Reflection on Sacramentum Caritatis
Réal Tremblay, C.SS.R.
Bringing to light the power of the Eucharist
I would like here to demonstrate the timeliness of Benedict XVI's recent Apostolic Exhortation Sacrament Caritatis, drawing attention to certain aspects of the Document which seem to me particularly significant today.
The first text chosen is the following:
"The substantial conversion of bread and wine into his Body and Blood introduces within creation the principle of a radical change, a sort of 'nuclear fission', to use an image familiar to us today, which penetrates to the heart of all being, a change meant to set off a process which transforms reality, a process leading ultimately to the transfiguration of the entire world, to the point where God will be all in all (cf. I Cor 15:28)" (n. 11).
We are all familiar with the image of "nuclear fission", as the Pope, moreover, explicitly notes. Here, the image serves to corroborate the understanding of the very particular power at work in the conversion "in substance" of the Eucharistic bread and wine.
This bread and this wine are the Risen Christ in person, in his eternal sacrifice to the Father. Through his presence and the attraction it exerts on us and the world, he establishes a "transformation process" of transfiguration that will be fulfilled in the presence of God in all things.
This teaching brings us to the ontological level or, more precisely, to that of the contact of the Risen One's being with our own; it is therefore supremely effective.
It also brings us, however, to the level of the invisible, which cannot easily be harmonized with this world's sensitivity and taste for the visible and tangible. Does this signify that the meaning of this doctrine will completely escape believers of our time?
Invisibility of new life
Although they may be barely aware of it, people today, including believers, have considerable experience of the invisible.
Who, for example, is responsible for the functioning of the Internet on which they surf everyday? Technicians, whom they do not see but whom they know exist somewhere in the world, given that the system works.
Or who guarantees to those who have never been there that the city of Sydney really exists? The answer is their trust in the accounts of people who have lived there.
The invisible power of the Eucharistic Bread can thus be an opportunity, through good catechesis, of course, to make today's Christians (and possibly people of good will) aware that not all that is effective in this world is directly proportional to the observable, the tangible and the measurable.
It will thus be possible to alert them to another type of invisible effectiveness that is truly far more powerful than splitting the atom: that of being in action, as in the case, for example, of the coming to life of the human embryo, of baptismal regeneration, of Eucharistic conversio at the moment of the epiclesis and of the words of Institution, and of the participation of believers in the sacrifice of the Risen One, the "Bread of eternal life".
Everything dealing with the origin and growth of a reality is invisible. In our case, the invisible belongs to this world of roots, that is, it has a hold on being, it is access to being and to its manifestation.
The Pope's thought on the invisible power of God used in the Eucharist for believers and the world and for their ultimate fulfilment in God should not be taken lightly or considered a secondary element of Sacramentum Caritatis. It is the very heart of the Document and gives life to all its components.
The second text is the following:
"This relationship between creed and worship is evidenced in a particular way by the rich theological and liturgical category of beauty. Like the rest of Christian Revelation, the liturgy is inherently linked to beauty: it is veritatis splendor. The liturgy is a radiant expression of the Paschal Mystery, in which Christ draws us to himself and calls us to communion. This is no mere aestheticism, but the concrete way in which the truth of God's love in Christ encounters us, attracts us and delights us, enabling us to emerge from ourselves and drawing us towards our true vocation, which is love" (n. 35).
In this paragraph the Pope speaks of the relationship between lex credendi and lex orandi. He sees this relationship manifested particularly in the "theological and liturgical category of beauty". Like Christian Revelation, the liturgy is fundamentally connected with beauty: it makes the Paschal Mystery shine forth, which attracts us to our vocation to love.
Here, there is no mere "aestheticism" or simple "harmony of proportion and form"; for "the fairest of the sons of men", the One who reveals and dispenses the Father's glory, is also the Disfigured One of Golgotha, the "man of sorrows" in, Isaiah's song of the Servant (Is 53:3).
All the parameters of worldly beauty are thus surpassed, since it is the beauty of love which "can transform even the dark mystery of death into the radiant light of the Resurrection" (n. 35).
The Paschal Mystery, in its duality of death/darkness and life/light, is an expression of the free service God offers to sinful humanity in assuming it, purifying it and making a gift of his intimacy to it.
