Tuesday, March 27, 2007

The Pope’s anti-liberal revolution

~from The Spectator UK
Now it was the turn of traditional Catholics to be dismayed. Had Pope Benedict forgotten what he had said in his address at the funeral of his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, about the danger posed by moral relativism? Surely a Pope of his age, whose reign could not be long, should act with more urgency? Was their Rottweiler now an old spaniel, happy to doze in front of the fire?

Or was Pope Benedict biding his time? Last week he published an Apostolic Exhortation on the Eucharist, Sacramentum Caritatis — The Sacrament of Love. In part it is a summary of the conclusions of the Synod of Catholic Bishops held in Rome in October 2005 — the start of the liturgical Year of the Eucharist promulgated by his predecessor, Pope John Paul II — and as such carries the authority of the whole Church. But it is also a theological tour de force showing the clarity and cogency that are particular to the writings of Joseph Ratzinger.

Sacramentum Caritatis opens with a lucid exposition of the Catholic belief on the Eucharist. The priest’s words of consecration during the Mass turn bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ — a transformation Pope Benedict describes as ‘a sort of “nuclear fission” which penetrates to the heart of all being, a change meant to set off a process which transforms reality, a process leading ultimately to the transfiguration of the entire world’.

This belief, with its connotations of cannibalism and human sacrifice, has always been hard to take. Even in Christ’s lifetime, many of his disciples, according to Saint John, regarded the idea as ‘intolerable ...and stopped going with him’. It was a defining bone of contention between Catholics at the time of the Reformation. Luther downgraded the change from transubstantiation (the bread and wine become the flesh and blood of Christ) to consubstantiation (bread and wine remain bread and wine but co-exist with the flesh and blood of Christ), and Calvin disbelieved it altogether.

Thus the first of the threefold challenges posed by the Eucharist, Pope Benedict writes, is belief in this mystery of faith. The second is to celebrate the sacrament with the dignity and beauty it merits: ‘everything related to the Eucharist should be marked by beauty’. And finally, the Eucharist must be an inspiration to those who partake in it to a commitment to the betterment of mankind.

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