Book Reviews
Book Reviews

Book Reviews

FAITH Magazine January-February 2006

Fr Dylan James enjoys a collection of sermons by Cardinal Ratzinger on the Eucharist; Fr Ross Crichton on a collection of papers that re-think the Eucharist in a contemporary context while remaining faithful to the Tradition and Mary Galbraith on Scott Hahn’s enthusiastic discovery of the sacraments of the Church.

God is Near Us. The Eucharist, the Heart of Life
by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Ignatius Press (available from Family Publications), 152pp, £9.50

One of the pleasures of reading a book by the former Cardinal Ratzinger is the ability to see how his works are being reflected in the teachings of Pope Benedict. At World Youth Day Pope Benedict spoke of adoration as an inner pilgrimage, a pilgrimage that the Three Magi of old undertook when they came to adore the new born King of the Jews, an adoration that filled them with joy, a joy known today by those who come to find Christ in the Eucharist. The connection between adoration, communion, and joy is one that Ratzinger has repeated frequently in his works and are well articulated in the sermons on the Eucharist that are gathered together in this book. Ratzinger quotes St Augustine’s sermon to new communicants, saying, “No one can receive Communion without first adoring”(p. 83). Becauseit is the Lord Himself who comes to us in Holy Communion “receiving him can only mean to bow before him, to glorify him, to adore him”(p. 113). Ratzinger points out that the logic of this is not merely some mediaeval invention but is rather something that can be found in the ancient liturgy of the Church, was continued in the Middle Ages and must be fostered today by those who would seek to find their joy in union with the Lord. There is a dynamic movement involved in coming to Holy Communion: “To receive Christ means: to move toward him, to adore him”(p. 89). Just as Benedict called on the adoring youth at WYD to realise that it is only saints who can truly revolutionise the world, Ratzinger tells us that we must “beseech the Lord to reawaken in us the joy at his presence that we mayonce more adore him. Without adoration, there is no transformation of the world”(p. 93). Against those liturgists who call for a greater focus on ’the assembly’ as a means of creating communion in the Eucharist, Ratzinger points out that the truly personal nature of the Eucharist can only be experienced in a context of adoration and contemplation. Adoration of the Lord is “not in competition with the living celebration of the community, but is its condition, its indispensable environment”(p. 96). The One whom we adore is not some distant power, but is the One who came close to us to wash our feet, and thus enables us to come close to him. Our encounter with Him is not an encounter with a thing, but with a person, and thus a sacramental communion that is not a personal communion is not acommunion at all. Personal communion requires knowledge of the one we are communicating with and “that is why Communion and contemplation belong together: a person cannot communicate with another person without knowing him”(p. 97). Ratzinger thus repeatedly calls for a rediscovery of the place of silence and contemplation both in the liturgy and outside of it. Significantly, he points out that many of our modern churches “are no longer alive”(p. 90) because they are no longer houses of prayer, no longer places where people come to adore the Lord, because the people that use them no longer adore. If the true meaning of the Eucharist is to be rediscovered and experienced in our liturgy then “during the day our churches should not be allowed to be dead houses”(p. 103), “suffering the fate ofmuseums: if they are not locked they are looted… The measure of life in the Church, the measure of her inner openness, will be seen in that she will be able to keep her doors open, because she is a praying Church”(p. 90). This said, Ratzinger’s teaching on the Eucharist is far from exhausted by a consideration of adoration. In two substantial sermons he expounds what he means in saying that “The Church Subsists as Liturgy and in the Liturgy”(p. 121). The structure of the Eucharist liturgy is not just a man-made construction but is rather something that flows out of its very nature, out of the nature of what the Church is, and of the nature of what man is. It is because of this that “the crisis of faith that we are presently experiencing… [has] again and again the correct celebration andthe right of understanding of the Eucharist”(p 149) at the centre of its debates. In additional to the topics mentioned, the sermons also cover desacralization and the need for sacred places (pp. 99-101), the significance of Sunday as the principal day in which the community of believers gathers to celebrate the Eucharist (pp. 61-62. 65. 103), as well as the significance of eschatology for our understanding of the Mass. There are however a few warning comments that should be made about this book: it is a collection of sermons, not a systematic treatise on the liturgy; the sermons are uneven in their length and in their coverage of different topics; and not all the topics considered will be of equal interest to all readers (for example, his defence of parts of the new rite of Mass).Nonetheless, despite being sermons and not lectures, the text is very academic as well as being profound in its analysis of the crisis in our modern understanding and celebration of the Eucharistic liturgy. We can only hope that such thoughts will soon be reflected in encyclicals.

