Sacramentum Caritatis 23: Eucharist and Holy Orders

This section and the three that follow treat the subject of The Eucharist and the Sacrament of Holy Orders. Obviously, an important link, especially for the author of the document, as it was his experience of the Eucharist for the majority of his life. We begin with a consideration of the presidency of the cleric as “in the person of Christ the head (of the Church),” or In persona Christi capitis. This is an ancient tradition of Christianity, and Pope Benedict spells out hcurch teaching faithfully and accurately:

23. The intrinsic relationship between the Eucharist and the sacrament of Holy Orders clearly emerges from Jesus’ own words in the Upper Room: “Do this in memory of me” (Luke 22:19). On the night before he died, Jesus instituted the Eucharist and at the same time established the priesthood of the New Covenant. He is priest, victim and altar: the mediator between God the Father and his people (cf. Hebrews 5:5-10), the victim of atonement (cf. 1 John 2:2, 4:10) who offers himself on the altar of the Cross. No one can say “this is my body” and “this is the cup of my blood” except in the name and in the person of Christ, the one high priest of the new and eternal Covenant (cf. Hebrews 8-9).

This isn’t to say the notion of an ordained priesthood, the image and presence of Christ, and the notion of ministry aren’t fodder for discussion. It happened early in the poast-conciliar years:

Earlier meetings of the Synod of Bishops had considered the question of the ordained priesthood, both with regard to the nature of the ministry (Cf. Synod of Bishops, Second General Assembly, Document on the Ministerial Priesthood Ultimis Temporibus (30 November 1971)) and the formation of candidates. (Cf. John Paul II, Pastores Dabo Vobis 42-69)

Pope Benedict offers what is “given” in theology:

Here, in the light of the discussion that took place during the last Synod, I consider it important to recall several important points about the relationship between the sacrament of the Eucharist and Holy Orders. First of all, we need to stress once again that the connection between Holy Orders and the Eucharist is seen most clearly at Mass, when the Bishop or priest presides in the person of Christ the Head.

It might seem to go without saying, but the truth is that priests come in all sorts of sizes and flavors. Not every cleric emphasizes liturgy as the clearest personal expression of ministry. That’s not to say that more than a minority find the liturgy insignificant. Not every ordained person has the best gifts for worship.

Could lay people preside at the Eucharist in the absence of a priest? Here the answer is a decisive “no.”

The Church teaches that priestly ordination is the indispensable condition for the valid celebration of the Eucharist. (Cf. Lumen Gentium, 10; CDF, Letter on Certain Questions Concerning the Minister of the Eucharist Sacerdotium Ministeriale) Indeed, “in the ecclesial service of the ordained minister, it is Christ himself who is present to his Church as Head of his Body, Shepherd of his flock, High Priest of the redemptive sacrifice.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1548) Certainly the ordained minister also acts “in the name of the whole Church, when presenting to God the prayer of the Church, and above all when offering the eucharistic sacrifice.” (Ibid., 1552)

What is occasionally missing from priestly ministry is a sense described here:

As a result, priests should be conscious of the fact that in their ministry they must never put themselves or their personal opinions in first place, but Jesus Christ. Any attempt to make themselves the center of the liturgical action contradicts their very identity as priests. The priest is above all a servant of others, and he must continually work at being a sign pointing to Christ, a docile instrument in the Lord’s hands.

Such centrality occurs regardless of rite, style, form where it is indulged. I’ve gotten into strong discussions for over two decades on various sites when I suggest the 1962 Missal or a traditionalist sensibility is any sort of a cure-all for priest-centered worship.

I want to draw out the four points of emphasis here:

This is seen particularly in his humility

  • in leading the liturgical assembly,
  • in obedience to the rite,
  • uniting himself to it in mind and heart,
  • and avoiding anything that might give the impression of an inordinate emphasis on his own personality.

Leadership suggests that the assembly takes its rightful role. Obedience, obviously, a faithfulness to the rubrics. Point three involves infusing a devotion to liturgy into one’s spiritual life. Personality expresses itself naturally in public places, Especially in leaders. It can be difficult, and here, introverts are not naturally immune to the challenges of public liturgical leadership. I could easily preach this to my lay colleagues, especially those in music. In fact, regardless of their favored genres, musicians might be the most vulnerable to a lack of humility.

I encourage the clergy always to see their eucharistic ministry as a humble service offered to Christ and his Church. The priesthood, as Saint Augustine said, is amoris officium, (Cf. In Iohannis Evangelium Tractatus, 123, 5) it is the office of the good shepherd, who offers his life for his sheep (cf. John 10:14-15).

Saint Augustine gets the last word. A good place to pause. Thoughts?

This document is copyright © 2007 Dicastero per la Comunicazione – Libreria Editrice Vaticana

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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