Apostolic Exhortation on the Eucharist
A Christian cannot live without the Eucharist, Benedict XVI writes. In it, the Lord truly becomes food for us, to satisfy our hunger for truth and freedom. With the duty that stems from this, and in the political realm as well: to give public witness to our faith.
by Sandro Magister
ROMA, March 14, 2007 -- Benedict XVI released yesterday the apostolic exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis, as the concluding act of the synod of bishops held in Rome in October of 2005 on the topic of the Eucharist.
The document has the breadth of an encyclical. And it has a lot in common with pope Joseph Ratzinger's encyclical Deus Caritas Est, beginning with the key word in each title. Benedict XVI himself writes in the introduction, "I wish to set the present exhortation alongside my first encyclical letter, Deus Caritas Est."
Sacramentum Caritatis should therefore be read in its entirety. Because on the one hand it summarizes the index of topics discussed at the synod, but on the other it bears the unifying mark of Benedict XVI's vision, a vision in which the eucharistic celebration appears in all its power as the source and summit of the Church's life.
It is the reader's task to savor this unifying vision, which can be reached only through a continual and complete reading:
"The sacrament of charity..."
What follows here is, instead, a humbler set of crib notes on the many questions that Benedict XVI addresses or touches upon, page by page, in his apostolic exhortation:
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THE MISSAL OF SAINT PIUS V
Benedict XVI cites this in paragraph 3, recalling with admiration and gratitude "the orderly development of the ritual forms" in which the Mass was celebrated (and still is) until the liturgical reform of Vatican Council II, "whose riches are yet to be fully explored". And he observes: "Concretely, the changes which the Council called for need to be understood within the overall unity of the historical development of the rite itself, without the introduction of artificial discontinuities."
The rejection of these "artificial discontinuities", according to what the pope said to the Roman curia on December 22, 2005, in the address he gave on the correct interpretation of the Council, which is cited in the footnotes of this apostolic exhortation is one of the reasons that, for Joseph Ratzinger, justify the continued use of the Tridentine Rite.
THE LAST SUPPER
In paragraph 11, after describing the last supper Jesus shared with the apostles according to the ancient Jewish rite, Benedict XVI warns: "For us Christians, that meal no longer need be repeated, because with respect to it the Eucharist signals a radically new reality, and Jesus referred to this new reality in saying: "Do this in memory of me."
The pope's reminder is for those communities --for example, the Neocatechumenals -- that insist upon celebrating the Mass as a banquet, imitating the last supper.
This word appears in paragraph 13. It is accompanied by an appeal to the faithful to have a better appreciation for the richness of the words of consecration and of the epiclesis, the invocation to the Father to send down the gift of the Spirit so that the bread and the wine will become the body and blood of Jesus Christ.
THE ORTHODOX AND PROTESTANTS
In paragraph 14, Benedict XVI emphasizes that it is the Eucharist that builds up the Church. And in fact, in the following paragraph, he calls Churches both the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Churches, precisely because they have preserved the authentic and integral nature of the eucharistic mystery, unlike the simple Communities created by the Protestant Reformation, with which the ecclesial character of the Eucharist is, instead, a matter of ecumenical dialogue.
CONFIRMATION AND FIRST COMMUNION
In paragraph 18, the pope writes that attention must be paid to the order in which the sacraments of initiation Baptism, Confirmation, and the Eucharist are administered. In effect, in many parishes and dioceses all over the world, Confirmation is given last. For Benedict XVI, this practice should be examined, because it risks depriving the Eucharist of its rightful place as the goal of the whole process of initiation.
COMMUNION AND CONFESSION
In paragraph 20, and again in paragraph 55, Benedict XVI cautions against going to communion all the time, automatically, as if the mere fact of their being present in church during the liturgy gives them a right or even an obligation to approach the table of the Eucharist. One reason for this superficial approach, he writes, is the widespread loss of the sense of sin. In order to go to communion, one must be in a state of grace. In the following paragraph, the pope encourages the faithful to go to confession frequently. And he warns that individual confession must be the ordinary form, elimiting the practice of general absolution exclusively to the cases permitted.
In paragraph 22, the pope urges that the Eucharist be brought to the sick, a practice that in many places risks falling into disuse.
