Eucharist in Contemporary Catholic Tradition
EUCHARIST IN CONTEMPORARY CATHOLIC TRADITION
The purpose of this article is not to give a detailed presentation of the history or of the theology of the Eucharist, but to give an overview of directions and trends in Catholic theology in recent years.
Fresh insights and orientations have come from a variety of sources. To begin with, there was the liturgical renewal, starting with the more active participation of congregations and more frequent Communion, and then
moving on to the revision of liturgical books for use in the celebration of the Eucharist. A simultaneous revision took place in many of the Christian Churches of the West. While bringing about considerable liturgical convergence in the manner of celebrating, this went hand-in-hand with an ecumenical dialogue that has gone a long way in resolving historical disputes and unveiling common points of faith and doctrine, even while pointing to the legitimacy of differences, especially over concepts of sacrifice and presence. This meeting of the ways in western communities itself occurs within an openness to the eucharistic traditions of the East.
Dialogue and theological inquiry are, in turn, served by greater historical consciousness, a better knowledge of ancient liturgical rites and prayers, and an appeal to scriptural origins that is affected by historical and literary criticism. Past doctrinal and theological formulations of the mystery of the Eucharist in the Church's tradition are also subjected to historical criticism and can, thus, be reconsidered and assimilated within a larger comprehension, opened up by scriptural, patristic and liturgical research. Catechetically, too, there have been new approaches, especially in putting the mystery of the Eucharist in the context of the mystery of the Church, the Body of Christ and in relating it to the mystery of the Trinity [see church, ii (theology of)].
From a historical perspective, it is sometimes said that in the first millennium eucharistic theology was wedded to celebration and in the second became a speculative enterprise that lost touch with celebration. Granting a certain validity to this observation, it is to be noted that even the speculative questions about presence and sacrifice that dominated, first scholastic theology and then post-tridentine, were related to an evolving eucharistic practice that had developed before the theology or the doctrine and which included eucharistic devotions and a new manner of hearing Mass for the faithful. Theology, in other words, took a new turn in the wake of changed liturgical and devotional practice. Not even doctrine or speculative theology, therefore, can be properly understood and interpreted unless seen in the context of ecclesial practice. If contemporary eucharistic theology is often related to a historically critical approach to scriptural reconstruction, to ritual studies, to the study of language, to the study of cultures, or to hermeneutics, this too is because of the need to understand and guide a currently developing practice of eucharistic celebration that shows both convergences and diversities, not only among Churches but within each particular Church.
Taking all of this into account, one could speak of a new orientation in eucharistic theology that can be called doing liturgical theology. This is because the focus is on celebration and on its interpretation within the living and richly diverse tradition of the Church. It is within liturgical theology that history, practice, doctrine, the study of rites and texts, and theological elaboration, come together. One might also speak of this as a hermeneutical approach, since it attends to the Eucharist as an event of God's gift in Christ, a gift that comes to the Church and embodies itself in the Church through an act of "language," that is, through ritual action and spoken word.
With the foregoing in view, a summary of new insights from a variety of fields of eucharistic study will be given under these headings: (1) Eucharist, sacrament of the Body of Christ; (2) Revisiting New Testament origins and background; (3) Eucharistic theology as a liturgical mystagogy, and the study of the Great Eucharistic Prayer; (4) The study of controversies, doctrines and past theologies of the West in historical context; and (5) Orientations in contemporary systematic theologies of the Eucharist.
Eucharist, Sacrament of the Body of Christ
By way of stating a common fundamental principle, one could say that a contemporary liturgical theology looks to the Eucharist as the Sacrament of the Body of Christ, Head and members. This plays a part in historical study and in theological and liturgical revision, which is why it is here considered at the outset. Rather than ask only what Christ does in the eucharistic action, or how his body and blood are present, these questions are put
in the larger context of the mystery of the Church as the Body of Christ. This vision is aided by a retrieval of the early Christian vocabulary of mystérion and sacramentum. Both terms, one Greek and Eastern, the other Latin and Western, derive from the text of the New Testament where they are used in the original language or in translation, to express the divine counsel and action in bringing about the salvation of humankind through the sending of the Son and the Spirit (e.g. Rom 16.25–26; Eph 2.2–3; 3.9). This mystery originates within the Godhead and is ultimately ineffable, but it is manifested in time in visible and symbolic form, beginning with the history of the salvation of Israel and culminating in the incarnation of the Son and the mysteries of his flesh. If the terms are applied in a particular way to the Church's eucharistic celebration in which it keeps memorial of Jesus Christ, this is because in this celebration the mystery is embodied in ritual form at the heart of the Church.
This means that while the Church lives from the life of Christ and the Spirit that come to it through many channels, it expresses its own life and mystery most aptly and most fully in the celebration of the Eucharist. The Eucharist, in turn, is best appreciated when seen as the Sacrament of the Church, Body of Christ. While the eucharistic action includes proclamation, prayers and diverse rituals, its truth was expressed in early Christian centuries through a focus on that which is most central to its purpose, namely on the eating and drinking with thanksgiving at the common table where is received the gift of the Body and Blood of Christ (see sacramental theology).
Contemporary theology points to a number of implications of this vocabulary of mystery and sacrament. Gathering for the Eucharist is an act of the local Church, wherein all members of the community come together. This embodiment of Christ's mystery is essentially domestic
in the character of its ritual rather than sacerdotal. More than a general relation of Eucharist to Church, it is the relation to the local Church that emerges so that a universal communion in Christ is necessarily related to a communion between such eucharistic Churches.
Seen as a gathering and as the mystery of the local Church, the Eucharist is linked to the fellowship of the Church as lived out in practical detail and especially its diakonia, that is to its service of the needy in its midst. It also embraces the Church's appeal to a living apostolic tradition, its testimony to the word of God, the testimony of its martyrs, the communion of the living with the dead who have died in the faith of Christ and often fortified by the viaticum of the sacrament of his Body and Blood. It is related, too, to its travails and its hopes as its members live their earthly pilgrimage in the hope of a divine consummation.
Today, anthropological and ritual studies serve a further appreciation of the symbolism of the bread and wine which expresses the mystery of its communion in Christ. These studies probe the symbolism of meals among peoples, of sharing a common table, and of the bread and wine which are blessed and shared with an invocation of the divinity. Taking a point of departure in ritual, they also enable theology to relate the mystery of the Eucharist, the turns in its celebration and its meaning of life in Christ, to cultural, social and economic realities, and to the place within change of an evocation of past memories and of a people's foundational myths. Placed within this context, the mystery of Christ's embodiment through sacrament and in the body of his Church, is located within the contours of culture and ongoing history.
Revisiting New Testament Origins
In one way or another, the Church in its liturgy, doctrine and theology has regularly taken the Supper Narrative as found in the Synoptics and Saint Paul to be the foundational narrative for eucharistic celebration, especially because of the memorial command. At times this was considered as though one could work chronologically from those texts to trace the development of the Eucharist in the early Church. The first move to a more circumspect approach was occasioned by the influence on the reading of the Scriptures of a historical critical approach. A more hermeneutical approach has now emerged which is more focused on the plot and meaning of the texts and which considers how the memory of the Last Supper is assimilated into the lived memory of diverse Churches, in diverse cultural and historical times.
