Christ salvation

Cardinal Cantalamessa: The Eucharist is coextensive with the history of salvation

In his meditations for Lent this year, the preacher of the Pontifical Household focuses on the Eucharist in the history of salvation, emphasizing the importance of the work of the Holy Spirit in the liturgy of the Word and the eucharistic liturgy.

By Benedict Mayaki, SJ

In addition to the many evils caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, there has been, at least, a positive effect from the point of view of faith: that of making us “aware of our need for the Eucharist and of the emptiness that its lack creates”. In his first Lenten sermon this year, Cardinal Raniero Cantalamessa, preacher of the Pontifical Household, invites Christians to “rediscover the wonder of the Eucharist” because each small progress in the understanding of the Eucharist “translates into progress in person’s spiritual life. and the ecclesial community”.

He notes that talking about the Eucharist in this time of pandemic, and now in the midst of the horror of war, does not mean taking our eyes off the dramatic reality we live in, but rather helps us to look at it from a “higher level and less contingent point of view” because the Eucharist “offers us the true key to interpreting history”.

Eucharist in the history of salvation

The Eucharist, says the cardinal, “is coextensive with the history of salvation” and is present in the Old Testament as a figure, in the New Testament as an event, and in our time – the time of the Church – as a sacrament. .

In the Old Testament, examples of the Eucharist as a “figure” include the manna, the sacrifice of Melchizedek, and the sacrifice of Isaac. With the coming of Christ and the mystery of his death and resurrection, the Eucharist became an “event”, something that happened in history – a unique event that happened once and that never not repeat itself. Then, in the time of the Church, the Eucharist is present in the sign of bread and wine, instituted by Christ.

To renew and celebrate

In practice, the difference between the event and the sacrament, he points out, is in the difference between the story and the liturgy. To trace the link between the sacrifice of the cross and the Mass, Saint Augustine distinguishes between two verbs: “to renew” and “to celebrate”. In this light, the Mass renews the event of the cross by celebrating it (and not by reiterating it) and celebrates it by renewing it (and not only by recalling it).

Thus, in history, there has been only one Eucharist, that celebrated by Jesus with his life and his death. On the other hand, according to history, thanks to the sacrament, there are “so many Eucharists that have been celebrated and will be celebrated until the end of the world”. Through the sacrament of the Eucharist, we become mysteriously contemporaneous with the event as it “is present to us and we at the event”.

Liturgy of the Word, Eucharistic Prayer

Focusing on the Eucharist as a sacrament, Cardinal Cantalamessa explores the development of the Mass in three parts: the Liturgy of the Word, the Eucharistic liturgy (the Canon or Anaphora) and Communion, adding at the end a reflection on Eucharistic worship outside the Mass.

He notes that in the early days of the Church, the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist were not celebrated in the same place and at the same time as the disciples participated in worship services in the Temple where they read the Bible. , recited psalms and prayers, then went home to gather for the breaking of bread. This practice was abandoned following the hostility of the Jewish community and the disciples no longer went to the Temple to read and listen to Scripture but introduced it into their own places of Christian worship, doing the Liturgy of the Word which led to the Eucharist. Pray.

The reading of Scripture in the liturgy “helps us to know him better who makes himself present in the breaking of the bread, and each time it brings to light an aspect of the mystery that we are about to receive”. This is what emerges from the experience of the disciples of Emmaus when they recognized Jesus at the breaking of the bread.

Not only listeners

The words of the Bible spoken and its stories told at Mass are relived in such a way that what is remembered becomes real and present “right now”, “today”; and we are not only hearers of the Word but we are called to put ourselves in the shoes of the people in history.

When proclaimed during the liturgy, Scripture operates in a way beyond explanation and mirrors how the sacraments operate. Divinely inspired texts have a healing power that has led to significant events in the history of the Church as a direct result of listening to the readings during Mass. For example, the Franciscan movement began in Assisi when a newly converted young man and his friend went to church and the gospel of the day was Jesus telling his disciples, “Take nothing for the journey, neither cane nor bag, food or money, and no one take a second tunic” (Lk 9:3).

Preparation for the homily

Cardinal Cantalamessa emphasizes that the Liturgy of the Word is the “best resource we have to make Mass a new and engaging celebration each time we celebrate it”. In this regard, more time and prayer must be invested in the preparation of the homily.

He notes that relying on personal knowledge and preferences to prepare a homily and then praying to God to add His Spirit to the message is a good method but “is not prophetic.” Conversely, to be prophetic, one must first ask “God for the word he wants to say”, then consult the books, the Fathers of the Church, the masters and the poets. Thus, it is no longer “the Word of God at the service of [your] learn, but [your] learn in the service of the Word of God.

The work of the Spirit

Attention to the Word of God alone is not enough, the “power from on high” must descend on it, says the Cardinal. As the action of the Holy Spirit is not limited to the sole moment of consecration during the Eucharist, so the presence of the Spirit is indispensable for the Liturgy of the Word and communion.

Scripture “must be read and interpreted by the help of the same Spirit by which it was written” (Dei Verbum, 12). In the Liturgy of the Word, the action of the Holy Spirit “is exercised through the spiritual anointing present in him who speaks and listens”. The anointing is given by the presence of the Spirit; and through baptism and confirmation – and for some, priestly and episcopal ordination – we already have the anointing imprinted indelibly on our souls (2 Cor 1:21-22).

The anointing “does not depend on us to create it, but it depends on us to remove the obstacle that prevents its radiance”. Like the woman in the Gospel (Mk 14:3) who broke the alabaster pot and perfume filled the house, we must break the alabaster vase: the vase is “our humanity, our self, sometimes our arid intellectual” through faith, prayer and humble entreaty.

With this in mind, we should ask for the anointing before undertaking any major preaching or action in Kingdom service. This anointing is not only necessary for preachers to effectively proclaim the Word of God, but also for hearers to welcome it.

Not that human training is useless; however, this is not enough, says the cardinal. “It is the inner master who truly instructs, it is Christ and his inspiration who instruct. When his inspiration and anointing are lacking, outward words make but unnecessary noise.