Here too, how modern this relationship between faith... and celebration through beauty is! We live in a world of "aestheticism". It suffices to open a newspaper or magazine, to watch television or consult an Internet Web site to note the interest in the beauty of the body, clothes, the environment, etc. It could be said that "aestheticism" has become one of the mainstays of our consumer and image-focused society.
At the same time, one inevitably observes that this insistence on "harmony of proportion and form" is not true beauty. It is a beauty centred on self, a beauty that draws attention to self which attracts the gaze in order to seduce, be noticed and desired. It is the cult of appearance.
Aspects of Christ's fullness
The beauty of faith which shines out in the Church's liturgy can by contrast affect people who have become disgusted by this superficiality and self-worship. Instead of the emptiness of "aestheticism", it shows the fullness of Christ's open Heart, ever alive in his sacrifice pro nobis which is prolonged, for example, in parents giving to their children, in doctors dedicated to their patients, In Pastors attached to their flocks, etc.
Let us proceed to the third text:
"Our communities, when they celebrate the Eucharist, must become ever more conscious that the sacrifice of Christ is for all, and that the Eucharist thus compels all who believe in him to become 'bread that is broken' for others, and to work for the building of a more just and fraternal world. Keeping in mind the multiplication of the loaves and fishes, we need to realize that Christ continues today to exhort his disciples to become personally engaged: 'You yourselves, give them something to eat' (Mt 14:16). Each of us is truly called, together with Jesus, to be bread broken for the life of the world" (n. 88).
The relevance of such a text today is obvious. We are effectively living in a difficult time in history. Every day we see arriving in our cities faces with new features of various colours. people of religious and cultural backgrounds different than our own.
We also see the influx of new forms of poverty, the new frailties that we ourselves had been able to keep under control by our social policies and by building hospital infrastructures, etc. We knew, of course, that not far away tragedies with virtually no solution were being played out and that entire continents were in the grip of hunger, thirst, incurable diseases, etc.
Yet all this was remote from us, out of sight and out of mind, as is sometimes the case today with the ebb and flow of the ocean of poverty whose powerful and incessant waves break at our boundaries and invade the territory of our social and private lives. If our wellbeing has not hardened our hearts, it has, at the very least, made them more or less oblivious to the tragic reality of our world.
Benedict XVI's invitation to make ourselves "bread broken" for the life of our brethren, in a continuation of the Eucharist, comes at the right moment. Jesus' sensitivity to the hunger of the crowds, which prompted him to multiply the loaves and to make himself "bread broken for the life of the world", we should make our own.
We can and must do so, not through mere external imitation but in response to an inner demand of our identity. Concern for the poor, the hungry, the thirsty (here in the twofold sense of poverty, both physical and moral), which tormented and inflamed Jesus' Heart, can and must become our own in the strong sense of the word. This is because we consume "the Body and Blood" of the Lord, the "Body and Blood", as the Pope says in the wake of St. Augustine and of so many other Patristic accounts, which draw us to him and identify us with him.
The situation in which we live consequently awakens in us an element inherent in our "Eucharistic existence", and our "Eucharistic existence" finds in today's situation new possibilities for expression and fulfilment.
Existence in the Eucharist
Lastly, here is a fourth text:
"[D]uring the presentation of the gifts, the priest raises to God a prayer of blessing and petition over the bread and wine, 'fruit of the earth', 'fruit of the vine' and 'work of human hands'. With these words, the rite not only includes in our offering to God all human efforts and activity, but also leads us to see the world as God's creation, which brings forth everything we need for our sustenance.
"The world, is not something indifferent, raw material to be utilized simply as we see fit. Rather, it is part of God's plan, in, which all of us are called to be sons and daughters in the one Son of God, Jesus Christ (cf. Eph 1:4-12). The justified concern about threats to the environment present in so many parts of the world is reinforced by Christian hope, which commits us to working responsibly, for the protection of creation".
