The Priority of Religion and Adoration? Peter Kwasniewski on the Eucharist

I see that Peter Kwasniewski is expounding “the priority of religion and adoration over Communion” – lest anyone overemphasize dangers to the faith like, you know, the unity of the congregation in Christ or their sharing in the sacred banquet of the Eucharist.

All this is done with reference to the Council of Trent, with no mention of the Second Vatican Council. Odd, is it not, for a Catholic theologian to overlook an ecumenical council?

If anyone registered such an omission in treating the Christology of the first four ecumenical councils, it would be a glaring error. Why should it be any different with the Church’s teachings on liturgy at Trent and at Vatican II?

The first ecumenical council, Nicaea in 325, defined the full divinity of the Son, co-equal to the Father. It gave us the Nicene Creed. But since the divinity of the Holy Spirit had not been fully considered, the final section we know is missing. The creed from Nicaea simply ended with “And in the Holy Spirit.”

The second ecumenical council, Constantinople in 381, took up the Holy Spirit, and added to the creed the familiar words, “the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds…” What we call the Nicene Creed is more properly called the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed. (Pedants, take note, and practice your pronunciation of that seven-syllable word so it rolls off the tongue effortlessly.)

The Council of Ephesus in 431 condemned Nestorianism and defined that Mary is the Theotokos – “God-bearer” or “Mother of God.” This is true because the human and the divine in Christ are so closely united that Mary could not be the mother of just the human Jesus, she is the mother of the divine Jesus – God – also.

But the Council of Chalcedon in 451 needed to clarify further, lest it be thought that the human nature of Christ is swallowed up swallowed up by the divine in this union. There are two distinct natures in Christ, human and divine, in one hypostatic union.

It would be odd, at this late date, to put forth a Catholic and orthodox teaching on Christ with reference to Nicaea, while ignoring Constantinople. Or to expound on Ephesus as a sure guide, while ignoring Chalcedon.

But that is precisely what Kwasniewski is doing with the Eucharist, with respect to Trent and Vatican II.

There is a constructive way to address the inadequacies in Catholic worship today – the silliness, lack of reverence, sloppiness, mediocrity, ugliness, and the like.

This ain’t it, Peter.

Better work on your sentire cum ecclesia, I’d say.


[Featured image: Stamp of 1951 commemorating the anniversary of the Council of Chalcedon]


  1. Kwasniewski argues strongly for sacrifice, rather than meal. He does not seem to have heard of the term “sacrificial meal”.

    Re-reading paras 1382-1390 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church would show him that the Church is serious not just about the Mass with dignity and reverence, but also about Holy Communion — not an optional extra as Kwasniewski seems to imply.

    1. The first time I ever encountered the term “sacrificial meal” was in old pre-Vatican II hand missals (well, the term actually used was “Sacrificial Banquet”). It was a revelation to me.

      While I can see some of the criticism of the NLM article as being justified, I think it makes some important points – we need to better recover the idea that the Mass is a sacrifice and an act of worship and these are worthwhile aspects of it – that the reception of Holy Communion is not the only thing that makes participating in Mass worthwhile. I’ve encountered many people in my generation who never learned anything about the sacrificial nature of the Mass – and I never really heard the idea myself until I took a European history class in college. I know the reformed rite has some references to sacrifice, but if it is never taught about or reinforced, it isn’t easy to comprehend. When I have brought the idea up in conversation with Catholic peers, it is often assumed that the Mass is a sacrifice because we are giving up our time and money to attend it. Similarly, the attitude to communion is that if you can’t receive, then there is no point in going at all – I’ve even seen people assume that those who do not receive are probably not Catholics.

      I don’t think the problem is an overemphasis on “the unity of the congregation in Christ or their sharing in the sacred banquet of the Eucharist,” but that all other aspects are completely ignored – and that is a major problem, IMO. I often think many older Catholics don’t understand this, as many grew up when sacrifice was strongly emphasized.

    2. Paul,
      With all due respect, you seem not to have read my article with care. I mention the notion of a sacrificial meal twice:

      “Third, the Mass is the sacrificial banquet of the Lamb, in which we partake of His flesh and blood for our sanctification and salvation, provided we are not conscious of any unconfessed mortal sin, which includes living in a state of life that is not allowed by divine law.”

