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Father Richard Neuhaus on the Eucharist

And Its Relationship to "Communio"

NEW YORK, JAN. 24, 2005 (Zenit) - The election-year controversy about pro-abortion Catholic politicians receiving Communion raises questions about the connection between "communion" and receiving Communion, according to a theological observer.

Father Richard John Neuhaus, a priest of the Archdiocese of New York and editor in chief of First Things, hopes the discussion started will continue.

Father Neuhaus shared with us his thoughts on the Eucharist's role in the Church, the New Evangelization and ecumenical relations, and the need for a comprehensive renewal of Catholic understanding and practice of the reception of the Eucharist with respect to authentic "communio."

Q: What role does the Eucharist have in the life of the Church?

Father Neuhaus: Quite simply, it is the Mass that holds together the universal Church -- which is to say, it is Christ truly present who holds together the entire Church. This is true theologically, but also sociologically and psychology.

The Mass simply is the definitive experience of Christ and his Church for Catholics. As the Holy Father has explained in various ways, we have not adequately understood any aspect of the Church's life until we see its intimate connection with Christ in the Eucharist.

The entire structure of the Church, the purpose of the episcopate in union with the ministry of Peter, is to make sure that, from generation to generation until Our Lord's return in glory, the Christian people faithfully "do this" in memory of him.

Q: How does the Eucharist play a part in the New Evangelization?

Father Neuhaus: It does more than play a part. One learns from, for instance, the encyclical "Ecclesia de Eucharistia" that evangelization and re-evangelization are inescapably Eucharistic. Evangelization entails not just a personal decision for Christ by individuals but incorporation into the Eucharistic community that is the Church.

Cardinal Ratzinger has suggestively noted that, for Protestants, the decision for Christ and the decision for the church are two decisions, whereas for Catholics the decision for Christ and his Church is one decision.

While the Eucharist, as St. Paul says, "proclaims the death of Christ until he comes," that proclamation includes the explicit articulation of the saving Gospel of Christ in preaching.

In my experience and that of many others, Catholic preaching is very weak, indeed it is an embarrassment. Catholics typically do not hear great preaching, and therefore do not expect great preaching. Low homiletical expectations by the people encourage slovenly homiletical efforts by the priests.

Evangelization entails the explicit proclamation of the New Testament "kerygma" of the saving acts of God in Christ. Too often, Catholic homilies refer to vague "Gospel values" that are tantamount to little more than the exhortation that we should all be nice people.

In the Mass, the liturgy of the Word and the liturgy of the Eucharist are complementary and intended to reinforce one another. One can, of course, be a good and holy priest but a thoroughly ineffective preacher.

But much more can and should be done to elevate Catholic preaching, remembering that every Eucharist is a call to commitment and recommitment, to conversion and reconversion. In that sense, each celebration of the Eucharist is evangelistic.

Q: What do the widespread liturgical abuses and the controversy of pro-abortion politicians receiving Communion indicate regarding perceptions of and respect for the Eucharist?

Father Neuhaus: There are two questions there. The great liturgical movement of the early 20th century, led by figures such as Henri de Lubac, Danielou, Virgil Michel and Martin Hellriegel, was formally embraced by the Second Vatican Council. Many of the liturgical "reforms" following the Council, however, departed radically from the vision of the earlier movement.

This is a very big subject with many parts, but the key problem, I believe, was the ascendancy of an instrumental view of worship. Liturgy was subjected to psychological and sociological criteria alien to the very meaning of worship.

The worship of God has no purpose other than the worship of God. While worship has many benefits, we do not worship in order to attain those benefits. The simple and radical truth is that we worship God because God is to be worshiped.

The earlier movement understood that we are to worship "in the beauty of holiness," as it says in Psalm 96. This engages the aesthetic dimensions of liturgy, including the dignity of language, gestures, ritual and excellence in music and the arts.

In many ways, Catholic worship has been destabilized and impoverished since the Council. ...

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