From Lord's Supper to Last Supper. Scriptural scholars increasingly pointed out that the story as it stands in the New Testament text was much influenced by the practice of the Lord's Supper. This meant the common meals of remembrance at which the faithful came together and in which Christ's death and resurrection were recalled, inclusive of a remembrance of his Last Supper with his disciples on the eve before he was betrayed. These meals were seen, however, to represent a certain diversity from one Church to another and to fit within a larger compass of meal sharing.
Thus consideration of the scriptural roots of the Eucharist took in a larger compass in order to find the right setting in which to place the Supper Narrative. There is what we know of the practice of early communities in keeping memorial of the Lord as they shared the common loaf and the common cup in his name. There are the accounts of the meals of Jesus with others, during his public ministry and after the resurrection, and of the feeding of the crowds, which show that the actions and words of the Last Supper have their setting within Jesus' own continuing relation to sharing a table and to feeding others. Recently, some writers have also drawn attention to the need to relate the narratives of the table action of Jesus on the night before he was betrayed to the account in John's Gospel of the washing of the feet and the love commandment. This Gospel locates these words and action on that same evening of farewell and presents them as another way of expressing the testimony which Jesus, in showing himself in the guise of a servant, left to his disciples.
The Last Supper. In the middle of this attention to other texts, the efforts to reconstruct the events of the Last Supper have not been wanting. The concern to find an accurate historical reconstruction is grounded in a desire to discern the mind and the will of Jesus since discovering this is thought by some to be necessary to the meaning of the Eucharist.
In reconstructing the action, words and significance of the Last Supper, with its memorial command, the usual approach is to relate what was done there to its Jewish setting, of Passover and of table ritual. In general, the meaning of table ritual comes from knowledge of meal practice with its memorial narratives, its blessing prayer, its invocations of memorial commands, and the symbolism of the food and drink that are shared. More particularly, efforts to show that the meal shared by Jesus with his disciples was a Paschal Seder are numerous, just as are the counter efforts. Much of the difficulty of this question lies in a deeper difficulty, that is, the little that is known in a clear way of the seder at the time of Jesus.
Certainty about such reconstruction, however, is probably impossible. The effort is surmounted by the hermeneutical turn of theology, that is by the realization that the religious significance of the story of the origins of the Church's Eucharist lies in the story itself, not in its historical reconstruction. That is not to say that historical criticism bears no fruit, but this fruit is found in what it shows us of the context for the meaning of the story. Turning to the narrative as narrative, it is clear that the New Testament accounts present the table action as an event which took place at Passover and as a paschal thanksgiving meal which Jesus shares with his disciples in anticipation of his death. They do not allow us to settle the exact order of the meal as Jesus and his followers celebrated it, but they do reveal the reason for the Passover setting. This is meant both to underscore the paschal significance of Jesus' death as evoked in his words and blessing prayer, and to root the Eucharist of the Church in this meal by way of bringing out its memorial and paschal character.
Memorial command and action. According to one recension of the Supper Narrative, Jesus gave the memorial command at the end of the meal, when he had completed the action with both loaf and cup (Mt 26.26–29). According to another (1 Cor 11.23–26), he gave the command twice, repeating it after each action. There are many examples in Jewish history of feasts kept and meals shared in virtue of a divine command to keep memorial and this provides the background to the memorial command given by Jesus to his disciples. Memorial is done in obedience to God's command, and it is this which gives it its place and power in the life of a community. It is inherent to covenant, a sign of God's fidelity and of the people's fidelity at one and the same time. Finally the actions of table memorial, of which the Paschal Seder is the primary example, combine the gathering of a community that finds identity in the action, narrative, blessing prayer and the ritual action of shared food and drink. Critics rightly point to the departures of Christian Eucharist from Jewish meal services, but this does not derogate from the fact that its true meaning is served by a constant attention to the interaction of the four elements mentioned.
Sacrifice. Attention to Semitic thought-patterns and practices also give us insight into the attachment of sacrificial language both to the death of Jesus and to the celebration kept in his memorial. In giving the bread and cup to his disciples, Jesus is reported to have used abundant sacrificial imagery in speaking of his death, as he had done also at other times. This evokes many strands in the cultic and historical past of Israel. Among the sacrifices recalled are those of the paschal lamb, the sealing of the covenant at Sinai, the levitical peace-offerings and the metaphoric attribution of sacrifice to the suffering of the Servant commemorated in the Servant Songs of the Book of Isaiah. The fact that such language is evoked at a meal also reminds us of the importance of Communion sacrifice and of the presence among the Jewish people at Jesus' time of those who located true sacrifice in obedience to God's commands, in fellowship and in songs of praise, distancing themselves to some extent in this from the importance given to temple sacrifice. All of this points to the rich and polyvalent significance of the use of sacrificial language which Christians inherited from Jews and which they in turn applied to the death of Jesus, to life lived according to the Gospel, to songs of praise and to their memorial of the death of Jesus at the common table. No narrow definition of sacrifice is possible, but the rich polyvalence of practice and language is pertinent to what is said of Jesus' death and of the memorial supper of Christians.
It is as difficult to reconstruct the origins and development of the practices of Christian Eucharist as it is to reconstruct the historical facts of the Last Supper. However, we have the written and archeological evidence in hand of Christian celebrations dating over several centuries. We also have evidence in writers such as irenaeus of lyons, ambrose and augustine, cyril of jerusalem, theodore of mopsuestia and john chrysostom that eucharistic theology was developed as a reflection on the words and rites of the liturgical celebration.
Writers today attempt, for their part, either to appropriate this theology or to embark themselves on a reflection that takes its point of departure in rites and texts as these are now known to us from historical research and textual reconstruction. In following this mystagogical line of exposition, authors since early in the 20th century have pointed to the primacy of the sacramental Communion in the body and blood of Christ, noting that the center or focus of the Eucharist is there and not in the words of consecration. In conjunction with this, given the possibilities offered by textual research, liturgical theology includes the analysis of the rich variety of eucharistic prayers from a number of traditions which are now in hand. It is noted that the significance of the prayer comes out only when it is taken as a blessing prayer over food and drink to be shared, and that the meaning of the Communion rite is enriched by knowledge of the eucharistic prayer.
Communion. The mystérion or sacramentum is located essentially in sacramental Communion, as has been noted above. In other words, the action is of its very nature a communion in the body and blood of Christ, in commemoration of his passion and resurrection and in hope of a part in his now immortal life. The meaning is captured for all time by justin martyr:
We call this food the Eucharist …. Not as common bread or as common drink do we receive these, but just as through the word of God, Jesus Christ, our Saviour, became incarnate and took on flesh and blood for our salvation, so … the food over which we give thanks has been given by the prayer of his word, and which nourishes our flesh and blood by assimilation, is both the flesh and blood of that incarnate Jesus (Apologia I.66.2: PG 6,428).
