In a recent post here at Pray Tell about priests who join Mass in medias res to administer Communion, Nathan Chase included these lines:
I bring this up as we embark upon the Eucharistic revival in the United States because I have become increasingly concerned that in many places this revival is attending only to the presence of Christ in the Eucharistic species and not the manifold presence of Christ in the liturgy, especially in the Word of God and in the assembly.
Back in June 2022, I wondered basically the same thing in response to a podcast about the revival, which featured Bishop Andrew Cozzens, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops [USCCB] point person for the undertaking. On 9 February 2023, Bishop Cozzens gave a presentation as part of the annual study week of the Southwest Liturgical Conference. My fundamental concern remains unchanged.
A few times, Cozzens noted the connection between participation in Mass and involvement in service to the world and in one instance he specifically mentioned service to the poor. However, as I heard his remarks, he did not mention the word “justice” until he was prompted to do so by a question about whether the revival was about little more than fostering piety. He asserted, for example, that “the source and summit of our life is the Eucharist and we need to really focus on that and be strengthened in it so we know who we are and so we are ready to serve in the world and we’re ready to be on mission in the world.” Yet I could not but sense that the “Eucharist” here was the sacred species and not the Mass itself. It is well worth noting, I think, that the famous passage from Sacrosanctum Concilium 10 about “source and summit” uses the word “liturgy” and not the word “Eucharist” even if the word “Eucharist” appears later in that paragraph.
Later in the same address, Cozzens turned to belief in the Real Presence:
We have many people who come to Mass on Sunday who don’t fully understand the gift of what this encounter can be for them . . . How many people come to Communion on Sunday but they don’t come with real faith, they don’t come really seeking an encounter with [Jesus]. We can even probably put ourselves in that category sometimes.
I find these lines disturbing. I am a sacramental theologian. Far be it from me to advocate ignorance of Catholic teaching about the Eucharist or any of the sacraments (or any aspect of liturgy). That being said, I have to wonder who *does* fully understand the gift offered in the Eucharist—or any of the sacraments? I certainly don’t, and not just sometimes. When he established the “age of reason” as the threshold for admission to Communion, Pope Pius X wrote in Quam Singulari:
From all this it is clear that the age of discretion for receiving Holy Communion is that at which the child knows the difference between the Eucharistic Bread and ordinary, material bread, and can therefore approach the altar with proper devotion. Perfect knowledge of the things of faith, therefore, is not required, for an elementary knowledge suffices—some knowledge (aliqua cognitio); similarly full use of reason is not required, for a certain beginning of the use of reason, that is, some use of reason (aliqualis usus rationis) suffices.
The text later clarifies:
A full and perfect knowledge of Christian doctrine is not necessary either for First Confession or for First Communion. Afterwards, however, the child will be obliged to learn gradually the entire Catechism according to his ability.
Entirely in line with Pius, I am not suggesting that a child’s grasp of Christian doctrine should suffice even as the child matures into an adult. Yet each of us learns according to ability. In its thirteenth session Trent defended in unhesitating fashion the Catholic belief in Real Presence but one must attend to the words I have underlined:
In the first place, the holy Synod teaches, and openly and simply professes, that, in the august sacrament of the holy Eucharist, after the consecration of the bread and wine, our Lord Jesus Christ, true God and man, is truly, really, and substantially contained under the species of those sensible things. For neither are these things mutually repugnant,-that our Saviour Himself always sitteth at the right hand of the Father in heaven, according to the natural mode of existing, and that, nevertheless, He be, in many other places, sacramentally present to us in his own substance, by a manner of existing, which, though we can scarcely express it in words, yet can we, by the understanding illuminated by faith, conceive, and we ought most firmly to believe, to be possible unto God.
Trent mentions “understanding illuminated by faith.” In Sing to the Lord, issued by the USCCB in 2007, one finds these words in paragraph 5: “Faith grows when it is well expressed in celebration. Good celebrations can foster and nourish faith. Poor celebrations may weaken it.” I am all for appropriate catechesis about Real Presence, but there is cause to wonder if the lack of faith that worries Bishop Cozzens is a function of poor celebrations as well. Of great interest in this connection is the source text for paragraph 5. The lines are derived ultimately from paragraph 6 of the 1972 edition of Music in Catholic Worship, issued by what was then the Bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy. The language of 1972 was starker: “Faith grows when it is well expressed in celebration. Good celebrations foster and nourish faith. Poor celebrations weaken and destroy faith.”
This post is paired with an image on the Pray Tell home page. To find this image I conducted a Google search using the words: eucharistic revival. Here is some data about the first twenty images supplied by this search:
Thirteen (65%) of the images featured at least one member of the clergy.
