Sassetta, Institution of the Eucharist (1430-2)

What is the relationship between the proclamation of the Word of God (Scripture) and the sacramental life of the Church? Some think that the power of the proclaimed Word of God, or their private study of Scripture, is sufficient for the Christian life. Others think that the fullness of the Christian life is attained in the reception of the sacraments alone. Often these are considered two extremes – Catholics focus on the sacraments, while Protestants focus on Scripture.

Before the Second Vatican Council much emphasis was placed on the reception of the sacraments by the Catholic faithful, often to the neglect or exclusion of reflection on Scripture. The pendulum began to swing in the opposite direction soon after the Council with a surge in biblical studies among the Catholic faithful. Nowadays both are often neglected.

The current situation was certainly not the vision of the Second Vatican Council, which stated, “The Church has always venerated the divine Scriptures just as she venerates the body of the Lord, since, especially in the sacred liturgy, she unceasingly receives and offers to the faithful the bread of life from the table both of God’s word and of Christ’s body.”

Unfortunately, this teaching has been widely misunderstood to mean that Scripture and the Sacrament are on equal footing; but what the Council states is simply that both are venerated. Indeed reverence is to be given to both. But care must be taken also to acknowledge a real difference between the two in Catholic practice: adoration is given to the Sacrament of Christ’s body but not to Scripture. In other words, the Council was trying to elevate in the minds of Catholics the reverence given to Scripture. It was not downgrading the adoration given to the Sacrament of the Eucharist.

The Council taught that the special relationship between the proclaimed Word of God and the Sacrament is that what is proclaimed is then made present on the altar. Christ himself is the very centre of Scripture. Whenever Scripture is proclaimed in the liturgical assembly, the Holy Spirit moves the hearts of believers to respond in faith as a preparation to receive their crucified and risen Lord, who will soon be made present on the altar in the Eucharist.

We discover then that the proper context of the reading of Scripture is within in the liturgy in which the proclamation of the Word of God prepares the Christian faithful to receive the real presence of their Lord on the altar in the Sacrament. Hence, the proclaimed Word of God must always be accompanied by the sacramental life of the Church.

Catholics are encouraged to read and be spiritually nourished by Scripture. This must always be accompanied by a lively sacramental life in which what they hear proclaimed from Scripture is made really present to them in the Sacrament, particularly in the Eucharist.

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