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53 If we wish to rediscover in all its richness the profound relationship between the Church and the Eucharist, we cannot neglect Mary, Mother and model of the Church. In my Apostolic Letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae, I pointed to the Blessed Virgin Mary as our teacher in contemplating Christ's face, and among the mysteries of light I included the institution of the Eucharist.102 Mary can guide us towards this most holy sacrament, because she herself has a profound relationship with it.
At first glance, the Gospel is silent on this subject. The account of the institution of the Eucharist on the night of Holy Thursday makes no mention of Mary. Yet we know that she was present among the Apostles who prayed “with one accord” (cf. Acts Ac 1,14) in the first community which gathered after the Ascension in expectation of Pentecost.Certainly Mary must have been present at the Eucharistic celebrations of the first generation of Christians, who were devoted to “the breaking of bread” (Ac 2,42).
But in addition to her sharing in the Eucharistic banquet, an indirect picture of Mary's relationship with the Eucharist can be had, beginning with her interior disposition. Mary is a “woman of the Eucharist” in her whole life. The Church, which looks to Mary as a model, is also called to imitate her in her relationship with this most holy mystery.
54 Mysterium fidei! If the Eucharist is a mystery of faith which so greatly transcends our understanding as to call for sheer abandonment to the word of God, then there can be no one like Mary to act as our support and guide in acquiring this disposition. In repeating what Christ did at the Last Supper in obedience to his command: “Do this in memory of me!”, we also accept Mary's invitation to obey him without hesitation: “Do whatever he tells you” (Jn 2,5). With the same maternal concern which she showed at the wedding feast of Cana, Mary seems to say to us: “Do not waver; trust in the words of my Son. If he was able to change water into wine, he can also turn bread and wine into his body and blood, and through this mystery bestow on believers the living memorial of his passover, thus becoming the 'bread of life'”.
55 In a certain sense Mary lived her Eucharistic faith even before the institution of the Eucharist, by the very fact that she offered her virginal womb for the Incarnation of God's Word. The Eucharist, while commemorating the passion and resurrection, is also in continuity with the incarnation. At the Annunciation Mary conceived the Son of God in the physical reality of his body and blood, thus anticipating within herself what to some degree happens sacramentally in every believer who receives, under the signs of bread and wine, the Lord's body and blood.
As a result, there is a profound analogy between the Fiat which Mary said in reply to the angel, and the Amen which every believer says when receiving the body of the Lord. Mary was asked to believe that the One whom she conceived “through the Holy Spirit” was “the Son of God” (Lc 1,30-35). In continuity with the Virgin's faith, in the Eucharistic mystery we are asked to believe that the same Jesus Christ, Son of God and Son of Mary, becomes present in his full humanity and divinity under the signs of bread and wine.
“Blessed is she who believed” (Lc 1,45). Mary also anticipated, in the mystery of the incarnation, the Church's Eucharistic faith. When, at the Visitation, she bore in her womb the Word made flesh, she became in some way a “tabernacle” – the first “tabernacle” in history – in which the Son of God, still invisible to our human gaze, allowed himself to be adored by Elizabeth, radiating his light as it were through the eyes and the voice of Mary. And is not the enraptured gaze of Mary as she contemplated the face of the newborn Christ and cradled him in her arms that unparalleled model of love which should inspire us every time we receive Eucharistic communion?
56 Mary, throughout her life at Christ's side and not only on Calvary, made her own the sacrificial dimension of the Eucharist. When she brought the child Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem “to present him to the Lord” (Lc 2,22), she heard the aged Simeon announce that the child would be a “sign of contradiction” and that a sword would also pierce her own heart (cf. Lk Lc 2,34-35). The tragedy of her Son's crucifixion was thus foretold, and in some sense Mary's Stabat Mater at the foot of the Cross was foreshadowed. In her daily preparation for Calvary, Mary experienced a kind of “anticipated Eucharist” – one might say a “spiritual communion” – of desire and of oblation, which would culminate in her union with her Son in his passion, and then find expression after Easter by her partaking in the Eucharist which the Apostles celebrated as the memorial of that passion.