Ten (50%) featured a monstrance.
Two (10%) featured a liturgical assembly.
WOW!! About the stats in the sidenote!
“We can even probably put ourselves in that category sometimes.”
This is a candid, accurate, and welcome admission.
For me, I bristle when the “poor dumb laity” argument is surfaced in one of its variations. Faith in Christ is not predicated on human knowledge and achievement, but on grace.
As a mystic who does her best to enter into the Eicharistic Presence of the Cosmic Christ everywhere, and also focused in the Mass, i remain unconvinced that the ER is little more than money wasted as an offhand ploy to the 1% funding it.
Often i encounter the Eucharistic Presence just as powerfully in the ED and/or Creation.
Those stats say it all!
In practice, it seems to me that the default position of the Catholic body is adoration, and the reification of the Eucharist. We all are aware intellectually that the term ‘eucharist’ itself is an active one, ‘the giving of thanks,’ and that it only secondarily refers to the eucharistised bread (and cup). The same is true of the term ‘The Blessed Sacrament’ which means, firstly, the celebration of the Mass and then, what is given in Holy Communion and kept in the Tabernacle.
The ‘reification’ of the eucharist is a symptom of how far, over the last half millennium, the Catholic body has lost its sense of the Liturgy as something done, as a corporate and diversified action (‘gratias agamus’) and resolved itself into a more individualistic communion and adoration mentality. It seems to me an open question as to whether such a ‘communal sense of action’ can be restored.
I used to ask students to conside the construction and features of the baroque altar, where the actual altar was in effect a mere shelf supporting a superstructure designed for the display of the monstrance and consecrated Host (as well as relics, candlesticks and other items) in the Rite of Benediction. To my eye, that says it all.
A pithier pair of complementary epithets (in rhetorical terms): Real Action & Real Presence.
I’m waiting for a thoughtful post on the real presence of the accidents of bread and wine whenever communion is being distributed. Yes, the substance of the bread and wine give way–through the power of the Holy Spirit–to the substance of Christ’s Body and Blood, Soul & Divinity. But without the enduring realness of the bread and wine no one could look at, adore, or consume the whole Christ. I believe this is what is meant when Catholics and others choose the word symbolic over real or actual. They instinctively know that we are not cannibals and so cannot actually be consuming the physical body and blood of Christ (as in pieces of flesh and portions of blood). They understandably conclude that there is a sense in which sacraments are also symbolic. When I was studying sacramental theology the term sacred symbols was in usage. To call the Eucharist a sacred symbol does not require denying that when we receive Communion we are truly partaking of the body and blood of Christ. Think about it.
The problem is with English whose meaning for “symbol” is the exact opposite of what the ancient languages meant. The simplest way to see this is in the fact the antonym of symbol in English is reality while in Greek a symbol connects one with reality. The etymology of the word is “to throw together.”
Good point about the English usage of symbol. A theological case can be made for the use of symbol, but that’s the problem, you have to explain it within a theological apologetic. “Sign” might be a better word. However, in a theological treatise, “sign and symbol”” have their proper place to explain the Sacramental Presence of Christ. But in secular usage, “symbol” isn’t a good term to use nor is the word “myth”. Myth has to be explained too when used to interpret Scripture. Its secular use muddies the theological waters.
Our priest occasionally preaches about “symbol”, he usually asserts that the opposite of “symbolic” is “diabolic”. That gets the congregation thinking!
“They instinctively know that we are not cannibals and so cannot actually be consuming the physical body and blood of Christ (as in pieces of flesh and portions of blood)”
Which means that concern is not really an issue after all (other than perhaps online layfolk erroneously getting over their skies in trying to explain a mystery).
As noted below, “symbolic” is equivocal in current English language usage in this context, and probably a word better avoided.
Plainly there can be much debate over how the ELEMENTS of the Eucharist, or their appearances, are “symbolic” or not. I think all believers can agree, though, that the English word “symbol” applies to the earthly Eucharist as a whole: it symbolizes the heavenly banquet at the end of time. Herbert McCabe once remarked (if I understood him correctly) that the only way he could express his idea of eternal life in heaven was to celebrate the Eucharist.
“Herbert McCabe once remarked (if I understood him correctly) that the only way he could express his idea of eternal life in heaven was to celebrate the Eucharist.”
I’ve heard some homilies that seemed to go on forever…hopefully those weren’t a foretaste of Heaven.
No worries, Jeff. See Jeremiah 31:34.
It is not the realness of the bread and wine that endures, but their appearances. The realness—the res—is the body and blood of Christ. This is the whole point of the sacrament and the definition of transubstantiation.