In paragraph 23, Benedict XVI directs a severe rebuke toward those who maintain that being baptized is all that is needed to be able to celebrate the Mass, and act accordingly, doing without a priest: The Church teaches that priestly ordination is the indispensable condition for the valid celebration of the Eucharist.
But immediately after this, the pope cautions priests not to substitute themselves for Jesus. He exhorts them to celebrate the Mass with humility, avoiding anything that might give the impression of an inordinate emphasis on his own personality.
"It is not sufficient to understand priestly celibacy in purely functional terms", Benedict XVI writes in paragraph 24. "The fact that Christ himself, the eternal priest, lived his mission even to the sacrifice of the Cross in the state of virginity constitutes the sure point of reference for understanding the meaning of the tradition of the Latin Church".
"While respecting the different practice and tradition of the Eastern Churches," the pope confirms that priestly celibacy "remains obligatory in the Latin tradition, [...] as a sign expressing total and exclusive devotion to Christ, to the Church and to the Kingdom of God."
In order to attract valid vocations, the pope says in the following paragraphs, we "must have the courage to set before young people the radical decision to follow Christ, showing them how deeply rewarding it is."
In paragraph 28, Benedict XVI touches upon the problem posed by those who become Christian coming to the Gospel from cultures in which polygamy is practised. For them, Eucharistic Communion may be permitted only when they have arrived at the full truth of love with just one woman, making whatever sacrifices are necessary.
DIVORCED AND REMARRIED PERSONS
Benedict writes in paragraph 29: "This represents a complex and troubling pastoral problem, a real scourge for contemporary society, and one which increasingly affects the Catholic community as well. The Church's pastors, out of love for the truth, are obliged to discern different situations carefully, in order to be able to offer appropriate spiritual guidance to the faithful involved.(92) The synod of bishops confirmed the Church's practice, based on Sacred Scripture (cf. Mk 10:2- 12), of not admitting the divorced and remarried to the sacraments, since their state and their condition of life objectively contradict the loving union of Christ and the Church signified and made present in the Eucharist. Yet the divorced and remarried continue to belong to the Church, which accompanies them with special concern and encourages them to live as fully as possible the Christian life through regular participation at Mass, albeit without receiving communion, listening to the word of God, eucharistic adoration, prayer, participation in the life of the community, honest dialogue with a priest or spiritual director, dedication to the life of charity, works of penance, and commitment to the education of their children.
"When legitimate doubts exist about the validity of the prior sacramental marriage, the necessary investigation must be carried out to establish if these are well-founded. Consequently there is a need to ensure, in full respect for canon law), the presence of local ecclesiastical tribunals, their pastoral character, and their correct and prompt functioning. Each diocese should have a sufficient number of persons with the necessary preparation, so that the ecclesiastical tribunals can operate in an expeditious manner. I repeat that it is a grave obligation to bring the Church's institutional activity in her tribunals ever closer to the faithful. At the same time, pastoral care must not be understood as if it were somehow in conflict with the law. Rather, one should begin by assuming that the fundamental point of encounter between the law and pastoral care is love for the truth: truth is never something purely abstract, but a real part of the human and Christian journey of every member of the faithful. Finally, where the nullity of the marriage bond is not declared and objective circumstances make it impossible to cease cohabitation, the Church encourages these members of the faithful to commit themselves to living their relationship in fidelity to the demands of God's law, as friends, as brother and sister; in this way they will be able to return to the table of the Eucharist, taking care to observe the Church's established and approved practice in this regard. This path, if it is to be possible and fruitful, must be supported by pastors and by adequate ecclesial initiatives, nor can it ever involve the blessing of these relations, lest confusion arise among the faithful concerning the value of marriage.
"Given the complex cultural context which the Church today encounters in many countries, the Synod also recommended devoting maximum pastoral attention to training couples preparing for marriage and to ascertaining beforehand their convictions regarding the obligations required for the validity of the sacrament of matrimony. Serious discernment in this matter will help to avoid situations where impulsive decisions or superficial reasons lead two young people to take on responsibilities that they are then incapable of honouring. The good that the Church and society as a whole expect from marriage and from the family founded upon marriage is so great as to call for full pastoral commitment to this particular area. Marriage and the family are institutions that must be promoted and defended from every possible misrepresentation of their true nature, since whatever is injurious to them is injurious to society itself."
