Tag Archives: Benedict XVI

Eucharistic Adoration: Don’t Call it a Comeback

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File this under “commenting on things I know nothing about.”

Still, it’s interesting.  Over at Christian Century, this is an interesting article about the Vatican’s attempt under the two most recent pontiffs to renew the practice of eucharistic adoration.  This is the practice by which the consecrated host – in Catholic view, the actual body of Christ – is displayed publicly for the purposes of prayer and spiritual reverence.  Some churches even have round-the-clock hosts on display, while others have particular prayer times dedicated to the sacramental bread.  Though discouraged in times past, John Paul II and now Benedict XVI are encouraging the practice once more.

But the tradition – admittedly ancient – has its detractors.  CC asked Fr. Richard McBrien of Notre Dame for comment:

McBrien acknowledged that some Catholics find adoration “spiritually enriching,” but said many liturgists see it is a “step back into the Middle Ages.”

“It distorts the meaning of the Eucharist,” McBrien said. “It erodes the communal aspect, and it erodes the fact that the Eucharist is a meal. Holy Communion is something to be eaten, not to be adored.”

For that reason, McBrien said, the practice should be “tolerated but not encouraged.”

To be fair, it looks as if Catholics who like JPII and Benedict aren’t going to listen to McBrien.  If wikipedia is to be trusted, McBrien is not very popular among traditionalist Catholics, both for his writings (which “overemphasize” change in Catholic history) and for serving as an adviser to the filming of Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code.  Yeah, that last one kind of offends me too.

But still, his take on the adoration of the host is very similar to what I have just been reading in The Oxford History of Christian Worship (edited, in part, by the awesome Geoffrey Wainwright, one of my favorite professors from seminary).   Timothy Thibodeau of Nazareth College argues along similar lines to McBrien, that the adoration rather than the consumption of the consecrated host – in addition to the medieval feast of Corpus Christi – led to an “objectification” of the Eucharist that undermined its sacramental and communal nature and reduced the body of Christ to something more like a saint’s relic:

By the end of the Middle Ages, however, the Eucharist had been reduced to  an object, the Eucharistic host consecrated by the hands of a properly ordained priest.  The late twelfth century practice of elevating the host at the moment of consecration – which first appeared in northern France at the close of that century – was the logical outcome of this reification of the Eucharist into a sacred object or relic par excellence of Christ’s body, to be seen, reverenced, and adored but not regularly received at communion….for a great majority of the laity, “seeing” the host had become an acceptable substitute for “receiving” it.

“Although clerical authorities insisted that the consecrated host was not to be treated as a relic per se,” he clarifies, “it was in fact subjected to the same sort of devotionalism as other objects associated with the cult of the saints.”  (from “Western Christendom” in The Oxford History of Christian Worship, p. 236, 248)

As with all communions, there is a great deal of diversity in contemporary Catholicism.  The debates over the actual meaning and implications of Vatican II are just one instantiation of this diversity.  Obviously, the Holy Father and many high-ranking ecclesiastical officials believe strongly in reviving this practice.  Contemporary supporters will point out that this is a nearly thousand-year-old practice that deserves to be brought back in the modern era, for the good of the church.  Others will see this as a return to practices best left in history.  No doubt such arguments are heavily bound up on views of the Roman Catholic Church itself: whether its health, vitality, and faithfulness lie in reclaiming the past (“we move forward by moving backward,” as many in the ecumenical movement put it) or in stepping forward into the future, accepting the norms and arguments of contemporary culture and thus becoming “relevant” (a word I despise) to the modern era.  This argument is not unique to Catholicism.

A parting thought: if antiquity is the sole criterion for returning to former practices, one might also argue that clerical celibacy should be abandoned in favor of the more ancient practice: married clergy.   What say you?