      “Thus it is false to say that the Mass is first of all a meal, or that it is a meal as much as it is a sacrifice. It is a sacrifice from which we are allowed to partake of the victim, just as there were sacrifices in the old covenant from whose flesh the priests could eat. A meal, in and of itself, is not a sacrifice, but a sacrifice can be a meal. This is why the Mass is not a reenactment of the Last Supper, as most Protestants (and too many uncatechized Catholics) believe, but rather a making-present of the oblation of the Son of God on the Cross on Good Friday. This is why it is not only misleading but heretical to emphasize the table of the Body and Blood of Christ as much as or more than the altar on which this victim is sacramentally sacrificed, and to celebrate the liturgy in such a way that the meal-character takes precedence over the oblation-character. It is for good reason that the Council of Trent, when defining the Mass, calls it repeatedly a sacrifice before speaking of its use by men as food and remedy.”

      1. The use of the word Banquet is usually eschatological, e.g., the Heavenly Banquet.

        For centuries the past reference for the Eucharist has been Christ’s Passion and Death: The Eucharist, therefore, was considered a Memorial of His passion and Death that was Instituted at the Last Supper.* The future reference is, as noted above, eschatological.

        Because the Protestants denied Transubstantiation (thus the Sacramental Sacrfice), the Eucharist was considered a memorial of the Last Supper.

        Paul VI said that it was a memorial of both. IMHO, that was syncretism for the sake of ecumenism with the Ptotestants.

        The Catechism has restored the Memorial/Institution distinction.

        * The placement of the Eucharist before His death is, I think, significant. If its first celebration would have been after the Resurrection, the theology would be different.
        Someday, God willin’ and the crick don’t rise, I hope to write an article on this.

  2. “Whenever the Mass is celebrated more like a meal, versus populum, without silence, without serious elevations and double genuflections, with a memorial acclamation breaking in on our acts of adoring faith, and an overall informal ars celebrandi, such things undermine the aforementioned Tridentine dogmas and weaken the sensus fidelium. In such circumstances, it is not surprising that holy communion becomes the high point of the service, indeed the only point; and if one does not receive, one is “left out.” Why go to Mass otherwise?”
    Thank you – needed a serious reason today to LAUGH. Guess someone needs to let Jesus know that his *meal* failed to meet the Peter test?

    1. Bill,
      You are failing to take into account the development of the liturgy that was obviously intended by Our Lord. He planted a seed that was meant to grow into a great tree, as it did over the centuries, branching into many different rites. (Would you make a similarly contemptuous remark about the much more elaborate Byzantine liturgy?) Two texts you might meditate on:

      “But when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will teach you all truth. For he shall not speak of himself; but what things soever he shall hear, he shall speak; and the things that are to come, he shall shew you.” (Jn 16:13) The full manifestation of the truth of Christ was not yet given, even at the Last Supper, nor should that surprise us. This is why there is both doctrinal development and liturgical development. (That there can be corruption in regard to both is also evident, but I’m sure that PT readers and I would have very different notions of where the corruptions have ensued.)

      “Amen, amen I say to you, he that believeth in me, the works that I do, he also shall do; and greater than these shall he do.” (Jn 14:12) GREATER than these shall he do. Was Our Lord saying that His own words and deeds were inadequate or less than they should have been?

    2. Peter, thanks for your thoughtful comments here.

      But you write:
      “You are failing to take into account the development of the liturgy that was obviously intended by Our Lord.”

      It seems rather clear from Sacrosanctum Concilium that the Catholic Church believes that all the developments that led up to the missal of 1570 were NOT intended by Our Lord and some of them needed reversing, redirecting, renewing. This is where you disagree – not just with PT readers, but with the Catholic Church.


      1. I’m a bit confused about the grammar. Did you mean to say that the Catholic Church does not believe that all the developments that led up to the Missal of 1570 are INTENDED by Our Lord, and therefore, that these developments needed reversing, redirecting, and renewing?

