The Eucharist: Meal and sacrifice

Gerald O’Collins SJ

Any account of the Eucharist has to convey it as meal as well as sacrifice, writes Gerald O’Collins SJ, adjunct professor of Australia Catholic University.

Back in 1968 at the University of Tübingen, Joseph Ratzinger gave the best lecture I ever heard from a German professor. For an audience that was primarily Protestant, he took up the question: ‘Eucharist: Meal or sacrifice?’ Starting from some pioneering work by Romano Guardini, he argued for a ‘both-and’ rather than an ‘either-or.’ The Mass is both a meal, as Protestants have typically stressed, and a sacrifice, as Roman Catholics have insisted. In a beautifully structured presentation, Ratzinger harmoniously linked the meal aspects of the Eucharist with its sacrificial nature.

More recently the 1994 Catechism of the Catholic Church calls the Eucharist ‘the making present and sacramental offering of his [Christ’s] unique sacrifice’ (no. 1362; emphasis added). It also calls the Eucharist ‘the sacred banquet of communion with the Lord’s body and blood’ (no. 1382; emphasis added). In a lengthy treatment of the Eucharist, the Catechism weaves together its two basic values as sacrifice and meal (nos. 1322–1419).

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