With the renewal of the Second Vatican Council, certain Eucharistic heresies began to emerge within the Church. Oftentimes one is tempted to blame their resurgence on the reigning Roman Pontiff of the day, Paul VI. One notes that Paul VI broke with many customs during the era of the Second Vatican Council in his attempt to lead the Church towards a renewal in her Divine mission. One ancient custom in particular with which Pope Paul VI broke is that he interrupted an Ecumenical Council to promulgate a papal encyclical. Previous to the Second Vatican Council, it was unheard of that the Roman Pontiff would do such a thing.
Nevertheless, in September of 1965 on the Feast of Pope St. Pius X, Paul VI interrupted the Second Vatican Council to promulgate his papal encyclical Mysterium Fidei. His purpose in so doing was to uphold the Church's Traditional teaching concerning the Most Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist, as well as condemn any false teachings that had begun to surface within the Church. Although in promulgating this papal encyclical during an Ecumenical Council Pope Paul VI broke with lower case tradition which is the Church's custom, this allowed him to strongly reaffirm the Church's Sacred Tradition contained in the Deposit of Faith - i.e. the Tradition handed down to the Church by Christ and His Apostles. For the serious Catholic student, Paul VI's Mysterium Fidei provides the key for unlocking the authentic interpretation of the Second Vatican Council in light of the Church's Sacred Tradition.
This fact is readily seen in the opening paragraph of Mysterium Fidei, where Pope Paul VI introduces the Catholic faithful to mind of the Conciliar Fathers as follows:
THE CATHOLIC CHURCH has always devoutly guarded as a most precious treasure the mystery of faith, that is, the ineffable gift of the Eucharist which she received from Christ her Spouse as a pledge of His immense love, and during the Second Vatican Council in a new and solemn demonstration she professed her faith and veneration for this mystery. When dealing with the restoration of the sacred liturgy, the Fathers of the council, by reason of their pastoral concern for the whole Church, considered it of the highest importance to exhort the faithful to participate actively with sound faith and with the utmost devotion in the celebration of this Most Holy Mystery, to offer it with the priest to God as a sacrifice for their own salvation and for that of the whole world, and to find in it spiritual nourishment.
In essence, at the Second Vatican Council the Church sought not to deny the Holy Mystery of the Mass, but to safeguard its central role in the sanctification of Christ's faithful. Along with the other Fathers of the Second Vatican Council, Paul VI considers active lay participation in the Holy Eucharist of the utmost importance. Furthermore, he reaffirms the sacrificial aspect the Mass in which Our Lord's Real Presence is offered up to God the Father for the salvation of the individual and of the whole world.
The importance of the Most Holy Eucharist, especially with regards to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, is upheld by Pope Paul VI within the following paragraph of Mysterium Fidei:
For if the sacred liturgy holds the first place in the life of the Church, the Eucharistic Mystery stands at the heart and center of the liturgy, since it is the font of life by which we are cleansed and strengthened to live not for ourselves but for God, and to be united in love among ourselves.
In short, the liturgy holds first place in the Church for the liturgy is the Church's public prayer whereby the faithful as Christ's Mystical Body unite with Christ their Head in order to offer worship to God the Father. As Christ's Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity substantially present under the accidents of bread and wine, the Eucharist stands at the heart of the liturgy since Christ is truly present in being and not merely in action. As Christ's Real Presence, Paul VI places the Eucharist (and rightly so!) at the center of our spiritual lives as Catholics, through which God the Son is offered to God the Father in atonement for our human sins. Furthermore, through our participation in Holy Communion in which we consume Christ's Real Presence, we are first drawn closer to Christ in vertical communion, (and through Jesus Christ the Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity to God the Father), and then in being drawn closer to Christ we therefore come closer to one another as Catholics in horizontal communion.
This dual blessing of the Mass, in which Christ atones for our sins and in which we consume Christ's Body and Blood - both in conformity with Holy Scripture and Tradition - is again noted by Pope Paul VI in Mysterium Fidei as follows:
In these words are highlighted both the sacrifice, which pertains to the essence of the Mass which is celebrated daily, and the sacrament in which the faithful participate in Holy Communion by eating the Flesh of Christ and drinking His Blood, receiving both grace, the beginning of eternal life, and the medicine of immortality. According to the words of Our Lord: "The man who eats my flesh and drinks my blood enjoys eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day."
