Wednesday 28 March 2007

Sacramentum caritatis

A couple of weeks ago, Benedict XVI released the apostolic exhortation “Sacramentum Caritatis” (Sacrament of Love), which he described as a complement to his first encyclical, “Deus Caritas Est” (God Is Love). In case you haven’t seen this yet, it’s a fascinating and impressive exhortation that deserves a close reading (all 97 paragraphs!) – you can see the full English text here.

Although both Protestants and progressive Catholics will have many reservations with the document, it is nevertheless a beautiful theological and pastoral meditation on the eucharistic mystery. As anticipated, the Holy Father reinforces some of the most problematic aspects of Catholic teaching, such as the necessity of priestly celibacy (§24), the refusal of the eucharist to divorced and remarried persons (§29), and the eucharistic obligation of Catholic politicians to “support laws inspired by values grounded in human nature” (§83). He also advocates the reintroduction of the Latin Mass (§62) with Gregorian chants (§42), as well as a series of more modest (and very sensible) reforms in relation to the offertory (§49), the exchange of peace (§47), and the homily (§45).

The exhortation concludes on a joyful note that reiterates the relation between eucharist and mission: “The Eucharist makes us discover that Christ, risen from the dead, is our contemporary in the mystery of the Church, his body. Of this mystery of love we have become witnesses. Let us encourage one another to walk joyfully, our hearts filled with wonder, towards our encounter with the Holy Eucharist, so that we may experience and proclaim to others the truth of the words with which Jesus took leave of his disciples: ‘Lo, I am with you always, until the end of the world’” (§97).


Jeremy Pierce said...

Even one of the statements you quote favorably is something Protestants would disagree with, at least as he intends it. He says, "The Eucharist makes us discover that Christ, risen from the dead, is our contemporary in the mystery of the Church, his body."

Well, yes, I suppose that's especially true of someone literally digesting his flesh and blood and making it part of themselves, which is almost certainly one thing he has in mind by saying that.

Ben Myers said...

Hi Jeremy. I appreciate your point of view -- but perhaps it's rather skewed to interpret this passage simply as a statement of transubstantiation! After all, it's a thoroughly ecumenical point to say that Christ is present in the eucharist. And in any case, in this document Benedict XVI isn't interested in foregrounding transubstantiation. He does mention transubstantiation in §13 -- but his concern in this context is the very laudable one of emphasising the connection between eucharist, mission and Spirit. Thus he speaks of the importance of the liturgical "petition [invocatio] to the Father to send down the gift of the Spirit so that the bread and the wine will become the body and blood of Jesus Christ and that 'the community as a whole will become ever more the body of Christ'" (§13).

This certainly isn't just a crude conception of "literally digesting Christ's flesh and blood" -- it's much more profoundly concerned with the role of the Spirit in communicating Jesus Christ to us as the free gift of God's own self-giving love.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you completely, Ben. The Holy Father's intentions are anything but to focus on the "crude conception" of eating and drinking Christ's Body and Blood. However, I would like to point out to Jeremy that this is only "crude" if you consider it purely from a human perspective (as you do). For those of us who look at the Holy Eucharist with the eyes of the Christian Faith, it is anything but crude. After all, it is God's greatest gift to mankind.

"Oh", but you might object, "it is not God's greatest gift. His greatest gift is His Son". I would reply to that: Precisely! The Eucharist IS the Son of God, and that is why we love it so much. The Holy Eucharist contains the fullness of the Mystery of Christ. This is why it is anything but "crude" to eat Our Lord's Body and drink His Blood. It is foolishness to the Jews, folly to the Greeks, but for those of us who believe, it is the Power and Wisdom of God (cf. 1Cor1:24)

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