This post will be building gradually. This essay will be a treating of the dynamism of the Eucharist already recognized prior to Vatican II (which includes the Lumen Gentium-ism "fontem et culmen"). It will do this by looking at Pope Leo XIII's encyclical on the Holy Eucharist Mirae Caritatis from 1902 (predating Vatican II and Lumen Gentium by a good 60 years). In his encyclical, the Holy Father focuses on "the nature and ... the effects" of the Eucharist. I will also be incorporating Pope Pius XII's encyclical on the Sacred Liturgy Mediator Dei from 1947 (still 15 years before Vatican II).
Fontem et culmen
Two documents of the Second Vatican Council, Sacrosanctum Concilium and Lumen Gentium, use a similar expression to denote the importance the Eucharistic Sacrifice in the life of the Church. Paragraph 10 of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, used the expression in the context of the liturgy. In Latin, it says: "Attamen Liturgia est culmen ad quod actio Ecclesiae tendit et simul fons unde omnis eius virtus emanat." In English, it has been rendered thus: "Nevertheless the liturgy is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; at the same time it is the font from which all her power flows." Paragraph 11 of Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium says, in Latin: "Sacrificium eucharisticum, totius vitae christianae fontem et culmen, participantes, divinam Victimam Deo offerunt atque seipsos cum Ea." In English, it has been rendered thus: "Taking part in the Eucharistic sacrifice, which is the fount and apex of the whole Christian life, they offer the Divine Victim to God, and offer themselves along with It."
That phrase in bold has worked its way into many documents of the Church since then; here are just a handful:
- Sacramentum Caritatis of Pope Benedict XVI (2007)
- Mane Nobiscum Domine of Pope John Paul II (2004)
- Redemptionis Sacramentum of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments (2004)
- Ecclesia de Eucharistia of Pope John Paul II (2003)
- Christifideles Laici of Pope John Paul II (1988)
- Dominicae Cenae of Pope John Paul II (1980)
- Eucharisticum Mysterium of the Sacred Congregation of Rites (1967)
Although the phrase was coined during the Second Vatican Council, it was not a new concept for the Church. Contrary to the opinion of some that it was not until the "renewal" and "reformation" sparked by the Second Vatican Council that Catholics saw the Eucharist as a dynamic celebration rather than a static object, the Church has always seen the Eucharist -- the Blessed Sacrament, the Real Presence of Jesus Christ, the Sacrifice of the Mass -- to be its very source and to effect its utmost end.
The Last Supper of the Lord, on the eve of his crucifixion, was one of the moments that can be seen as the "birth" of the Church. This must be taken alongside others such as the piercing of Christ's side on the cross and the sending of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. At the Last Supper, our Lord instituted the ministerial priesthood by ordaining those he had already selected as his Apostles to be the first men who would effect the perpetuation of the new covenant in his blood. These Apostles received, from the very actions and words of Jesus himself, the instructions for carrying out the anamnesis of his impending sacrifice. By his actions, Jesus was recasting the Passover meal as the (pre-)presentation of salvation from a prison far greater than Egypt: Satan, sin, everlasting punishment in Hell.
This first Mass had the characteristics of both a banquet and a sacrificial offering: Jesus presented himself as priest and victim, offering the bread and wine of Passover and changing their substance into his very Body and Blood; Jesus was, then, both host and hostia. The men at table with him then became priests in his service, and they would gather on the Lord's day thereafter, on Sunday, to celebrate by Word and Sacrament the saving work of their Lord Jesus Christ. Because the Eucharistic Sacrifice is the very core of the Mass, it is the Church's very beginning. Without the salvation made possible through the crucifixion, which is re-presented in the Eucharist, the Church would not exist: the Eucharist is the source of the life of the Church.
The first of the four subheadings used in Pope Leo XIII's encyclical is "The Source of Life": fontem vitae.
The four subheadings used in Pope Leo XIII's encyclical are "The Source of Life" (Fontem Vitae?), "The Mystery of Faith" (Mysterium Fidei), "The Bond of Charity" (Vinculum Caritatis?), and "The Sacrifice of the Mass" (Sacrificium Missae). Already in the first subheading we can see the concept of the Eucharist as the source or fontem (as in LG 11) of Christian life. Pope Leo XIII then identifies the Eucharist as "the source and chief of all these gifts" which proceed from God through Jesus Christ. So here we see the recognition of the Eucharist not only as the source of "every best and choicest gift" but also as their chief (capitis, perhaps?), their head, their summit, their apex, even their culmen (as in LG 11). The Eucharist "nourishes and sustains that life" we desire so eagerly, which all those other gifts direct us to as well. The Eucharist, then, is the fount and the apex of all Christian life! This matches up with the statement of Lumen Gentium 11 which calls the Eucharistic Sacrifice "totius vitae christianae fontem et culmen", the "fount and apex of all Christian life". (Of course, you often hear it as "source and summit".)
Yes, folks, Pope Leo XIII got there first.