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The Eucharist as Sacrament of the Church

TH 506 Sacramental Theology


Rev. Romanus Cessario, O.P.

Br. Paul M. Nguyen, OMV


Congregationis Oblatorum Beat Mari Virginis
December 11, 2015

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In its second part, concerning the celebration of the Christian mystery, the Catechism of
the Catholic Church presents the reality of diverse functions within the mystical body of Christ,
the Church. The Second Vatican Council, while manifesting a reduced emphasis on juridic and
hierarchical categories in describing the constitution of the Church, nevertheless maintained the
distinctions of office derived from sacramental ordination that are clearly expressed in the
Eucharistic celebration.1 In this way, it is in the Eucharist that the sacrament of the Church is
made fully visible.2 In this paper, we endeavor to educe the ways in which the Eucharistic
liturgy makes the invisible reality of the Church visible in the exercise of the proper functions of
each rank of the Churchs hierarchical structure.
Liturgy is defined in Canon Law as an exercise of the priestly function of Jesus Christ,
which signifies the sanctification of humanity by sensible signs effected appropriately, and in
which the Head and members of the mystical body of Christ carry out the whole public worship
of God.3 Among the members of Christs mystical body (by Baptism) are those men called by
God, in and through the Church, to be consecrated by the sacrament of Holy Orders.4 These
ministers are indispensable in confecting the sacred species at Mass. The sacrament of Holy
Orders is received in three degrees: deacon (diaconus), then priest (presbyter), then bishop
(episcopus); the diaconal order is at the service of the two priestly orders (ordines sacerdotales).
The bishop, as successor of the apostles and vicar of Christ, a custodian of the deposit of
the faith together with the whole college of bishops and its head, the Roman Pontiff, celebrates
the Mass together with his co-worker priests and all the faithful, gathering them all in a total
expression of the diversity and unity of the body of Christ in his local Church and in communion

1
2
3
4

c.f. Lumen Gentium (LG), 8.


Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), 1142.
Code of Canon Law (CIC) (Washington, DC: Canon Law Society of America, 1998), c. 834, p. 275.
CCC, 1142.

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with the whole membership of the body of Christ throughout the world.5 In ordination, a man
receives the stable and indelible character imparted by that sacrament.6 Mansini notes that while
the work in the sanctifying office is carried out ex opere operato through the sacerdotal character
(barring a malicious intention), the teaching and governing offices require a stable life of prayer
to bear fruit.7
For the sacerdotal orders, this character makes the man a suitable instrument to act in
persona Christi in offering the Eucharistic sacrifice and forgiving sins, in teaching the people,
and in governing them and the temporal goods of the Church.8 At Mass, the priest unites the
votive offerings of the faithful to the sacrifice of Christ their head, making Christs one
sacrifice present again and applying it for the sanctification of the people.9 The priests function
in the Eucharist is to pronounce the words and perform the actions handed down in the Tradition
of the Church and codified in the liturgical books. He disposes the faithful to better receive the
Sacrament they approach by instructions and preaching and takes the part of Christ by virtue of
his sacramental configuration to Christs high priesthood. The bishops further configuration and
office as vicar of Christ renders him eminently suitable for this function. For both, God is the one
whose power accomplishes the sacramental effect, working through the agent instrumentality of
the ordained minister marked by the character of priestly orders.10
The deacons role flows from his configuration to Christ the servant, both by proclaiming
the Gospel and preaching, and by assisting at the altar of sacrifice. His service is always
complementary and always distinct from properly priestly functions.11 It is preparatory and
5
6
7
8
9
10

CCC, 1561. Cites LG, 26 and Sacrosanctum Concilium (SC), 41.


CCC, 1582.
Guy Mansini, OSB, Episcopal Munera and the Character of Episcopal Orders, The Thomist 66 (2002), 394.
CCC, 1581.
CCC, 1566. Cites LG, 28.
Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae (STh), IIIa, Q. 64, Art. 5. cf. STh, IIIa, Q. 63, Art. 2. Guy Mansini, OSB,
St. Thomas on Sacerdotal Character, The Thomist 71 (2007), 174.
11 CCC, 1570.

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facilitative, even participating in the preaching office, which disposes the people to better receive
the Word of God proclaimed and to better receive the Incarnate and immolated Word of God.
The laity to whom Christ ministers through the clergy also participate. Their
configuration to Christ is from their justification in Baptism and from Confirmation. Baptism
incorporates people into the Mystical Body of Christ, which is the Church. This share in the
common priesthood of the faithful is characterized by the unfolding of a life of faith, hope,
and charity whereas those who participate in the ministerial priesthood are directed at the
unfolding of the baptismal grace of all Christians.12 Together with the admittedly mechanical
notion of active participation promoted by the Council,13 everyone is also enjoined to full
and conscious participation in liturgical celebrations,14 resting on their Baptism and priestly
incorporation into Christ, short of ordination. The votive offering of which the Catechism
speaks, and which the priest joins to Christs sacrifice, is the role of the faithful beyond reciting
prayers and responding by word and gesture to the liturgical actions of the priest and his
assistants. The faithful bring the sacrifice of their lives and the renewed commitment to
repentance and cooperating with Christs grace flowing through the whole sacramental order,
together with an orientation to missionary work in their own families and associates, in secular
affairs, and in the world at large: this may be termed spiritual sacrifice. Consonant with the
principle of lex orandi, lex credendi,15 the Roman Canon, at the heart of the Eucharistic liturgy of
this Rite, indicates that we, your servants and your holy people, offer to your glorious majesty
from the gifts that you have given us, this pure victim, and the priest prays that God accept
these gifts (echoing the Orate fratres).16 From these texts, it is clear that the people have
12
13
14
15
16

CCC, 1547.
SC, 14, 30.
SC, 14.
CCC, 1124.
Ordo Missae, Missale Romanum Editio Typica Tertia (Vatican: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2002), 18, 9293.

