REFLECTIONS ON ECCLESIA DE EUCHARISTIA - 13
Dr Gerhard Ludwig Müller
Bishop of Regensburg
An intimate bond exists between Eucharist and priesthood
Through the practice of the so-called "intercommunion", the present currents of ecumenism seek to demonstrate that the fundamental differences in the understanding of the Catholic Eucharist and the Protestant communion have been overcome. The open criticism of the recent Encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia is an exhortation to pay no heed to the Pontiff's decision.
It is precisely such developments, facilitated by a minority, that endanger the ecumenical process. Theirs is not a fight for the unity of the Church of Jesus Christ, but the quest for a Church which will abdicate her own apostolic foundations.
In Ecclesia de Eucharistia, John Paul II stresses the apostolicity of the Church as her living moment. The Church is apostolic because in her the Apostles will continue to teach, guide and sanctify, until the return of Christ. Through the successors of the Apostles, the Bishops, assisted by the priests, the saving work begun by Christ is continued in the Church and for men and women.
Priest as in persona Christi
The authentic transmission of the faith occurs through the sacrament of Orders that is implicit in succession. Apostolic succession guarantees the authenticity of the doctrine presented as binding. With it is expressed the fundamental criterion for succession, that is, inner identification with the faith of the Fathers, the teaching of the Church and the Pope as Supreme Pastor of the Church, without succession becoming merely an empty mechanism, degraded in a purely material way to a formality. Apostolic succession is the intimate acceptance of the faith that the individual on whom the mandate is conferred has received from the Church.
Before the rest of the People of God, the ministerial priest offers the Eucharistic sacrifice inpersona Christi. He does not simply offer the sacrifice in the place of Christ, but in "specific, sacramental identification with the eternal High Priest" (Ecclesia de Eucharistia, n. 29), which, through the offering of the Eucharistic sacrifice, reconciles man with God. The priest celebrates the gift that Jesus Christ has offered to his Church. The gift of the bread and wine must be included in the gift of self that Jesus has made to the Father, so as to be transformed into it and offered to us as the Body and Blood of Jesus.
In partaking of Christ's Body and Blood and through Jesus Christ, we are also given the communion of the Son with the Father. He lives in us and we live through him, for he is our food on the journey towards eternal life. It is Christ himself who makes us participate in his reconciliatory sacrifice and includes us in communion with God.
Consequently, the mission of service to the Church steers us clear of human manipulation, since the gratuitous character of the gift is preserved only through the conferral of power by the Bishop. The permanent centre of the Eucharist is Jesus himself, from whose hands we receive the gifts and who welcomes us into the lasting promise of his presence.
Eucharist is linked to vocations
The specifically sacramental power received through ordination calls into question the priest's own life. It gives to the ordained priest the reassurance that, despite the multiple obligations that his duties impose on him, his life is bound to Christ's generous love for human beings. The Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests of the Second Vatican Council, Presbyterorum Ordinis, points to the Eucharistic sacrifice as "the centre and root of the whole priestly life" (n. 14). Through the daily celebration of the Eucharist, the generous love of Christ on the Cross becomes an example for the priest and impels him to consider his own life as a service to men and women, as well as to building the Kingdom of God.
The intensity and inner spontaneity with which a man accepts the priestly vocation can also become an example of the response to God's call for many young men. A vocation is often born from a young man's personal encounter with a priest who models his own life on the Eucharist. What is fascinating in this regard is the complete fulfilment of the pastoral love of the priest who, by celebrating the Eucharist, confers meaning and orientation upon the whole of his existence.
It is therefore a cause of deep distress that in many parishes the celebration of the Eucharist is no longer the norm. The sacrifice of Holy Mass has been replaced by celebrations of the Word, led by Religious and lay people. They do their best to keep the Sunday celebrations going, exercising "in a praiseworthy way the common priesthood of all the faithful based on the grace of Baptism" (Ecclesia de Eucharistia, n. 32).
However, this omission of the Eucharist, which can only be celebrated by a priest, must not be held up as a model for the future. In the Eucharist the entire People of God becomes the Body of Christ, whose Head is Christ himself. Only through the celebration of the holy Eucharistic sacrifice are we united to Christ so directly as to permit the faithful assembled to experience their identity as a community of baptized persons.
Giving the teaching proper place
The Church becomes concrete in Eucharistic Communion. She is built up and receives the form of the Body of Christ. That is why it is indispensable that the Eucharist be celebrated by an ordained priest. In offering the Eucharistic sacrifice, he represents Christ himself who transforms the believers gathered into Church.
The Encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia of Pope John Paul II very clearly recalls the connection between the Eucharist and the priesthood. The fundamental bond between the sacramental celebration of the transubstantiation of the bread and the wine into the Body and Blood of Christ — the fulfilment of the Eucharistic mystery and the ordained office — is indissoluble.
If this understanding of the Eucharistic sacrifice were to occupy its former central place in the Church, young people would once again give themselves with dedication and total availability to the true heart of our faith.
In the Eucharist, Christ is reconciled with God. Together with the Eucharist instituted by Christ, the priesthood was also instituted. What is concrete in the action of Jesus does not admit of a separating of the Eucharist from the ordained minister.
Weekly Edition in English
17/24 December 2003, page 18
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