Catholic Culture Resources
Catholic Culture Resources

Greatest Mystery, The

by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger

Description

This address by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger to the diocesan Eucharistic Congress of Benevento, Italy, touches on the essential teachings of the Church on the Eucharist which may be reaffirmed in a new encyclical by John Paul II.

Larger Work

Inside The Vatican

Pages

10 - 17

Publisher & Date

Urbi et Orbi Communications, New Hope, KY, August - September 2002

Vision Book Cover Prints

For centuries, the most public means used by Popes for carrying out Christ's divine mandate to safeguard the deposit of faith, promote unity, strengthen the brethren, and protect sacred tradition, have been encyclical letters to the faithful of the world. It was by letters that the first Christians were instructed, with 21 of these epistles now forming an essential part of the New Testament. When the Pope issues such a letter, he is exercising his unique role as Vicar of Christ — the foremost teacher and guarantor of the Church's faithfulness to revealed truth.

But encyclicals often grow slowly, going through a process of consultation and development during which Popes draw on the advice and wisdom of their most trusted counselors as well as experts outside the Vatican.

At present in Rome, those close to the Holy Father say widespread confusions and corruptions in recent decades concerning Eucharistic doctrines and practices have persuaded John Paul II, now 82, that he should draft a comprehensive statement on the sacrament. It would be the 14th encyclical in his 24-year pontificate. (His last was Fides et Ratio in 1998.)

One of the chief contributors to any such encyclical will be Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, 75, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Thus, any of Ratzinger's current comments on the Eucharist could offer a clue to some of the matters the Holy Father might be considering for inclusion in a new encyclical.

Significantly, on June 2, 2002, the Cardinal delivered a far-ranging and detailed Eucharistic instruction to the first diocesan Eucharistic Congress in Benevento, Italy, south of Rome. Entitled "Eucharist, Communion and Solidarity," the lecture took place in the Great Hall of the diocesan seminary. Present were the archbishops and bishops of the Campana bishops' conference, along with other religious, civil and military authorities, lay faithful and an unusually large number of young people. The cardinal later presided in the cathedral over the solemn concluding Eucharistic concelebration.

His address touches on all the essential teachings on the Blessed Sacrament, reaffirming traditional devotions, its centrality in shaping holiness and saints, and reasserts "transubstantiation."

What is a bit more unusual in the talk is its redefinition of the relatively modern notion of "solidarity" and linking it to the age-old doctrines of Eucharist and Communion.

A Eucharistic Congress would not have been the best occasion for Ratzinger to address directly the profound crises that have bedeviled Eucharistic belief and devotion in the last 40 years. That the cardinal stands in the center of the Church's irrevocable commitment to the Real Presence and against modern attacks of numerous kinds against it is abundantly clear.

The thrust of the talk is very broad. He not only puts the transformation of bread and wine into Christ's body and blood into a precise historical setting; he also places the Holy Thursday sacramental institution in the context of four other transformations that extend and develop the powerful effect of the Eucharist throughout time and beyond.

Below, Inside the Vatican presents its own complete translation of this important talk by Cardinal Ratzinger.

In the box, a comment by Italian Catholic journalist Antonio Socci serves to further introduce Ratzinger's text.

— The Editor

Cardinal Ratzinger On The Church As Communion: An Introduction

by Antonio Socci

Cardinal Ratzinger's June 2 discourse on the Eucharist seems to anticipate the contents of a soon-to-be-announced encyclical on the Eucharist.

Ratzinger's talk is fascinating because it takes up the great themes of the day: the nature of Church, the source of Church unity, the role of the papacy, the role of Councils, the legitimate and illegitimate types of ecumenism, and the role of the Church in the struggles for social and political justice.

Above all, Ratzinger is trying to explain how Jesus Christ, alive and with us in the Eucharist, creates and vivifies the Church in a mystical way that transcends all sociological categories and analyses.

While some thinkers in the Church insist on the primacy for Christians of Scripture (as, for example, Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, retired Archbishop of Milan, did recently in a speech in Camaldoli, Italy), Ratzinger, the custodian of orthodoxy, explains that the Eucharistic sacrament makes clear "the profound link" between "Scripture and tradition." Ratzinger notes that, "a simple historical view of the Bible, considered on its own, does not sufficiently communicate to us the vision of that which is essential."

Ratzinger then focuses on the question of ecumenism. Only a common, shared Eucharist can reunite Christians, he argues. "The Church is not born of a simple federation of communities," he says. "She is born from the one bread, from the One Lord."