Eucharistic Prayer. The text just quoted links the Communion to the "prayer of his word," to the giving of thanks over the food. It is to this that much study and reflection is now given.
The great thanksgiving prayer, also known as the anaphora, in its many different forms as known from different Church traditions, provides a rich theology of the Eucharist, as well as of the death and resurrection of Christ, of creation, of salvation history and of the Church. There have been many studies which attempt to reconstruct its early genesis, as well as comparative studies that work within the diversity of texts that have come down to us. The best collection of texts, though by no means complete, remains that of Anton Hänggi and Irmard Pahl, Prex Eucharistica as noted below in the bibliography. The most complete analysis of texts is the 1966–68 study of Louis Bouyer, though it has been greatly completed in the intervening years by way of studies of particular texts or traditions.
The genesis of the prayer is still a matter of conjecture, especially in its relation to Jewish blessing prayers. This may be another impossible quest. In the prayers now known to us from early centuries the structure is not always identical or strictly uniform but as a genre the anaphora combines praise, thanksgiving and intercession. Though it may not have been there from the very beginning, as traditions were consolidated the Last Supper account, with its memorial command, was placed at the heart of most prayers. Sometimes it is inserted into the prayer's thanksgiving and sometimes, as in the Roman Canon or the Liturgy of Mark, into its intercessions. The reason for the inclusion of the narrative has been clarified through structural studies of the prayer's composition. While Latin theology for a long time held the contrary, it seems that it was introduced into an already constituted prayer. Its purpose is not to give the words of Jesus a power in changing the bread and wine but to highlight the memorial command and the action of Jesus at the Last Supper as that to which eucharistic celebration looks back as foundation. To express this, what is said is that the supper narrative appears in the prayer as an embolism which gives warrant to the eucharistic action by recalling Jesus's memorial command. The sacramental efficacy of the prayer does not, therefore, come from a repetition of Jesus' words but from its inner nature as a memorial prayer.
Textual reconstruction provides only a few texts from the earliest Christian centuries, and it shows them to be very simple in structure, following quite closely the structure of Jewish blessing prayers at meals or in synagogue. Later developments of the prayer habitually included parts that are known as the anamnesis and the epiclesis, and these are fraught with theological significance. The first is an avowal that in sharing the bread and wine with thanksgiving, the Church is keeping memory of Christ's death, resurrection and ascension, in anticipation of his promised second coming. The second is an invocation that asks for the sending of the Holy Spirit that the prayer and action of the Church may be sacramentally and spiritually efficacious. As insertions into the early simple structure of the blessing prayer, these two sections act as a kind of poetic but theological explicitation of the meaning of Eucharist.
anamnesis and epiclesis together relate the mystery commemorated to the time of the community that gathers, but always in eschatological anticipation. The present time, or presence in time, of those gathered is expressed most strongly in its bodily ritual, which refer it to daily time, to historical time and to cosmic time. The prayer allows the time of Christ to enter this time, as it brings it in turn into the time of Christ. Within the ordinary time of a community, the Pasch occurs sacramentally as a kind of irruption, Christ adventing anew to change the very direction of living by pointing it to the anticipation of the fullness of what has been anticipated and promised through the cross and resurrection.
One cannot look only to that section of the prayer called anamnesis to see how the mystery of Christ is commemorated. Since it is a later addition to the prayer, it is quite succinct and is usually a brief elenchus of the major moments of Christ's Pasch, such as in the Anaphora of John Chrysostom "all the things that were done for us: the cross, the tomb, the resurrection on the third day, the ascension into heaven, the session at the right hand, the second and glorious coming." In the thanksgiving section of the prayers there is a rich variety of metaphors to express the mystery of Christ. For example, the Anaphora of Basil recalls the mystery as the mystery of the kenosis of the Son, while the Anaphora of Addai and Mari posits redemption in the act itself of incarnation for in taking on flesh the Word restored creation, ready though he had to be to endure suffering and death. The prayers of the Alexandrine and Roman liturgies are more explicit in speaking of the sacrifice of Christ, though the sense of this is caught only by evoking the rich variety of Old Testament types, namely the Paschal Lamb, and the sacrifices of Abel, Abraham and Melchizedek. The thanksgiving also provides communities the opportunity to enlarge on what is commemorated by relating the memorial of Christ to the remembrance of creation and God's deeds as recounted in the Old Testament.
The intercessions express the truth of the Communion celebrated, remembering all who in one way or another are gathered into the sacramental commemoration and communion of the mystery of Christ and his Church. The earliest intercession (in the Didache ) was simply a prayer for the Church that it may be true to its eschatological call. This was expanded to a naming of many persons, or groups of persons, living and dead, all of whom are remembered at the altar because all are one with the Church that makes memorial.
Sacrifice. It is within eucharistic prayers too that a development of sacrificial language is to be found. The Roman Canon is couched primarily in terms of sacrifice, but all texts, east and west, include some sacrificial language. In the first place, the eucharistic prayer is itself a sacrifice of thanksgiving offered by the Church. In the second place, the gifts of bread and wine, the offerings brought for the life of the community and for the poor, are rendered sacrificial by the inclusion of their offering in the prayer. In the third place, through this eucharistic commemoration of the sacrifice of Christ and through the sharing in his body and blood, the Church is taken into the sacrifice of Christ so that in this sacramental action it is shown forth as itself a living sacrifice and a royal priesthood. For these reasons and in these multiple ways, the Eucharist, as such, came to be called a sacrifice. To highlight that the whole action is done as a memorial of Christ's sacrifice and as a participation in it, it was called the sacramental representation of Christ's own sacrifice. As a result it came about in later times that when the Eucharist was called a sacrifice, this was taken to mean that it is the sacrifice of Christ himself, now however sacramentally offered as it was offered once and for all in the flesh upon the Cross. The full significance of such a theology is clear, however, only in the context of the other uses of sacrificial language within the eucharistic prayers of the Church.
As a result of attention to this liturgical history, and as a result of attention to the mystagogical catechesis of the Fathers of the Church, contemporary writers have retrieved the vocabulary of mystery, sacrament, memorial, anamnesis and epiclesis in elaborating theologies that depart from the rigorously definitional vocabulary of scholastic and of manual theologies. This kind of language too has been taken up in ecumenical dialogues as a way of overcoming past controversies within a retrieval of the larger tradition.
Receiving Past Doctrines and Theologies
For a long time, Catholic doctrine and theology were dominated by the concern with presence and sacrifice, while Protestant theology was dominated by a theology of the Word and its proclamation. What these systems meant then, and what they mean now, can be understood only by placing them in their proper historical context, seeing them as integral to the attempt to express eucharistic faith in the midst of controversies and disputes.
Three historical moments in the development of eucharistic thought are here addressed. The first is that of scholastic theology as the systematic resolution of disputes over the truth of Christ's presence in the sacrament that had gone on for some centuries. The second is that of the failed attempt to forge union between East and West at the Council of florence. The third is that of the 16th-century disputes between Reformers and the Roman Church, with their corresponding formulations of doctrine.
