Part 2 History

Chapter e30  The Eucharist After Vatican II [1975-2050]


Preliminary Questions



1. Eucharistic Presence in an Oral Culture

3. Eucharistic Presence in a Print Culture

2. Eucharistic Presence in a Manuscript Culture

4. Eucharistic Presence in an Electronic Culture


Lex Orandi

To Think About

Preliminary Questions

"The medium is the message." (Marshall McLuhan)  "The way we store our information determines consciousness." (Walter Ong)  Just as water assumes the shape of the glass containing it, information is shaped by the way it is stored.  What does this mean? Do you agree with Ong's statement "The way we store our information determines consciousness"?

Do you wear an analog wrist watch or a digital wrist watch? Why? What difference does it make in the way you "tell time"? 

What is a paradigm shift?

Return to:   Top of This Page  ---  Eucharist  Index ---  Fr. Tom's Home Page


Dr. Bernard Brandon Scott, "The Graven Image: Challenge of the Electronic Age," Graduation Address, St. Meinrad College, May, 1988.

Richard R. Gaillardetz. Transforming Our Days: Finding God Amid the Noise of Modern Life. Liguori Publications, 2007. ISBN 978-0-7648-1622-2 

Return to:   Top of This Page  --- Eucharist Index --- Fr. Tom's Home Page


After Vatican II  When students were asked to make several comments about the development of the Eucharist in each of the ten periods of the historical grid we saw that it is easier to summarize the past than to predict the future or even to analyze the present.   For example, the following comments were made regarding Period 10 of the historical grid:  (Note the variety of perspectives)

Return to:   Top of This Page  ---  Eucharist  Index ---  Fr. Tom's Home Page

Our Culture Shapes Our Theology:

"There is a characteristic process that is recognizable in the history of dogma.  When a new age breaks in with its particular forms of thought and language, it affects the traditional doctrine of the faith that had been handed down from another age clothed in another structure of thought and language.  At first, this takes place in an unreflective way.  Later on, formal theological reflection on the consequences of the new form of thought leads to a crisis.  How can the new theology be reconciled with the old so that the gospel message is authentically expressed?"  [Kilmartin, p 97.]

The senior class of 1988 at Saint Meinrad College invited Dr. Bernard Brandon Scott to give the address at their May commencement ceremonies. His address, "The Graven Image: Challenge of the Electronic Age," forms the basis of the reflections which follow. I summarize here his reflections on the nature of 1.  an oral culture, 2.  a manuscript culture, 3.  a print culture, and 4. a visual culture and try to reflect on how the Catholic theology of the eucharist might be expressed and understood in each culture. How would Christians of each of these four cultures speak of and understand the eucharistic presence of Christ. What would be the same? What would be different?

In each of the four periods we will consider:
1.  Storage: 
2.  The Age:
  Characteristics of the information storage.
3.  The Society: Resulting social structures.
4.  Ministry:  The social structures are reflected in church structures. These structures then influence the way ministry within the church is structured and understood. We focus on eucharistic ministry in particular.
5.  Prayer: The eucharist is a worded sign. The words function in the context of the information structures of the age. This is true also for the eucharistic prayer.
6.  Architecture:  What is the configuration of the space which is shaped by and which shapes this understanding?
7.  Paradigm for understanding eucharistic presence.

It is one thesis of this paper that each paradigm has both positive and negative aspects.  As you study this paper, at the end of each section attempt to name the positive and the negative aspects of each culture. 

Return to:   Top of This Page  ---  Eucharist  Index ---  Fr. Tom's Home Page

1. Eucharistic Presence in an Oral Culture

1.1.  Storage:  The human mind.  -- Try to imagine yourself in an oral culture. What would this course look like? In an oral culture, whom could you call on the telephone? [those people whose numbers you knew by heart; forget the number and the person "falls out of existence."]  In an oral culture, we store information in the human brain.

1.2.  The Age:  The task: to think memorable thoughts. The sin: to forget. To remember is to be alive. To remember is to make present.  To forget someone or something causes it to cease to exist.  (Notice the frequency during the Eucharistic Prayer that we ask God to "remember".   (See:  Anamnesis)

Lord, remember your Church throughout the world;
make us grow in love,
together with N. our Pope,
N. our bishop, and his assistant bishops,
and all the clergy.

Remember our brothers and sisters
who have gone to their rest
in the hope of rising again;
bring them and all the departed
into the light of your presence.

Remember those who take part in this offering,
those here present and all your people,
and all who seek you with a sincere heart.
Remember those who have died in the peace of Christ
and all the dead whose faith is know to you alone.

