In an extremely important commentary on the draft of the U.S. Catholic bishops’ proposed new document on the Eucharist in the National Catholic Reporter, highly respected liturgical expert Msgr. Kevin Irwin says that the document “reads as if it could have been created before the Second Vatican Council.” Irwin taught at the Catholic University of America and is the author of several significant books on liturgy, sacraments, and the environment.
Irwin wryly notes that the proposed title of the bishops’ document, “The Mystery of the Eucharist in the Life of the Church” would more accurately be “The Mystery of the Sacrificial Presence of Christ in the Eucharistic Species.”
Defending sacrifice and real presence were primary concerns of the sixteenth-century Council of Trent, reflecting a certain defensiveness over against Protestant reformers.
While those doctrines are of course fundamental to Catholic sacramental theology, the Second Vatican Council drew on the preceding decades of theological renewal so as to retrieve a fuller – actually more traditional – understanding of the eucharistic mystery as the broader context for them.
Irwin charges that the draft document “is framed in a Tridentine framework, not a Vatican II framework.”
Missing, according to Irwin, are the richly multiple terms retrieved by Vatican II to name the Eucharist. Missing is any reference to the two parts of the Mass – Word and Eucharist – which according to the Council make up one act of worship. The document’s silence on the need for communal gathering in an individualistic and fractured society “leads to a pious individualism,” he writes.
Unmentioned is any reference to the multiple presences of Christ in the liturgical assembly – a key teaching of the Second Vatican Council.
The inclusion of eucharistic miracles in the document, according to Irwin, could lead a physical, rather than sacramental, understanding of the Eucharist. This understanding would actually be “heretical.”
Irwin concludes: “Perhaps it would be better for the bishops during their Nov. 15-18 meeting to decide to hire a new team of writers, with the hope of having a different draft of this text to review by next spring.”
Read Msgr. Irwin’s entire commentary here.