Reflection on Sacramentum Caritatis
From the Table to the marketplace
A glance at the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis may give the impression that this text focuses on the Eucharist and ends up treating many different aspects of life. Is this not excessive?
However, when one speaks of the Eucharist it is a question of the whole of the Church and of human life. Everything gathers around the Eucharistic table.
Seventy years ago, in his Catholicism: Social Aspects of Dogma, Fr Henri de Lubac drew attention to the social aspect of the Sacrament, especially in the Eucharist. He recalled one of the things St Thomas had said: "The Eucharist contains the whole mystery of our salvation".
An awareness of this is found in the pages of the Document and helped enliven the interventions at the Synod of Bishops, in which I myself took part. Different experiences, diverse problems, were lined up around the Eucharist.
In reading the pages of Sacramentum Caritatis it is possible to understand the Eucharistic Mystery and its interconnection with the life of believers.
The Eucharist transfigures the life of Christians: it is the doctrine and experience of generations. In the text one reads: "Christianity's new worship includes and transfigures every aspect of life". It continues: "Here we can see the full human import of the radical newness brought by Christ in the Eucharist: the worship of God in our lives cannot be relegated to something private and individual, but tends by its nature to permeate every aspect of our existence" (n. 71).
Christian faith and worship are not acts of private devotion, nor the expression of a search for balance or spiritual well-being. This explains its difference from other religious worlds. Eucharistic worship continues in life.
It was the teaching of the Apostle Paul, who in his Letter to the Romans spoke of the "spiritual worship" of those who do not conform to this world but are transformed by the renewal of their minds, "that they may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect" (Rom 12:1-12).
Forty years ago, Jean-Jacques von Allmen, a Protestant theologian, spoke of the Eucharist as "a place of diastole and systole for the Church": Christian life arrives here and from here starts out on its adventure in history.
Sacramentum Caritatis uses Ignatius of Antioch's phrase: "living in the observance of the Lord's Day", taken from an illuminating passage in his Epistle to the Magnesians in which the Martyr has two brilliant intuitions.
He says that Jesus "proceeds from his eternal Word, not silence". He then speaks of Christians as having come into the possession of a new hope... living in accordance with the Lord's Day, on which also our life has sprung up through the grace of the Lord and through his death".
Eucharist frees to live and love
Thus, the Exhortation says: "'Living in accordance with the Lord's Day' means living in the awareness of the liberation brought by Christ and making our lives a constant self-offering to God, so that his victory may be fully revealed to all humanity through a profoundly renewed existence" (n. 72).
The Christian laity, the Document continues, "should cultivate a desire that the Eucharist have an ever deeper effect on their daily lives, making them convincing witnesses" (n. 79).
The Eucharist liberates energies of life and of love. To illustrate this transformation, the Gospel episode of Zacchaeus has rightly been chosen (Lk 19:1-10). For me, this episode expresses how the presence of Jesus in the home of a sinner arouses the desire to do good. Moreover, taking part in the Eucharist is often compared with greeting the Lord in one's own home.
In the Gospel it was not Jesus who imposed on Zacchaeus the amount he was to give to those he had swindled or to the poor.
On the contrary, it is he himself who, "full of joy", decides how much to give, which is far more than could have been reasonably expected. Indeed, his gift is the expression of a generosity inspired by Jesus' presence.
In this regard, I would like to reflect on two of the consequences of Jesus' presence in his home treated in the text: Eucharistic coherency and the social implications of the Eucharistic mystery. Coherency is an aspect of the personal and public fidelity of the Christian.
The Exhortation addresses Christians with public responsibilities concerning the defence of life, the family founded on marriage, freedom of education and the promotion of the common good in all its forms (a notion which truly includes a considerable number of commitments).
The press immediately linked the affirmation with the Italian political agenda. But this is a text of the universal Church. Some commentators seem to suggest that an ecclesiastical Authority for the theological control of legislative activity should be established.
The National Bishops' Conferences are something quite different from this council of custodians or other such institutions that sift the compatibility of civil law with religious law, as happens with the Iranian theocratic model!
The discourse is deeper and more involving. Sacramentum Caritatis says that Catholic politicians "must feel particularly bound, on the basis of a properly formed conscience, to introduce and support laws inspired by values grounded in human nature. There is an objective connection here with the Eucharist" (n. 83).
Conscience and responsibility
Reference is made to the First Letter to the Corinthians: "Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgement upon himself" (I Cor 11:27-29).
We are at the root of the Christian conscience in front of the Eucharist. It is the process of conversion which forms the mature Christian. The Christian conscience grows in prayer, in listening to the Word of God, in the community of the Church. An authoritative call to coherence helps and forms the conscience of individuals and must be reflected in their behaviour and decisions.
John Henry Newman wrote unforgettable pages on this: "Our guide through life, implanted in our nature to discern good and evil, to impose good with authority and clarity, is our conscience, which revelation illuminates, strengthens and purifies".
While he was still an Anglican, Newman said in a sermon: "Human responsibility does not depend on circumstances but on the conscience". Self-examination develops the conscience and the sense of responsibility in the face of the problems of our time; to solve them, Christians cannot passively conform to the current mindset. A complex epoch requires responsible Christians but especially mature, sensitive, faithful and courageous consciences.
This need is also apparent in the section of the Exhortation that addresses the social implications of the Eucharistic Mystery. Recognition of this fact, the Pope states, "leads to a determination to transform unjust structures and to restore respect for the dignity of all men and women" (n. 89).
Benedict XVI appeals to the Christian conscience: "All who partake of the Eucharist must commit themselves to peacemaking in our world scarred by violence and war, and today in particular, by terrorism, economic corruption and sexual exploitation" (ibid.).
The Eucharist and listening to the Word of God transform believers into women and men who seek peace and the good of their brothers and sisters in humanity. This is a crucial aspect of the link between worship and life with a profound effect on the future of so many of the world's peoples.
The Pope thus voiced the yearning which marked the Synod interventions. I seemed to grasp this as I listened to the intervention.
In history, persecuted men and women, under the pressure of violent passions, did not surrender to evil because they were nourished by the Eucharist. Their Christian consciences, sustained by the Eucharistic Bread and by the Word, became a sanctuary of freedom from which flowed great energies of love.
Persecution and martyrdom were connected to the Eucharist. In the oppressive Communist Albania, a real concentration-camp Country for almost half a century, Bishop Coba was arrested and executed for having celebrated an underground Eucharist on Easter in 1979 or 1980.
Archbishop Romero of San Salvador was killed at the altar on 24 March 1980, while he was celebrating the Eucharist and at the moment of the Offertory. He had just said: "May this Body given and this Blood sacrificed for men and women also nourish us, so that we may give our bodies and our blood for suffering and for pain like Christ, not for its own sake, but to make justice and peace bear fruit for his people of ours".
Weekly Edition in English
9 January 2008, page 8
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