I was unprepared for the breadth and beauty of Cardinal Ratzinger's sermons (homilies?) and essays concerning the Eucharist. This book wonderfully summarizes Catholic teaching and tradition, particularly by tackling modernist and traditionalist approaches to the sacrament.
The first article, "God with Us and God among Us" serves as a nice introduction to the other "chapters" in this collection, meditating upon one line in the profession of faith, and speaking directly to the Incarnation.
"God's Yes and His Love..." approaches the issue of the sacrifice Jesus made, and how it relates to the sacrificial character of the Mass. Cardinal Ratzinger addresses Christ's self-abasement for our salvation, and contrasts this against our false humility, self-limitation in freely offered grace, and suffering as a characteristic of the Church.
"The Wellspring of Life..." explores the exegetic similarities between the opening of Christ's side at His crucifixion and the removal of flesh from Adam's side in Genesis. Along the way, Cardinal Ratzinger explores the unity of the Church, and the atemporal communion encapsulated in the Eucharist, and again touches upon the issues of sacrifice.
In "Banquet of the Reconciled", the polar extremes in the discourse on liturgical evolution are examined, quite calmly and reasonably. Cardinal Ratzinger utilizes I Corinthians as the basis for a reasoned response to those who want to reduce the Mass to a simple meal of friendship and community, as well as to those who see any alteration of the form of the Mass as heretical and invalid. Along the way, he makes excellent points concerning the proper reception of communion (in the hand or on the tongue, kneeling or standing), the use of the vernacular and the origins of the Eucharistic prayers, and preparation of one's heart for receiving the sacrament.
"The Presence of the Lord..." deals with transubstantiation, the Real Presence, the resurrection of the body, and the importance of Eucharistic Adoration. Similar themes are explored in "The Immediacy of the Presence of the Lord", and later in "Standing before the Lord"
"The Lod is Near Us" is remarkable for insights into our relationship with the Law, in such writing as "The law became a burden the moment it was no longer being lived out from within but was broken down into a series of obligations external in their origin and their nature."
A series of shorter articles follows, but the book is concluded by two profound chapters: "The Church Subsists as Liturgy..." treats the importance of the Eucharist and the liturgy to the very lives of man, arguing that life's meaning can only be found by seeking to live in God's community. The Cardinal emphasizes the modern mentality that subconsciously rejects the efficacy of faith and prayer, really believing only in our own power to affect our lives.
The final chapter "My Joy is to Be in Thy Presence" is a worhty capstone to this remarkable book, addressing our modern disdain for the very concepts of immortal life with God. The themes sounded in this article can be heard clearly in Pope Benedict's inaugural homily and the broad vision he is expounding for his papacy. I can only related the beauty of Cardinal Ratzinger's vision in quotes from this work: "Eternal life steadily withdraws from a person whose attention is fixed on himself," "the idea of eternity appears to us like being condemned to boredom," "The struggle to keep evil under control, within limits, has to be taken up a new by each generation and can never be removed by the institutional arrangements of an earlier generation," "We should finally bid farewell to the notion of working to build the ideal society of the future as being a myth and should instead work with total commitment to strengthen those factors that hold evil at bay in the present..." "man is that creature in which spirit and material meet together and are united as a single whole"...
Through the course of these articles, Cardinal Ratzinger touches upon dualism, utilitarianism, the Reformation, unitarianism, the meaning of life, transubstantiation, heaven, hell, purgatory, utopian rational secularism, the communion of saints, grace, salvation, the person of Christ, Christ as God's Word, as Logos, etc., etc., etc. For a brief, small book, its scope and impact are immeasurable.