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Crisis of Faith and the Eucharist
by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.
Heretics are seldom identified as such in our modern times. Instead they, and their fellow heretics call themselves dissenters. A heresy starts out as an idea. Erroneous ideas have played havoc with the truth about the Eucharist. 70% of Catholics in America today are deeply infected with these errors.
Our eternal destiny depends on understanding what the Church teaches on the Eucharist, believing with our whole mind and soul, and teaching these truths to others.
Vatican Council II makes it clear that we as Catholics have a grave responsibility to spread our faith or not only will we not be saved, we will be judged more severely. Lets hear it from Father Hardon then immediately start to evangelize.
Good evening. Suppose we begin with a prayer.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Hail Mary full of grace the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb Jesus. Holy Mary Mother of God pray for us sinners now and at the hour of thy death. Mother of the Holy Eucharist, pray for us. In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
This is our opening conference on the Holy Eucharist during this semester. Our subject at this time is: The Crisis of Faith and the Eucharist. It is no secret to anyone who understands the Western world that there is a crisis of faith in the Catholic Church.
In the United States alone, over 150 parishes have been closed in just three dioceses within the last few years. Most of the once flourishing, Catholic elementary and secondary schools have been closed. Catholic seminarians in our country have dropped by 90% in the last thirty years. Attendance at Sunday Mass, in not a few dioceses has dropped from 50-80% since the close of Vatican II. Behind this phenomenon is the loss of faith among so many once believing Roman Catholics.
As we begin our conference on the Holy Eucharist, I thought we should first face the crisis in the Catholic Church. Our title for the present, call it lecture, is A Crisis of Faith and the Eucharist. This can mean one of two things: We can address ourselves to the crisis of faith in general and its relation to the Holy Eucharist, or we can speak of the crisis of faith in the Holy Eucharist. And this is the focus for this evenings conference. Namely a rhetorical question, Is there a crisis of faith in the Eucharist among once believing Catholics, and if there is how are we to cope with this crisis? So serious is this issue that Pope Paul VI did the unheard of thing publishing a lengthy forward encyclical on the Real Presence during the sessions of the II Vatican Council.
His concern was the liturgical innovations which the council had introduced would be worse than futile. He feared it would be positively harmful to the Catholic Church unless the faithful, as we call ourselves, firmly believed and clearly understood the mystery of faith which is the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. Our first quote at length from this encyclical called Mysterium Fidei. In English, the Mystery of Faith. I repeat I will quote at length, then analyze the two principles of heretical teachings that have deeply penetrated Catholic circles in the last thirty years, and then see some of the consequences of this erroneous penetration, and close with a prayer.
The concerns with Pope Paul VI, the Vicar of Christ, earnestly hoped that the restored sacred liturgy introduced by Vatican II would bring abundant fruit of Eucharistic devotion. All the while he urges the faithful not to be frustrated by the spread of false ideas which are pervading the Church of God. This was written thirty years ago. Pope Paul VI wrote, The fundamental truth about the Eucharist that Christ revealed was what he taught, that which is described in the sixth chapter of St. Johns gospel. Jesus had just fed the multitude, thousands, with five loaves and two fishes. Then He told the multitude that they must be fed not only in body but also and mainly in soul. And that is why He would give His followers nothing less than His own body to eat and blood to drink. Having said this, not only to casual on lookers but many, the apostles told us, many of His own disciples said to one another, This is intolerable language. Who can believe it? That sixth chapter of St. John was not only history it was prophecy. This has been the story of the mystery of the Real Presence for the last almost two thousand years. And this is the situation today, except that now millions of once prophesied Catholics no longer believe in the Real Presence.
