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.
I have never seen John Zizioulas' name spelled any differently in the past 25 years. So, there was some confusion about the theologian the article was quoting. I will also suppose that this is indeed John Zizioulas, Metropolitan of Pergamon.
I think Cdl. Ratzinger's point in communion with Christ would have been better termed as an encounter. I don't know if he believes theosis can be achieved through Communion. While I do not and don't disagree with the comments so far on the thread, I do believe the sacraments are vital on the path to theosis. That's not to say a person couldn't achieve union without them, but I think it would be extraordinarily difficult without the grace and structure of the Church.
What concerns me more from a traditional Roman perspective is Ratzinger's second half of his essay. At Vatican II he was very much a liberal revolutionary. Some have said he is reformed, that I do not know, but if so he has only proceeded to the conservative point of the revolution. His emphasis on the horizontal aspect of Communion and the "social" nature is classic modernist speak. It is this reduction of the vertical nature which has produced no great visionaries, mystics, saints etc in the past 40 years. Again, nothing is impossible for the Divine, but I believe the Holy Ghost is allowing us to see the error of worshipping ourselves. No one ever achieved theosis/mystical union via a horizontal communion with their fellow man.
Ping for your thoughts.
But there is soemthing about the tone and emphasis of his essay that makes me very uncomfortable, but that I couldn't articulate well -- that's why I haven't posted anything on this thread, yet.
At the heart of my discomfort is exactly what C of D points out -- the heavy emphasis on the horizontal aspect of communion.
K, you are right that for us Orthodox, this horizontal aspect is part and parcel of what communion is. As our priest said a week or two ago, sin creates isolation, alienation, and lonliness. Put differently, he said "everyone goes to hell alone, but we all go to heaven together." When we were having a time of troubles in our parish, and a split was looking inevitable, one of the things that we agreed on was that this would hurt our path to salvation. We need each other, and in a sense "it takes all kinds" -- we gain something from communion with everyone else in the parish, something we wouldn't gain without them.
I think, though, that *in the context of Vatican II* the way that Ratzinger talks makes me squirm a bit.
The Orthodox approach to communion never loses the vertical aspect. The performance of proskomede by the priest alone in preparation for the Liturgy is intensely vertical, although the horizontal aspect is there, and in a bigger way than Ratzinger even discusses, since the communion of the living with the departed and all the saints is enacted there. During the Liturgy itself, the priest still faces east when at the altar -- symbolically facing God along with the people. The reverence shown to the Gifts is deep. The sacrificial aspect is clear.
For the Orthodox, it seems that the vertical aspect of the Eucharist creates the horizontal in a natural and organic way, whereas the post Vat II Catholic church seems to attempt to directly jump to the horizontal and social aspects of communion, bypassing the vertical aspect. This is most strikingly created symbolically by the fact that the priest faces the people.
I know that I'm rambling, but I'm attempting to put my finger on what it is that makes me uncomfortable with the Cardinal's writing. It just seems a bit mushy. It technically is nothing I can disagree with, and seems to correct many of the previous Roman overemphases on the vertical (typified by the fact that Roman priests can say mass and receive "communion" all by themselves -- there is no imagery of communion with one's fellow Christians in a mass that is said with no-one else present).
Kolo, the liturgy is for God. I hope that we don't go to church for us.
Concentrating on the "community" is concentrating on us. Monasticism teaches the opposite. Devoting your life to God leaves no room for earthly community and material priorities.
The only reason why Orthodoxy retained the "vertical" aspect is because our liturgy hasn't changed in 1600 years. We are not a community because we have picnics but because we are gathered, through faith, around Christ. It is a spiritual, not physical community.
If the Latin Church returned to the Tridentine Mass (or perhaps the Liturgy of the undivided Church even better), it would reestablish the vertical -- God centered -- worship. But as long as there is emphasis on the congregation and all this 'touchy-feely' stuff, God is not the center stage.
This, however, has taken the discussion way past my original observation -- namely that by taking the Eucharist we somehow become "assimilated" with Christ, i.e. somehow become like Christ. To which I say: you wish!
Maybe one explanation for the different reactions is whereas others might not be so, I am familiar with Card Ratzinger's writings, know them to be orthodox and share the same principles upon which this piece is premised.
*LOL Sister Mary W. was a pretty good theologian. I can't imagine a young Kolokotronis, no doubt having gone to Confession the day before Eucharist, dying post-Eucharist and not going to Heaven immediately(unless you were as bad an 8 y.o. as me)
Seriously, I understand your point. I was told the same thing about Confession and the salient truth one can't gain Heaven without Sanctifying Grace in their soul underlies the colloquial theology we learned from Nuns and Priests back then.
