The Dignity of the Eucharistic Celebration: 8 Teachings from Cardinal Burke

Listers, His Eminence Cardinal Burke is amongst the forefront of faithful Catholic leaders doing all they can to restore the Sacred Tradition of Holy Mother Church.

"CARDINAL BURKE AT THE LONDON ORATORY" - May 30th 2012, via New Liturgical Movement

Listers, His Eminence Cardinal Burke is amongst the forefront of faithful Catholic leaders doing all they can to restore the Sacred Tradition of Holy Mother Church. In his new and first work – Divine Love Made Flesh: The Holy Eucharist as the Sacrament of Charity  – the good Cardinal displays his Eucharistic erudition in slowly and steadily moving the reader through a solid Eucharistic catechesis. The following quoted text is taken from Chapter Five: The Dignity of the Eucharistic Celebration. SPL highly recommends Cardinal Burke’s book for all of those wishing to know the beauty and depth of the Sacred Tradition around the source and summit of our faith, the Eucharist.

The two primary sources upon which Cardinal Burke draws are Bl. Pope John Paul II’s encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia and the gospel account of Lazarus’ sister Mary pouring costly perfume on Christ.1

St. John 12:1-11, Douay-Rheims
Jesus therefore, six days before the pasch, came to Bethania, where Lazarus had been dead, whom Jesus raised to life. And they made him a supper there: and Martha served: but Lazarus was one of them that were at table with him. Mary therefore took a pound of ointment of right spikenard, of great price, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair; and the house was filled with the odour of the ointment. Then one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, he that was about to betray him, said: Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence, and given to the poor?

Now he said this, not because he cared for the poor; but because he was a thief, and having the purse, carried the things that were put therein. Jesus therefore said: Let her alone, that she may keep it against the day of my burial. For the poor you have always with you; but me you have not always. A great multitude therefore of the Jews knew that he was there; and they came, not for Jesus’ sake only, but that they might see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. But the chief priests thought to kill Lazarus also: Because many of the Jews, by reason of him, went away, and believed in Jesus.

While the Cardinal speaks in a certain soft and pithy manner, the concentrated wisdom – especially the Scripture commentary – can truly clarify many common Catholic questions about the Eucharist and the liturgy. Foremost is the justification and basic biblical necessity to create sacred spaces that are suitable for the presence and the worship of God. The concept of a “Sacred Space” precipitates in us questions of proper decorum and decor. Moreover, the good Cardinal draws us into a conversation of an “Order of Charity” – showing us how the Eucharist, serving the poor, Sacred Tradition, culture and human creativity are all goods but demand proper order.

Divine Love Made Flesh by His Eminence Cardinal Burke on Amazon

1. Love of God is prior to love of neighbor

His Eminence begins by tackling one of the most misunderstood passages of Scripture:

“He teaches that the anointing by Mary is an act of profound reverence for His body, the instrument by which He has carried out our Redemption. He in no way calls into question the responsibility which is ours to provide for the poor, but indicates what is prior to our care for the poor and inspires it most fully, namely our love of Him, our devotion to His person.”2

Caring for the poor is essential to our salvation. The Old Testament reminds us that “whoever shuts their ears to the cry of the poor will also cry out and not be answered.”3 Christ offers the same chilling lesson in St. Matthew 25 as he recounts how those who fed him, clothed him and visited him in prison will be saved and those who did not will be damned. However, our love of neighbor – with a particular predilection toward the poor – is inspired by and fulfilled by our uninhibited and direct embrace of Christ in the Eucharist. Here we see the Order of Charity that flows throughout all goods and orders them so that we may embrace them all properly and to their fullest. It is no accident that Holy Mother Church builds the most beautiful buildings in the world and feeds and educates more people than any other non-government entity.

2. Prepare the Upper Room

“The Holy Father [Bl. Pope John Paul II] reminds us of our Lord’s command to the disciples to prepare the Upper Room for the Last Supper. The Church’s special care for the celebration of the Eucharist reflects her faith in what takes place at the Eucharist; it reflects her deep reverence for our Lord Who is both our Priest and Victim in the celebration of the Mass.”4

“It was not at all uncommon for farmers to mortgage their farm in order to make a pledge toward the building of a fitting parish church. They had the faith of Mary at Bethany.”5

3. Eucharistic Decor & Decorum

The good Cardinal writes in such a way that the reader is drawn up into the relationship between the Eucharist and the love therein that moves people to great lengths to prepare Sacred Spaces for our Lord. Implicit in this affirmative tone is inclination for every single reader to compare this great truth to the building he or she worships in and in what decorous or indecorous manner they worship and receive the Eucharist. As Cardinal Burke states, there should be a “great awe before the presence of God Himself.”