With this concentration on Jesus, Ratzinger warns against thinking such as that espoused by Hans Kung, who in 1965 "believed he had discovered an equivalence of meaning between the words Ekklesia and Concilium" In so doing, Kung distanced himself from the traditional teaching on the primacy of Peter as "the Church was thought to be like a permanent Council." (It was no coincidence, then, that the magazine of progressive theology Kung helped found was called Concilium.)

Ratzinger recalls that at that time he offered theological arguments against Kung's thesis and proposed the word "communio" (communion) as a definition for the Church. (Communio in fact became the name of the rival theological magazine Ratzinger founded along with Hans Urs von Balthasar and Henri de Lubac.)

After the Council, the phrase "People of God" became "the new key concept for the Church," but soon slipped into a solely sociological significance, outside of the mystery of Jesus Christ. "The Bishops' Synod of 1985," says Ratzinger, "attempted a new beginning, putting the word communion at the center, which brings the Eucharist back to the center of the Church and therefore the understanding of the Church as the most intimate place for the encounter between Jesus and men, in the act of His gift to us."

Ratzinger then stresses that the mystical nature of the Eucharist by no means distances Christians from society and social problems, but compels them to engage in acts of justice and charity. In fact, Ratzinger argues, "The great saints of social action were in reality always also great Eucharistic saints." Ratzinger cites examples such as St. Martin of Porres and Mother Teresa: their love for others flowed from long hours of adoration before the tabernacle.

"Whoever recognizes the Lord in the tabernacle, recognizes him in the suffering and needy," Ratzinger notes. That intimacy transformed them.

The decisive conclusion of the cardinal is this: "Only if we consider the Eucharist in this profundity and amplitude do we have something to say to the world." We do not have anything new to say if we preach only a "social Gospel."

Ratzinger then analyzes the meaning of the word "solidarity." He reminds us that this term was born not in a Christian environment, but in a socialist one that opposed "social solidarity" to "the Christian idea of love" as the new, rational and effective answer to social problems.

So, "solidarity" was a socialist term. But by chance a Polish Catholic workers' union calling itself Solidarnosc became partly responsible for the final breakdown of Communism. Ratzinger does not make reference to this historical fact, since he writes in a theological context, but he observes that "the concept of solidarity, in the last 10 years, above all thanks to the ethical studies of the Holy Father, was slowly transformed and Christianized, so that now we rightly place it next to the two key words 'eucharist' and 'communion.'"

The "Polish" meaning of the word solidarity, which connects the word to the Catholic workers' movement and to Marian devotion, is therefore antithetical to that elaborated on the left.

As Ratzinger surveys the current world scene, one sees that he is trying to use his Eucharistic theology of "communio" to create the basis for a new Catholic social teaching on the great 21st century issues of globalization, Third World debt, and the free market. This new teaching, one senses, will be elaborated in the upcoming encyclical in order to support a renewed Catholic missionary effort in a "globalized" but also increasingly divided world.

In the crises of the 1960s and 1970s, many Catholic missionaries reached the conviction that the proclamation of Jesus Christ was no longer opportune, and needed to be replaced by the offer of "social development," Ratzinger notes. But the Church has always declared, and will again declare in the upcoming encyclical, that such a road is radically wrong: "Without God, things cannot go well."

"Eucharist, Communion And Solidarity"

by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger

Dear friends! After preparing for its Eucharistic Congress with prayer, reflection and charitable acts under the guidance of its pastor, Archbishop Serafino Sprovieri, the diocese of Benevento decided to undertake a twofold investigation. It began an in-depth exploration of the relationship between the deepest sacramental mystery of the Church — the Most Holy Eucharist — and the Church's most practical, down-to-earth commitment: her charitable work of sharing, reconciling and unifying. The diocese proposed this exploration to better celebrate the sacrament and to live more fruitfully Christ's "new commandment" that we "love one another."

Often, in the primitive Church, the Eucharist was called simply "agape" that is, "love," or even simply "pax," that is, "peace."

The Christians of that time thus expressed in a dramatic way the unbreakable link between the mystery of the hidden presence of God and the praxis of serving the cause of peace, of Christians being peace.

For the early Christians, there was no difference between what today is often distinguished as "orthodoxy" and "orthopraxis," as right doctrine and right action. Indeed, when this distinction is made, there generally is a suggestion that the word "orthodoxy" is to be disdained: those who hold fast to right are seen as people of narrow sympathy, rigid, potentially intolerant. In the final analysis, for those holding this rather disdainful view of orthodoxy everything depends on "right action," with doctrine regarded as something always open to further discussion. The important thing, for those holding this view, is the fruit doctrine produces, while the way which leads to the just action is a matter of indifference.