        In that case, we certainly disagree, as I believe it is problematic (at very least) to suggest that anything found in the Missal of 1570 is not a development intended by Our Lord for the benefit of the Church, and moreover, it is not as evident as you say that we are required to believe that this liturgical tradition needed reversing, etc. SC establishes principles that belong to the realm of theology, and enunciates practical suggestions that belong to the realm of contingent and prudential judgments. These latter can be mistaken and can certainly be jettisoned. In that sense, no ecumenical council’s recommendations for change are ever “irreversible.”

      2. Peter, I did say and mean that about 1570 and what Our Lord intended. My claim is a fairly uncontroversial one, I would think – it’s what the Catholic Church believes, based on Vatican II. The magisterium has affirmed Vatican II and the liturgical reforms repeatedly and strongly.

        I honestly feel bad for people like you, fighting this hopeless cause to see Vatican II revoked or overcome or sidelined. I don’t mean that in the sense of pity or condescension. I mean it as sober analysis: it’s just not gonna happen.


      3. But “all the developments that led up to the missal of 1570” does not equate to “any of the developments…” The question, then, is what is valid and what is not. You complain that Prof. Kwasniewski errs in referring to the Council of Trent without reference to Vatican II. Equally egregious, and today more common, is to refer to Vatican II without referring to the Council of Trent. Vatican II is not a refutation of Trent but presupposes and is built on it. To correctly understand the teaching of the Church one must read with Trent in one hand and Vatican II in the other. With this approach it can be seen that the limited reforms called for in Sacrosanctum concilium amount to an adjustment, and not to the major revolution that some would like to see in it.

      4. No, I don’t think it’s right to equate Trent and Vatican II in this way. Vatican II quotes Trent and tells us how to receive and re-contenxtualize Trent, but Trent does not do the same for Vatican II!

        Vatican II is, just in the very genre of its texts (see Fr. John O’Malley on this point), a massive, comprehensive re-reading of the Gospel for our times. (I’m paraphrasing Pope Francis on that.) Trent does not, was not intended to, and could not possibly serve this function for us today, 500 later.

        One is not entirely in error, then, in relying mostly on Vatican II, but in giving a very different (lesser) weight to an earlier Council which Vatican II swept up into its larger vision.

        What I’ve said is, I think, the basics of how Catholic theology works and how development of doctrine unfolds.


      5. Hi, I’m just curious, do you think that there is any tension between what you’re saying now and what Pope Paul VI states concerning Trent in Mysterium Fidei in the quote below?

        “…it cannot be tolerated that any individual should on his own authority take something away from the formulas which were used by the Council of Trent to propose the Eucharistic Mystery for our belief. These formulas—like the others that the Church used to propose the dogmas of faith—express concepts that are not tied to a certain specific form of human culture, or to a certain level of scientific progress, or to one or another theological school. Instead they set forth what the human mind grasps of reality through necessary and universal experience and what it expresses in apt and exact words, whether it be in ordinary or more refined language. For this reason, these formulas are adapted to all men of all times and all places.”

      6. Anthony, I’m not entirely comfortable with with what you seem to propose as a hermeneutic of conciliar texts—i.e. the later text takes up and preserves what is enduring in the earlier text (maybe that’s not what you mean; feel free to correct me). One of the driving forces of Vatican II was ressourcement: the realization that we couldn’t get our Thomas from reading later Thomistic commentators (though they contain a lot of Thomas), and we couldn’t get our Augustine from reading Thomas (though he contains a lot of Augustine), and we couldn’t get our Bible from Augustine (though he contains a lot of Bible). There is much that is of value in the Bible and Augustine and Thomas that is not found in the later texts. Likewise, there might be things of value in the decrees of the Council of Trent that are not contained within the documents of Vatican II. I consider Thomas an invaluable guide to reading Augustine, but reading Thomas is not a substitute for reading Augustine, and on occasion I think reading Thomas without going back and reading Augustine as well is likely to leave me with a distorted and impoverished theology (and don’t even get me started on reading Thomistic commentators without reading Thomas).

      7. Fritz,

        OK, did I overstate it? I always appreciate your comments, which help keep me honest!

        I certainly want to agree with you that we go directly to original sources for inspiration, not knowing of them only through the mediation of later sources.

