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The Eucharist: A Mystery to be Celebrated
Full Participation in the Liturgical Action
Mark E. Wedig  

This is the second of two articles on Part II of Pope Benedict XVI's post-synodal apostolic exhortation, Sacramentum Caritatis, "The Eucharist: A Mystery to be Celebrated." The first article focused on the Pope's examination of the liturgy as action. This article concentrates on Pope Benedict's explanation of full participation in the liturgical action. Both articles show the Pope's comprehensive commitment and dedication to the principles of liturgical reform as expressed by the Second Vatican Council's Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy and the decades of worldwide liturgical reform following the Council.

If one were to try to encapsulate the meaning of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy to a single theme, it would have to be the ecclesial assembly's comprehensive realization of full, conscious, and active participation in the Church's liturgy. Moving the faithful to understand and act on their right and duty to participate in the mystery of the Church's liturgy can be seen as the core aim and purpose of the liturgical reform ushered in over the last forty-plus years since the Second Vatican Council. By nature of the importance of this foundational purpose of the Constitution and its consequent reform, the theme of participation has been highly interpreted and even debated during the last four decades. Pope Benedict XVI begins his section on participation by clarifying what he first understands as authentic participation.

Actual Participation
For Pope Benedict, eucharistic participation necessitates a depth of understanding. In SC, 52, the Pontiff emphasizes that participation is more than "mere external activity" and demands a full awareness of the sacred action and a deep consideration of the central role it must play in the daily lives of the faithful. In other words, the Eucharist plays a fundamental role in mediating the vocation of the Christian whereby the faithful are full and essential participants in the life of the Church. The exhortation to participate requires that the faithful understand the meaning and purpose of their baptismal priesthood and how their priestly anointing renders them as ministers of the Church's word and sacrament.

SC, 53, accentuates the priesthood of the faithful and its relationship to the liturgical life of the Church. The bedrock of our Christian vocation is our common priesthood. All ministry flows from the priesthood of the baptized. This fundamental ecclesiological concept is what supports the foundational liturgical principle of full, conscious, and active participation in the liturgy. It points to the place from which all liturgical ministries emanate.

And yet Benedict XVI emphasizes that the pivotal place that the baptismal priesthood plays in the Church does not militate against understanding and appreciating the ordering of liturgical ministry and, therefore, the purpose and place of the Church's hierarchical roles in eucharistic celebration. Key to this is the Church's teaching that every celebration of the Eucharist is led by the local Ordinary either in person or with the help of the Bishop's presbyters. The entire local Church gathers for every eucharistic celebration throughout the diocese around the central presidential role of the local bishop. The presbyters stand in for the Bishop as the presider of Eucharist in each local Church setting. Often Catholics do not understand such ordering basic to the liturgy. Moreover, the Pope emphasizes that presidential ministry is singular in its scope in that the bishop or priest presides over the whole eucharistic liturgy. The deacon and trained lay ministers of liturgical service assist the presider.

It is worth taking a short diversion here to give some background to the liturgical theology re-established after the Second Vatican Council that strongly stresses the ordering of the liturgical presidential ministry centered on the Bishop's ministry and all that flows from that ordering. The Second Vatican Council returned the Church to the ancient practice of the Bishop's functioning as the pastor of the local Church and the diocese as the centerpiece of the local Church's liturgical life. This was brought to even greater light in Pope Paul VI's 1972 Motu Proprio Ministeria Quaedam, with his suppression of "minor orders" and the establishment of lay liturgical ministries (David N. Power, Gifts that Differ: Lay Ministries Established and Unestablished, Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1992). Here, Paul VI re-established the practice that not only the presbyter but deacon and lay liturgical ministers assist with and share in the one presidential ministry of the Bishop.