Fr Dylan James
Casa Santa Maria

The Mystery of Faith. Reflections on the Encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia
edited by James McEvoy and Maurice Hogan, Columba Press, 424pp

The publication of this series of papers on the theme of the Holy Eucharist represents a significant contribution to the task of understanding and re-thinking our faith in the contemporary context. It is indeed heartening to see that documents issuing from Rome still form the basis of serious academic scholarship and discussion and that such work bears abundant fruit as seen in the chapters of The Mystery of Faith.

John Paul II’s gift to the Church, the Encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia, along with Sacramentum Redemptionis and Mane Nobiscum Domine, provided the backdrop for a series of papers delivered at a conference organised by the Irish Centre for Faith and Culture at the University of Maynooth in May, 2004. The Mystery of Faith has gathered these papers and published them, adding chapters by eminent ecclesiastics who were not present at the conference itself, such as Cardinal Paul Poupard, President of the Pontifical Council for Culture.

Contributors to the book represent a wide variety of backgrounds. Diocesan priests with both pastoral and academic experience contribute as well as Dominican, Capuchin and Jesuit priests and a member of the Prelature of the Holy Cross. Lay academics from Universities in Ireland, England and the United States are also among the contributors.

The book is conveniently divided into sections dealing with the Eucharistic Mystery under its scriptural, theological/doctrinal, philosophical, and devotional or socio-cultural aspects. Each chapter is complemented by endnotes permitting the seriously interested scholar to pursue research in a particular domain. For the most part, the book is not aimed at the academically faint-hearted; a certain amount of philosophical or theological formation would be necessary in order to derive profit from certain rather dense chapters. That said, even for those with such formation, a second reading of some chapters is sometimes necessary in order to fully appreciate the workings of the author’s mind and indeed the richness of the thoughts expressed. Such was the case for me in reading Philipp WolframRosemann’s excellent chapter on Postmodern Philosophy and J-L Marion’s Eucharistic Realism. This chapter is a fine example of how the various themes of the book intertwine in the individual chapters; philosophy opening up to the spheres of theology and spirituality.

As much as the chapters or sections can be read individually, a thorough and complete reading of the book from beginning to end provides us with an enriching multi-faceted vision of the mystery of the Eucharist in its contemporary context.

Certain chapters stick closely to the Encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia, while others do not seek to make too much direct reference to the text of the Encyclical. For the reader of The Mystery of Faith, although not indispensable, a working knowledge of the Encyclical will naturally be useful particularly as it provides the backdrop to Conference on which the book is based.

So what is the overall contribution of this book to our appreciation of the prominent place which the Eucharist should occupy in the life of the Church? Academically, the book retraces the philosophical and theological development of Eucharistic doctrine through the ages, but it is more than a simple exposé of the history of doctrine. Experts in their respective fields, the contributors then set about the task of rethinking the Tradition of the Church in the modern context without losing any of the riches of the past. To quote Rosemann (p. 238), “Our task, then, is to deepen the Christian intellectual tradition once again, by learning the philosophical language of our day”. This task is something we identify with in the Faith Movement – dialogue with contemporary society in order toenrich our own understanding of the faith and to find new ways of presenting it to the world. For this reason, The Mystery of Faith is a book which will be of particular interest to those engaged in that task of forming and promoting the new synthesis of faith and reason.

A final chapter on current school catechesis in Ireland will be of interest to those involved in education of the young. Although it examines the situation in Ireland, it makes reference to the Alive-O! programme also used in Britain.

While The Mystery of Faith provides a significant contribution to the presentation of Eucharistic doctrine in the contemporary context, it is also an invitation to rediscover the significance of the Mass in the life of the Church – the centrality of the Mass in the spiritual lives of the faithful. The Year of the Eucharist has now drawn to a close, but its fruits are still there to be gathered in books such as this.