Remember, Lord, your people,
especially those for whom we now pray, N. and N.
Remember all of us gathered here before you.
You know how firmly we believe in you
and dedicate ourselves to you.

1.3.  The Society: The liturgical assembly: in an oral culture the basic social organization is the family and the tribe. Presiding at eucharist = pater familiae [head of the household] (men & women) at the family meal. All are active participants in the hosted meal.

1.4.  Ministry:  Christian Scriptures use secular terms for Christian ministry: managers (overseer / episcopal), elders (advisors, presbyter), ministers (e.g. Minister of Defense). These three terms are all aspects of what we eventually come to call "Bishop." Liturgy, public service, is also a secular term, not a religious term. In Hebrews Christ is called high priest. By Baptism the Christians became "A chosen race, royal priesthood, a holy nation" (1 Peter 2:9). The elder (presbyter) who can remember the story and the prophet who can announce the story and the overseer who can proclaim the story in the name of the whole family are the leaders at the eucharist.  (Note:  In the Christian Scriptures (e.g. New Testament, Gospels, Letters of Paul, etc) there is no mention of "priesthood" as we use the word today.

1.5.  Prayer:  Proclaimed prayer of the head of the family in Berakah form. Jesus told them: Do this in memory of me. Remembering, anamnesis is at the heart of the eucharistic prayer. Our liturgy is born in an oral culture. We bless God (Berakah): 1) Name the divinity (naming makes present) 2) we gratefully remember (anamnesis) and 3) we make our petition.

Scott: "In an oral culture the act of remembering creates real presence." This is the night when our ancestors...This is the night when we left Egypt...Today, Hodie... Anamnesis brings past, present, and future into one "now" or hodie and we become present to the once and for all historical event.

We petition the divinity: Epiclesis. In the oral culture the petition is for unity in the Spirit. In a print culture this petition shifts to the petition for consecration. Gospel of John: that they may be one... Paul: whoever eats and drinks without recognizing the body...

In an oral culture the epiclesis looks to the Spirit, the principle of community. In a manuscript culture the epiclesis shifts to the Father, the monarchical principle.

1.6.  Architecture: Family gathered around common table; each bring gifts and each one a celebrant in the common celebration.

1.7.  Paradigm for understanding eucharistic presence: anamnesis. Presence in remembering.

Return to:   Top of This Page  ---  Eucharist  Index ---  Fr. Tom's Home Page

2. Eucharistic Presence in a Manuscript Culture

2.1.  Storage:  Manuscript. 

2.2.  The Age: The thirteenth century is "The Greatest of Centuries" because it is the height of manuscript culture and the Roman Catholic Church likes this culture. At this period we have the "discovery of the individual". See Nathan Mitchell, Cult and Controversy, p 369. "[T]here can be little doubt that twelfth-century art and architecture in Europe benefitted from contact with Arabic science. The principal point here is that at the turn of the eleventh century, a major shift occurred in European attitudes toward both art and science. Lynn White has summarized the change in this way: 'Things ceased to be merely symbols, ... and became objects interesting and important in themselves, ... [T]he pelican, which was believed to nourish its young with its own blood, was the analogue of Christ, who feeds mankind with his blood. In such a world there was no thought of hiding behind a clump of reeds actually to observe the habits of a pelican. There would have been no point in it. Once one had grasped the spiritual meaning of the pelican, one lost interest in individual pelicans.'" The discovery of the individual finds a philosophical underpinning in Aristotle.

2.3.  The society: The manuscript culture gives rise to the governing elites who can read and write and keep records and bills, and deeds (and thus, who can read and rite) = clergy.  (Beginnings of clergy / laity distinctions in Christianity.) 

2.4.  Ministry: The secular terms of the Christian Scriptures are made sacred and hierarchical: Bishop / priest / deacon. The one who can read the words over the matter. Knowledge is power. Power of Orders / can do something baptized can not do. Priest's hands are anointed. Only priest can touch the host. Only priest can receive from the cup. Only the priest can read the language (cleric; clerk; one who can read / Latin). The ministers who can read and have power to transubstantiate the bread, and consume it. The illiterate watch the clerics and have ocular communion: "The gaze that saves." Elevation becomes salvific.

