Fr. Frank Andersen's new book on the Eucharist: how Catholic is it?

Fr. Frank Andersen's new book on the Eucharist: how Catholic is it?

Des O'Hagan

Fr Frank Andersen MSC has recently had published, Eucharist - Participating in the Mystery (John Garratt Publishing, 1998). Together with former priest, Michael Morwood, Fr Anderson has run "Adult Faith Education" programs in Catholic parishes, as part of a new phase of seeking converts among people in the pews to 'new Church' perspectives.

While Fr Anderson does not state explicitly that the Church's Eucharistic teaching is wrong, his book's contents suggest that conclusion, although not in a way obvious to non-specialist readers. Space limitations prevent a more detailed analysis of the book - outlines of which are available from the author (see below).

The author addresses two main questions: (a) How should we participate in the Mass; (b) What is the meaning of Jesus being present at Mass?

Vatican II

On p. 55 he misrepresents the teaching of the Second Vatican Council: "Since Vatican II, the primary issue of the Eucharist is not whether - or how - Jesus might be present, but whether we are truly present." That we need to be actively present is true, but only half the picture.

On page 85, he offers another half-truth: "It [this liturgy] celebrates our lives ... we are his life;" and on p. 87: "The one who comes 'in the name of the Lord' today is ourselves. There is no other. We gather on Sunday to nominate ourselves into the person of Jesus ... On any Sunday it is our lives that we gather to celebrate - references to Jesus are references to our lives." Likewise, on p. 88: "In a deeply mysterious, but nonetheless true sense the holy and living sacrifice is ourselves."

Now, it is true that the lives and sufferings of the members of the Church are a sacrifice - but they are an extension of the one Sacrifice of Jesus, not a substitute for it. Our lives and sufferings have a value because they are united with the saving work of Christ. But, he says on p. 89, "Like his, our lives redeem"; and also (same page), "It is ourselves we give to God, not Jesus."

However, our lives do not redeem the world in quite the same way as Jesus' life. In a mysterious way we are the way his redemption is extended to the people of today - but it is his redemption, not ours alone. If nearly every phrase of the explanation insists it is we who offer and are offered, while almost nothing is said about Jesus offering himself, then the approach is unbalanced.

As for the Real Presence, that Jesus is not present substantially and really in the Eucharist is not so much baldly stated, as suggested, in passage after passage. Again, it is a question of balance.

Fr Andersen does say (p. 67): "Christ is so rendered present as to be truly, really, and substantially experienced" and "It [the epiclesis] is the prayer of calling down the Spirit of God upon the gifts of bread and wine so that they be changed into the Body and Blood of Jesus " (p. 48).

But these two statements are drowned by numerous others suggesting that the idea of the presence of Jesus is only a metaphor.

Fr Andersen writes (p. 66): "Catholics, introduced to such terms as 'flesh' and 'blood' when young, can read them almost literally and as if the Gospel is supporting a virtually physical presence of Jesus in the bread and wine. This is certainly not what John means"; on p. 67 "In the Church's mind such a physical presence is not intended"; and on p. 68: "The Jews misread his use of the words 'flesh and blood' as something literal ... Unfortunately, some popular Catholic understandings of flesh and blood have been closer to how these opponents took the words [i.e., literally] than to what John intended by them [i.e., as symbolic]."

On the other hand, on p. 67, Fr Andersen states, "when celebrating the Eucharist together, Christ is so rendered present as to be truly, really, and substantially experienced."

The Church documents that say the body of Jesus in the Eucharist is truly, really, and substantially present do not say that we "experience" this. We do not experience the presence of Jesus in the sacrament. We believe it.

On mid-page 67, he writes, "His total reality - and ours - is contained in the bread and wine." Here the mistake is not philosophical, but theological.

Fr Andersen here is trying to explain a mystery in words which will make it more acceptable to modern ears - ears, untrained in either philosophy or theology.

Council of Trent

It is admittedly easier to speak to children about Jesus being in the bread and wine than to state that the bread and wine have been transformed into the Body and Blood of Jesus. But the Council of Trent states that "If anyone says that in the holy sacrament of the Eucharist the substance of bread and wine remains together with the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, let him be anathema." Trent insisted that we should not talk of Our Lord being present in bread and wine.

In the last few pages Fr Andersen implies that the people have as much right to say the "words of consecration" as the priest has. I have attended one Mass where the university chaplain called upon all present to recite all the canon of the Mass with him.

My fear is that in future lay-led liturgies in "priestless parishes," the next thing will be that some chosen representative of the people may "say the words of consecration" and people may believe that this is just as much a "Mass" as the priest-celebrated Mass. Certainly, any bishop, who continues to allow Fr Andersen to lead discussion groups in digesting and applying his book, will be opening the door to such a development.

Fr Andersen's book has no Imprimatur. I suspect none was applied for.

Des O'Hagan is a retired philosophy lecturer from RMIT. Those desiring more information on Fr Andersen's book can ring him on (03) 9893 3780.

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