The former is a theologian and cardinal, the latter is superior general of the Jesuits; both have the reputation of being progressivist. But their most recent declarations are a cold shower for the Church's left wing. The effect of the conclave
by Sandro Magister
ROMA, March 8, 2005 – Within the Vatican curia, only one cardinal is capable of holding his own with Joseph Ratzinger on his turf, that of advanced theology. It is Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity (see photo).
Both are German, and they have had very similar careers. Like Ratzinger, Kasper began as a theologian, became a bishop, for Rottenburg and Stuttgart, and finally obtained an important post in the Vatican.
But under current classifications – partly in view of the future conclave – the two are placed on opposite sides: Ratzinger as the world leader of the neoconservatives, Kasper as leader of the progressivists.
The refined theological dispute about the relationship between the universal Church and the local Churches, which has divided the two in the past, has seemed to confirm the above mentioned classification.
Another confirmation: as head of ecumenism, Kasper is the cardinal in the curia who has attracted by far the most opposition from the traditionalists.
But the facts do not always fit the prepared schemes.
For example, in the closing homily for the annual week of prayer for Christian unity, last January 25, Kasper said some things out of keeping with his reputation as a progressivist.
He made strong references to faith in Jesus Christ as the "only savior of all humanity" – in full agreement with the declaration "Dominus Iesus" published by Ratzinger in 2000 and bitterly contested by the advocates of dialogue – and continued:
"But is this reality still clear to all of us? Do we keep it well in mind during our discussions and reflections? Or do we not rather find ourselves in a situation in which our primary task, our greatest challenge, is to remember and reemphasize this common foundation, and prevent its being rendered meaningless by the so-called 'liberal' interpretations which define themselves as progressivist but are, in reality, subversive? Precisely at this moment, when everything is becoming relative and arbitrary in postmodern society, and everyone creates his own religion à la carte, we need a solid foundation and a common point of reference that will be trustworthy for our personal life and for our ecumenical work. And what foundation could we have, except Jesus Christ? Who better than He to guide us? Who can give us more light and hope than He can? Where, except in Him, can we find the words of life (cf. Jn. 6:68)?"
But even more strongly in contrast with the current progressivism is what Kasper has written in a book recently published in Germany and Italy, by the publishing houses, respectively, of Herder and Queriniana: "Sacrament of Unity: The Eucharist and the Church."
Kasper published this book for the occasion of the eucharistic year proclaimed in 2004 by John Paul II. The year will conclude in October of 2005 with a synod of bishops dedicated precisely to the theme of the eucharist.
In 2003, the pope published an encyclical on the eucharist: "Ecclesia de Eucharistia."
According to the dean of Italian theologians, Giuseppe Colombo (see "Teologia," the magazine of the Theological Faculty of Northern Italy, no. 4, 2004), the "prevailing intention" of the encyclical was "that of denouncing the abuse, probably the one most widespread in the Church today, of celebrating the mass without an ordained priest, due to the scarcity of priests or to an erroneous interpretation of the equality of all Christians."
And in fact many eucharistic liturgies in Latin America and central Europe are celebrated in this way, in small groups without a priest, by ordinary men and women. And there are even some in the progressivist camp who defend this practice as an innovation that the Church should approve without reservation.
On this matter, cardinal Kasper's "no" is absolute:
"A celebration of the eucharist without the ministry of the priest is unthinkable. The ministry of the priest is integral to the celebration of the eucharist. This is also true in cases of extreme emergency. Wherever there have been situations of extreme persecution, in which it has not been possible to have a priest for years or for decades, we have never heard of a parish community or an individual group celebrating the eucharist by their own initiative, without a priest."
The "extreme situations" referred to are, for example, that of Soviet Russia, or of China. Never was there seen in these cases the practice Kasper rejects as "inadmissible," not for disciplinary but for theological reasons, which are developed on many of the pages in his book.
