. Since, however, it would be very tedious, in such a volume as this, to reckon up the successions of all the Churches, we do put to confusion all those who, in whatever manner, whether by an evil self-pleasing, by vainglory, or by blindness and perverse opinion, assemble in unauthorized meetings; [we do this, I say,] by indicating that tradition derived from the apostles, of the very great, the very ancient, and universally known Church founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul; as also [by pointing out] the faith preached to men, which comes down to our time by means of the successions of the bishops. For it is a matter of necessity that every Church should agree with this Church, on account of its preeminent authority, that is, the faithful everywhere, inasmuch as the tradition has been preserved continuously by those [faithful men] who exist everywhere.ST IRENAEUS
Church Authority and the Petrine Element
by Hans Urs von Balthasar
From In The Fullness of Faith: On the Centrality of the Distinctively Catholic
Nothing is plainer, nothing is more evident, than that in the Catholic realm the authority exercised in the Church of the Word and Sacrament is both form and content. Indeed, it can only be "form" (the exercise of full official authority) because simultaneously it is "content" (Christ's authority, which comes from his Father, which he bequeaths to his disciples in clear words). Similarly, it can only be "content" (the proclaimed gospel) because at the same time it is the "form" of the Church, which authoritatively proclaims it.
Were this not the case, there would be an alienating gulf between the proclaimed content (Jesus Christ's message and the message concerning Jesus Christ) and the proclaiming Church.
Either it would mean that what is proclaimed (redemption through the Son's perfect obedience unto death on the cross) is a historical, objectivized, archaeological fact people can "hold to be true" without inwardly participating in it, such that- his obedience long ago makes us "free Christian men" today. Or it means that we imagine ourselves (in a Pietistic sense) to be sharing directly in the event of the cross, and so reduce the primal act of Christian obedience to the miniscule proportions of an anthropological "honesty" that "does justice to the facts".
Church authority, the obedient exercise of the fullness of power imparted by Jesus Christ and handed on by the Apostles (cf. the Pastoral Epistles), preserves the necessary distance in order to join us to Christ's work in a valid way.
Thus we do not imagine ourselves to coincide with Christ and his redemptive act, but all the same we are those who obey with his obedience and thus are followers of him. Obeying within the Church, we preserve the servant's distance from the Lord of the Church, and at the same time the Lord calls us "not servants, but friends", because we have been initiated into the mystery of his loving obedience, which is the key to all the mysteries of God in Heaven and on earth.
When we confess our sins, we obediently submit to the fullness of power he has imparted to the Church, which, for her part, responds in pure obedience to his command to loose and bind. The two interact, with the result that we not only participate in the continuing influence of the cross but are drawn into the primal obedience of Jesus' Catholic, all-embracing confession of sin on the cross and the Catholic, all-embracing absolution of Easter.
This is not blind obedience. As believers we know about the meaning and fruitfulness of the Lord's obedience, we know about his handing on of full authority and about its uninterrupted exercise down through the centuries. A person who believes in the fullness of Christ's power sees no problem in his handing it on. Indeed, the presence of this fullness of power in today's Church will be a guarantee to him of his Lord's living presence, even if he does not hear the echo, in the eternal realm, of what is done on earth with this full authority, and so remains one who "obeys" in the strict sense.
The Petrine Element
Notwithstanding all the problems connected with the papacy throughout the history of the Church, two things speak in favor of its recognition within the Communio Sanctorum and its apostolicity.
In the first place (and we have already touched upon this) the Petrine element is taken for granted, so to speak, right at the beginning, in the Petrine texts of the New Testament. And of these the most impressive is not the passage in Matthew but rather the overpowering apotheosis of Peter at the end of John's Gospel of love, which begins with the choosing of Peter in the first chapter and contains, at its center, the Apostle's great confession of faith in the Lord.