2.5.  Prayer: Knowing the right words. Shift from the verb island of narrative to the noun island of things = reification. Eucharist becomes "thing." Emphasis on "matter / form." Theories of TRAN SUB STAN TIATION; the "thing" which stands under the appearances or accidents is trans-formed into a different thing. The essence of bread which is under the appearance of bread is transformed into the essence of Christ. Movement from the presence of the saving action of Christ to the physical presence of Jesus. While the Roman Canon (Eucharistic Prayer I) has undergone much critique from liturgists, it is important because it is the prayer which has shaped our eucharistic understanding and discourse from 500 CE to 1970 CE, or about 1,470 years! Lex orandi legem credendi constituit.

In an oral culture, the petition is for unity in the spirit. In the print culture, this petition shifts to the petition for consecration. Epiclesis in the Spirit, the principle of community. In a manuscript culture the epiclesis shifts to the Father, the monarchical principle. The narrative eucharistic anamnesis of the berakah is lost sight of when the focus is on the individual words: Hoc est enim corpus meum, This, is, my, body. Magic [from] hoc'es corpus [to]hocus-pocus. (Note:  There is no invocation of the Holy Spirit in Eucharistic Prayer I [Roman Canon]).

2.6.  Architecture: Romanesque, Gothic. The one room unified space becomes two rooms: nave and sanctuary. A place for the "sanctus" holy ones who can read - separated by rails [then] grills [then] walls. The focus on the individual causes the allegorical / ichnographic / transcendent art to give way to representational art. The crucifix changes from the transcendent Byzantine (Christ standing on the cross) to representational (Christ hanging on the cross). Franciscan influence here is not minimal. Francis had a deep love for the humanity of Jesus (crib, cross, wounds, Jesus' native land, etc.). Compare the crucifix before which Francis prayed in San Damiano and before which he received his initial orientational vision and the crucifixes carried by the Franciscan missionaries to India and America. There begins an interest in the individual, "historical Jesus". Francis and the Christmas Crib. The importance of the "holy land" and the individual places where the historical Jesus was born, lived, suffered and died. Francis visits the Sultan, and Jerusalem.

2.7.  Paradigm for understanding eucharistic presence: Physical, hylomorphic paradigm, Transubstantiation.

Return to:   Top of This Page  ---  Eucharist  Index ---  Fr. Tom's Home Page

3. Eucharistic Presence in a Print Culture

3.1.  Storage.  Printed book.

3.2.  The age: Individual interpretation of the story context, the eucharistic narrative, the anamnesis of the Berakah.

3.3.  The society: All can read and write - egalitarianism - democracy. Leads to the break down of hierarchical models in society (monarchy) and in church. The advent of print culture comes with the advent of Protestantism.  In rejecting the latter, Rome also rejected the former. The Church of Rome did not do well here. Refusal to move to print culture and defender of manuscript culture. Supporter of monarchy (origins of the Feast of Christ the King); opposed to individual liberties and democracy (communism). Opposition to the founding of the Franciscans for the new order was too communistic economically and too democratic in its power structures; it was not merely a new monasticism. High value on individual freedoms. According to Jean Daniélou, "the invention of the printing press made it possible, for the first time in Christian history, to insist upon uniformity in worship." At the same time, the standardization of worship halted "all spontaneous growth and change" in the liturgy (Taken from Ann Taves, The Household of Faith, p 2).

3.4.  Ministry: All are active and equal. Scott: "Private reading gave rise to private interpretation. There was no longer any need for an elite to interpret since each one could reason for themselves." "Priest" loses hierarchical distance / separation and reenters the congregation. Note the anti-hierarchical terminology for the assemblies: presbyterians, congregationalists, etc. Holy Orders minimalize as Baptism is maximalized. As eucharistic ministry is no longer the function of an elite class but democratized, the elite status of celibacy / virginity is not longer a prerequisite and the eucharistic minister can be sexual like other Christians.

3.5.  Prayer: becomes print. The symbolic / anamnestic function of the word is lost in the de-magicfication of the hocus pocus and the assembly is content with the print, and talk about the meal. The Eucharistic Prayer becomes a sermon. Speaking to God shifts to speaking to the people. Print and word is maximalized and ritual symbol is minimalized. One reads the text and the others check in the book for accuracy. [Protestants all bring their Bibles; Catholics check the priest by following each word in the missalette.]

3.6.  Architecture: Sacred space (gothic) becomes democratic (town meeting hall). Pews: people line up like lines of print on a page. Table-now-altar/throne becomes reading desk/pulpit.

