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The “Basic Structure“ (Grundgestalt) of the Eucharistic Celebration According to Joseph Ratzinger

The “Basic Structure“ (Grundgestalt) of the Eucharistic Celebration According to Joseph Ratzinger



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by Dr. Manfred Hauke
by Dr. Manfred Hauke

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Published by: New Liturgical Movement on Jul 24, 2011
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The “Basic Structure“ (
) of the Eucharistic Celebration According toJoseph Ratzinger 
Manfred Hauke
The discussion concerning the “basic structure” of the Holy Mass has been concentratedup to now primarily in the German-speaking countries.
We find a certain foreshadowing of the debate already in a controversy in the years before the First World War: Franz SeraphRenz (1884-1916), in a substantial monograph on the history of the Eucharistic sacrifice,proposed the thesis that the Eucharistic sacrifice, in its essence, is a meal (1902). AsRatzinger does not refer to the controversy that sprang from this suggestion (especially inthe years 1906-1910) or to its connection with a certain condemned proposition in thedecree of Pope Pius X, “Lamentabili”, against Modernism (1907), we mention it here onlybriefly.The “tendency towards an increasing importance of the meal aspect of the HolyMass” begins with the Augsburg theologian Franz Seraph Renz
. Renz “confused thenature of the sacrificial act with the purpose of union with God”
and states that: “theEucharistic worship is essentially a meal with a sacrificial character”
. The ideas heredescribed would be reelaborated by a student of Renz, Franz Sales Wieland (1877-1957)
,according to whom before Irenaeus the Eucharistic celebration was understood as a meal.Only after Irenaeus did the thankgiving sacrifice [
] become apresentation/offering sacrifice [
. Wieland was challenged by theInnsbruck dogmatic and fudamental theologian Emil Dorsch SJ (1867-1934)
. The relevantworks of Wieland were put on the Index because they were seen to be connected toproposition 49 of the anti-Modernist decree of Pius X, “Lamentabili” (1907): “When theChristian supper gradually assumed the nature of a liturgical action those who customarilypresided over the supper acquired the sacerdotal character” (DH 3449). The topic isprobably also familiar to Ratzinger from a doctoral dissertation supervised by him, whichcontradicts the interpretations of Renz and Wieland
See in particular the overview in H.B. Meyer,
Eucharistie. Geschichte, Theologie, Pastoral 
(Gottesdienst der Kirche 4), Regensburg 1989, 441-460 (bibliography); M. Hauke,
La Santa Messa – che cosa è? La „strutturafondamentaledella celebrazione eucaristica
, in G. Borgonovo – K. Charamsa (eds.),
Eucaristia e libertà.Percorsi di formazione sacerdotale
, vol. 2, Città del Vaticano 2006, 37-52.
Cf. W. Imkamp,
Die katholische Theologie in Bayern von der Jahrhundertwende bis zum Ende des ZweitenWeltkrieges
, in W. Brandmüller (ed.),
Handbuch der bayerischen Kirchengeschichte
III, St. Ottilien 1991,539-651 (578); on Renz see G. Rauschen,
Eucharistie und Bußsakrament in den ersten sechsJahrhunderten der Kirche
, Freiburg i.Br.
1910, 60-17; Imkamp (1991) 576-578.
Imkamp, 578.
F.S. Renz,
Geschichte des Messopferbegriffs
… II, Freising 1902, 500.
See Imkamp, supra, 578-580; a tendentious presentation of the conflict can be found in O. Weiss,
Der Modernismus in Deutschland. Ein Beitrag zur Theologiegeschichte
, Regensburg 1995, 410-425.
See F.S. Wieland,
Der vornizänische Opferbegriff 
, München 1909, XIf.
Cf. Imkamp, 579. On the Wieland – Dorsch controversy (1906-1910), see Rauschen (1910) 71-95. AgainstWieland, Dorsch stressed (and here Rauschen agrees) that the Eucharist is an offering of the body andblood of Christ already in the pre-Irenaeian testimonies. According to H. Schürmann, the Wieland – Dorschcontroversy was “objectively and humanly unsatisfactory”: H. Schürmann,
Die Gestalt der urchristlichenEucharistiefeier 
, in idem,
Ursprung und Gestalt. Erörterungen und Besinnungen zum Neuen Testament 
,Düsseldorf 1970, 77-99 (78, n. 6). For Ratzinger’s evaluation of this contribution by Schürmann, see section5 below. Alongside the Wieland – Dorsch controversy Schürmann mentions also the studies on the Agapemeals: A. Arnold,
Der Ursprung des christlichen Abendmahls
, Freiburg i.Br.