The Lukan text, in which Peter is commissioned to strengthen his brethren, is no less striking than the passage in Matthew. Then there are the very many other places in Gospels, letters, and in the Acts of the Apostles. How can anyone who claims to adhere to the Word-the Word alone-fail to be profoundly struck by these texts?
In addition there is the fact that, since the first and second centuries, an undisputed primacy of the Apostolic See has been attributed to the Bishop of the Roman community. Rome had no need to demand to be recognized; rather, it was unquestioningly acknowledged, as we can see from the Letter of Clement, the Letter of Ignatius, from Irenaeus, from the sober Admonition to Pope Victor, etc. The principle of primacy had long been established by the time Rome allegedly began to put forward exaggerated claims when starting to develop its own theology of primacy. There can be many differing views as to when these increasing claims began to be unevangelical and intolerable within the context of the Church–in the fourth or ninth or twelfth century–but the "unhappy fact" had already taken place.
One can only try to restore an internal balance within the Church, as the Second Vatican Council saw its task to be; it is impossible to abolish the principle without truncating the gospel itself.
The second argument for the Petrine principle is the qualitative difference between the unity of life and doctrine within the "Roman" Catholic Church and the unity that exists within all other, Christian communions. For, if we begin with the Orthodox, no- ecumenical council has been able to unite them since their separation from Rome. And if we turn to the innumerable ecclesial communities that arose from the Reformation and subsequently, even though they are members of the World Council of Churches, they have scarcely managed to get any further than a "convergence" toward unity. And this unity, as we see ever more clearly, remains an eschatological ideal. Christ, however, wanted more for his Church than this.
If we look only from the outside, the Petrine principle is the sole or the decisive principle of unity in the Catholica. Above it is the principle of the pneumatic and eucharistic Christ and his everliving presence through the apostolic element, i.e., sacramental office, fully empowered to make Christ present, and tradition, actualizing what is testified to in Scripture.
Above it, too, is the Sanctorum Communio, the Ecclesia immaculata, concretely symbolized by the Lord's handmaid who utters her Fiat. But these deeper principles could not exercise their unity-creating power right to the end without the external reference of the Roman bishop. And the more worldwide the Church becomes the more threatened she is in the modern states with their fascism of the right and of the left, the more she is called upon to incarnate herself in the most diverse, non-Mediterranean cultures, and the wider theological and episcopal pluralism she contains, the more indispensable this reference-point becomes. Anyone who denies this is either a fanatic or an irrational sentimentalist.
Hans Urs von Balthasar (1905-88) was a Swiss theologian, considered to one of the most important Catholic intellectuals and writers of the twentieth century. 2005 marks the centennial celebration of his birth.
Incredibly prolific and diverse, he wrote over one hundred books and hundreds of articles. Read more about his life and work in the Author's Pages section of IgnatiusInsight.com.
Peter and Succession |
by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger
From Called To Communion: Understanding the Church Today
Editor's note: This is the second half of a chapter titled "The Primacy of Peter and Unity of the Church." The first half examines the status of Peter in the New Testament and the commission logion contained in Matthew 16:17-19.
The principle of succession in general
That the primacy of Peter is recognizable in all the major strands of the New Testament is incontestable.
The real difficulty arises when we come to the second question: Can the idea of a Petrine succession be justified? Even more difficult is the third question that is bound up with it: Can the Petrine succession of Rome be credibly substantiated?
Concerning the first question, we must first of all note that there is no explicit statement regarding the Petrine succession in the New Testament. This is not surprising, since neither the Gospels nor the chief Pauline epistles address the problem of a postapostolic Church—which, by the way, must be mentioned as a sign of the Gospels' fidelity to tradition. Indirectly, however, this problem can be detected in the Gospels once we admit the principle of form critical method according to which only what was considered in the respective spheres of tradition as somehow meaningful for the present was preserved in writing as such. This would mean, for example, that toward the end of the first century, when Peter was long dead, John regarded the former's primacy, not as a thing of the past, but as a present reality for the Church.