What one notices here is that Pope Paul VI pays particular attention to Christ's Real Presence in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist, a teaching of the Church to which he goes through great pain to substantiate from the Church's theological Tradition. For example, in the following passage Paul VI upholds the Real Presence of Our Lord in the Most Blessed Sacrament by referring to the teachings of a long chain of Tradition. Pope Paul VI cites St. Thomas Aquinas' use of a quotation taken from the Patristic Father St. Cyril commenting upon a passage of St. Luke's Gospel account of Jesus Christ at the Last Supper:
The scholastic Doctors often made similar affirmations: That in this sacrament are the true Body of Christ and His true Blood is something that "cannot be apprehended by the senses," says St. Thomas, "but only by faith which relies on divine authority. This is why, in a comment on Luke 22:19 ('This is My Body which is given for you'), St. Cyril says: 'Do not doubt whether this is true, but rather receive the words of the Savior in faith, for since He is the truth, He cannot lie.'"
As one can see from this quotation of Mysterium Fidei, not only has Paul VI uphold the Traditional Catholic doctrines of transubstantiation and the Real Presence, but he has carefully shown all the golden links in the chain of Tradition which continue throughout the Second Vatican Council. In short, the teachings passed down from Christ to His Apostles through the Patristic Fathers and the scholastic Doctors find voice in the teachings of Pope Paul VI and the Second Vatican Council.
In fact Christ's Real Presence in the Holy Eucharist, which we are called to consume, cannot but be the teaching of the Catholic Church. For to whom can Paul VI turn as the visible head of Christ's Mystical Body if not the invisible head who is Jesus Christ? The teaching of Tradition passed down by Christ to His Apostles, as Paul VI explains in the following passage, is the only position the Church may preach vis-à-vis the Eucharist:
Moreover, the Holy Gospel alludes to this when it tells of the many disciples of Christ who, after listening to the sermon about eating His Flesh and drinking His Blood, turned away and left our Lord, saying: "This is strange talk, who can be expected to listen to it?" Peter, on the other hand, in reply to Jesus' question whether also the twelve wished to leave, expressed his faith and that of the others promptly and resolutely with the marvelous answer: "Lord, to whom should we go? Thy words are the words of eternal life."
As an aside, what is of interest to note in the above citation taken from Holy Scripture is that when all others have abandoned the Savior because of the difficulty of his teaching, St. Peter is the one who turns to Our Lord, and on behalf of the Apostles answers those who find Our Lord's teachings too difficult, asking rhetorically "To whom should we go?" In the face of apostasy, St. Peter is the one who upholds the words of Our Lord as "the words of eternal life." In short, against the unbelief of the world, St. Peter upholds Christ's teaching concerning the Real Presence. Could any less have been expected St. Peter's successor Paul VI when the same Eucharistic doubts arose around the period of the Second Vatican Council? Obviously the answer is no, which is why Pope Paul VI through Mysterium Fidei diligently defended Our Lord's Eucharistic teachings. Some may note that Paul VI was unsuccessful in so doing, since there remains a Eucharistic crisis within the Church -- however, how successful was St. Peter in bringing back those who abandoned Christ in the above Gospel account? Like his predecessor St. Peter, in the face of mass apostasy Pope Paul VI could only uphold the teachings of Christ and leave the rest to Our Lord's capacity to work His grace in the hardened hearts of men.
"But did the Second Vatican Council not change the language of the Eucharistic Mystery as well as that of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass?" many have objected during the Post-Conciliar era. Granted this is a strange phenomenon taking place within the Church one cannot ignore, however, neither has Pope Paul VI ignored it. In fact, speaking on behalf of the Church in his papal encyclical Mysterium Fidei, Paul VI addresses this problem directly with the following solemn warning against those who would tamper with the Church's Traditional doctrinal formulation concerning the Holy Eucharist:
The Church, therefore, with the long labor of centuries, and, not without the help of the Holy Spirit, has established a rule of language and confirmed it with the authority of the councils. This rule, which has more than once been the watchword and banner of Orthodox faith, must be religiously preserved, and let no one presume to change it at his own pleasure or under the pretext of new science. Who would ever tolerate that the dogmatic formulas used by ecumenical councils for the mysteries of the Holy Trinity and the Incarnation be judged as no longer appropriate for men of our times and therefore that others be rashly substituted for them? In the same way it cannot be tolerated that any individual should on his own authority modify the formulas which were used by the Council of Trent to express belief in the Eucharistic Mystery. For these formulas, like the others which the Church uses to propose the dogmas of faith, express concepts which are not tied to a certain form of human culture, nor to a specific phase of human culture, nor to one or other theological school.