Fr Ross Crichton

Swear to God. The Promise and Power of the Sacraments
by Scott Hahn, DLT, 232pp, £10.95

“Swear to God” is refreshingly light and easy to read. Although it contains some of the most marvellous and deep mysteries of our faith, its stimulating style, short sentences and bite-sized sub-sections with their pithy, punned titles hasten the pace for the reader. The language is theologically authentic but not beyond the ordinary person in the pew. The book is not just a doctrinal treatise on the sacraments but an exciting account of the author’s lived experience and journey of faith-from born-again Calvinist and Protestant preacher to Catholic convert.

Taken aback by his wife’s pained reaction to the fact that he finds sacraments “boring”, the author relates how his reading of John Calvin’s Doctrine of Word and Sacrament, which he had disparagingly dismissed for its subject matter and “drab” cover, led him to look for scriptural support for the sacraments. He is dazzled to find that the sacraments are not only prefigured in the Old Testament and fulfilled in the New but also made explicit in God’s everlasting covenant with His church. What is more, he discovers in Jesus’ discourse with Nicodemus that the sacraments are necessary for a true relationship with Christ and, indeed, for salvation.

In providing a résumé of the sacraments that explains the idea of ‘matter and form’, the significance of the number seven, and the meaning of ‘ex opere operato’, the author provides useful quotes from scripture, the Church Fathers, St Thomas Aquinas and the Catechism of the Catholic Church. In fuller detail he establishes the connection between “sevening”—that is, the swearing of oaths—with the seven days of creation and the seven sacraments and explains the covenantal nature of the Passover meal at the Last Supper and the sacrifice of Calvary. He explores the difference between contract and covenant and concludes that the sacraments are God’s new covenant with His people. They are God’s oath and promise of his almighty power of which we need but avail ourselves.

However, by drawing comparisons between the “sacramentum” or sworn oaths of the pagan Romans and the sacraments of the Church and by quoting from Saint Paul, Hahn counsels on the consequences of the misuse of oaths. ‘Swearing falsely’ was punishable by death as has often been the case throughout history. So too we should have the correct disposition and discernment in receiving the sacraments.

Although Hahn quotes from various sources, he is at his most interesting and convincing when he provides illustrations from his own experience. For example, he differentiates oaths, vows and promises with retrospective observations about his own marriage vows. In his description of his own (and eventually his wife’s) conversion to the Catholic Church, his excitement is almost palpable as he tells of his discovery of the Eucharist, the Papacy and the truth of the Catholic Church.

In the chapter entitled “Sex, lies and sacraments”, Hahn returns to his own lived experience of conversion and faith to explain the Church’s teaching on marriage. However, he does not avoid mentioning marital difficulties, such as the tribulations occasioned by his conversion—he had to resign from his post as Protestant minister and relocate elsewhere on a lesser salary—and the virtual breakdown in communication between him and his wife.

He also deals with the Church’s teaching on contraception. It will be a revelation to many that up until 1930 all Christian denominations condemned contraception. The Hahns discovered this long before they came into the Church. It was only later that they realised that their findings accorded with the teachings of the Catholic Church. This section of the book could be a helpful teaching resource for prenuptial instruction and RCIA courses and useful reading for young students. The reader is also directed to the deeper insights that are given in his wife’s book Life-giving Love.

Scott Hahn’s entry into the Catholic Church taught him about the real presence of Our Lord in the Eucharist and he now rejoices in the regular holy hour visits to the Blessed Sacrament. However, he points out that he already had a strong sense of “the blessed sacrament of the hearth” the presence of Jesus in the marital bond and of the need to spend special time with one’s spouse and family.

From his previous background Hahn brings with him a wealth of scriptural knowledge that enables him to quote from the bible concisely and with conviction. Now also well-versed in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, he has written a novel but truly authentic exegesis and exposition on the sacraments.

Unlike the “drab” cover of Calvin’s book, the cover of his own book is rich in colour and symbolism with an appealing depiction of the baptism of Our Lord.

Mary F Galbraith

Faith Magazine