Diminishing two signs of Faith: The Eucharist, the Crèche

By Dr. Jeff Mirus (bio - articles - email) | Dec 15, 2016

A priest has decided not to continue the tradition of setting up a Nativity scene in the public cemetery in the Italian city of Cremona. Since the crèche would be visible from a section of the cemetery used by Muslims, Fr. Sante Braggie fears it “could be seen as a lack of respect”.

This is a very peculiar approach to evangelization, to strip away outward signs of our faith in Christ in order to avoid offending those who find Our Lord offensive. Kudos to the city officials who are trying to continue the tradition anyway.

Meanwhile, Cardinal Walter Kasper is urging the Church to open Communion to Lutheran spouses of Catholics—an issue made famous in a Q&A session hosted by Pope Francis just over a year ago. Kasper sees this as the next logical step, as he now regards Communion as permissible for invalidly married Catholics.

This issue is not as transparently bogus as the decision to hide the Nativity from Muslims, but it does weaken a more important sign of Faith. After all, the Eucharist is not just an artful representation; it is a sacrament, an outward sign instituted by Christ to give grace. To put the matter even more succinctly, the Eucharist is not a representation of Christ at all; it really IS Christ—body, blood, soul and divinity.

The reason the question of Eucharistic sharing arises when considering Lutherans is that, in contrast to all other Protestant groups, Lutheran theology actually holds Christ to be really present in the Eucharist. Lutherans do not have the same understanding of this as Catholics (compare the Lutheran concept of consubstantiation with the Catholic understanding of transubstantiation), but they do not typically regard Christ’s presence as merely figurative, or even as merely “spiritual”.

But here we have a more practical problem: Lutherans may believe that Christ is really present in their Eucharist, and we can commend them for understanding better than most what the Eucharist ought to entail. But, as a matter of plain fact, the Lutherans do not actually make Christ present in their Eucharist. The reason is simple: They do not have priests who can confect the Sacrament. The Lutheran Eucharist, like all Protestant celebrations of the Eucharist no matter how conceived, is at best a mere remembrance, and at worst mummery.

It follows that any Lutheran who really understood the Eucharist would recognize the need of “converting” (as we used to be allowed to say) to Catholicism. Without that inescapably logical desire, a Lutheran spouse would necessarily view Communion in the Catholic Church as more or less the same as “communion” in the Lutheran Church. But one is real, and the other is not.

In Cremona, Fr. Braggie wants to keep Christ from being seen. That is bad enough. But Cardinal Kasper is apparently content to have Christ seen without being unrecognized. It is true that the Lutheran spouse would receive the Real Christ. But if the spouse knew the difference, he or she would not remain a Lutheran. And that is a dilution of the most sacred sign of all.

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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  • Posted by: rickt26170 - Dec. 17, 2016 4:53 PM ET USA

    I was confirmed a Lutheran long before joining the Church. The latest Kasper catastrophe doesn't grasp a basic reality. Most Lutherans belong to the World Lutheran Federation. They are ecumenical but increasingly secular. Don't think their pastors believe in the Real Presence: I doubt they believe in the resurrection. The International World Council (includes Missouri Synod) takes their Luther seriously and believe in the real presence but also reject any ecumenical reach to Catholicism.

  • Posted by: [email protected] - Dec. 16, 2016 9:27 PM ET USA

    Believing in His presence in the Eucharist is fine but they fail as there are no priests who actually perform the right of transsubstantiation. So Christ is truly not blood and body soul and divinity a part their Communion. They can become Catholic if they truly believe.

  • Posted by: koinonia - Dec. 15, 2016 9:03 PM ET USA

    Well the most important consideration is the life consideration. Lutherans do not have access to the sacraments. Unless they have miraculously remained sinless since baptism, they would receive the Eucharist unworthily (sacrilegious is another outdated term). This is the charity of refusing communion to the non-Catholic; it's for their own good. We "do no harm" as the first law of medicine testifies. Charity is being turned on its head, and in the context of encounter, harm is facilitated.

  • Posted by: Randal Mandock - Dec. 15, 2016 7:51 PM ET USA

    At the heart of the Catholic Eucharist is the physical sacrifice of Christ present on our altars. The bread and wine are consecrated separately to show how Christ's blood was separated from His body on the tree. It is a true sacrifice, not a mere remembrance, symbolic act, or hocus pocus. The Mass as physical sacrifice is what has distinguished the Catholic and Orthodox Churches from all other ecclesial bodies ever since the night Christ established the New Covenant in His sacramental essence.

  • Posted by: BrotherRex7235 - Dec. 15, 2016 7:04 PM ET USA

    [I]n contrast to all other Protestant groups, Lutheran theology actually holds Christ to be really present in the Eucharist." Actually, Anglican groups of various types beleive that Christ is truly present in the consecrated elements at their Eucharistic liturgies. Not all Anglicans believe this, as it is permissible to believe or disbelieve anything you like while calling yourself an Anglican. Still, Lutherans are not the only Protestants to beleive that Christ is present in the Eucharist.