Pope Benedict XVI: LECTURE BY H.E. CARDINAL RATZINGER “EUCHARIST, COMMUNION AND SOLIDARITY”
Sunday 2 June 2002
after preparing for your Eucharistic Congress with prayer, reflection and charitable activities under the guidance of your Pastor, Archbishop Serafino Sprovieri, the Archdiocese of Benevento decided to undertake a two-fold investigation. It began an in-depth exploration of the relationship between the deepest sacramental mystery of the Church – the Holy Eucharist – and the Church’s most practical, down-to-earth commitment: her charitable work of sharing, reconciling and unifying. The diocese proposed this exploration the better to celebrate the sacrament and to live more fruitfully Christ’s “new commandment” that we “love one another”.
“Agape, Pax’, Orthodoxy, Orthopraxis
Often, in the primitive Church, the Eucharist was called simply “agape“, that is, “love”, or even simply “pax“, that is “peace”. The Christians of that time thus expressed in a dramatic way the unbreakable link between the mystery of the hidden presence of God and the praxis of serving the cause of peace, of Christians being peace. For the early Christians, there was no difference between what today is often distinguished as orthodoxy and orthopraxis, as right doctrine and right action. Indeed, when this distinction is made, there generally is a suggestion that the word orthodoxy is to be disdained: those who hold fast to right doctrine are seen as people of narrow sympathy, rigid, potentially intolerant. In the final analysis, for those holding this rather critical view of orthodoxy everything depends on “right action”, with doctrine regarded as something always open to further discussion. For those holding this view, the chief thing is the fruit doctrine produces, while the way that leads to our just action is a matter of indifference. Such a comparison would have been incomprehensible and unacceptable for those in the ancient Church, for they rightly understood the word “orthodoxy” not to mean “right doctrine” but to mean the authentic adoration and glorification of God.
They were convinced that everything depended on being in the right relationship with God, on knowing what pleases him and what one can do to respond to him in the right way. For this reason, Israel loved the law: from it, they knew God’s will, they knew how to live justly and how to honour God in the right way: by acting in accord with his will, bringing order into the world, opening it to the transcendent.
Christ teaches how God is glorified, the world is made just
This was the new joy Christians discovered: that now, beginning with Christ, they understood how God ought to be glorified and how precisely through this the world would become just. That these two things should go together – how God is glorified and how justice comes – the angels had proclaimed on the holy night: “Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth, goodwill toward men”, they had said (Lk 2,14). God’s glory and peace on earth are inseparable. Where God is excluded, there is a breakdown of peace in the world; without God, no orthopraxis can save us. In fact, there does not exist an orthopraxis which is simply just, detached from a knowledge of what is good. The will without knowledge is blind and so action, orthopraxis, without knowledge is blind and leads to the abyss. Marxism’s great deception was to tell us that we had reflected on the world long enough, that now it was at last time to change it. But if we do not know in what direction to change it, if we do not understand its meaning and its inner purpose, then change alone becomes destruction – as we have seen and continue to see. But the inverse is also true: doctrine alone, which does not become life and action, becomes idle chatter and so is equally empty. The truth is concrete. Knowledge and action are closely united, as are faith and life. This awareness is precisely what your theme seeks to state, “Eucharist, Communion and Solidarity”. I should like to dwell on the three key words you have chosen for your Eucharistic Congress to clarify them.
“Eucharist” is today – and it is entirely right that it be so – the most common name for the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ, which the Lord instituted on the night before his passion. In the early Church there were other names for this sacrament – agape and pax we have already mentioned. Along with these there were, for example, also synaxis – assembly, reunion of the many. Among Protestants this Sacrament is called “Supper”, with the intent – following the lead of Luther for whom Scripture alone was valid – to return totally to the biblical origins. And, in fact, in St Paul, this sacrament is called “the Lord’s Supper”. But it is significant that this title very soon disappeared, and from the second century it was used no longer. Why? Was it perhaps a moving away from the New Testament, as Luther thought, or something else?