Scholasticism in context. At two different moments of its development, scholastic theology formulated explanations of Christ's eucharistic presence and of the commemoration of Christ's sacrifice that have prevailed in Catholic doctrine and theology until the present. The teaching on Christ's eucharistic presence reached its zenith in the theology and doctrine of transubstantiation of high scholasticism. The teaching on the sacrifice of the Mass owed its final formulation largely to later scholasticism, as is expounded on the practice of the Mass, almost on the eve of the Protestant reformation.
Presence. To understand scholastic thought on Christ's presence in the sacrament, one has to take account of several of its concerns. The first was to meet practical questions such as those that arose from eucharistic devotion and Mass offerings and which had been highlighted by discussions over the manner of Christ's presence. The second was to meet new currents of philosophical thought, especially those marked by the retrieval of the texts of Aristotle. The third was to provide a systematic or scientific presentation as required by the standards of learning at the new universities, and one that would harmonize faith and reason in the presentation of the eucharistic sacrament.
These disputes date back to the ninth-century divergence between the monks ratramnus and paschasius radbertus and reached some kind of peak in the 11th century-opposition to the ideas of Berengar of Tours. Leaving a presentation of these controversies to others, the issues of scholastic theology may be best understood by seeing what were the questions that were asked when these issues arose.
From the time of Radbertus and Ratramnus, we can list three distinct questions: (a) what do communicants receive under the sign of the bread and wine; (b) how do the faithful participate in the mystery of Christ's passion, in sign and in truth or reality; (c) what is offered in the eucharistic sacrifice. The point that divided Ratramnus and Radbertus had to do with communion in the mystery of Christ's passion and communion in the Church, the body of Christ. The issue on which they divided was that of the relation of the sacrament and of what was received to the historical reality of Jesus. Ratramnus wished to stress that the mystery has to do with the communion between Christ and his members in the Eucharist that followed when his earthly or "historical" body had been transformed through the resurrection and now enjoys a glorified state of existence. This body cannot be present on earth as was the body in which he was born, lived and died, but whatever is said about the presence of Christ in the Eucharist has to be related to his communion with the Church as his Body.
Radbertus for his part was also primarily concerned with communion through the Eucharist in the mystery of the passion. In the first place, he said that the passion is present in sign (in signo ) and in mystery (in mysterio ) so that all could partake of its fruits and join with Christ in the spiritual offerings through which they imitate it. On the presence of Christ's body, he said that it was present in sign and in reality (in veritate ). He wished to stress that what is present in the sacrament is indeed the same body in which Christ was born, lived, suffered and died, so that communicants are united with him in the mystery of his passion through communion with this body, in sign and in reality. To stress this reality, he failed to attend to the implications for presence of the glorification and transformation of Christ's body through the resurrection and so to the specific sacramental modality of this presence.
In the debate between berengar and lanfranc (et alii) there was a twofold practical issue: (a) how do the faithful have communion in the passion of Christ, through the bread and wine, and (b) what reverence is to be shown to the reserved sacrament and how may it be itself the object of cult. This latter question sprang from the emergence, at first within the liturgy and later also outside it, of various devotions surrounding the Sacrament, when it was treated in much the same fashion as the relics of the Cross of Calvary and the relics of saints.
Berengar, citing Augustine, stressed that Christ is present in the Sacrament through sign so that all explanation has to be related to what the sign signifies. However, he posed the question in terms of the disjunction: aut in signo aut in veritate (either in sign or in reality), without any third term. He thought that he could use the newly discovered logic of Aristotle to affirm that reality follows appearance, so that what appears is what is present. Hence, in the sacrament of the Eucharist, both the bread and the passion of Christ in which communicants share, are present, the former because of the appearances, the latter because of the sign value, to which Berengar attributed some, unspecified, reality other than subjective.
Whatever Berengar's intentions, he was understood to say that bread and wine are present in reality, and the body and passion of Christ in sign only, even though the sign offers a real communion with Christ in his passion. In response, Lanfranc suggested that some difference can be made between primary substance and secondary substance to explain how bread could appear and serve as sign, not however being present in its primary substance of food, and the body of Christ could be present in its primary substance, but not in its secondary substance of corporeal attributes or appearances.
Apart from these disputes a third element that had to be taken into account by scholastic theology was the inclusion of an article on transubstantiation in the profession of faith imposed by the Fourth lateran council (a.d. 1215) on the albigensians (DS 802). What was at issue in the profession was the power of the priest to consecrate bread and wine, changing them into the body and blood of Christ. To define this active agency, the Council used the word transubstantiate, which was later taken by scholastic theology to indicate the manner whereby Christ becomes present in the Eucharist and not only the fact of that presence.
In discussing the presence of Christ in the Eucharist, scholastic theologians from peter lombard onward did not concern themselves much with eucharistic devotions. Their intention was rather to uphold the truth or reality of the gift of Christ's body (and blood if the chalice was still given) in sacramental Communion, as this was expressed in the words "this is my body" and "this is my blood." Their answers to this could of course then be used in relation to his presence when the Sacrament was reserved or used in diverse forms of cult. What needed to be avoided was either a crude physicalism or a reduction of the Sacrament to a sign with referent but no inner reality.
It is important to note that the theories of presence were put in the broader context of the meaning of the Sacrament. By and large, the reason given for the institution of the Sacrament at the Last Supper was twofold: (a) communion with Christ in his passion /transitus /Pasch /sacrifice in faith and loving devotion through the Church's remembrance of the mystery and anticipation of its fulfillment; (b) the communion of the Church as one body in Christ, a communion of faith and charity. In this vein, the fruits of sacramental participation were said to be spiritual nourishment and increase of faith in the passion, communion in love, protection against sin, and the building up of the Church as a community in love.
Explanations of Christ's presence and of the manner in which the bread and wine were changed were couched in ways that showed an appreciation of workings of sign and signification, with due attention given to the reality which appears and is given through the sign. thomas aquinas was the one who most deeply appropriated the philosophy of Aristotle in explaining the relation between sign, cause and reality, but the concern mentioned is found generally among scholastic writers. What happened, however, was that the larger biblical signification of the paschal background, of the gift of food and drink and of the common table was gradually lost to view. Even though this was still evoked in the Summa theologiae of Thomas (III, Q. 73), when he came to the question of meaning and referent he looked solely to the words of Jesus in giving the bread and wine to the apostles (III, Q.75).
