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Posted March 8, 2005

Book: Sacrament of Unity
Author: Walter Cardinal Kasper
A Herder & Herder Book, The Crossroad Publishing Company, NY, pp.184

An Excerpt from the Introduction:

The world in which we live is not a place of unshattered calm. The reality in which we live is characterized by conflicts, where unity is impaired and broken, and this reality cries out for healing and reconciliation.

The biblical texts emphasize the connection between Eucharist and unity, Eucharist and church. The fact that fidelity to the truth makes it impossible in today’s situation for all Christians to meet around the one table of the Lord and take part in the one Supper of the Lord is a deep wound inflicted on the Body of the Lord. Ultimately, it is scandalous.

On the feast of Corpus Christi in 2004, Pope John Paul II announced that a Eucharistic Year, which will have the Eucharist as its theme, would be held, beginning with the Eucharist World Congress in Mexico City in October 2004 and ending with the World Synod of Bishops in October 2005.

The publication of this book, at the very beginning of the Eucharistic Year, is meant as an initial theological and pastoral aid. We shall explore the topic that the pope has proposed for the Eucharistic Year: the essential connection between Eucharist and church, both in the personal life of the individual Christian and in the life of the church as a whole.

I begin with an essay on the significance of the Eucharist for the worshiping life of parishes; this is based on my experiences as bishop of the diocese of Rottenburg-Stuttgart and takes up the open questions with which we are confronted at the present time.

The second and third chapters are biblically orientated reflections on essential aspect of the Eucharist. The fourth chapter is based on an address delivered at the National Catholic Assembly (“Katholikentag”) in Ulm in 2004 and situates the ecumenical aspects of the Eucharist in the broader context of an “ecumenism of life.” Eucmenically speaking, we are at an intermediary stage, in a period of transition. Happily, we have reached a number of milestones along our way; but we have not yet reached our goal. Ecumenism is a process whereby life grows. On this path of growing and maturing, many intermediary steps are required. These are meant to lead finally to fellowship in the Eucharist — the sacrament of unity.

The fifth and sixth chapters in this book — an essay reflecting at a fundamental theological level on the wealth of perspectives of the Eucharist and my address at the Eucharistic Congress in October 2004 — seek to help the reader grasp more profoundly the theological issues involved here.

The pope sees the Eucharistic Year as lying at the very heart of the pastoral perspectives that he formulated on the threshold of the third millennium in his apostolic letter Novo millennio ineunte (2001): “To know Christ!” and “To start afresh from Christ!” There is a profound and inherent link between this program and the Eucharist, since the latter is the most concentrated form of Christ’s presence among us.

As the encyclical Ecclesia de eucharistia (2003) has reminded us anew, the Eucharist is the source, the center, and the summit both of the Christian’s life and of the life of the church – and hence also of the pastoral work that the church carries out. In the church’s mission, her task is always to become in a convincing manner what she already is, in terms of her essential nature: as it were a “sacrament,” that is, a sign and instrument of unity and of peace in the world. The Eucharist is the sacrament of unity.

I am happy to dedicate this book to the many parish communities of the diocese of Rottenburg-Stuttgart with whom I was privileged to celebrate the Eucharist during the ten years of my ministry as bishop there.

Excerpt from the book:

Celebrating divine worship means interrupting the hectic rushing around and the humdrum routine of our daily living in order to reflect on what is essential for our life, what provides us with support and sustenance. When we celebrate the Eucharist on Sunday, we become aware of the source and the goal of our life: we do not live of our own selves, nor do we live for our own selves. Every Sunday, we come together in order to praise the goodness of God, which is the source of our life and which we experience day by day. And we thank God for giving us Jesus Christ as the way, the truth, and the life. Every Sunday is a “little Easter day,” for in the eucharistic celebration, we recall God’s central salvific deed, namely, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, which becomes present in the Mass as the basis and the source of our hope.

. . . When we celebrate divine worship, this ought not to be a stiff and gloomy affair. Rather, the celebration should be joyful and alive. All who take part — children and young people, just as much as adults and the elderly — should be involved with heart and mind and with all their senses. Joy in God is our strength, and this means that we should celebrate the liturgy with as much solemnity as possible and in the presence of the entire parish community.

We must, however, note that worship must remain worship: it must not be turned into an “event.” This is why it is wrong to evaluate the liturgy in terms of its entertainment value. On the contrary, the celebration of worship should be permeated by reverence for the God, who is holy, and reverence for the presence of our Lord in the sacrament. There must be a place for silence, reflection, adoration, and the personal encounter with God.

We call worship a “service,” but not in the sense in which that word is used by the law of supply and demand: it is not a “service” orientated to the needs or desires of particular “target groups” which marketing research identifies. We may not turn it into an instrument for the interests, ideas, and pet topics that we or others may happen to have, nor may we misuse it as a vehicle for messages that we ourselves want to put across. The liturgy is never a means to an end: it is an end in itself. It is precisely by glorifying God that the liturgy serves the salvation of the human person.

Our present situation obliges us to discover anew the meaning of worship and to help ourselves understand it afresh. We spend a great deal of energy debating individual questions about how we should celebrate the liturgy, but this seems to me more important than all such issues. The primary task here is liturgical education, which is necessary both for all who work in pastoral ministry, and for the parish communities themselves. Mystagogy — the interpretation and explanation of the liturgical texts, symbols, and celebrations — can and should occur in a variety of contexts, in homilies, in series of thematic sermons, in parish catechesis, in religious education classes in school, and in public lectures. I am convinced that this kind of liturgical formation, which penetrates the depths not only of the mind but also of the heart, can prove much more effective than short-term strategies to cope with specific issues. These always risk remaining on the surface of things and failing to see the essential point.

Table of Contents:

1. The celebration of the Eucharist and the worshiping life of the parish community
Open questions — Necessary answers

2. Recognizing Jesus Christ in the breaking of the bread
A meditation on Luke 24:13-35

3. The presence of Jesus Christ
A meditation on John 6

4. Ecumenism of life and Eucharistic fellowship
Future perspectives

5. Sacrament of unity — plurality of aspects
Fundamental theological reflections on the Eucharist

6. Eucharist — sacrament of unity
The essential connection between Eucharist and Church