Certainly the Lord instituted his Sacrament in the context of a meal, more precisely that of the Jewish Passover supper, and so at the beginning it was also linked with a gathering for a meal. But the Lord had not ordered a repetition of the Passover supper, which constituted the framework. That was not his sacrament, his new gift. In any event, the Passover supper could only be celebrated once a year. The celebration of the Eucharist was therefore detached from the gathering for the supper to the degree that the detachment from the Law was beginning to take place, along with the passage to a Church of Jews and Gentiles, but above all, of Gentiles. The link with the supper was thus revealed as extrinsic, indeed, as the occasion for ambiguities and abuses, as Paul amply described in his First Letter to the Corinthians.
Liturgy of Word, Prayer of Thanksgiving, Words of Institution
Thus the Church, assuming her own specific configuration, progressively freed the specific gift of the Lord, which was new and permanent, from the old context and gave it its own form. This took place thanks to the connection with the liturgy of the word, which has its model in the synagogue; and thanks to the fact that the Lord’s words of institution formed the culminating point of the great prayer of thanksgiving – that thanksgiving, also derived from the synagogue traditions and so ultimately from the Lord, who clearly had rendered thanks and praise to God in the Jewish tradition. But he had emphatically enriched that prayer of thanksgiving with a unique profundity by means of the gift of his body and his blood.
Through this action, the early Christians had come to understand that the essence of the event of the Last Supper was not the eating of the lamb and the other traditional dishes, but the great prayer of praise that now contained as its centre the very words of Jesus. With these words he had transformed his death into the gift of himself, in such a way that we can now render thanks for this death. Yes, only now is it possible to render thanks to God without reserve, because the most dreadful thing – the death of the Redeemer and the death of all of us – was transformed through an act of love into the gift of life.
Eucharist, Eucharistic Prayer
Accordingly, the Eucharist was recognized as the essential reality of the Last Supper, what we call today the Eucharistic Prayer, which derives directly from the prayer of Jesus on the eve of his passion and is the heart of the new spiritual sacrifice, the motive for which many Fathers designated the Eucharist simply as oratio (prayer), as the “sacrifice of the word”, as a spiritual sacrifice, but which becomes also material and matter transformed: bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ, the new food, which nourishes us for the resurrection, for eternal life. Thus, the whole structure of words and material elements becomes an anticipation of the eternal wedding feast. At the end, we shall return once more to this connection. Here it is important only to understand better why we as Catholic Christians do not call this sacrament “Supper” but “Eucharist”. The infant Church slowly gave to this sacrament its specific form, and precisely in this way, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, she clearly identified and correctly represented in signs the true essence of the sacrament, which the Lord really “instituted” on that night.
Precisely by examining the process by which the Eucharistic sacrament progressively took on its form, one understands in a beautiful way the profound connection between Scripture and tradition. The Bible considered solely in the historical context does not communicate sufficiently to us the vision of what is essential. That insight only comes through the living practice of the Church who lived Scripture, grasped its deepest intention and made it accessible to us.
The second word in the title of your Eucharistic congress – Communion – has become fashionable these days. It is, in fact, one of the most profound and characteristic words of the Christian tradition. Precisely for this reason it is very important to understand it in the whole depth and breadth of its meaning. Perhaps I may make an entirely personal observation here. When with a few friends – in particular Henri de Lubac, Hans Urs von Balthasar, Louis Bouyer, Jorge Medina – I had the idea of founding a magazine in which we intended to deepen and develop the inheritance of the Council, we looked for an appropriate name, a single word, which could fully convey the purpose of this publication. Already, in the last year of the Second Vatican Council, 1965, a review was begun, to serve as the permanent voice of the Council and its spirit, called Concilium. Hans Küng thought he had discovered an equivalence between the words ekklesia (Church) and concilium. The root of both terms was the Greek word kalein (to call) the first word, ekklesia, meaning to convoke, the second word, concilium, to summon together. Therefore both words essentially signify the same thing. From such an etymological relationship one could say the terms Church and Council were something synonymous and see the Church by her very nature as the continuing Council of God in the world. Therefore, the Church was to be conceived of in this “conciliar” sense and “actualized” in the form of a Council; and, vice versa, the Council was seen as the most intense possible realization of “Church”, namely, the Church in her highest form.
