New theology of the Eucharist
THE TERM OF CHRISTIAN INITIATION
BY Baptism and Confirmation man is made a member of the Church and then strengthened with Her defensive and offensive arms, to use the language of St. Paul (2 Co 6 :7). He is a creature renewed in the Blood of Christ and by virtue of His Spirit he is reborn to a life other than that of the world and sin; to a life of justice and of holiness, which is that of the Church Herself. Having attained this new state of being risen with Christ and filled with the Holy Spirit, the “ son of God ” is called to Communion in the Holy Mysteries. As he leaves the Baptistery with the other catechumens, he enters in procession into the sanctuary where he will take part in the liturgy of the Assembly. There he chants the Pater Noster before finally approaching the altar to receive the Body and Blood of the Lord in company with his brethren.
What is the meaning of this ultimate sacrament of Christian Initiation and what does this gift add to Baptism and Confirmation, which already seem to have given the supernatural life and Christian grace in abundance, in memory of and sharing in the Saviour’s Sacrifice on the Cross, His death and resurrection ? What new fruit is thereby procured for the soul and in what way is it the term of Christian initiation, completing the catechumen’s search and giving him the supreme good ? That is the object of our study in this paper (…).
THE EUCHARIST ANNOUNCED AND INSTITUTED BY JESUS
“ I am the Bread of Life (…) Whoever eats My flesh (trogein to sarx, literally : to bite on the flesh) and drinks My Blood has eternal life… For My flesh is true food, and My Blood is true drink ” (Jn 6 :35-54).
What Jesus had promised to His disciples and proclaimed to the crowd in the presence of His enemies, to give His words greater veracity, He did for the first time when He instituted this sign as the major sacrament for the life of His Church on Holy Thursday, during His Last Supper with the Apostles on the eve of His Passion (…).
Mark’s and Matthew’s accounts are closely alike; those of Luke and Paul present certain affinities. Their unanimity on the essential here is very impressive. But for the historicity of the facts, related by these four documents, the weightiest proof comes from the Epistle to the Corinthians (…). He testifies to a fixed and unquestioned rite, known to all and accepted and practised by those communities drawn from paganism, as it is by the Community of Jerusalem. It is the Lord’s Supper.
It is very impressive to think that this Action of Christ’s, kept in His memory, because in doing it He had intimated the order to His Apostles that they reproduce it until He come again, should have become the essential rite of the Christian Community since Pentecost. It is “ The Breaking of Bread ” which, without any essential change, has never ceased to be celebrated throughout all the centuries and in every country where the Church has spread, down to our own day (…).
In short this sacrament, The Mass, is the centre and summit of the Church’s life, itself the centre and summit of universal human history (…).If there is any chance of the planet one day reaching unification, it will surely be through the two rites of Baptism and the Catholic Eucharist.
TRYING TO GO TO THE HEART OF THE MYSTERY
However, we must always watch and pray. Nothing in this world, of which Satan is Prince, is ever won or guaranteed definitively. In our 20th century when it seemed as though faith in the Eucharist had become the corner stone of the Church, when the hieratism of the liturgy seemed to put the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass beyond reach of attack and when we were about to celebrate the 4th centenary of the restoration of the Old Roman Mass (1570-1970), then the malady of the century, Modernism and its Evolutionism seized hold of the Eucharist and pounded it in both liturgy and dogma (…).
The Protestant heresies imagined that they had returned to the pure truth of the Gospel as opposed to the scholastic interpretations of the Roman Church; in our proud century the Modernists claim to have opened up new paths in contrast to the stiff theology of the Tridentine Counter Reformation (…). Well, I intend to prove that these Protestant heresies and modernist novelties, far from renewing the traditional doctrine, are actually dependencies of scholasticism’s narrowness, inadequacies and even serious gaps. Heresy has merely pushed the shortcomings of scholasticism to the absurd point of philosophical and religious error. Hence in the thick of our apparent dilemma of Integrism on the one side and Modernism on the other, I am conscious that it is a sacred duty for us to avoid either camp and instead-prepare for the future by freeing the great wealth of dogma and liturgy from the entire scholastic tangle and its ancestral polemic (…).