The homily – Kasper says with support from the New Testament – must also be reserved to the priest. In absolutely exceptional cases a layman could address a "spiritual address" to the community, but this must always be "distinguishable from the homily."
Kasper contests the tendency to "interpret in a simple metaphorical and purely symbolic" sense the words of the consecration:
"The words of Jesus 'This is my body' and 'This is my blood' must be understood in the real sense, and in this sacramental sense we speak of the real presence; that is, the true, real, and substantial presence of Jesus Christ under the signs of bread and wine."
The cardinal contests the obfuscation of the mass as sacrifice and its reduction to a meal at which "the celebration of the eucharist is almost indistinguishable from a banquet or a party."
Another target of Kasper's criticisms is the "functionalist" interpretation of the eucharistic liturgy:
"The mass is not a 'service' which, following the law of supplication and offering, is oriented primarily according to the needs or desires of certain groups. It is not a means to an end, but rather an end in itself. It must not become a 'happening'. It is wrong to evaluate it on the basis of its capacity to entertain. The liturgical celebration must be animated, instead, by respect for the holy God and for the presence of our Lord in the sacrament. It must be a space for silence, reflection, adoration, and personal encounter with God."
"The primary meaning of the eucharistic celebration is the 'cultus divinus', the glorification, adoration, praise, and exaltation of God in remembrance of his mighty deeds. This aspect becomes all the more difficult to understand in our society, which is focused upon human needs and their satisfaction. And yet, this is where lies the true reason for the crisis of the liturgy and the widespread inability to understand it. Neither the priestly ministry not the eucharist may be derived 'from below' and from the community. A reduction of the eucharist to its anthropological meaning would be a false renovation of the Church."
Kasper also takes issue with the "gloomy Puritanism" of so many masses that are stripped of all solemnity:
"The candles, the vestments, the music, and everything human art has to offer, must not be eliminated as if they were superficial pomp. The entire celebration of the eucharist should be a foretaste of the coming kingdom of God. In it, the heavenly world descends to our world. This aspect is particularly vivid in the liturgy and theology of the Eastern Church. In the West, however, after the council both the liturgy and theology have unfortunately become puristic and culturally impoverished in this regard."
As for communion, Kasper confirms that "we cannot invite everyone to receive it." Exclusion applies especially to non-Catholics:
"The eucharist presupposes, as the sacrament of unity, that we are in full ecclesial communion, which finds its expression above all in communion with the local bishop and with the bishop of Rome, as the holder of the Petrine ministry, which is at the service of Church unity."
But it also applies to Catholics in a state of grave sin. Kasper recalls the duty – largely fallen into disuse – to make recourse to the sacrament of penance, in order "not to eat and drink unworthily the body and blood of the Lord":
"Here we meet with another weak point of postconciliar development. The affirmation that unity and communion are possible only in the sign of the cross includes another affirmation, that the eucharist is not possible without the sacrament of forgiveness. The ancient Church was fully aware of this nexus. In the ancient Church, the visible structure of the sacrament of penance consisted in the readmission of the sinner to eucharistic communion. Communion, excommunication, and reconciliation constituted a single unity. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Lutheran theologian executed by the Nazis in 1945, rightly warned against cheap grace: 'Cheap grace is the sacrament on sale, it is the Lord's supper without the remission of sins, it is absolution without personal confession'."
Immediately after this citation of Bonhoeffer, an icon of the progressivists, Cardinal Kasper adds his own comment:
"Cheap grace is, for Bonhoeffer, the cause of the Church's decline. The rediscovery and renewal of the character of the assembly and of the banquet of the eucharist have undoubtedly been important, and no intelligent person thinks of undoing them. But a superficial conception of these, detached from the cross and from the sacrament of penance, leads to the banalization of these aspects and to a crisis of the eucharist such as we are witnessing in the life of the Church today."
And on another page of the book he writes, even more succinctly:
"The crisis of the conception of the eucharist is the very nucleus of the crisis of the Church today."