Father Raniero Cantalamessa's 3rd
Sermon of Advent
VATICAN CITY, 17 DEC. 2004 (ZENIT)
Here is a translation of the third Advent sermon, delivered this
morning before the Pope and officials of the Roman Curia, by the
Pontifical Household preacher, Father Raniero Cantalamessa.
The Capuchin priest has been offering a series of Eucharistic
reflections, in the Redemptoris Mater Chapel, in the light of the hymn
Adoro Te Devote. ....
Part 2 of this sermon appears Sunday.
* * *
Father Raniero Cantalamessa
I make the Same Prayer as the Repentant Thief
Third Sermon of Advent at the Pontifical Household
A laud of Jacopone da Todi, composed around the year 1300, contains a
clear allusion to the second stanza of the Adoro Te Devote which
we commented on last time: "Visus, tactus gustus ..." In it,
Jacopone imagines a sort of contest among the different human senses in
regard to the Eucharist: three of them (sight, touch and taste) say that
it is only bread, "only the hearing" is opposed, assuring that "under
these visible forms, Christ is hidden." If not enough to affirm that
the hymn is St. Thomas Aquinas', it nevertheless shows that it is older
than was thought until now. Certainly the date is not incompatible with
an attribution to the Angelic Doctor. If Jacopone can allude to it as
the well- known text, it must have been composed at least some 20 years
before and therefore have already enjoyed a certain popularity.
1. Contemporaries of the Good Thief
We now turn to the third stanza of the hymn that will accompany us in
In cruce latébat sola déitas;
at hic latet simul et humánitas.
Ambo tamen credens atque cónfitens
peto quod petívit latro poénitens.
God only on the Cross lay hid from view
But here lies hid at once the Manhood too;
And I, in both professing my belief,
Make the same prayer as the repentant thief.
Christmas is now approaching. A certain romantic tendency has succeeded
in making Christmas a wholly human feast of maternity and childhood, of
gifts, and of good sentiments. In Moscow's Tetriakov Gallery, Vladimir's
painting of the Virgin of Tenderness, which depicts her pressing the
Baby Jesus to herself, bore the caption "Maternity" during the Communist
regime. However, experts know what is signified in the image of the
Mother's worried look, tinged with sadness, as if wishing to protect the
child from impending danger, announcing the passion of the Son that
Simeon made her perceive in the presentation in the temple.
Christian art has expressed this connection between the birth and death
of Christ in a thousand ways. In some pictures by famous painters, the
Child Jesus sleeps on his Mother's knees stretched out on a cloth, in
the exact position in which he is usually represented in the deposition
from the Cross; the bound lamb that is often seen in the representations
of the Nativity alludes to the immolated lamb. In a 15th-century
painting, one of the Wise Men gives the Child the gift of a chalice with
coins in it, sign of the price of the ransom that he has come to pay for
sins. (The Child is in the act of taking one of the coins and handing it
to the one who offers it to him, a sign that he will die for him
In this way, the artists express a profound theological truth. "The Word
became flesh," writes St. Augustine, "to be able to die for us." He
is born to be able to die. In the Gospels themselves the accounts of the
childhood are a preamble to the accounts of the Passion.
We are not drawn away therefore from the meaning of Christmas if,
following the line of this stanza of the hymn, we meditate on the
relationship between the Eucharist and the cross. The Year of the
Eucharist helps us to appreciate the most profound aspect of Christmas.
The true and living memory of Christmas is not the crib but, precisely,
the Eucharist. The Pope writes in Ecclesia de Eucharistia that
"The Eucharist, while commemorating the passion and resurrection, is
also in continuity with the incarnation. At the Annunciation Mary
conceived the Son of God in the physical reality of his body and blood,
thus anticipating within herself what to some degree happens
sacramentally in every believer who receives, under the signs of bread
and wine, the Lord's body and blood."
In the third stanza of the Adoro Te Devote the author goes
spiritually to Calvary. In a subsequent stanza, that which begins with
the words "O memoriale mortis Domini," he contemplates the
intrinsic and objective relationship between the Eucharist and the
cross, the relationship, that is, which exists between the event and the
sacrament. Here, rather, is expressed the subjective relationship
between that which occurred in those who were present at the Lord's
death and that which must occur in one who is present at the Eucharist;
the relationship between the one who lived the event and the one who
celebrates the sacrament.
It is an invitation to become "contemporaries" of the event commemorated
in the intense and existential sense of the term. To consider Christ's
death not in the light of hindsight, but to identify with those who
lived, in all its rawness, the "scandal" of the cross leaving out of
consideration, at least for a moment, the aura of glory that the
Resurrection has conferred on it.