        With church councils, though, I think it’s a bit different because of the utterly unique genre of the texts of the Second Vatican Council. I suppose I could see cases where earlier councils provide us something not in Vatican II. But frankly, it’s a stretch for me to see how that would happen very often, or in very significant ways. The Second Vatican Council is clearly a comprehensive statement of the Christian faith, an all-encompassing plan for the renewal of the Catholic faith, so unlike what any past Council attempted to do. To go ‘back to the source’ of the Second Vatican Council, one has to get this right about the nature of this very unique source.

        Anything I find in earlier Councils (I’m thinking of the Christological statements of the first four Councils now, something about which Vatican II didn’t say that much) would have to be both studied on its own grounds and then incorporated into the comprehensive vision of Vatican II.

        I suppose I’m making Vatican II too much of a filter, and not doing justice to the earlier sources. I don’t have a better way to try to formulate this at this point. But you certainly got me thinking.


      8. I do think you have a point about Councils, though I do think that because Councils occur in particular times and places they might miss out or underplay important elements of the tradition in their concern to address the present moment in which they are occurring. So Trent focused on some aspects of Eucharistic theology because they were matters of controversy, and did not deal with other aspects of Eucharistic theology. Vatican II, looking back not just to Trent but to the broad sweep of Scripture and tradition, brought some of those neglected aspect to the fore (such as Augustine’s reflections on the ecclesial dimensions of the Eucharist). But Vatican II was itself a historically bounded moment in time and some aspects of its teachings have not worn as well as others. Not that they are wrong, but simply that they are insufficient on their own (I think, for example, that Gaudium et Spes, created in the dying afterglow of post-war moral consensus concerning human values, seems quite dated in its appeal to “man” as a universal, now that we have passed through the fires of Foucault, feminism, and post/trans humanism). Which is all to say that the rhythm of ressourcement and aggiornamento that was in place at Vatican II continues to operate in the life of the Church.

      9. Fritz –
        This is very well-put and I like what you wrote. I agree about Gaudium et spes. It is true that even a comprehensive articulation of Christianity, a re-reading of the Gospel for our time, like Vatican II will of course be a product of its era and admit of further development. You’re not talking, obviously, about rejecting or massively relativizing V2, but letting the work of theology and the ongoing deepening and development of doctrine to continue. I’m all in favor of that.

  3. He might also take St. Thomas into account. In the thomist structure of the sacrament – sacramentum (the species of bread and wine), res et sacramentm (what the species become, the Body and Blood of Christ, which as the Council of Trent teaches are rightly adored, but which are also the sign, sacramentum, of something else, and so not an end in themselves), and the res (the communicant’s participation in the death and resurrection of Christ and the benefits that this brings, in particular the unity of the Church) – the res et sacramentum (the Real Presence) is logically prior to the res, inasmuch as it comes before it, but in the order of importance the res has priority over the res et sacramentum, since the latter is ordered to the former, as in a procession the most important person comes at the end.

    1. I am truly trying to understand what you outlined as the thomistic structure, however, could you further expand on my question:
      If the Real Presence is necessary for the communicant to participate in the death and resurrection, how is it that the participation is more important than the Real Presensce? I understand (or think I do) that the benefits of the particpation are driving the rank order of importance outlined above, but if something is necessary for the particpation how can that not come first?

      In my oversimplified (I’m certain) thinking, if I want to attend the Super Bowl I need a ticket, therefore the ticket is more important.

      Thank you

      1. The ticket analogy shows that the ticket is necessary; however it also shows that you don’t have the ticket simply for the sake of having the ticket: you don’t sick it on the sideboard and gaze at it, and decide that you won’t bother going to the game because just having the ticket is enough. But of course you wouldn’t gaze at the ticket, because it is just a bit of paper, both visibly and ontologically, whereas the consecrated species have become the body and blood of Christ while retaining the physical characteristics of bread and wine. So that is where the analogy breaks down. My use of the language of priority is no doubt sub-optimal, and requires two caveats: it refers to the relationship between means and ends within the structure of the sacrament, and should be understood in the light of there being one and only one Body of Christ encountered under three modes, the (singular) corpus triplex, historical (and so now resurrected and glorified), eucharistic, and ecclesial. This week’s postcommunion underlines the importance of the res when it asks that we may become what we have received, the body of Christ: Concede nobis, omnipotens Deus, ut de perceptis sacramentis inebriemur atque pascamur, quatenus in id quod sumimus transeamus. I think we need to take Trent seriously, and not take bits of it out of the double context of that council as a whole and of the Church’s tradition as a whole (which includes Vatican II), and use them to set up straw men in order to take them down. I also think we need to take St. Thomas seriously and not stop at transubtantiation without taking fully into account the res sacramenti. David Farina Turnbloom’s recent book, “Speaking with Aquinas”, is just such an effort to take his thought seriously by bringing his eucharistic theology into dialogue with his moral theology as contained in the Secunda Pars.