Such a position would have been incomprehensible and unacceptable for those in the ancient Church, for they rightly understood the word "orthodoxy" not to mean "right doctrine" but to mean the authentic adoration and glorification of God. They were convinced that everything depended on being in the right relationship with God, on knowing what pleases Him and what one can do to respond to Him in the right way.

For this reason, Israel loved the law: from it, they knew how to live righteously and how to honor God in the right way: by acting in accord with his will, bringing order into the world, opening it to the transcendent. This was the new joy Christians discovered: that now, beginning with Christ, they understood how God ought to be glorified and how, precisely through this, the world would become just. That these two things should go together — how God is glorified and how justice comes — the angels had proclaimed on the holy night: "Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth, goodwill toward men," they had said (Luke 2:14).

God's glory and peace on earth are inseparable. Where God is excluded, there is a breakdown of peace in the world; without God, no orthopraxis can save us. In fact, there does not exist an orthopraxis which is simply just, detached from a knowledge of what is good. The will without knowledge is blind, and so action, orthopraxis, is blind without knowledge and leads into the abyss. Marxism's great deception was to tell us that we had long enough reflected on the world, that now it was at last time to change it. But if we do not know in what direction to change it, if we do not understand its meaning and its inner purpose, then change alone becomes destruction — as we have seen and continue to see. But the inverse is also true: doctrine alone, which does not become life and action, becomes idle chatter and in this way becomes equally empty. The truth is concrete. Knowledge and action are closely united, as faith and life are linked. This awareness is precisely what you wanted to express with your motto, ("Eucharist, Communion and Solidarity"), and we will now turn to that motto and reflect on it.

I. Eucharist

"Eucharist" is today — and it is entirely right that it be so — the most common name for the Sacrament of the body and blood of Christ, which the Lord instituted on the night before his Passion. In the early Church there was a series of other names for this sacrament — agape and pax we have already mentioned. Along with these there were, for example, also sinassi — assembly, reunion of the many. Among the Protestants this Sacrament is called "Supper," with the intent — following the lead of Luther for whom only the Scripture had value — to return totally to the biblical origin. And, in fact, in St. Paul this sacrament is called "Supper of the Lord." But it is significant that this title very early disappeared, and beginning in the second century it had already ceased to be used. Why? Was it perhaps a moving away from the New Testament, as Luther thought, or what did that mean?

Certainly the Lord had instituted his Sacrament in the context of a meal, more precisely that of the Jewish Passover supper, and so at the beginning it was also linked with a gathering for a meal. But the Lord had not ordered that the Passover supper, which constituted the frame, be repeated. That was not his sacrament, not his new gift. In any event, the Passover supper could be celebrated only once a year. The celebration of the Eucharist was therefore detached from the gathering for supper to the degree that the detachment from the Law was beginning to take place, along with the passage to a Church of Jews and Gentiles, but above all of Gentiles. The link with a supper was thus revealed as exterior, indeed, as the occasion for ambiguities and abuses, as Paul amply described in his First Letter to the Corinthians.

Thus the Church, assuming her own specific configuration, progressively freed the specific gift of the Lord, that which was new and permanent, from the old context and gave to it its own specific form. This took place on the one hand due to the connection with the liturgy of the word, which has its model in the synagogue; and, on the other hand, due to the fact that the instituting words of the Lord formed the culminating point of the great prayer of thanksgiving — that thanksgiving, also gradually derived from the synagogue traditions and so ultimately from the Lord, who clearly had rendered thanks and praise to God in the Jewish tradition. But he had emphatically enriched that action of grace with a unique profundity by means of the gift of his body and his blood.

Through this action, the early Christians had come to understand that the essence of the event of the Last Supper was not the eating of the lamb and the other traditional pious practices, but the great prayer of praise that now contained as its center the very words of Jesus. With these words he had transformed his death into the gift of himself, in such a way that we can now render thanks for this death.

Yes, only now is it possible to render thanks to God without limit, because the most horrible thing — the death of the Redeemer and the death of all of us — was transformed through an act of love into the gift of life.

Accordingly, the Eucharist was recognized as the essential reality of the Last Supper, that which we today call the Eucharistic Prayer, which comes directly from the prayer of Jesus on the vigil of his passion and is the heart of the new spiritual sacrifice, the motive for which many Fathers designated the Eucharist simply as oratio (prayer), as the "sacrifice of the word," as a spiritual sacrifice, which, however, becomes also material and matter transformed: bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ, the new food, which nourishes us for the resurrection, for eternal life.