Since these words were taken to point to Christ's body and blood as distinct material realities, what was sought was a philosophical analogy that would allow for the particularity of this unique sacramental presence and the reality of the gift offered to those who approach in faith. In keeping with the use of logic asserted by Berengar, Thomas said that in logic one has to assert a spiritual, not a physical presence, since Christ is physically present in heaven and by all evidence of the senses clearly not physically present in the Eucharist. On the other hand, logic, that is, the meaning of words and sentences in context, is the first and basic indication of what is being offered in this Sacrament, which is truly the body and blood of Christ. The logic of these words points directly to the body and the blood as such, but in virtue of the logic of concomitance, where the body is present, the whole Christ is present, body and blood, soul and divinity. In short, logic indicates a true presence, which is more than presence by sign, but a spiritual presence, which is unlike physical presence. What Aquinas did was to distinguish this from physical presence (per modum loci ) and from presence purely through recall of the story (tantum in signo ), neither of which could uphold the truth of the Sacrament. He also refused to accept the theory that affirmed the annihilation of the substance of bread and the substitution under its appearances of the substance of Christ's body, since he found this metaphysically absurd.
The analogy then which he offered in the Summa theologiae was that of instant substantial change (exclusion of process by some natural means) and substantial presence. This change is possible because the substance and accident of bread are not totally identifiable and the substantial reality of Christ's body and blood can take on a sacramental and signifying external appearance that is not its own. The negations of this analogy are as important as the affirmations. The analogy has to do with what is present and offered and received in the order of faith, not that of direct physical perception (as though Christ's body and blood in the sacrament could be seen if unveiled) or of reason (as though the object were comprehensible by reason).
duns scotus found this explanation philosophically weak and inconsistent with the philosophy of Aristotle to which it appealed. He declared that it is simply impossible to offer an explanation. In line with his thinking of the distinction between God's potentia absoluta (what he could do if he so wished) and his potentia ordinata (what he did in fact do within his salvific design) he said that God might have brought about the eucharistic change in several ways, some of which would have seemed more reasonable, but that in fact he chose the more mysterious way of transubstantiation. Thus later theology was caught between the positions of Aquinas and Scotus, and it is in its latter form that the doctrine appears to have been known to the 16th-century Reformers.
Eucharistic sacrifice. If the nature of eucharistic sacrifice as an offering emerged as a question distinct from sacramental Communion, this was because of infrequent Communion and of the spreading practice of having priests offer the Mass for specific intentions determined by those who gave stipends to have Masses said. It did not in fact much preoccupy earlier scholastic theologians such as hugh of saint victor, nor even Thomas Aquinas himself, though he clearly knew of the custom. His theory of sacramental representation in Summa theologiae III, q. 83, art. 1, however, could fit the situation, just as it fit the fuller sacramental action in which all took Communion.
In this text, Thomas responded to the question of whether the immolation of Christ is present in the rite of the Mass. He said that the sacrifice of the Cross is made present through representation and through an efficacious communion of its fruits given in reception of the Sacrament. The action in which the sacrifice is represented and the action by which the bread and wine are changed into Christ's body and blood coincide. This is the priest's utterance, speaking in the person of Christ, of the words of Christ over the gifts of bread and wine offered by the faithful. Thus, it is the priest who consummates the sacrifice as it is he, who as instrument of Christ, effects transubstantiation. Through Communion, all present can then benefit from the fruits of the sacrifice represented.
bonaventure seemed more concerned about the offering of sacrifice by priests, both in the Breviloquium (VI. 9) and in his writings to members of the Franciscan Order. The latter show that his interest was spurred by the fact that many of them did indeed offer Mass for stipends and with little participation of the faithful. Why should this be important and how does it affect priestly spirituality? In approaching this question, Bonaventure distinguished between sacrifice and sacrament. When Christ becomes present through the signifying words of the priest, his flesh and blood may be offered as a sacrifice of propitiation, and they may be consumed in sacramental reception in a communion of faith, love and devotion.
This sacerdotal explanation of the offering of sacrifice gained great weight and was strongly proposed by Scotus and by Gabriel biel. Following Scotus, Biel elaborated on this in discussing the fruits of this offering and their application, since now one had to explain why the priest offered the Mass for specific intentions (Expositio in Canonem Missae, lectio 26). As representation of the Sacrifice of the Cross, the Mass is of infinite value but its fruits have to be applied, and this is done through the Mass according to a more restricted measure. In various writers, this was said to have to do with the merits of the Church in its currently living members, the merits of the one who offers the stipend or the merits of the priest. This sort of explanation could even give the impression that the Mass is a distinct offering from that of the Cross, though it is done entirely in dependence on it.
When current theology looks back to scholastic theology, it puts its explanations into historical context. It relates them clearly to the kind of issue that was at stake and to the ways of thinking that were then available. This means that questions about presence and sacrifice may be addressed in new contexts which change the questions and through new ways of thinking, even while respect is shown for what was said at that time. Even in scholastic theology, the question of presence was related to what Christ offered to his disciples and now offers to the Church through the elements of bread and wine, as it was also related to the sign value of offering under the appearances of bread and wine and with the invitation to eat and drink. The question of sacrifice is altered through the retrieval of a patristic perspective, that is, the sacramental representation of Christ's sacrifice is located in the act of giving gift and taking in Communion, not solely in the words spoken by the priest. The issue about the value of the Mass arose from what can only be considered an aberration in eucharistic practice, namely, the celebration of the Eucharist wherein only the priest took Communion.
Catholic and Orthodox Churches: The Council of Florence. The first doctrinal controversy to be taken into account is the formulation of differences between Catholic and Orthodox approaches to the mystery of the Eucharist at the Council of Florence, where attempts at reunion effectively failed (see Christian Unity: The Council of Florence, ed. Giuseppe Alberigo. Leuven 1991). As far as sacraments were concerned, the Greeks noted the absence of an epiclesis for the Spirit in the Latin eucharistic prayer, as well as the use of leavened bread by the East and of unleavened by the West. The question of purgatory was, likewise, a matter of dispute, and this involved differences over the western practice of offering the Mass for the deceased. In the definition of the synod aimed at union, Greeks and Latins agreed to differ on these practical points, without imposing any uniform procedure.
These points of debate, however, involve the pneumatological and eschatological understanding of the Church and of its sacraments, and are connected with the difference over the inclusion of the filioque in the creed. In confessing the procession of the Spirit from the Father and the Son, Latins took this as the foundation of an ecclesiology which saw a direct relation of the ordained to the Son, both in sacrament and in jurisdiction. At the Mass, the priest was said to speak the words of Christ in Christ's own person (in persona Christi ), thus effecting consecration and sacrifice. There was no inclusion of the Spirit in the Roman Canon, but if pressed Latin theologians would say that the gift of the Spirit was one of the effects of Mass and sacrament.
In including an invocation for the sending of the Spirit in the Eucharist and in other sacramental prayers, the Eastern Church expressed the belief that Christ operated in the Church, and was united with it, through the action of the Holy Spirit. The Byzantine liturgical commentator, Nicholas cabasilas, had offered an irenic resolution to the dispute between Greeks and Latins. He attributed the consecration of the bread and wine to the joint action of Word and Holy Spirit, through the words of Christ and the invocation of the Spirit (A Commentary on the Divine Liturgy, trans. J. M. Hussey & P. A. McNulty [London 1966] 69–79). The difference however remained. For Latins, the sanctification of gifts and the sanctification of the people are two distinct actions. Greek formulations expressed the view that the people are sanctified with and through the sanctification of their gifts. The invocation of the Spirit, moreover, reflects an ecclesiology which is centered in the Eucharist, where the Spirit is operative, and through which it is formed in the sacrament as the Body of Christ. Communion between Churches could not be attributed, as in the West, to the common submission to the one primatial jurisdiction. It has to come about as a communion between eucharistic communities, so that in some sense each local Church has its own independent, pneumatological and sacramental, center.