1937, 100ff.
H. Moll,
Die Lehre von der Eucharistie als Opfer. Eine dogmengeschichtliche Untersuchung vom NeuenTestament bis Irenäus von Lyon
(Theophaneia 26), Köln – Bonn 1975, 33.
The discussion of our topic, in its stricter sense, begins in 1939 with somemeditations of Romano Guardini, and finds a culminating point in the contributions of Joseph Ratzinger and Walter Kasper in the decade after 1980. While the debate over the“basic structure” of the Eucharistic celebration has so far not numbered among the topthemes treated by contemporary theologians at a worldwide level, we are neverthelesstouching here a central point to which Ratzinger has made vital contributions.
The most important contribution is an article that appeared for the first time in theGerman edition of the journal “Communio” in 1977.
This article, supplemented by twoaddenda, then entered into the collection entitled
The Feast of Faith
and nowappears as part of the collected works of Ratzinger (in German), in the volume dedicatedto the theology of the liturgy (2008).
The importance of this contribution is evident in theremark of Ratzinger that, with “the concept of form or structure [
], a hithertounknown category entered the theological dialogue, clearly recognizable as a power for reform. Indeed, it can be said that it was this category that gave birth to liturgicalscholarship in the modern sense.”
As the Erfurt exegete Heinz Schürmann (cited byRatzinger) put it in the early 1950’s: “Under the veil of ceremonies and rubrics the basicstructures [
] of the holy events are being discovered once more, and thisdiscovery inspires liturgical change.”
The core of the discussion revolves around the idea that, according to Guardini, the“structure” (or “form, figure, shape”, in German
) and its “content” (
) areentirely different things: the Holy Mass, in its “structure”, is a meal, but its “content” is asacrifice. This divergence between liturgical structure and dogmatic content, according toRatzinger, “must be regarded as the central problem of the liturgical reform. Failure to dealwith it has resulted in a great many of the individual problems which have sincepreoccupied us.”
Our presentation, then, describes first the beginning of the discussion in theliturgical movement of the German-speaking lands in the 1930’s and 1940’s. We next lookat the above-mentioned article of Ratzinger as well as its reception in contemporarytheology. After that, we give a glance to some related topics in the theological work of Ratzinger. Finally, we attempt to give some recommendations for formulating our topic in asystematic framework.
The philosophical concept of 
The German word
, in its philosophical significance, goes back to Greekphilosophy, especially to the concept of 
in Plato and
in Aristotle.
This point can therefore not be neglected in any general overview of Ratzinger’s Eucharistic theology. SeeP. Blanco,
Liturgia e Eucaristía en la obra de Joseph Ratzinger 
, in Scripta theologica 38 (2006) 103-130; E.Duffy,
Benedict XVI and the Eucharist 
, in New Blackfriars 88, n. 1014 (2007) 195-212; A. Centurelli,
L’Eucaristia nel pensiero di Joseph Ratzinger Benedetto XVI 
, Leumann (Torino) 2011, 41-45; M. Becker,
Eucharistie – Mitte des Lebens. Theologische Reflexionen mit Benedikt XVI 
, in Theologisches 41 (2011)165-190
J. Ratzinger,
Gestalt und Gehalt der eucharistischen Feier 
, in Internationale Katholische ZeitschriftCommunio 6 (1977) 385-396.
J. Ratzinger,
Das Fest des Glaubens. Versuche zur Theologie des Gottesdienstes
, Einsiedeln 1981, 31-54;engl.
The Feast of Faith
, San Francisco 1986.
J. Ratzinger,
Theologie der Liturgie. Die sakramentale Begründung christlicher Existenz 
(GesammelteSchriften 11), Freiburg i.Br. 2008, 359-382.
Feast of Faith
, 34 (or.
Fest des Glaubens
, 32 =
Theologie der Liturgie
, 360).