Among all those present at Calvary, the author chooses one in
particular, the good thief, with whom to identify. A profound and
genuine sentiment of humility and contrition pervades the whole stanza,
which the singer is invited to make his own. In the allusive style of
the hymn, the whole episode of the good thief and all the words he
pronounces on the cross are evoked by the author, not only the final
prayer: "Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom."
He first of all rebukes his companion who insults Jesus: "Do you not
fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we
indeed justly; for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but
this man has done nothing wrong" (Luke 23:40 f.). The good thief makes a
complete confession of sin. His repentance is of the purest biblical
quality. True repentance consists in accusing oneself and exonerating
God, attributing to oneself the responsibility of evil and proclaiming
that "God is innocent." The constant formula of repentance in the Bible
is: "You are just in all that you have done, straight are your ways and
just your judgments, we have sinned" (cfr. Daniel 3:28 ff; cf.
Deuteronomy 32:4 ff).
"He has done nothing wrong": The good thief (or, in any case, the Holy
Spirit who inspired these words) shows himself to be an excellent
theologian. Only God, in fact, suffers as innocent; every other being
who suffers must say: "I suffer justly," because, even if he is not
responsible for the action that is imputed to him, he is never
altogether without fault. Only the pain of innocent children is like
that of God and that is why it is so mysterious and so precious.
There is a profound analogy between the good thief and the one who
approaches the Eucharist with faith. The good thief on the cross saw a
man, what is more, a man condemned to death, and he believed that he was
God, acknowledging his power to remember him in his Kingdom. From a
certain point of view, the Christian is called to make an even more
difficult act of faith. "In cruce latébat sola déitas; at hic latet
simul et humánitas": on the cross the divinity was hidden, here,
however, even the humanity is hidden.
The one praying does not hesitate an instant; he rises to the height of
the good thief's faith and proclaims that he believes in both the
divinity and humanity of Christ: "Ambo tamen credens atque cónfitens":
I firmly believe and profess both. Two verbs: credo, confiteor,
I believe and I profess. It is not a repetition. St. Paul has
illustrated the difference between believing and confessing: "For man
believes with the heart and so is justified, and he confesses with his
lips and so is saved" (Romans 10:10).
It is not enough to believe in the depth of one's heart; it is also
necessary to profess one's faith publicly. At the time our hymn was
written, the Church had just instituted the feast of Corpus Domini
precisely with this objective. After all, the memory of the institution
of the Eucharist on Holy Thursday already existed. If this new feast was
instituted, it was not so much to commemorate the event as it was to
proclaim publicly one's faith in the real presence of Christ in the
Eucharist. And, as a matter of fact, with the extraordinary solemnity
that it assumed and the manifestations that characterized it in
Christian piety (processions, floral decorations ...), the feast
precisely fulfilled this objective.
2. Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity
The central theological truth in this stanza (every stanza, we noted,
has one) is that in the Eucharist Christ is really present with his
divinity and humanity, "in body, blood, soul and divinity," according to
the traditional formula. It is worthwhile to reflect on this formula and
its assumptions, because, in this regard, modern biblical theology has
contributed some novelties which must be taken into account.
Scholastic theology affirmed that by the words "This is my body" only
the body of Christ
namely his flesh, composed of bones, nerves, etc.
is made present on the altar by the power of the sacrament (here
sacraments), while his blood and soul are present only by dint of the
principle of "natural concomitance," because, where there is a living
body, there is necessarily also blood and soul. Similarly, by the words
"This is my blood," by the power of the sacrament only his blood is made
present, while the body and soul are there by natural concomitance.
All these problems are due to the fact that "body" is understood as
interpreted in Greek anthropology, namely, as that part of man that,
united to the soul and the intelligence, forms the complete man. The
progress of biblical sciences, however, has made us aware that in
biblical language, which is that of Jesus and Paul, "body" does not
indicate, as for us today, a third of man, but the whole man in as much
as he lives in a bodily dimension.
In Eucharistic contexts, "body" has the same meaning that the word
"flesh" has in John. We know what John means when he says that the Word
was made "flesh": not that he was made "flesh, bones, nerves," but that
he was made man. The liberating conclusion is that the soul of Christ is
not present in the Eucharist, somewhat indirectly, only by natural
concomitance with the body, but directly, by the power of the sacrament,
being included in what Jesus understood when speaking of his body.