Thus, the whole structure of words and material elements becomes an anticipation of the eternal wedding feast. We will have to return at the end once more to this connection. Here it is important only to understand better why we as Catholic Christians do not call this sacrament "Supper" but "Eucharist." The infant Church slowly gave to this sacrament its specific configuration, and precisely in this way, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, she clearly identified and correctly represented in signs the sacrament's true essence, that which the Lord really "instituted" on that night.

Precisely by examining the process by which the Eucharistic sacrament progressively took on its form, one understands in a very beautiful way the profound connection between Scripture and tradition. A simple historical recounting of the Bible considered in isolation does not sufficiently communicate to us the vision of what is essential. That vision only comes when Scripture is read in the living context of the Church. She lived the Scriptures and so understood their intention.

II. Communio

The second word in the motto of your Eucharistic congress — Communion — has become a fashionable word these days. It is, in fact, one of the most profound and characteristic words of the Christian tradition. Precisely for this reason it is very important to understand it in all its profundity and breadth. Perhaps I may insert here an observation of an entirely personal nature. When with a few friends — in particular Henri de Lubac, Hans Urs von Balthasar, Louis Bouyer, Jorge Medina — I had the idea of founding a magazine, in which we intended to deepen and develop the inheritance of the Council, we set out in search of a name, just a single word, which could fully convey the intention of this publication. Already in the last year of Vatican II, a review was begun to serve, as it were, as the permanent voice of the Council and its spirit, which was appropriately called Concilium.

Hans Kung's book "Structures of the Church" may have played a role in this choice. Kung thought he had discovered an equivalence between the words ekklesia (Church) and concilium. He argued that the root of both terms was the Greek word kalein (to call), ekklesia meaning to convoke, concilium, to summon together. Therefore both words essentially signified the same thing, he maintained. From such an etymological relationship one could connect the ideas of Church and Council, and see the Church by her very nature as the continuing Council of God in the world, he argued. Therefore, the Church was to be conceived of in this "conciliar" sense and "actualized" in the form of a Council; and, vice versa, the Council was seen as the most intense possible realization of "Church," that is, as it were, the Church in her highest form.

In the years following the Council, I for a little time followed this conception, which seemed at first glance rather enlightening. The practical consequences of this conception are considerable, and its attractiveness is immediate. Still, though I came to the conclusion that the vision of Hans Kung certainly contained something true and serious, I also saw that it needed important corrections.

I would very briefly like to try to summarize the result of my studies at that time. My philological and theological research into the understanding of the words "church" and "council" in ancient times showed that a council can certainly be an important, vital manifestation of the Church, but that the reality of the Church herself is something more, that her essence goes deeper.

A council is something that the Church does, but the Church is not entirely contained in a council.

The Church does not exist primarily to deliberate, but to live the Word that has been given to us.

I decided that the word that best expressed this fundamental concept, which conveyed the very essence of the Church herself, was koinonia — communion.

So, I would approximately summarize the essential discovery of my research at that time by saying: the Church holds councils, but she is communion.

Her structure, therefore, is not to be described as "concilial," but rather as "communional."

When I proposed these ideas publicly in 1969 in my book, The New People of God, the concept of communion was not yet very widespread in public theological and ecclesial discussions. As a result my ideas on this matter were also given little consideration. These ideas, however, were decisive for me in the search for a title for the new journal, and led to us later calling the journal Communio (communion).

The concept itself received wide public recognition only with the Synod of Bishops of 1985. Until then the phrase "People of God" had prevailed as the new key concept of the Church, and was widely believed to synthesize the intentions of Vatican II itself. This belief might well have been true, if the words had been used in the full profundity of their biblical meaning and in the broad, accurate context in which the Council had used them. When, however, a grand phrase becomes a slogan, its meaning is inevitably diminished; indeed, it is trivialized.

As a consequence, the Synod of 1985 sought a new beginning by focusing on the word "communion," which refers first of all to the Eucharistic center of the Church, and so again returns to the understanding of the Church as the most intimate place of the encounter between Jesus and all mankind, in his act of giving himself to us.

It was unavoidable that this grand fundamental word of the New Testament, isolated and employed as a slogan, would also suffer diminishment, indeed, might even be trivialized. Those who speak today of an "ecclesiology of communion" generally tend to mean two things: (1) they support a "pluralist" ecclesiology, almost a "federalist" sense of union, opposing what they see as a centralist conception of the Church; (2) they want to stress, in the exchanges of giving and receiving among local Churches, their culturally pluralistic forms of worship in the liturgy, in discipline and in doctrine.