For many even believe—though perhaps with a little too much imagination—that they have good grounds for interpreting the "competition" between Peter and the beloved disciple as an echo of the tensions between Rome's claim to primacy and the sense of dignity possessed by the Churches of Asia Minor. This would certainly be a very early and, in addition, inner-biblical proof that Rome was seen as continuing the Petrine line; but we should in no case rely on such uncertain hypotheses. The fundamental idea, however, does seem to me correct, namely, that the traditions of the New Testament never reflect an interest of purely historical curiosity but are bearers of present reality and in that sense constantly rescue things from the mere past, without blurring the special status of the origin.
Moreover, even scholars who deny the principle itself have propounded hypotheses of succession. 0. Cullmann, for example, objects in a very clear-cut fashion to the idea of succession, yet he believes that he can Show that Peter was replaced by James and that this latter assumed the primacy of the erstwhile first apostle. Bultmann believes that he is correct in concluding from the mention of the three pillars in Galatians 2:9 that the course of development led away from a personal to a collegial leadership and that a college entered upon the succession of Peter. 
We have no need to discuss these hypotheses and others like them; their foundation is weak enough. Nevertheless, they do show that it is impossible to avoid the idea of succession once the word transmitted in Scripture is considered to be a sphere open to the future. In those writings of the New Testament that stand on the cusp of the second generation or else already belong to it-especially in the Acts of the Apostles and in the Pastoral Letters—the principle of succession does in fact take on concrete shape.
The Protestant notion that the "succession" consists solely in the word as such, but not in any "structures", is proved to be anachronistic in light of what in actual fact is the form of tradition in the New Testament. The word is tied to the witness, who guarantees it an unambiguous sense, which it does not possess as a mere word floating in isolation. But the witness is not an individual who stands independently on his own. He is no more a wit ness by virtue of himself and of his own powers of memory than Peter can be the rock by his own strength. He is not a witness as "flesh and blood" but as one who is linked to the Pneuma, the Paraclete who authenticates the truth and opens up the memory and, in his turn, binds the witness to Christ. For the Paraclete does not speak of himself, but he takes from "what is his" (that is, from what is Christ's: Jn 16: 13).
This binding of the witness to the Pneuma and to his mode of being-"not of himself, but what he hears" -is called "sacrament" in the language of the Church. Sacrament designates a threefold knot-word, witness, Holy Spirit and Christ-which describes the essential structure of succession in the New Testament. We can infer with certainty from the testimony of the Pastoral Letters and of the Acts of the Apostles that the apostolic generation already gave to this interconnection of person and word in the believed presence of the Spirit and of Christ the form of the laying on of hands.
The Petrine succession in Rome
In opposition to the New Testament pattern of succession described above, which withdraws the word from human manipulation precisely by binding witnesses into its service, there arose very early on an intellectual and anti-institutional model known historically by the name of Gnosis, which made the free interpretation and speculative development of the word its principle. Before long the appeal to individual witnesses no longer sufficed to counter the intellectual claim advanced by this tendency. It became necessary to have fixed points by which to orient the testimony itself, and these were found in the so-called apostolic sees, that is, in those where the apostles had been active. The apostolic sees became the reference point of true communio. But among these sees there was in turn–quite clearly in Irenaeus of Lyons–a decisive criterion that recapitulated all others: the Church of Rome, where Peter and Paul suffered martyrdom. It was with this Church that every community had to agree; Rome was the standard of the authentic apostolic tradition as a whole.
Moreover, Eusebius of Caesarea organized the first version of his ecclesiastical history in accord with the same principle. It was to be a written record of the continuity of apostolic succession, which was concentrated in the three Petrine sees Rome, Antioch and Alexandria-among which Rome, as the site of Peter's martyrdom, was in turn preeminent and truly normative. 
This leads us to a very fundamental observation.  The Roman primacy, or, rather, the acknowledgement of Rome as the criterion of the right apostolic faith, is older than the canon of the New Testament, than "Scripture".