And the Pope continues:
"The relationship between the Eucharist and the cosmos helps us to see the unity of God's plan and to grasp the profound relationship between creation and the 'new creation' inaugurated in the Resurrection of Christ, the new Adam. Even now we take part in that new creation by virtue of our Baptism (cf. Col 2:12ff.). Our Christian life, nourished by the Eucharist, gives us a glimpse of that new world new heavens and a new earth where the new Jerusalem comes down from heaven, from God, 'prepared as a bride adorned for her husband' (Rv 21:2)" (n. 92).
Henceforth, no one can doubt that from one day to the next, our planet is suffering massive attacks. Unless they cease, it will be doomed to a death accompanied by a crisis of apocalyptic dimensions for human beings and for our fauna and flora.
It is true that people are beginning to pay heed to the cries of alarm raised for decades by watchful individuals and groups of experts. International projects are gradually coming to the fore.
Alas! These projects are very hesitant and not much use if one considers the frightful tragedy being silently woven, whose warning symptoms can be detected in our everyday life.
It is a mystery of the stubbornness of man, who forgets that the boat on which he is navigating, the scene of his projects, his exchanges, his entertainments, etc., loses daily another piece of its hull.
To what can we attribute this attitude? To the market economy, which has to thrive in spite of everything and in which substantial capital sums are involved? To the lethargy induced by opulent society's well-being and comfort? To the selfishness of nations and the generation of the new rich who, heedless of the future, use everything to serve their own prestige and transient triumphs? Thus, to the new forms of sin?
Here too, Benedict XVI's Exhortation is timely. It recalls that the cosmos does not come from man but from God, and consequently that the world is not something indifferent which belongs to no one, to be utilized merely as we see fit.
The Document reminds us that the cosmos has of course been made for man. This "for" us must be understood in the sense of not exploiting its resources but used as dictated by the real needs and content of human subsistence. Hence, extravagance and caprice must clearly be avoided.
The offering to the Father of the bread and wine, the compendium of creation and of the work of human hands, is ordained to become the presence and expression of the Son's personal offering on the Cross.
So how is it possible to give oneself up to destroying creation when both creation and human work are, so to speak, copies, moulds or pre-existing models of the filial pro nobis?
The use of creation must therefore be motivated by the mens, by the "pro-existing" nous of the Son. These are the "strong points" that believers can contribute to the efforts and hope of still being able to save our planet from destruction.
And these "strong points" are linked to eternity, it is necessary to add together with Benedict XVI. For al, though our earth is to be respected in the above-mentioned sense, it is not permanent. It is a garden that heralds another, infinitely more beautiful. It is ordered to a transfiguration, to an as yet unheard of newness whose consistence goes beyond one's wildest dreams.
The Pope does not intend with this to deprive our earth of its value, but rather to give earth its full value. Eucharistic nourishment enables us to express this oneness of God's plan and even to glimpse the dawn of its newness, preparing it in continuity with the previous reflections.
Although the new creation is fundamentally God's work, the believer in a certain way collaborates in it. With the pro-existente use of creation as mentioned above, the believer complies with God's plan.
Thus, he becomes the pro-logue to God's work, of which God alone is the epi-logue. Here too, the Eucharist is of a burning timeliness. It inserts believer into the unity of temporal creation and eternal re-creation, allowing them to experience it and through its action to prepare creation for what still awaits it.
The Church in the coming years cannot fail to take seriously this extension of Benedict XVI's first Encyclical on the love that is God (cf. Sacramentum Caritatis n. 5). The transforming and mysterious power of the Eucharist in comparison with the strongest thing in this world; the revealing and attractive power of the mystery which explains this transfiguring energy, the Paschal Mystery; the radical, fraternal and universal commitment which stems from it; and respect and concern for the first creation with a view to establishing the second: these are all factors which are not likely to leave today's believers indifferent, and possibly people of good will, too.
Knowledge that the Eucharist is not marginal to what constitutes the great challenges of the present time but is an integral part of them and helps to solve them is in fact what Benedict XVI has expressed in this Exhortation.
May Pastors and theologians of the Church study and meditate on this important text in order to ensure that its substance flows into the life-giving arteries of the Church, for if it is true, as the Pope recalls, that it is the Church that makes the Eucharist, it is also the Eucharist which makes the Church, and through her, improves the world.
Weekly Edition in English
30 January 2008, page 5
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