To speak of a Catholic “Both-And” has become something of a cliché – which is unfortunate, since it expresses an important truth.
Either Scripture or Tradition? Either faith or good works? Both-And, Catholics are fond of saying.
To be sure, Scripture and Tradition are one source of revelation. And good works do not earn grace but are our response in faith to a God who always and entirely has the initiative in saving us. But let it pass for now.
And some have called for a distinction: not every issue in Catholic theology is a Both-And. Some issues call for a Barthian, dialectical Either-Or, even for Catholics. Sin and Virtue, for example, is surely not a Both-And, not even for the most thoughtless Catholic lefties. As our former grad school dean Bill Cahoy once put it: “It’s not either Either-Or or Both-And, but both Both-And and Either-Or.”
But this is a post about Both-Ands. I think of several:
- Both meal and sacrifice;
- Both horizontal and vertical;
- Both immanent and transcendent;
- Both symbolic and real.
Others could no doubt add to the list.
In all these cases, it’s important to understand what Both-And means in Catholic theology. In each case the two elements of the pair are not in some kind of a zero-sum game, as if more of the one means less of the other. The two elements are mutually supportive.
The more the Mass is a true meal, properly understood, the more it takes on its true sacrificial nature. The more the Mass is a true sacrifice, properly understood, the more it takes on its true character as a meal. The kind of eucharistic meal we believe in is the kind that calls us, in Christ, to offer ourselves to one another for the sake of the world – which is pretty much the whole point of sacrifice for Christians. The kind of eucharistic sacrifice we believe is in the kind that does something, that saves us by drawing us into the dynamic of reconciliation and deepened communal bonds – which means it needs to be a truly communal meal.
OK, I’ve worked through the first one on my list. I leave it to you to work out the others. The “answer” in each case follows upon what I did with the first, but each pair requires its own particular nuancing.
Now here’s another pair that isn’t a zero-sum game: God and humanity. “The glory of God is a human fully alive,” Irenaeus said. Rahner reminded us that humans do not have to become less for God to become more. God is glorified when humans are sanctified, and vice versa. And note, nothing in this detracts from the absolute priority or perfection of God.
I bet you’ve already intuited my main point. There are those who say that the Mass has become a mere fraternal banquet, and the solution to the problem is to reassert its sacrificial aspect. The Mass has become too horizontal, so let’s dial that back and bring in more of the vertical. And so forth.
Nothin’ doing, I’d say.