We must be on our guard here against an almost inevitable illusion. "Scripture" is more recent than "the scriptures" of which it is composed. It was still a long time before the existence of the individual writings resulted in the "New Testament" as Scripture, as the Bible. The assembling of the writings into a single Scripture is more properly speaking the work of tradition, a work that began in the second century but came to a kind of conclusion only in the fourth or fifth century. Harnack, a witness who cannot be suspected of pro-Roman bias, has remarked in this regard that it was only at the end of the second century, in Rome, that a canon of the "books of the New Testament" won recognition by the criterion of apostolicity-catholicity, a criterion to which the other Churches also gradually subscribed "for the sake of its intrinsic value and on the strength of the authority of the Roman Church".
We can therefore say that Scripture became Scripture through the tradition, which precisely in this process included the potentior principalitas–the preeminent original authority–of the Roman see as a constitutive element.
Two points emerge clearly from what has just been First, the principle of tradition in its sacramental form-apostolic succession—played a constitutive role in the existence and continuance of the Church. Without this principle, it is impossible to conceive of a New Testament at all, so that we are caught in a contradiction when we affirm the one while wanting to deny the other. Furthermore, we have seen that in Rome the traditional series of bishops was from the very beginning recorded as a line of successors.
We can add that Rome and Antioch were conscious of succeeding to the mission of Peter and that early on Alexandria was admitted into the circle of Petrine sees as the city where Peter's disciple Mark had been active. Having said all that, the site of Peter's martyrdom nonetheless appears clearly as the chief bearer of his supreme authority and plays a preeminent role in the formation of tradition which is constitutive of the Church-and thus in the genesis of the New Testament as Bible; Rome is one of the indispensable internal and external- conditions of its possibility. It would be exciting to trace the influence on this process of the idea that the mission of Jerusalem had passed over to Rome, which explains why at first Jerusalem was not only not a "patriarchal see" but not even a metropolis: Jerusalem was now located in Rome, and since Peter's departure from that city, its primacy had been transferred to the capital of the pagan world. 
But to consider this in detail would lead us too far afield for the moment. The essential point, in my opinion, has already become plain: the martyrdom of Peter in Rome fixes the place where his function continues. The awareness of this fact can be detected as early as the first century in the Letter of Clement, even though it developed but slowly in all its particulars.
We shall break off at this point, for the chief goal of our considerations has been attained. We have seen that the New Testament as a whole strikingly demonstrates the primacy of Peter; we have seen that the formative development of tradition and of the Church supposed the continuation of Peter's authority in Rome as an intrinsic condition. The Roman primacy is not an invention of the popes, but an essential element of ecclesial unity that goes back to the Lord and was developed faithfully in the nascent Church.
But the New Testament shows us more than the formal aspect of a structure; it also reveals to us the inward nature of this structure. It does not merely furnish proof texts, it is a permanent criterion and task. It depicts the tension between skandalon and rock; in the very disproportion between man's capacity and God's sovereign disposition, it reveals God to be the one who truly acts and is present.
If in the course of history the attribution of such authority to men could repeatedly engender the not entirely unfounded suspicion of human arrogation of power, not only the promise of the New Testament but also the trajectory of that history itself prove the opposite. The men in question are so glaringly, so blatantly unequal to this function that the very empowerment of man to be the rock makes evident how little it is they who sustain the Church but God alone who does so, who does so more in spite of men than through them.
The mystery of the Cross is perhaps nowhere so palpably present as in the primacy as a reality of Church history. That its center is forgiveness is both its intrinsic condition and the sign of the distinctive character of God's power. Every single biblical logion about the primacy thus remains from generation to generation a signpost and a norm, to which we must ceaselessly resubmit ourselves. When the Church adheres to these words in faith, she is not being triumphalistic but humbly recognizing in wonder and thanksgiving the victory of God over and through human weakness. Whoever deprives these words of their force for fear of triumphalism or of human usurpation of authority does not proclaim that God is greater but diminishes him, since God demonstrates the power of his love, and thus remains faithful to the law of the history of salvation, precisely in the paradox of human impotence.
