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What Can St. Augustine’s Penitential Eucharistic Fast Teach Us Today?

It’s a fair bet that many Catholics have done more spiritual reading than usual during this Holy Week of isolation, and many will have chosen Pope Benedict XVI’s Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week, perhaps the most learned book of biblical theology published in generations.

Another text of Joseph Ratzinger has been widely circulated in these days, an excerpt from a collection published in 1986 by Ignatius Press, Behold the Pierced One. Cardinal Ratzinger takes up an episode from the life of his great theological model, St. Augustine.

“When Augustine sensed his death approaching, he ‘excommunicated’ himself and undertook public penance,” writes Ratzinger. “In his last days he manifested his solidarity with the public sinners who seek for pardon and grace through the renunciation of communion. He wanted to meet his Lord in the humility of those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for him who is the Righteous and Merciful One.”

The great bishop and doctor of the Church undertook a penitential “fast” from the Eucharist at the end of his life. Ratzinger allows that this is not what would have been expected from those who followed Augustine’s writings.

“Against the background of his sermons and writings, which are a magnificent portrayal of the mystery of the Church as communion with the Body of Christ, and as the Body of Christ itself, built up by the Eucharist, this is a profoundly arresting gesture,” Ratzinger confesses.

Does this “arresting gesture” — perhaps difficult to understand today — mean anything for us today? In particular, during this Holy Week? Cardinal Ratzinger suggests that it might have lessons to teach us.

Read more at National Catholic Register

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