Homily – October 30th, 2011
From the early practice and preaching of the Apostles, core beliefs of the Church have remained the same, and these beliefs remain to this day. As surely, change has occurred in buildings, music, access by the faithful, and in understanding by theologians.
This morning we move to the sixteenth century. Columbus sails for the first time to America. He exemplifies the sixteenth century’s Age of Exploration; others sail from Europe to Africa and then to South America. The European powers strive to enhance their holdings in foreign continents, and they struggle to control their own territory. The Eucharist is affected.
Henry VIII (died 1547) of England, despite his formal break from the Church, remains committed to important Eucharistic beliefs. Although he became head of the Church of England, Henry held to the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.
In Germany, Martin Luther, an Augustinian monk and Catholic priest, is a professor of Sacred Scripture at Wittenberg University. He composes ninety-five theses, meant to serve as a basis of a discussion about indulgences. Luther nails these to the church door of the castle at Wittenberg, and he sends the theses in a letter to his superior, then to a few bishops and to friends. This ignites a smoldering unrest throughout Europe.
Luther differs from Ulrich Zwingli (d. 1531) especially over issues of the Eucharist and the nature of Christ’s real presence in the Eucharist. In October of 1529, Luther, Zwingli, Martin Bucer (d.1551), and others met at the castle in Marburg to agree in beliefs. But these people reject the Church teaching on the sacrifice of the Mass, and they cannot agree on the nature of the real presence of Jesus. The disagreement between Luther and Zwingli remains in their adherents to this day.
A council in Trent, Italy, convenes in 1545. This great council met in three sessions, over nearly twenty years, and it addressed the abuses that had brought about the Reformation. The Council of Trent condemns the teaching of Luther and Zwingli on the Eucharist. The Council sets forth its “Decree on the Most Holy Eucharist” in 1551.
Among the more important issues, the Council states these doctrines. [J. Neuner, S.J.—–J. Dupuis, S.J., The Christian Faith in the Doctrinal Documents of the Catholic Church, ed Jacques Dupuis, 7th Rev., Enlarged Ed., Alba, 2001.] “To begin with, the holy Council teaches and openly and straightforwardly professes that in the blessed sacrament of the holy Eucharist, after the consecration of the bread and wine, our Lord Jesus Christ, true God and man, is truly, really and substantially contained under appearances of those perceptible realities” [cf. n. 1526](617).
This decree of the Council of Trent took aim chiefly at Zwingli who argues that when Christ took bread and said, “This is my body,” Christ meant only that “is” actually meant “signifies.” Thus Zwingli holds that the bread only symbolizes or represents Jesus; in this view, no change actually occurs in the bread. So Ulrich Zwingli—he had been ordained a priest in Switzerland in 1506—declares that parishioners ought to celebrate Mass only four times a year. At this time, parishioners will recall Jesus and feel His power; what occurs is the transformed fellowship of believers, a fellowship characterized by love, mutual concern, and service. The Council of Trent further declared this. Christ’s “will was that this sacrament be received as the soul’s spiritual food [Mt. 26:26] which would nourish and strengthen those who live by the life of him who said: ‘He who eats me will live because of me’ [Jn. 6:57]; and that it be also a remedy to free us from our daily faults and to preserve us from mortal sin. Christ willed, moreover, that this sacrament be a pledge of our future glory and our everlasting happiness….” (618).
Zwingli accused Martin Luther of biting the Lord and of chewing on Him during the communion service. Zwingli thought Luther was guilty of cannibalism.
The Council of Trent also declares this. “This change the holy Catholic Church has fittingly and properly named transubstantiation”  (619). In this declaration, the Church does not intend to adopt the Aristotle philosophy of substance and accident. The Church simply asserts that “transubstantiation” is a fitting explanation of the real change brought about by the consecration. Thomas Aquinas employed Aristotle in describing the Eucharist.
The Reformation and the Council of Trent radically reshaped European Catholicism. With the Counter-Reformation, a new optimism, renewed vitality energizes the Church. Many churches adopt a baroque style of architecture characterized by elaborate ornamentation. Many statues begin to inhabit churches.
Now an ornate reredos backs the altar and the tabernacle becomes fixed on the altar. This would accommodate exposition of the Blessed Sacrament. Sometimes niches with adoring angels are added. Such a backdrop at times dwarfs the Eucharistic action at the altar. A later Catholic document (Bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy, Environment and Art in Catholic Worship, 78; Cf. From Age to Age 250) contrasts such an arrangement of the “active” space for Eucharistic celebration with the more “static” place of reservation. We have been speaking about the Reformation and the Council of Trent. The change in Eucharistic manner that flowed from that Council remained with us. The change, however, was not the same as the Mass initiated at the Last Supper. The Bishops’ Committee in our own day states that “reservation should be designated in a space designed for individual devotion. A room or chapel specifically designed and separate from the major space is important so that no confusion can take place between the celebration of the Eucharist and reservation. Active and static aspects of the same reality cannot claim the same human attention at the same time” (From Age to Age 250).
Not often, but sometimes, we change our manner of celebrating our Eucharist. The end of this November will bring in a number of changes in Eucharistic prayers. Amen!