What about +Ratzinger's comments on the Eucharist as "the" or "a" defining element of the Church,..
*I learned that, in its essence, the Church is all about Christ; that the Eucharist is all about Christ; that our Sacramental union with Him in Communion is how we become the men God intended us to be, men filed with Sanctifying Grace becoming ever more Christ-like while retaining our unique manhoods, personalties etc.
---I learned that, in its essence, the Church is all about Christ; that the Eucharist is all about Christ; that our Sacramental union with Him in Communion is how we become the men God intended us to be, men filed with Sanctifying Grace becoming ever more Christ-like while retaining our unique manhoods, personalties etc.---
Each time you come to us,
Body and blood,
Soul and Divinity,
in that simple guise of bread,
it is like a heartbeat of love,
coursing through our soul,
healing our wounds.
O Bread of Heaven,
Adoro te devote, latens Deitas!
As long as we cooperate with Grace.
Assimilating into Christ is our hope, which, by definition, is faith [Heb 11:1], not an act of instant transformation.
Understand. So does Card. Ratzinger.
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.
It does all those things, plus more. But that introduces the process of Justification.
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.
Yes, I will. It clearly isn't desecration. Communion was routinely received in the hand. Fasting Communicants also brought the Eucharist home with them to be reserved until consumption after their fast ended.
Tertullian, Prayer A.D. 200: "Likewise, in regard to days of fast, many do not think they should be present at the sacrifical prayers, because their fast would be brokwn if they were to receive the Body of tghe Lord....Will your fast not be more solemn if, in addition, you have stood at God's altar? The Body of the Lord having been received and reserved, each point is secured: both the participation in the sacrifice and the duscharge of duty."
A.D. 390, Cyril of Jerusalem: "Approaching, therefore, come not with thy wrists extended, or thy fingers open; but make thy left hand as if a throne for thy right, which is on the eve of receiving the King. And having hallowed thy palm, receive the body of Christ, saying after it, Amen. Then after thou hast with carefulness hallowed thine eyes by the touch of the holy body, partake thereof; giving heed lest thou lose any of it; for what thou losest is a loss to thee as it were from one of thine own members. For tell me, if anyone gave thee gold dust, wouldst thou not with all precaution keep it fast, being on thy guard against losing any of it, and suffering loss?" (Catechetical Lectures 23:22).
*For what it is worth, I only receive on the tongue and would prefer to receive while kneeling but my Church has no Communion rail.
I don't think there is the slightest doubt the good Card will have the Liturgy on the front burner. As I read more on this thread, I think confusion aboiut the Cardinal's teachings might be due to the fact this is not a self-contained piece. I wish the blogger had posted a link, to say nothing about identifying where the snippet came from.
"I can't imagine a young Kolokotronis, no doubt having gone to Confession the day before Eucharist, dying post-Eucharist and not going to Heaven immediately(unless you were as bad an 8 y.o. as me)"
Unfortunately, confession was virtually unknown in the Orthodox Church around here when I was a kid, so the Roman priests said I should go to the Roman confession and I did. Communion was reserved for the Orthodox Church, however. As for being a naughty 8 year old, well, we had a principal, Sister Mary of the Hard Ash Pointer; everyone thought I was her secretary because I was always sitting outside her office! :)
The premise he's getting to here was true even before the New Covenant, wasn't it? The injunction to love one's neighbor as oneself predates Christ. Or is that not relevant?
I think he's saying that one can do that supremely through the Eucharist and it's binding power, but he uses the word authenticity here, which makes me nervous. The Holy Father used it too, made me nervous then too, because the Eucharist assists the person in his striving for Theosis, and It does so on a very individual, "I knew you when you were in the womb", "every one of the hairs on your head is numbered" basis.
When one uses the word authenticity in relation to proper disposition of reception of the Eucharist, it seems an extreme presumption to me, that differs immeasureably from the Spriritual advising of a Child of God to refrain from reception of the Holy Eucharist while in a state of grave sin.
My ultimate journey to Our Lord will provide the Communion he speaks of, but we are all in need of individual sculpting based on our weaknesses and strengths.
Maybe I just don't fully understand what he's getting at, but if I do, I don't think I see things as he does.
He may make a good Pope, I don't know that much about him, so I can't say for sure.
Great. Thanks, Sandyeggo. God Bless. The link may provide some answers to questions.
* I think Card. Ratzinger is speaking about what must follow Eucharist. Try re-reading what you highlighted.