Benedict on Meal: Liturgical Schizophrenia or Not?

I see the dotCommonweal blog has some discussion going on the seeming contradictions between sections 2 and 11 in Sacramentum Caritatis.

We’ve already covered that first bit earlier, so let’s see what the pope wrote in the section titled, Figura transit in veritatem:

Jesus thus brings his own radical novum to the ancient Hebrew sacrificial meal. For us Christians, that meal no longer need be repeated.

Does “that meal” refer to the Pesach? Or does it allude to the early Christian agape meal?

As the Church Fathers rightly say, figura transit in veritatem: the foreshadowing has given way to the truth itself. The ancient rite has been brought to fulfilment and definitively surpassed by the loving gift of the incarnate Son of God.

Same question: does the foreshadowing of the Pesach give way to the Eucharist? One might wish Pope Benedict were more clear on this, but let’s read on …

The food of truth, Christ sacrificed for our sake, dat figuris terminum. By his command to “do this in remembrance of me” (Lk 22:19; 1 Cor 11:25), he asks us to respond to his gift and to make it sacramentally present. In these words the Lord expresses, as it were, his expectation that the Church, born of his sacrifice, will receive this gift, developing under the guidance of the Holy Spirit the liturgical form of the sacrament.

If the pope is really downplaying the ritual meal of the Eucharist, why does he use the term, “food of truth?” Why wouldn’t it just be the “grace of truth,” or something to that effect?

In the Eucharist, we’re clearly not celebrating Mass to be physically nourished on the accidents of bread and wine. So we’re not celebrating a truly authentic meal. Everybody would acknowledge that.

Likewise, Christ’s sacrifice was also foreshadowed by the sacrifices of Jewish worship. The notion of liturgical sacrifice has also been transformed and fulfilled by the Christian understanding. No, the Lord Jesus is not consumed as food to fuel the engine of our bodies, but as grace to urge us on toward holiness. Likewise, the Lord Jesus is not physically slaughtered like an Old Testament animal at every Mass. Both meal and sacrifice have been elevated into something more than they were.

The pope uses interchangeable language in treating the notion of sacrifice. “Gift” is what we read here:

The remembrance of his perfect gift consists not in the mere repetition of the Last Supper, but in the Eucharist itself, that is, in the radical newness of Christian worship.

If the Last Supper is not enough to “merely repeat,” we can easily say the same thing about last week’s Mass, last Easter (or pick your glorious feast), my wedding day, or even the oft-exalted 1570-1962 Missal. Celebrating the Eucharist is not about recapturing a great moment from memory or history. Attempting this would be a form of idolatry at worst.

The example of my wedding day illustrates perfectly what I think SC is trying to nail down here. My marriage is not wholly about 27 January 1996 at my parish church. It is far, far more than that single day, glorious though it may be. The challenge of my marriage does not lie in recapturing a golden moment, but in this very “hour,” as my wife and I labor to build a good relatinoship, a good family, a holy union.

According to the pope, Jesus intends for us to be drawn into a radical change, a metanoia–something for today. Something for today’s sins and faults. The intent isn’t to recall the wonderful experience on Mount Tabor with Jesus, Elijah, and Moses. The point is to embrace transformation of the moment–this moment. In doing so, we have a prayer of being God’s agents of world “transfiguration.”

In this way, Jesus left us the task of entering into his “hour.” “The Eucharist draws us into Jesus’ act of self-oblation. More than just statically receiving the incarnate Logos, we enter into the very dynamic of his self-giving.” Jesus “draws us into himself.” The substantial conversion of bread and wine into his body and blood introduces within creation the principle of a radical change, a sort of “nuclear fission,” to use an image familiar to us today, which penetrates to the heart of all being, a change meant to set off a process which transforms reality, a process leading ultimately to the transfiguration of the entire world, to the point where God will be all in all (cf. 1 Cor 15:28).

Pope Benedict is a product of his age. I think we have a deeply spiritual, more open, more intellectually incisive man in the papacy than we did in his predecessor. Doubtless, he is grace-filled as well as hampered by his own life’s experiences–as are we all.

As a liturgical progressive, I find much to laud in this apostolic exhortation. We live in times too difficult to expect a shift from the hierarchy that will suddenly launch hundreds of millions of Catholics worldwide into a deeper encounter with Christ in the Eucharist.

My sense is that we have a heck of a huge stack of work to do in parishes. There’s not anything that I would find from Rome that’s going to change the fact that pastors, liturgists, musicians, and other parish leaders simply have to roll up their sleeves and get to work.

I just don’t see a smoking gun in Sacramentum Caritatis 11. But maybe others do. If so, take a good shot at it.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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1 Response to Benedict on Meal: Liturgical Schizophrenia or Not?

  1. Michael says:

    About 3 years ago I dropped into a black hole – four months of absolute terror. I wanted to end my life, but somehow [Holy Spirit], I reached out to a friend who took me to hospital. I had three visits [hospital] in four months – I actually thought I was in hell. I imagine I was going through some sort of metamorphosis [mental, physical & spiritual]. I had been seeing a therapist [1994] on a regular basis, up until this point in time. I actually thought I would be locked away – but the hospital staff was very supportive [I had no control over my process]. I was released from hospital 16th September 1994, but my fear, pain & shame had only subsided a little. I remember this particular morning waking up [home] & my process would start up again [fear, pain, & shame]. No one could help me, not even my therapist [I was terrified]. I asked Jesus Christ to have mercy on me & forgive me my sins. Slowly, all my fear has dissipated & I believe Jesus delivered me from my “psychological prison.” I am a practicing Catholic & the Holy Spirit is my friend & strength; every day since then has been a joy & blessing. I deserve to go to hell for the life I have led, but Jesus through His sacrifice on the cross, delivered me from my inequities. John 3: 8, John 15: 26, are verses I can relate to, organically. He’s a real person who is with me all the time. I have so much joy & peace in my life, today, after a childhood spent in orphanages [England & Australia]. Fear, pain, & shame, are no longer my constant companions. I just wanted to share my experience with you [Luke 8: 16 – 17].

    Peace Be With You

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