Eucharist in the Pontificate of Benedict XVI

Scott Hahn on the New Pope’s Potential Revival

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STEUBENVILLE, Ohio, JUNE 12, 2005 ( Benedict XVI’s pontificate is not about restoration of the liturgy so much as re-appropriation — of the mystery of the Eucharist.

So says Scott Hahn, professor of theology and Scripture at Franciscan University of Steubenville, director of the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology and author of «The Lamb’s Supper: The Mass as Heaven on Earth» (Doubleday).

He shared with ZENIT how he thinks Benedict XVI’s teachings will enhance the faithful’s understanding and experience of Eucharist.

Q: What was distinctive about then Cardinal Ratzinger’s approach to the Eucharist?

Hahn: I don’t think any theologian since Matthias Scheeben in the 19th century has shown us the profound interrelation of all the mysteries of Christianity. The doctrine of the Eucharist, for Cardinal Ratzinger, cannot be properly studied or expressed apart from the doctrine of the Trinity, the doctrine of the incarnation, and the doctrine of the Church.

The Eucharist itself is a Trinitarian mystery; we cannot receive the Son without receiving the Father who sent him in the flesh and the Spirit through which he comes. The Trinity comes to us in the Eucharist. And as the Trinity comes to us, we are raised up into the very presence of the divine glory.

This mystery is connected to the Incarnation because it’s not just a historical event in the past, but an ongoing reality — a supernatural mystery — in our very midst. It all hangs together.

Cardinal Ratzinger’s ecclesiology — his theology of the Church — is Eucharistic, incarnational and Trinitarian. At the same time, his Eucharistic theology is ecclesiological, incarnational and Trinitarian.

Q: Cardinal Ratzinger often described the Eucharist as the «heart of life.» What does he mean by that?

Hahn: The Eucharist is our encounter and our communion with the Blessed Trinity. That is the heart of life. It’s the source of life. It’s the summit of life. Communion with the Blessed Trinity is the very definition of heaven, so it doesn’t get any better than that. The amazing thing is that we have heaven in every Mass.

This is a theme Cardinal Ratzinger returned to repeatedly in many of his books. The coming of Jesus Christ — what the Greek New Testament calls his «parousia» — is not simply some far-off event. It is his presence in the Eucharist.

Fundamentalists reduce the meaning of «parousia» to Christ’s coming at the end of time; but for first-century Greek-speakers the word meant «presence.» Catholic theology holds on to that original meaning.

In his book «Eschatology,» Cardinal Ratzinger wrote: «The parousia is the highest intensification and fulfillment of the liturgy. And the liturgy is parousia. … Every Eucharist is parousia, the Lord’s coming, and yet the Eucharist is even more truly the tensed yearning that He would reveal His hidden Glory.»

Q: How do you think Pope Benedict’s teachings may enhance the faithful’s understanding and experience of Eucharist during the rest of the year of the Eucharist?

Hahn: So many people in the media have already written him off as a restorationist, pining for a return to pre-conciliar forms of worship. But they’re missing his point. It’s not about restoration of the liturgy so much as re-appropriation — re-appropriating the mystery of the Eucharist, which is both divine and human.

After the [Second Vatican] Council, some theologians tried to democratize the Church and secularize the liturgy by reducing the mystery to debates between so-called conservatives and liberals.

Cardinal Ratzinger preferred to return to the classic sources: the Scriptures — both Old and New Testaments — and Tradition, as well as the best of the modern theologians. Only through such «ressourcement» can aggiornamento truly work.

I think Pope Benedict will de-politicize the Eucharist. He’ll direct our attention away from the hot-button issues, which are really peripheral issues — such as the battles over liturgical language and decoration.

It’s not that he doesn’t have opinions in these matters. He does, and he has expressed them in pointed ways. But he always draws his opinions from the depths of theological and historical study, and from the depths of his personal prayer.

I believe he’ll ask us to plumb those same depths — especially Catholics who speak, teach, write and guide others in the fields of theology, liturgy and so on. Out of the depths of our study and prayer, he’ll guide us to a true re-sacralizing of the liturgy.

Q: If those are peripheral issues, what’s at the core?

Hahn: That the Eucharist creates a flesh-and-blood bond — a family bond — between us and God. This is another recurring theme in his books. It’s the strong undertow in his «Many Religions — One Covenant» and «The Meaning of Christian Brotherhood.»

Christ assumed human flesh in order to give that flesh for us, and give that flesh to us. The Eucharistic liturgy is a sacrificial covenant meal. It renews a covenant, and every covenant seals a family bond. As the Son of God became human, so we become divine — «sons in the Son,» to use the favorite phrase of the Church Fathers.

Q: Who, then, is a member of the family?

Hahn: I believe that will be a key consideration of Benedict’s pontificate. He has already demonstrated his eagerness for ecumenical dialogue. If he does no more than continue the work he began as a cardinal, he will articulate the doctrine of the Eucharist in powerful biblical terms, which will be powerfully persuasive to Protestants.

The heavenly liturgy is the key to understanding the biblical books of Hebrews and Revelation. And the experience of liturgy is key to understanding much of the Bible — both the Old and New Testaments.

What Leviticus and Deuteronomy were to the Old Covenant, Hebrews and Revelation are to the New Covenant. Without a knowledge and experience of the liturgy, so much of the content of these books is inaccessible to us.

Pope Benedict is himself a profound biblical theologian, steeped in the Fathers and Doctors — especially Augustine and Bonaventure — and in the Judaic and rabbinic traditions as well. I don’t think any pope since St. Peter has taken up such deep study of the ancient rabbis.

I suspect that he will make an understanding of the Eucharist essential to the ecumenical project, and he will conduct the dialogue in covenantal terms. This will make it possible to engage not only Protestants, but also Jews, who share the covenantal roots of Abrahamic religion.

Q: In his first homily, Pope Benedict said, «The Eucharist, the heart of Christian life and the source of the evangelizing mission of the Church, cannot but be the permanent center and the source of the Petrine service entrusted to me.» How might the centrality of the Eucharist play out in his papacy and ministry?

Hahn: The Eucharist is the place where the Church is most perfectly herself. The Church is the Kingdom of God on earth, and the Kingdom abides where the King reigns. Jesus’ lasting presence with us is in the Eucharist. As vicar of Christ, Benedict is prime minister to the King of Kings, serving him first of all in the Eucharist.

The Church holds many treasures in common — the Scriptures, Tradition, the magisterium, the saints. But it is in the liturgy that the Church is most perfectly herself.

And once we understand the liturgy as the heavenly liturgy, as Pope Benedict does, then we have become full, conscious and active citizens of the Kingdom. The heavenly liturgy becomes the norm that norms the other norms. It’s our standard, our touchstone, our sustenance, our light — as I said before, our source and our summit.

We’ll see very soon how this plays out in his pontificate. The synod in October will conclude the Year of the Eucharist with a Churchwide reflection on the
Eucharist. Watch for the themes I mentioned: the heavenly liturgy, the de-politicization of the liturgy, and the re-sacralization of the liturgy.

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