Commentary on the Instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum
Fr Inos Biffi
Pontifical Academy of St Thomas Aquinas
Respecting the full meaning of 'Real Presence'
The Eucharist is the presence of the sacrifice of the Cross in the festive signs of bread and wine. The Lord instituted the Eucharist on the eve of his Passion so that the memorial, or sacrament, of his Sacrifice might be present in the Church. The real presence of his offering on Calvary is brought about at every Eucharistic Celebration.
After the Mass, however, the bread and wine, consecrated by the priest who represents Christ "in persona Christi", do not cease to be the Body and Blood of Jesus; the "effective word of Christ" (the "operatorius sermo Christi", as St Ambrose defines it [De Sacram., IV, 4, 15]) radically transforms them, that is, in their very substance, and this is not merely a transient transformation that endures in space and time or for only as long as the rite.
"Transubstantiation" as termed by the Tridentine Fathers
To describe at what level this "conversion" occurs, indeed, this "wonderful and singular conversion", according to the Tridentine Fathers' connotation, the Fathers themselves with a felicitous and suitable definition termed it "transubstantiation".
Nor was this a philosophical choice as all too often, and superficially, people are still saying. Indeed, that incomprehensible concept was used to express a truth whose doctrine and procedures Christian Tradition has never ceased to profess: "after the prayer of thanksgiving formed of Christ's words", (Justin, Apol. 1, 66), even when Mass is over and as long as the species remain, the bread and the wine continue irreversibly to be the Body and Blood of Our Lord; and remain so — according to the clear, perceptive and descriptive Tridentine adverbs — "vere, realiter, substantialiter" [truly, really, substantially].
Let us refer to a text by Origen: "You who habitually witness the holy mysteries know with what respectful precaution you preserve the Body of the Lord when you receive it, lest some crumbs of it fall and part of the consecrated treasure be lost. Thus, you would feel guilty, and rightly so, if by your negligence even a particle of it were to be lost" (In Ex Hom. 13, 3).
Consecrated hosts do not cease to be Christ's Body outside Mass
Of course, even when the Eucharistic Body and Blood of Jesus are preserved outside Mass, they remain so in relation to it: "born" from the sacrament of Christ's sacrifice, as the Encyclical Eucharistia de Ecclesia defines Mass, they never cease to converge in it.
The Instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum reasserts this in the words of the Decree Eucharisticum Sacramentum of 1973: "The celebration of the Eucharist in the Sacrifice of Mass is truly the origin and end of the worship given to the Eucharist outside the Mass" (n. 129), and explains the two purposes of the reservation of the "sacred species": sacramental communion, especially for the sick and elderly, and both private and public adoration of Jesus Christ in this great sacrament.
Instruction calls for implementing liturgical norms
The recent Instruction, rather than being a new text, is above all a syllogism interwoven with a number of post-conciliar Eucharistic Documents, whose intention is to recall the urgent need for their faithful application, which has in fact been frequently and rather seriously disregarded.
Indeed, it is not difficult to observe widespread disinterest concerning the consecrated Species, which are treated with neglect after the celebration and vaguely considered as bread that has been "blessed", even though not ordinary bread.
Likewise, they are often kept in places where they are not safe from the danger of profanation, just as in some places an almost total lack of regard for worship in the form of Eucharistic adoration is evident (cf. n. 136), not to mention a widespread and arbitrary compliance with the liturgical and ritual norms in a Eucharistic context.
Priority of norms: protecting the Sacred Species from profanation
This is precisely the background against which we should understand the dispositions of Redemptionis Sacramentum, intended once again to revive the knowledge of Catholic doctrine and a consistent attitude to the Eucharist that will continue after the celebration.
As regards conduct, the norms concern:
• the reservation of the Blessed Sacrament in the tabernacle in a part of the church that is particularly dignified, readily visible, quiet and decorous, and suitable and conducive to prayer;
• the prohibition to take the Eucharist home or anywhere else, with the risk of profanation;
• the concern to take the Eucharist to the homes of the sick on the most direct route with no detours.