My twenty-seventh year in working for the Holy See, What I am sharing with you is a result of these years of experience. The seat of the crisis in the Roman Catholic church is the widespread loss of faith in the Real Presence. It is worth noting that Pope Paul VI at length dwelt on the errors that he saw enter the church thirty years ago. Being a mild man that he was, his language was correspondingly gentle. In the years since he published Mysterium Fidei, these errors have multiplied and theologized beyond anything in the twenty centuries of Catholic Christianity. Here I begin to quote what follows therefore will be a direct quotation from Pope Paul VI drawing on this historic document.
there are not lacking reasons for serious pastoral concern and anxiety. The awareness of our apostolic duty does not allow us to be silent in the face of these problems. Indeed, we are aware of the fact that among those who deal with this most Holy Mystery in written or spoken word, there are some who with reference either to Masses which are celebrated in private, or to the dogma to transubstantiation, or to devotion to the Eucharist, spread abroad opinions which disturb the faithful and fill their minds with no little confusion about matters of faith. It is as if everyone were permitted to consign to oblivion doctrine already defined by the Church, or else to interpret it in such a way as to weaken the genuine meaning of the words or the recognized force of the concepts involved.
To confirm what we have said by examples, it is not allowable to emphasize what is called the communal Mass to the disparagement of Masses celebrated in private, or to exaggerate the element of sacramental sign as if the symbolism, which all certainly admit in the Eucharist expresses fully and exhausts completely the mode of Christs presence in this sacrament. Nor is it allowable to discuss the mystery of transubstantiation without mentioning what the Council of Trent stated about the marvelous conversion of the whole substance of the bread into the Body and of the whole substance of the wine into the Blood of Christ, speaking rather only of what is called transignification and transfinalization, or finally to propose and act upon the opinion according to which, in the Consecrated Hosts which remain after the celebration of the sacrifice of the Mass, Christ Our Lord is no longer present.
(MYSTERIUM FIDEI, Pope Paul VI, September 3, 1965)
As I said before, these words of Pope Paul VI were prophetic every syllable of what the Holy Father declared has been fulfilled dare I say dramatically in one once strongly catholic culture after another including with emphases our own United States. Among the direct orders I received from the present Holy Father do everything you can to restore faith in the Real Presence in your country otherwise, Im quoting John Paul II, I fear for the survival of many of your dioceses in America. So far the concern of Pope PaulVI.
Now the loss of faith in the Real Presence: remember our subject for this conference is the crisis of faith in the Real Presence. Lets be clear on what we mean by crisis. By crisis we mean the need for courageous discernment of the critical situation in so many parts of the Catholic world today.
In the sixteenth century the rise of Protestantism produced a crisis of faith in the Catholic Church. Whole nations were lost to the Catholic Faith mainly because Catholic leaders especially bishops and theologians were seduced by the so-called reformers. There never was a Protestant reformation, that is in plain Anglo-Saxon a lie, there was only a Protestant rebellion.
Thank God there was a Catholic reformation. Reformers like Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, Ignatius Loyola that is what the Church needs today. Dear Lord how she needs these saintly courageous reformers today. These bishops and theologians, I am now speaking of the sixteenth century, denied that Christ had instituted the Sacrament of Holy Orders and thus conferred upon priests the power to change bread and wine into His own body and blood, and this is the heart of the crisis in the Catholic church today. It is the sixth Chapter of Saint Johns Gospel but now on a global scale.
Pope Paul VI uses two words to summarize this Eucharist Crisis, they are transignification and transfinalization. These terms are a synthesis of the widespread radical ideas pervading once Catholic circles as we enter the third millennium how well I know.
What I will do now is identify the two principal leaders of this devastating Eucharistic error. The error of transignification. This is the view that Christs presence in the Eucharist means when the consecration at Mass is performed only a change of meaning or significance of the bread and wine takes place. Their substance do not change only a change of meaning or significance of the bread and wine takes place their substance does not change. The consecrated elements are said to signify all that Christians associate with the Last Supper. The bread and wine acquire a higher meaning than merely food for the body. But they remain bread and wine.
We get some idea of how deeply this error has penetrated Catholic thought, when we read what Karl Rahner writes about the Eucharistic consecration. Rahner therefore is the first of the two master teachers of profound error on the Real Presence. I will quote now from Rahners language, not always so clear, I chose the clearest part that I could find. Quote Karl Rahner, the more recent approaches suggest the following considerations, one has to remember that the words of institution indicate a change. But not give any guiding line for the interpretation of the actual process. As regarding transubstantiation it may be said, the substance, essence, meaning and purpose of the bread are identical but the meaning of a thing can be changed without changing the matter. The meaning of the bread has been changed through the consecration something which served profane use now becomes the dwelling place and the symbol of Christ who is present and gives Himself to His own. unquote Karl Rahner. From the Encyclopedia of Theology edited by Rahner and defining the meaning of transubstantiation. What takes place through the Eucharistic consecration the significance the meaning attached to the bread changes but the bread remains bread. Rahners ideas are permeating the Eucharistic theology of whole nations.