The question of eschatology that surfaced in the dispute about making suffrages for the dead is also involved with a sacramental ecclesiology. To offer Mass for the dead is to attribute its efficacy for those departed this life to the power of the Church, and to extend ecclesiastical jurisdiction, in some manner, beyond life on this earth. For the East, however, the Communion between the living and the dead has to be seen as sacramental. When the departed are remembered in the Eucharist, it is as members of the communion in the Spirit which binds both the living and the dead, and the sacramental communion of the Body of Christ includes them. If there were disagreements between the Greeks and the Latins over purgatory as a place or state of existence, it had very much to do with this conception of the extension of the authority and power of Church and priesthood.
In recent times, the joint commission for dialogue between the Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches has issued a statement on "The Mystery of the Church and the Eucharist in the Light of the Mystery of the Holy Trinity" (The Quest for Unity: Orthodox and Catholics in Dialogue [Crestwood, N.Y. 1996] 53–64). The document presents the eucharistic celebration as that which makes present the Trinitarian mystery of the Church, or that which draws the Church into the communion between Father, Son and Spirit. It takes due note of the traditional terms of anamnesis, epiclesis and koinonia to express this active presence of the Trinity in the Eucharist and to show that the Church is nothing other than a visible and earthly participation in their communion. It speaks of how the communion of members in the Church is expressed in the Eucharist. It locates the manifestation of the universal Church in the eucharistic synaxis of the local Church, thus highlighting the importance of the local Church in the mystery of the Eucharist, even while addressing the apostolic communion that needs to exist between local Churches.
Sixteenth Century disputes and teachings. While not wanting to disregard the role of other Churches of the Reformation, attention is given here to the figures of Martin luther and John calvin, since it was primarily their teaching that engaged the attention of the Council of Trent.
Martin Luther on the Lord's Supper. In Martin Luther's theology of the Lord's Supper and in his reform of its liturgy one has to keep in mind the fundamental role of doctrine of justification by faith and not by works, and of the importance he gave to preaching and hearing the Word of God. Already in the work, The Sacrament of the True Body and Blood of Christ and the Brotherhoods (LW 35, 49–73), he had underlined the link between sign, significance and faith. Fidelity to the sign would require restoration of the chalice to laity. The truth of significance is in the fellowship of communicants and incorporation with Christ and the saints, with serious consequences for the way in which the brotherhoods behave. Faith is no mere assent to doctrine but is found in desire, love and trust, attending to the connection between the gift of Christ's body in the flesh and the spiritual body of which recipients are members.
From early in his career as a reformer, Luther found some eucharistic practices abominable. These were the secret Mass, wherein the words of Christ are not proclaimed to the people, the exclusive use of Latin in the Mass, what he called the Private Mass, or the offering of a Mass at which the faithful do not receive communion. Along with this, there went the denial of the chalice to the laity and the acceptance of stipends.
In his early theological treatise, Treatise on the New Testament, That Is, the Holy Mass (LW 35, 94ff), he sketched out his understanding of what he still called the Mass. The Mass as instituted by Christ is a sacrament, not a sacrifice. In the words and signs of Jesus in the Supper Narrative, there is the sign and promise of the forgiveness of sins, to be received in faith, since this alone justifies and not works. This is summed up by Luther in the notion of a testament in which there is testator, heirs, testament, seal or sacrament, bequeathing of blessing of forgiveness of sins, and a command to keep memorial or proclaim the testament.
He sharpened his criticism of Roman practices in The Babylonian Captivity (LW 36, 11–57), finding in the Roman Mass as offered by a priest, a typical example of works righteousness. He excoriated the Church for the denial of the chalice to the laity which amounts to a denial of their priesthood and is against the Lord's command. While Luther strongly affirmed the presence of Christ in the sacrament, he found that the doctrine of transubstantiation treats the body and blood of Christ as a thing, destroys the signs of bread and wine and encourages devotions centered on thing, divorced from faith in the promise.
Later in his life, Luther had occasion to take up the cause of real presence against Ulrich zwingli and others, something on which he expanded in the treatise Against the Fanatics (LW 36, 335–361), which is a work on the true presence of Christ's body and blood in the Lord's Supper. The terminology he chose to express this presence is that of "in, with and under" the bread and wine. He related it to Christ's Lordship over the Church. To illustrate its manner, meaning and purpose he employs some analogies. He compares it to the presence of an angel in a place, in order to undo any notion of the occupation of a physical location by Christ's body. He also compares it to the mystery of the Incarnation, where the divinity makes itself manifest through the humanity. In this context, he speaks of a communication of properties between the humanity and divinity of Christ through the resurrection, which allows the humanity to share in the divine ubiquity.
John Calvin on the Lord's Supper. For Calvin too, the Roman errors about the Lord's Supper are that the Mass is a sacrifice, the silent recitation of the Mass in which the word of Christ is suppressed, and the teaching on transubstantiation.
As John Calvin explains it in the Institutes of the Christian Religion, BK IV.XVII, the doctrine of the Lord's Supper necessarily supposes the doctrine on baptism. In this sacrament, the baptized are made members of God's family, they are promised life, delivered from death and imprinted with the Holy Spirit on their hearts. They are justified by God's free grace and made holy, even though in their works they remain sinners and have nothing of their own on which they can rely. For them, Jesus Christ is the only spiritual nourishment of the soul. This is given in the word of the Gospel and in the visible signs of the bread and the wine added to this word, so that through word and sign the baptized have communion in the body and blood of Jesus Christ. The reason for the institution of the Lord's Supper by Jesus Christ is to seal in the consciences of the baptized the promises of the Gospel, and so to teach reliance in faith on the salvation assured them. In this way, despite their sinfulness they may be led to laud and magnify Christ and strive for the holiness that befits his members.
When he turns to the question as to what is given, Calvin says that it is Jesus Christ, the source and substance of all good, and the fruit and efficacy of his death and passion. The bread is called the body of Christ and the wine his blood, because he is given to those who receive as the substance and foundation of all spiritual benefits. Like Luther, John Calvin rejected the doctrine of transubstantiation as an abomination, but asserted that sacramental Communion is a true communication of Jesus Christ. The bread and wine are visible signs, instruments, representations, of the body and blood which are given, and are signs in no way separable from the reality and substance of what they signify. The body and blood of Jesus Christ, in which he lived on earth, in which he is present in heaven, is made present to the believer by the secret power of the Holy Spirit, who is the bond between Christ and the believer and the bond of the Church which is his Body. Through this gift Jesus Christ operates in the communicant by the Holy Spirit, who is conjoined with the gift and its signs.