3.7.  Paradigm for understanding eucharistic presence: Interpersonal models.

Return to:   Top of This Page  ---  Eucharist  Index ---  Fr. Tom's Home Page

4. Eucharistic Presence in an Electronic Culture

4.1.  Storage:  Electric media

4.2.  The age: It is never easy to predict the future. The new task: SYNTHESIZING THE QUANTITY OF DATA. Embracing the totality... This "embracing/gathering" style is exemplified by many of today's acknowledged, successful leaders. For example when Rev. Edward Aloysius Malloy, Jr. became President of the University of Notre Dame, in an article about his leadership style, Kerry Temple states:

His, he said, would be a "peripatetic presidency." His style would be one of "reaching out and going where the people are, of walking around and not simply waiting for people to come to me." His track record supported this promise. After becoming associate provost in 1982, Malloy met individually with virtually every one of Notre Dame's 950-member faculty. And right after being named president, he held more than 100 meetings with students, faculty, staff and alumni. "I believe in consultation, in collaborative style, in listening," he said then. (Kerry Temple, "It's Who I Am" Notre Dame Magazine, Autumn 1993 (22:3), p 21.)

Note the speed of change:  It took radio 40 years to gain 50 million domestic listeners. It took television and cable 13 years to gain 50 million domestic viewers. It took the world wide web 4 years to get 50 million domestic users. It took 30 years for the VCR's price to drop below $100. It took 4 years for the DVD's price to fall below $100.

4.3.  The society: Community overcomes isolation and alienation. Nouns to verbs; from words to word processing.

4.4.  Ministry: Multiple and diverse ministries. The management of information and ministries and gifts. Ministry of leadership -- giving vision. Presider at eucharist is one who facilitates the diverse ministries of the other participants so as to enable the ACTIVE PARTICIPATION of all present.

Research conducted by George Gallup, Jr., reveals that there are ten factors which will impact religious life in America in the twenty-first century: (Taken from: Conversion: A Newsletter of the Paulist Fathers to Encourage Catholics to Invite, Teach and Initiate Unchurched Americans and Inactive Catholics, January-February 1987, p 16.)  1. An intensive spiritual search by many people coupled with a lack of commitment to a church. 2. A proliferation of groups in response to human needs. 3. An increase in church attendance and membership due to the aging of the population. 4. A continuing blurring of the boundaries between religious denominations. 5. A growing interest in interfaith dialogue. 6. The continuing growth of evangelical groups. 7. A leveling off of membership loss in mainline churches. 8. A rediscovery of small groups for the purpose of religious formation. 9. A renewed activism. 10. The spiritual needs of people will be strong. People will be hungry for a direct relationship with God. Parishes and religious organizations might consider these factors as they plan their evangelization activities.

4.5.  Prayer: Prayer of the ASSEMBLY. One member of the assembly leads the prayer but does not usurp the role of the total assembly. We have rediscovered that the eucharistic prayer is not the prayer of the priest alone but the prayer of the total assembly and is essentially dialogical in nature. (Contrast the thinking in the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy where the Eucharistic Prayer was not to be in the vernacular because it was not one of the "parts which pertain to the people." CSL 54.) Symbolic narration enables the multiple dimensions of the assembly to transcend past, present, future into the synthesis.

4.6.  Architecture: Graphic configurations symbolic of multiple interactions.

4.7.  Paradigm for understanding eucharistic presence: celebration models. Eucharistic presence is a privileged mode of presence among many "real presences" and cannot be understood apart from them because it does not exists apart from the complex of presences. Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, article 7: Present in liturgical assembly ( two or three gathered in my name); Present in proclaimed word (Christ speaks...); Present in meal sharing (...recognized him in the breaking of the bread); Present in minister (Icon of the community/Body).








human mindmanuscriptprinted bookelectronic media


rememberwrite billsdemocracytrans-national


tribalhierarchyall have accessglobal village


family modelpowerbaptismfacilitation


Berakahmoment of transubstantiationdialogicalone speaks in name of all


one room housetwo room; gothic; distancemeeting room; face to facescreen to screen


hodietransubstantiationtable fellowshipcelebration models

Return to:   Top of This Page  ---  Eucharist  Index ---  Fr. Tom's Home Page


Developments in ritual and rubrics and piety do not always keep step with developments in theology, scripture, history, etc. Such is the case today with regard to the Eucharist. At the time of the Second Vatican Council some of these discrepancies were rectified, for example, "The Eucharistic Prayer is not the prayer of the priest alone but belongs to the entire community and henceforth is to be prayed out loud in a language all can understand." "As the sign of the sacrifice is the meal, the Eucharist should look more like a meal by not only eating bread but also drinking from the cup."

