You may wonder why we are taking a look at the Eucharist first, before Baptism and Confirmation   Surely Baptism and Confirmation come before the Eucharist in the Initiation of Christians.   Why not deal first with Baptism, which is the way we enter the Church, before dealing with the the Church's central celebration!   The reason is simple.  Before Vatican II, the paradigm for understanding the Church was the "perfect society", a world wide organization centred on the episcopate which, in turn, was centred on the Pope as the source of all the jurisdiction that holds the whole Church together.   This organization was identical with the Mystical Body of Christ and was the proper context for the celebration of the sacraments, including the main sacrament which is the Eucharist.   On the other hand, what made the Euxharist valid was not that it was celebrated by the Church, but because it is celebrated by a priest who is given the power as an individual to consecrate bread and wine.   Although morally and legally bound to use this power within the context of the Church, he could, in fact, use it in any context he likes, including consecrating hosts for devil worship.  Admittedly, it was also taught that the res sacramenti of the Eucharist is the unity of the Church; and it was also that all sacraments, including the Eucharist, are acts of the whole Church, but this had little influence on the common understanding of the nature of the Church as a visible organization, nor on the understanding of sacramental causality, because they were in different and separate units of study.   The truth is that, if the res sacramenti of the Eucharist is the unity of the Church, that which binds the Church together is the Eucharist, not jurisdiction..   All this ambiguity changed with Vatican II.  As in all changes of paradigm, the basic truths understood using the old paradigm are accepted as true by those using the new; but they are understood in a new context, looked at from different angles; and new implications areas accepted, and some of the old implications are discarded.

   The new paradigm is that the Church is the Eucharist and the Eucharist is the Church.   Of course, this can only be true if we mean very much more by "Church" and "Eucharist"   than was usually meant before the Council.   We must shy away from abstract definitions and see the Eucharist as a concrete liturgical celebration, and the Church as the sum of the concrete relations that eucharistic communities should have within themselves and with each other, all this flowing out of the very Eucharist they celebrate. Let us read passages from two authors about the relationship between the Eucharist and the Church, one being Pope Benedict XVI and the other is Archbishop John Zizioulas of the Greek Orthodox Church.
A persistent problem for theologians is the relationship between the One and the Many. How is it that in Adam all men died, and –even more important – how is it that in Christ all men are made alive?   How can Jesus be an individual and, at the same time, a corporate person, including the many in himself?   We have seen that kings in the Middle East were so identified with their people that their subjects felt proud when they were honoured, vindicated in their victories and humiliated in their defeats.   Of course, this was a myth which gave people a sense of identity; but Christ´s relationship with the human race in general and with the Church in particular is infinitely more real.   Jesus was an individual who lived two thousand years ago in Palestine, but he was in touch with all human beings of all places and times, and he lives also in his followers and they in him.     He died alone on Golgotha and thus became the supreme revelation of the Godhead to all who approach him with faith, no matter where or when they come.   He rose from the dead and ascended into heaven two thousand years ago; but we are brought through his death to resurrection and ascension into the presence of his Father by participating in the Christian Mystery.    The solution lies in the place the Holy Spirit enjoys in the mystery of the Incarnation.   It is the role of the Holy Spirit to give the Incarnation, and the process of Christ´s  life, death and resurrection an ecclesial dimension, a universally human outreach, and a cosmic significance.   Jesus was not born an individual in Bethlehem who subsequently became the mediator between God and humankind.   His role was and remains an inseparable dimension of his identity. From the very moment of his conception in the womb of the Blessed Virgin, Jesus was in touch with the humanity he was to save and with the universe he was to transform.
 The mystery of the One and the Many is also a feature of the Church.   Just as each consecrated host is the body of Christ and all the consecrated hosts of the whole world are together what each is by itself, so each Eucharistic assembly is the body of Christ, as are all the churches together; and where one local church meets for the Eucharist, it becomes the visible part of the whole Catholic Church across time and space.  What is done there is an act of the whole Catholic Church, and not just of that local community..  Thus St Paul can address his letters to “The church of God that is in Corinth”, and can say to a local church, “You are the body of Christ” because “we all partake of the same bread and the same cup.”   Each church that partakes of the bread and cup is the body of Christ and, like the consecrated hosts, all churches together form one body of Christ.   John Zizioulas sums up the teaching of St Paul and of St Ignatius of Antioch (died about 110AD) as follows:


  1. 1.    in the primitive phases, that of the ancient Church, the Eucharist is linked closely with the mystery of the Church. Already at the time of St Paul the word Ecclesia and those words which describe the Eucharist signify the same reality. A study of 1 Corinthians 11 shows this. Verses 20, 33 and 34 of this chapter leaves us with no doubt that for St Paul the terms ‘Lord’s Supper’ (kyriakon deipnon), ‘coming together in the same place’ (synerchesthai epi to auto) and ‘Church’ (Ecclesia) are used to denote the same reality. It is true that in Paul’s mind the idea of the Church as the ‘people of God’ in its Old Testament sense occupies a place of priority. And yet, if not in general, at least with regard to 1 Corinthians, the Church is above all a concrete community. And what is even more important, the Church in these texts is not simply a concrete community of any kind, but the community of a city united “epi to auto” to celebrate the Eucharist. For St Paul, the local becomes the very ‘Church of God’ when it gathers to celebrate the Eucharist.
  1. This Pauline ecclesiology which identifies Church and Eucharist so closely is developed further by St Ignatius of Antioch. What characterises Ignatius in particular is that the Eucharist does not simply make the local catholic community into the Church, but that it makes it the catholic Church (katholike ecclesia), that is, the full and integral body of Christ. It would not be an exaggeration to say that for Ignatius the catholicity of the Church derives from the celebration of the Eucharist. And this allows Ignatius to apply the term ‘catholic Church’ to the local community. Each local eucharistic community presided over by the bishop surrounded by the college of presbyters and assisted by the deacons, in the presence of the multitude (plethos), the people, constitutes the ‘catholic Church’ precisely because in it the total Christ is found in the form of the Eucharist..


Cardinal Ratzinger gives us the same doctrine in other language:


  • This formula (Eucharistiic Ecclesiology) means that the Eucharist binds all men together, and not just with one another, but with Christ; in this way it makes them "Church". At the same time the formula describes the fundamental constitution of the Church: the Church exists in Eucharistic communities. The Church's Mass is her constitution, because the Church is, in essence, a Mass (sent out: "missa"), a service of God, and therefore a service of man and a service for the transformation of the world.

  • The Mass is the Church's form: that means that through it she develops an entirely original relationship that exists nowhere else, a relationship of multiplicity and of unity. In each celebration of the Eucharist, the Lord is really present. He is risen and dies no more. He can no longer be divided into different parts. He always gives Himself completely and entirely. This is why the Council states: "This Church of Christ is truly present in all legitimate local communities of the faithful which, united with their pastors, are themselves called Churches in the New Testament. For in their locality these are the new People called by God, in the Holy Spirit and with great trust (cf. 1 Thes. 1,5).... In these communities, though frequently small and poor, or living in the diaspora, Christ is present, and in virtue of His power there is brought together one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church" (Lumen Gentium, n. 26). This means that the ecclesiology of local Churches derives from the formulation of the Eucharistic ecclesiology. This is a typical feature of Vatican II that presents the internal and sacramental foundation of the doctrine of collegiality about which we will speak later

It is the teaching of St Paul and of the Fathers that it is the Holy Spirit who binds the Church together, whether we are talking of the unity of the local church or of the world-wide Church.  Pope John Paul II, in his talk on St Augustine, said:


Another fundamental theme is that of the Holy Spirit as the soul of the mystical body: "what the soul is to the body of a man, the Holy Spirit is for the body of Christ, which is the Church."[135] The Holy Spirit is also the principle of community, by which the faithful are united to one another and to the Trinity itself. "By means of what is common to the Father and the Son, They willed that we should have communion both among ourselves and with Them. They willed to gather us together, through that gift, into that one thing which both have in common; that is, by means of God the Holy Spirit and the gift of God."[136] He therefore says in the same text: "the fellowship of unity of the Church of God, outside of which there is no remission of sins, is properly the work of the Holy Spirit, of course with the cooperation of the Father and the Son, because the Holy Spirit himself is in a certain manner the fellowship of the Father and the Son."[


Thus the unity of the Church is a mystery, the work of the Holy Spirit, and the outward manifestation oi the Holy Spirit´s presence is fraternal love.   Thus, for St Augustine, to be out of communion with the Church is to be outside the fraternal love and to be deprived of the presence of the Spirit..   Earlier, St Ignatius of Antioch spoke of the Roman Church presiding in love.  St John in John 17 prays to the Father that “they many be one as I am in you and you in me, that they may be one in us, that the world may know that the Father has sent him.   Père Spicq, commenting on this passage, used to say that the Church is made visible to the world by an ecclesial love that reflects the presence and activity of the Blessed Trinity, and that it becomes invisible to the world, just one institution among others, when it fails to manifest that love.  We can remember the words of one of the Greek Fathers that “Orthodoxy without love is the religion of the Devil.”