Even where these tendencies are not developed in their particulars, "communion" is nonetheless generally understood in a horizontal sense — communion is seen as emerging from a network of multiple communities. This conception of the communal structure of churches is barely distinguishable from the conciliar vision mentioned above. The horizontal dominates. The emphasis is on the idea of self-determination within a vast community of churches.

Naturally, there is in this much that is true. However, fundamentally the approach is not correct, and in this way the true depth of what the New Testament and Vatican II and also the Synod of 1985 wanted to say would be lost.

To clarify the central meaning of the concept of "communion," I would like briefly to turn to two great texts on communion from the New Testament. The first is found in 1 Corinthians 10, 16 ff, where Paul tells us: "The chalice of blessing, which we bless, is it not perhaps a participation [Editor's note: the word translation of "participation" is "communion" in the Italian text] in the blood of Christ? And the bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is but one bread, we, though we are many, are one body: all participate in fact in the one bread."

The concept of communion is above all anchored in the most holy Sacrament of the Eucharist, the reason why we still today in the language of the Church rightly designate the reception of this sacrament simply as "communion." In this way, the very practical social significance of this sacramental event also immediately becomes evident, and this in a radical way not attainable in exclusively horizontal perspectives.

Here we are told that by means of the sacrament we enter in a certain way into a communion of blood with Jesus Christ, where blood according to the Hebrew perspective stands for "life."

Thus, what is being affirmed is a commingling of Christ's life with our own.

"Blood" in the context of the Eucharist clearly stands also for "gift," for an existence that, as it were, throws itself away, gives itself for us and to us. Thus the communion of blood is also insertion into the dynamic of this life, into this "blood poured out." Our existence is "dynamized" in such a way that each of us can become a being for others, as we see clearly occurring in the open heart of Christ.

From a certain point of view the words over the bread are even more stunning. They tell of a "communion" with the body of Christ, which Paul compares to the union of a man and a woman (cf. 1 Cor 6:17 ff; Eph 5:26-32). Paul also expresses this from another perspective when he says: it is one and the same bread, which all of us here receive. This is true in a startling way: the "bread" — the new manna, which God gives to us — is for all the one and the same Christ.

It is truly the one, identical Lord, whom we receive in the Eucharist, or better, the Lord who receives us and assumes us into himself. St. Augustine expressed this in a passage, which he perceived in a sort of vision: eat the bread of the strong; you will not transform me into yourself, but I will transform you into me.

In other words, when we consume bodily nourishment, it is assimilated by the body, becoming itself a part of ourselves. But this bread is of another type. It is greater and higher than we are. It is not we who assimilate it, but it assimilates us to itself, so that we become in a certain way "conformed to Christ," as Paul says, members of his body, one in him.

We all "eat" the same person, not only the same thing; we all are in this way torn from our closed individualities and placed into another, greater one. We all are assimilated into Christ and so by means of the communion with Christ united among ourselves, rendered the same, one sole thing in him, members of one another.

To communicate with Christ is essentially also to communicate with one another.

We are no longer each alone, each separate from the other; we are now each part of the other; each of those who receive communion is "bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh" (Gen 2:23).

A true spirituality of communion seen in its Christological profundity, therefore, necessarily has a social character, as Henri de Lubac brilliantly described more than a half century ago in his Catholicism.

For this reason, in my prayer at communion, I must, on the one hand, look totally toward Christ, allowing myself to be transformed by him, even to burn in his enveloping fire.

But, precisely for this reason, I must also always keep clearly in mind how he unites me organically with every other communicant — with the one next to me, whom I may not like very much; but also with those who are far away, in Asia, Africa, America or in any other place.

Becoming one with them, I must learn to open myself toward them and to involve myself in their situations.

This is the proof of the authenticity of my love for Christ.

If I am united with Christ, I am together with my neighbor, and this unity is not limited to the moment of communion, but only begins here. It comes alive, becomes flesh and blood, in the everyday experience of sharing life with my neighbor. Thus, the individual realities of my communicating and being part of the life of the Church are inseparably linked to one another.

The Church is not born in a simple federation of communities. Her birth begins with the one bread, with the one Lord, who forms her by means of the one bread into one body.

Because of this, her unity has a profundity greater than that which any other human union could ever achieve. Precisely when the Eucharist is understood in all the intimacy of the union of each individual with the Lord, it becomes also a social sacrament in the highest degree.

The great social saints were in reality always also the great Eucharistic saints. I would like only to mention two examples chosen entirely at random.

