Q&A: Denver priest makes valuable contribution to understanding of Eucharist, Cross in Early Christianity


Father Daniel Cardó, S.C.V., pastor at Holy Name Parish and professor at St. John Vianney Seminary, shared with the Denver Catholic his experience of publishing his most recent book The Cross and the Eucharist in Early Christianity: A Theological and Liturgical Investigation with Cambridge University Press, and his contributions to current debates regarding the liturgy, some of which include the view of the Mass primarily as a meal, the Sign of the Cross in the Roman Canon and the use of an altar Cross.

Holy Name Parish will host a book signing event March 5 at 7 p.m. with Father Cardó and Dr. Sean Innerst from the St. John Vianney Seminary, in which discounted copies will be available.

The interview has been edited for conciseness.


Denver Catholic: What was the seed of this book, what led you to research the Cross and the Eucharist in Early Christianity?

Father Daniel Cardó: After I finished my master’s thesis, which allowed me to work on the theology of Joseph Ratzinger, I continued reading some of Ratzinger’s books, particularly those on the liturgy, when I was still the chaplain at Camp St. Malo in Allensapark.

In doing that, I had a very profound personal experience. I had a moment of finding my vocation within my vocation, something reading Mother Teresa’s life helped me understand – but with immense differences, of course. With this experience I understood that what Pope Benedict said was absolutely true, and that I needed to take it seriously. One of the phrases that impacted me the most was: “The Church stands or falls with the liturgy.” There’s nothing more important than the liturgy. And I thought, “If this is true, I need to spend my energies as a priest mostly in trying to offer contribution for the sacred liturgy.”

It was not a just an intellectual experience, but a very personal one. And the consequence was that maybe I needed to continue more technical studies in the liturgy. So, I found a distance program at the Maryvale Institute in Birmingham, where I obtained my doctorate, and wrote my dissertation on the presence of the Cross in the Eucharist from the 4th to the 8th centuries, which was a decisive period of dogmatic and liturgical development. This book was completed after three more years of rethinking and updating my dissertation, so they’re ideas that have developed over a period of eight years.

DC: You argue that the patristic and liturgical writings form the 4th to the 8th centuries show that we need the Cross in order to understanding the Eucharist. What were some of the most revealing aspects that you found in your research?

FDC: I found that for the Early Church there were things that were not only common but self-evident that are not part of our formation, catechesis or preaching anymore. Things like “the Eucharist comes from the Cross,” “I am fed from the Cross,” “I should approach the chalice as if I were drinking from the very open side of Jesus,” “see in the bread what hung from the Cross,” etc. It’s very strong, very beautiful, but somewhat of an emphasis that I think we’ve lost today.

Father Daniel Cardó, S.C.V., is the pastor at Holy Name Parish in Sheridan and assistant professor at St. John Vianney Seminary. (File photo)

Part of what motivated me to start this research is also the fact that for the most part people understand the Eucharist as a community, getting together and celebrating our faith. But that’s a very foreign idea for the Early Church. They saw the Eucharist mostly as the sacrifice of Christ to which we’re invited and in which we partake – and that’s what builds the Church. But the emphasis was that, first and foremost, in the sacrifice of Jesus that is renewed in a mysterious way, and form which we are fed. That was very evident as I started reading all the Church Fathers and liturgical texts from the period.

DC: What are some of the contributions to current debates regarding the Eucharist and the Cross that you make in your book?

FDC: I offer three contributions because I realized that in these many texts, you could say the Cross was present in three ways in the context of the Eucharist. The first way, is the Cross as an idea – in homilies, catechesis, etc. Then I realized this idea of the Cross could offer contribution to a common current debate, mainly whether the Mass is primarily a meal or a sacrifice. My solution is that the idea of the Cross present in the Eucharist brings a solution to that apparent contradiction. Because the Eucharist is the sacrifice of the Cross renewed for us, then we are fed from the Cross. There is a mention of a meal, but the priority is the sacrifice.

The second contribution is related to the second way in which the Cross is present in the Eucharist: as a gesture. It’s very, very ancient. But it really puzzled me: Who says that when we think about a blessing, we need to make the sign of the Cross? No one explains that in one sense, but we have always done it. So, after doing much research, I realized that for the Early Church, the gesture of signing with the Cross the bread and wine – just as the foreheads of those going to be baptized and the oil, etc. – was not just a “symbolic action” that reminds us of the passion, but an effective action. That made me think about a common discussion that happened in the 20th century regarding the epiclesis, when the priest imposes his hands on the bread and wine, invoking the Holy Spirit. Many theologians were concerned because in the Roman Canon, which is the most ancient and traditional, there is not really an epiclesis that invokes the Holy Spirit, so, many thought it was a defect. But my proposal is that, actually, the sign for the cross that has always been done in the Roman Rite is the equivalent of the epiclesis, in so far as it sanctifies the bread and the wine invoking God, in an action that will be concluded with the words of the institution.

