Report on the Papers Delivered at the 5th Fota International Liturgy Conference (Part 1)
This is the first of two parts.
(Photos courtesy William A. Thomas)
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Report of the Fifth Fota International Liturgy Conference
Clarion Hotel, Cork City, Ireland
7-9 July 2012
The theme for the fifth Fota International Liturgy Conference was Celebrating the Eucharist: Sacrifice and Communion. The subject was chosen in the light of a theological discussion on the Eucharist as sacrifice and/or communion which arose in German theological circles in the early twentieth century and to which Romano Guardini made a significant contribution in 1939 with his his introduction into theological discourse in relation to the Eucharist of the concepts Gestalt and Gehalt. That contribution subsequently drew the attention of Joseph Ratzinger who maintained that an inaccurate understanding of these concepts lay at the heart of much of the problems affecting renewal of the liturgy. His critique of the discussion and of Guardini's contribution was ultimately published in his book Feast of Faith. The Conference dwelt on this contribution as well as on its scriptural and patristic background and on some of its consequences for the liturgy and for the spiritual life.
The key note address of the Conference was given by His Eminence Raymond Cardinal Burke who addressed the question of The Holy Eucharist as Sacrifice in Canonical Discipline. A summary of the address has been prepared separately.
The Conference was opened by Prof. D. Vincent Twomey, SVD. He spoke to the subject Rubrics and Ritual – the letter v. the spirit? He began by referring to the Liturgical Movement from the 18th century on (influenced as it was by the post-Enlightenment culture) which stressed the intelligibility of the liturgy. Unsurprisingly, the initial reform of the liturgy after the Council also stressed intelligibly. But this, it is argued in this paper, was to the detriment of the nature of liturgy as ritual. The outcome was that rubrics tended not to be taken seriously. Instead “creativity” and “intelligibility” became the norm in the new liturgy. In his criticism of the initial reform, the Joseph Ratzinger pointed to the essentially mysterious, non-arbitrary, “given-not-made” nature of the Liturgy. It is God’s work not our fabrication. The non-arbitrary nature of ritual is common to all religions, as Ratzinger has pointed out. It is expressed in rubrics, be they oral or written.
Anthropologists such as Victor Turner recently discovered the true nature of ritual through his fieldwork in Africa. Ritual is the means by which communities renew themselves through the symbolic experience of the Holy. The participants in the ritual experience this encounter with the sacred as a form of death and rebirth. Their total involvement in the ritual (active participation?) gives their lives the meaning needed to face every day life. They form community.
For Ratzinger the Christian sacraments are rooted in such natural rituals, which have been purified, perfected, and transformed by becoming the means of sacramentally effecting the memoria of God’s intervention in history. They create the community that is the Church universal and local. But, as stipulated by SC 22, the sacraments remain rituals which are given (by means of the Church’s apostolic authority) and so are not made up by the celebrating priest.
But there is another reason for the failure of the Novus Ordo to achieve the active participation which the Council stressed. In his classical work on leisure and cult, the philosopher, Josef Pieper, points out that modern man is incapable of enjoying true leisure, since modern culture overvalues work (activity) to the detriment of leisure. Leisure is essentially enjoyment of what is literally “useless”: beauty, goodness, truth. Leisure is what active participation in the liturgy should achieve. Leisure too is experienced as something given not made. Aristotle reminds us the contemplation is the highest form of activity. The modern emphasis on activity contributed to a false understanding of active participation as doing things in the Mass.
But, for Pieper, there is another obstacle to true celebration: life for many today has become existentially meaningless – absurd – so that modern man no longer know how to celebrate a feast because he can no longer affirm life as good and meaningful. What the Sunday Mass provides is precisely a ritual encounter with that eternal Love which overcame all evil in the world: the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Now we can truly give thanks to God and affirm the goodness of living despite the difficulties of daily life.
The Mass makes possible that encounter with the Holy, the Real Presence of Christ’s sacrifice that enables us “lift up our hearts”. For the duration of the ritual, we are taken out of the realm of the mundane and experience the realm of the thrice Holy – so that we can say “Yes” to life: Amen. This was (and still is) the case with the pre-Conciliar Mass (at least for those familiar with it), what is now called the Extraordinary Form of the Latin Rite, when celebrated in the true spirit. The question is: to what extent does the actual ritual of the Novus Ordo promote that active participation which is nothing less than our encounter with Christ? One thing is clear: a conditio sine qua non for this to happen is that the celebrant in particular has the humility to abide by the prescribed rubrics, whatever his personal preferences. The ritual of the liturgy is given not made.