Now side two of tape one
Now transfinalization, this identifies two principal errors that are threatening the faith of believing Catholics in Christs Real Presence in the blessed Sacrament. Transignification which we have just briefly described is very closely allied to transfinalization. In fact these two are almost synonymous but not quite.
Now transfinalization. This is a view of Christs presence in the Eucharist as the purpose or finality of the bread and wine is changed. Changed by the words of consecration but what remains after the consecration is still bread and wine, in other words, the bread and wine are now serving new function as sacred elements that arouse the faith of the people in Christs redemptive love.
We might say that transfinalization is another name for transignification. In both cases the substance of bread and wine, I repeat and I wish to emphasize, remain. There is no change in their being bread and wine merely take on a new meaning. Transignification, or new purpose, transfinalization.
If Karl Rahner is the best-known advocate of transignification, Edward Schillebeeckx is the most famous proponent of transfinalization. Once again it is worth quoting at some length but this time from Schillebeeckx. His language is very subtle in context he uses the words real presence. But tells us that the purpose of the Eucharistic elements is simply to make Christs presence more intimate. He was present before the consecration and is still present after the consecration - nothing happened to the bread. Nothing happened to the wine we read from Schillebeeckx. Anyone who denies what I just said is bound to misunderstand transubstantiation and make it objective.
The signs of the Eucharist bread only imply a presence as an offering emanating from the Lord in His assembled community. The Real Presence that is peculiar to the Eucharist is thus confined to the category of personal presence. It is interpersonal the host mediates between the Lord and his church and me in the same church I kneel not before Christ who is as it were condensed in the host but before the Lord Himself who is offering His reality His body to me through the host. unquote Skillebecks. The host was bread before consecration and remains bread after consecration.
That is why throughout our country thousands, please God Im wrong, millions of once professed Catholics no longer genuflect before the holy Eucharist. Who would genuflect before a piece of bread? So the learned denial of Christs real Presence goes on. Page after page Schillebeeckx reduces the Holy Eucharist to a symbol of Christs love for us a manifestation of Christs generosity. But Christ Himself is not in the Eucharist the purpose or finality of the bread and wine are changed but they remain bread and wine their substance has not been changed into the living Jesus Christ. I cannot tell you how deeply it pains me to have to quote from these two geniuses, Rahner a member of the society of Jesus and Schillebeeckx a member of the Dominican order of preachers. But I know agonizingly well how deeply their ideas have penetrated once Catholic cultures. That is why our next section is on the consequences.
We know that ideas have consequences. There is no such thing as a sterile thought. Either you master your thoughts and desires or actions follow infallibly. The thoughts of these two men and of course not only theirs but of so many have penetrated the minds of whole nations.
Thirty years of erroneous teaching about the Real Presence has deeply affected and infected the minds of millions and I mean that figure millions of still professed Catholics. Pope John Paul speaks of this dissemination of untruth in seminaries and universities Holy Father how right you are, how sadly right you are. These ideas have penetrated into the minds of the leaders in the Catholic Church both among the clergy and among the laity and among the erroneous ideas I place at root the teaching about the Real Presence.
Believe me there is much more at stake, much more than meets the eye. Everything in the Catholic faith depends on whether Jesus instituted the Holy Eucharist as the Real Presence. Why do we say this? Because the Real Presence implies and includes the teaching that Christ ordained the Apostles at the Last Supper. He gave them the priestly power to change bread and wine into His own flesh and blood.
By now I have said this to how many audiences and have put this in print. Questions were raised but nobody questioned the truth of what he says. As Ive said to some of you I took notes, put up my hand, got up, turned my back to Richard McBrien, faced these Catholic and Protestant theologians and told them that everything that Father McBrien has told you is heresy. Then I gave a fifteen-minute defense of Christs institution of the priesthood.
