Thursday, February 25, 2010



by Fr. Bryan Lobo, S.J.

(Fr Bryan Lobo s.j with Pope Benedict XVI)

I am writing this paper as an Indian Catholic Theologian. I shall therefore present the convictions and beliefs of the Catholic Church on the Eucharist, in the light of the Synod of Bishops that was recently held on the Eucharist and which was called, “THE EUCHARIST: SOURCE AND SUMMIT OF THE LIFE AND MISSION OF THE CHURCH”, bearing in mind my Indianness. Among the many important themes emerging from the Instrumentum Laboris[1] and from the 50 Propositions[2], I have chosen SACRIFICE as the Eucharistic theme for my paper. This theme I find extremely important for the Indian Church because of its intimate connection to the Indian religious psyche[3].

The OT is replete with instances of sacrifices offered to God. Animals, birds and crops were offered to God for various intentions; for worship (Gen 4: 2-5), for atonement of sin (Heb 9:22), to seal a covenant (Exod 24: 4-8) and to strengthen the bond between God and the devotees. In this way sacrifice became a means to relate to God for personal and communitarian salvation[4]. 

There were also moments in the life of the Israelite community when animal sacrifices became abominable to God especially when offered by devotees who never bothered to do the will of God in their personal and social lives and took the cover of sacrifices to appease God and assure salvation for themselves. This attitude led to cultic ritualism which was heavily criticised by prophets especially Isaiah, Hosea and Amos (Isa 1:2-31; Hos 6:6; Amos 5:21-24). Outward sacrifices could therefore not be an excuse for inner disobedience. Sacrifices to God had to be pure in both ways interior and exterior. Only then would it be pleasing to God and assure one the salvation that one sought. 

The sacrifice of Jesus was seen as transcending the sacrifices of the OT. In the OT the sacrifices were repeated but the sacrifice of Jesus was once and for all (Heb 10:1-10). The OT sacrifices were animal sacrifices but the sacrifice of Jesus was of himself; a self-offering. The benefit of the OT sacrifices also included the priest but the sacrifice of Jesus benefited him in no way; it was for the salvation of others. The salvific motif is later seen by the Apostles as the underlying motif of Jesus’ death. 

What makes the Apostles see this motif in the death of Jesus? 
It was the Last Supper. At the Last Supper Jesus celebrates the Passover meal with his disciples, giving his own interpretation of that meal. Jesus was placing himself as the Passover lamb who had to be sacrificed for the salvation of all[5]. In 1Cor 5: 6-7, Paul alludes to the Passover feast calling Christ the Paschal lamb that was sacrificed. Jesus understands this sacrifice not only as a one way process from God to humans but also vice versa because he makes us participate in that sacrifice by asking his Apostles (and the future Church that would come into existence), to eat the bread and drink the wine as though they were his body and blood (Mk 14: 22-25; Mt 26: 26-29; Lk 22: 14-23; 1Cor 11: 23-26). 

In this way Jesus makes the future Church (the people of the new Covenant), participate in his sacrifice of redemption. It is this participation that brings salvation and wholeness to the participants. This motif of sacrifice became central to the Eucharist especially during the times of the persecutions of the early Christians. The self-sacrifice of Martyrs, right from the first Pope, Peter, down through the centuries, was and is venerated by a kiss of the altar (the centre of which is supposed to contain the remains of the Martyrs), by the main Celebrant (and Concelebrants) of the Eucharist. The Fathers of the Church, living in varied contexts, gave different perspectives to this sacrificial motif of the mass. 

We know the famous words of St. Ignatius of Antioch (? – 107 AD), “I am the wheat of God, when I am ground may I be found pure bread”(Rom 4).[6] Eusebio of Caesarea (365 – 440 AD) calls the Eucharist the fulfilment of the past prophecies, as a sacrifice offered in a new way according to the law of the New Covenant (Dem. Ev. I. 10).[7] Gregory I (540 – 640 AD) Pope and Doctor of the Church gave a lot of importance to the Eucharist as sacrifice. The sacrificial vocabulary – sacrificium, oblatio, immolatio, victima, hostia, etc were words extensively used by him. 

