Commentary on "Ecclesia de Eucharistia"
Fr. Peter R. Scott
On Holy Thursday last, the Holy Father issued his much-discussed encyclical on the Holy Eucharist, Ecclesia de Eucharistia. Several reminders of Catholic dogma have endeared this document to conservative-minded Catholics, just as the reminder on the devotion to Our Lady endeared the Apostolic Letter on the Rosary to many Catholics, despite its radical modernism. It is encouraging to hear once more of the doctrine of the Council of Trent that "the Eucharist is a sacrifice in the strict sense" (§13), one with the sacrifice of the Cross (§12), to hear once more proclaimed the Real Presence, "a substantial presence whereby Christ, the God-man, is wholly and entirely present" (§15), to read the epithet "perennially valid" applied to the doctrine of transubstantiation (§15), to see condemned the reduction of the Eucharist to a "fraternal banquet, stripped of its sacrificial meaning" (§10), as also the confusion between the ministerial priesthood and that of the faithful (§29), and the abandonment of Eucharistic adoration (§10), as well as a variety of abuses, such as the reception of Holy Communion by those in the state of mortal sin (§§36, 37). What Catholic could not be delighted with the reaffirmation of such Catholic doctrines and discipline? We even hear the Real Presence once more proclaimed "a substantial presence whereby Christ, the God-man, is wholly and entirely present" (§ 15)! Unfortunately, the very same sentence, in typical modernist fashion, undermines the uniqueness of the very Real Presence itself by stating that it "is called 'real' not as a way of excluding all other types of presence as if they were 'not real.'"
However, this encyclical is not likely to "banish the dark clouds of unacceptable doctrine and practice" (§10), any more than the Pope's letter on the Rosary was effective in promoting the pious recitation of the Rosary. The reason for this is these traditional affirmations are not intended in any way to contradict the opposing affirmations of Vatican II nor of the Novus Ordo Missae which define the Mass as a "memorial" and a "banquet." ...Ecclesia de Eucharistia is a calculated attempt to reiterate certain of the basic teachings of the Faith, but in such a way as to contradict none of those of the New Theology. This is seen by the affirmations contained elsewhere in the encyclical, but most clearly by its glaring omissions.
Theology of the Paschal Mystery
From the very outset of the encyclical (§3) the Pope declares the centrality of the new theology of the Paschal Mystery, defining his whole subject matter in terms of it: "The Eucharist, which is in an outstanding way the sacrament of the paschal mystery...." Allow me to summarize this substitution of the paschal mystery for the Redemption, as taught by Vatican II, the New Mass, the 1992 Catechism of the Catholic Church, and every single one of Pope John Paul II's encyclicals, and which theory is also at the basis of his feverish ecumenism. According to this theory, the Redemption is simply the full manifestation of God's infinite love and mercy by the Passion and Resurrection, but mainly by the Resurrection. The Cross is thus simply "the sign of God's universal love" (Nostra Aetate §4). Sin is not an injustice, nor is there any debt of punishment owed for it, nor must we do penance for it, nor is the Cross an act of satisfaction, nor consequently is the Mass a propitiatory sacrifice. The Eucharist is simply a manifestation of God's goodness, a "mystery of light" (§62) as the Pope is proud to call it.
The three aspects of the Eucharist of which the encyclical speaks (cf. §61), namely that it is a sacrifice, that it is a Real Presence (though said to be but one of many "real presences"), and that it is a banquet, are all perfectly compatible with this theology of the Paschal Mystery. For the "sacrificial dimension" spoken of here is simply the offering up of something (cf. §56) and Real Presence is simply "a presence in the fullest sense" (§15). Regarding the third aspect, it is the "true banquet" which is essential to the "Eucharistic sacrifice," for it is to it that it "is intrinsically directed" (§16). Entirely different is the traditional teaching on this third point, reiterated by Pope Pius XII in Mediator Dei (§115), according to which the reception of Holy Communion is necessary to the integrity or completeness of the Mass, but is not essential to the sacrificial oblation itself.