Everything in the Catholic Church rests on whether Jesus did or didnt ordain his Apostles bishops and priests so that they in turn could themselves reenact what Jesus had done in changing bread and wine into His own flesh and blood, than as bishops could pass on the power to other bishops and priests.
It is a defined dogma of the Catholic faith that Christ did institute two sacraments at the Last Supper. He instituted the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. He didnt merely change bread and wine into His own living self. He instituted the sacrament of the Eucharist to be continued until the end of time. And to insure the endurance of the Eucharist until the end of this world He instituted the second sacrament of the priesthood when he pronounced the words This is My Body, This is the chalice of My Blood. Jesus literally changed the substance of what had been bread and wine. It ceased to be bread and wine. To believe that is to be a Catholic. To even question, not to say to deny, that is to cease to be a Catholic. Then having changed the bread and wine he told his Apostles, Do this in commemoration of Me.
The Catholic Church is defined by those words. Do this in commemoration of Me. Jesus instituted the sacrament of the priesthood to make possible the continual transubstantiation of what had been bread and wine into the living Jesus Christ. The key word in what we are talking about is the word become. What had been bread and wine becomes the Son of God who was conceived by the Virgin Mary at Nazareth, born at Bethlehem, died on a cross in Jerusalem, rose from the dead on Easter Sunday, and forty days later ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of his heavenly father.
Ill never forget what Pope Pius the XII told the people at the International Eucharist Congress in Budapest just before the Communist take over. Jesus Christ ascended into heaven but he never left the earth. Jesus Christ is on earth. It is the same Jesus who is among us after the words of consecration are pronounced at Mass, when we receive Holy Communion, and wherever the Blessed Sacrament is reserved in every tabernacle throughout the world. Jesus Christ is on earth and you do not add a single word to somehow distinguish the Real Presence of Jesus on earth from his presence at the right hand of His Father in heaven.
Having taught my own Jesuits their theology for twenty-five years, having over the years taught so many priests, and now realizing what a massive crisis has struck the Catholic Church. Knowing from divine revelation how shrewd is the evil spirit. Whom do you suppose the devil wants to mainly seduce? He wants to destroy the Church whom else? But priests as a recent article at length described in the Homiletic and Pastoral Review which I recommend to all of you. The priest asks a very logical question. Given the widespread doubt and even disbelief in the real, real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist, how sure can the faithful be that when they are assisting at what the faithful believe is the Mass, the priest offering the Mass intends to change the bread and wine into the living flesh and blood of Jesus Christ? The Holy See I understand has been receiving more petitions for the declaration of nullity of the sacrament of the priesthood than ever before in the memory of the Vatican. Men ordained so they believed but they found out they of they just didnt know what it means to be ordained a priest. It is impossible to exaggerate the gravity of the crisis in the Catholic Church in our day. And in our opening conference on the Holy Eucharist I thought we should at least face the issue squarely and make sure that our own faith is clear. And please God that we might help those who are not sure of what the Real Presence really is to either discover they never knew or at least more plainly, more sharply, more firmly believe that the same identical Jesus who was conceived in the womb of His mother at Nazareth, that this Jesus who is God indeed, but hear it, God infleshed, God become man, the incarnate God, thats the Real Presence, is the word become flesh, it is God who became man that is the Real Presence and He is on Earth in the Blessed Sacrament.
Id like to close with a prayer to Our Lady.
Mary, Mother of the Holy Eucharist,
Obtain for us the light we need to realize that your Divine Son is present on earth in the Holy Eucharist. Help us to see with the eyes of faith what you saw during your years on earth with Jesus. You saw a child and a man but you believed that He was your God. Like you we wish to see more deeply and more clearly that this same Jesus Christ is with us in the Blessed Sacrament and is waiting for us in that everlasting Holy Eucharist for which we were made. Amen .Thank you for listening . We will close with a Blessing. May the Blessing of Our Lord Jesus Christ truly Present in the Blessed Sacrament descend upon you and your families and remain with you forever. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Copyright © 1998 Inter Mirifica
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