    2. Dear Fr. Lazowski:
      I am familiar with the Thomistic distinction of sacramentum tantum, res et sacramentum, and res tantum.
      My article is not an attempt to say that Communion is not important, or that it is not an integral part of the Mass, or that it should be subordinated in every respect to the exercise of the virtue of religion and the offering of adoration to the Lord. Rather, it is pointing out that the Mass has many dimensions and that there is a certain order in which we should understand these dimensions in order for our Communion to be fruitful, and in order not to fall into a sacramental reductionism that looks to the “use-value,” the “what’s in it for me?” mentality. Our worship of God profits us, to be sure, but it is good if we can focus our minds and hearts on the Holy Trinity and the sacrifice of praise of which He is worthy.

      1. Dear Professor Kwasniewski,
        Thank-you for your gracious reply to my comment. I have no doubt that you know about that thomistic distinction; indeed, I would have been be most surprised were you not! I simply wanted to point out that a balanced treatment of the subject at hand required its being taken into account.
        I think we differ on the necessity of Holy Communion being “subordinated [perhaps subordinated isn’t the best word, but it will do] in every respect to the exercise of the virtue of religion and the offering of adoration to the Lord”. I think it should, and it is; I agree heartily with what Marko Ivancicevic says about it being in itself an act of worship and adoration. In theology it is a serious methodological error to separate adoration and sanctification, one that gives rise to most of the liturgical… shortcomings… that probably everyone who cares about liturgy deplores. Distinguish: yes. Separate, or still worse, place in opposition or competition: no. In Christian worship, I just don’t see how you can have one without the other. We cannot ponder enough what St. Irenaeus said, “Life in man is the glory of God; the life of man is the vision of God”, or the French adaptation of the “Suscipiat”: “Pour la gloire de Dieu et le salut du monde”, or what Robert Taft somewhere says he wants to reply to people who claim they “don’t get anything out of” Mass: “You get the inestimable privilege of worshipping Almighty God” (or words to that effect).
        Just one other point. Of course we shouldn’t set out to mimic what we think happened at the Last Supper (see Professor Martin Klöckener’s remark posted under my name on another thread), and of course liturgy has developed over the centuries, up to and including 2017, and it isn’t over. The Church cannot err in matters of faith. But the Church is also free to decide that a practice, even one that was once widespread, was, or because of changed circumstances, has become, inappropriate, and so can change it.

  4. Hi,

    Whatever happened to correcting people with as much kindness, love and gentleness as possible? We just had a post about how we shouldn’t say that people who reject the Council of Trent’s teaching on the Eucharist are in error, why is it ok to speak to Kwasniewski in such a condescending and mocking tone?

    1. You raise a good point, and I clearly wrote from a stance of passion and exasperation.

      There’s a difference in the interlocutors, though. One is a well-intentioned person who has been misled by conservative currents and devotional practices and needs support to see the depth of our tradition. The other is a professor with a mandatum, using a position of influence to fight against the Church’s teachings and liturgical practices. There’s something dangerous in that, and it’s hard to know how to respond to it.


