Skip to comments.Eucharist vs. the Word (which is more important in the Catholic Church)
Posted on 11/26/2008 4:35:17 PM PST by NYer
ROME, NOV. 11, 2008 (Zenit.org).- Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.
Q: Could you succinctly state the relationship between the importance of the Eucharist versus the Word of God in the liturgy of the Mass? I was on a Eucharistic retreat with a group of Catholics, when the leader of our group said that we as Catholics believe that the Word of God is as important as the Eucharist. I have always been taught that the Eucharist is the source and summit of our faith, but after she said this I did some research into adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and the Word of God, and it seemed that there was more than a little validity to her statement since the "Word was made flesh and dwelt amongst us" ... and God speaks to us though his inspired Word, etc. Please clarify this. -- N.C., Cleveland, Ohio
A: I would like to begin this answer by recalling a conversation I had during my seminary years with an elderly Catholic layman while on vacation in upstate New York. This wise gentleman, of Lithuanian descent, rented canoes in the Adirondacks and often dealt with evangelical Christians who tried to win him over by saying they had the Good Book. He replied that as a Catholic he not only had the Book but moreover frequently met the Author.
Although one might discuss the theological precision of the anecdote, it does reflect a fundamental truth with respect to the different forms in which Christ is present to us. God certainly speaks to us through his inspired Word, and the Church teaches that he is present when the Scriptures are read. This presence, however, as Pope Paul VI teaches in his encyclical "Mysterium Fidei" is a real but transitory presence enduring while the liturgical reading lasts. It is, therefore, not of the same class as the substantial real presence found in the Eucharist.
From another angle we can also consider how Scripture is fulfilled in Eucharistic worship.
"The Word was made flesh and dwelt amongst us" this is the foundation of our faith. However, the same Word who took flesh in Mary's womb, who died, rose and ascended, is the same one who said, "This is my body … this is my blood," and is thus present body, soul and divinity under the species of bread and wine. In every Eucharistic celebration the entire mystery of Christ from the incarnation to the ascension is truly made present anew, albeit under the veil of sign and symbol.
From this perspective the Eucharist is thus "more important" than Scripture because Scripture's ultimate goal is to lead us to union with Christ through full participation in the Mass. The Mass is a sharing in the worship which the Incarnate Word offers to the Father in the Holy Spirit.
Yet, from a different perspective and precisely in the context of the Mass, the question as to the relative importance of Scripture vis-[-vis the Eucharist is relatively meaningless.
In every Mass we are like the disciples going to Emmaus, except we already know that Christ is present among us. Like them, our hearts should burn as we listen to Moses, the prophets and the New Covenant as they speak about Christ. At the same time we are aware that in the end we will recognize him only in the breaking of bread.
Therefore it is not a question of the superiority of one over the other but of an inseparable interrelationship and ordering of one toward the other. Precisely because Scripture is ordered toward Eucharistic worship, the celebration's external form necessarily follows the road to Emmaus. All the historical evidence available shows us that the celebration of the Word and the Eucharist have always formed a single act of worship. Likewise, Scripture is so intimately intertwined within the fabric of every single prayer that we can say that without Scripture there could be no Catholic liturgy.
Conversely, and from a historical perspective it is also partially true that without liturgy there would be no Scripture, for one of the major criteria for determining which books eventually made it into the biblical canon was whether the book was read in the liturgical assembly.
Therefore the contraposition of Word and Eucharist does not correspond to an authentically Catholic vision of their intimate relationship.
It is true that, historically, Catholics have not been assiduous Bible readers. During the greatest part of the Church's existence books were a luxury few could read and fewer could afford. The lack of direct Bible reading did not mean that there was total biblical illiteracy. Most Christians were imbued with biblical salvation history through church decorations in painting, sculpture and stained glass. The huge reredos enshrining the high altars of many cathedrals harmoniously wove in the stories of Genesis, kings, prophets, Jesus' ancestry and the principal events of the New Testament, while centering everything on the sacrifice of the altar. In this way they provided a visible scriptural background to Catholic worship.