If one understands "body" in the Greek philosophical sense, it becomes
difficult to refute the objection: What need was there to consecrate the
blood separately, from the moment that it is but a part of the body, the
same as the bones, nerves, and the other organs? The answer once given
to this objection was the following: "Because in the passion of Christ,
of which the sacrament is a memorial, no other component was separated
from his body except the blood." But can this explanation still
A much simpler explanation is that, in the Bible, the blood is the seat
of life and the effusion of blood is, therefore, the eloquent sign of
death. The consecration of the blood is explained taking into account
that the sacraments are sacred signs and Jesus chose such a sign to
leave a living "memorial of his passion." To say that the Eucharist is
the sacrament of the body and blood of Christ means that it is the
sacrament of the life and death of Christ, in their ontological reality
and in their historical development. For our consolation, body, blood
and soul, all, therefore, are present in the Eucharist by the power of
the very words of Christ, not by some collateral effect of theirs.
In our hymn all these problems are absent and all is soberly reduced to
the presence of the humanity and divinity of Christ in the Eucharist.
The presence of the divinity, whether in the body or the blood of
Christ, is assured by the indissoluble union
"hypostatic," in theological language
realized between the Word and humanity in the Incarnation. Therefore,
the Eucharist cannot be explained other than in the light of the
Incarnation. It is, so to speak, its sacramental prolongation.
Father Raniero Cantalamessa's 3rd Sermon of Advent
VATICAN CITY, 19 DEC. 2004 (ZENIT)
Here is a translation of the third Advent sermon, delivered Friday
before the Pope and officials of the Roman Curia, by the Pontifical
Household preacher, Father Raniero Cantalamessa.
The Capuchin priest offered a series of Eucharistic reflections in the
light of the hymn Adoro Te Devote. Part 1 appeared Friday.
* * *
Father Raniero Cantalamessa
I make the Same Prayer as the Repentant Thief
Third Sermon of Advent at the Pontifical Household
3. One Believes with the Heart
We now move from the theological affirmation to the application in
prayer, a movement present in every stanza of the Adoro Te Devote.
The existential implication in this case is the invitation to a renewed
act of faith in the full humanity and divinity of Christ: "Ambo tamen
credens atque confitens": I firmly believe and profess both. The
first stanza also contained a profession of faith: "Credo quidquid
dixit Dei Filius," I believe all that the Son of God has spoken. But
there it was only a question of faith in the real presence of Christ in
the sacrament; here the problem is another; it is about knowing who it
is who makes himself present on the altar; the object of faith is the
person of Christ, not the sacramental action.
"Credens atque confitens": I believe and profess. We said that it
was not enough to believe; we must also profess. But we must immediately
add: it is not enough to profess, we must also believe! The most
frequent sin of the laity is to believe without professing, hiding their
faith out of human respect; the most frequent sin in us, men of the
Church, might be that of professing without believing. In fact, it is
possible that little by little faith becomes a "creed" that is repeated
with the lips, as a declaration of belonging, a flag, without ever
asking oneself if one really believes what one says, writes, and
preaches. "Corde creditur," Paul reminded us, a phrase that St.
Augustine translates as: "Faith rises from the roots of the heart."
It is necessary, however, to distinguish lack of faith from the darkness
of faith and temptations against it. In this Third Week of Advent we are
again accompanied by the figure of John the Baptist, but under a new
guise. It is the Baptist who in last Sunday's Gospel sends the disciples
to ask Jesus: "Are you he who is to come, or shall we look for another?"
We must not avoid the drama that is hidden behind this episode of the
Precursor's life. He is in prison, cut off from everything; he knows
that his life is hanging from a thread; but the external darkness is
nothing compared to the darkness that arises in his heart. He no longer
knows if all that for which he lived is true or false. He had pointed to
the Rabbi of Nazareth as the Messiah, as the Lamb of God, and pressed
the people and also his disciples to be united to him and now suffers
the piercing doubt that all this might have been an error of his, that
Jesus is not the one awaited. How different this John the Baptist is
from the one of the preceding Sundays thundering on the banks of the
But how is it that Jesus, who seems so severe in face of the lack of
faith of the people and reproaches his disciples for being "men of
little faith," shows himself, in this circumstance, so understanding in
his Precursor's uncertainty? He does not refuse to provide the "signs"
requested, as he does in other cases: "Go and tell John what you hear
and see ..." The envoys having left, Jesus expresses the greatest praise
of the Baptist that ever came from his lips: "Among those born of women
there has risen no one greater than John the Baptist," adding only in
that circumstance: "Blessed is he who takes no offense in me" (Matthew
11:6). He knew how easy it is to "take offense" in him, in his apparent
impotence, in the apparent denial of the facts.
The Baptist's test is one that is renewed in every age. There have been
great souls who lived only by faith and who, in a phase of their life,
often even the last, fell into the most painful darkness, tormented by
the doubt of having failed everything and lived in deceit. From a bishop
who was his friend, I learned that even Don Tonino Bello, unforgettable
bishop of Molfetta, experienced a similar moment before dying. There is
faith in these cases, stronger than ever, but hidden in a remote corner
of the soul, which only God is able to read.