  5. I agree with Anthony.

    Peter’s article also oversimplifies the Council of Trent; it is an example of what John O’Malley called “tridentinisimo”: privileging the subsequent interpretation and enactment of the Council over what the Fathers actually taught. They were surprisingly cautious and measured in their pronouncements – for example, never requiring Latin in the liturgy but only condemning the proposition that Latin could never be used. And the 16th-century debate over ceremonial was real, and hardly confined to Protestants. Erasmus, no iconoclast himself, wrote, “What is the use of so many baptisteries, candelabra, gold statues? What is the good of the vastly expensive organs … of that costly musical neighing when meanwhile our brothers and sisters, Christ’s living temples, waste away in hunger and thirst?” (See O’Malley on Trent, various; also Edward Muir, Ritual in Early Modern Europe, where he speaks of the 16th century crisis in “communal, performative signs”.)

    An interesting source of insight on all this is Pius XII’s Mediator Dei, written, arguably, as the Church was emerging from “the long nineteenth century”. It is very “conservative” in many ways, but – like the Fathers of Trent – takes the calls for reform seriously. The result is a document of the “both/and”: Latin and the vernacular; the ministerial priesthood and that of the laity; the Eucharist as symbol and real presence.

    Treating the Council of Trent as an exercise in polemic intended only to bash the Protestant errors is likely to lead to a misunderstanding of the Council. In general, polemic (in articles as well as in combox comments) rarely sheds much light on these difficult questions of symbolic action.

  6. I found the Thomist account above both lucid and, in the context of the discussion, illuminating. I think it dealt with Peter K on his own turf, too !

    However, I think there is a pastoral issue in the background here.

    Receiving Holy Communion has indeed become the ‘centre and high point’ of the celebration of Mass in the understanding of most RC’s I know. Historically it has led to a massive increase in reception, predating Vatican II, be it said. This lies at odds with history, where it’s really significant to note that for most of the history of the Mass, nobody but the priest (and ministers) actually received the Sacrament. For the rest, devotional language based on, but not carrying through, the language of actual reception had to suffice.

    With increasing numbers of people unable to receive the Sacrament for all sorts of reasons, we should be able to help them (and ourselves) think about the need to participate in the Eucharistic Sacrifice even though we don’t receive Holy Communion. Even though I wouldn’t agree with what Peter K. has written, maybe, malgre lui, he is opening up an issue we need to think about, namely, why go to Mass if I can’t be a communicant ? I have that from people in second marriages, differing relational situations, etc, who would love to be closer to the Catholic Fold of their upbringing (or adult conversion) but feel that without communion they cannot belong, and don’t like the thought of staying in their places when the majority receive, or getting the garbled ‘blessing’ that they are often recommended to have.

    I used the phrase ‘centre and high point’ to refer to Holy Communion. Those who read such documents will remind me that in the IGMR it refers to the Eucharistic Prayer. It is so sad that the moment of offering the sacrifice seems to pass with such little attention from people, but that is another issue, I guess.


  7. What strikes me is unusual is that no one seems to think of Sacramental Communion as an act of worship too, or at least an integral part of an act of worship.
    St. Paul in 1st Cor 10, mentions that Jews were idolaters when they sat and drank and played in honor of the golden calf. He leaves out what preceded the happening, because everybody at that time knew that to put something on an altar and consecrate it to a deity means to establish a communion with that deity, and then that communion must be consummated. That’s why he says that bread and wine are communion with Christ’s body and blood.
    So, Jews were idolaters because they sacrificed to the idol AND because they partook of the sacrificial gift.
    We worship the true God by sacrificing to him and partaking of the sacrificial gift. If Communion is absolutely (though in a small degree) subordinated to some hazy idea of adoration, then not even the priest’s Communion is necessary, but no one has ever taught that. All theologians agree that priest’s Communion is an integral part of worship and that the sacrifice isn’t “done” until the Priest hasn’t communicated.

    We finally have unrestricted access to the Holy of Holies by the virtue of baptism, and now, some put up temple veils over and again.

  8. I am not aware that Peter has credentials as a theologian. Maybe a philosopher, but there is a big difference between the two. If I am wrong, please let me know.

  9. B.A. in Liberal Arts, Thomas Aquinas College; M.A. and Ph.D. in Philosophy, The Catholic University of America.

    From the Wyoming college he teaches philosophy and music. Therefore he is not a theologian or a liturgist.

      1. I just answered Lee’s query about his credentials. He is a philosopher and a musician. That certainly does not preclude him or anyone else from pondering and publishing.

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