In today's changed circumstances the Church actively encourages all Catholics to possess, read and meditate on the Good Book, while not forgetting to make frequent visits to the Author.
* * *
Follow-up: Missing or Faulty Forms of Absolution
In the wake of our Oct. 28 discussion of a priest not using a valid form of absolution, some readers suggested that I should have also dealt with the case where absolution is denied due to some defect or impediment on the part of the penitent.
Actually, in my earlier reply I deliberately omitted this very complex subject as it would have taken me away from the immediate question. I preferred to limit myself to the question at hand because it was clearly a case of lack of proper sacramental form by the priest and did not concern his being obliged to deny absolution.
It is, however, important to remember that there are times when a priest must necessarily deny absolution. This would be the case, for example, if it is clear that the penitent lacks contrition or is subject to excommunication or some similar censure. In such cases, the priest must, in conscience, inform the penitent why he is unable to grant absolution, and then tell the penitent what he or she needs to do to be absolved.
It would be a grave injustice toward God, the Church and the penitent himself to lead him to believe he has received absolution when in fact it could not be granted. If the priest also simulates the form of absolution while not actually giving it, then he commits a grave fault.
A reader from Singapore asked what the minimal formula for absolution was. St. Thomas Aquinas and the majority of classical theology manuals held that the nucleus of the formula was the expression "I absolve you." A few also sustained that the words "from your sins" were also necessary. All agreed that the Trinitarian invocation and the other prayers were not required for validity but were necessary for the sacrament's licit celebration in non-emergency situations.
Something similar could be said for elderly priests who never learned the new formula of absolution. Any absolution formula that was once officially approved would certainly be valid. They would probably also be licit if never formally abrogated.
* * *
Let me say this. Jesus is the Word made flesh. The Eucharist is Jesus in the Flesh. They are inseperable. I was taught to think of Scripture, the Eucharist and Tradition as a 3 legged stool. All three have a unified role in our Faith. In this fashion, none would be able to stand without the others. The 3 legs are also representative in the Trinity. You cannot ask who is most important in the Trinity, all are one, yet 3. Same answer goes for the question you pose. Love how God works in 3’s and 7’s :)
Jesus is the Word. The Bible is not the Word. It is an account of the Word.
It’s not “either or”, but “both and”.
We have a winner. You can stop there.
itz amazing that folks dont get this simple truth of the word and the mass....
I wonder why the wine part (blood) is not adored as well? Maybe it is that it can not be put in a Monstrance and that also has a long history with Adoration and Processions.
The Latin Mass was a tissue of Scripture reading, from beginning to end, with its dramatic climax in Communion. It was divided into two parts: the Mass of Catacumens and the Mass of the Faithful, the old OCC. The first part was an instruction in the holy mysteries’ the second participation. The new form has had the unfortunately effect of deemphasizing the mystery simply because formally the separation between the two is so apparent. The integrity of the two parts of the Old mass was especially obvious when said without a homily.
The new mass, unfortunately, seems chopped up into many parts. This is not helped by the usual music which seems to have no relationship to the actions
of the priest and just fills in the gaps when nothing is being said.
“The Latin Mass was a tissue of Scripture reading, from beginning to end, with its dramatic climax in Communion. It was divided into two parts: the Mass of Catacumens and the Mass of the Faithful, the old OCC. The first part was an instruction in the holy mysteries the second participation.”
As the Divine Liturgies of Orthodoxy and Oriental Orthodoxy are to this day. The distinctions made in this article ring hollow to Orthodox ears; the question wouldn’t come up in Orthodoxy. Sometimes I think the West, in the past 40 years or so, set aside our shared Ignatian Eucharistic theology and forgot that we are, very findamentally, a liturgical people, gathered together with our bishops at the Liturgy and focused on Christ in the Eucharist.