What must Mary have felt as she heard from the mouth of Peter, John, James and the other Apostles the words spoken at the Last Supper: “This is my body which is given for you” (Lc 22,19)? The body given up for us and made present under sacramental signs was the same body which she had conceived in her womb! For Mary, receiving the Eucharist must have somehow meant welcoming once more into her womb that heart which had beat in unison with hers and reliving what she had experienced at the foot of the Cross.
57 “Do this in remembrance of me” (Lc 22,19). In the “memorial” of Calvary all that Christ accomplished by his passion and his death is present. Consequently all that Christ did with regard to his Mother for our sake is also present. To her he gave the beloved disciple and, in him, each of us: “Behold, your Son!”. To each of us he also says: “Behold your mother!” (cf. Jn Jn 19,26-27).
Experiencing the memorial of Christ's death in the Eucharist also means continually receiving this gift. It means accepting – like John – the one who is given to us anew as our Mother. It also means taking on a commitment to be conformed to Christ, putting ourselves at the school of his Mother and allowing her to accompany us. Mary is present, with the Church and as the Mother of the Church, at each of our celebrations of the Eucharist. If the Church and the Eucharist are inseparably united, the same ought to be said of Mary and the Eucharist. This is one reason why, since ancient times, the commemoration of Mary has always been part of the Eucharistic celebrations of the Churches of East and West.
58 In the Eucharist the Church is completely united to Christ and his sacrifice, and makes her own the spirit of Mary. This truth can be understood more deeply by re-reading the Magnificat in a Eucharistic key. The Eucharist, like the Canticle of Mary, is first and foremost praise and thanksgiving. When Mary exclaims: “My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour”, she already bears Jesus in her womb. She praises God “through” Jesus, but she also praises him “in” Jesus and “with” Jesus. This is itself the true “Eucharistic attitude”.
At the same time Mary recalls the wonders worked by God in salvation history in fulfilment of the promise once made to the fathers (cf. Lk Lc 1,55), and proclaims the wonder that surpasses them all, the redemptive incarnation. Lastly, the Magnificat reflects the eschatological tension of the Eucharist. Every time the Son of God comes again to us in the “poverty” of the sacramental signs of bread and wine, the seeds of that new history wherein the mighty are “put down from their thrones” and “those of low degree are exalted” (cf. Lk Lc 1,52), take root in the world. Mary sings of the “new heavens” and the “new earth” which find in the Eucharist their anticipation and in some sense their programme and plan. The Magnificat expresses Mary's spirituality, and there is nothing greater than this spirituality for helping us to experience the mystery of the Eucharist. The Eucharist has been given to us so that our life, like that of Mary, may become completely a Magnificat!
59 Ave, verum corpus natum de Maria Virgine! Several years ago I celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of my priesthood. Today I have the grace of offering the Church this Encyclical on the Eucharist on the Holy Thursday which falls during the twenty-fifth year of my Petrine ministry.As I do so, my heart is filled with gratitude. For over a half century, every day, beginning on 2 November 1946, when I celebrated my first Mass in the Crypt of Saint Leonard in Wawel Cathedral in Krakow, my eyes have gazed in recollection upon the host and the chalice, where time and space in some way “merge” and the drama of Golgotha is re-presented in a living way, thus revealing its mysterious “contemporaneity”. Each day my faith has been able to recognize in the consecrated bread and wine the divine Wayfarer who joined the two disciples on the road to Emmaus and opened their eyes to the light and their hearts to new hope (cf. Lk Lc 24,13-35).
