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: Colorado Catholic Conference 2021 Legislative Recap

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On June 8, the First Regular Session of the 73rd General Assembly adjourned. Over 600 bills were introduced this session. Policy primarily focused on transportation, agriculture, healthcare, fiscal policy, and the state budget. However, the legislature also considered and passed many bills that could impact the Catholic Church in Colorado.  

Some bills that were passed will uphold Catholic social teaching and protect the poor and vulnerable of our society while others pose potentially harmful consequences to the Catholic Church, its affiliated organizations, and Colorado citizens who wish to practice their well-founded convictions. There were also many bills that were considered by the legislature that did not pass, including two bills that would have upheld the sanctity of life and two that would have expanded education opportunity for K-12 students.  

The Colorado Catholic Conference (CCC), as the united voice of the four Colorado bishops, advocated for Catholic values at the Capitol and ensured that the Church’s voice was heard in the shaping of policy.  

Below is a recap of the CCC’s 19 priority bills from the 2021 legislative session. For a full list of the legislation the Conference worked on, please visit: https://www.cocatholicconference.org/2021-legislative-bills-analysis/  

For regular updates and other information, please sign-up for the CCC legislative network here.  

Six bills the CCC supported that were either passed or enacted

Note: Passed means the bill was approved by both chambers of the legislature and is pending the governor’s signature as of June 9, 2021. Enacted means the bill was signed by the governor and became law.  

HB 21-1011 Multilingual Ballot Access for Voters – Passed  
If enacted, counties where either 2,000 adults or 2.5% of the adult population primarily speak a language other than English will be required to provide a ballot in that language. 

HB 21-1075 Replace The Term Illegal Alien – Enacted 
With the enactment of HB 1075, the term “illegal alien” was replaced with the term “worker without authorization” as it relates to public contracts for services.  

SB 21-027 Emergency Supplies for Colorado Babies and Families – Passed  
If enacted, the state government will allocate much-needed funding for nonprofit organizations to provide diapers and other childcare necessities to families in need, including Catholic Charities.  

SB 21-077 Remove Lawful Presence Verification Credentialing – Enacted    
With the enactment of SB 77, verification of lawful presence will no longer be required for any applicant for a license, certificate, or registration, particularly in the job fields of education and childcare.  

SB 21-146 Improve Prison Release Outcomes – Passed  
If enacted, SB 146 will establish practices that ease the transition back into society for formerly incarcerated persons.  

SB 21-158 Increase Medical Providers for Senior Citizens – Passed  
If enacted, SB 158 will allocate more funding for senior citizen care, which is currently understaffed and underfunded.  

Eight bills the CCC opposed that were passed 

HB 21-1072 Equal Access Services For Out-of-home Placements – Enacted 
With the enactment of HB 1072, Colorado law now prohibits organizations that receive state funding for placing children with adoptive or foster parents from discriminating on, among other things, the basis of sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, or marital status. This new law will likely to be impacted by the imminent Fulton v. City of Philadelphia U.S. Supreme Court decision. 

HB 21-1108 Gender Identity Expression Anti-Discrimination – Enacted 
With the enactment of HB 1108, “sexual orientation,” “gender identity,” and “gender expression” are now recognized as protected classes in Colorado nondiscrimination code. This may have serious religious liberty implications for individuals and organizations that wish to practice their well-founded convictions on marriage and human sexuality. 

SB21-006 Human Remains Natural Reduction Soil – Enacted 
With the enactment of SB 006, human remains can now be converted to soil using a container that accelerates the process of biological decomposition, also known as “natural reduction.” 

SB 21-009 Reproductive Health Care Program – Passed 
If enacted, SB 009 will create a taxpayer funded state program to increase access to contraceptives.  

SB 21-016 Protecting Preventive Health Care Coverage – Passed 
If enacted, the definition of “family planning services” and “family planning-related services” will not be clearly defined in law and could potentially include abortion. Furthermore, SB 16 removes the requirement that a provider obtain parental consent before providing family planning services to a minor.  

SB 21-025 Family Planning Services for Eligible Individuals– Passed 
If enacted, SB 025 low-income women to be given state-funded contraception, “preventing, delaying, or planning pregnancy” services, which includes cessation services and sterilization services.  

SB 21-142 Health Care Access in Cases of Rape or Incest– Enacted  
The enactment of SB 142 removes the requirement that, if public funds are being used, a physician must perform an abortion at a hospital, and instead allows for abortions to be performed by any “licensed provider.”   

SB21-193 Protection of Pregnant People in Perinatal Period– Passed 
If enacted, SB 193 will eliminate an important protection in Colorado law for a preborn and viable baby when a woman is on life support.  

Five bills the CCC supported that failed  

HB21-1017 Protect Human Life at Conception – Failed 
HB 1017 would have prohibited terminating the life of an unborn child and made it a violation a class 1 felony.  

HB 21-1080 Nonpublic Education and COVID-19 Relief Act – Failed 
HB 1080 would have established a private school and home-based education income tax credit for families who either enroll their child in private school or educate their child at home, thereby expanding education opportunities for families during and after the pandemic.  

HB 21-1183 Induced Termination of Pregnancy State Registrar – Failed 
HB 1183 would have required health-care providers that perform abortions to report specified information concerning the women who obtain the procedure to the state registrar of vital statistics, thereby increasing transparency in the abortion industry.   

HB 21-1191 Prohibit Discrimination COVID-19 Vaccine Status– Failed  
HB 1191 would have prevented individuals from being coerced to take the COVID-19 vaccine by either the state or by employers.  

HB 21-1210 Modifications to Qualified State Tuition Programs – Failed 
HB 1210 would have allowed families to use some of their private 529 savings account funds for private K-12 school tuition for their children, including at Catholic schools.   

One bill the CCC opposed that failed 

SB 21-031 Limits on Governmental Responses to Protests– Failed 
SB 031 would have made it more difficult for law enforcement to protect innocent lives when protests turn violent.  

Two bills the CCC was in an “Amend” position that passed  

SB 21-073 Civil Action Statute of Limitations Sexual Assault – Enacted  
With the enactment of SB 073, the statute of limitations on bringing a civil claim based on sexual misconduct will be removed as of January 1, 2022. Under this law, victims of sexual abuse can pursue a civil cause of action if the statute of limitations has not expired, the abuse happened in Colorado, and the abuse could be considered a felony or Class 1 misdemeanor if it was a criminal case. 

SB 21-088 Child Sexual Abuse Accountability Act– Passed  
If enacted, SB 88 will allow victims of childhood sexual abuse to sue public and private institutions for abuse that occurred between 1960-2022. Victims would have three years to bring a historical claim, starting from January 1, 2022. Claims brought during this window would be capped at $387,000 for public institutions and at $500,000 for private institutions, with the ability of a judge to double the damages depending on how the private institution handled the situation. Despite unanswered constitutional concerns regarding SB 88, the Colorado Catholic dioceses will also continue to offer opportunities for survivors of childhood sexual abuse to receive support in a non-litigious setting.   

While the legislature has adjourned the 2021 legislative session, there is still the possibility that they will reconvene later this year. To stay up-to-date on Colorado legislative issues and their impact on the Catholic Church in Colorado, be sure to sign up for the CCC legislative network HERE.