First of all, the beloved figure of St. Martin de Porres, who was born in 1569 in Lima, Peru, the son of an Afro-American mother and a Spanish nobleman. Martin lived from the adoration of the Lord present in the Eucharist, passing entire nights in prayer before the crucifix, while during the day he tirelessly cared for the sick and assisted the socially outcast and despised, with whom he, as a mulatto, identified because of his origins. The encounter with the Lord, who gives himself to us from the cross, makes all of us members of the one body by means of the one bread, which when responded to fully moves us to serve the suffering, to care for the weak and the forgotten.

In our time, the image of Mother Teresa of Calcutta is before the eyes of all. Wherever she opened the houses of her sisters to the service of the dying and outcast, the first thing she asked for was a place for the tabernacle, because she knew that only beginning from there could come the strength for such service.

Whoever recognizes the Lord in the tabernacle, recognizes him in the suffering and the needy; they are among those to whom the world's judge will say: "I was hungry and you gave me to eat; I was thirsty and you gave me to drink; I was naked and you clothed me; I was sick and you visited me; I was in prison and you came to visit me" (Mt 25:35).

Even more briefly I would like to recall a second important New Testament text concerning the word "communion" (koininia). It is found right at the beginning of the First Letter of John (1:3-7), where he speaks of the encounter granted him with the Word made flesh. John says that he is transmitting what he has "seen with his own eyes" and "touched with his own hands." This encounter has given him the gift of a koininia — communion — with the Father and his Son, Jesus Christ. It has become a true "communion" with the living God. As John expresses it, the communion has opened his eyes and he now lives in the light, that is, in the truth of God, which expresses itself in the unique, new commandment, which encompasses everything — the commandment to love. And so the communion with the "Word of life" becomes the just life, becomes love. In this way it also becomes reciprocal communion: "If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we are in communion one with another" (1 John 1:6).

The text shows the same logic of communio that we already found in Paul: communion with Jesus becomes communion with God himself, communion with the light and with love; it becomes in this way an upright life, and all of this unites us with one another in the truth. Only when we regard communion in this depth and breadth do we have something to say to the world.

III. Solidarity

We arrive finally at the third key word, "solidarity." While the first two words come from the Bible and from Christian tradition, this word comes to us from outside. The concept of "solidarity" — as Archbishop Paul Cordes has shown — was developed initially among the first socialists by Father Lerou (died 1871) as the new, rational and effective response to social problems in accord with the idea of Christian love.

Karl Marx held that Christianity had had a millennium and a half to demonstrate its capacity to deal with poverty, inequality and injustice, and had only succeeded in proving its incapacity to do so. Therefore, Marx claimed, new ways had to be employed. And for decades many were convinced that the Marxist socialist system, centered around the concept of "solidarity," was now the way to finally achieve human equality, to eliminate poverty and to bring peace to the world. Today, we can see what horrors and massacres were left behind by a social theory and policies that took no account of God.

It is undeniable that the liberal model of the market economy, especially as moderated and corrected under the influence of Christian social ideas, has in some parts of the world led to great successes. All the sadder are the results, especially in places like Africa, where clashing power blocs and economic interests have been at work. Behind the apparent beneficial models of development there has all too often been hidden the desire to expand the reach of particular powers and ideologies in order to dominate markets. In this situation, ancient social structures and spiritual and moral forces have been destroyed, with consequences that echo in our ears like a single great cry of sorrow.

One thing is clear: without God things cannot go well. And because only in Christ has God shown us his face, spoken his name, entered into communion with us, without Christ there is no ultimate hope.

It is clear that Christians in past centuries have been stained with grave sins. Slavery and the slave trade remain a dark chapter that shows how few Christians were truly Christian and how far many Christians were from the faith and message of the Gospel, from true communion with Jesus Christ. On the other hand, lives full of faith and love, as seen in the humble willingness of so many priests and sisters to sacrifice themselves, have provided a positive counterweight and left an inheritance of love, which even if it cannot eliminate the horror of exploitation, nonetheless mitigates it. On this witness we can build; along this path we can proceed farther.

It was in this situation, in recent decades, that the understanding of the concept of solidarity — thanks above all to the ethical studies of the Holy Father — has been slowly transformed and Christianized, so that now we can justly place it next to the two key Christian words, "Eucharist" and "Communion." Solidarity in this context signifies people who feel responsible for each other, the healthy for the sick, the rich for the poor, the countries of the North for those of the South. It means a sense of individual awareness, of reciprocal responsibility; it means we are conscious that when we give we receive, and that we can always give only what has been given to us and that what we have been given never belongs to us for ourselves alone.