Allow me, dear brothers and sisters, to share with deep emotion, as a means of accompanying and strengthening your faith, my own testimony of faith in the Most Holy Eucharist. Ave verum corpus natum de Maria Virgine, vere passum, immolatum, in cruce pro homine! Here is the Church's treasure, the heart of the world, the pledge of the fulfilment for which each man and woman, even unconsciously, yearns. A great and transcendent mystery, indeed, and one that taxes our mind's ability to pass beyond appearances. Here our senses fail us: visus, tactus, gustus in te fallitur, in the words of the hymn Adoro Te Devote; yet faith alone, rooted in the word of Christ handed down to us by the Apostles, is sufficient for us. Allow me, like Peter at the end of the Eucharistic discourse in John's Gospel, to say once more to Christ, in the name of the whole Church and in the name of each of you: “Lord to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (Jn 6,68).
60 At the dawn of this third millennium, we, the children of the Church, are called to undertake with renewed enthusiasm the journey of Christian living. As I wrote in my Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte, “it is not a matter of inventing a 'new programme'. The programme already exists: it is the plan found in the Gospel and in the living Tradition; it is the same as ever. Ultimately, it has its centre in Christ himself, who is to be known, loved and imitated, so that in him we may live the life of the Trinity, and with him transform history until its fulfilment in the heavenly Jerusalem”.103 The implementation of this programme of a renewed impetus in Christian living passes through the Eucharist.
Every commitment to holiness, every activity aimed at carrying out the Church's mission, every work of pastoral planning, must draw the strength it needs from the Eucharistic mystery and in turn be directed to that mystery as its culmination. In the Eucharist we have Jesus, we have his redemptive sacrifice, we have his resurrection, we have the gift of the Holy Spirit, we have adoration, obedience and love of the Father. Were we to disregard the Eucharist, how could we overcome our own deficiency?
61 The mystery of the Eucharist – sacrifice, presence, banquet – does not allow for reduction or exploitation; it must be experienced and lived in its integrity, both in its celebration and in the intimate converse with Jesus which takes place after receiving communion or in a prayerful moment of Eucharistic adoration apart from Mass. These are times when the Church is firmly built up and it becomes clear what she truly is: one, holy, catholic and apostolic; the people, temple and family of God; the body and bride of Christ, enlivened by the Holy Spirit; the universal sacrament of salvation and a hierarchically structured communion.
The path taken by the Church in these first years of the third millennium is also a path of renewed ecumenical commitment. The final decades of the second millennium, culminating in the Great Jubilee, have spurred us along this path and called for all the baptized to respond to the prayer of Jesus “ut unum sint ” (Jn 17,11). The path itself is long and strewn with obstacles greater than our human resources alone can overcome, yet we have the Eucharist, and in its presence we can hear in the depths of our hearts, as if they were addressed to us, the same words heard by the Prophet Elijah: “Arise and eat, else the journey will be too great for you” (1 Kg 19:7). The treasure of the Eucharist, which the Lord places before us, impels us towards the goal of full sharing with all our brothers and sisters to whom we are joined by our common Baptism. But if this treasure is not to be squandered, we need to respect the demands which derive from its being the sacrament of communion in faith and in apostolic succession.
By giving the Eucharist the prominence it deserves, and by being careful not to diminish any of its dimensions or demands, we show that we are truly conscious of the greatness of this gift. We are urged to do so by an uninterrupted tradition, which from the first centuries on has found the Christian community ever vigilant in guarding this “treasure”. Inspired by love, the Church is anxious to hand on to future generations of Christians, without loss, her faith and teaching with regard to the mystery of the Eucharist. There can be no danger of excess in our care for this mystery, for “in this sacrament is recapitulated the whole mystery of our salvation”.104
62 Let us take our place, dear brothers and sisters, at the school of the saints, who are the great interpreters of true Eucharistic piety. In them the theology of the Eucharist takes on all the splendour of a lived reality; it becomes “contagious” and, in a manner of speaking, it “warms our hearts”. Above all, let us listen to Mary Most Holy, in whom the mystery of the Eucharist appears, more than in anyone else, as a mystery of light. Gazing upon Mary, we come to know the transforming power present in the Eucharist. In her we see the world renewed in love. Contemplating her, assumed body and soul into heaven, we see opening up before us those “new heavens” and that “new earth” which will appear at the second coming of Christ. Here below, the Eucharist represents their pledge, and in a certain way, their anticipation: “Veni, Domine Iesu!” (Ap 22,20).
