Skip to comments.Eucharist in the Pontificate of Benedict XVI (Commentary by Scott Hahn)
Posted on 06/13/2005 6:34:41 PM PDT by NYer
Scott Hahn on the New Pope's Potential Revival
STEUBENVILLE, Ohio, JUNE 12, 2005 (Zenit.org).- Benedict XVI's pontificate is not about restoration of the liturgy so much as re-appropriation -- of the mystery of the Eucharist.
So says Scott Hahn, professor of theology and Scripture at Franciscan University of Steubenville, director of the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology and author of "The Lamb's Supper: The Mass as Heaven on Earth" (Doubleday).
He shared with ZENIT how he thinks Benedict XVI's teachings will enhance the faithful's understanding and experience of Eucharist.
Q: What was distinctive about then Cardinal Ratzinger's approach to the Eucharist?
Hahn: I don't think any theologian since Matthias Scheeben in the 19th century has shown us the profound interrelation of all the mysteries of Christianity. The doctrine of the Eucharist, for Cardinal Ratzinger, cannot be properly studied or expressed apart from the doctrine of the Trinity, the doctrine of the incarnation, and the doctrine of the Church.
The Eucharist itself is a Trinitarian mystery; we cannot receive the Son without receiving the Father who sent him in the flesh and the Spirit through which he comes. The Trinity comes to us in the Eucharist. And as the Trinity comes to us, we are raised up into the very presence of the divine glory.
This mystery is connected to the Incarnation because it's not just a historical event in the past, but an ongoing reality -- a supernatural mystery -- in our very midst. It all hangs together.
Cardinal Ratzinger's ecclesiology -- his theology of the Church -- is Eucharistic, incarnational and Trinitarian. At the same time, his Eucharistic theology is ecclesiological, incarnational and Trinitarian.
Q: Cardinal Ratzinger often described the Eucharist as the "heart of life." What does he mean by that?
Hahn: The Eucharist is our encounter and our communion with the Blessed Trinity. That is the heart of life. It's the source of life. It's the summit of life. Communion with the Blessed Trinity is the very definition of heaven, so it doesn't get any better than that. The amazing thing is that we have heaven in every Mass.
This is a theme Cardinal Ratzinger returned to repeatedly in many of his books. The coming of Jesus Christ -- what the Greek New Testament calls his "parousia" -- is not simply some far-off event. It is his presence in the Eucharist.
Fundamentalists reduce the meaning of "parousia" to Christ's coming at the end of time; but for first-century Greek-speakers the word meant "presence." Catholic theology holds on to that original meaning.
In his book "Eschatology," Cardinal Ratzinger wrote: "The parousia is the highest intensification and fulfillment of the liturgy. And the liturgy is parousia. Every Eucharist is parousia, the Lord's coming, and yet the Eucharist is even more truly the tensed yearning that He would reveal His hidden Glory."
Q: How do you think Pope Benedict's teachings may enhance the faithful's understanding and experience of Eucharist during the rest of the year of the Eucharist?
Hahn: So many people in the media have already written him off as a restorationist, pining for a return to pre-conciliar forms of worship. But they're missing his point. It's not about restoration of the liturgy so much as re-appropriation -- re-appropriating the mystery of the Eucharist, which is both divine and human.
After the [Second Vatican] Council, some theologians tried to democratize the Church and secularize the liturgy by reducing the mystery to debates between so-called conservatives and liberals.
Cardinal Ratzinger preferred to return to the classic sources: the Scriptures -- both Old and New Testaments -- and Tradition, as well as the best of the modern theologians. Only through such "ressourcement" can aggiornamento truly work.
I think Pope Benedict will de-politicize the Eucharist. He'll direct our attention away from the hot-button issues, which are really peripheral issues -- such as the battles over liturgical language and decoration.
It's not that he doesn't have opinions in these matters. He does, and he has expressed them in pointed ways. But he always draws his opinions from the depths of theological and historical study, and from the depths of his personal prayer.
I believe he'll ask us to plumb those same depths -- especially Catholics who speak, teach, write and guide others in the fields of theology, liturgy and so on. Out of the depths of our study and prayer, he'll guide us to a true re-sacralizing of the liturgy.
Q: If those are peripheral issues, what's at the core?
Hahn: That the Eucharist creates a flesh-and-blood bond -- a family bond -- between us and God. This is another recurring theme in his books. It's the strong undertow in his "Many Religions -- One Covenant" and "The Meaning of Christian Brotherhood."
Christ assumed human flesh in order to give that flesh for us, and give that flesh to us. The Eucharistic liturgy is a sacrificial covenant meal. It renews a covenant, and every covenant seals a family bond. As the Son of God became human, so we become divine -- "sons in the Son," to use the favorite phrase of the Church Fathers.
Q: Who, then, is a member of the family?
Hahn: I believe that will be a key consideration of Benedict's pontificate. He has already demonstrated his eagerness for ecumenical dialogue. If he does no more than continue the work he began as a cardinal, he will articulate the doctrine of the Eucharist in powerful biblical terms, which will be powerfully persuasive to Protestants.
The heavenly liturgy is the key to understanding the biblical books of Hebrews and Revelation. And the experience of liturgy is key to understanding much of the Bible -- both the Old and New Testaments.
What Leviticus and Deuteronomy were to the Old Covenant, Hebrews and Revelation are to the New Covenant. Without a knowledge and experience of the liturgy, so much of the content of these books is inaccessible to us.