Today there are discrepancies which still remain. One group of students in the Eucharist class discussed this issue and made the following remarks:

1. The place of Eucharist in the process of Initiation is not realized by most Catholics. The progressive role of the Spirit in Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist should be more apparent.  Eucharist is the repeatable part of Baptism; every Eucharist starts with Baptism

2. Few Catholics see the inner dynamic of the Eucharist (Gathering / Story Telling / Meal Sharing / Commissioning.  For many it is still Offertory-Consecration-Communion.

3. The Story Telling (Liturgy of the Word) and the homily remain "poor country cousins" to receiving Communion, which is the "main reason why we came to church."

4. Real Presence is still exclusively associated with the bread to the detriment of the assembly and the Scripture. The Psalter remains a "foreign book" to most Catholics.

5. The language of the prayers is much more the language of sacrifice (Good Friday) than meal language (Holy Thursday).

6. In practice the epiclesis still occupies a place of second rank to the institution narrative.  For example:  the handling of the elements at this point by the presiding priest and his genuflections and elevations; the words are often printed in larger type than the other words of the Eucharistic prayer giving the impression that they are somehow more important; the concelebrants all make a pointing gesture at the words of institution and while they make the gesture of epiclesis during the first half of the epiclesis (to change the bread and wine) they make no gesture during the second and more important half of the epiclesis (to change the Church) [This is another difficulty with the split epiclesis.]   Most contemporary musical settings of the Eucharistic prayer give more attention to the words of institution than to the epiclesis.

7. Communion is still seen more as "receiving Communion" (individually) than as "sharing a meal" (collectively).

8. The symbols of bread and wine (the small flat host and the tiny sip from the cup for those who bother to receive from the cup at all) are inadequate to carry the weight of the meal.

9. Bringing the bread and wine and setting the table in preparation for the meal are still seen and experienced primarily in terms of offering -- the collection of money reinforces offertory more than setting the table.

10. "As the bread is one, we though many form one body." This is hard to see when the bread is not one loaf, but many hosts. At the Eucharist we look more like we are eating individually rather than sharing a meal. We do not all remain standing until the last person has been served (In a large group, this would make everyone stand too long, and the elderly would get tired).

11. Practical concerns still take precedence over liturgical and theological concerns. For example, there is often not enough time between Masses to offer communion from the cup. It would cause a traffic jam in the parking lot. There are not enough trained Eucharistic ministers in the parish to offer communion with both bread and wine.

12. "There is no way to save the wine in the tabernacle and since we do not know how much will be left over, it is better not to offer the wine to the faithful." Real bread goes stale in the tabernacle and there is no way of estimating how much would be needed for any given Mass. When using real bread there are particles and crumbs, which is not the case with commercially produced hosts. When many people in the parish prefer to receive communion on the tongue, hosts are more practice to administer.

13. Perhaps the reason that there has not been more effort to restore the meal aspect of the Eucharist (and its relation to Holy Thursday) is that we have lost the community dimension of meals in general. We do not see each meal as a religious, reconciling event. We often eat alone. Until the "meal" is seen as a unifying, reconciling, family event, it will be difficult to explain the meal as the sacramental sign of the sacrifice (joyful union).

14. The "Kiss of Peace" is experienced by most Catholics more in the genre of "hello" then the genre of reconciliation, forgiveness, unity, communion.

15. Few Catholics consider Eucharist a sacrament of Reconciliation.

16. Posture still tends to accent the action in the sanctuary without granting enough attention to the role of the presence of the community. The common action is emphasized when all (ordained and non-ordained) have the same posture.

17. Commissioning: We need to emphasize the commissioning of the faithful to go forth and proclaim the good news. This part of the Eucharist is still under-developed. There needs to be a real connection between what happens at Mass and what happens in our daily life.

18. Eucharist is still more "noun" than "verb."

To Think About

Select five aspects of Eucharistic theology that have been diminished or obscured  during the course of time and which were re-emphasize in the documents of the Second Vatican Council and the revised sacramental ritual books.  Then state what has happened to each of these five aspects of the Eucharist during the 50 years following the Council. 

What language and catechetical methods will be effective in conveying the traditional belief about the eucharist to people of a consumer society?

Click here to return to the previous chapter of this history    Click here to return to the summary chapter

Return to:   Top of This Page  ---  Eucharist  Index ---  Fr. Tom's Home Page

Copyright: Tom Richstatter.  All Rights Reserved.  This page was created by Fr. Thomas Richstatter, O.F.M.  Every effort has been, and is being made to acknowledge sources when the ideas are not my own.  Any failure to comply with the United States Copyright Act (Title 17, United States Code) will be corrected immediately should I become aware of it.  This site was updated on 02/20/15.  Your comments on this site are welcome at