The mass today, at least as it is sometimes celebrated, reminds me that in Geneva, John Calvin developed a service in two parts, that one devoted to the reading of the Word, to the singing of Psalms and preaching. The second was a service of the Lord’s Supper. He would have preeffred that both be done each Sunday, but his colleagues disagreed, and the first became the normal Sunday service. Luther retained something like the mass, and it seems that the liturgical reformers had something like his service in mind when they composed the New Mass.
“The mass today, at least as it is sometimes celebrated, reminds me that in Geneva, John Calvin developed a service in two parts, that one devoted to the reading of the Word, to the singing of Psalms and preaching. The second was a service of the Lords Supper. He would have preeffred that both be done each Sunday, but his colleagues disagreed, and the first became the normal Sunday service.”
Now there’s a piece of liturgical history I never knew. Thanks!
Equal parts of the Mass.
That's what your church teaches you anyway...They have to elevate their man-made traditions to the level of authority as the spoken words of God...
The word of God is NOT just an account of God...There is POWER in the words of God which are the scriptures...Power that your church doesn't have when it goes outside the scriptures...
I don’t think you have the Traditions to say such!
“I dont think you have the Traditions to say such!”
Consider the following...
“...Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down...”
Jesus, Mark 7:13
A priest told me I could not receive communion at any Mass where I did not hear the readings. This seems to substantiate the importance of the scripture.
Ping for reference
Related thread: Synod: Christianity not a 'Religion of the Book'
In our language, we shouldnt fall into the ambivalent expression the three religions of the Book, Fisichella said, referring to Christianity, Judaism and Islam. Instead, he insisted, Christianity is properly understood as a religion of the Word.
1 Cor 11:2 - hold fast to traditions I handed on to you
2 Thess 2:15 - hold fast to traditions, whether oral or by letter
2 Thess 3:6 - shun those acting not according to tradition
Jn 21:25 - And there are also many other things which Jesus did, which if they were written in detail, I suppose that even the world itself would not contain the books that would be written.
Mk 13:31 - heaven & earth shall pass away, but my word won't
Acts 20;35 - Paul records a saying of Jesus not found in gospels
2Tim 1:13 - follow my sound words; guard the truth
2Tim2:2 - what you heard entrust to faithful men
2Pet 1:20 - no prophecy is a matter of private interpretation
2Pet 3:15-16 - Paul's letters can be difficult to grasp & interpret
1Pet 1:25 - God's eternal word = word preached to you
Rom 10:17 - faith come from what is heard
1Cor 15:1-2 - being saved if you hold fast to the word I preached
Mk 16:15 - go to the whole world, proclaim gospel to every creature
Mt 23:2-3 - chair of Moses; observe whatever they tell you
...Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down...
Jesus, Mark 7:13
By virtue of its divinely-appointed authority (Matt. 16:19; 18:18), the Catholic Church determined the canon of Scripture (what books belong in the Bible) at the end of the fourth century. We therefore believe in the Scriptures on the authority of the Catholic Church. After all, nothing in Scripture tells us what Scriptures are inspired, what books belong in the Bible, or that Scripture is the final authority on questions concerning the Christian faith. Instead, the Bible says that the Church, not the Scriptures, is the pinnacle and foundation of the truth (1 Tim. 3:15) and the final arbiter on questions of the Christian faith (Matt. 18:17). It is through the teaching authority and Apostolic Tradition (2 Thess. 2:15; 3:6; 1 Cor. 11:2) of this Church, who is guided by the Holy Spirit (John 14:16,26; 16:13), that we know of the divine inspiration of the Scriptures, and the manifold wisdom of God. (cf. Ephesians 3:10).
Non-Catholic christian churches also follow tradition. During the Reformation, the Protestants accepted the New Testament as defined by the Catholic Church in the late 4th century but excluded 7 OT books. What is that if not a man made tradition? According to the quote from the Book of Mark, you are suggesting that Protestants nullified the word of God. This is a good example of why private interpretation of the Bible is not condoned in the Bible Itself (2 Peter 1:20).