Friday, March 24, 2006

Jews and the Eucharist: Cardinal Ratzinger and a Lenten Retreat

Israel concelebrated the Eucharist with Jesus, in that they shared in the sufferings of the Servant of God.
In the book Journey towards Easter, a collection of retreat talks then-Cardinal Ratzinger gave in the Vatican in the presence of Pope John Paul II during the Lenten season of 1983, there is a chapter well worth reading and especially so during this time of the liturgical year. "Chapter 4: The Paschal Mystery." It is divided into four sections:

1. Holy Thursday
2. The Washing of the Feet
3. The Connection between the Last Supper, the Cross and the Resurrection
4. Risen on the Third Day.

I just finished the third section. There are some powerful and provocative thoughts here. Discussing the relation and root of the Songs of the Servant of God to understanding Jesus' death, Ratzinger writes:

He made of his death an act of prayer, an act of adoration. ... [H]e cried "with a loud voice" the opening words of Psalm 21, the great Psalm of the just man suffering and set free: "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?"

... [T]his dying cry of Jesus was the messianic prayer of the great Psalm of Israel's suffering and hope, which concludes with the vision of the poor satisfied and all the ends of the earth returning to the Lord. ... [T]he whole story of the passion is shot through with the threads of this Psalm, weaving in and out continually in an interchange between words and reality. ... It thus becomes clear that Jesus is the true subject of this Psalm ....

... [W]hat took place at the Last Supper is an anticipation of the death, the transformation of the death into an act of love. ...

The death without the Supper would be empty, without meaning; the Supper without the actual realisation of the death it anticipated would be a gesture without reality. Supper and Cross together ... The Eucharist does not spring from the Supper alone; it springs from this oneness of Supper and Cross ....

Therefore the Eucharist is not simply Supper .... The Eucharist is the presence of Christ's Sacrifice, ... it is Christ distributing himself under the figure of bread and wine.

... "given for you", "poured out for many for the remission of sins". These words are found in the Songs of the Servant of God handed down to us in the book of the prophet Isaiah. These Songs presuppose the exilic period: Israel no longer has its Temple, the only legitimate place in which to adore God. So it seems exiled from God also--forlorn in the desert. No longer can sacrifices or expiation and praise be offered. The inevitable question arises: how can there now exist any relationship with God, on which depends the salvation of the people and of the world? In this passion, in this suffering of a life lived away from their homeland, a life far from their own culture, Israel underwent a new experience: the solemn praises of God could no longer be celebrated. The only possibility for drawing near to God was suffering for God. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, the Prophets understood that the suffering of believing Israel was the true sacrifice, the new liturgy, and that in this true liturgy Israel represented the world before the face of God. ... The hope found in their passion was that the suffering people were an anticipation of the true servant of God, and so, as 'sacramentum futuri' [a sacrament of things to come] , shared in his grace. By applying to the Last Supper these words about the Servant of God, Jesus says: I am this Servant of God. My passion and death are that definitive liturgy, that glorification of God which is the light and salvation of the world.

Here is where one experiences the preceding as a crescendo of sorts as Ratzinger builds up to then deliver the powerful and--to some or perhaps even to many--provocative lines about the people of Israel and their relation to the sacrifice of Christ in the Eucharist:

Here we touch upon an important point for the celebration of the Eucharist. Israel concelebrated the Eucharist with Jesus, in that they shared in the sufferings of the Servant of God. To participate in the Eucharist, to communicate with the body and blood of Christ, demands the liturgy of our life, a sharing in the passion of the Servant of God. In this participation our sufferings become 'sacrifice' and so we can complete "in [our] flesh what is lacking in Christ's affliction" (Col 1, 24).

--Journey towards Easter, pp. 103-107. Emphases added.


Carl E. Olson said...

Great stuff! Thanks for posting it. The quotes reminds me of several similar comments that Cardinal Ratzinger made in his excellent little book, Many Religions, One Covenant (Ignatius, 1999). Having read that book, I had to marvel at how many in the media, in the wake of B16's election, wondered if the new pontiff was going to be open to dialogue with Jews. Uh, yeah.

Michael Barber said...

For an even more in depth analysis at this read Scott Hahn's article in "Reading Luke," a series of articles edited by C. Bartholomew. In that article Hahn looks at Luke 22, where Jesus establishes the Eucharist and tells the twelve apostles that they will sit at table and judge the twelve tribes of Israel. It's an abosutely amazing article. The rest of the book is good too.

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