Cardinal Turkson: The Eucharist central for caring for creation

The cardinal's address to the 51st International Eucharistic Congress taking place in Cebu, Philippines, is an address for the whole world

Msgr. Kevin Irwin of Catholic University—a friend and contributor to these pages—was in town this afternoon to present Providence College’s Aquinas Lecture. Msgr. Irwin specializes in sacramental theology, including how it relates to ecology. His talk was, not surprising, about the background and contributions of Laudato Si’.

Afterwards we chatted about the timing of his talk in Providence and another given in the Philippines today by Archbishop Antonio Ledesma, SJ, who stood in for Cardinal Peter Turkson at the 51st International Eucharistic Congress in Cebu, Philippines. The cardinal's talk highlighted a topic that needs more attention: the Eucharistic dimensions not just of Laudato Si’, but of Catholic Social Teachings in general—on caring for each other and for creation.

Vatican Radio has the talk here for a full read, but a few points should be made:

The sacraments face in two directions, and so should we

The outward-facing papacy of Pope Francis continues to remind the faithful of the relation between core Catholic realities—like the Eucharist—and our social teachings, which can only be lived—truly lived, that is—when animated by the grace of God. The inner and exterior lives of the Church are not separate entities. They exist in unison and in relation for a reason.

As Cardinal Turkson put it:

The task then is to make sure we view liturgy as a deep and strong ritual expression of the fact that God lives among us prior to, in a unique way within, and following upon sacramental engagement. The function of sacramental liturgy in its uniqueness is about bringing to the world what we have experienced in the liturgy.

We cannot forget the Cross

There is a giddiness among some Catholics today that often derives from an overly optimistic assessment of the Francis papacy. As Msgr. Irwin put it in his talk this afternoon, this papacy is one of continuity and development, of what came before it and in what will come after. And in all this, as Ecclesiastes reminds us, there will be a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance (Ecc 3:4). This is because the Cross is ever before us in this fallen world. It is the sure, if painful, pathway to the eternal Sabbath.

As Cardinal Turkson put it:

We see how the Eucharist continues Christ’s paschal victory via death and resurrection. This combination of life and death, positive and negative puts the world into proper perspective as both graced filled and flawed and in need of complete redemption. Our Eucharistic liturgy prevents us from becoming too optimistic about the world

Yet sacramental liturgy also combats pessimism about the world and world events. By its very shape and structure, sacramental liturgy is a ritual experience that reflects an optimistic approach to human life. In the end, “all will be well.” In the meantime, we need sacramental liturgy to put the world into focus and perspective. Opportunities for experiences of hope abound in the celebration of sacraments – hope in the act of liturgy and hope derived from the act of liturgy which enables us to deal with life.

We cannot dismiss the integration of God, man, and creation in the sacraments

We Catholics can sometimes take the reality of the sacraments for granted. How many of us—especially our lapsed brothers and sisters—say that they do not need the sacraments to be close to God?

For whatever reasons—and there are many of them—that so many Catholics delight in modernity’s uber-independent view of humanity in the world, we are reminded in Laudato Si’ that if we wish to save the world, we must take the sacraments seriously. Their reception in our lives as a community is a matter of life and death.

As Cardinal Turkson put it:

A premise of the celebration of sacramental liturgy is that we use the good things from this earth to worship God. They have been given to us by the “God of all creation” and they are the “fruit of the earth.” Almost all the liturgies we celebrate involve the earth and our companions on the earth. For example, the welcoming of the light of day and acknowledging the shadows of evening shape Morning and Evening Prayer in the Liturgy of the Hours. We use water in baptism. Why? Because it is the only primal element in the universe (except air) without which we cannot live. Is it any wonder that the water that sustains human life is the element we use to initiate us into the very life of God, our entrance to eternal life?

But there is another level of meaning behind the use of bread and wine at the Eucharist. These gifts are from the earth, but are also the result of human “work.” “Work” here means human ingenuity, productivity, and “manufacture” – which literally means something “made by hand.” That some central elements used in the liturgy are the “work of human hands” like oil, as well as bread and wine, respects humans’ ingenuity to produce things that literally reproduce in themselves the paschal process of dying and rising.

The cardinal’s talk, available at Vatican Radio, is something you may wish to read with friends, over coffee or a glass of wine, or two. You may also wish to consider it the next time you go to Mass. I know I will.

You may also want to read the awesome little passage (no. 92) about the eco-Eucharist link in the Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis by Benedict XVI. It's the perfect companion to the cardinal's talk. Both are important reflections for the entire Church—and, it turns out, for the whole world.

O Sacrament most holy!
O Sacrament divine!
All praise and all thanksgiving
be every moment Thine.

Photo: Flicker/Fr Lawrence Lew, O.P

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About the Blog

Catholic Ecology posts my regular column in the Rhode Island Catholic, as well as scientific and theological commentary about the latest eco-news, both within and outside of the Catholic Church. What is contained herein is but one person's attempt to teach and defend the Church's teachings - ecological and otherwise. As such, I offer all contents of this blog for approval of the bishops of the Church. It is my hope that nothing herein will lead anyone astray from truth.