Today we see that it is not enough to transmit technical capacities, scientific knowledge and theories, nor the practice of certain political structures. Those things not only do not help, but even end up causing harm, if the spiritual forces which give meaning to these technologies and structures are not also re-awakened, so as to make possible their responsible use. It was easy to destroy with our rationality the traditional religions, which now survive as subcultures, remnants of superstition, which have been deprived of their better elements and now are practices that can harm people in mind and body. It would have been necessary to expose their healthy nucleus to the light of Christ and so lead them to the fulfillment of the tacit expectations within them. Through such a process of purification and development, continuity and progress would have been united in a fruitful way. Where missions were successful, they generally followed this path and so helped to develop those forces of faith, which are so urgently needed today.

In the crisis of the 1960s and 1970s, many missionaries came to the conclusion that missionary work, that is, the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, was no longer opportune. They thought the only thing that still made sense was to offer help in social development. But how can a positive social development be carried out if we become illiterate with regard to God?

The fundamental idea tacitly agreed upon, that the peoples or tribes needed to conserve their own religions and not concern themselves with ours, shows only that the faith in the hearts of such men had grown cold despite their great good will; it shows that communion with the Lord was no longer seen as vital. Otherwise how could they have thought that it was a good thing to exclude others from these things?

But most profoundly it is a matter here — often without realizing it — of disdaining religion in general and not of esteeming other religions, as it might appear to be. A person's religion is considered an archaic relic to be left alone because, finally, it is thought to have nothing to do with the true greatness of progress. What religions say and do appears totally irrelevant; they are not even a part of the world of rationality; their contents ultimately count for nothing. The "orthopraxis," which we then look forward to, will be truly built on sand.

It is high time to abandon this erroneous way of thinking. We need faith in Jesus Christ if for no other reason than for the fact that it brings together reason and religion. It offers us in this way the criteria of responsibility and releases the strength necessary to live according to this responsibility. Sharing on all levels, spiritual, ethical and religious, is part of solidarity between peoples and nations.

It is clear that we must develop our economy in a way that it no longer operates only to further the interests of a certain country or group of countries, but for the welfare of the world. This is difficult and is never fully realized. It requires that we make sacrifices. But if a spirit of solidarity is truly nourished, faith is born; then this could become possible, even if always in an imperfect way.

The theme of globalization arises in this context, but here I am unable to address it. It is clear today that we all depend on each other. But there is a globalization that is conceived of unilaterally in terms of personal interests. There ought to exist a globalization, which requires nations to be responsible for each other and to bear each others' burdens. All of this cannot be realized in a neutral way, with reference only to market mechanisms. For decisions about market value are determined by many presuppositions.

Thus, our religious and moral horizon is always decisive. If globalization in technology and economy is not accompanied by a new opening of the conscience to God, before whom all of us have a responsibility, then there will be a catastrophe. This is the great responsibility which weighs today on Christians.

Christianity, from the one Lord, the one bread, which seeks to make of us one body, has from the beginning aimed at the unification of humanity.

If we, precisely at the moment when the exterior unification of humanity, previously unthinkable, becomes possible, withdraw ourselves as Christians, believing we cannot or should not give anything further, we would burden ourselves with a grave sin.

In fact, a unity that is built without God or indeed against him, ends up like the experiment of Babylon; in total confusion and total destruction, in hatred and total chaos of all against all.

Conclusion: The Eucharist As The Sacrament Of Transformation

Let us return to the Most Holy Eucharist. What really happened on the night when Christ was betrayed? Let us listen to the Roman Canon — the heart of the Eucharist of the Church in Rome: "On the vigil of his passion, Jesus took bread into his holy and venerable hands, raised his eyes toward heaven, to you, God, Father almighty, rendered thanks to you with the prayer of benediction, broke the bread, gave it to his disciples and said to them: 'Take, all of you, and eat. This is my body, offered in sacrifice for you.'

"And after dinner, in the same way he took this precious chalice in his holy and venerable hands, giving you thanks and praise, gave it to his disciples and said: 'Take, all of you, and drink. This is the cup of my blood for the new and eternal covenant, shed for you and for all for the forgiveness of sins. Do this in memory of me.'"

What is happening in these words?

In the first place we are confronted by the word "transubstantiation." The bread becomes the body, his body. The bread of the earth becomes the bread of God, the "manna" of heaven, with which God nourishes men not only in their earthly life but also in the prospect of the resurrection — which prepares for the resurrection, or rather, already makes it begin. The Lord, who would have been able to transform stones into bread, who was able to raise up from rocks the sons of Abraham, wishes to transform the bread into a body, his body. Is this possible? How can it happen?