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something to offer, though it is the priest who offers that gift in persona Christi to the Father.
The Catechism elaborates, saying that the lives of the faithful, their praise, sufferings, prayer,
and work, are united with those of Christ and gain redemptive value.17 ONeill refers to
Augustine, noting quite simply that, as the mystical Body of Christ, the Church herself (in all of
her members) is offered as that sacrifice of Christ on the altar of the Eucharist,18 by obedience
and worship just like Him, and thus becomes a spiritual sacrifice.19
Something is to be said regarding the exercise of liturgical functions by the laity in and
around the sanctuary. Some roles for the laity are quite distant from the sanctuary and do not risk
confusion with properly priestly functions; these may include taking up the collection or
welcoming the faithful as they arrive to the church. An important place for skilled and qualified
laypersons is to lead the assembly in singing the prayers of the Mass and in hymns that may be
sung at appropriate moments in the rites. This often intersects with the priestly duty to instruct
the faithful in how to worship God, and the priest rightfully exercises vigilance over persons who
work in this capacity. While Gregorian chant holds pride of place among the styles of singing
prayers admissible in the liturgy,20 other forms may suitably and profitably be used, especially
noble musical settings of the approved vernacular texts, and laypeople are often involved in
selecting, preparing, and performing this music.
Liturgical actions that more closely approach the proper domain of the priest require
more precision to delineate. A lay person may exercise the liturgical function of proclaiming the
Lectionary texts other than the Gospel. This is an exercise of the prophetic office of the common
priesthood, and while individuals may be charged with this task on a case-by-case or temporary
17 CCC, 1368.
18 Colman ONeill, Sacramental Realism (Wilmington, Delaware: Michael Glazier, 1983), 92.
19 ONeill, 9697. Cites Augustine, Augustine: City of God, trans. H. Bettenson, ed. D. Knowles (Pelican Classics,
1977), 379380.
20 SC, 116.

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basis, a Catholic man may also be instituted more stably with the ministry of Lector, which
enjoys the further offices of instructing the faithful regarding the liturgy and directing singing.21
While the ordained sacerdos is the ordinary minister of Holy Communion, deacons and members
of the faithful may assist in distributing both Eucharistic species to the assembly, with suitable
training. Lay persons may receive a mandate from their local ordinary to assist their parish in this
way for a prescribed amount of time. Lay persons, especially children who have received First
Holy Communion, may assist the priest in carrying sacred objects to the altar and facilitating
other liturgical actions while never confusing their definitive performance by the priest
configured to Christ by sacred ordination. Catholic men may also be instituted Acolytes,
possessing in a stable way the functions of assisting the deacon and priest at Mass and other
liturgies including distributing Holy Communion and exposing the Blessed Sacrament for
adoration. He has charge of duly instructing others who will assist on a more temporary basis.
The instituted Acolyte is also to study well all aspects of public divine worship, seeking to
grasp their inner spiritual meaning.22 In fact, this applies to everyone who takes up some function
in a liturgical celebration and principally at Mass: the minister, his assistants, and the faithful
assembled are all called to deepen their knowledge of the mysteries celebrated and thus to grow
in love for Him Whom they worship, letting their service flow from and be animated by their
prayer.
Lastly, there are those who have given their lives to the Church by living the evangelical
counsels in stable ways according to the statues of their institutes. So many of these religious
give the majority of their life to contemplation, especially in Eucharistic Adoration. This bears
witness to the power of what abides in the sacrament of the Eucharist: Christs sacramental

21 Paul VI, Motu Proprio Ministeria Quaedam (1972), 5.


22 Ibid., 6.

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presence in the Eucharistic species. These religious faithfully carry out the primary duty of their
state: the contemplation of divine things, and the assiduous union with God in prayer.23
The Mass is the liturgical celebration at which the Eucharist is confected and received.
The entire Church may be representatively present in all its ranks and indeed is mystically
present: both the Church on earth and the Church in heaven. The bishop and priest act in the
person of Christ the Head and High Priest, with the assistance of deacons, lectors, acolytes and
others, while the people all bring their spiritual sacrifice to the altar. Having received that bread
of pilgrims and angels unto their own sanctification, they carry His virtues and grace out into the
world (Ite, missa est24) to announce the Kingdom of God by word and example, bringing their
own lives and the lives of others into ever greater conformity with Christ and friendship with the
Triune God.

23 CIC, c. 663, p. 216.


24 Ordo Missae, Missale Romanum, 144.

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References
Aquinas, Thomas. Summa Theologiae.
Augustine. Augustine: City of God. Translated by H. Bettenson. Edited by D. Knowles. Pelican
Classics, 1977.
Catechism of the Catholic Church. Vatican: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1997.
Code of Canon Law. Washington, DC: Canon Law Society of America, 1998.
Lumen Gentium. Vatican: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1964.
Mansini, Guy, OSB. Episcopal Munera and the Character of Episcopal Orders. The Thomist 66
(2002): 369-94.
Mansini, Guy, OSB. St. Thomas on Sacerdotal Character. The Thomist 71 (2007): 17198.
Missale Romanum Editio Tertia. Vatican: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2002.
ONeill, Colman. Sacramental Realism. Wilmington, Delaware: Michael Glazier, 1983.
Paul VI. Motu Proprio Ministeria Quaedam. 1972.
Sacrosanctum Concilium. Vatican: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1963.