According to him the passion of Christ is mystically imitated in the Eucharist because the sacrifice of Christ is made present at every Eucharist celebrated by the Priest (Dialogue IV, 58: PL 77, 425).[8] We could go on giving examples on how the Fathers of Church laid prime importance on the sacrificial aspect of the Eucharist but for the lack of time we have to move on. After Martin Luther’s (1483 – 1546) attack on the sacrificial aspect of the Eucharist,[9] many other Catholic theologians like Thomas Cranmer (1486-1556), Robert Bellarmino (1542-1621), and others wrote in defence of the sacrifice of the Eucharist[10]. The Council of Trent (1545) finally upheld the mass as making present the sacrifice of the Cross. It said, “It is one and the same victim here offering himself by the ministry of his priests, who then offered himself on the Cross; it is only the manner of offering that is different” (DS 1743)[11] 

The Second Vatican Ecumenical Council (1962-1965), which opened the doors of the Church to a great renewal, did not allow this sacrificial aspect to loose its significance in the Eucharist. It says, “… our Saviour instituted the Eucharistic Sacrifice of his body and blood … in order to perpetuate the sacrifice of the Cross throughout the ages, until he should come again” (Sacrosanctum Concilium 47). It also sees the faithful as participating in the Eucharistic sacrifice and along with the divine victim offer themselves to God (Lumen Gentium 11). The Church therefore sees the mass as the inseparable sacrificial memorial in which the sacrifice of the Cross is perpetuated (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1382). 

Keeping this whole tradition in mind, the late Pope John Paul II in his Encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia, exhorts his faithful to see the sacrifice of Christ as intrinsically connected to the Eucharist. I would like to quote him in full: “The sacrificial nature of the Eucharistic mystery cannot therefore be understood as something separate, independent of the Cross or only indirectly referring to the sacrifice of Calvary.By virtue of its close relationship to the sacrifice of Golgotha, the Eucharist is a sacrifice in the strict sense, and not only in a general way, as if it were simply a matter of Christ’s offering himself to the faithful as their spiritual food” (12 – 13).By now it has become clear that the sacrificial aspect is the sine qua non of the Church’s understanding of the Eucharist. Without this aspect any conception of the Eucharist would be incomplete. Secondly it is taken for granted that Christ’s sacrifice is a means for the salvation of all. This is what makes the Eucharist a means to salvation for all.

I had mentioned earlier that sacrifice is intimately connected to the Indian psyche. With all the varied religions and their inner dynamics and conflicts in India, Hinduism plays an important role in shaping the psyche of the Indians. The concept of sacrifice is central to Hinduism. Yajna, Tyaga, Tapas, and Bali are words and concepts intrinsically connected to sacrifice. 

In Hindu Cosmogony creation itself is seen as the self sacrifice of the primordial Person who is God. The primordial Person is Purusha (a word that means also ‘man’). We find this idea in the Purusha-Sukta, one of the latest hymns of the Rigveda.[12] This hymn describes a mysterious ancient sacrifice which led to the division of the primordial Purusha from which emerged the different parts of creation[13]. Here two points have to be noted that Cosmos comes into being through the Anthropos (a;nqrwpoj) namely that man (primordial Man who is also considered as Supreme Being), is responsible for the creation of the universe. Secondly it is His sacrifice that brings the universe into existence.[14] Sacrifice therefore becomes the foundation of life itself. When life gets corrupted and looses its inner harmony or rta, sacrifice is performed called Yajna to bring back the cosmos into harmony. Yajna is the re-presentation[15] of the primordial sacrifice of the Purusha. Sacrifice is therefore intimately connected to Wholeness. If wholeness is possible at the cosmological level then it should be a reality at the personal level too. 

This makes individuals do tapas, tyaga, and other personal sacrifices for personal wholeness. The persons who attain wholeness are called Yogis, sants or saints etc. These saints in turn work for the welfare of the people and the society (lokasamgraha). We therefore see that personal and cosmic wholeness are the obligatory goals of sacrifice in Hinduism[16]. At this point one is struck at the vision of Hinduism in terms of sacrifice which so much coincides to the vision of sacrifice in the Eucharist although the differences cannot be overlooked. What remains to be shown is how the Eucharist as sacrifice differs from the vision of sacrifice in Hinduism, at the same time how it upholds and completes the central desire of that vision, becoming in the process, the source and summit of the Church in India.

The Purusha Sukta is a myth. The idea of God sacrificing Himself for Cosmic creation or Cosmic wholeness is not realised for the Hindu (Indian) consciousness in an Historical context. One may be even tempted to think that such realizations can only be imagined or construed by one’s theocentric or theistic convictions and may be historically impossible. Well the impossible has become possible in Jesus Christ. God became man in Jesus to reconcile the whole world to Himself. The body and blood of Jesus, who is God historically and really, sacrificed on the altar of the earth on the specific hill of Calvary, has restored wholeness to the Cosmos. It was Theos (qeo.j) becoming Anthropos (a;nqrwpoj) to be sacrificed for the wholeness of the World. 

