One of the most alarming statistics reported recently in the Catholic Press was that approximately 70 percent of Catholics do not believe or do not know that by the action of the priest during Mass Jesus Christ becomes fully present in the Holy Eucharist. With Us Today argues that this widespread disbelief and misunderstanding is the outgrowth of misleading doctrines that have been circulating among certain theologians for a good part of the twentieth century.
Pope Paul VI was so alarmed by these mistaken theories of the Eucharist that he took the unprecedented step of publishing his Mysterium Fidei (The Mystery of Faith, 1965) while the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council were still sitting. It stands as the only papal encyclical devoted exclusively to defending the Real Presence. Moreover, the New Order of the Mass promulgated by Paul VI can be seen as his attempt to strengthen and renew popular Eucharistic piety, against this backdrop of misinformation.
But the effect of Pope Paul's efforts to date has been, says Fr. Hardon, that "every false opinion about the Holy Eucharist that Pope Paul VI mentioned every one has been amplified and consulted among the faithful." The spread of these falsehoods, argues Fr. Hardon, has done much to bring about the crisis of the Church in the Western World.
We now have the "desacralization of the Mass, the hidden tabernacles, the iconoclasm perpetuated on Catholic churches, the reduction of hundreds of churches to mere social meeting halls and the casual handling of the Sacred Species."
With Us Today: On the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist
Ave Maria University Communications
by Father John A. Hardon, S. J.
Fr. Hardon has often been celebrated as a voice of clarity and truth during the period of unrest and confusion that followed the close of Vatican II. With Us Today continues this tradition of clear and insightful teaching on fundamental Church doctrine. Its 26 meditations spring from Fr. Hardon's insistence that it is not enough to believe the doctrines of the Catholic Faith. To retain them and transmit them we must understand them. For "we believe with the intellect. Either our minds are thoroughly convinced and our conviction keeps growing with increased intelligibility, or the inevitable happens not only will the other virtues be weakened or lost, but faith itself will disappear."
Although the doctrine of the Real Presence in the Eucharist is a mystery, we can nevertheless probe it profitably as far as our human reason, enlightened by Grace, takes us. To this end, With Us Today focuses on three questions on the Eucharist: What do we believe when we believe in the Real Presence? Why did Christ institute the Holy Eucharist as His bodily presence on earth? How are we to put this mystery of faith into practice?
Fr. Hardon opens this book by explaining the content of the Catholic teaching on the Holy Eucharist. He makes the well-known point that the Church sharpened its teaching against a long series of heretic positions on the Eucharist.
The Protestant Revolt of the 16th century marked a high point in the intensity of such heresies; and, curiously, when the Council of Trent met the Protestant challenges to its teaching with systematic precision, popular devotion to the Eucharist spread "on a scale quite unknown in previous centuries."
But the heart of Fr. Hardon's explanation of the Eucharist and of this book stresses the Eucharist as the "Presence Sacrament." In a world seemingly bereft of God, this accent on the Eucharist as Christ's persistent and substantial presence among us is the most enlightening and inspiring insight of the book, and it follows logically from why God became man. He came, not only to redeem mankind by a free offering of Himself as a sacrifice for its redemption, but also to remain Incarnate for all eternity.
The importance of understanding the perennial and indestructible nature of the Incarnation in the Eucharist carries with it, not only great spiritual benefits, but moral and apostolic ones too.
Today, with the dissolution of many of the laws, customs, and manners that had helped men and women to live the virtues, there remains the profound strength that radiates from the Real Presence of Christ. Accordingly, when Pope Paul VI recognized that natural effort alone could not defend modern men and women against the powerful assaults on their faith and their moral life, he urged Catholics in Mysterium Fidei to turn to the adoration of Our Lord in the Blessed Eucharist as their chief source of life and strength on earth.
For Pope John Paul II, the "Presence Sacrament" is an indispensable foundation for the apostolic energy that will bring on the new springtime of Christianity in the next millennium. Like John Paul II, Fr. Hardon refuses to succumb to a pessimistic view of human history.
The same Jesus Christ who by His Gospel turned many citizens of the Roman Empire from pagan idolatry and moral decadence into martyrs and believing Christians is "with us today in a substantial way in the Holy Eucharist."
One cannot resist noting also that Christ Jesus also continues to have His vicar on earth in Rome. "Caesar does not."
With Us Today is a valuable addition to Fr. Hardon's already sizable body of theological writing. It reminds us of what a great gift his life was to the Church at this moment in history. For he remained ever ready to teach with clarity, penetrating intelligence and unflinching faithfulness to the Church and to the Lord whom he served so selflessly to the end.
Stephen Smith. "New book adds to Fr. Hardon's beloved legacy." Credo (July 2, 2001).
Credo is an independent Catholic weekly newspaper based in Ann Arbor, Michigan..
Dominic A. Aquila is Vice President of Academic Affairs at the University of St. Thomas in Houston Texas. Dr. Aquila is on the Advisory Board of the Catholic Education Resource Center.Copyright © 2001 Credo
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