Not a Propitiatory Sacrifice
Hence, it is not by accident that this encyclical which quotes the famous Chapter 2 of Session XXII of the Council of Trent (§16, Dz. 940) and, therefore, must consequently be aware of its so-perfect definition of the nature of the Mass, omits completely the essential part of the definition, namely that it is a propitiatory sacrifice. The entire §16 is reprinted here with what is omitted in Ecclesia de Eucharistia italicized and bold-faced:
And since in this divine sacrifice, which is celebrated in the Mass, that same Christ is contained and immolated in an unbloody manner, who on the altar of the Cross "once offered Himself" in a bloody manner (Heb. 9:27), the holy Synod teaches that this is truly propitiatory [can. 3], and has this effect, that if contrite and penitent we approach God with a sincere heart and right faith, with fear and reverence, "we obtain mercy and find grace in seasonable aid" (Heb. 4:16). For appeased by the oblation, the Lord, granting the grace and gift of penitence, pardons crimes and even great sins. For, it is one and the same Victim, the same one now offering by the ministry of the priests as He who then offered Himself on the Cross, the manner of offering alone being different. The fruits of that oblation (bloody, that is) are received most abundantly through the unbloody one; so far is the latter from being derogatory in any way to Him [can. 4], Therefore, it is offered rightly according to the tradition of the apostles [can. 3], not only for the sins of the faithful living, for their punishments and other necessities, but also for the dead in Christ not yet fully purged.
Although the encyclical does not directly fall under the condemnation of the accompanying canon (i.e., canon 3 as referenced above, under "Canons on the Most Holy Sacrifice of the Mass," Sess. XXII), the deliberate silence as to its crucial teaching can only be interpreted as an implicit denial of what it states, which is as follows:
If anyone says that the sacrifice of the Mass is only one of praise and thanksgiving, or that is a mere commemoration of the sacrifice consummated on the Cross, but not one of propitiation; or that it is of profit to him alone who receives; or that it ought not to be offered for the living and the dead, for sins, punishments, satisfactions, and other necessities: let him be anathema. (Canon 3)
This omission of all reference to what makes the sacrifice of the Mass a true sacrifice, namely that is offered in propitiation for sins, is alone sufficient to damn this document as modernist.
Popes Leo XIII and Pius XII
I believe that the gravity of this omission is best illustrated by a comparison with another encyclical, this one of a century ago, mentioned by Pope John Paul II in Ecclesia de Eucharistia (§9) and with which he must be presumed to be familiar. It is Pope Leo XIII's encyclical of May 28, 1902, on the Most Holy Eucharist, which states that it is precisely because it is "a perpetual memorial of His passion" that it proclaims the "necessity of a salutary self-chastisement," that it profits, not mankind, but the members of the Communion of the Saints, "for the purpose of expiating the sins of those yet detained in the purgatorial fire or who are yet exiles here on earth." He does not write exclusively of the propitiatory effect but it is certainly uppermost in his mind. This is also very well explained by Pope Pius XII in his encyclical on the liturgy, Mediator Dei (1947), in which he condemns those who "have gone so far as to want to remove from the churches images of the Divine Redeemer suffering on the cross" (§163)–that is the now commonplace replacement of the Crucifix with the Risen Christ–with the following explanation: "Since His bitter sufferings constitute the principal mystery of our Redemption, it is only fitting that the Catholic Faith should give it the greatest prominence" (§164). The pushing aside of the primary role of the Passion necessarily accompanies the exclusion of the propitiatory effect, in the minds of the modernists.
Leo XIII concludes by observing the "flood of wickedness" of the times and that consequently
a great part of the human race seems to be calling down upon itself the anger of heaven:
Here then is a motive whereby the faithful may be stirred to a devout and earnest endeavor to appease God the avenger of sin, and to win from Him the help which is so needful in these calamitous times. And they should see that such blessings are to be sought principally by means of this Sacrifice. For it is only in virtue of the death which Christ suffered that man can satisfy, and that most abundantly, the demands of God's justice, and can obtain the plenteous gifts of His clemency. And Christ has willed that the whole virtue of His death, alike for expiation and impetration, should abide in the Eucharist, which is no mere empty commemoration thereof, but a true and wonderful, though bloodless and mystical renewal of it. (Mirae Caritatis)
Such inspiring words that manifest the grandeur of our Faith! Would that Pope John Paul could lift himself up to such a supernatural vision!
The Advance From a "Memorial" to Ecumenism
Another sign of Paschal Mystery theology is that the memorial aspect of the Mass takes priority over the sacrificial aspect. It is said to be a sacrifice because it is first of all a memorial of the Passion and Resurrection, and not, to the contrary, a memorial because it is a sacrifice. This, however, is precisely the emphasis of this encyclical, for example in §57. It is also contained in the positive approbation of the New Mass's acclamation of the resurrection and the second coming after the consecration, in which the "Eucharistic Sacrifice makes present" "the mystery of the Resurrection" no less than it makes present "the mystery of the Savior's passion and death" (§14). The placing of the Resurrection on the same level as the Passion is to effectively treat the Eucharist as principally a commemoration, since the Resurrection is manifestly not a part of the true propitiatory sacrifice.