For with the same realism with which we declare today the sins of the popes and their disproportion to the magnitude of their commission, we must also acknowledge that Peter has repeatedly stood as the rock against ideologies, against the dissolution of the word into the plausibilities of a given time, against subjection to the powers of this world.
When we see this in the facts of history, we are not celebrating men but praising the Lord, who does not abandon the Church and who desired to manifest that he is the rock through Peter, the little stumbling stone: "flesh and blood" do not save, but the Lord saves through those who are of flesh and blood. To deny this truth is not a plus of faith, not a plus of humility, but is to shrink from the humility that recognizes God as he is. Therefore the Petrine promise and its historical embodiment in Rome remain at the deepest level an ever-renewed motive for joy: the powers of hell will not prevail against it . . .
 Die Geschichte der synoptischen Tradition, 2d ed. (198 1), 147- 51; cf. Gnilka, 56.
 For an exhaustive account of this point, see V. Twomey, Apostolikos Thronos (Münster, 1982).
 It is my hope that in the not-too-distant future I will have the opportunity to develop and substantiate in greater detail the view of the succession that I attempt to indicate in an extremely condensed form in what follows. I owe important suggestions to several works by 0. Karrer, especially: Um die Einheit der Christen. Die Petrusfrage (Frankfurt am Mainz, 1953); "Apostolische Nachfolge und Primat", in: Feiner, Trütsch and Böckle, Fragen in der Theologie heute (Freiburg im.Breisgau, 1957), 175-206; "Das Petrusamt in der Frühkirche", in Festgabe J. Lortz (Baden-Baden, 1958), 507-25; "Die biblische und altkirchliche Grundlage des Papsttums", in: Lebendiges Zeugnis (1958), 3-24. Also of importance are some of the papers in the festschrift for 0. Karrer: Begegnung der Christen, ed. by Roesle-Cullmann (Frankfurt am Mainz, 1959); in particular, K. Hofstetter, "Das Petrusamt in der Kirche des I. und 2. Jahrhunderts", 361-72.
 Cf. Hofstetter.
"Primacy in Love": The Chair Altar of Saint Peter's in Rome
by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger | From Images of Hope
Anyone who, after wandering through the massive nave of Saint Peter's Basilica, at last arrives at the final altar in the apse would probably expect here a triumphal depiction of Saint Peter, around whose tomb the church is built. But nothing of the kind is the case. The figure of the Apostle does not appear among the sculptures of this altar. Instead, we stand before an empty throne that almost seems to float but is supported by the four figures of the great Church teachers of the West and the East. The muted light over the throne emanates from the window surrounded by floating angels, who conduct the rays of light downward.
What is this whole composition trying to express? What does it tell us? It seems to me that a deep analysis of the essence of the Church lies hidden here, is contained here, an analysis of the office of Peter. Let us begin with the window, with its muted colors, which both gathers in to the center and opens outward and upward. It unites the Church with creation as a whole. It signifies through the dove of the Holy Spirit that God is the actual source of all light. But it tells us also something else) the Church herself is in essence, so to speak, a window, a place of contact between the other-worldly mystery of God and our world, the place where the world is permeable to the radiance of his light. The Church is not there for herself, she is not an end, but rather a point of departure beyond herself and us. The more transparent she becomes for the other, from whom she comes and to whom she leads, the more she fulfills her true essence. Through the window of her faith God enters this world and awakens in us the longing for what is greater. The Church is the place of encounter where God meets us and we find God. It is her task to open up a world closing in on itself, to give it the light without which it would be unlivable.
