you are what you have received.
St. Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew 26,27, 428 A.D.:
Christ said indicating (the bread and wine): 'This is My Body,' and `This is My Blood,' in order that you might not judge what you see to be a mere figure. The offerings, by the hidden power of God Almighty, are changed into Christ's Body and Blood, and by receiving these we come to share in the life-giving and sanctifying efficacy of Christ.
We cannot choose to be good. We can only become good through faith and with the help of God, never on our own. Celibacy is something that will naturally follow as we approach the end-stage of theosis, as all physical passions, hunger, and corruption die, and the immaterial spirit defines us and overcomes our material prison.
Celibacy can be a goal we hope to attain, as a general overcoming of all bodily passions, but not a particular standard that one imposes as a precondition.
Celibacy, in its original and uncorrupted meaning is simply a vow of faithfulness to one's wife. The New Testament specifically states that a bishop would be a husband to no more than one wife, in other words -- celibate! It did not mean abstinence from carnal relations.
This original meaning then became corrupt and twisted to mean that bishops cannot be married, which is synonymous with not having sex with one's wife. In the Latin Rite, quite early on, celibacy progressively took on the meaning of a vow not to get married, for all priests, regardless of rank. Obviously that was not put in practice. For instance, St. Augustine was not celibate and certainly not free of carnal desires.
Even many a pope did not practice what the Church teaches, and engaged in carnal relations outside of marriage. Pope Alexander VI and his famous Banquet or Ballet of Chestnuts illustrate (no pun intended) my point.
Freedom from passion is a "natural" end-product of theosis. Expecting young, virile men who become priests to have reached that stage of theosis is unrealistic and reserved for a few saints.
"Celibacy is something that will naturally follow as we approach the end-stage of theosis, as all physical passions, hunger, and corruption die,...."
And here all along I thought it was just old age! :)
+Ratzinger says "It is not we who assimilate it, but it assimilates us to itself, so that we become in a certain way conformed to Christ, as Paul says, members of his body, one in him."
So, according to the Roman Catholic Church, we misteriously "become" like Christ when we take the Divine Gifts (besides, the RCs partake only of the Body)? Is this something permanent? Does it last one second, five minutes, until you get to the car after church, or what? How long are we made "Christ-like"?
Assimilating into Christ is our hope, which, by definition, is faith [Heb 11:1], not an act of instant transformation. We are told to be perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect [Mt 5:48], which in the original Greek is a future imperative and not something that happens now. The Eucharist helps us along, it feeds our souls as it purifies us, unclean beings, and relieves our soul from burden of our transgressions, lest it be tarnished forever by them, just as the soap cleans our bodies and prevents them from becoming diseased. It wipes clean our errors, for we know that no sooner have we taken the Divine Gifts we will commit sin again. It is sustenance, our spiritual staple which, like food, helps us grow into mature and healthy beings.
At the moment of consecration, the bread and wine attain the state of pristine cleanliness that only His Body and Blood can have and therefore become His Body and Blood. Nothing else is like it. Nothing.
That's why the Novus Ordo habit of dropping the host into someone's hands before it is consumed is an unthinkable act of desecration, but given that our understanding of the Eucharist seems light years apart, you will no doubt call this observation an "error" as well.
Transformation into a Christ-like being is a life-long process. It cannot be attained instantly and permanently by taking a spiritual "pill." It's a life style in faith and constant prayer, constant confession, constant repentance, constant asking for forgiveness, and constant awareness that as long as we live on earth we will have the propensity to sin and shut out God.
Passions don't die with old age, Kolo. We do. Killed by passion. :-)
Is that the same person as John Zizioulas?
Is it then your understanding of what these Fathers are saying that the reception of the Eucharist is an instant theosis, though one that can be lost? I just read a collection of snipped comments of perhaps 20 saints and Fathers on this subject. There seems to be no doubt that what +John Chrysostomos, +Augustine and +Cyril represent the consensus patrum and yet in reading these 20 odd saints' comments, I get the feeling that id it were proposed to them that a single reception of communion confers theosis they would reject that proposal. I say this because they nearly all talk about the reception of the Eucharist as a part, a primary part to be sure, of living a life which leads to becoming Christlike. They do this by talking about the appropriate preparation for reception, how the Eucharist strangthens us, how it is a cure for a sick soul and body, how we become "partakers" in Christ (but not divinized as in complete theosis), those sorts of things.
Same name so I suppose so.
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