The third one is related to the third way of presence of the Cross in the Eucharist, which is in the form of a visible object, on or around the altar. Should we place a Cross on the altar or not? Historically, many people have said that it was a very late development around the 12th century, but I was able to find texts from the fourth, fifth, sixth centuries that in all probability do speak about a Cross on the altar, and I think that is relevant. But going into the more theological aspect of the problem, I was able to see that those who reject the practice of placing a Cross on the altar emphasize that the presence of Jesus is in the community and in the priest. And that’s very implicit in their critiques. Whereas, those who think that it is good to do what we have done for many centuries, and that is to have a Cross visible next to the altar, understand the Eucharist more as the renewal of the sacrifice of Christ, and that we are fed from the Cross. And therefore, it only makes sense that we do have a Cross at the Altar as a reminder of what happens here. This finally, is also important in the common setting of the Churches after the Second Vatican Council, in which the Mass is celebrating facing the people. Of course, the risk is that the gazes of people and priests are facing each other and therefore we become a closed circle, rather than facing together towards the Lord.

DC: Cambridge University Press is a very prestigious publishing house in academia, how is someone published there, and what was that process like for you?

FDC: I know someone who was in the process of publishing a book with Cambridge, so I asked her about the experience, and she said they were very kind and open from the beginning. I emailed the editor for humanities, and a few days she said she wanted to take a look at it, so we started the process.

It’s very lengthy but very detailed-oriented. The editor has to find it interesting, you present a formal proposal, and then you send the text. If the editor approves, they send it to two independent, anonymous peer reviewers – which is the standard for academic press – who write a review and give their opinion. They have to approve, but you still get good feedback from experts who probably have more experience than you. If they are favorable, then the final step is the approval of the syndicate of the press, which meets at Cambridge. Thank God they liked it and approved the book for publication.

DC: You mention that even though your book is primarily academic, it can also help people in prayer and preaching. How so?

FDC: The book clearly comes from academic research, but I think it’s understandable. I think that one of the more important contributions is the presentation of a lot of beautiful wonderful texts from the Early Church, some of which have never been translated into English and that are present in the book for the first time in English. And I think that it will be for great benefit for any committed Catholic who wants to learn more about the Eucharist, to read what our Fathers said. It’s very beautiful and very healthy to gain greater familiarity with what the Early Church said about the Eucharist – how they saw the it, how they celebrated it – so that we can learn those lessons for today. There are a lot of beautiful texts that I’m sure will be very beneficial for any Catholic who wants to pray and also for priests and deacons who will find jewels in what the great saints and ancient books of liturgy contain.

COMING UP: New Catholic school leaders rise to the challenge

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There’s never been a more exciting time than now to be a student at one of Denver’s Catholic schools.

With robust curriculums that form the whole person and a variety of educational models to choose from, Catholic schools are a great option for parents seeking more for their children’s education.

Even more exciting are the various education professionals who are stepping into leadership roles beginning this new school year. These are individuals are who are passionate about Catholic education and even more passionate about partnering with parents, the primary educators of their children, to help lead their kids to an encounter with Jesus Christ.

The nine new leaders featured below bring a wealth of experience to their new roles, and they are each excited to rise to the challenge of making Denver’s Catholic schools the absolute best they can be at helping to form students into authentic disciples of Jesus Christ.

Andrew Beach
Our Lady of Lourdes (South Campus)

Andrew Beach credits much of his call to the teaching vocation to his parents, who are both teachers themselves. Beach studied economics and philosophy at University of Colorado Boulder and then went on to pursue a master’s degree in theology from the Augustine Institute. “From the second I heard about Lourdes and all that us going on here in terms of its classical education and strong Catholic identity and culture, I knew it was the school where I wanted to teach,” Beach said. As a result of the school’s expansion, Beach is now the Head of School for Lourdes’ South Campus. In his new role, he hopes to assist in guiding Lourdes toward academic excellence, but more importantly, he hopes to foster an authentic and strong Catholic identity within the schools.

Robert Bernardin
St. Bernadette

When St. Bernadette announced they were pausing their operations last year, Robert Bernardin saw it as an opportunity. Having previously worked at Annunciation Catholic School, an Expeditionary Learning (EL) school, Bernardin became very excited when St. Bernadette decided to re-launch as an EL school, joining Annunciation and St. Rose of Lima as the only Catholic EL schools in the nation. “I was immediately drawn to St. Bernadette because I believe deeply in the power of EL to elevate Catholic schools,” Bernardin said. Bernardin believes that Catholic education is transformative, and as principal of the re-launched St. Bernadette, he is “keen to expand our view of what is possible in Catholic schools, to serve as a model of what Catholic schools can be and inspire others to follow our lead.”