If God so glorified John the Baptist it means that when he was in
darkness he never ceased believing in the Lamb of God whom he once
pointed out to the world. The Apostle Paul's testament is also his: "I
have finished the course, I have kept the faith" (2 Timothy 4:7).
Faith is the wedding ring that unites God and man in an alliance
it is no accident that a wedding ring, at least in Italian, is called,
precisely, faith. Like gold, faith
says the First Letter of Peter
must be purified in the crucible (cf. 1 Peter 1:7) and the crucible of
faith is suffering, above all suffering caused by doubt and by what St.
John of the Cross calls the dark night of the spirit. The Catholic
doctrine of purgatory being established, everything can continue to be
purified after death
hope, charity, humility ..., except faith. The latter can only be
purified in this life, before passing from faith to vision. This is why
this heavy trial is concentrated here on earth.
However, it is not just a question of exceptional souls. The same
difficulty that drove the Baptist to send messengers to Jesus still
impedes the Jewish people from recognizing Jesus of Nazareth as the
awaited Messiah. And not only them. The Second Letter of St. Peter
refers to the question that was rife among Christians of his time:
"Where is the promise of his coming? For, ever since the fathers fell
asleep, all things have continued as they were from the beginning of
creation" (2 Peter 3:4). Even today, this is the reason that many people
give who do not believe in the coming redemption, namely, that
"everything continues as before!"
Peter suggests an explanation: God "is not slow about his promise as
some count slowness, but is forbearing toward you, not wishing that any
should perish, but that all should reach repentance" (2 Peter 3:9). But
more than speculative reasons it is necessary to draw from one's heart
the strength that makes faith triumph over doubt and skepticism. It is
in the heart that the Holy Spirit makes the believer know that Jesus is
alive and real, in a way that cannot be expressed by reasoning.
At times one word of Scripture suffices to rekindle this faith and renew
the certainty. For me this was settled by Balaam's oracle proclaimed in
last Monday's first reading: "I see him, but not now; I behold him, but
not nigh: a star shall call forth out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise
out of Israel" (Number 24:17). We know that star, we know to whom that
scepter belongs. Not by abstract deduction, but because for 2,000 years
the realization of the prophecy has been before our eyes.
As every year, we are preparing to celebrate the apparition of that
star. We recalled at the beginning that the Eucharist is the true crib
in which it is possible to adore the Word of God, not in images but in
reality. The clearest sign of the continuity between the mystery of the
Incarnation and the Eucharistic mystery is that, with the same words
with which, in the Adoro Te Devote, we greet the God hidden under
the appearances of bread and wine, we can, at Christmas, greet the God
hidden under the appearance of a child. Let us, therefore, place
ourselves in spirit before the Child Jesus in the crib and let us sing
together the first stanza of our hymn, as if it was written for him:
Adóro te devóte, latens Déitas,
quae sub his figuris vere látitas:
tibi se cor meum totum súbicit,
quia te contémplans totum déficit.
1 Jacopone da Todi, Laude XLVI: "Li quattro sensi dicono: / Questo
si è vero pane. /Solo audito resistelo, / Ciascun de lor fuor remane. /
So' queste visibil forme / Cristo occultato ce stane" ("The four
senses say: This is but bread. Only the hearing is opposed and
constrains them to withdraw. Under these visible forms, Christ is
hidden). Cf. F.J.E. Raby, The Date and Authorship of the Poem Adoro
te devote, in Speculum, 20, 1945, pp. 236-238. The text would
confirm the lesson "quae sub his formis," instead of "quae sub
his figuris," in the first stanza.
2 The pictures with this theme have constituted a session of the
exhibition entitled "Seeing Salvation," held in London in the year 2000
and reproduced in part in the exhibition's catalogue: cfr. The Images
of Christ, London, 2000, pp. 62-73.
3 St. Augustine, Sermo 23, 3 (CCL 41, 322); Gregory of Nyssa
affirms the same, Or. cat., 32 (PG 45, 80).
4 Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 55
5 Cfr. M. Righetti, "Storia liturgica," II, Milan 1969,
6 Cfr. S.Th. III, q. 76, a. 1. The principle of natural
concomitance is taken up by the Council of Trent (Denzinger, 1640)
which, however, on this point does no more than quote St. Thomas,
without giving this explanation dogmatic value.
7 S. Th. III, q.76. a.2, ad 2.
8 It is the point on which M.J. Scheeben bases all his treatment of the
Eucharist, "I misteri del cristianesimo," Chapter 6, Morcelliana,
Brescia 1960, pp. 458-526.
9 St. Augustine, "In Ioh.," 26, 2 (PL 35, 1077).
[Translation by ZENIT]