Benedict XVI dedicates paragraph 35 to the beauty of the celebration and of liturgical art: "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." And again: "Beauty is not mere decoration, but rather an essential element of the liturgical action, since it is an attribute of God himself and his revelation. These considerations should make us realize the care which is needed, if the liturgical action is to reflect its innate splendour."
In paragraph 40, after having called for respect for the liturgical guidelines in force, the pope emphasizes against the frequent abuses “ that the simplicity of its gestures and the sobriety of its orderly sequence of signs communicate and inspire more than any contrived and inappropriate additions."
And in the following paragraph, he writes: A solid knowledge of the history of sacred art can be advantageous for those responsible for commissioning artists and architects to create works of art for the liturgy. Consequently it is essential that the education of seminarians and priests include the study of art history, with special reference to sacred buildings and the corresponding liturgical norms. Everything related to the Eucharist should be marked by beauty."
In paragraph 42, Benedict XVI warns against the bad music that has invaded too many celebrations, and defends Gregorian chant:
"In the course of her two-thousand-year history, the Church has created, and still creates, music and songs which represent a rich patrimony of faith and love. This heritage must not be lost. Certainly as far as the liturgy is concerned, we cannot say that one song is as good as another. Generic improvisation or the introduction of musical genres which fail to respect the meaning of the liturgy should be avoided. As an element of the liturgy, song should be well integrated into the overall celebration. Consequently everything- texts, music, execution ought to correspond to the meaning of the mystery being celebrated, the structure of the rite and the liturgical seasons. Finally, while respecting various styles and different and highly praiseworthy traditions, I desire, in accordance with the request advanced by the synod fathers, that Gregorian chant be suitably esteemed and employed as the chant proper to the Roman liturgy."
THE LITURGY OF THE WORD AND THE HOMILY
In paragraph 45, the pope urges that every effort be made to ensure that the liturgical proclamation of the word of God is entrusted to well-prepared readers, and that the faithful be taught to appreciate the riches of Sacred Scripture by reading it and praying with it.
In the following paragraph, he asks priests to prepare adequately for the homily, and to avoid making it generic and abstract. And to expound the pillars of Catholic doctrine, he advises them to draw from the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
The act of bringing the gifts forward to the altar, the pope writes in paragraph 47, â€œcan be clearly expressed in its authentic meaning without the need for undue emphasis or complexity. This brings back to mind some of the theatrical and folk version of the rite, which were in vogue for John Paul II's voyages.
THE EXCHANGE OF PEACE
In paragraph 49, Benedict XVI recalls that during the synod of bishops there was discussion about the appropriateness of greater restraint in this gesture, which can be exaggerated and cause a certain distraction in the assembly just before the reception of communion. In a footnote, the pope adds that he has asked the competent curial offices to study the possibility of moving the sign of peace to another place, such as before the presentation of the gifts at the altar: this is what already happens, for example, in the Ambrosian Rite that is celebrated in the archdiocese of Milan.
COMMUNION IS NOT FOR ALL
In paragraph 50, Benedict XVI calls attention back to the frequent presence at Mass of non-practicing Catholics, outside visitors, non-Catholics, members of other religions, and also of persons who are living in a situation which does not permit them to receive the sacraments. In these cases, he urges that there be found a brief and clear way to remind those present of the meaning of sacramental communion and the conditions required for its reception. Whenever it is not possible to ensure that the meaning of the Eucharist is duly appreciated," the pope suggests replacing the Mass with "a celebration of the word of God.
ITE, MISSA EST
In paragraph 51, taking his cue from the concluding formula of the Latin Mass, Benedict XVI exhorts drawing from this an invitation for the faithful to be missionaries in the world, with new and duly approved texts for the final prayer and blessing that make this meaning plain.
In paragraph 56, Benedict XVI restates the ban on celebrating the Eucharist together with Christians belonging to non-Catholic Churches and communities. "Yet it remains true that, for the sake of their eternal salvation, individual non-Catholic Christians can be admitted to the Eucharist, the sacrament of reconciliation and the anointing of the sick. But this is possible only in specific, exceptional situations and requires that certain precisely defined conditions be met. These are clearly indicated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church."