In studying this new theology of the Eucharist, each one, I hope, will feel that in the eternal youth of Christ’s and the Church’s sacraments there is a profound truth, an indescribable and simple beauty, a wealth of spiritual life and mystical gifts, which effortlessly reduce all the heresies and all the conservatisms to their nothingness (…).
THE GIFT OF HIS BODY
EXPOSITION OF THE MYSTERY
In St. Matthew’s Gospel we read : “ While they were eating, Jesus took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and giving it to His disciples said : Take and eat; this is My Body. ” (26 :26) St. Paul adds to the words This is My Body, the phrase “ for you, or broken for you ” (1 Co 11 :24) and St. Luke adds : “ Which is given for you ”. (Lk 22 :19) Already what a Mystery !
The unshakeable basis of the Catholic faith consists in welcoming these words and actions of Christ in their simple and obvious meaning. This is all the more necessary in that the immediately understood meaning is the one guaranteed by the entire tradition. To twist what is straightforward and to interpret what is already clear is to refuse to believe. Are we to believe that Jesus did not know how to express Himself ? Would the Son of God have left His Church to start off on a misunderstanding and to persist therein ? No ! Let us believe Christ’s Revelation as it is faithfully guarded by the teaching of the Church.
“ Take and eat. This is My Body ”. The action and word here signify that Christ is giving His own Body for food. The only question is how and why and nothing else.
From the Discourse at Capernaum we know, as common sense would tell us, that it is not a question of little pieces of His flesh being given to nourish the bodies of men biologically. Jesus had already warned against this kind of… cannibalism by saying, “ It is the spirit that gives life, while the flesh is of no avail. ” (Jn 6 :63) What He announced and later instituted was the receiving of His Body as of a mysterious bread, whereby the being would be fed in an eminent and spiritual manner. There is a further distinction : it is not a question of fusing two beings or two spirits so that the one annihilates the other; it is a communication of spiritual goods in a Person to person relationship through the gift of His Body.
How does this correspond to our experience ?
In this, that every gift of self, every encounter of souls here below of any kind whatsoever, and there are many many kinds, requires some bodily communication of action, look, word or touch… The Sacrament of the Body of Christ is, therefore, the living encounter of the disciple or of the Church gathered in the community of faith and baptismal life, with the Son of God, Jesus Christ through the mediation of His flesh. That is, the restored and recovered Presence of His living human being giving Himself fully to His own under the singular form of a beneficent, spiritual food, which is far more expressive than any other operation of the flesh in an act of human love (…).
In what way is this beyond our experience ?
In that no natural human gift approaches even remotely the realism of this total Presence in the flesh and in sublimeness. The mode of Communion, that of eating, seems to us both the summit to which love could aspire and yet the impossible action that love in its folly might imagine for a single instant. It is in line with nature yet at the same time it surpasses the laws and limitations of nature (…).
But here the matter of this exchange, of this communication and fraternal sharing, is no longer water, oil nor even bread and wine as has too often been said in order to assimilate it by analogy to the other sacraments. The matter here is the Body of the Lord become the bread of this meal and His Blood become the wine of this feast (…).What makes possible the sacramental encounter and what constitutes the matter of this sacrament is the Body of Christ and not bread which no longer exists. The sacramental encounter consists in eating not bread, which has disappeared, nor in eating the appearances of bread, but in eating the Body of Christ by the faithful.
How can that be and what can it mean ? That is what we are going to study now
The dogmas in which the full truth of this sacrament was defined at the Council of Trent – 13th session, 1551 – are now doubly dated. On the one hand they are marked by the scholastic problematic which shaped them and on the other hand by the Protestant controversy of the time. They remain the infallible, immutable and irrevocable expression of our faith but they do not commit us slavishly to the “ cultural milieu ” in which they appeared (…). In order to answer Protestant negations and interpretations, these definitions describe this singular and wonderful conversion as a Transubstantiation – a veritable change of substance, leaving the accidents of bread and wine to persist unchanged (…).