SC, 54, relates active participation to inculturation. Adapting, and even creatively assimilating the liturgy to a local culture, is necessary for the local community's true involvement in the Church's ritual and symbolic life. If the Roman liturgy cannot speak to culture and vice versa, then the Church's continual incarnation is circumvented. Nevertheless, Benedict XVI warns that certain abuses have occurred in attempting to inculturate the liturgy. He admonishes the local Churches to follow the directives as regards inculturation given by the Holy See. He draws a direct line from the principles for liturgical inculturation established by the Second Vatican Council through the General Instruction of the Roman Missal and John Paul II's Fourth Instruction and Post- Synodal Exhortation on inculturation (John Paul II, Ecclesia in Africa, Ecclesia in America, Ecclesia in Asia, Ecclesisa in Oceania and Ecclesia in Europa).

Active participation in the Eucharist is dependent upon a developed interiority in the life of the members of the assembly. The eucharistic liturgy will not be an abounding source for Christian life if the faithful are not disposed to its riches. SC, 55, underscores that an inner disposition to the Eucharist can be fostered and cultivated by silence before the liturgy commences, the discipline of fasting, and the practice of penance. The Pontiff highlights that approaching the altar to receive Communion marks a complete participation. Where it is not possible for the faithful to receive Communion, Pope Benedict emphasizes a teaching by John Paul II whereby one can cultivate a desire for full communion through the practice of spiritual communion.

In SC, 56, Benedict addresses the controversial subject of liturgical participation or the lack of it among Christians who are members of ecclesial communities not in full communion with the Catholic Church. First of all, Benedict recognizes the symbolic dissonance that is cast by the inability to communicate between churches, because the sacrament of the Eucharist is to symbolize unity, not disunity. Christians who cannot share the Eucharist are signs of the divisions that separate us. Nevertheless, the Pope stresses the correlation between eucharistic communion and ecclesial communion, and that it does not make sense to share the Eucharist if there remains the sober reality of ecclesial division. The Pope recognizes, however, that individual non-Catholic Christians can be admitted to the Eucharist, the sacrament of Penance, and the Anointing of the Sick when exceptional circumstances permit participation. Canons and Church teaching make exception in cases where the ministry deems it right and proper for that individual's eternal salvation.

In the global and technologically savvy world, the Church is constantly challenged by questions concerning ecclesial and sacramental participation through telephonic means. In a world where access to information is readily available on the Internet and through other electronic media, some would defend ecclesial participation exclusively through those means. For these communities, as long as the word of God is disseminated to individuals, the task of the Church is complete. Our Catholic sacramental sensibilities, however, militate against such thinking. In SC, 57, Benedict XVI says, "Visual images can represent reality, but they do not actually reproduce it." Moreover, the Church fully realized necessitates a living assembly. No other means can substitute for the Church gathered. That is not to say that the telephonic media cannot complement the work of the gathered assembly, especially by providing access to the liturgy for those who cannot attend. The televised Mass for the elderly and the sick provides an alternative and exceptional means for providing a pastoral need.

In SC, 58, Benedict XVI extends the subject of providing spiritual assistance beyond the regularly gathered assembly by admonishing the entire Church community to embrace its responsibility to care for those who are sick and for those who are disabled. It is not a matter of some specialized or auxiliary ministries in the Church to provide access to these populations that, in the past, too often have been rendered invisible to the gathered assembly. The local Church must recognize its incompleteness without them. Especially the subject of those with physical and developmental disabilities warrants consideration in new ways (Jennie Weiss Block, Copious Hosting: A Theology of Access for People with Disabilities, New York: Continuum, 2002). Full, conscious, and active participation of the assembly in the eucharistic liturgy must also look to the culture of disability to broaden the notion of access in contributing to the assembly's self-identity. Especially by first engendering sensitivity to the inhospitable barriers and obstacles that we have created by the nature of our inaccessible buildings and liturgies, we will initiate new ways of conceptualizing eucharistic participation.

Spiritual care for the imprisoned, addressed in SC, 59, clearly identifies prisoners as part of the ecclesial community who make up the eucharistic assembly of each diocese. Every local Church needs to ensure access to Communion and participation to the imprisoned.