Schürmann (1970) 77.
Feast of Faith
, 36 (or.
Fest des Glaubens
, 33 =
Theologie der Liturgie
, 361).
Cf. P. Janssen,
, in Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche
4 (1995) 601f (600).
means the appearance (which can be seen) or the “form” (figure, shape, species, quality,nature) that characterizes a single being.
in Aristotle signifies the “form” whichdetermines the “matter” (
) and constitutes it as a being that can be described. In thephenomenology of Edmund Husserl,
is identified with “essence”, i.e., with a“universal object that can be manifested by the ‘intuition of the essence’(
The concept of 
has a notable role in the philosophy of art and literature.Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, the most renowned German poet, defines
as thevisible manifestation of the essence.
Similarly, for Hegel
is “the name for thedirect sensible expression of an interior and therefore necessary condition of the beautiful,as the sensible appearance of the idea: ‘beauty can devolve only on the
It is especially the so-called “Gestalt psychology” (
) that presentsthe
, the holistic structure, or form, as an expression of an “interior essence”.
was introduced as a technical term into psychology in 1890 by Christian vonEhrenfels (1859-1932),
a disciple of the neo-Aristotelian philosopher Franz Brentano.
Contrary to empirical approaches which reduce every perception to its individual materialelements, the
psychology underlines the fact that the perception of a totality, of awhole, is more than the addition of single perceptions. The “quality of form” (
), according to von Ehrenfels, is not an aggregate of conceptions, “but a complexof elements based on a spiritual principle (with the tendency to form a totality).”
VonEhrenfels gives, for instance, the example of the melody whose progression remains thesame even if every tone is changed (as when it is transposed into another key).
Its natureappears as a structured totality which is formed by an equilibrium of forces. The
can be destroyed if even just one part is changed. “Not only the whole has qualities whichare not visible in its ‘parts’, but every single element changes, gains and likewise losescertain attributes” in relation to the whole in which it is integrated.
The concept of 
is therefore defined by reference to a “whole” or “totality” (
).The philosophical discussion is very well summarized in the philosophical dictionaryedited by the German Jesuit Walter Brugger: “
is the structured totality of sensiblerealities (in a figurative way also of spiritual realities) which can be articulated in space(such as mathematical figures or pictures) or in time in a rhythmic way (such asmelodies).”
From this definition we can deduce that the concept of 
can bereferred to realities that we can see or hear. This observation is important in evaluating theexposition of Guardini, who orients himself to the visible part of the Eucharist (bespeakinga “meal”), but who does not consider the things we can hear (especially the Eucharisticprayer). “Guardini was not attentive to the fact that not only visible things are part of the
, but also audible realities.”
J. Szaif,
Eidos, eidetisch
, in Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche
3 (1995) 525f (525).
Cf. W. Strube – W. Metzger,
, in J. Ritter (eds.),
Historisches Wörterbuch der Philosophie
3,Darmstadt 1974, 540-548 (543).
Ibidem, 543, citing G.W.F. Hegel,
I, ed. F. Bassenge, Berlin
1965, 408 (etc.).
Cf. Strube – Metzger, 547, with reference to C. von Ehrenfels,
, in Vierteljahresschrift für wissenschaftliche Philosophie 14 (1890) 249-292; see now C. Ehrenfels,
Philosophische Schriften
III, ed. R.Fabian, München – Wien 1988, 128-168.
Cf. F. Austeda,
Wörterbuch der Philosophie
, München 1981, 65; R. Fabian,
Christian von Ehrenfels: Lebenund Werk 
(Studien zur österreichischen Philosophie 8), Amsterdam 1986; B. Smith,
 Austrian Philosophy.The Legacy of Franz Brentano
, Chicago 1994, chs. 8-9. On the philosophy of Brentano, cf. W. Stegmüller,
Hauptströmungen der Gegenwartsphilosophie
, Stuttgart
1975, 1-48.
Strube – Metzger, 545.
Cf. E. Zellinger,
, in Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche
4 (1960) 838-843 (838f).
Strube – Metzger, 547.
A. Willwoll,
, in W. Brugger (ed.),
Philosophisches Wörterbuch
, Freiburg i.Br.
1976, 143f (143).

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