Rahner on the Eucharist

Saturday, July 03, 2004


The Eucharist

Excerpted in whole from the following work:
Foundations of Christian Faith: An Introduction to the Idea of Christianity
By: Karl Rahner
Crossroad: New York 1978/1994
Chapter VIII: Remarks on the Christian Life: The Sacramental Life: Eucharist
pp. 424-427
ISBN 0-8245-0523-9 (pbk)

Copier's Note: This work is chosen because this book is considered by many Rahner scholars to be his most definitive and representative work.

The sacrament of the Eucharist should not simply be counted among the seven sacraments. However much it involves the individual and brings him time and time again into the community with Christ, it is nevertheless the sacrament of the church as such in a very radical sense. It is precisely the institution of the Lord's Supper which is of decisive importance for the founding of the church and for the self-understanding of Jesus as mediator of salvation.

Because of the importance and special nature of the Eucharist within the framework of the sacraments we feel the need to mention here a few things from biblical theology. However, we can only give a brief sketch of this material. The reality which is designated by the term "Eucharist" has its foundation in the Last Supper of Jesus (cf. Especially Luke 22:14-23 and 1 Cor. 11:23-26). There, according to his own words, Jesus gives his "body" and his "blood" to be eaten and drunk under the appearance of receiving bread and wine. The content and meaning of this action follow from the situation and from the concepts which are employed. The idea of death is of decisive importance. Jesus accepts his fate consciously and connects it with the central content of his preaching. Moreover, Jesus understands this meal in an eschatological way as an anticipation of the joy of the final and definitive banquet. Finally, at this meal with Jesus the idea of community is constitutive, that is, the union of Jesus with his friends and the foundation of the community of these friends among themselves.

From the concepts which are employed there results the following: according to Semitic usage "body" designates the corporal tangibility of the person of Jesus; in addition to the word over the bread Jesus is said to be the servant of God in an absolute sense (cf. Isa. 42:6, 49:8). This characterizes Jesus as dying a bloody death. The gifts, therefore, are identical with Jesus, the servant of God who accepts a violent death in free obedience, and thereby establishes the new covenant. The identity between the Eucharistic food of the church and the body and blood of Jesus is defined quite exactly in the First Epistle to the Corinthians: it is the body which is offered by Jesus at the Last Supper. It is the crucified body of Jesus, and hence in eating it the death of Jesus is proclaimed as salvific and is made efficacious. It is the flesh and blood of the exalted one, and by eating it an individual is incorporated into the community of the one pneumatic body of Jesus Christ. The permanence of this food in the church and as the food of the church follows from the command to remember him which is connected immediately with the words of institution: "Do this in memory of me." In the mandate to continue to do "this" there is an assurance that the total reality of Christ is always present and efficacious wherever the Lord's Supper is celebrated legitimately by the disciples of Jesus.

At the same time the bloody sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross becomes present in the repetition of the Lord's Supper which Jesus himself wanted, because it is the flesh and blood of the suffering and dying servant of God as sacrificed and poured out for "many" which become present, and according to the institution Jesus himself it is only as such that they can become present; and also because this presence of the one sacrifice of Jesus Christ is found in liturgical, sacrificial action of the church. The Eucharistic celebration of the church, therefore, is always a real meal insofar as the body and blood of Jesus Christ are really present there as food, and at the same time it is real sacrifice insofar as the one sacrifice of Jesus continues to be efficacious in history, and continues to be made efficacious in the celebration of the Eucharist by the liturgical act of representation in a church which is essentially historical. Hence these two realities in the one celebration of the Eucharist cannot be completely separated in theological reflection. Moreover, the incarnation, resurrection and exaltation of Jesus also become present.

In the context of our reflections we do not have to present the historical development of the Eucharist in dogma and theology, for example, with regard to the questions about real presence and transubstantiation.

In the celebration and reception of the Eucharist the church, and the individual believer really give "thanks," which is what "Eucharist" means, and they do this in the fullest possible and specifically "ecclesial" way which is only possible for the church of Jesus Christ. But at the same time this is imposed upon the church as a basic law: by really "having" Jesus Christ himself in her midst and by really accepting him as food - although she does this in the courageous reality of faith - the church "says," that is, she realizes and actualizes her thankful response to God's offer of grace, namely his self-communication. Hence this self - communication is the most intense self-communication because it is "formulated" in flesh and blood by the life of Jesus which has always been loved and has been definitively accepted. The "effect" of the Eucharist, then, is not only to be understood as an individual effect which takes place in the individual, the effect through which the individual receives his personal participation in the "Christian life" in the strictest sense, that is, the very life of Jesus Christ in love, obedience and gratitude to the Father, a life which represents forgiveness and patience. But this effect is also and especially a social and ecclesiological effect: in the Eucharist the gratuitous and irrevocable salvific will of God for all men becomes present, tangible and visible in this world insofar as through the Eucharist the tangible and visible community of believers is fashioned into that sign which does not only point to some possible grace and salvific will of God, but rather is the tangibility and the permanence of the grace and salvation. It is obvious, therefore, that, insofar as the Eucharist is the sacrament of the most real presence of the Lord in this celebration in the form of a meal, the Eucharist is also the fullest actualization of the essence of the church. For the church neither is not wants to be anything else but the presence of Christ in time and space. And insofar as everyone participates in the same meal of Christ, who is the giver and the gift at the same time, the Eucharist is also the sign, the manifestation and the most real actualization of the church insofar as the church is and makes manifest the ultimate unity of all men in the Spirit, a unity which has been founded by God in grace.


posted by Jcecil3 8:57 AM

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