Saturday, June 26, 2004

Redemptionis Sacramentum Epilogue
(Some afterthoughts to my evening with Father)

In the days following our talk, I wanted to question Father again on his understanding of the Eucharist. I was especially bothered by him seeming to correct me when I mentioned the physical presence of Christ in the Eucharist, a fundamental truth for all Catholics. His concept of the mystical body of Christ being the same and even superior to the physical presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist was troublesome. I have heard this idea expressed in other forums by various Vatican II hijackers. (Note: See my 9/26/04 Blog entry where I qualify my use of the word physical . Substantial presence would be more appropriate here as physical actually refers to the accidents which remain bread and wine whereas the substance becomes the Body and Blood of Christ. The argument here is Christ's presence in substance verses a spiritual presence.)

An internet search for documents on the Body of Christ quickly turned up a Catholic Q&A page on the EWTN website in which a questioner named Kevin mentions a pamphlet being used in his parish for training extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion. The pamphlet in question was published by St. Anthony Messenger, "not necessarily a friend of orthodoxy" as Kevin correctly points out. Kevin expressed concern that the "We are Church / We are Eucharist modernist heresy" was being taught to the Eucharistic Ministers.

Kevin's statement said that the pamphlet was written by a theologian from the diocese of Rochester and that Karl Rahner and Nathan Mitchell were quoted. Another internet search using this information revealed a Catholic Update tract called Eucharist: Understanding Christ's Body by William H. Shannon. Where have I heard that name before? This is the same William H. Shannon who raised my dander a year ago today (Pentecost Sunday) when our pastor inserted one of his tracts titled How the Spirit Guides the Church into our Sunday bulletin. (See The Dissent of the Holy Spirit, June 29, 2003.)

Re-reading what I had written about Shannon last June, I realized that our pastor had included this same tract on the Eucharist in one of our Sunday bulletins more than a year ago. Both of these tracts by Shannon quote Karl Rahner, a German Jesuit theologian who lived from 1904 to 1984. As I learned when researching the previous article, Rahner did not believe in transubstantiation. Rather, he devised his own theory of what happens at the consecration, which can be called transfinalization or transignification. Father Regis Scanlon addressed this topic in great detail in an article called Is Christ 'Really' Among Us Today? which appeared in the October 1995 issue of The Homiletic & Pastoral Review.

Father Scanlon concludes that Rahner denied at least two infallible teachings (dogmas) of the Church, one being the Council of Trent's dogmatic teaching of transubstantiation, and the other being the First Vatican Council's dogmatic teaching, which states that the "understanding of its sacred dogmas must be perpetually retained." The fact that William H. Shannon's work relies heavily on Rahner should serve as a warning to anyone expecting orthodox Catholicism.

Father Scanlon made this statement concerning Rahner's beliefs on the Eucharist:
"This so-called new theology of the Real Presence was published in English in 1966 and it has been taught in seminaries and universities of the United States for the past quarter of a century. Because seminarians and students often learn and believe what they are taught, no one should be surprised if 70% of our faithful today do not know or believe in the Church's (Trent's) teaching on the Real Presence."

Connecting the dots, the picture becomes clear. Our pastor was educated during this period of "new theology." He is influenced by people like Shannon as demonstrated by his distribution of Shannon's tracts, and Shannon is influenced by Rahner as demonstrated by his frequent citations. The Shannon article on the Eucharist serves to blur the difference between the mystical Body of Christ (His spiritual presence in the members of His Church) and the Eucharistic Body of Christ (His physical presence under the appearance of Bread and Wine). Our pastor's remarks to me echoed this confusion. In fact, several of the comments he made seemed to come right from the article. For example, Shannon mentions that the custom developed of reserving the "Holy Bread" in a special place in the church to take to the sick, and eventually it happened that people would go to the place of reservation for private prayer.

Shannon quotes another theologian, Nathan Mitchell, saying the following: "The ultimate intent of celebrating Eucharist is not to produce the sacred species for purposes of reservation and adoration, but to create the united body of Christ which is the Church." He goes on to say, "The body of Christ is not only on the table, but at the table and around the table." This is the same sentiment our priest expressed when he criticized me for being focused on the Blessed Sacrament rather than mystical Body.

The message from these modernists is this: This devotional obsession with the Real Presence is something that developed over time, and it detracts from our communion with the Humanity of Christ. We should be looking for Christ in one another rather than in the tabernacle, and to perpetuate this idea, we should downplay our reverence by standing when receiving the Eucharist (in the hand, of course), without genuflecting or showing any other undue obeisance. And if you do, you should be ostracized for being out of touch with post-Vatican II reforms. It's the old horizontal versus vertical worship struggle.

Shannon and his contemporaries pose that one need not be overly reverent to the Holy Eucharist, because the early Church was not. If we dismiss adoration of the Eucharistic Presence as a medieval invention, should we not also dismiss all post-Apostolic era doctrinal developments? We should do neither. Our understanding of revealed truth grows through theological research and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. (CCC 94) I deeply resent the implication that reverent devotion to the Holy Eucharist is somehow defective because it developed over time and may not have been practiced to such an extent by earlier Christians. It is like saying you should not respect your parents now because you did not respect them when you were younger.

Devotion to the Real Presence of Jesus in the tabernacle is fitting and just. Jesus Christ is here, physically present, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity. Even the angels prostrate themselves in the presence of God. (Rev 7:11) So, why this concerted effort to stress the horizontal worship at the expense of the vertical? Perhaps some are more comfortable thinking of Jesus as a buddy than our God. By observing Christ in the sinner rather than the tabernacle, He looks far less threatening to those who regularly defy the teachings of His Church. Perhaps it is a rebellion directed at the "holy rollers" who give dirty looks to those who prefer to socialize before Mass. After all, we are twenty-first century Americans. Reverence is a thing of the past.

It is no wonder that as few as 30% of Catholics believe in the Real Presence (according to a 1993 Gallup Poll). That means 70% of all Catholics hold a heretical view of the Eucharist. Tension develops between the few who truly understand Christ's physical Presence and act accordingly, versus the majority who treat the Eucharist as little more than a spiritual vitamin pill. The May 2, 2004 edition of our local Diocesan newspaper (the same edition which announced Redemptionis Sacramentum) contained an article by Father Ronald Rolheise where he talks about these sources of tension in the Church today. The article caught my eye, not because it was topical, but because the very first sentence cited Karl Rahner. Perhaps we owe much of our present day discord to his influence!

For me personally, the irony lies in my pastor's first words to me when I presented him with the copy of Redemtionis Sacramentum. He told me that I need to check my sources. He did not trust me to discern the legitimacy of my source (The Vatican), yet he counters my orthodox beliefs with those of heretics. One might argue that even some of the Church Fathers held heretical views, but that was before those views were dogmatically defined. There is no excuse today. Check your sources, Father. Check your sources.