The questions that the people posed in the synagogue of Capernaum, cannot be avoided by us. He is there, before his disciples, with his body; how can he say over the bread: this is my body? It is important to pay close attention to what the Lord really said. He does not say only: "This is my body," but: "This is my body, which is given up for you." It can become gift, because it is given. By means of the act of giving it becomes "capable of communicating," has transformed itself into a gift. We may observe the same thing in the words over the cup. Christ does not say simply: "This is my blood," but, "This is my blood, which is poured out for you." Because it is poured out, in as much as it is poured out, it can be given.

But now a new question emerges: what do "it is given" and "it is poured out" mean? In truth, Jesus is killed; he is nailed to a cross and dies amid torments. His blood is poured out, first in the Garden of Olives due to his interior suffering with regard to his mission, then in the flagellation, in the crowning with thorns, in the crucifixion, and after his death in the piercing of his Heart. What occurs is above all an act of violence, of hatred, torture and destruction.

At this point we run into a second, more profound level of transformation: he transforms, from within, the act of violent men against him into an act of giving on behalf of these men — into an act of love. This is dramatically recognizable in the scene of the Garden of Olives. What he teaches in the Sermon on the Mount, now he does: he does not offer violence against violence, as he might have done, but puts an end to violence by transforming it into love. The act of killing, of death, is changed into an act of love; violence is defeated by love.

This is the fundamental transformation upon which all the rest is based. It is the true transformation which the world needs and which alone can redeem the world. Since Christ in an act of love has transformed and defeated violence from within, death itself is transformed: love is stronger than death. It remains forever.

And so in this transformation is contained the broader transformation of death into resurrection, of the dead body into the risen body. If the first man was a living soul, as St. Paul says, the new Adam, Christ, will become by this spiritual event the giver of life (1 Cor 15:45). The resurrected one is gift, is spirit who gives his life, "communicates," indeed, is communication.

This means that here there is no farewell to material existence; rather, in this way material existence achieves its goal: without the material event of death (with its interior transcendence) all this complex transformation of material things would not be possible. And thus in the transformation of the resurrection all the fullness of Christ continues to subsist, but now transformed in this way; now being a body and giving oneself are no longer mutually exclusive, but give new meaning to one another.

Let us look, before the next step, to see once more how this entire complex of realities comes together. At the moment of the Last Supper, Jesus has already anticipated the event of Calvary. He accepts the death on the cross and with his acceptance transforms the act of violence into an act of donation, of self-giving effusion ("Even if I am to be poured out as a sacrificial offering on your faith," St. Paul says on the basis of this and in regard to his own imminent martyrdom in Phil 2:17). At the Last Supper the cross is already present, accepted and transformed by Jesus.

This first and fundamental transformation draws to itself all the others — the mortal body is transformed into the resurrected body: it is "the spirit which gives life."

On the basis of this the third transformation becomes possible: the gifts of bread and wine, that are the gifts of creation and at the same time fruit of human labor and the "transformation" of the creation, are changed so that in them the Lord himself who gives himself becomes present, in his gift of self-giving. The act of donation is not something of him, but it is himself.

And on this basis the prospect opens onto two further transformations, that are essential to the Eucharist from the instant of its institution: the transformed bread, the transformed wine.

Through them the Lord himself gives himself as spirit that gives life, to transform us men, so that we become one bread with him and then one body with him. The transformation of the gifts, which is only the continuation of the fundamental transformations of the cross and of the resurrection, is not the final point, but in its turn only a beginning.

The end of the Eucharist is the transformation of those who receive it in authentic communion with its transformation.

And so the end is unity, that peace which we, as separated individuals who live beside one another or in conflict with one another, become with Christ and in him, as one organism of self-giving, to live in view of the resurrection and the new world.

The fifth and final transformation which characterizes this sacrament becomes thus visible: by means of us, the transformed, who have become one body, one spirit which gives life, the entire creation must be transformed. The entire creation must become a "new city," a new paradise, the living dwelling-place of God: "God all in all" (1 Cor 15:28) — thus Paul describes the end of creation, which must be conformed to the Eucharist.

Thus the Eucharist is a process of transformations, drawing on God's power to transform hatred and violence, on his power to transform the world. We must therefore pray that the Lord will help us to celebrate and to live the Eucharist in this way. We pray that he transform us, and together with us the world, into the new Jerusalem.

© 2002 Robert Moynihan

This item 4649 digitally provided courtesy of CatholicCulture.org