“That is the reason why our churches are not built as meeting or banquet halls. It is also the reason why we should be very attentive to the manner of our dress and our comportment at the Eucharistic Sacrifice and Banquet.”6

“The outward aspects of the celebration of the Holy Eucharist express our interior devotion, in imitation of Mary at Bethany.”7

4. Sacred Art

“The development in design of churches and of their altars and tabernacles is not merely a reflection of the great art of various periods of the Church’s history, but most of all, a reflection of the profound faith in the mystery of the Holy Eucharist.”8

Notice the momentum of influence. The Eucharist moves Catholics to proclaim the beauty and mystery of the Eucharist in various forms of art. It is not a movement of the people’s tastes and opinion that must be somehow incorporated into the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. The Catholic liturgy is centered on the Sacraments, not the parishioners – this is a vital and well discussed theme of Cardinal Ratzinger’s The Spirit of the Liturgy.

“The Catholic Church is like a thick steak, a glass of red wine, and a good cigar.” – G.K. Chesterton

5. The “greatest jewel” of Sacred Music

“In the same way, sacred music has developed down the Christian centuries to lift the minds and hearts of the faithful to the great mystery of faith, which is the Holy Eucharist. Gregorian Chant is, of course, the greatest jewel in the body of music written specifically for the celebration of the Holy Eucharist. As in the case with sacred art, there is a rich history of beautiful music written for the celebration of the Mass.”9

6. Speak out for Eucharistic decor and decorum

“It is a call for all of us to make certain that the Church is above all else “a profoundly Eucharistic Church.”10

There is much to be said of the strides Holy Mother Church could make in reclaiming her tradition if each individual simply focused on their own orientation toward the Eucharist and examined their own conscience; however, there is also much that could be done if parishioners began to politely and virtuously work against liturgical abuses and banal mass experiences.

7. Inculturation

“The proper term for rooting of the Catholic faith and practice in a particular culture is inculturation. Clearly, it is a delicate process because there may be elements of the local culture which need purification and transformation before they can serve the Eucharistic mystery.”11

“Inculturation must always be secondary to respect for the mystery of the Holy Eucharist, lest the greatest treasure of our faith be obscured or, even worse, disrespected. Any experimentation in inculturation must be reviewed by Church authority with the involvement of the Holy See “because the Sacred Liturgy expresses and celebrate the one faith professed by all and, being the heritage of the whole Church, cannot be determined by local Churches in isolation form the universal Church.”12

8. Liturgical law is love of Christ

“Blessed Pope John Paul II spoke frankly of abuses which have entered into the celebration of the Holy Eucharist because of ‘a misguided sense of creativity and adaptation.'”13

“Our observance of liturgical law is a fundamental expression of love of Christ and of the Church.”14

“No one is permitted to undervalue the mystery entrusted to our hands: it is too great for anyone to feel free to treat it lightly and with disregard for its sacredness and its universality.” – Bl. JPII  ((Ibid. 55))

  1. Mary Perfume: Matthew 26, Mark 14, Luke 7, and John 12. []
  2. Divine Love Made Flesh, 50. []
  3. Prov 21:13 []
  4. Ibid. 50 []
  5. Ibid. 51 []
  6. Ibid. 52 []
  7. Ibid. 52 []
  8. Ibid. 52 []
  9. Ibid. 53 []
  10. Ibid. 53 []
  11. Ibid. 54 []
  12. Ibid. 54 []
  13. Ibid. 54 []
  14. Ibid. 55 []
  • John Lynn Gullickson

    Number 5, Line 1: Should read “life” vs “left”.

    • John Lynn Gullickson

      Sorry: LIFE not life.

  • John Lynn Gullickson

    My goodness: L I F T. Sorry easy to error on a keyboard.

  • liz rosemary

    I was happy to read this. I am just discovering Cardinal Burke & his words. Its encouraging to see that there is a Saintly American Cardinal defending the Faith. Not being American. I had no idea. I actually despaired that anything good still came out of the US> Thank you.

  • Ann Marsh

    Thank God for Cardinal Burkes priesthood,humility and obedience and his lack of fear in proclaiming the truth