It is known that St. Thomas generally chose to explain the Christian faith in terms of rational philosophy, or more precisely in accordance with Aristotle’s categories (…). Yielding to the spirit of systematisation or ease of classification, he declared that the matter of the sacrament was bread and wine (IIIa q. 74) and that the form of the sacrament was the words of consecration, which effect the change of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ, (q. 78) This definition would be followed by everyone down to this day.
With the data of the faith thus analysed, St. Thomas explained this unheard of change for him the essence of the Eucharist – by trusting to Aristotle’s prime definitions and to his philosophical postulates, which, though unproven, were accepted on the strength of common experience and commonsense. The explanation shows how substances change whilst their accidents remain (…).Thereupon St. Thomas appealed to the miraculous, (q. 75 art. 6 ad. 3.) God allows these accidents to remain as accidents and to act according to their natural laws (q. 77) even though their substance has disappeared. Fantastic ! The accidents remain suspended ? They seem to constitute an opaque veil, beneath which a substance other than their own is hidden, known only to faith alone (…). In order to attenuate the miracle, St. Thomas granted these structures and organic chemical laws, now deprived of their substantial bond and of any basic principle of organisation and action, a certain kind of support, which, although inadequate, is alone conceivable for want of something better. This certain support would be the most important accident, the first accident which would no longer be the trunk nor the branches either. It was called the “ dimensive quantity ” (q. 77, art. 2) ?! It is as though the tray holding the cups, saucers, teapot and water jug, supported by the hand of the waiter were suddenly deprived of the human hand and held instead by an angel, for example (…).
Let Aristotle take offence, but the sacrament, the visible sign is this, which Jesus gives to His Church, and This is His Body. The matter of the sacrament, therefore, is the Body – not the bread of which there is no further question – and the Blood, and no longer wine.
The matter has to be visible and must constitute a sign ? Well, in faith we have no hesitation in saying that the Body is indeed visible and tangible, there on the paten, likewise with the Blood in the chalice. Furthermore, these signs constitute an invitation to eat and drink, since they are there as bread and wine. It is not that bread and wine are there as the Body and Blood; it is the Lord’s Body and Blood that are really present and presented to us as bread and wine. But as for bread and wine, they are no more. Jesus has said it (…).
I am told that it is impossible for a human body really to take on the manner of being pertaining to bread. But if this Body be that of the Word of God and if this new figuration be not the work of human nature but of His Divine Will working on His human nature so to become our bread in a sacramental transfiguration and transfinalisation, not of the bread, but of His Body and Blood !
The species or appearances of bread subsist therefore unchanged but instead of remaining suspended in mid air or supported (?) by the dimensive quantity (?), in the Sacrament they are maintained and realised by the Body and Blood of Christ, not by virtue of their natural movement but by the Divine Will of His Person. I think that theologians would admit that this explanation represents progress. The faithful understand the principle very well : that the Body and Blood are not hidden beneath anything or any apparent form, thereby constituting an obstacle that would not be Jesus. On the contrary it is not a veil or an intermediary sign that the faithful see on beholding the Host; they actually see the Body and Blood of Jesus but they see them as the bread and wine of their supernatural life. In this sacrament of our Eucharistic meal is the true, real, substantial presence of Christ. It is clear and very moving and is the antidote to the chronic drift of Catholic theology towards the Lutheran theory of impanation, which in turn leads to incredulity (…).
Ah ! If only we saw the Host as it IS : the Word made Flesh bodily making Himself our bread ! The Host is a cry of the Heart; it is the sign of a wonderful, unique love; it is an invitation to a mutual encounter in union with Christ, carried to the sublime. It is so much more than just a simple presence or exchange of looks; it is even more than the closest embrace; here we have the greatest co-penetration and assimilation conceivable, that of nutrition (…).