The Hindu desire expressed in the Purusha Sukta, becomes an Historical reality in Jesus Christ. It gets completed in Jesus Christ. The sacrifice of Jesus Christ is not seen as the Cause of creation as one finds the sacrifice of the Purusha in the Purusha Sukta but of Second Creation (a term used by many theologians today), of Restoration and Redemption. This sacrifice, although it accomplished the work of redemption once and for all, always remains as an offer to humanity for its own wholeness. The person who accepts this offer and participates in this sacrifice by eating the body and drinking the blood of Christ regains health and is made whole and redeemed. How is the presence of the Catholic Church looked at today in India? The presence of the Catholic Church is looked at as leaven in the bread of India. The Catholic Church is helping India to move unitedly to the goal of Dev Rajya, or as many Hindus call it, the Ram Rajya, which we Catholics call the Kingdom of God.[17] 

The Eucharist is the source and summit of the Kingdom of God because the Kingdom of God is realized in the Paschal mystery of Jesus Christ. The Paschal mystery is relived at the Eucharist. It is made present fully and really at the Eucharist. Cardinal Martini very well states, “The Eucharist is, … the Kingdom which is to come; it is a synthesis and a making-present of the Kingdom, and its goal is to be incarnated in those who are fed with the Eucharistic bread and wine, and who thus enter into Jesus’ own sentiments and actions”[18]. 
The Kingdom of God is that cosmic wholeness which the Hindu consciousness and for that matter the Indian consciousness seeks. 

The Eucharist is that moment where the personal and cosmic wholeness is realized. One has to look at this realization with the eyes of faith. Without the eyes of faith the Eucharist may seem a simple ritual where the bread and wine are seen as just symbols of the body and blood of Jesus Christ. This is one of the greatest temptations of the Church in the Indian context. The Eucharist is seen just as a memorial meal where people of all faiths can participate and the bread and wine are simply given to the people as food of the celebration. Such a reductive comprehension of the Eucharist means that we have not understood the reality of the Eucharist at all. It could also mean that the Church through its pastors has failed in providing the proper catechesis required to approach the Eucharist with awe, wonder and faith. 

In Ecclesia de Eucharistia, Pope John Paul II says, “At times one encounters an extremely reductive understanding of the Eucharistic mystery. Stripped of its sacrificial meaning, it is celebrated as if it were simply a fraternal banquet” (10). The Eucharist is not just a ritual or a banquet, but “the sacrament of the sacrifice of Christ done once and for all on behalf of all of us” (The Lime Document 8).[19] In this way the Eucharist cannot be fully understood. It is a mystery whose meaning can never be comprehended but could be deepened in different times and contexts. Cardinal Martini says that the “Eucharist defies human understanding and defies our ability to completely capture its meaning. Pope John Paul II in his letter Mane nobiscum Domine,[20] says, “We are constantly tempted to reduce the Eucharist to our own dimensions, while in reality it is we who must open ourselves up to the dimensions of the Mystery” (14). In Ecclesia de Eucharastia 10, he says, “The Eucharist is too great a gift to tolerate ambiguity and depreciation”. All this goes to say that anyone approaching the Eucharist would be denigrating it if he does not approach it with faith, wonder, respect and love for Jesus in his heart. 

After the consecration, the gifts of bread and wine become really and fully Jesus’ body and blood. It is this belief and conviction that procures for us the salvation of the sacrifice of Jesus represented in the Eucharist. It is because of this requirement that the sacrament of baptism, the catechesis leading to the first holy communion and confession, are preparations presupposed before receiving God in holy communion. The Eucharist is the microcosm of the Kingdom of God. It contains the Kingdom of God in its womb. The salvation sought by the world is so to speak contained in the Eucharist because the Eucharist ‘re-presents’ the salvific activity of the Paschal Mystery of Jesus Christ. On the other hand since the presence of the Catholic Church in India is to help it reach the Kingdom of God, the Eucharist ipso facto becomes the source and summit of the Church in India. All the social, educational, medical and pastoral work done in India by the Indian Church is not just labour but a great sacrifice done by the religious, clergy, missionaries and the Christian people. 

This is the daily martyrdom of the Church in India the source of which, is the sacrifice of Christ celebrated in the Eucharist. As Johannes Betz says: “Christ’s sacrifice is not to be understood primarily in terms of ritual sacrifice, but in terms of martyrdom; it is a person’s total offering of self”.[21] The source of this is the Eucharist. At the same time the Indian Church is helping India in its growth towards the Kingdom of God which is already present in the sacrifice of the Eucharist. In this way the Eucharist as sacrifice becomes the source and summit of the Church in India.

In all the preparatory documents of the Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist, especially in the letter of Pope John Paul II, “Mane nobiscum Domine” and his document “Ecclesia de Eucharastia”, one finds great importance given to the sacrificial aspect of the Eucharist. 

The 10th proposition in the Relatio Post Disceptationem[22] makes it explicit that this sacrificial aspect needs to be deepened and its truth taught with greater emphasis. 

The 37th point of the Instrumentum Laboris,[23] makes it clear, that the Eucharist makes present the sacrifice of the Lord without adding to it or multiplying it. Even in the ‘Message’ given after the Synod we find the desire of the Synod to celebrate the Eucharist as a Holy Sacrifice to “announce the salvation of the World” (7).

