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Reflections on Eucharist in Light of 'Adoro Te Devote' (Part 2 of 2)

1st Advent Sermon of Pontifical Household Preacher

VATICAN CITY, DEC. 7, 2004 (Zenit) - Here is a translation of the conclusion of the first sermon in preparation for Christmas, delivered Friday, before the Pope and his aides in the Roman Curia, by the Pontifical Household preacher, Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa.

The sermon, in the Apostolic Palace's Redemptoris Mater chapel, was the first of a series of Eucharistic reflections in the light of the hymn Adoro Te Devote.

Part 1 of this sermon appeared Monday on Catholic Online (click here).

* * *

First Sermon
Adoro te devote

3. Eucharistic contemplation

What remains to be reflected on is the highest flame which arises from the two last verses of the stanza: "Quia te contemplans totum deficit": Contemplating you everything fails. The characteristic of certain venerable Latin liturgical hymns, such as the Adoro Te Devote, the Veni Creator and others, is the extraordinary concentration of meaning that is found in every single word. Every word is "meaningful" in them.

To understand fully the meaning of this phrase, as of the whole hymn, it is necessary to take into account the environment and the context from which it is born. We are, I said, this side of the great change in Eucharistic theology occasioned by the reaction to the theories of Berengarius of Tours. The problem on which Christian reflection concentrates almost exclusively is that of the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, which at times exceeds in the affirmation of a physical and almost material presence.[9] From Belgium came the great wave of Eucharistic fervor which was soon to spread to the whole of Christianity and, in 1264, led to the institution of the feast of Corpus Domini by Pope Urban IV.

The sense of respect for the Eucharist increased and, in a parallel manner, so did the sense of the unworthiness of the faithful to approach it, also because of the almost impracticable conditions established to receive Communion (fasting, penance, confession, abstention from conjugal relations). Communion by the people became such a rare event that the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215 had to establish the obligation to go to Communion at least at Easter. But the Eucharist continues to draw souls irresistibly and thus, little by little, the lack of the edible contact of communion was remedied by developing the visible contact of contemplation. (We note that in the East, for the same reasons, the laity were also denied the visible contact because the central rite of the Mass takes place behind a curtain which later became the wall of the iconostasis.)

The elevation of the host and of the chalice at the moment of the consecration, first unknown (the first written testimony of its institution is in 1196), has become for the laity the most important moment of the Mass, in which their feelings of devotion are poured out and they hope to receive graces. Bells are rung at that moment to notify those who are absent, and some run from one Mass to another to attend several elevations. Many Eucharistic hymns, among which the Ave Verum, were born to accompany this moment; they are hymns for the elevation. To them belongs also our Adoro Te Devote. From beginning to end its language is that of seeing, contemplating: "te contemplans, non intueor, nunc aspicio, visu sim beatus."

We no longer have the same idea of the Eucharist; for some time Communion has become an integral part of participation in the Mass; the achievements of theology (biblical, liturgical, ecumenical movement) that came together in the Second Vatican Council and in the liturgical reform have again valued, together with faith in the real presence, other aspects of the Eucharist, the banquet, the sacrifice, the memorial, the communal and ecclesial dimension.

It might be thought that in this new climate there is no longer a place for the Adoro Te Devote and the Eucharistic practices born in that period. Instead it is precisely now that they are more useful and necessary for us so as not to lose, because of today's achievements, those of yesterday. We cannot reduce the Eucharist only to contemplation of the real presence in the consecrated Host, but it would also be a grave loss to give it up. The Pope has not ceased to recommend it since his first letter The Mystery and Worship of the Most Sacred Eucharist, of Holy Thursday 1980: "The adoration of Christ in this sacrament of love must find its expression in different forms of Eucharistic devotion: personal prayer before the Most Holy Sacrament, hours of adoration, brief, prolonged, annual expositions ... Jesus awaits us in this sacrament of love. Let us not lose any time to go to meet him, full of faith, in adoration and contemplation." ...

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