In the years following the Council, for a time, I followed this concept – the Church as the permanent council of God in the world – which seemed at first glance rather enlightening. The practical consequences of this conception should not be overlooked and its attractiveness is immediate. Still, though I came to the conclusion that the vision of Hans Küng certainly contained something true and serious; I also saw that it needed considerable correction. I would very briefly like to try to summarize the result of my studies at that time. My philological and theological research into the understanding of the words “church” and “council” in ancient times showed that a council can certainly be an important, vital manifestation of the Church, but that in reality the Church is something more, that her essence goes deeper.
“Koinonia’ lives the Word of life
The council is something that the Church holds, but the Church is not a council. The Church does not exist primarily to deliberate, but to live the Word that has been given to us. I decided that the word that best expressed this fundamental concept, which conveyed the very essence of the Church itself, was koinonia - communion. Her structure, therefore, is not to be described by the term “concilial”, but rather with the word “communional”. When I proposed these ideas publicly in 1969 in my book, The New People of God, the concept of communion was not yet very widespread in public theological and ecclesial discussions. As a result my ideas on this matter were also given little consideration. These ideas, however, were decisive for me in the search for a title for the new journal, and led to our later calling the journal Communio (communion).
The concept itself received wide public recognition only with the Synod of Bishops in 1985. Until then the phrase “People of God” had prevailed as the chief new concept of the Church, and was widely believed to synthesize the intentions of Vatican II itself. This belief might well have been true, if the words had been used in the full profundity of their biblical meaning and in the broad, accurate context in which the Council had used them. When, however the main word becomes a slogan, its meaning is inevitably diminished; indeed, it is trivialized.
Synod of 1985
As a consequence, the Synod of 1985 sought a new beginning by focusing on the word “communion”, which refers first of all to the Eucharistic centre of the Church, and so again returns to the understanding of the Church as the most intimate place of the encounter between Jesus and mankind, in his act of giving himself to us.
It was unavoidable that this great fundamental word of the New Testament, isolated and employed as a slogan, would also suffer diminishment, indeed, might even be trivialized. Those who speak today of an “ecclesiology of communion” generally tend to mean two things: (1) they support a “pluralist” ecclesiology, almost a “federative” sense of union, opposing what they see as a centralist conception of the Church; (2) they want to stress, in the exchanges of giving and receiving among local Churches, their culturally pluralistic forms of worship in the liturgy, in discipline and in doctrine.
Even where these tendencies are not developed in detail, “communion” is nonetheless generally understood in a horizontal sense – communion is seen as emerging from a network of multiple communities. This conception of the communal structure of Church is barely distinguishable from the conciliar vision mentioned above. The horizontal dominates. The emphasis is on the idea of self-determination within a vast community of churches.
Naturally, there is here much that is true. However, fundamentally the approach is not correct, and in this way the true depth of what the New Testament and Vatican II and also the Synod of 1985 wanted to say would be lost. To clarify the central meaning of the concept of “communio”, I would like briefly to turn to two great texts on communio from the New Testament. The first is found in I Corinthians 10,16 ff, where Paul tells us: “The chalice of blessing, which we bless, is it not a participation ["communion" in the Italian text] in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is but one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread”.
Vertical dimension in Eucharist
The concept of communion is above all anchored in the holy Sacrament of the Eucharist, the reason why we still today in the language of the Church rightly designate the reception of this sacrament simply as “to communicate”. In this way, the very practical social significance of this sacramental event also immediately becomes evident, and this in a radical way that cannot be achieved in exclusively horizontal perspectives. Here we are told that by means of the sacrament we enter in a certain way into a communion with the blood of Jesus Christ, where blood according to the Hebrew perspective stands for “life”. Thus, what is being affirmed is a commingling of Christ’s life with our own.
“Blood” in the context of the Eucharist clearly stands also for “gift”, for an existence that pours itself out, gives itself for us and to us. Thus the communion of blood is also insertion into the dynamic of this life, into this “blood poured out”. Our existence is “dynamized” in such a way that each of us can become a being for others, as we see obviously happening in the open Heart of Christ.
From a certain point of view, the words over the bread are even more stunning. They tell of a “communion” with the body of Christ which Paul compares to the union of a man and a woman (cf. I Cor 6,17ff; Eph 5,26-32). Paul also expresses this from another perspective when he says: it is one and the same bread, which all of us now receive. This is true in a startling way: the “bread” – the new manna, which God gives to us – is for all the one and the same Christ.