Furthermore, as we see in the following passage, Pope Paul VI has not ignored those who would reduce the Real Presence to a meaningless doctrinal formula or a mere symbol of the Reality of Christ's True Presence. Rather, he continues to uphold the teaching of the Church concerning this matter, providing a clear link with Tradition through both references to Holy Scripture and the Patristic Fathers:
While the eucharistic symbolism brings us to an understanding of the effect proper to this Sacrament, which is the unity of the mystical Body, it does not indicate or explain what it is that makes this Sacrament different from all others. The constant teaching which the Catholic Church passes on to her catechumens, the understanding of the Christian people, the doctrine defined by the Council of Trent, the very words used by Christ when He instituted the Most Holy Eucharist, compel us to acknowledge that "the Eucharist is that flesh of Our Savior Jesus Christ who suffered for our sins and whom the Father in His loving-kindness raised again." To these words of St. Ignatius of Antioch, we may add those which Theodore of Mopsueta, a faithful witness to the faith of the Church on this point, addressed to the faithful: "The Lord did not say: This is a symbol of My Body, and this is a symbol of My blood but: This is My Body and My Blood." He teaches us not to look to the nature of those things which lie before us and are perceived by the senses, for by the prayer of thanksgiving and the words spoken over them, they have been changed into Flesh and Blood."
Moreover, less any doubt remain in the hearts of the faithful as to what belief concerning the Real Presence the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council upheld, Paul VI reaffirms the Council of Trent's definition of transubstantiation within the following passage of Mysterium Fidei:
The Council of Trent, basing itself on this faith of the Church, "openly and sincerely professes that within the Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist, after the Consecration of the bread and wine, Our Lord Jesus Christ, true God and true Man, really, truly and substantially contained under those outward appearances."
Finally, while such a strong profession of the Church's Traditional Eucharistic teaching may be well and good from a theological viewpoint, Paul VI nevertheless feels that pastoral action must be taken as well to counter various Eucharistic heresies that arose around the time of the Second Vatican Council. Therefore, in Mysterium Fidei Pope Paul VI renews the following solemn exhortation of his predecessors Pius VI and Pius XII to all priests:
[.] After the Council of Trent, our predecessor, Pius VI, on the occasion of the errors of the Synod of Pistoia, warned parish priests when carrying out their office of teaching, not to neglect to speak of transubstantiation, one of the articles of faith. Similarly our predecessor of happy memory, Pius XII, recalled the bounds which those who undertake to discuss the mystery of transubstantiation might not cross. We ourself also, in fulfillment of our apostolic office, have openly borne solemn witness to the faith of the Church at the National Eucharistic Congress held recently at Pisa.
In short, as part of the Second Vatican Council renewal of the Church he envisioned, Pope Paul VI renewed the obligation on parish priests to present the Church's teaching on transubstantiation when carrying out their priestly ministry among Christ's faithful. In so doing, he cites the Council of Trent as well as his predecessors within the Petrine succession in order to show continuity with the Church's Tradition.
In conclusion, Pope Paul VI did not abolish the Church's teaching concerning Christ's Real Presence and transubstantiation. Nor did he abolish or downplay the Church's Tradition vis-à-vis the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Rather, in Mysterium Fidei he upheld the Church's various doctrinal formulations surrounding the Eucharist -- oftentimes going to great pain to show continuity with Divine Tradition -- formulations which he held to be the key for interpreting the texts of the Second Vatican Council. In the end, the Church may have entered into a Eucharistic crisis after the Second Vatican Council, however, such a crisis cannot be attributed to Pope Paul VI who did his part through Mysterium Fidei to uphold the Church's Eucharistic Tradition while combating the various Eucharistic heresies that had arisen. Therefore, Mysterium Fidei is Pope Paul VI's battle cry to all faithful Catholics, calling us to gather around Christ's Real Presence in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist. Have you the spiritual conviction to respond?
Copyright © 2001 by Peter Vere. All Rights reserved.
Used with permission.
THE REAL PRESENCE OF CHRIST IN THE EUCHARIST
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