Let us look now at the next level of the altar: the empty cathedra made of gilded bronze, in which a wooden chair from the ninth century is embedded, held for a long time to be the cathedra of the Apostle Peter and for this reason placed in this location. The meaning of this part of the altar is thereby made clear. The teaching chair of Peter says more than a picture could say. It expresses the abiding presence of the Apostle, who as teacher remains present in his successors. The chair of the Apostle is a sign of nobility--it is the throne of truth, which in that hour at Caesarea became his and his successors' charge. The seat of the one who teaches reechoes, so to speak, for our memory the word of the Lord from the room of the Last Supper: "I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren" (Lk 22:32). But there is also another remembrance connected to the chair of the Apostle: the saying of Ignatius of Antioch, who in the year 110 in his Letter to the Romans called the Church of Rome "the primacy of love". Primacy in faith must be primacy in love. The two are not to be separated from each other. A faith without love would no longer be the faith of Jesus Christ. The idea of Saint Ignatius was however still more concrete: the word "love" is in the language of the early Church also an expression for the Eucharist. Eucharist originates in the love of Jesus Christ, who gave his life for us. In the Eucharist, he evermore shares himself with us; he places himself in our hands. Through the Eucharist he fulfills evermore his promise that from the Cross he will draw us into his open arms (see Jn 12:32). In Christ's embrace we are led to one another. We are taken into the one Christ, and thereby we now also belong reciprocally together. I can no longer consider anyone a stranger who stands in the same contact with Christ.
These are all, however, in no way remote mystical thoughts. Eucharist is the basic form of the Church. The Church is formed in the eucharistic assembly. And since all assemblies of all places and all times always belong only to the one Christ, it follows that they all form only one single Church. They lay, so to speak, a net of brotherhood across the world and join the near and the far to one another so that through Christ they are all near. Now we usually tend to think that love and order are opposites. Where there is love, order is no longer needed because all has become self-evident. But that is a misunderstanding of love as well as of order. True human order is something different from the bars one places before beasts of prey so that they are restrained. Order is respect for the other and for one's own, which is then most loved when it is taken in its correct sense. Thus order belongs to the Eucharist, and its order is the actual core of the order of the Church. The empty chair that points to the primacy in love speaks to us accordingly of the harmony between love and order. It points in its deepest aspect to Christ as the true primate, the true presider in love. It points to the fact that the Church has her center in the liturgy. It tells us that the Church can remain one only from communion with the crucified Christ. No organizational efficiency can guarantee her unity. She can be and remain world Church only when her unity is more than that of an organization--when she lives from Christ. Only the eucharistic faith, only the assembly around the present Lord can she keep for the long term. And from here she receives her order. The Church is not ruled by majority decisions but rather through the faith that matures in the encounter with Christ in the liturgy.
The Petrine service is primacy in love, which means care for the fact that the Church takes her measure from the Eucharist. She becomes all the more united, the more she lives from the eucharistic dimension and the more she remains true in the Eucharist to the dimension of the tradition of faith. Love will also mature from unity, love that is directed to the world. The Eucharist is based on the act of love of Jesus Christ unto death. That means, too, that anyone who views pain as something that should be abolished or at least left to others is someone incapable of love. "Primacy in love": we spoke in the beginning about the empty throne, but now it is apparent that the "throne" of the Eucharist is not a throne of lordship but rather the hard chair of the one who serves.
Let us now look at the third level of the altar, at the Fathers who bear the throne of serving. The two teachers of the East, Chrysostom and Athanasius, embody together with the Latin Fathers Ambrose and Augustine the entirety of the tradition and thus the fullness of the faith of the one Church. Two considerations are important here: love stands on faith. It collapses when man lacks orientation. It falls apart when man can no longer perceive God. Like and with love, order and justice also stand on faith; authority in the Church stands on faith. The Church cannot conceive for herself how she wants to be ordered. She can only try ever more clearly to understand the inner call of faith and to live from faith. She does not need the majority principle, which always has something atrocious about it: the subordinated part must bend to the decision of the majority for the sake of peace even when this decision is perhaps misguided or even destructive. In human arrangements, there is perhaps no alternative. But in the Church the binding to faith protects all of us: each is bound to faith, and in this respect the sacramental order guarantees more freedom than could be given by those who would subject the Church to the majority principle.