The Lord unites us with himself
It is truly the one, identical Lord, whom we receive in the Eucharist, or better, the Lord who receives us and assumes us into himself. St Augustine expressed this in a short passage which he perceived as a sort of vision: eat the bread of the strong; you will not transform me into yourself, but I will transform you into me. In other words, when we consume bodily nourishment, it is assimilated by the body, becoming itself a part of ourselves. But this bread is of another type. It is greater and higher than we are. It is not we who assimilate it, but it assimilates us to itself, so that we become in a certain way “conformed to Christ”, as Paul says, members of his body, one in him.
We all “eat” the same person, not only the same thing; we all are in this way taken out of our closed individual persons and placed inside another, greater one. We all are assimilated into Christ and so by means of communion with Christ, united among ourselves, rendered the same, one sole thing in him, members of one another.
To communicate with Christ is essentially also to communicate with one another. We are no longer each alone, each separate from the other; we are now each part of the other; each of those who receive communion is “bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh” (Gn 2,23).
Social universal union
A true spirituality of communion seen in its Christological profundity, therefore, necessarily has a social character, as Henri de Lubac brilliantly described more than a half century ago in his book, Catholicism.
For this reason, in my prayer at communion, I must look totally toward Christ, allowing myself to be transformed by him, even to be burned by his enveloping fire. But, precisely for this reason, I must always keep clearly in mind that in this way he unites me organically with every other person receiving him – with the one next to me, whom I may not like very much; but also with those who are far away, in Asia, Africa, America or in any other place.
Becoming one with them, I must learn to open myself toward them and to involve myself in their situations. This is the proof of the authenticity of my love for Christ. If I am united with Christ, I am together with my neighbour, and this unity is not limited to the moment of communion, but only begins here. It becomes life, becomes flesh and blood, in the everyday experience of sharing life with my neighbour. Thus, the individual realities of my communicating and being part of the life of the Church are inseparably linked to one another.
The Church is not born as a simple federation of communities. Her birth begins with the one bread, with the one Lord and from him from the beginning and everywhere, the one body which derives from the one bread. She becomes one not through a centralized government but through a common centre open to all, because it constantly draws its origin from a single Lord, who forms her by means of the one bread into one body. Because of this, her unity has a greater depth than that which any other human union could ever achieve. Precisely when the Eucharist is understood in the intimacy of the union of each person with the Lord, it becomes also a social sacrament to the highest degree.
Martin de Porres, Mother Teresa
The great social saints were in reality always the great Eucharistic saints. I would like to mention just two examples chosen entirely at random.
First of all, the beloved figure of St Martin de Porres, who was born in 1569 in Lima, Peru, the son of an Afro-American mother and a Spanish nobleman. Martin lived from the adoration of the Lord present in the Eucharist, passing entire nights in prayer before the crucified Lord in the tabernacle, while during the day he tirelessly cared for the sick and assisted the socially outcast and despised, with whom he, as a mulatto, identified because of his origins. The encounter with the Lord, who gives himself to us from the cross, makes all of us members of the one body by means of the one bread, which when responded to fully moves us to serve the suffering, to care for the weak and the forgotten.
In our time, we can recall the person of Mother Teresa of Calcutta. Wherever she opened the houses of her sisters to the service of the dying and outcast, the first thing she asked for was a place for the tabernacle, because she knew that only beginning from there, would come the strength for such service.
Whoever recognizes the Lord in the tabernacle, recognizes him in the suffering and the needy; they are among those to whom the world’s judge will say: “I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me drink; I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me” (Mt 25,35).
Briefly, I would like to recall a second important New Testament text concerning the word “communion” (koinonia). It is found right at the beginning of the first Letter of John (1,3-7), where he speaks of the encounter granted him with the Word made flesh. John says that he is transmitting what he has seen with his own eyes and touched with his own hands. This encounter has given him the gift of koinonia - communion – with the Father and his Son, Jesus Christ. It has become a true “communion” with the living God. As John expresses it, the communion has opened his eyes and he now lives in the light, that is, in the truth of God, which is expressed in the unique, new commandment, which encompasses everything – the commandment to love. And so the communion with the “Word of life” becomes the just life, becomes love. In this way it also becomes reciprocal communion: “If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we are in communion one with another” (I Jn 1,6).