With the economic and political flows of the global world, and new migrations of peoples, especially to the Northern Hemisphere, there is the need for ecclesial communities to welcome the stranger as an essential part of their Christian identity. SC, 60, underlines that Roman Catholics must accommodate the ritual traditions of Eastern Rite Catholics and other ritual traditions specific to immigrants as an important part of the ministry of hospitality.

For special and often rare occasions, the local Church must gather great numbers of the faithful for eucharistic celebrations where the assembly is far larger than usual and therefore cumbersome and even awkward for engendering authentic participation. SC, 61, stresses that for these occasions, there remains the need for planning and orderliness, especially for the proper coordination of the concelebrating presbyterate.

SC, 62, takes up the Latin language as a feature for fostering authentic participation especially when there are large international gatherings of the faithful. With the exception of the readings, homily, and the Prayer of the Faithful, the use of Latin, especially for commonly recited prayers and the use of Gregorian chant for music selection, help to express the universality of the Church for liturgies with a diverse representation of cultures and linguistic groups.

Benedict XVI's last paragraph (63) in the section on actual participation speaks to small groups that gather to celebrate the Eucharist. He focuses on the reason and purpose of such gatherings, which is to foster fruitful participation and complement the work of the entire assembly. Small gatherings that celebrate the Eucharist should never splinter or fragment the life of the local Church but should serve to bolster the overall pastoral life of the Diocese.

Interior Participation in the Celebration
SC, 64 and 65, emphasize how conscious, active, and fruitful participation in the Eucharist is both needed and cultivated by a rich interior appreciation of the sacrament through both mystagogy and reverence. The first of these two paragraphs addresses mystagogical catechesis, delineating the particulars of a liturgical methodology that arises out of the Church's ancient tradition yet remains relevant to contemporary sacramental formation. Basic to this aspect of Benedict's teaching on a mystagogy of the Eucharist is that fruitful participation necessitates education and formation and that these two need to happen in a certain way. Therefore, mystagogy involves a particular process and must always respect three elements.

First, mystagogy interprets the rites in the light of the events of our salvation. As unpopular as it might be to modern historicalcritical sensibilities, the Christian Church, from its beginning, has always interpreted Jesus' life and the Paschal Mystery, in particular, in relation to the Old Testament. In other words, the Hebrew scriptures were seen as foreshadowing the salvific events of Jesus Christ. Second, the central concern of mystagogy is presenting the meaning of the signs that the ritual embodies. Catechesis should increase sensitivity to the arrangement of symbols in the liturgy and help the faithful enter into the rich and meaningful world that the Church's rituals offer. Third, mystagogy should bring to light the significance of the rites for the Christian life as they transform human affective, intellectual, and moral sensibilities. The multi-dimensional richness of the rites provides new and hopeful ways for people to appreciate how they are included in God's self-offer of grace.

SC, 65, approaches the issue of interiority fostered by reverence for the Eucharist. Different cultures convey unique gestures, postures, and other ritual decorum that embody the respect and veneration for the divine. Human beings participate uniquely through such expression.

Adoration and Eucharistic Devotion
In the history of Christian worship, when the prayer generated by both the gathered Sunday assembly and the shrine are experienced as complementary actions, a richer liturgical spirituality is exhibited among the faithful (Mark Wedig, "Recovering the Concilium Sanctorum: A Contemporary Ecclesiology Inclusive of the Communion of the Saints," Liturgical Ministry 12 [Winter 2003]:1- 8). More specifically, when Christians are able to make a direct connection between the eucharistic celebration and eucharistic adoration, the more abundant is their participation in the ritual life of the Church. In SC, 66, Benedict XVI emphasizes the intrinsic relationship between celebration and adoration in order to speak to the dimension of meaningful participation that integrates the action of the eucharistic assembly with its devotion at the shrine. Quoting Saint Augustine, the Pope illustrates this eucharistic connection in that "no one eats that flesh without adoring it; we should sin were we not to adore it." Such personal encounter deepens the social mission embodied by the Eucharist that helps humanity to overcome its failure to be in communion both with God and other human beings.