The verum sacrificium of Christ and of Christians according to St. Augustine was the title of Fr. Daniel Jones’s exposition of St. Augustine’s idea of sacrifice as contained in the de Civitate Dei. At the climax of his polemic against pagan civic and Neoplatonic cults in Book 10 of The City of God, St. Augustine proposes a classic definition of the true sacrifice of Christians as a means of demonstrating the superiority of the Christian religion. The verum sacrificium is articulated in three distinct yet inseparable sacrificial actions which together form the one and only sacrifice by which human beings can be purified and united to God: (i.) the sacrifice of Christ, offered once for all on earth, but now presented eternally in heaven (the origin of the true sacrifice); (ii.) the interior sacrifice of each member of the Body of Christ; and (iii.) the Eucharistic sacrifice, the sacrament which represents for the Body on earth the one sacrifice of Christ. These three elements are able to form one single true sacrifice because Christ opened the mystery of his one sacrifice to his whole Body, allowing them to receive and participate in it, in three moments: i.) by transposing his once-for-all earthly sacrifice into the true and eternal sanctuary of heaven; ii.) by creating a priestly Body inseparably united to himself and his continued offering; and iii.) by establishing a visible representation of his sacrifice on earth whereby the earthly members are drawn into it. The Eucharistic representation of Christ’s sacrifice teaches his members to conform and unite themselves to his offering through the complementary virtues of humility and rightly-ordered love, which together articulate the heart of their offering, and thus define Christian identity.
In a written communication sent to the Conference by Fr. Robert Abeynaike, O.Cist., a native of Sri Lanka and currently assigned to the General House in Rome, an extensive commentary on the concept of sacrifice in the Letter to the Hebrews was expounded. The paper, entitled The sacrificial character of the Eucharistic Celebration based on an exegesis of the Letter to the Hebrews, concentrated on a showing that the Letter to the Hebrews could be read as a commentary on the words of institution from a view point closely familiar with the cultic ritual of the Temple in Jerusalem. In this view of sacrifice, what was of importance was not the destruction of the elements offered in sacrifice but in the offering of those elements to God.
Mariusz Biliniewicz’s paper, Reasonable Worship (Rm 12:1): Joseph Ratzinger’s Theology of Sacrifice, presented the main highlights of Joseph Ratzinger’s theology of sacrifice and placed them in the context of his thought and in the context of contemporary theological discussion. The paper began with a short introduction showing the importance of the topic of sacrifice in the writings of Joseph Ratzinger and outlined the reasons for his interest in this subject. Biliniewicz continued by presenting Ratzinger’s understanding of sacrifice in pre-Christian religions and in the Old Testament. Turning to the New Testament, he showed Ratzinger’s understanding of the Christ event as the fulfilment of the promises and expectations of Israel and of the whole of humanity; and Ratzinger’s view of the Eucharist as the actualization of Christ’s unique and ultimate sacrifice for the people of all times and places. Biliniewicz concluded by assessing the importance of Ratzinger’s theology of sacrifice for the contemporary Church in the light of his election to the Chair of Peter.
Fr. Patrick Gorevan spoke to the subject O sacrum convivium: St Thomas on the Eucharist. Starting with St Thomas Aquinas’ antiphon from the Office of Corpus Christi, O sacrum convivium. Fr. Gorevan commented on its popularity and its continuing role in the liturgy. While the antiphon is short, it can offer a survey of Eucharistic theology, evoking past (‘the memory of the Passion’) present (‘the soul filled with grace’) and future (‘pledge of future glory’). It points, too to the Eucharistic flavour of authentic Christian spirituality, always remembering the self-giving of the Saviour ‘for us’, becoming what we have received in the Eucharist, and straining forward towards a goal whose foretaste is ever on our lips. On other occasions Aquinas points to these three dimensions of the sacraments, which have their source in the passion of Christ, their content in the effect achieved in the soul and their fulfilment in the glory of communion with God.
Fr. Neil Xavier O’Donoghue delivered a study entitled Sacrifice and Communion in the Eucharist in Pre-Norman Ireland. He noted that earlier generations of scholars tended to see in early Ireland somewhat of an exception to what was typical in Western Christendom and in the field of the liturgy a separate “Celtic Rite” was often posited. In his paper, Fr. O’Donoghue proposed that no “Celtic Rite” ever existed and that Irish liturgy was actually quite similar to other area of Western Europe, initially following the Gallican rite and thereafter enthusiastically adopting the Roman Rite. Therefore the evidence of Pre-Norman Irish liturgy belongs to the patrimony of early Western Eucharistic practice and deserves to be incorporated into general historical studies of the liturgy of the period. The treatment of sacrifice in Pre-Norman Ireland is a case I point. Looking at the idea of sacrifice in the Stowe Missal, the early Irish Penitentials and various other texts, it becomes clear that Pre-Norman Ireland is true to the Western European context. A case could even be made that the Pre-Norman Irish Church gave a particular emphasis to the words of institution and the sacrificial nature of the Blessed Sacrament, before such an emphasis was common throughout the West.
In a paper entitled The Eucharistic Magisterium of Blessed John Paul II: An Overview’, Fr. Thomas McGovern focused on the three major Eucharistic documents of John Paul II: his letter Dominicae Coenae (1980); his encyclical ‘The Eucharist and the Church (2003); and his letter Stay with us Lord (2004). Fr. McGovern emphasised John Paul II’s contribution to the theology of the Eucharist, and his development of Eucharistic piety. He also examined the social dimension of the Eucharist in John Paul II as well as his ongoing concern about the abuses in Eucharistic celebrations and their correction.
- End of Part One -