[24] Finding this theme as important to the Indian context I tried to show how this aspect of the Eucharist fulfils the desire of the Indian psyche for salvation and wholeness both at the personal and the Cosmic level.

[25] In this way the Eucharist gives meaning and mission to the Indian Church because the presence of the Church in India is to offer salvation, which is symbolised in the Kingdom of God, to the people with whom it comes into contact. In this way the Eucharist becomes the source and summit of the Indian Church.

[1] This document was called the “working document” of the synod fathers.
[2] The 50 propositions was a list of various themes that emerged from the discussions to help the Magisterium prepare the final document which is still to be published.
[3] When I say “Indian”, I primarily mean the Hindu religious psyche.
[4] Here ‘salvation’ must be understood not just in an other-worldly way but also in a this-worldly way of health, happiness and prosperity.
[5] For a systematic, in-depth and scholarly account of this aspect of the Last Supper, see, Joachim Jeremias, The Eucharistic words of Jesus (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1964), pp. 218-237.
[6] Goffredo Boselli, “Notizie Eucaristiche Antichità”, in Eucharistia: Enciclopedia dell’Eucaristia, sotto la direzione di Maurice Brouard, (Bologna: EDB, 2004), p. 885.
[7] Ibid., p. 886.
[8] Mary Shaefer, “Notizie Eucaristiche Medioevo”, in Brouard, op.cit., p. 891.
[9] Here again due to the lack of time, we cannot go into the nuances of Luther’s argument against the Eucharist as sacrifice.
[10] André Haquin, “Notizie Eucaristiche Epoca Moderna”, in Brouard, op.cit., p.897. Here mention could be made of the books Thomas Cranmer and Roberto Bellarmino wrote against the Reformers. Cranmer wrote a book, In defence of the true and Catholic doctrine of the sacrifice of the Eucharist, cited in, Brouard, op.cit., p. 897. Bellarmino wrote a book, Disputationes de controversies christianae fidei adversus huius temporis haereticos, cited in, Brouard, op.cit., p.897.
[11] Cited in the English translation of the Encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia by Pope John Paul II (Pauline Publications, 2003), endnotes no. 16, p. 71. This edition will be used for the future references of the Encyclical. Here I would like to offer the reader the Latin original in full: “Una enim eademque est hostia, idem nunc offerens sacerdotum ministerio, qui se ipsum tunc in crude obtulit, sola offerendi ratione diversa”. (DS 1743).
[12] Arthur A. Macdonnell, A Vedic Reader for Students (Madras: Oxford University Press, 1976), p. 195. In Subhash Anand, Hindu Inspiration for Christian Reflection: Towards a Hindu-Christian Theology (Gujarat: GSP, 2004), p. 3.
[13] Cf., Anand, op.cit., p. 3.
[14] This aspect is very well stated and developed in the book of Anand, op.cit., I am very much indebted to this book for these ideas.
[15] Here the word ‘re-presentation’ should not be understood in a Christian way because the sacrifice of the Purusha was not an historical event.
[16] Due to the lack of time we have not gone in the detailed analysis of the concept of sacrifice in Hinduism.
[17] Although both the concepts of Ram Rajya and the Kingdom of God have many similarities, they are symbols that have emerged in different religious and cultural contexts so differences between them exist.
[18] Carlo Maria Cardinal Martini, from a talk given by Cardinal Martini in Rome on February 24, 2005. Translated by Fr. Murray Watson for Catholic Biblical Association Journal, Ontario Canada. I received this talk by email without mention of its source.
[19] In Ibid.,
[20] John Paul II, “Mane nobiscum Domine”, Apostolic letter to the episcopate, clergy and the faithful for the year of the Eucharist Oct. 2004 – Oct 2005 (Pauline Publication: 2005).
[21] Quoted in, J. Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI), “Is the Eucharist a Sacrifice”? Translated by John Drury, Concilium 3/1967, vol. 4, pp. 35-40.
[22] Synodus Episcoporum, XI Coetus Generalis Ordinarius, Eucharistia: Fons et Culmen Vitae et Missionis Ecclesiae, Relatio Post Disceptationem, editiones latina et italica (E Civitate Vaticana, MMV).
[23] Synod of Bishops, XI Ordinary General Assembly, The Eucharist: Source and Summit of the Life and Mission of the Church, Instrumentum Laboris. The English translation is available at the following internet site:
[24] Synodus Episcorum, XI Coetus Generalis Ordinarius, Eucharistia: Fons et Culmen Vitae et Missionis Ecclesiae, Nuntius, English translation (E Civitate Vaticana, 2005), p. 21.
[25] Here the reader could also refer to the 32nd Proposition which states the cosmological dimension of the Eucharist.

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