The Council of Trent on the Eucharist. When the Council of Trent debated the Eucharist in response to the attacks of the Reformers on Catholic doctrine, it read their own teaching as denials of the truth of the eucharistic sacrament. In the presentation of its own doctrine, it reflected the existing split between offering the Mass and sacramental Communion by dealing with the Sacrifice of the Eucharist and the Sacrament of the Eucharist in two separate decrees. It also failed to resolve the issue of the restoration of the chalice to the laity (and thus of the restoration of the full sacramental sign), but left this as a matter ultimately to be resolved by the pope and the Roman curia. Since the Council was reacting against the Reformers, it also proceeded in large measure by singling out what were considered errors in their writings and by condemning these.
On the subject of Christ's presence, the Council retained and affirmed the standard vocabulary of substantial presence and substantial change, adding that this is aptly called transubstantiation (DS 1636, 1637, 1642). Since the acts of the Council make it clear that the Fathers did not wish to embrace any particular explanation or decide on questions debated between schools of theology, in recent times there is considerable debate as to the exact meaning of this doctrinal teaching, as also about the exact object and meaning of the condemnations pronounced against Reformation teaching.
On a practical level, the Council wished to defend and sustain many of the eucharistic devotions against which the Reformers raged (DS 1643, 1644). However, its explanation of the change that takes place is more closely related to eucharistic celebration than was realized in the manual and catechetical teaching which followed Trent. The exposition of eucharistic faith in the chapters of the decree places the question of Christ's presence in the context of Christ's desire to leave a memorial of his death and spiritual food for his disciples (DS 1638). In interpreting the words of Jesus at the Supper, the offer of his body and blood is related to the blessing (benedictio ) which he pronounced over the bread and the wine (DS 1632). If this is transposed to the celebration of the Eucharist by the Church, the conciliar teaching shows an awareness of the link between blessing prayer, consecration of the gifts and Communion that was often forgotten in the theology of the post-tridentine era. This is offered as an explanation of the eucharistic gift that is based on words of Jesus at the Last Supper.
In distinguishing between substance and species, preferring this word to accidents, the Council wanted to distinguish between the proper and definitive reality of what results from the priest's blessing or consecration and the way in which the reality presents itself. As made clear in some of the condemnations or anathemas (DS 1651, 1652), for the Council to reduce this to mere spiritual sign or symbolism, or to say that the body of Christ and the bread are present together, would deny both the truth of the sign and the reality offered. While these condemnations do not reflect a careful reading and understanding of Reformation theology, they do interpret the sense of the conciliar decree. Some contemporary theologians think that a clear distinction needs to be made between what is said by the Council and the thought of scholastic theology, despite the similarity in vocabulary. Scholastic theology, especially Thomism, wanted to give an ontological explanation of both presence and change. The explanations of the conciliar decree are intended to be more logical than ontological, that is, assertions that result from the truth value of the words of Jesus. It is to the scriptures that the Council wished ultimately to point for the truth of the mystery, not to medieval theology.
Thus in recent ecumenical dialogue, it has been agreed that the teachings of Luther, Calvin and Trent, despite the acrimony of the time and the mutual condemnations, were three different ways of attempting to safeguard and explain the same fundamental truth. All referred, on the one hand, to the words of Jesus in the New Testament and on the other to the nature of the sacramental sign left to the Church. They all wished to affirm and teach the self-gift of Christ in sacramental Communion, though Trent was also preoccupied about the presence that remains when the celebration ends. Having examined the disputes in historical context to find the reasons for mutual condemnations and for choosing diverse formulas, the partners in the dialogue between Catholics and Lutherans summarizes what could now be said to be the common teaching of the Churches on the presence of Christ: The exalted Lord is present in the Lord's Supper, in the body and blood he gave, with his divinity and his humanity, through the word of promise in the meal gifts of bread and wine, in the power of the Holy Spirit, for reception by the congregation (Condemnations of the Reformation Era, 115). Beyond this common teaching, differences of explanation still remain but they are not antithetically opposed to one another as was supposed in the sixteenth century.
When the Council of Trent formulated its doctrine on the Sacrifice of the Mass, it had in mind both the defense of the offering of the Mass by priests for the living and the dead and a statement of teaching that would not fall prey to the Protestant objection that this derogates from the once and for all sufficiency of the sacrifice of the Cross. Hence its main doctrinal proposition is that the sacrifice of the Mass is the memorial and representation of the sacrifice of the Cross, in which priest, victim and offering are the same, and only the sacramental manner of offering different from the bloody offering of Calvary (DS 1739).
It also repeated what was then the standard teaching, that the offering of the Mass by the priest is a sacrifice of propitiation and no mere commemoration (DS 1753), and that this serves as one mode of applying the merits of Christ on the Cross to the living and the dead (DS 1743). This was intended to affirm the value of the offering by the priest, even if no faithful received Communion (DS 1747). The Fathers of the Council, however, chose not to take any position on how this application was effected or on the measure of the value attached to the offering. In short, this is a clear case of wanting to defend a practice without offering much doctrinal explanation of how it operates. As a premise to its treatment of the private Mass, the Council did say that the best manner in which the faithful may receive the fruits of the Eucharist is through sacramental Communion. Nonetheless, its teaching distinguishes between two ways of benefiting from celebration of the memorial of Christ's passion. One is by sacramental Communion, the other by the application of the merits of his passion through the offering made by the priest.
Contemporary readings. In contemporary readings of Trent on sacrifice, Catholic theologians note that its teaching was historically conditioned, both by the liturgical practices of the time and by the defensive attitude it took against the accusations of the Reformers. They see the need to bring sacrifice and sacrament closer together in practice and in theology, recognizing that the ordinary mode of participating in the sacramental mystery is through communion in the body and blood of Christ. The separation of the doctrine of the Eucharist into two decrees has to be overcome. In doing this, it is to be noted that the Council itself took the memorial character of the Eucharist as its starting-point in both decrees and that in both decrees it made some link between eucharistic blessing, offering, sacramental change and communion. In this it was faithful to that fuller eucharistic tradition into which contemporary theology now needs to place the conciliar teaching on the specific points that were its dominant concern.
Ecumenically, it is recognized that liturgical reform has gone a long way in bringing Churches together in their practice and in their eucharistic faith. A liturgical celebration in which proclamation of the word, the prayer of thanksgiving and sacramental Communion by all, have due place provides a new foundation for doctrinal and theological explanation. Doctrinally, to find a common stance, appeal is made to the ideas of memorial, representation and sacramental sacrifice. As it has been put by one agreed statement, "it has been found possible to state in common our believing conviction about the uniqueness and full sufficiency of Jesus Christ's sacrifice on the cross, as well as the bearing and scope of the anamnesis in the eucharistic celebration of the church" (The Condemnations of the Reformation Era, 114). For its part, at the head of its treatment of the sacrament of the Eucharist, The Catechism of the Catholic Church chose to place this citation of art. 47 from the Constitution on the Liturgy of the Second vatican council:
At the Last Supper, on the night he was betrayed, our Saviour instituted the Eucharistic sacrifice of his Body and Blood. This he did in order to perpetuate the sacrifice of the cross throughout the ages until he should come again, and so to entrust to his beloved Spouse, the Church, a memorial of his death and resurrection: a sacrament of love, a sign of unity, a bond of charity, a Paschal banquet in which Christ is consumed, the mind is filled with grace and a pledge of future glory is given to us.
