The History of the Eucharist

For many, the liturgical reforms following the Second Vatican Council was a jarring experience. Even for those who favored them, the changes were so great in some places that it was difficult to reconcile what they were presently doing with what they had been doing. The new was a rupture from the past, and that was either a good thing or a bad thing, depending on one’s perspective.

Even today this perspective prevails. As we’ve become entrenched in our camps, very few have a satisfying perspective for me. Either the Tridentine Mass was the true Mass and the reforms were heretical or the Tridentine Mass was oppressive and the reforms brought us back to true worship. There is no harmony in the story. There is no sense that it was the same Church that promulgated the Tridentine Mass as it was that promulgated Sacrosanctum Concilium (Second Vatican Council liturgical document that offered principles of reform). No, for most people, one is right and the other is wrong.

I struggle with this perspective.

Too often with progress we want to forget the steps and people and decisions that came before us and dismiss people of the past as outdated or backward. They didn’t have the same sensibilities that we do. They weren’t as enlightened as us. Um… duh? Isn’t that the point of progress? We would not be where we are without the journey of those who came before us, and they with the people before them, and so on. What’s often lost in the discussion is that sometimes the people in the past, although outdated (by definition…) today, were progressive and pastoral and faithful in their time too. When we look at the Council of Trent in its context we understand that it’s perspective was both necessary and pastoral.

On the other hand, too often we romanticize the past, look to those who have gone before us as having some undeniable gift that we do not have. Sometimes we look at things that are old and give them tremendous respect and reverence simply because they are old and traditional. But guess what. Even the oldest and most traditional things all started out as new. At some point in every tradition’s life it started as a break from what was traditional before it. It is only over a long period of time when the initial memory is forgotten and new memories are made that something becomes traditional and romanticized and immune to change. As important as the vision for the Church of the Council of Trent was in the 16th century, it would have been seen as ridiculous in the 5th century and wasn’t what the Church needed in the 20th century.

In the history of the Church, a history that has spanned almost two thousands years, both of these perspectives are always at play. As the living and true faith, we as Christians are constantly growing and adapting. As we change, so does the Church and our approach to the world. And as an institution founded on a memory and an ancient identity, we are always trying to hold on to the past, maintaining and conserving what inspired us from the past.

It is with that that I present this week’s Catholicism in Focus, “The History of the Eucharist.” In six minutes, using Henri De Lubac, S.J. as a guide, I try to offer a general overview of the ways in which the Catholic Church’s liturgical life as been in a constant state of changing preservation. We are always growing. We are always trying to hold on to the traditions of the past. It is with this perspective, this overview of the way that certain things change while other things stay the same—that some things that are old are important while others were just mistakes—that the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council may continue to feel jarring for some, but they appear inauthentic to none. What happened in the Church following the council was not a betrayal of tradition but the continuation of the complex, ever-growing, ever-changing life of the Church.

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4 Comments on “The History of the Eucharist

  1. Hello Brother Casey,
    “”The new was a rupture from the past, and that was either a good thing or a bad thing, depending on one’s perspective.”” Depending on one’s perspective!? Isn’t this a typical statement quite nicely reflecting what relativism is all about? The doctrine which Benedict XVI considered as the enemy nr 1?

    Also, you say: “the new (mass) is a rupture from the past”. You are right. A llttle further, you substantiate this by describing how the Church’s history evolves through changes and adapting to modern world. Sure. But wait: we are talking about change not rupture. Looking at the way Church’s history unfolds, how can a rupture be a good thing? Whenever rupture occured, it ended up in crisis, schism and other such joyousness etc… The coming about of the Church’s teaching can be best compared with rainwater painfully slowly filtering through the mountain and ending up in a spring. Such process is incompatible with rupture.

    Further you say “one is right and the other is wrong. I struggle with this perspective”. Well, you are of course free to struggle but let me say this: I have read half a dozen books written by highly qualified scolars explaining in the minutest of detail why and how the tridentine mass has a lot more weight then the Paul VI’s mass and why this new mass is indeed a… rupture. A change not of degree but of nature. Big difference. I have yet to come across a book that replies and explains why the new mass is of similar nature and of similar value as the Tridentine mass. Perhaps you can help me here.

    Further you say and to a certain extend contradict yourself: “the Church following the council was not a betrayal of tradition”. How can a rupture not be a betrayal?

    Greetings.

  2. Hi Emmanuel,

    Thanks for your comment. It appears, however, that you have misinterpreted my article and I suggest that you read it again a little more closely. I am not saying that the liturgical reforms were a rupture from the past. In fact, the whole point of the article is to say that it is not a rupture from the past. I’m saying that, as I started the article, “For many,” it is. I set up that perspective to introduce this video, which argues against it.

    Peace,

    Casey

  3. Before I watch the video, I want to insert my view that nostalgia for a past not experienced, attributing more wisdom to our forebears than to our contemporaries, is akin to the belief that aliens must have introduced technology to planet earth because humans aren’t smart enough. At the same time, we’re not smarter or wiser than our forebears. I don’t remember the Tridentine Mass, though I’ve been told that I must have attended them as a toddler. I’d like to attend the local FSSP Mass some Sunday morning if I get up early enough to make the 40 minute drive, but my faith doesn’t rely on it. The Liturgy of the Eucharist is perpetual, whichever way the priest is facing and in whatever language he prays the prayers. It does make more sense to me that he would face in the same direction as the congregation — I can see how people focus more on the priest than on the Eucharist, even to the point of mimicking the priest’s gestures, and sometimes saying the prayers aloud with him (I hope they don’t suffer the same fate as Korah — bad joke, sorry). A couple weeks ago at Adult RE, Father said people have complained to him when he doesn’t make eye contact during Communion, showing that people who took it too far in the modern, secular direction don’t realize they’re really, seriously, about to partake of the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of our Lord — otherwise they’d be more focused on Him in the Sacrament than on looking for connection with the priest or extraordinary minister. Whether that’s simply a Western thing or a natural progression of the New Mass, I don’t know — probably a bit of both. But where it did divert from the focus on the Sacrament, isn’t the fault of V2 (as Mother Angelica said, “Some *beautiful* documents came from the Council!”), I think it was the people of the era who inserted their preferences, taking advantage of the unfamiliarity of the New Mass. That’s what turned out to be a mess. May God have mercy on their souls and ours.

    • “…but my faith doesn’t rely on it.” Really? Say that again? Wait until you get bored of the new liturgy, i.e., be receptive to the day it may actually not nourish you sufficiently any more.

      Why indeed don’t you try the FSSP Mass? Do get up early in the morning and drive the 40 odd minutes like I am sure you know many, many young parents and their children do… Parents of your age may I add, cfr your quote about the toddler.

      Incidentally, my wife is a pure product of V2. Way back when, she even served mass…. Ahem. During the first year of our mariage, she at least did try out the Tridentine Mass: three Sundays in a row, at the third time she said: “ok, understood, never the Paul VI mass again unless we can’t do otherwise.” You are warned Brother.

      Oh, one more suggestion if I may. Ask one of your brothers to come along with you and let him drive so you can leasurely sit in the back and read aloud the latest book of the formidable Robert Cardinal Sarah on the liturgy.

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