The text shows the same logic of communio that we already found in Paul: communion with Jesus becomes communion with God himself, communion with the light and with love; it becomes in this way an upright life, and all of this unites us with one another in the truth. Only when we regard communion in this depth and breadth do we have something to say to the world.
We arrive finally at the third key world, “solidarity”. While the first two words come from the Bible and from Christian tradition, this word comes to us from outside. The concept of “solidarity” – as Archbishop Paul Cordes has shown – was developed initially among the early socialists by P. Lerou (died 1871) in contraposition to the Christian idea of love, as the new, rational and effective response to social problems.
Without Christ there are no solutions
Karl Marx held that Christianity had had a millennium and a half to demonstrate its capacity to deal with poverty, inequality and injustice, and had only succeeded in proving its incapacity to do so.
Therefore, Marx claimed, new ways had to be employed. And for decades many were convinced that the Marxist socialist system, centred around the concept of “solidarity”, was now the way finally to achieve human equality, to eliminate poverty and to bring peace to the world. Today, we can see what horrors and massacres were left behind by a social theory and policies that took no account of God.
It is undeniable that the liberal model of the market economy, especially as moderated and corrected under the influence of Christian social ideas, has in some parts of the world led to great success. All the sadder are the results, especially in places like Africa, where clashing power blocs and economic interests have been at work. Behind the apparent beneficial models of development there has all too often been hidden the desire to expand the reach of particular powers and ideologies in order to dominate the market. In this situation, ancient social structures and spiritual and moral forces have been destroyed, with consequences that echo in our ears like a single great cry of sorrow.
No, without God things cannot go well. And because only in Christ has God shown us his face, spoken his name, entered into communion with us; without Christ there is no ultimate hope.
Christians have exemplified solutions despite terrible failures
It is clear that Christians in past centuries have been stained with serious sins. Slavery and the slave trade remain a dark chapter that show how few Christians were truly Christian and how far many Christians were from the faith and message of the Gospel, from true communion with Jesus Christ.
On the other hand, lives full of faith and love, as seen in the humble willingness of so many priests and sisters to sacrifice themselves, have provided a positive counterweight and left an inheritance of love, which even if it cannot eliminate the horror of exploitation, can help to lessen it. On this witness we can build; along this path we can proceed farther.
It was in this situation, in recent decades, that the understanding of the concept of solidarity – thanks above all to the ethical studies of the Holy Father – has been slowly transformed and Christianized, so that now we can justly place it next to the two key Christian words, “Eucharist” and “Communion”. Solidarity in this context signifies people who feel responsible for one another, the healthy for the sick, the rich for the poor, the countries of the North for those of the South. It means a sense of individual awareness, of reciprocal responsibility; it means we are conscious that when we give we receive, and that we can always give only what has been given to us and that what we have been given never belongs to us for ourselves alone.
Spirituality has to accompany scientific and technical formation
Today we see that it is not enough to transmit technical skills, scientific knowledge and theories, nor the praxis of certain political structures. Those things not only do not help, but even end up causing harm, if the spiritual forces which give meaning to these technologies and structures are not also re-awakened, so as to make their responsible use possible. It was easy to destroy with our rationality the traditional religions, which now survive as subcultures, remnants of superstition, which have been deprived of their better elements and now are practices that can harm people in mind and body. It would have been better to expose their healthy nucleus to the light of Christ and so lead them to the fulfillment of the tacit expectations within them. Through such a process of purification and development, continuity and progress would have been united in a fruitful way.
Where missions were successful, they generally followed this path and so helped to develop those forces of faith which are so urgently needed today.
In the crisis of the 1960s and 1970s, many missionaries came to the conclusion that missionary work, that is, the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, was no longer appropriate today.
They thought the only thing that still made sense was to offer help in social development. But how can positive social development be carried out if we become illiterate with regard to God?
