ON THE SACRED LITURGY
SOLEMNLY PROMULGATED BY
POPE PAUL VI
ON DECEMBER 4, 1963
6. Just as Christ was sent by the Father, so also He sent the apostles, filled with the Holy Spirit. This He did that, by preaching the gospel to every creature, they might proclaim that the Son of God, by His death and resurrection, had freed us from the power of Satan and from death, and brought us into the kingdom of His Father. His purpose also was that they might accomplish the work of salvation which they had proclaimed, by means of sacrifice and sacraments, around which the entire liturgical life revolves. Thus, by baptism men are plunged into the paschal mystery of Christ: they die with Him, are buried with Him, and rise with Him; they receive the spirit of adoption as sons "in which we cry: Abba, Father" (Romans 8 :15) and thus become true adorers whom the Father seeks. In like manner, as often as they eat the supper of the Lord they proclaim the death of the Lord until He comes. For that reason, on the very day of Pentecost, when the Church appeared before the world, "those who received the word" of Peter "were baptized." And "they continued steadfastly in the teaching of the apostles and in the communion of the breaking of bread and in prayers . . . praising God and being in favor with all the people" (Acts 2:41-47). From that time onwards the Church has never failed to come together to celebrate the paschal mystery: reading those things "which were in all the scriptures concerning him" (Luke 24:27), celebrating the eucharist in which "the victory and triumph of his death are again made present" and at the same time giving thanks "to God for his unspeakable gift" (2 Cor. 9:15) in Christ Jesus, "in praise of his glory" (Eph. 1:12), through the power of the Holy Spirit.
This lengthy segment spells out the basic principles upon which the Church is established and the identities and functions of those who would lead it forward. Paragraph 6 begins with the action of Jesus’ sending forth the apostles “filled with the Holy Spirit.” The Scriptural sources are clearly Acts 2, the dramatic descent of the Spirit upon the Apostles in Jerusalem and Peter’s famous sermon of baptismal repentance; and the Synoptic Gospels’ description of Jesus’ farewell and his commission to preach the Gospel to the ends of the earth. If the Apostles are to bring the message of God’s deliverance, then the means of doing so are “sacrifice and sacraments.” There is no cited footnote for this phrase; it is an original text from the Council. The interesting word is “sacrifice;” one would normally assume that the term sacrifice is included in the sacrament of Eucharist. That it stands alone may give it several meanings. For example, it may refer to the apostles themselves, of whom it is believed that all twelve shed their blood as martyrs. It may refer to the overall faith necessary to enter sacramental life.
Or, does the word sacrifice refer to a term of longstanding in the Church, “the sacrifice of the Mass,” which implies a priority of the Eucharist in Catholic worship? In this paragraph, and throughout the document, there is some ambiguity about the relationship of the Eucharist with the rest of the Church’s prayer and sacramental life, a reluctance to say that the Eucharist is just one of the seven, so to speak. An entire segment of this constitution is devoted to the Eucharist, followed by “the other sacraments and sacramentals.” Again, looking at the paragraph there is a place of priority for Baptism as well; in fact, there is an organic relationship here between entering holiness (Baptism) and maintaining holiness (the breaking of bread, the Eucharist).
There is good historical basis for singling out Baptism and the Eucharist in the apostolic development of the Church. The few historical sources available agree that Baptism and Eucharist were the first two rites set in stone, so to speak. Roman sources identify Christians by their penchant for sunrise meal rituals; misunderstandings of this rite would lead enemies of Christianity to charge the community with cannibalism, echoes of John’s Gospel, Chapter 6, where Jesus’ enemies retorted, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”
It is fair to say, then, that the Council fathers wished the establish to validity of the apostles by identifying them as “filled with the Holy Spirit,” and as Spirit-filled beings the apostles and their successors undertook baptism and Eucharist to celebrate the enduring presence of Christ until the end of time. Para. 6 describes what the Spirit effects in the baptismal “plunge” drawn from St. Paul’s writing, speaking of those being baptized as adopted as sons of God, able to call God “Abba,” the child’s typical appellation when greeting his daddy. The minister of Baptism, ordinarily an ordained cleric, does not baptize effectively of his own power, but because he is filled with God’s Spirit, received at the hands of the bishop, a successor of Jesus’ apostles by history and divine design.
The second half of the paragraph elaborates the meaning of Eucharist, which is described as communal and regular proclamation “of the death of the Lord until he comes again.” It is often overlooked that the nature of the Mass is forward looking, with watchful waiting “until he comes again.” I wrote last week that when the Second Coming occurs, there will be no need for sacraments, but the Church has always lived in the “in-between times” when sacramental actions of the Lord have served as his presence among us now.
Para. 6 describes the Eucharist as Biblically dependent, originally upon the Hebrew texts which explained the nature of Jesus’ human tenure, and then later upon “the teaching of the apostles,” the letters of Paul and the oral traditions that would become the Gospels. It then speaks of celebrating Eucharist as “the victory and triumph of his death again made present.” The reference here is to the blessing of the bread and wine and the sharing of this sacred meal. Finally, the Eucharist is described as an act of “praise in his glory….” The word “eucharist” itself comes from the Greek “to give thanks” or “thanksgiving.”
As we progress further, it will become clearer that when the Council fathers spoke of liturgical and sacramental reform, their attention is riveted upon the Eucharist because it is the regular gathering of the Church, in head and members, where the central body of our faith is celebrated. The full reform agenda of other sacraments will be based upon principles of Eucharistic celebration, which serves as the hub from which all other Christian prayer radiates.