A second consideration is needed here: the Church Fathers appear as the guarantors of loyalty to Sacred Scripture. The hypotheses of human interpretation waver. They cannot carry the throne. The life-sustaining power of the scriptural word is interpreted and applied in the faith that the Fathers and the great councils have learned from that word. The one who holds to this has found what gives secure ground in times of change.
Finally, now, we must not forget the whole for the parts. For the three levels of the altar take us into a movement that is ascent and descent at the same time. Faith leads to love. Here it becomes evident whether it is faith at all. A dark, complaining, egotistic faith is false faith. Whoever discovers Christ, whoever discovers the worldwide net of love that he has cast in the Eucharist, must be joyful and must become a giver himself. Faith leads to love, and only through love do we attain to the heights of the window, to the view to the living God, to contact with the streaming light of the Holy Spirit. Thus the two directions permeate each other. The light comes from God, flows downward awakening faith and love, in order then to take us up the ladder that leads from faith to love and to the light of the eternal.
The inner dynamic into which the altar draws us allows finally a last element to become understandable. The window of the Holy Spirit does not stand there on its own. It is surrounded by the overflowing fullness of angels, by a choir of joy. That is to say, God is never alone. That would contradict his essence. Love is participation, community, joy. This perception allows still another thought to emerge. Sound joins the light. We think we hear them singing, these angels, for we cannot imagine these streams of joy to be silent or as talking idly or shouting. They can be perceived only as praise in which harmony and diversity unite. "Yet you are... enthroned on the praises of Israel", we read in the psalm (22:3). Praise is likewise the cloud of joy through which God comes and which bears him as its companion into this world. Liturgy is therefore the eternal light shining into our world. It is God's joy, sounding into our world. And it is at the same time our feeling about the consoling glow of this light out of the depth of our questions and confusion, climbing up the ladder that leads from faith to love, thereby opening the view to hope.
HOMILY ON THE FEAST OF SS PETER AND PAUL
given at Belmont by Dom David Bird o.s.b.
given at Belmont by Dom David Bird o.s.b.
As we are celebrating the feast of St Peter and Paul, we shall be using the Roman Canon (or Eucharistic Prayer I) which, in its general structure, is one of the very oldest anaphoras in existence. St Ambrose wrote a commentary on it in his Catechesis on the sacraments in the second half of the 4th century, but it must have been composed before the development of tthe Church's teaching on the Holy Spirit, which takes us back to the 3rd century. However, it has its roots in Jewish prayer.
The Roman Canon is focused on heaven, where Christ is, As in the Letter to the Hebrews, we approach the heavenly Jerusalem; as in the Apocalypse, we see a door by which we can enter heaven (the altar). Later, in the words of Hebrews, we shall pass through the veil, which is the flesh of Christ, into the presence of the Father.
The Roman Canon looks ever upwards: there is no reference to the Holy Spirit coming down to transform the bread and wine, no remembering of the Second Coming. In the recitation of the words of institution, Jesus 'looking up to heaven' takes the bread; and, later, in a prayer that might well be one of the oldest in any liturgy, God is asked that his angel may take the bread and wine up to the heavenly altar so that we may receive his body and blood from this altar. The heavenly altar and our altar become one, because, according to the words of Christ, the bread and wine, which are of this world, become the body and blood of Jesus Christ in the truth of his death, resurrection and ascension, which is the sacrifice of the liturgy offered for all eternity in heaven.
