Summer 1985

Introduction: The Eucharist

Hans Urs von Balthasar

We need not make any special mention of the remaining aspects of the celebration: reconciliation of the congregation through a confession of sins through the listening to the Word, through the offering of one's self, together with the gifts of bread and wine, through the inclusion in Christ's "surrender," and through the complete union with him during communion. Assuming these truths are not disputed, we may turn immediately to a few important questions which remain unanswered despite what has already been said.

First, we have refrained from using the term "sacrifice" and used "surrender" instead. One surely cannot proceed from the concept of sacrifice as attested to by all religious people who carry out sacrifices to their gods when, for instance, a human being (Iphigenia and others) is sacrificed in place of the people or when human beings sacrifice their lives (such as Roman heroes or soldiers in general) for the fatherland, and subsume all these under Christ's sacrifice. We cannot even proceed from the Old Testament food and animal sacrifices in order to draw nearer to the cross. This is expressly forbidden by the letter to the Hebrews. Furthermore, we cannot equate Jesus' self-surrender with a man's renunciation of an amenity or a good for moral (or other) reasons, even though it may benefit another human being. Jesus' "sacrifice" is entirely unique and cannot be equated with anything, not even with Mary's "sacrifice" under the cross, with that of the holy women or the apostles or other saints, and not even with the sacrifice of a St. Paul who can say: "It makes me happy to suffer for you, as I am suffering now, and in my own body to do what I can to make up all that has still to be undergone by Christ for the sake of his mystical body, the church" (Col. 1:24-25). In so far as these things are the suffering of Christ they lack nothing; they are complete and more than sufficient. It is only by cirtue of his grace that there remains a place for his mystical body, the Church, to participate in his suffering, since Christ and the Church are the "head" and "body" of Christ (the "body" owes its existence and everything else to the "head"). It is not forbidden to speak of the eucharistic sacrifice, but one must keep in mind the analogous nature of the term.