Pope Benedict is himself a profound biblical theologian, steeped in the Fathers and Doctors -- especially Augustine and Bonaventure -- and in the Judaic and rabbinic traditions as well. I don't think any pope since St. Peter has taken up such deep study of the ancient rabbis.
I suspect that he will make an understanding of the Eucharist essential to the ecumenical project, and he will conduct the dialogue in covenantal terms. This will make it possible to engage not only Protestants, but also Jews, who share the covenantal roots of Abrahamic religion.
Q: In his first homily, Pope Benedict said, "The Eucharist, the heart of Christian life and the source of the evangelizing mission of the Church, cannot but be the permanent center and the source of the Petrine service entrusted to me." How might the centrality of the Eucharist play out in his papacy and ministry?
Hahn: The Eucharist is the place where the Church is most perfectly herself. The Church is the Kingdom of God on earth, and the Kingdom abides where the King reigns. Jesus' lasting presence with us is in the Eucharist. As vicar of Christ, Benedict is prime minister to the King of Kings, serving him first of all in the Eucharist.
The Church holds many treasures in common -- the Scriptures, Tradition, the magisterium, the saints. But it is in the liturgy that the Church is most perfectly herself.
And once we understand the liturgy as the heavenly liturgy, as Pope Benedict does, then we have become full, conscious and active citizens of the Kingdom. The heavenly liturgy becomes the norm that norms the other norms. It's our standard, our touchstone, our sustenance, our light -- as I said before, our source and our summit.
We'll see very soon how this plays out in his pontificate. The synod in October will conclude the Year of the Eucharist with a Churchwide reflection on the Eucharist. Watch for the themes I mentioned: the heavenly liturgy, the de-politicization of the liturgy, and the re-sacralization of the liturgy.
Scott Hahns The Lamb's Supper - The Mass as Heaven on Earth.
Foreword by Fr. Benedict Groeschel.
Part One - The Gift of the Mass
Hahn begins by describing the first mass he ever attended.
"There I stood, a man incognito, a Protestant minister in plainclothers, slipping into the back of a Catholic chapel in Milwaukee to witness my first Mass. Curiosity had driven me there, and I still didn't feel sure that it was healthy curiosity. Studying the writings of the earliest Christians, I'd found countless references to "the liturgy," "the Eucharist," "the sacrifice." For those first Christians, the Bible - the book I loved above all - was incomprehensible apart from the event that today's Catholics called "the Mass."
"I wanted to understand the early Christians; yet I'd had no experience of liturgy. So I persuaded myself to go and see, as a sort of academic exercise, but vowing all along that I would neither kneel nor take part in idolatry."
I took my seat in the shadows, in a pew at the very back of that basement chapel. Before me were a goodly number of worshipers, men and women of all ages. Their genuflections impressed me, as did their apparent concentration in prayer. Then a bell rang, and they all stood as the priest emerged from a door beside the altar.
Unsure of myself, I remained seated. For years, as an evangelical Calvinist, I'd been trained to believe that the Mass was the ultimate sacrilege a human could commit. The Mass, I had been taught, was a ritual that purported to "resacrifice Jesus Christ." So I would remain an observer. I would stay seated, with my Bible open beside me.
As the Mass moved on, however, something hit me. My Bible wasn't just beside me. It was before me - in the words of the Mass! One line was from Isaiah, another from Psalms, another from Paul. The experience was overwhelming. I wanted to stop everything and shout, "Hey, can I explain what's happening from Scripture? This is great!" Still, I maintained my observer status. I remained on the sidelines until I heard the priest pronounce the words of consecration: "This is My body . . . This is the cup of My blood."
Then I felt all my doubt drain away. As I saw the priest raise that white host, I felt a prayer surge from my heart in a whisper: "My Lord and my God. That's really you!"
I was what you might call a basket case from that point. I couldn't imagine a greater excitement than what those words had worked upon me. Yet the experience was intensified just a moment later, when I heard the congregation recite: "Lamb of God . . . Lamb of God . . . Lamb of God," and the priest respond, "This is the Lamb of God . . ." as he raised the host. In less than a minute, the phrase "Lamb of God" had rung out four times. From long years of studying the Bible, I immediately knew where I was. I was in the Book of Revelation, where Jesus is called the Lamb no less than twenty-eight times in twenty-two chapters. I was at the marriage feast that John describes at the end of that very last book of the Bible. I was before the throne of heaven, where Jesus is hailed forever as the Lamb. I wasn't ready for this, though - I was at Mass!
Thanks for the post, it was wonderful.
Great post, Hahn is a pretty good writer, and explains things well.
I bought a second copy to re-read and then give to an RCIA participant who is very bible-based. (I am leading RCIA at my deployed location - pray for us!).
It is such a treasure - and then-Cardinal Ratzinger is quoted several times by Hahn.
He tampts one to join an Eastern rite like you did!!!!
**I am leading RCIA at my deployed location - pray for us!).**
"The Eastern Churches are the Treasures of the Catholic Church" - Pope John XXIII
The Vatican II Council declared that "all should realize it is of supreme importance to understand, venerate, preserve, and foster the exceedingly rich liturgical and spiritual heritage of the Eastern churches, in order faithfully to preserve the fullness of Christian tradition" (Unitatis Redintegrato, 15). Pope John Paul II said that "the Catholic Church is both Eastern and Western."
Check your local community at the following link and look into attending an Eastern Catholic Liturgy (not to be confused with the Orthodox Church).
The Eastern Catholic Traditions retain the rich heritage of our church, without the "novelties" introduced into the Novus Ordo liturgy.
BTTT for Scott Hahn.
Prayers for your group now and always.