THE LATIN LANGUAGE
In paragraph 62, Benedict XVI writes that when the congregation is composed of faithful from different countries, there should be no fear of celebrating Mass in Latin and in Gregorian Chant. And he adds: Speaking more generally, I ask that future priests, from their time in the seminary, receive the preparation needed to understand and to celebrate Mass in Latin, and also to use Latin texts and execute Gregorian chant; nor should we forget that the faithful can be taught to recite the more common prayers in Latin, and also to sing parts of the liturgy to Gregorian chant."
In paragraph 63, the pope warns against the risks of liturgical celebrations in small groups, as happens above all in the Neocatechumenal Way: While acknowledging the formative value of this approach, it must be stated that such celebrations should always be consonant with the overall pastoral activity of the diocese. These celebrations would actually lose their catechetical value if they were felt to be in competition with, or parallel to, the life of the particular Church."
Benedict XVI dedicates four paragraphs to the adoration of the consecrated host, from number 66 to number 69. He recalls that immediately after the Second Vatican Council, the objection against adoration was that the eucharistic bread was given to us not to be looked at, but to be eaten. The pope explains that this is an unfounded objection. In effect, on several occasions Benedict XVI has shown that he wants to restore Eucharistic adoration to a central place. He also urges that the tabernacle should be placed in a visible and dignified place in the church, taking care not to place the celebrant's chair in front of it.
THE SUNDAY PRECEPT
In paragraphs 72-74, the pope restates the precept of going to Mass on Sunday. Already in the first century, Ignatius of Antioch described Christians as iuxta dominicam viventes, those living in accordance with the Lord's Day. Not sanctifying this day "is symptomatic of the loss of an authentic sense of Christian freedom, the freedom of the children of God."
IN ABSENCE OF A PRIEST
In those regions where the scarce number of priests makes it impossible to celebrate Sunday Mass everywhere, Benedict XVI, in paragraph 75, exhorts the Christian communities to come together anyway, to read the Scriptures and to pray: "This needs, however, to be accompanied by an adequate instruction about the difference between Mass and Sunday assemblies in the absence of a priest."
CONSISTENCY BETWEEN THE EUCHARIST AND POLITICS
In paragraph 83, the pope writes: "Here it is important to consider what the synod fathers described as eucharistic consistency, a quality which our lives are objectively called to embody. Worship pleasing to God can never be a purely private matter, without consequences for our relationships with others: it demands a public witness to our faith. Evidently, this is true for all the baptized, yet it is especially incumbent upon those who, by virtue of their social or political position, must make decisions regarding fundamental values, such as respect for human life, its defence from conception to natural death, the family built upon marriage between a man and a woman, the freedom to educate one's children and the promotion of the common good in all its forms. These values are not negotiable. Consequently, Catholic politicians and legislators, conscious of their grave responsibility before society, 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 (cf. 1 Cor 11:27-29). Bishops are bound to reaffirm constantly these values as part of their responsibility to the flock entrusted to them."
AT THE COST OF ONE'S LIFE
In paragraph 87, Benedict XVI writes that in certain countries, going to Mass requires great courage: In not a few parts of the world, simply going to church represents a heroic witness that can result in marginalization and violence. Here too, I would like to reaffirm the solidarity of the whole Church with those who are denied freedom of worship. As we know, wherever religious freedom is lacking, people lack the most meaningful freedom of all, since it is through faith that men and women express their deepest decision about the ultimate meaning of their lives."
"SINE DOMINICO NON POSSUMUS"
In conclusion, in paragraph 95, Benedict XVI returns to the vital importance of going to Mass. He recalls: "At the beginning of the fourth century, Christian worship was still forbidden by the imperial authorities. Some Christians in North Africa, who felt bound to celebrate the Lord's Day, defied the prohibition. They were martyred after declaring that it was not possible for them to live without the Eucharist, the food of the Lord: Sine dominico non possumus".
And he continues: We too cannot live without partaking of the sacrament of our salvation; we too desire to be iuxta dominicam viventes, to reflect in our lives what we celebrate on the Lord's Day. That day is the day of our definitive deliverance. Is it surprising, then, that we should wish to live every day in that newness of life which Christ has brought us in the mystery of the Eucharist?"
Sandro Magister is a journalist and reporter for the weekly magazine L'espresso, for which he has written since 1974. He specializes in religious news, in particular on the Catholic Church and the Vatican.
Posted with permission from www.chiesa.