Reflections on Eucharist: 'I Believe All the Son of God Has Spoken' (Part 2 of 2)
2nd Advent Sermon of Pontifical Household Preacher
VATICAN CITY, DEC. 13, 2004 (Zenit) - Here is a translation of the second Advent sermon, delivered Friday to the Pope and officials of the Roman Curia, by Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, the preacher for the Pontifical Household.
Part 1 of this sermon appeared Sunday in Catholic Online.
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"I Believe All the Son of God Has Spoken"
2. Transubstantiation and Transignification
Without using the term, this stanza of the hymn encloses the doctrine of transubstantiation, that is, as defined by the Council of Trent, the "admirable and singular conversion of the whole substance of the bread and of the whole substance of wine in the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ."
Is it possible today to render this philosophical term comprehensible, outside of the small circle of specialists? I tried it once in a television broadcast on the Gospel, giving an example which I hope will not be irreverent. When seeing a lady come out of the hairdresser's with a totally new hairdo, one spontaneously exclaims: "What a transformation!" No one dreams of exclaiming "What transubstantiation!" Rightly so, changed in fact are the form and external aspect, but not the profound being and the personality. If she was intelligent before, she is still so now; if she was not so before, she is not so now. The appearances have changed, but not the substance.
The exact opposite happens in the Eucharist: The substance changes, but not the appearances. The bread is transubstantiated, but not (at least in this sense) transformed; the appearances in fact (form, taste, color, weight) remain as before, while the profound reality is changed, it has become the body of Christ. Jesus' promise heard at the beginning has been realized: "The bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world."
In recent times, theology has pursued this same attempt to translate the concept of transubstantiation into modern language, with very different instrumentation and earnestness, appealing to existential categories of transignification and transfinalization. With these words is designated: "the divine act (not human) in which the substance (that is, the meaning and the power) of a religious sign is transformed with the personal revelation of God."
The attempt stems from the conviction that the Eucharist is not just one thing, but also an action, a sign. It is "the act with which Christ associates the Church with himself in his eternal worship of the Father" and that "to concentrate only on the substance of the bread and of the body of Christ risks reducing everything to a cosmological miracle, deprived of any fixed religious setting."
As always, the attempt did not succeed at first. In some authors (not in all) these new perspectives, more than explaining transubstantiation, ended by replacing it. In this connection, in the encyclical "Mysterium Fidei" Paul VI disapproves of the terms "transignification" and "transfinalization"; more precisely, he disapproved, he wrote, "of those who limit themselves to use only these terms, without also making use of the word 'transubstantiation.'"
In reality, the Pope himself makes one understand, in the very same encyclical, how these new concepts may be useful if they seek to bring to light new and current aspects and implications of the concept of transubstantiation without attempting to replace it. "As a result of transubstantiation," he wrote, "the species of bread and wine undoubtedly take on a new signification and a new finality, for they are no longer ordinary bread and wine but instead a sign of something sacred and a sign of spiritual food; but they take on this new signification, this new finality, precisely because they contain a new 'reality' which we can rightly call ontological."
He, himself, expressed this with greater clarity in a homily for the Solemnity of Corpus Domini when he was archbishop of Milan: "Christ wished to choose this sacred symbol of human life, which bread is, to make an even more sacred symbol of himself. He has transubstantiated it, but has not taken away its expressive power; rather, he has elevated this expressive power to a new meaning, a higher meaning, a mystical, religious, divine meaning. He has made a ladder for an ascent that transcends the natural level. As a sound becomes a voice, and as a voice becomes word, thought, truth; so the sign of the bread has passed from its humble and pious being, to signify a mystery; it has become a sacrament, it has acquired the power to demonstrate the body of Christ present."
Catholic theology has sought to reflect again and study more deeply the concept of transignification and transfinalization in light of Paul VI's reservations. ...
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