Apart from finding a language on sacrifice that meets with agreement, giving priority to the gift offered by the Father is another way of stating a point of convergence on Christ's presence, one that helps to establish the connection between sacrifice and presence. As stated in the Faith and Order paper no. 111 of the world council of churches, "the Eucharist is essentially the sacrament of the gift which God makes to us in Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit" (Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry. Geneva: World Council of Churches, 1982, 10).
Past doctrines and theological systems are explained and appropriated into contemporary doctrine and theology in three ways. First, their historical setting is recognized, even as the questions raised are accepted as matters of continued importance. Second, they are read in a new context, one that is in great part constituted by liturgical reforms that bring Churches closer to the early tradition of eucharistic celebration, so that all doctrinal and theological explanation may be related to this. Third, a closer reading of scriptural foundations and patristic teaching offers a new point of departure for critically receiving the formulations and approaches of later eras.
Contemporary Trends in Catholic Theology
Much of Catholic writing on the Eucharist in recent years has to do with revisiting scriptural origins and revisiting the past, as this has been presented here. There has also been a kind of modern liturgical mystagogy, drawing on insights from studies of symbol, ritual, language and culture. There is, however, some move towards a new catechetical and theological synthesis and there have been some important contributions from systematic theologians, of which two will be mentioned here, namely Karl Rahner and Hans Urs von Balthasar, as those who have had the greatest impact on theological thinking about the Eucharist.
As already said, a fundamental principle is that the Eucharist is the Sacrament of the Body of Christ, head and members. What needs to be explained is the communion of Christ with his Church through the celebration of Eucharist in which all take part. The concept of memorial underpins much of the writing about the Eucharist. This seems to be warranted by Scripture, Liturgy and patristics, and it has also proved effective in finding the central point of agreement between Churches of different traditions. With the turn to memorial, the role of the Spirit in the eucharistic liturgy is also emphasized, for it is the gift of the Spirit that makes memorial possible. When it comes to explanation, however, there are diverse ways of understanding what memorial means.
The Second Vatican Council chose to expand on this by attending to the diverse ways in which Christ is present in the liturgy (SC 7), drawing the Church into his mystery, and some theologians have followed this line of thought. Some have followed the orientation of Odo Casel's reading of the patristic and liturgical tradition, by which he speaks of the making present of the Paschal Mystery in the assembly (Das Mysteriengedächtnis der Messliturgie im Lichte der Tradition [Münster 1926). Amending this somewhat by reason of a look at Semitic sources and the relation of the Jewish people to the first Pasch, some (e.g. Cesare Giraudo, Eucaristia per la chiesa ) prefer to speak of the Church's being rendered present to the past event of Christ's transitus or passage. There are also those (e.g. Edward Kilmartin, The Eucharist in the West ) who attribute the continuing efficacy of Christ's Pasch in the Eucharist to the operation of the Holy Spirit, which draws the faithful into the offering of Christ's sacrifice.
The contribution of Karl rahner to eucharistic theology remains of importance. In the first place, he noted that all reflection on the Eucharist must derive from the conjunction in one celebration of proclamation of the Word, thanksgiving blessing and eucharistic gift. To this celebration he attributed the notion of event, seeing in it the event of the grace of Christ's Pasch and of God's self-communication in the Church. To explain this event, he used his theory of symbolic causality. Symbolic interaction is the key to human becoming, as it is the key to the presence of one to another. Indeed, the two converge, for one person in becoming present to another, or indeed to a community and a tradition, becomes in the process more fully oneself. By analogy, God can be said to be present to the world through the Word Incarnate and through the symbols by which memorial is kept of his incarnate mysteries. By their own participation in this symbolic interaction, responding to the free and committed offer of the gift of the divine self, the members of the Church become present to God, to each other and to the world. Traditions on eucharistic sacrifice and presence are readily appropriated into this symbolic and dynamic way of looking at the eucharistic memorial.
Building on this, others (see David Power, The Eucharistic Mystery ) integrate the role of the paschal narrative, or of the supper narrative more fully. These narratives, with the cross and the death of Christ at their center, disrupt the habitual mythical and metaphysical thinking of peoples. They call for a new relation to the possibilities of being and time, a new perspective on the future, and a new way of naming the God who effaces the divine self in the kenotic gift of the Son and the operation of the Spirit which enables the Church to keep memorial of this kenosis.
Hans Urs von balthasar eschews the language of symbolic causality as an excessive attention to the human and the building of divine analogies on human concepts. Theological language has to find its point of departure in the Cross of Christ and to develop an understanding of the Eucharist that relates to the drama of divine kenosis. Eucharistic theology needs to concentrate on the event of spousal encounter between Christ and the Church in the act of the meal, where the sacrament is eaten and God is thanked. This is constitutive of the Church as his Body and constitutive of the Church's relation to the world.
He traces the relation of the Church to Christ as a share in his relation to the Father which is expressed in eucharistia and which itself originates within the life of the trinity of persons.
Within their eternal relationship, the Son wishes to be nothing but the icon of the Father. The Son is empty of anything that is peculiar to himself outside his relationship to the Father, of anything that is not reflective of the image of the Father. In his incarnate being and through the Cross, the Son continues to live and to act in this kenotic and iconic relation to the Father. By this he enters into the drama of a sinful world offered redemption by God and it is by such a process that he enters with his humanity into the eternal relation of Father and Son. He left the memorial of this Pasch to the Church so that the Church's eucharistic action could be its participation, as spouse of Christ, in the eternal movement of the Son to the Father as it was lived out in the drama of his presence in the world. It is by this same token, that the Eucharist is the sacrament of Communion, of the communion of the Church in the divine communion of persons. Eucharistic sacrifice is then seen as the Church's entry, by Christ's gift, into the divine drama of kenosis, lived out in the world. Transubstantiation, better called substantial conversion, stands for the taking of a form in the present of Christ's engagement with God and with the world, through his spousal communion with his Church. To affirm that Christ is eucharistically present to his Church is to advert to the iconic form in which he offers himself and draws the Church to himself, in his relation to the Father.
Conclusion. The purpose of this entry has been to give an overview of the processes of contemporary Catholic theology in studying and presenting the mystery of the Eucharist. The importance of a renewal of biblical, patristic and liturgical studies was first noted, with some indication of how these have contributed to the celebration and the understanding of the Eucharist. Since Catholic theology depended for several centuries, and up to the present, on scholastic theology and on the teachings of the Council of Trent, it was then shown how these are now being read and integrated into new approaches that are more sensitive to ecumenical dialogue and to contemporary human life. In addition, some information was given about how these approaches affect systematic theology and a brief summary was offered of the contribution of two leading writers of the 20th century.
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[d. n. power]