I want you to imagine it as a ritual being celebrated in three dimensions, not as a two-dimensional text. There have been petitions, perhaps lists of people for whom prayers are said for people in this world. There are also two lists of saints, representatives of all the saints who are now our companions in the celebration, just as we sing, "Holy, Holy, Holy..." with the angels. The one who presides in the earthly liturgy is both voice of Christ and voice of the Church in Christ. It is Christ's prayer, asking the Father for consecration, voiced by the bishop or by the priest in the bishop's name. Christ presides by giving himself, by serving, by loving. All the angels and saints are also involved in giving, serving and loving because God never does alone what he can do in collaboration. To be an icon of Christ, the bishop and priest must also preside by giving, serving and loving.
The great liturgist, Father Alexandr Schmemann writes:
the original eucharistic experience, to which the every order of the Eucharist witnesses, speaks of our ascent to that place where Christ ascended, of the heavenly nature of the eucharistic celebration.
The Eucharist is always a going out from "this world" and an ascent to heaven, and the altar is a symbol of the reality of that ascent, of its very "possibility." For Christ has ascended to heaven, and his altar is "sacred and spiritual."
It is this view of liturgy in which heaven and earth are dimensions of the same reality that St Peter exercises his function of head of the apostles. In St Peter's, there is an altar, the altar of the chair of Peter, designed by Bernini, under the window depicting the Holy Spirit as a dove. Four fathers of the Church, SS Athanasius and John chrysostom from the East and SS Ambrose and Augustine hold a bronze chair in which a wooden chair, probably used by the ancient popes, has been set. The bishops of Rome preside over the liturgy in the local church where St Peter died by martyrdom. Because the Eucharist is a celebration of both heaven and earth, SS Peter and Paul have a very special relationship with this local Church, and Peter shares his primacy with the pope. The pope is supported and is servant of Tradition, symbolised by the four saints. As the episcopal chair is where the bishop presided, in order to be an icon of Christ, the pope must give himself to the humble service of the whole Church throughout the world; and the power by which he does so is the ecclesial love manifested in the Eucharist. Only where faith and love are present, is there Christ: only then can the papacy "work".
By this, I do not mean that we forget the world and only remember heaven. On the contrary, if we become united intimately with Christ in heaven, we can look at this world from a new perspective. We have a foretaste of the "new heaven and a new earth" in which heaven and earth are simply dimensions of the same creation. Earth becomes an icon of heaven, as in the sacraments; matter becomes holy because it is seen as full of divine activity. Holiness of the world can only be experienced by our practising a certain asceticism. This liturgical view of creation lies behind the encyclical Laudato si' of Pope Francis.
By being brought up into communion with Christ in heaven, we understand that heaven is a dimension of our life on earth, that the earth finds its ultimate meaning in heaven, that "the world is charged with the grandeur of God." By the Incarnation, by his death, resurrection and ascension into heaven, Christ began the process of uniting in himself heaven and earth, making them a single reality. Through our participation in Christ's death, resurrection and ascension in the Mass, we gain a new perspective; and we are sent out to be his witnesses that Christ is all in all in a world that has closed in on itself. No wonder our morality is different, because we see God's purposes written into the ordinary circumstances of our lives.
The liturgy is the source of all the Church's powers and the goal of all its activity. The Roman Canon shows us how it gathers us up in Christ where heaven and earth are one, where God's will is done on earth as in heaven, where Christ in heaven communicates with people through readings in the earthly liturgy, where priests on earth pray the consecrating prayer with Christ in heaven, where Christ in heaven shares our prayers and hymns on earth, and where popes bind and loose on earth, confident that God is actively engaged in that process with them For us Catholics, this is a great feast because, through the papacy, God enables us to act as one family, one organism, not only at a local level and at a regional level but also at a universal level: at all levels, we are bound together by the Holy Spirit who only seeks our humble obedience to manifest Christ., thus becoming instruments of his purpose.
The world is charged with the grandeur of God. It will flame out, like shining from shook foil; It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oilCrushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?Generations have trod, have trod, have trod; And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil; And wears man's smudge and shares man's smell: the soilIs bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
And for all this, nature is never spent;There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.