Summer 1985

Introduction: The Eucharist

Hans Urs von Balthasar

The mystery of the eucharist to which this issue is devoted is variously referred to by the most recent Council as the "source and climax of the entire life of the Church," as "the source and climax of evangelization," as the sacrament "whose solemnization completes the Church" in a way that "continuously sustains the Church." Already these quotations illustrate that we are dealing here with an issue that is so central that we could not possibly cover it in a single issue. We can only deal with it in a fragmentary fashion. Let us emphasize in this brief introduction a few essential aspects which must not be challenged and from which will be derived a series of questions.

The following truths agree with church tradition:

1) There exists a universal "surrender" of the Son of God in fulfillment of the command by the trinitarian God which begins with the incarnation in the narrower sense and culminates in the passion when Jesus Christ steps obediently before God the Father, holding the sins of the world in order to thus "reconcile heaven and earth." The church is peculiarly included in this act which affects the entire world through the Holy Supper and she is entrusted with Jesus' very own "surrender."

2) That is why the celebration of the eucharist remains essentially oriented toward the "surrender" on the cross. St. Paul remarks: ". . . every time you eat this bread and drink this cup, you are proclaiming his death" (1 Cor. 11:26-27). This intimate connection does not indicate a new sacrifice or something in addition to Christ's own "surrender," indeed, the disciples were already included in his suffering during the Last Supper; but one speak of a "realization" (Vergegenwartigung). This is the true meaning of memoria and anamnesis.

3) Undoubtedly, this realization remains an inscrutable mystery which, in the words of the Council of Trent, can be expressed "in perfectly adequate form" by the term "transubstantiation" of bread and wine into the living body of Christ, i.e. "flesh and blood," as both man and God. We may leave undecided here if there is a term which would approximate the mystery in a clearer and more encompassing fashion.