The Eucharist: Mystery of Presence, Sacrifice and Communion by Lawrence Feingold. Steubenville: Emmaus Academic, 2018. 675 pp. ISBN: 978-1945125720. $43.76 Hardcover; $34.95 eBook.
In his first encyclical, Redemptor Hominis, Pope St. John Paul II claims that the Holy Eucharist in its “full magnitude and its essential meaning” is “at one and the same time a Sacrifice-Sacrament, a Communion-Sacrament, and a Presence-Sacrament” (20). Lawrence Feingold integrates insights and commentary from Sacred Scripture, the Church Fathers, the perennial wisdom of St. Thomas Aquinas, magisterial writings, and modern theologians to develop a comprehensive textbook on the Holy Eucharist, which addresses the essential ends of the Eucharist: presence, sacrifice, and communion highlighted by Pope St. John Paul II.
Feingold describes the structure of his book with a focus on the Eucharist as a sacrament of love revealing the “three aspects of the love of friendship: dwelling with the Beloved, giving oneself in sacrifice for the beloved, and the most intimate gift of self to the beloved” (xxx). The underlying theme is that the Eucharist is the sacrament of Christ the Bridegroom, who offers us the gift of his Real Presence with us, the gift of his perpetual sacrifice for his Bride the Church, which culminates in the Church’s call to communion with him. Feingold’s masterful tome offers readers a thorough summary of the Church’s theology on the Holy Eucharist.
Instituted in Love
Using the analogy of spousal love, Feingold affirms that Christ desires to offer the gift of his real presence because he seeks “to dwell intimately with the beloved” (6). Further within spousal love there must be a “mutual and total self-giving” of the spouses to one another and hence, in the Eucharist, Christ nourishes his Bride “by giving us His supreme sacrifice of His love to be our sacrifice” (7–8). Finally, the gift of presence and sacrifice leads to Christ the Bridegroom, who desires to enter into “most intimate union with the beloved,” which is communion (8).
Feingold then addresses Christ’s institution of the Eucharist by arguing the Eucharist “obeys the same divine logic as the Incarnation and the Passion, for it is their sacramental prolongation throughout the life of the Church until Christ comes again in glory” (10). Among the various parallels between the Eucharist and the Incarnation, the primary end which they share is the divinization of the human person: “In the Incarnation Christ became a partaker of our manhood, assuming a human nature to His divine Person. In the Eucharist, Christ gives us His humanity to be our nourishment so that our humanity, receiving His, may be nourished by His divinity” (24). The Eucharist is a logical prolongation of the gift of divinization, which God desires to offer humanity through his Son, Jesus.
Keep It Real
Feingold introduces the Church’s teaching on the Real Presence in Part II by offering a masterful summary of the Berengarian Controversy and its consequences for Eucharistic theology. This controversy was named for the 11th-century French theologian Berengarius (c. 999-1088) who explicitly rejected in his own teachings on the Eucharist the Real Presence. Succinctly, Feingold notes “The errors of Berngarius, which came from a rationalist perspective and a poor philosophy, were met not by a fideist rejection of the use of reason in theology, but by a better use of reason under the tutelage of faith” (243). In the aftermath following the Berangarian Controversy, scholastic theologians would adopt and develop the term transubstantiation.
In the subsequent chapters (7 and 8), Feingold presents the doctrine of transubstantiation according to St. Thomas Aquinas and the challenges to transubstantiation particularly from the Reformers and the more recently proposed theory of “transignification,” which was addressed by Pope St. Paul VI in his encyclical Mysterium Fidei.
Feingold offers many insights into the sacrificial nature of the Eucharist in Part III of his text beginning with a strong introduction to the nature and purpose of sacrifice: “The fundamental purpose of all sacrifice offered to God is to sensibly return something to God to express the spiritual ordering of our souls to Him so as to enter into fellowship with Him” (325). Building upon this sacramental understanding of sacrifice as a visible sign of an invisible sacrifice, Feingold establishes the necessity of a priesthood to offer the sacrifice, the universality and transcendence of Christ’s sacrifice, and the relationship between the sacrifice of the Mass and the sacrifice of Calvary.
In addition to addressing common objections that develop from the theology of the Protestant Reformers (chapter 10), Feingold deftly engages recent debates in theology such as the understanding of sacrifice in a metaphorical and non-cultic sense (David N. Power and Edward Kilmartin), and the notion that the sacrificial aspect of the Eucharist is a later development (Paul Bradshaw).
The unique contribution within chapter 11 on the participation of the faithful in offering the sacrifice of the Mass is his discussion of the lay faithful’s common priesthood, which is foundational if we want more of the faithful to understand their need to participate fully in the liturgy. Feingold places much emphasis on greater participation by the laity as a critical aspect of the New Evangelization: “Everyone is called to participate, not in outwardly great and extraordinary things, but above all in the Eucharistic life, by which we bring all our dreams, hopes, and daily efforts, things big and little, to the altar to offer them to the Father with Christ, and so to call down the Father’s blessings on them and on the whole world. If each one of us were to do this more deeply, it would change the world” (432).
Briefly Feingold notes the role of the ars celebrandi in fostering greater active participation and he ends the chapter with a section discussing the symbolic significance of offering the liturgy with the priest and the people offering the sacrifice of the Mass towards the Lord (versus Dominum). In Feingold’s estimation many of the faithful think of the Mass as simply a fraternal meal; consequently, it is commendable to renew the practice of celebrating the liturgy versus Dominum or ad orientem because “it is highly expedient that the visual impression of the Eucharistic Prayer sensibly manifest the ascending and eschatological direction of the prayer to God” (446).