Kellie Carroll
Bishop Machebeuf High School

For Kellie Carroll, being at Bishop Machebeuf High School is a bit of a homecoming for her. She’s been in education for 20 years, starting at St. Pius X in Aurora and then moving on to teach for several public schools before finding her way back to the Archdiocese of Denver. However, she was also educated in Catholic schools growing up and graduated from Mullen High School. “This is a system that certainly raised me and had a profoundly positive impact on both my academic and faith formation,” Carroll said. As the interim principal at Bishop Machebeuf High School, Carroll hopes to help prepare students for life outside of the school walls. “I firmly believe a solid formation in the faith and a rigorous academic setting will prepare them for the adventure and challenges life will bring,” she said.

Gretchen DeWolfe
St. Thomas More

Gretchen DeWolfe has taught 5th grade at St. Thomas More Catholic School for the last five years and will now be entering her sixth year as the school’s new principal. “In my new role as principal, it is my duty to support parents, the primary educators, in forming their children through encounters with Christ, which will in turn deepen that beautiful and essential relationship,” DeWolfe said. Being in Catholic education is more than simply a job for DeWolfe — it is a calling. “My heart has always been in Catholic schools … It is an amazing gift to be able to teach and live the Catholic faith on a daily basis,” she said. “[This] is what I have chosen to dedicate my life to — teaching and living the truths that Jesus taught us.”

Dana Ellis
St. Louis (Louisville)

Dana Ellis worked in Jefferson County Public Schools for over 30 years, 18 of which were as a principal, and then went on to work in Boulder Valley Public Schools for several more years until she retired. After “walking around in the desert” for a couple of years, Ellis now finds herself as the new principal of St. Louis Catholic School in Louisville. As she embarks on this new foray into Catholic education, Ellis is confident that God will continue to lead St. Louis down the path it needs to go in order to continue forming authentic disciples of Jesus Christ. “I do know that God will lead the way, but I don’t know what that way is going to be yet,” Ellis said.

Eric Hoffer
Christ the King

Before starting his career in Catholic education, Eric Hoffer had plans to complete a degree in political science and attend law school. “However, God had other plans in place for me,” Hoffer said. He converted to Catholicism while in college, and after graduation, volunteered with the Brothers of the Sacred Heart, where he “fell in love with education and my faith.” He’s had a 16-year career in various roles in education thus far, and recently completed his graduate degree in Educational Leadership at the University of Notre Dame. He feels fortunate to lead Christ the King Catholic School as principal. “If I am able to help each of our students understand that they are beloved children of God and that he has a beautiful plan for their lives, then I will have made a valuable contribution to our archdiocese,” Hoffer said.

Steve Vaughn
St. Therese

Steve Vaughn began his career as a teacher teaching 4th, 5th and 6th grade at a few different Catholic schools in Wisconsin and Nebraska. Over the last 10 years, he’s been a teacher and assistant principal at a Denver charter school, but he’s now answering a call from the Lord to return to Catholic education. “Having worked in both Catholic and public schools, I can say that Catholic schools truly provide an education for the whole child,” Vaughn said. Speaking for his new role as principal at St. Therese, Vaughn shared, “Our goal at St. Therese is to create saints! It’s an honor and blessing to be tasked with fulfilling this mission at my school. This is exciting, challenging work, but there’s no other work I’d rather be doing.”

Tamara Whitehouse
Our Lady of Lourdes (North Campus)

Tamara Whitehouse has worked in both public and Catholic schools for over 20 years. More recently, she has also served as an instructor for the Denver Catholic Biblical School. Her transition from public schools to Catholic schools came after taking time to stay at home with her children when they were young. “We discerned God’s call to send our children to Catholic schools, and then my own deepening faith and desire to instill a love for God in young people led me to follow after them when I returned to work,” Whitehouse said. As she begins her new role as the Head of School for Lourdes’ North Campus, Whitehouse hopes to “support families in the formation of their children to know, love and serve God, and this contribute to the renewal of Catholic culture that is so desperately needed today.

Father Stefan Zarnay
St. Mary’s (Littleton)

Born in the Slovak Republic and ordained a priest just last year, Father Stefan Zarnay is part of the Disciples of Jesus Christ, the religoous order that oversees St. Mary’s Catholic Parish in Littleton. He met them when he was studying for his Masters Degree at the John Paul II Pontifical Institute in Rome, Italy. He has previously served as Chaplain of the Stella Maris — La Gavia Catholic School in Madrid. In addition to being the interim principal of St. Mary’s, he is also the school’s chaplain and the parish’s new parochial vicar.

Ann Zeches
St. Catherine of Siena

For Ann Zeches, education is a second career. Prior to becoming a mom, Zeches was the assistant general manager of a resort. It was when her children were in school that the seed for Zeches’ career in Catholic education was planted. “What I thought teaching entailed, and the reality are two different things,” Zeches said. “Education is the toughest job I have ever experienced, but the one with incredible rewards. Education has become my passion.” In her new role as principal at St. Catherine of Siena, her goal is simple: “I am forming students to know the ‘truth’ of our faith and how to infuse it into their lives. Ultimately, then, they will be well-educated disciples of Christ longing to meet our Lord in heaven while making their community a place filled with the Spirit.”