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Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, head of the Sacred Congregation which safeguards Catholic orthodoxy world-wide, has commented at length on Luther’s connection with the exaggerated modern-day emphasis on the word, and its far-reaching consequences for a Catholic understanding of the Church and sacramentality:

Rejection of the sacramentality of the priestly ministry led Luther, by a kind of inner necessity, to regard the ministry of the,priest as strongly concentrated on the word: he is the preacher of grace, nothing else; even in the celebrations of the Eucharist and in confession he is speaking, in a special way, of the grace of forgiveness; even in these actions, the priest does not transcend his role as preacher.

The consequent restriction to the word alone had, as its log­ical outcome, the pure functionality of the priesthood .. . which, in turn, included the strict equality of Christians. In principle, all Christians may preach; for reasons of or­der, and only for such reasons, restrictions are put upon them doing so. This equality led to secularity. There was purposely no further mention of priesthood but only of “of­fice .” 4

The Cardinal continues elsewhere that “Luther conceived the notion of community largely in terms of the word (the gospel).” The Lutheran tradition discerns the “two essential ingredients of the concept of ‘Church’ as God’s call to assembly and the answer by which that call is realized.” The Cardinal explains that in recent times a Eucharistic, sacramental and therefore supposedly ‘Catholic’ flavor has been added to this theology of Reformation origin and is found under the popular expression: “the community’s right to the Eucharist”. He indicates that those who support this heretical notion argue thus:

A congregation that celebrates the Eucharist needs nothing more. It has the whole Lord; in the sacrament, it thus has also the whole Church and IS the whole Church. The Church is wholly present in the Eucharistic assembly, that is, in every local assembly; to this, the ‘universal Church’ can add nothing more, for there IS nothing ‘more’ than the Eucharistic assembly.5

While this argument reflects the popular view propagated by liberal clerics, from a Catholic perspective it is patently false because it ignores the question of how the Eucharistic mystery comes into being. As the Cardinal explains:

The community cannot bestow it upon itself. The Lord does not arise, as it were, from the midst of the communal assembly. He can come to it only from ‘without— as one who bestows himself. And this Lord is always one, always undivided not only in one place but in the whole world. To receive Him means, therefore, to be united with all others. To celebrate the Eucharist means to enter into union with the universal Church — that is, with the one Lord and his one Body … The outward sign that one cannot manipulate the Eucharist at will and that it belongs to the universal Church is the successio apostolica: it means that no group can constitute itself a church but becomes a church only by being received as such by the universal church.’

Given this pivotal importance, Cardinal Ratzinger notes that it is always the Eucharist which is the first casualty in attempts to `de-C atholicise’ the Church. As the dimension of Catholicity is removed or reduced in a parish, the Eucharist within that parish becomes “just a meal in common, a self-fulfilment of the community.” Its theological meaning is then limited to the meals Jesus took with sinners. Under the Team’s guidance, this view had become reality for hundreds of compliant parishioners who seemed blissfully unaware of its grave implications, as forewarned by the Cardinal in an assessment that seemed tailor-made for the developing Benalla scenario:

When sacramentality [Mass/Confession] is attacked, sacral­ity is also attacked; when that occurs, sacramental ministry (priesthood] is replaced by an organization [Team Ministry] that determines itself and has, consequently, only functions to offer; it is no longer a state to which one is called. The danger that the community [parish] will become just a recre­ation centre is then perilously near.7