Gospel and social advancement go together
The fundamental idea tacitly agreed upon, that the peoples or tribes needed to preserve their own religions and not concern themselves with ours, shows only that the faith in the hearts of such men had grown cold despite their great good will; it shows that communion with the Lord was no longer seen as vital. Otherwise how could they have thought that it was a good thing to exclude others from these things?
Basically it is a matter here – often without realizing it – of thinking poorly of religion in general and of not esteeming other religions. A person’s religion is considered an archaic relic to be left alone because, ultimately it is thought to have nothing to do with the true greatness of progress. What religions say and do, appears to be totally irrelevant; they are not even a part of the world of rationality; their contents ultimately count for nothing. The “orthopraxis”, which we then look forward to, will be truly built on sand.
It is high time to abandon this erroneous way of thinking. We need faith in Jesus Christ if for no other reason than for the fact that it brings together reason and religion. It offers us in this way the criteria of responsibility and releases the strength necessary to live according to this responsibility. Sharing on all levels, spiritual, ethical and religious, is part of solidarity between peoples and nations.
Globalization means seeking the welfare of all the continents
It is clear that we must develop our economy further in a way that it no longer operates only in favour of the interests of a certain country or group of countries, but for the welfare of all the continents. This is difficult and is never fully realized. It requires that we make sacrifices. But if a spirit of solidarity truly nourished by faith is born, then this could become possible, even if only in an imperfect way.
The theme of globalization arises in this context, but here I am unable to address it. It is clear today that we all depend on each other. But there is a globalization that is conceived of unilaterally in terms of personal interests. There ought to exist a globalization which requires nations to be responsible for one another and to bear one another’s burdens. All of this cannot be realized in a neutral way, with reference only to market mechanisms. For decisions about market value are determined by many presuppositions. Thus, our religious and moral horizon is always decisive. If globalization in technology and economy is not accompanied by a new opening of the conscience to God, before whom all of us have a responsibility, then there will be a catastrophe. This is the great responsibility which weighs today on Christians.
Christianity, from the one Lord, the one bread, which seeks to make of us one body, has from the beginning aimed at the unification of humanity. If we, precisely at the moment when the exterior unification of humanity, previously unthinkable, becomes possible, withdraw ourselves as Christians, believing we cannot or should not give anything further, we would burden ourselves with a serious sin. In fact, a unity that is built without God or indeed against him, ends up like the experiment of Babylon: in total confusion and total destruction, in hatred and total chaos of all against all.
The Eucharist as the Sacrament of Transformation
Let us return to the Holy Eucharist. What really happened on the night when Christ was betrayed? Let us listen to the Roman Canon – the heart of the “Eucharist” of the Church in Rome: “The day before he suffered, he took bread into his sacred hands, and looking up to heaven, to you, his almighty Father, he gave you thanks and praise, broke the bread, gave it to his disciples and said: “Take this all of you, and eat it. This is my body which will be given up for you’. When supper was ended, he took the cup, again he gave you thanks and praise, gave the cup to his disciples and said: “Take, all of you, and drink from it. This is the cup of my blood the blood of the new and everlasting covenant, it will be shed for you and for all so that sins may be forgiven. Do this in memory of me’ ” (ICEL Translation).
What is happening in these words?
In the first place we are confronted by the word “transubstantion”. The bread becomes the body, his body. The bread of the earth becomes the bread of God, the “manna” of heaven, with which God nourishes men not only in their earthly life but also in the prospect of the resurrection – which prepares for the resurrection, or rather, already makes it begin. The Lord, who would have been able to transform stones into bread, who was able to raise up from rocks the sons of Abraham, wishes to transform the bread into a body, his body. Is this possible? How can it happen?
Body given, Blood poured out
We cannot avoid the questions that the people posed in the synagogue of Capernaum. He is there before his disciples, with his body; how can he say over the bread: this is my body? It is important to pay close attention to what the Lord really said. He does not say only: “This is my body”, but: “This is my body, which is given up for you”. It can become gift, because it is given. By means of the act of giving it becomes “capable of communicating”, has transformed itself into a gift. We may observe the same thing in the words over the cup. Christ does not say simply: “This is my blood”, but, “This is my blood, which is shed for you”. Because it is shed, inasmuch as it is shed, it can be given.