The 2nd Vatican Council seems to be bringing in a different ecclesiology when it says, “"This Church of Christ is truly present in all legitimate local communities of the faithful which, united with their pastors, are themselves called Churches in the New Testament.”.   Does Canon Law and legitimacy have priority over sacramental unity in that it prevents the formation of the body of Christ in spite of a celebration of the Mass that is both valid and fruitful?   According to Cardinal Ratzinger this is not what is meant.   He said:


  • If we go back now to the Council text certain nuances become evident. The text does not simply say, "The Church is entirely present in each community that celebrates the Eucharist", rather it states: "This Church of Christ is truly present in all legitimate local communities of the faithful which, united with their pastors, are themselves called Churches". Two elements here are of great importance: to be a Church the community must be "legitimate"; they are legitimate when they are "united with their pastors". What does this mean? In the first place, no one can make a Church by himself. A group cannot simply get together, read the New Testament and declare: "At present we are the Church because the Lord is present wherever two or three are gathered in His name". The element of "receiving" belongs essentially to the Church, just as faith comes from "hearing" and is not the result of one's decision or reflection. Faith is a converging with something I could neither imagine nor produce on my own; faith has to come to meet me. We call the structure of this encounter, a "Sacrament". It is part of the fundamental form of a sacrament that it be received and not self-administered. No one can baptize himself. No one can ordain himself. No one can forgive his own sins. Perfect repentance cannot remain something interior—of its essence it demands the form of encounter of the Sacrament. This too is a result of a sacrament's fundamental structure as an encounter [with Christ]. For this reason communion with oneself is not just an infraction of the external provisions of Canon Law, but it is an attack on the innermost nature of a sacrament.

Thus, for Cardinal Ratzinger “legitimate” means “united with their pastors”.  A group of Christians cannot celebrate the Eucharist without a celebrant.  We must remember that the Mass is not just a celebration of the people gathered in one place.   By its Eucharistic nature, it is the whole Church across time and space made visible through one “Catholic” gathering..  This can only happen if someone presides whose ministry transcends time and space because, by the power of the Holy Spirit, he represents Christ in their midst.   This function falls in the first place to the bishop.   This is what John  Zizioulas says about the bishop:


Thus in the office of the Bishop we encounter at least two fundamental paradoxes which are also paradoxes of the Eucharist. One is that in him the One become Many and the Many becomes One. This is the mystery of Christology and Pneumatology, the mystery of the Church and at the same time of the Eucharist. The other paradox is that in the Bishop the local Church becomes Catholic and the Catholic becomes local. If a Church is not at the same time local and universal, she is not the body of Christ. Equally the Eucharist has to be at the same time a local and catholic event. Without the Bishop it cannot be so.

This links the question of the ecclesiological presuppositions of the Eucharist closely with another aspect of ecclesiology, namely conciliarity. The Eucharist by its very nature transcends the dilemma ‘local or universal’, because in each eucharistic celebration the Gifts are offered in the name of, and for, the ‘one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church’ which exists in the whole world. In practical terms this means that if one is a member of a certain eucharistic community (or local Church), one is ipso facto also a member of all the eucharistic communities of the world: one can communicate in any one of these communities.

The Bishop is the link between the local and the universal Church. He is part of our local community, and yet not in the same way as are the presbyters, the deacons and lay people of that community. He is ordained by more than one bishop and as such his ministry transcends the local community. In fact it is the Bishop that makes each local Church catholic. This applies also to the Eucharist.
The Eucharist would remain a local event of a local Church were it not for the Bishop. The bishop is a necessary condition of the Eucharist because, through him, each Eucharist become the one Eucharist of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. If a Eucharist does not take place in the name of a Bishop, it risks remaining a local event without catholic significance. This is one of the profoundest reasons for the importance of the Bishop as an ecclesiological presupposition of the Eucharist   (F) 

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