Such, therefore, is the visible matter of the sacrament, the sacramentum. What is its form, that which gives it its supernatural, Christian meaning – the sacramentum et res ? Is it not enough what we have already said ? No, for this Presence and this Gift have a special meaning without which they remain ineffectual as was the passage of Jesus through the people of Bethsaida and Capernaum. (Mt 11 :12)
THE SACRIFICE OF HIS BLOOD
With the doctrine of the Schoolmen we have taken maximum liberty and have said that the matter of the sacrament is the Body of Christ Himself, continuing His living presence for us as Son of God, a presence that is total… Body and Soul, flesh and blood, man and Divinity become our daily spiritual bread. In this first consecration there is as yet no distinction and no division; the whole Christ is living in our midst as before (…).Working on this divine matter, if I may so put it, are the words which ensure its sacramental condition, which consummate the Eucharistic Action and which lead it to its ultimate perfection. The form of the sacrament, therefore, are the words whereby this Body is delivered up to death and this Blood shed from the Body, thus producing the sacramental mime of the death of Jesus on the Calvary. These words of consecration are themselves a sacrifice renewing the sacrifice of the Cross, the sacrifice of the same Victim by the same Priest, Jesus Christ.
This can be amplified even further. The words; This is my Body, especially with their necessary complement : which is given up for you (quod pro vobis tradetur) intentionally dispose the Body on the altar for the foreseen work of sacrifice. Then the words : “ This is the chalice of My Blood, the Blood of the new and eternal Alliance, which is shed for you and for many for the remission of sins ” – these words effect what they say and what is signified by the tangible separation of the Body and Blood on the altar. Then at this moment and place the glorified Christ effects the act of His Sacrifice just as it was accomplished once and for all on tie Cross. It is the same sacrifice, one and manifold until the end of time.
The speculative advantage of this system – and here I address myself particularly to theologians – is that the sacrament and the sacrifice are kept closely united whereas the classical system was unable to maintain the connection. The practical advantage of this system is to abolish every protestant, modernist and, let it be said, post-conciliar heresy wherewith the present liturgical reform is being corrupted. It is a heresy that regards the Eucharistic celebration as an action of men, minister or assembly over bread and wine consistent with a commemorative meal, a sacrificial meal or even a sacrifice made in memory of Christ, of the Last Supper or even of Calvary.
The classical doctrine, unfortunately, lends support to this error by reducing the essential of this sacrament to the changing of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ by means of the all powerful words pronounced by the priest in His name… and in memory of Him and His Sacrifice. The doctrine was not false but it was inadequate. It supposed the mystery of faith rather than made it explicit. Here, on the contrary, it is Christ Himself Who speaks and acts, Who is present in His Church through His priest. Christ’s action, expressed through the successive words and actions of the priest, consists in making Himself humanly present in His immolated Body, the Blood of which is poured into the chalice. It is Christ Who does this in an action, every one of which is incontestably distinct from the other. Each time this is done, it counts. Every Mass counts. Let protestants and post-conciliarists object as much as they please, it is thus beneath our eyes. It is an act of the glorious Christ renewing His Passion; the act exists there and then and yet neither multiplies nor divides the unique and perfect redeeming sacrifice of Calvary.
THE TRUTH OF THE SACRIFICE OF THE MASS
Let us look at the simplicity of the Original Supper. Jesus is in the midst of His Apostles to whom He has just given the gift of His Body to eat, thereby establishing them in a very special union with Himself. At the end of the Meal and before going to His death, Jesus anticipated His Bloody Sacrifice on Calvary; He announced it and sacramentally already fulfilled it… that is to say in intention, in words and in real efficacious forms.
Over the cup of wine He pronounces the words : This is My Blood, shed for you and for many. What is happening ? In this will expressed by the Man-God transubstantiation is realised. That is to say, the soul of Christ seizes hold of this concrete substance of wine and, through His own limitless power, makes of it His Blood, as though shed or rather sprung from Himself, from His Body into this cup which symbolises the crucial trial and decisive gift of His life. The chalice is the physical prefiguration of His death. Who would deny that this prefiguration is for Him an act distinct from that of the following day when He puts into effect the project announced then ?
Similarly, when the priest at each of our Masses pronounces the same words in His name, these, His ministers, who are not magicians, allow Christ to act in accordance with the words which they pronounce at His command and in conformity with their mission. The priests bind Jesus, living, risen and present to His Church, to act in accordance with their word, which is what he wants… to make Himself physically present on the altar. Then in a new and distinct act at this same Mass, Christ, by His spiritual power, seizes hold of the being of the wine in order to change it into His Blood. Again He pours His life into this cup to signify His suffering...