Real transformation of violence into an act of love
But now a new question emerges: what do “it is given” and “it is shed” mean? In truth, Jesus is killed; he is nailed to a cross and dies amid torment. His blood is poured out, first in the Garden of Olives due to his interior suffering for his mission, then in the flagellation, the crowning with thorns, the crucifixion, and after his death in the piercing of his Heart. What occurs is above all an act of violence, of hatred, torture and destruction.
At this point we run into a second, more profound level of transformation: he transforms, from within, the act of violent men against him into an act of giving on behalf of these men – into an act of love. This is dramatically recognizable in the scene of the Garden of Olives. What he teaches in the Sermon on the Mount, he now does: he does not offer violence against violence, as he might have done, but puts an end to violence by transforming it into love. The act of killing, of death, is changed into an act of love; violence is defeated by love. This is the fundamental transformation upon which all the rest is based. It is the true transformation which the world needs and which alone can redeem the world. Since Christ in an act of love has transformed and defeated violence from within, death itself is transformed: love is stronger than death. It remains forever.
Transformation of death into life
And so in this transformation is contained the broader transformation of death into resurrection, of the dead body into the risen body. If the first man was a living being, as St Paul says, the new Adam, Christ, will become by this spiritual event the giver of life (I Cor 15, 45). The risen one is gift, is spirit who gives his life, “communicates”, indeed, is communication. This means that there is no farewell here to material existence; rather, in this way material existence achieves its goal: without the actual event of death (with its interior transcendence) all this complex transformation of material things would not be possible. And so in the transformation of the resurrection all the fullness of Christ continues to subsist, but now transformed in this way; now being a body and the gift of self are no longer mutually exclusive, but are implicit in each other.
Before going on, let us first seek to sum this up once more in order to understand this whole complex reality. At the moment of the Last Supper, Jesus has already anticipated the event of Calvary. He accepts the death on the cross and with his acceptance transforms the act of violence into an act of giving, of self-giving poured forth, “Even if I am to be poured out as a libation on the sacrificial offering of your faith”, St Paul says on the basis of this and in regard to his own imminent martyrdom in Philippians 2,17. At the Last Supper the cross is already present, accepted and transformed by Jesus.
This first and fundamental transformation draws to itself all the others – the mortal body is transformed into the resurrected body: it is “the spirit which gives life”.
Transformation of bread and wine
On the basis of this the third transformation becomes possible: the gifts of bread and wine, that are the gifts of creation and at the same time fruit of human labour and the “transformation” of the creation, are transformed so that in them the Lord himself who gives himself becomes present, in his gift of self-giving. His gift, himself – since he is gift. The act of self giving is not something from him, but it is himself.
And on this basis the prospect opens onto two further transformations, that are essential to the Eucharist, from the instant of its institution: the transformed bread, the transformed wine.
Through them the Lord himself gives himself as spirit that gives life, to transform us men, so that we become one bread with him and then one body with him. The transformation of the gifts, which is only the continuation of the fundamental transformations of the cross and of the resurrection, is not the final point, but in its turn only a beginning.
Transformation of communicants into one body
The purpose of the Eucharist is the transformation of those who receive it in authentic communion. And so the end is unity, that peace which we, as separate individuals who live beside one another or in conflict with one another, become with Christ and in him, as one organism of self-giving, to live in view of the resurrection and the new world.
Transformation of creation into dwelling place for God
The fifth and final transformation which characterizes this sacrament becomes thus visible: by means of us, the transformed, who have become one body, one spirit which gives life, the entire creation must be transformed. The entire creation must become a “new city”, a new paradise, the living dwelling-place of God: “God all in all” (I Cor 15,28) – thus Paul describes the end of creation, which must be conformed to the Eucharist.
Thus the Eucharist is a process of transformations, drawing on God’s power to transform hatred and violence, on his power to transform the world. We must therefore pray that the Lord will help us to celebrate and to live the Eucharist in this way. We pray that he transform us, and together with us the world, into the new Jerusalem
Dionysian Ponderings - At some point during the past five years, I realized that I had no choice but to read The Divine Names by St Dionysius the Areopagite. I have been captivat...
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