The Pope on Sex, the Historical Jesus, and (maybe) Obama

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What does it look like when the head of the Roman Catholic Church, the man in Saint Peter’s seat, is also one of the most profound and prolific systematic theologians of our age?  It looks like now.  That is precisely the situation with Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI.  I’m not a Catholic, but you don’t have to be to appreciate his work.  Ratzinger has gotten an unfair reputation for being a pit bull, but in reality this is a liberal reaction to his being a faithful Catholic.  He was, for years, the head of the CDF, the theological watchdog of the RCC; but in his writing we see him as a servant of his Lord and his Lord’s Church.  I’ve previously highlighted some comments from his excellent little book Eschatology, which is well worth your read.  I’m currently working my way through his Introduction to Christianity, which is an extended meditation on the Apostle’s Creed.  Some highlights:

On Sex…

…the apparent liberation of love and its conversation into a matter of impulse mean the delivery of man to the autonomous powers of sex and Eros, to whose merciless slavery he falls victim just when he is under the illusion that he has freed himself.  When he eludes God, the gods put out their hands to grasp him. (114)

What prose! What wonderful use of irony, and how true!  Watch TV for ten minutes and tell me that the whole generation under 40 is not under the hands of “sex and Eros” under the guise of “liberated” love.  Seeking to free ourselves,we have, like Icarus, been too care-free and are in danger of falling to our deaths.

On  the “Historical” Jesus…

For my part I must confess that, quite apart from the Christian faith and simply from my acquaintance with history, I find it preferable and easier to believe that God became man than that such a conglomeration of hypotheses represents the truth. (215)

This is Ratzinger’s take on the thrust of historical Jesus research, which purports to explain how a failed Messiah, Jesus, was gradually transformed into the Christ of faith that the modern, rationalist mind can neither comprehend nor tolerate.  The more I read and reflect on the phenomenon, the more I loathe the whole historical Jesus project.  As Ratzinger points out, one cannot neatly separate the man Jesus from the office of Christ, the figure of history from the Son who is worshiped in faith.  His conclusion shows the absurdity of this “quest” with great humor and precision.

On Obama (?)…

Hope would become utopianism if its goal were only man’s own product. (242)

This is not entirely fair.  I admit this up front; this book was written well before Obama was even a presidential candidate.  Here he is speaking of how Christian faith looks out in hope  – not simply thinking back to a fantastic origin – but forward to a blessed future for the whole cosmos.  We have hope because of what God has revealed in Jesus Christ, not because of our own capacities, ideas, and projects.

That said, I connected this with Obama because of the clever and effective use by his staff of the word ‘hope’.  I’m not surprised that an increasingly secularized, de-Christianed country went for this.  If Marx and his followers have taught us anything, it is that people want hope by the bushel, just leave God out of it.  (Marx has, at his core, an eschatology much like Christianity: the view of a perfect future of peace and justice.  Unfortunately for Marx, the materialist, bereft of God, must accomplish this future of his own accord.)

I was, and continue to be disturbed, however, that so many Christians bought into the President’s rhetoric of ‘hope’.  We witnessed a political usurpation – a hijacking – of a theological virtue, and many of us simply cheered without a second thought.  But as Ratzinger rightly points out, ‘hope’ without reference to Jesus Christ is a void; it is no hope at all; it can only tend towards the meaningless entropy of utopian fantasy.

Liberal Christians excoriated the Christian Right for taking religious cues for their visions of “family values” and morality, and in general, for blurring the lines between politics and faith.  But liberal Christians have seemed unable to stop themselves from making the exact same play now that it is their turn to call the shots.  Alas, more sweet irony.

Enough ranting.  Read some Ratzinger…you’ll be glad you did.

What hath the Pope to do with the President?

I came across this naughty little quote while reading the most recent edition of Ratzinger/Benedict XVI’s Eschatology: Death and Eternal Life:

People still have hopes for the historical process, but these impulses, now strangers to faith, have been transformed into a secular faith in progress.

This reminds me of the quasi-religious character with which President Obama’s campaign and current reign have been met.  Certainly the fervor and the frenzy surrounding Obama, especially by a 20-something generation normally marked by apathy, was something unique.  I think Ratzinger has hit the nail on the head here: in our modern Western search for meaning outside the Christian faith, we are looking for other outlets for our energy and our eschatological hope.

The liberal sentiment that Obama aroused is, of course, but a bastard child of Marxist faith in human progress (which is, as he points out, an attempt at eschatology without God).  It makes me question, though, whether we are so “postmodern” as our intellectuals seem to think.  The kind of secularized (read: vacuous) faith that Obama has roused can only lead one to believe that the project of modernity is alive and well.  As Mark Twain said upon reading his own obituary, “Reports of my death are greatly exagerrated.”