Thursday, March 22, 2007

Christus pro nobis immolatus est

Catholic writer David Delaney has posted some of his thoughts here on Pope Benedict XVI’s Apostolic Exhortation on the Eucharist. This paragraph really struck me:

B16 does a very good job in showing how the entire Christian life is formed around, must be structured by, and is made possible through the Eucharist and the liturgy. The Mass is the one and only acceptable offering to God on the part of humanity. As such, Benedict recognizes that the accidents which surround and adorn the liturgy must accord with the liturgy’s nature. We therefore, must adorn the one Sacrifice that reconciles man with God with the very best that humanity has to offer. It is in light of this that he earnestly desires to reshape the way the average Catholic looks at and approaches the liturgy. Clearly he thinks that an important step in do so will come in replacing the mundane adornments with the sacred.

Just over ten years ago, when I first began to consider the claim of the Catholic Church to be The Church that Jesus Himself founded, this concept of “offering” or sacrifice in connection with Communion was a stumbling block to me. I had internalized a Protestant understanding of Hebrews 9-10, that Christ suffered for our sins “once for all”, and that any other religious action done by humans that called itself a sacrifice for sins was beyond the pale. In the midst of my prayer and thought about this, strangely enough, it was the memory of an old Star Trek episode that helped me understand the Eucharistic sacrifice. At that time (1996), I wrote the following in my journal:

If the Eucharist is a sacrifice, who is doing the offering of the sacrifice? Are we/the priests making the offering, or is Christ offering up Himself? If we are simply jumping through hoops in performing the ritual, we’re doing nothing more than offering fruit baskets at the mouth of the cave of Vaal (Star Trek original series, episode #38 – “The Apple”). If, however, Christ Himself does the transforming through the office of the priest and the proclamation of His Word, then He really is offering up Himself, which places us with Him in that “wrinkle in time”, which means it’s the real McCoy. (Sorry for the bad pun.)

In every Mass, Christ (the true celebrant of every Mass, with the priest standing in persona Christi) offers up Himself – a unbloody reiteration of His blood-soaked death by torture on the cross of Calvary. Time and space fold over; matter changes its essence; God gives Himself again into our hands to have His flesh torn and His blood poured out. This is our spiritual food and drink, our sustenance for our real life, the one we live in Him.

In the midst of how busy we all are with seminars, missions, Masses, choir rehearsals, classes, and retreats (and don’t forget the day job!) in preparation for Easter, I think it’s good to remember that God is the one whose will controls things, who directs our steps, who plots our course. Though we’re hard at “working out [our] salvation with fear and trembling”, let’s keep in mind that “it is God who works” in us, both to will and to act according to His design (Phil. 2:12-13). I believe He is pleased to see trust in our eyes when we look to Him, rather than the impatience that often (in my case, at least) meets His gaze.

Labels: ,

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Institution And Sacrament

On an earlier post, discussion turned to the institutional and charismatic dimensions of the Church and how there isn't a dichotomy between the two. I made mention of an insightful comment by then-Cardinal Ratzinger that I had found on the subject and thought I would follow up on it with a post.

As a member of a lay ecclesial movement, I am often asked how it affects my involvement with my local parish and whether I see these two aspects of the Church's life as opposed to each other. (I do not, for the record.) In response to a comment on Integrity, I started a series (still incomplete) called "Parishes vs. Movements?". In looking at the question of why movements at all, I stumbled across the following quote of Cardinal Ratzinger:
The duality of institution and event, or institution and charism, immediately suggests itself as a fundamental model for resolving the question. But if we try to analyze the two terms more closely in order to arrive at valid rules for defining their relationship, something unexpected happens. The concept of "institution" comes to pieces in our hands when we try to give it a precise theological definition. After all, what are the fundamental institutional factors in the Church, the permanent organization that gives the Church its distinctive shape? The answer is, of course, sacramental office in its different degrees: bishop, priest, deacon. The sacrament that, significantly, bears the name ordo is, in the end, the sole permanent and binding structure that forms so to say the fixed organizational pattern of the Church and makes the Church an "institution." But it was not until this century that it became customary, for reasons of ecumenical expediency, to designate the sacrament of ordo simply as "office" [Amt]. This usage places ordo entirely in the light of institution and the institutional. But this "office" is a "sacrament," and this fact signals a break with the ordinary sociological understanding of institutions. That this structural element of the Church, which is the only permanent one, is a sacrament, means that it must be perpetually recreated by God. It is not at the Church's disposal, it is not simply there, and the Church cannot set it up on its own initiative. It comes into being only secondarily through a call on the part of the Church. It is created primarily by God's call to this man, which is to say, only charismatically-pneumatologically. By the same token, the only attitude in which it can be accepted and lived is one unceasingly shaped by the newness of the vocation, by the unmanipulable freedom of the pneuma. The reason -- ultimately, the only reason -- why there can be a priest shortage is this. The Church cannot simply appoint "officials" by itself, but must await the call from God. This is why it has been held from the beginning that this office cannot be made by the institution, but has to be impetrated from God.
I found this a striking explanation of how the charismatic and institutional dimensions of the Church are intertwined.

Labels: , ,