The Fundamental Symbol of being-for

Light of truth

The presence of Christ in the Eucharist is conceived not as substance, but as ‘ad-esse.’ Louis-Marie Chauvet, professor of sacramental theology at the Institut Catholique in Paris sees not as the sacrament as an objective instrument for the production of grace but an instrument of transmission in the sense of a revelatory sign of God. For him Christians have no other Temple than the glorified body of Jesus, no other altar than his cross, no other priest and sacrifice than his very person: Christ is their only possible liturgy. In the book Symbol and Sacrament Chauvet describes the sacraments as “operators” and “events” of grace. He highlights the efficacy of the symbol in the context of his discussion of the performative dimension of language. Indeed Chauvet is attuned to this concern in his discussion of Barth where he says:…emphasis on can free itself from the productionist scheme—which Barth rightly criticizes—only if we “overcome” the metaphysical view of the world characterized by instrumentality and causality and move into the symbolic characterized by the mediation through language and symbol, where “revealer” and “operator” are indissolubly linked insofar as they are homogeneous. In this symbolic perspective, the relation of God and humankind is conceived according to the scheme of otherness which transcends the dualistic scheme of nature and grace undergirding classical onto-theology. Such a scheme requires that God, on the one hand, and our relation to God, on the other, be expressed from the start in the mode of being open.

For Chauvet, Eucharist is never separable from human destiny in its connection with the cosmos, others, and the gods. Thus the Eucharist is the “paradigmatic figure of this presence-of-the-absence of God.” The Sacraments, with its attention to presence and absence, achieves what might be called a sacramental iconoclasm, which possesses broad ecumenical appeal and resonates with contemporary philosophy and concern for praxis. Our contemporary fascination with presence…is based on a longing for presence that in the contemporary context can only be satis ed in conditions of extreme temporal fragmentation. A community that is properly called Eucharistic is not one which possesses the Eucharist, but one which is possessed by the Eucharist. This possession by the Eucharist is a dis-possession of every possession, a risk that can never be fully avoided, the same risk God ultimately undertook in the Incarnation of Christ: the risk of death, that is, the absolute loss of self. Christ does not instruct His followers to comprehend or explain or interpret the mystical action, but rather simply to do it.

Theology has always left a little room for the apophatic way of the via negativa, its dominant mode is to speak and reason endlessly about those divine matters which are its concern. For Chauvet, Christian theologians cannot afford to ignore the prophetic voices of literature and the arts, even to the point of allowing those voices to challenge theology’s basic assumptions and expose its scandalous, deconstructive core. We have to expose Christian faith and practice to some of its tendency toward idol-worship – the idols of knowledge, power, and possession – and to point instead toward the “more excellent way” (1 Cor. 13:1) enfieshed in the Christ event and re-presented in the Church’s Eucharistic action. The Eucharist, therefore, which points to the Word-made- flesh, Christ the “primordial sacrament,” makes present the coincidence or confusion of word and flesh: of language taking on a body; of the immaterial entering into and taking on materiality; of the sacred coming to inhabit the profane.

To be and to be in relation becomes identical – to be is to be for – ad-esse. Here is certainly an ontology derived from the being of God. “Those who live too comfortably in the Church also misunderstand it: they are then in the danger of forgetting that the Church is not Christ and that if, in faith, it is recognized as the privileged place of His presence, it is also, in this same faith, the most radical mediation of His absence. This is why to consent to the sacramental mediation of the Church is to consent to the presence of the absence of God. The Church radicalizes the vacancy of this place of God. To accept its mediation is to agree that this vacancy will never be filled. The scandal of the Eucharist today, a scandal which has been repeatedly domesticated by the Church, but which must be continually sought and upheld as essential to the very becoming of the Church as the Body of Christ in the world.

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