Yes, sacraments are signs/symbols, but not simply. They are efficacious signs. Peter Lombard addressed this question 1000 years ago (Sententiae, IV, 1.2.):
To refer to the sacraments as signs or symbols without further explanation leads to the misunderstanding that they are merely signs, and not truly what they signify. The move away from the traditional vocabulary and explanation clouds rather than enlightens.
Individuals seeking to be faithful Catholics believe that in receiving Holy Communion they are giving their consent (Amen!) to the real and efficacious presence of Christ: Body & Blood, Soul and Divinity. But if you should ask them if the elements really looked and tasted like bread and wine, they would give their assent to that as well. Very few of them would have little or any understanding of the Aristotelian/Thomistic thinking that lies beneath the Church’s doctrine. Nor need they for the sacrament to have its effects in them. Receiving Holy Communion is an encounter/event intended to make holy its recipients, not a moment to test our cognitive and apologetic skills. I fear that millions of dollars are being spent to increase the number of Catholics who will give the desired response in the next Pew poll on real vs. symbolic presence. If the number were to increase to 75% of practicing Catholics (up from 66%), I have grave doubts that one could term the process leading up to that a Revival. I could be wrong.
Fr. Feehily, if you are uncomfortable with the the Aristotilian/Thomistic explanation of transubstantiation, fine. Then just limit yourself to what Trent actually defined: that what the Eucharist is (its substance) changes from bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ while what it looks like (its species) remains the same. The discussion of signs and essence is not a part of the definition. It is you yourself who are reintroducing these philosophical categories with your attempt to define the Eucharist as merely a symbol. I doing so, however, you are clouding that the Eucharist is, in truth, the body and blood of Christ and does not just represent it. Your insistence that the Eucharist is “symbolic” of the presence of Christ and that the bread and wine is what is “real” causes confusion and implies that there is no actual change. Just stick with the definition of Trent—whose acceptance by Catholics is not optional—that the Eucharist is the body and blood of Christ, and that no further explanation is necessary or adequate.
That faithful Catholics would say that elements look and taste like bread and wine, fine; that is what Trent says. That they also believe in the real and efficacious presence of Christ, that is the problem. The vast majority of Catholics no longer do so. While, given your training in philosophy and theology, you may understand the use of the term “symbolic” as meaning efficacious, the average Catholic does not. For him, the term “symbolic” means “merely symbolic” and not real. You may find the Thomistic explanation wanting, but your counter explanation is worse, leading not just to confusion but to disbelief.
Anthony wrote: “Our priest occasionally preaches about “symbol”, he usually asserts that the opposite of “symbolic” is “diabolic”. That gets the congregation thinking!”
But perhaps thinking incorrectly.
Are the two words etymologically opposed? Both have the element βάλλειν (ballein = to throw, to put); “symbolic” has the etymological derivation “put together” or “connected”.
“Diabolic” comes out more as “to throw against” i.e. to accuse or to slander. There is internet talk that the “διά” in “diabolic” means “apart”, so that diabolic refers to division or separation, but that strikes me as a misreading of “διά”, which means “through” or “across”.
Happy to be corrected here — my Greek is not strong.
We are all reaching for an understanding of what is essentially beyond our understanding while simultaneously searching for language with which to do it.
Personally I don’t find categories and language based on the scientific understandings of pre-Christian Greeks or medieval scholars particularly helpful or credible. Similarly using their pre-scientific explanations as ipse dixit assertions doesn’t ring true for me. I welcome attempts to continue the search for appropriate language to express what we believe.
There is much in the old and new ways of teaching about the Most Holy Eucharist that is lacking, dry and uninspiring. Often newer terms seem to focus simply on the bread and wine, its quality, taste and substance rather than on the Divine Person of the Risen Lord who is truly present in a complete way, Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity, not separated, but one Divine Being made present in a palatable way. The same is true about meal. My Italian roots know that a disc of bread and a sip of wine a meal does not make, that’s a sample. But when we see receiving the Lord more than eating, drinking, digesting and eliminating, but Christ Himself making us a part Himself in the Church, the Mystical Body of Christ, of which He is the Head, and does so to keep us true to His mission to save the world in this life and the next, then that seems to make sense without academic dissection, scientific descriptions and meal anthropologies.
What I learned from reading the book “Torture and the Eucharist” is that for the first millenium the Real Body of Christ was the Church and the Mystical Body of Christ was the Bread and Wine, an understanding congruent with the Eastern approach where the sacraments are the “mysteries.” It is interesting to ponder how that change led us down several paths.