Thursday, April 21, 2005

Eucharist, Communion, and Solidarity: another sample

with a tip of the beret to a listserv buddy on Liturgy-l, here's another sample of what we may expect from our new pope, Benedict XVI. This is from a lecture he gave at a Campania bishops' conference meeting in June of 2002:


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.


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