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Why No Eucharist in the Creeds?


The Creeds and the Eucharist

    Q: Why is there no mention of the Eucharist in the creeds?

    A: I'm no expert in the history of the Creeds. Yet it seems to me the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed was shaped and formed over many years in response to disputes over the nature of the Trinity and the relationships of the three divine persons.

    Creeds expanded and new articles were added as new challenges to the faith arose. The early Councils tried to put into clear language what Christians believed about God and the theological questions of the day.

    Theological disputes in the first four centuries did not center around the Eucharist. So the Fathers of the Nicene and Constantinopolitan Councils did not make credal statements concerning the Eucharist.

    There is, however, some body of opinion that the Latin phrase communio sanctorum in the Apostles Creed is a reference to the Eucharist.

    We are accustomed to seeing this phrase as a reference to persons, translated as "communion of saints."

    There are those, however, who argue that communio sanctorum was the Latin translation of the Greek phrase kononia ton agion. This phrase or expression was imported to the Western Church from the East.

    Berard Marthaler, O.F.M.Conv., in The Creed (Twenty-Third Publications), says the phrase was a reference to holy things and was a traditional term for the elements of the Eucharist.

    Marthaler says if communio sanctorum translates the Greek kononia ton agion, it is a clear-cut reference to the Eucharist. Marthaler also says that medieval theologians were aware of the two views. As different as they are, they are not mutually exclusive, and St. Thomas Aquinas tried to synthesize them.

    One theologian I consulted wrote, "When the Creed expresses faith in the Holy Spirit and the Church (one, holy, catholic and apostolic), the Eucharist is implied. It is the Spirit who consecrates the elements in this central act of the Church's worship."

    In our own time, interestingly enough, Pope Paul VI was concerned about confusion regarding Catholic doctrine.

    In 1968 he issued a profession of faith that is called the Credo of the People of God. It repeats the substance of the Nicene Creed with some developments called for by the spiritual condition of our time.

    In this profession of faith, 30 paragraphs long, paragraphs 24, 25 and 26 are devoted to declaring our faith in the Eucharist.

    For more on the Creeds, consult Early Christian Creeds, by I.N.D. Kelly (David McKay Company, Inc.).

    Why Abstain From Meat?

    Q: A non-Catholic co-worker of mine recently asked me why Catholics abstain from eating meat on Fridays during Lent. I talked about making sacrifices and acts of contrition, but couldn't provide her with the answer she was looking for.

    She is interested in the history behind it all. How did it get started and why? Can you help me provide her with an answer?

    A: Reference books usually treat the topics of fast and abstinence under the same heading. And in practice, they frequently go hand in hand. Fasting refers to doing without food or limiting the amount of food we eat. Abstinence refers to doing without a kind of food or drink or something else—meat, alcohol, cigarettes.

    Apparently fasting as a religious practice goes back before written history. Already in the Book of Exodus (34:28) we find Moses fasting 40 days and 40 nights to placate the Lord for the guilt of his unfaithful people.

    In the New Testament Jesus fasts 40 days and 40 nights before the beginning of his public ministry (Matthew 4:2 and Luke 4:1-2).

    According to Adolf Adam in The Liturgical Year (Pueblo), writings from the second century refer to a complete fast in which no food or drink at all was taken. At Easter Christians were obliged to spend 40 hours or two full days without eating or drinking.

    The New Catholic Encyclopedia tells us abstinence from certain foods, especially flesh meats, was established early in the Church. The observance of Friday abstinence in commemoration of the passion and death of Jesus was common in both East and West.

    Days and customs regarding fast and/or abstinence varied from place to place and from one time to another. For details over the centuries, you can consult The New Catholic Encyclopedia. But it seems evident abstinence from flesh meat was chosen because for most people it was a real sacrifice.

    The latest revision of the laws of fast and abstinence was made by Pope Paul VI in 1966 in an apostolic constitution called Paenitemini (Apostolic Constitution on Penance).

    Our Sunday Visitor's Catholic Encyclopedia briefly gives the purpose of fast and abstinence: "to unite the believer through a discipline of self-sacrifice to the sacrificial love of Christ and to free the person from self-centeredness, in order to facilitate deeper prayer and more generous charity."

    Those fasting and abstaining seek to die to self with Christ in order to share his victory over sin. Those doing penance offer it in reparation for their sins and the sins of the world. Through their self-denial they hope to detach themselves from the pursuit of material things and pleasure and seek first the Kingdom of God.

    The Piety of Penance

    Q: I assumed that long ago, days of fasting and abstinence were eliminated except during Lent. But I recently learned that these and other forms of Friday penance were supposed to continue and that days of fast and abstinence were not discontinued after all. Is this true?

    The article I read said that if these Friday observances were not observed, then I have sinned. But I never heard or hear anything from the pulpit even after I enlightened my pastor and my parish council about it. If I didn't know about it, how could I have sinned? If I didn't sin, then who did?

    A: The latest revision of the laws of fast and abstinence was made by Pope Paul VI in 1966 in Paenitemini. In that apostolic constitution he left certain things to the judgment of the national conferences of bishops.

    The U.S. bishops determined that Catholics in the United States should fast and abstain on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday and abstain from meat on all Fridays during Lent.

    The U.S. bishops recommend voluntary fasting throughout Lent and voluntary abstinence on all Fridays of the year.

    In Paenitemini, Paul VI reminded us of the need we all have to do penance. And penance can take many forms: acts of charity like visiting the sick or people in jail, tutoring slow learners, almsgiving, doing without candy, liquor, TV, etc.

    Finally, you can never commit a sin without knowing it. One of the conditions for sin is knowledge of the evil or disobedience involved.

     

    Veiling Crosses and Statues During Lent

    Q: At the church I attend, from Ash Wednesday to Holy Saturday a large purple drape covers Jesus above the altar. The statues are not covered during this period. I thought that Jesus and the statues were covered from Palm Sunday to Holy Saturday. Has the Church changed its position?

    A: The custom of veiling crosses and images during the last part of Lent has changed over the centuries.

    According to Adolf Adam in The Liturgical Year, in the 11th century a cloth, called the "hunger cloth," was suspended in front of the altar beginning with the fifth Sunday of Lent. At the beginning of Lent public sinners were excluded from Church. The "hunger cloth" may have been an acknowledgment that we all are sinners and are partaking in a "fast of the eyes."

    By the end of the 13th century statues, crosses and pictures were veiled. French Bishop William Durandus explained it by saying Jesus veiled his divinity during his passion and that the Gospel of the fifth Sunday of Lent ended by telling us "Jesus hid and went out of the temple area" (John 8:59).

    Later writers would tell us the veiling was to remind us of Jesus' humiliation and to imprint the image of the crucified Christ more deeply on our hearts.

    In 1969 the Commentary on the General Norms for the Liturgical Year and the new Roman calendar said, "Crosses and the images of the saints are not to be covered, henceforth, except in regions where the episcopal conferences judge it profitable to maintain this custom."

    A note following the texts for the Mass of Saturday of the fourth week of Lent in the present Sacramentary reads: "The practice of covering crosses and images in the Church may be observed, if the episcopal conference decides. The crosses are to be covered until the end of the celebration of the Lord's passion on Good Friday. Images are to remain covered until the beginning of the Easter Vigil."

    The U.S. bishops' conference has made no decision to veil crosses and images during the old season of Passiontide. The Sacramentary for Good Friday, however, provides two forms for showing the cross prior to its veneration. One begins with a veiled cross; the other with an uncovered cross.



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