SC, 67, recommends the practice and discipline of eucharistic adoration as both individual and communal action. Christians often have found refuge and solace from a violent world by their devotion to the reserved Eucharist. The retrieval of spiritualities that connect the reserved Eucharist to social action and mission help the faithful to experience the power of sign and symbol in a world that suffers from a lack of religious imagination. Pastoral formation needs to encourage the practice of eucharistic adoration, so that these connections can be made.

Eucharistic devotion has taken on various inculturations throughout the history of the Catholic Church. The great Corpus Christi processions that gathered the faithful in the streets of urban Europe, Latin America, and elsewhere united the Church to greater civic participation. In SC, 68, the Pope advocates the retrieval of the public rituals that arose from eucharistic devotion, uniting the faithful in prayer beyond the boundaries of their local parish.

The last paragraph of this section on participation, SC 69, takes up the location of the tabernacle in order to emphasize the importance of the reserved Eucharist as readily conspicuous to all who enter the church building. Benedict XVI stresses that the Synod of Bishops wanted to ensure that the reserved sacrament remains close to the sanctuary, and in those cases where there is no Blessed Sacrament chapel, that the tabernacle can be placed in the sanctuary on a high altar no longer in use. The tabernacle should not interfere with the position of the chair and must lend dignity to its placing. It is noted that the provisions concerning the tabernacle in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal need to be respected. For instance, the GIRM emphasizes that final judgment belongs to the local Ordinary.

This article has addressed that part of Sacramentum Caritatis that emphasizes the meaning of full, conscious, and active participation in the eucharistic celebration. Benedict XVI and the Synod of Bishops carry forth the theology of the liturgy articulated by the Second Vatican Council and the decades of reform that followed the Council. In several cases, Benedict's post-apostolic exhortation tries to correct interpretations of the Council's teachings and liturgical practices erroneously conceived, but throughout this document the liturgical reflection and practice of the last forty-plus years of liturgical reform in the Catholic Church is comprehensively emphasized and respected.

Questions for Reflection
1. How does a local community's full, conscious, and active participation in the Eucharist depend on its understanding of the priesthood of the baptized? Give concrete examples of this, for good and for bad, in your parish community.

2. Why does the Second Vatican Council restore the local Bishop's central place in the liturgical life of the diocese? Why do all other liturgical ministers assist in the ministry of the Bishop?

3. Sacramentum Caritatis relates liturgical incultuation and participation. Give examples of the success of this in your local setting and explain why it helped participation. Give examples of the failure to inculturate the liturgy in your local setting and explain that lack of success.

4. Pope Benedict XVI says, "Visual images can represent reality, but they do not actually reproduce it." Explain what he means by this in relationship to telephonic representations of the liturgy and why the Church necessitates a living assembly for liturgy.

5. What does Sacramentum Caritatis mean by mystagogy? Why is this ancient approach to Christian education and formation being suggested as the appropriate means for contemporary catechesis? Is mystagogy being appropriated in your parish setting?

6. It is stated in Wedig's commentary that "In the history of Christian worship when the prayer generated by both the gathered Sunday assembly and the shrine are experienced as complementary actions, a richer liturgical spirituality is exhibited among the faithful." Why is the Church better served by both Sunday assembly and shrine? Give concrete examples of both.

Mark E. Wedig, OP,
is chair and associate professor of liturgical theology in the Department of Theology and Philosophy and associate dean for Graduate Studies in the School of Arts and Sciences at Barry University.

This is the fourth in a series of six articles reflecting on the apostolic exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis. Those using the study guide may find it helpful to read the document, which can be found online at the Vatican's web site, www.Vatican.va.

Part I: Reflecting on God's Action in the Eucharist
Part II: Each Sacrament Connects to the Eucharist
Part III: The Liturgy as Communal Ritual Action
Part IV: The Eucharist: A Mystery to be Celebrated
Part V: The Eucharist Changes the World: Effects on the Person
Part VI: The Eucharist Changes the World: Effects on Society and Culture

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