This Blood is certainly living and remains animated by the individual soul of Jesus; its shedding, which Jesus Himself effects, and not a magician priest, is in the order of a sign. It is unbloody; it is not exhausting, it is not mortal nor is it like a fresh crucifixion. Jesus there fulfils anew what He has accomplished fully once and for all… it is the sacrifice of His Life for the remission of sins.
This sacrament can only be recognised in all its truth when it is seen that, more than the other sacraments which are also done in memory of the Redeeming Sacrifice, its essence is in the very Act of Christ being bodily present, present in the priest as sacrificer and present as victim or host beneath the twofold matter of His Body delivered and of His Blood shed (…). Such is the sacramental action of Jesus living amongst us.
The third new advantage and special feature 6f this system is that it binds the communion closely to the sacrifice (…). In this system the unity of the Eucharistic sacrifice is restored and recovered, firstly because the Real Presence is effected under the form of Sacrifice and, in the very words of Christ over the chalice which both proclaim and effect the sacrifice, this Sacrifice is the foundation and continually repeated and pursued realisation of the Alliance. Alliance of who with whom ? By the bond of the Victim, both offered and distributed – Take and eat… take and drink, all of this – it is the Alliance between God and those invited to His Supper who are the participants of this Eucharistic sacrifice ending in a sacred banquet. Secondarily, the benefits of this Memorial are shed on the living and the dead, named by the guests, and on the whole suffering, militant Church, in whose name this Eucharist is celebrated. It is also for the joy and glory of the Church triumphant who assist thereat and acclaim Christ the Universal Saviour.
The Communion is the necessary conclusion to the celebration of the Alliance between God and His people. The Crucifixion whereby this new and eternal alliance is sealed is no longer static nor juridical but historic and perpetual through a continual realisation of ceaseless acts accomplished by new and successive generations. In this way the Mass unites all the redeemed to God through Christ, which unifying act is brought about, physically more even than mystically, by the eating of this Holy Victim and the drinking of His Blood, bearers of Divine Life and grace.
It is the Church, the Spouse of Christ, who causes the sacrament to be for the sake of Her own nourishment; the Church gives Her Spouse to Herself and implores Him to wash away Her sins ever and again through the sacrifice of His Body and Blood, in which She communes in order to find Herself in Him, the Spouse without spot or wrinkle, for Christ to present to His Father in all honour and glory in anticipation of the banquet of our eternal wedding feast (…).
What are the particular fruits, the extraordinary and sublime benefits of this sacramental sacrifice (…) ? The reason and the effect of Christ the Sovereign Priest’s Sacramental Action in His Church and for His Church is, in His own words, the commemoration and celebration of the New And Eternal Alliance sealed on the Cross between God and His Church. The commemoration and celebration are without cease to restore men from the fact of human malice and perfect them, and for the generations to come to ratify and honour it until the consummation of time.
The Alliance was concluded once in a Sacred Banquet, a sacrificial meal, and it is reproduced at each Mass in the same manner by the Sacramental Communion of the holy members of the Christian assembly with God… that is in the mystic food and drink offered them, this Bread and this Wine, Mystery of Faith, the Saviour’s Body and Blood immolated for the many. This Communion also unites Christians among themselves and so builds up the Church in charity (…).
Hence Communion gives us some share in the Divine Life, in those attributes essential and proper to the glorious Body we receive, in the first place, eternity. That is the explanation of those wonderful and forceful words of Christ’s at Capernaum : “ Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My Blood has eternal life and I will raise him up on the Last Day… whoever eats this bread will live forever. ” (Jn 6 :55) Such are the effects of this sacrament wherein one sees the source as well as the final consummation of every gift and perfection.
This explains the importance of receiving Communion in viaticum, on the point of death, to assure the faithful of his going to meet his Lord, of the ultimate remission of all his sins and an earnest of his blessed resurrection.
There is no better way to end this treatise than in the words of St. Thomas for the feast of Corpus Christi : 0 sacrum convivium, in quo Christus sumitur, recolitur memoria passionis ejus. Mens impletur gratia et futurae gloriae nobis pignus datur. Alleluia !
Fr. Georges de Nantes
Excerpts from CCR n° 96, March 1978, p. 4-21