Karl Rahner on Holy Thursday

(This is Neil.) I said that I wasn’t going to post against this week, but I would like to share some of Karl Rahner’s reflections. These will come from sermons originally delivered on the radio in Bavaria during Holy Week in 1967. They are published in English in Grace in Freedom and available online here. I’ve added a paragraph division.  

On Maundy Thursday Christendom commemorates the institution of the Eucharist by our Lord. It happened in the night he was betrayed. Ever since then Christians have celebrated this meal despite all their divisions, though in sorrow that they cannot all celebrate it together. Nevertheless, it is a consolation that all who call themselves Christians do celebrate it, even though their interpretation of what happens at it is not everywhere quite the same. The meaning of the sacred meal is immensely wide and diversified. We gather round a table, the altar, confessing by this very fact that we are to be united in love like a family. We know by faith that the Lord has promised to be present in such a congregation and is mysteriously there among those who share the meal. His death is proclaimed until he comes again, the death which brings us forgiveness and life, but which also takes us, who die throughout our life, into its incomprehensible mystery and melancholy. But the meal that is celebrated is already filled with the blessed joy of eternal life which we hope for and expect. Christ unites us in the Church, the community of those who believe and love, which is his body, by giving himself to us in the elements of bread and wine, the perfect signs of his body and blood. In this meal, the word God speaks to us, the word of eternal love, becomes radiantly present in our darkness. In this sacrifice, Christ, who has given himself for us once and for all, is presented as the Church’s gift to the eternal God.  

Now it is true that, from God’s point of view, the liturgical celebration of this sacred meal contains what it signifies and gives what it says. Nevertheless, as far as we are concerned, it receives its ultimate truth and fulfillment only when it is celebrated as that “communion” which takes place in the daily round of our earthly life. Even in the Eucharist Christ becomes our salvation rather than our judgment only if we also recognize him in the least of our brothers whom we meet in ordinary life. We announce the death of the Lord in the Mass to our salvation only if in serene faith and hope we also encounter it in its everyday form of sorrow and disappointment. This is how we must live if the Eucharist is to be our salvation and not our judgment. But this awesome truth contains also a blessed mystery: Many may perhaps meet the Lord in their daily life by faithfully obeying the transforming voice of their conscience even though they have not yet found the holy table of the Church where he celebrates his sacred meal with us.


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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2 Responses to Karl Rahner on Holy Thursday

  1. Anne says:

    Thanks for posting these words of Karl Rahner. I’ve been searching for such reflections to bring back to the people of my hurting parish.

  2. Neil says:

    Dear Anne,

    Thanks for writing. You and your parish will be in my prayers. I hope that Liam’s advice has been helpful.

    Take care,

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