Wednesday, December 15, 2010


A priest from the Albany Diocese, Father Fragomeni currently teachers at Catholic Theological Union, Chicago. He has done extensive work in parish renewal, diocesan liturgy and liturgical music.

The last time I saw Fr. Fragomeni was in the early 1980's when I attended a workshop on the RCIA put on by the North American Forum on the Catechumenate. Both of us, I think, were more imbued with the "spirit" of Vatican II at that time than either of us are today.

To make this point, Fr. Fragomeni said yesterday, that in line with what is now being calling the "reform of the reform" or what the Holy Father calls, the "hermeneutic of reform within continuity" that liturgists can no longer appeal to just liturgical theologians, either past or present to make authoritative claims on the nature of the liturgy today, but rather we must appeal to papal teaching since the Second Vatican Council. We must look to Rome. I never thought that Fr. Fragomeni would be an "ultramontanist." But he said it out loud.

In his talk to us, he highlighted one papal document in particular, written by Pope John Paul II and released on October 7, 2004 in time for the "Year of the Eucharist." One can be sure that Pope Benedict as Cardinal Ratzinger had a hand in writing this also. The title of the Apostolic letter (and thus more than mere opinion of a particular pope) is MANE NOBISCUM DOMINE and you can down load it by pressing that title.

I'm paraphrasing Fr. Fragomeni, but one of the highlights of this Apostolic letter is that the Holy Father indicates that the presence of Jesus Christ is eternal and has always been in this world as a part of salvation history, past, present and to come. He is an Eternal Event. Thus the Holy Father expands the awareness of the Real Presence of Christ in a letter dedicated to the Holy Eucharist to include all times and places. This does not diminish the Lord's Real Presence in the Eucharistic Elements, but expands our understanding to see the Holy Eucharist, the Mass in general as well as its particular components as "focused moments" on the presence of Christ already manifest, but hidden or veiled in sacramental signs.

He then emphasizes that the Mass has two tables, the Table of the Word and the Table of the Eucharist. Personally, while I don't like disagreeing with a pope, I would prefer one table with two courses. At Mass we are fed with the Word of God and the Most Holy Eucharist from the one table or one altar. I think the unreformed Mass captures this a bit better and needs to be recovered, just my two cents.

Then the Holy Father speaks of the Holy Eucharist as meal. "There is no doubt that the most evident dimension of the Eucharist is that it is a meal. The Eucharist was born, on the evening of Holy Thursday, in the setting of the Passover meal. Being a meal is part of its very structure...As such it expresses the fellowship which God wishes to establish with us ad which we ourselves must build with one another."

But the Holy Father also adds this important codicil: "Yet it must not be forgotten that the Eucharistic meal also has a profoundly and primarily sacrificial meaning. In the Eucharist, Christ makes present to us anew the sacrifice offered once for all on Golgotha. Present in the Eucharist as the Risen Lord, He nonetheless bears the marks of his passion, of which every Mass is a "memorial" as the Liturgy reminds us in the acclamation following the consecration, "We announce your death, Lord, we proclaim your resurrection..." The Eucharist makes present what occurred in the past, it also impels us towards the future, when Christ will come again at the end of history." Sounds like the season of Advent doesn't it?

Finally, Fr. Fragomeni spoke of Pope John Paul's description of the Eucharist as a "Mystery." It is in the "obscurity" or the "hiddeness" of the signs and symbols used, that Jesus makes known His real presence. We speak of the Real Presence of Christ in the elements of bread and wine, not to indicate that other presences of Christ are "unreal" but rather to show forth that the Eucharistic Presence is Real Presence "par excellence." "Because Christ thereby becomes substantially present, whole and entire, in the reality of His Body and Blood. Faith demands that we approach the Eucharist fully aware that we are approaching Christ Himself."

I was intrigued personally by the concept that the Eucharist shows forth the Real Presence of Christ in an obscure, veiled, hidden way that demands the gift of Faith developed in the Church and the individual believer to see this Real Presence. This led me to ask Fr. Fragomeni about the long tradition in the East of the Eucharist being celebrated ad orientem and behind an Iconostasis or Icon Screen, and also the long tradition in the West or the Latin Rite of the Mass celebrated Ad Orientem, which in a sense hides or obscures the veiled presence of Christ but all the more makes it intelligible to the faith senses in an ironic, confounding way.

He acknowledged this as true and that even in the west, the Rood Screen served the same function as the Iconostasis, as well as celebrating Mass Ad Orientem.

He went on to say that today we must allow for a variety of celebrations of the Mass just as Summorum Pontificum allows for the older form of the Mass. This is not to undo the reforms of the post Vatican II Mass, but to adjust it to be in continuity with what did in fact precede it and for centuries. In other words, the "hermeneutic of flexibility" is necessary in our liturgical world today and even the same parish might have a great diversity of celebrations all within the context of "reform within continuity."

In other words, I liked Fr. Fragomeni's talk and hermeneutic, especially looking to the popes since Vatican II for authoritative teachings on this. That's a huge change from the 1970's until this century when we looked to liturgical theologians especially modern ones and mimicked on the parish level every silly suggestion they taught and modeled.


macon church said...

The variety of celebrations is only good if it is done in Jesus Christ's name

Robert Kumpel said...

That's a huge change from the 1970's until this century when we looked to liturgical theologians especially modern ones and mimicked on the parish level every silly suggestion they taught and modeled.


Thank you Father.