Other manifestations of the Paschal Mystery theology can be seen in the reiteration of Vatican II's modernist definition (Lumen Gentium] of the Church as "a sacrament for humanity, a sign and instrument of the salvation achieved by Christ...for the redemption of all" (§22). This is a reinterpretation of the Church as a visible sign, making Christ present to all mankind. It is this which is responsible for the Holy Father's "enthusiasm of the new evangelization" (§6), which has as its purpose to "recognize Him [Christ] wherever He manifests himself, in His many forms of presence" (ibid.), which in turn leads to the "cosmic character" of the Eucharist, for it "is always in some way celebrated on the altar of the world....It embraces and permeates all creation" (§8). This naturalism, or confusion between the natural and supernatural orders, is but the consequence of reducing the Church to a making present of Christ, and the Eucharist to a making present of the Church. Hence the emphasis on the function of the Eucharist in the building of the Church, namely that it "creates human community," for it is by the Eucharist that "the Church comes to be ever more profoundly 'in Christ in the nature of a sacrament, that is, a sign and instrument of...the unity of the whole human race'" (§24). There is a radical confusion here between the supernatural unity of the Faith which is a mark of the Roman Catholic Church, and the democratic, egalitarian, horizontal, purely natural unity–better called "solidarity" (§20)–which, masquerading as the supernatural unity of the Church, substitutes for it a purely natural "communion of mankind with Christ" (§22).
Furthermore, reiterating the promotion of Ecumenism contained in the Pope's 1995 encyclical on the subject, this encyclical points out "the relationship of the Eucharist to ecumenical activity" (§43). One might wonder what this means, since concelebration with non-Catholics, without "the attainment of full communion" is not considered licit (§§44, 45). However, this is immediately contradicted by the positive promotion of administering "the sacraments of the Eucharist, Penance, and the Anointing of the Sick to Christians who are not in full communion with the Catholic Church" (§46), and likewise receiving them from non-Catholic ministers, in accordance with the scandalous Canon 844 of the 1983 Code of Canon Law. This practice, which practically denies the one true Faith and that the Catholic Church is the one true Church outside of which there is no salvation, is based upon "the concept of an 'ecclesiology of communion,' the central and fundamental idea of the documents of the Second Vatican Council," as the Pope himself says in §34. This means that there are considered to be varying degrees of communion, from partial to full, in which members of other religious communities share.
Other examples of the Paschal Mystery's rethinking of the Redemption can be found throughout the encyclical, such as the refusal to condemn Protestant churches that do not have Holy Orders but in an anodyne way calling them "Ecclesial communities...that have not preserved the genuine and total reality of the Eucharistic mystery" (§30). What part of the "Eucharistic mystery" have they preserved if they deny the Real Presence, Transubstantiation, its sacrificial nature, etc.? Likewise for the active promotion of inculturation (§51).
Consequently, there can be no doubt that this encyclical, despite its initial appearances to the contrary, is in fact entirely in the line of the post-Conciliar revolution, entirely in favor of the New Mass, and entirely a denial of the propitiatory nature of the true sacrifice of the Mass, and that consequently it will only add to the confusion, and in no way stop the abuses, nor dissipate the "shadows" that the Pope himself admits (§10). The proof of this is the absence of any concrete measure to promote the true Mass or even simply to stop the abuses in the New Mass.
Let us not be deceived by wishful thinking. Rome continues to walk the tightrope performing a balancing act between the Faith and modernism, sometimes leaning more to one side and sometimes more to the other, but always attempting to compromise opposites, continuing to live a contradiction, neither abandoning the Church's teachings nor fully embracing them. Hence the confusion that we have all to address. Let our response be supernatural. Let us make the resolution to make our Holy Communions communions of reparation, uniting ourselves to the infinite value of expiation found in the Holy Eucharist. Let us adore the Blessed Sacrament and celebrate its proper feasts "for the purpose of making reparation for the blasphemies and insults of which it is the object" (Pope Leo XIII, Mirae Caritatis).
Fr. Peter R. Scott, a native of Australia, was ordained for the Society of Saint Pius X at Ecône in 1988. He was formerly District Superior of the United States, and is now Rector of the Society's Holy Cross Seminary in Goulburn, Australia.