The root of these recommendations continues to be the unique nature of that Bread which is the Flesh of Our Lord, hence, the concern to protect it from profanation, which would diminish the faith in the Real Presence that derives from it.
There is also a reminder that the extraordinary minister of the Eucharist should only replace the ordinary minister when he (a priest or deacon) is absent or prevented from coming: to act in any other way would indicate superficial hastiness that certainly does nothing to preserve a keen sense of the Eucharist as Christ's Body, of the fundamental Eucharistic destination of the ministry of the priest and also of the service of deacons.
Eucharistic faith is professed and edified not only in words, but also and with special effectiveness in the eloquence of the signs that also include ordinary ministers of the Eucharist, who are made such through the Sacrament of Orders.
Spread Eucharistic devotion for its deep value to the Church
"Eucharistic devotion outside Mass has an inestimable value in the life of the Church". The Instruction reconfirms this in order to encourage sacred pastors to promote vigorously "both public and private devotion to the Most Holy Eucharist even outside Mass..., for by means of it the faithful give adoration to Christ, truly and really present" (n. 134).
Thus, the various forms of this worship and devotion are listed (cf. nn. 134145):
• The public and private devotion of the faithful;
• Visits to the Most Holy Sacrament during the day;
• Where possible, the designation of a church in which the Most Holy Sacrament is exposed for perpetual adoration;
• The establishment of guilds or associations to ensure this form of adoration;
• The practice of holding Eucharistic processions and congresses;
• Ensuring that churches in which the Most Holy Eucharist is reserved remain open to the faithful for at least some hours each day, so that they can spend time there in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament.
There is also, of course, a warning that when the Blessed Sacrament is exposed, it should never be left unattended even for the briefest space of time, and the Eucharist should never be exposed during the celebration of Mass.
Unfortunately, we now know that churches that are usually kept open are targets of serious thefts; yet the solution of keeping them constantly closed jeopardizes and prevents the Eucharistic worship of individual members of the faithful. Eventually, however, a solution to this will be found.
The union of Eucharistic worship and participation in Holy Mass
Briefly but effectively, the Instruction recalls in particular the precious fruits of Eucharistic adoration: it is a "communion of desire" that "powerfully joins the faithful to Christ"; a proof of gratitude and a pledge of love for the Lord who is present in the Most Holy Sacrament.
To consider participation in Mass at odds with Eucharistic adoration reveals the lack of a proper understanding of the very meaning of Mass, through which the sacrifice of the Cross, hence, the personal love of the Crucified One, is made present and assimilated in the depths of the heart and in the experience of life: this is the aim of Eucharistic adoration and of the sentiments to which it gives rise.
We have mentioned the crisis of Eucharistic worship, which in our opinion seems to be widespread and very serious. We consider it both a sign and a cause of the loss or blurring of the Christian sense of the mystery.
In the end this attitude even obscures the celebration of the Eucharist in which Jesus Christ personally, in whom all interest and attention should converge, is no longer considered the pre-eminent, active focus; instead, the focus is the busy community, one which is distracted in so many ways from concentrating on and feeling drawn towards the only "One who matters": the Lord.
Eucharistic worship, the key feature of Catholic faith
A final consideration: Eucharistic worship is clearly the identity card or criterion — almost a crossroads — of the Catholic faith.
To deny the value of this form of worship, hence, the Real Presence by virtue of transubstantiation, whose meaning we recalled above, would be to alienate oneself from the Tradition of the Church, from the profound intention of her language, from the dogma defined by the Tridentine Fathers to counter the Reformers' "innovations", a dogma that has lost nothing of its truth and timeliness and has moreover been reaffirmed by the whole of the Church's subsequent Magisterium against recurrent reformers.
It should also be said: the history of the Councils is not the history of a subsequent Catholic doctrine that denies or marginalizes the previous one, but the history of an identical Truth which, in the course of time, is faithfully transmitted and consistently expressed.
Weekly Edition in English
15 September 2004, page 10
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