In part IV, Feingold presents various aspects of the Church’s teaching on the third end of the Eucharist: Communion. In addressing the varying effects of Holy Communion in chapter 13, he begins by introducing the theme of communion by relating it to the Eucharist as sacrifice because a “key pastoral task” in his view is “to restore the sense of the intimate connection and continuity between” the complementary communion and sacrifice aspects of the Eucharist (489). Throughout the remainder of the chapter he addresses the effect of increased grace, charity, ecclesial unity, the indwelling of the Trinity as fruit of worthy communion, and the neglected topic in recent times of spiritual communion.
Chapter 14 is one of the most important parts of the book because he develops the Church’s teaching that Holy Communion presupposes ecclesial communion (invisible and visible). With great clarity, Feingold tackles the subject of the Church’s teaching on communion for the divorced and civilly remarried. Feingold begins by citing John Paul II’s teaching in Familiaris Consortio and proceeds to outline various pastoral solutions to accompany the divorced and civilly remarried, which leads to the pastoral approach emphasized by Pope Francis in Amoris Laetitita §305. This section has been the subject of debate and controversy because of footnote 351, which notes that the divorced and remarried in certain circumstances may receive the “help of the sacraments.”
Feingold highlights the continuity of the tradition, noting that the phrase “help of the sacraments” in Amoris Laetitita §305 is a reference principally to “the sacrament of Penance and refers only to the case in which there is question of sin that is objectively grave but not gravely culpable because of a lack of full knowledge or deliberation” (553-554; emphasis added). The pastors of souls are being counseled to accompany the faithful, who have been divorced and civilly remarried to a path of prayer, catechesis on the Eucharist and marriage, and a formation of conscience in communion with the Church’s teaching to help them understand their situation. At a time when pastoral guidelines continue to be developed and debated on this topic, this part of Feingold’s book will be helpful for future clergy and laity who offer theological expertise or pastoral counsel on this topic.
John Paul II affirms the value of Eucharistic adoration and its connection with the celebration of the Mass in his last encyclical, Ecclesia de Eucharistia: “The worship of the Eucharist outside of the Mass is of inestimable value for the life of the Church. This worship is strictly linked to the celebration of the Eucharistic sacrifice” (25). It is fitting that the final chapter (chapter 16) of Feingold’s book focuses on Eucharistic adoration because this practice of the Church affirms the gift of the Real Presence. Additionally, Eucharistic adoration “prolongs and increases the fruits of our communion in the body and blood of the Lord” (Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 25).
Drawing upon the witness of magisterial texts, Feingold highlights the intrinsic relationship between Eucharistic adoration and the Mass, the constant call of recent popes for a renewal in Eucharistic devotion, including the availability of perpetual adoration in parishes, and the great value for the faithful in the regular practice of Eucharistic adoration. Citing the writings of Popes John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Francis on Eucharistic adoration, Feingold helps readers to see the continuity of the Church in affirming the inestimable value of this form of devotion.
Connected with devotion to the Eucharist, Feingold addresses the placement and prominence of the tabernacle and its relationship to the altar whereby both should be architecturally highlighted and artistically designed as the “heart of the church” and to “reflect the sublime fact of the real presence” (600). This chapter would be greatly improved and amplified if the author provided further discussion of the two different options for the placement of the tabernacle either in the sanctuary or chapel that must be “organically connected to the church and readily noticeable by the Christian faithful” (601, quoting GIRM, 315). The chapter ends abruptly with the acknowledgement that the local ordinary has the final authority of where the tabernacle should be placed. Feingold cites Pope Benedict XVI’s Sacramentum Caritatis, 69 which seeks to ensure that the tabernacle is located “in a sufficiently elevated place, at the center of the apse area, or in another place where it will be equally conspicuous” when it is placed in the sanctuary of a newly constructed church (601).
To Be Continued
The one word which summarizes Feingold’s text is “continuity.” Feingold demonstrates the continuity within the Church’s Eucharistic theology drawing upon patristic, medieval (particularly the thought of St. Thomas), and modern theology to offer a very thorough and contemporary text on the Eucharist.
This approach enables his book to serve as a standard textbook for a seminary or university course focused on the Eucharist. Throughout the text he addresses various doctrinal and pastoral issues related to the Eucharist, which will be invaluable to all those who serve at the altar. This text should also be a resource found on the shelf of all pastors, catechists, religion teachers, directors of religious education, and any person interested in growing in their understanding and love for the mystery of Christ’s Eucharistic Presence.
In addition to invaluable insights throughout the text of each chapter, Feingold offers additional resources and study questions at the end of each chapter, which only add to the value of the book as a pedagogical tool within a classroom or study group. The major shortcoming of the text, particularly for a classroom setting, is its sheer size—nearly 650 pages! Nevertheless, the chapters are divided up such that experienced teachers can assign sections of the text as they see fit.
Readers of this text will discover the fruit of serious thorough scholarship and the work of a theologian who takes his vocation to teach seriously and who must do his work in prayer on his knees. This text has the potential to nourish both the minds and the hearts of its readers to a greater love for the greatest present the Bridegroom could leave his Bride as a means of achieving communion with him: the sacrificial gift of himself in the Eucharist.