In the humble signs of bread and wine, changed into his body and blood, Christ walks beside us as our strength and our food for the journey, and he enables us to become, for everyone, witnesses of hope. If, in the presence of this mystery, reason experiences its limits, the heart, enlightened by the grace of the Holy Spirit, clearly sees the response that is demanded, and bows low in adoration and unbounded love.
Let us make our own the words of Saint Thomas Aquinas, an eminent theologian and an impassioned poet of Christ in the Eucharist, and turn in hope to the contemplation of that goal to which our hearts aspire in their thirst for joy and peace:
Bone pastor, panis vere,
Iesu, nostri miserere...
Come then, good Shepherd, bread divine,
Still show to us thy mercy sign;
Oh, feed us, still keep us thine;
So we may see thy glories shine
in fields of immortality.
O thou, the wisest, mightiest, best,
Our present food, our future rest,
Come, make us each thy chosen guest,
Co-heirs of thine, and comrades blest
With saints whose dwelling is with thee.
Given in Rome, at Saint Peter's, on 17 April, Holy Thursday, in the year 2003, the Twenty- fifth of my Pontificate, the Year of the Rosary.
IOANNES PAULUS II
1Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium, 11.
2Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests Presbyterorum Ordinis, 5.
3Cf. John Paul II, Apostolic Letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae (16 October 2002), 21: AAS 95 (2003), 19.
4This is the title which I gave to an autobiographical testimony issued for my fiftieth anniversary of priestly ordination.
5Leonis XIII P.M. Acta, XXII (1903), 115-136.
6 AAS 39 (1947), 521-595.
7 AAS 57 (1965), 753-774.
8 AAS 72 (1980), 113-148.
9Cf. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium, 47: “... our Saviour instituted the Eucharistic Sacrifice of his body and blood, in order to perpetuate the sacrifice of the Cross throughout time, until he should return”.
10Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1085.
11Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium, 3.
12Cf. Paul VI, Solemn Profession of Faith, 30 June 1968, 24: AAS 60 (1968), 442; John Paul II, Apostolic Letter Dominicae Cenae (24 February 1980), 12: AAS 72 (1980), 142.
13Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1382.
14Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1367.
15In Epistolam ad Hebraeos Homiliae, Hom. 17,3: PG 63, 131.
16Cf. Ecumenical Council of Trent, Session XXII, Doctrina de ss. Missae Sacrificio, Chapter 2: DS 1743: “It is one and the same victim here offering himself by the ministry of his priests, who then offered himself on the Cross; it is only the manner of offering that is different”.
17Pius XII, Encyclical Letter Mediator Dei (20 November 1947): AAS 39 (1947), 548.
18John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Redemptor Hominis (15 March 1979), 20: AAS 71 (1979), 310.
19Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium, 11.
20De Sacramentis, V, 4, 26: CSEL 73, 70.
21In Ioannis Evangelium, XII, 20: PG 74, 726.
22Encyclical Letter Mysterium Fidei (3 September 1965): AAS 57 (1965), 764.
23Session XIII, Decretum de ss. Eucharistia, Chapter 4: DS 1642.
24Mystagogical Catecheses, IV, 6: SCh 126, 138.
25Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation Dei Verbum, 8.
26Solemn Profession of Faith, 30 June 1968, 25: AAS 60 (1968), 442-443.
27Sermo IV in Hebdomadam Sanctam: CSCO 413/Syr. 182, 55.
29Eucharistic Prayer III.
30Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ, Second Vespers, Antiphon to the Magnificat.
31Missale Romanum, Embolism following the Lord's Prayer.
32Ad Ephesios, 20: PG 5, 661.
33Cf. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World Gaudium et Spes, 39.
34“Do you wish to honour the body of Christ? Do not ignore him when he is naked. Do not pay him homage in the temple clad in silk, only then to neglect him outside where he is cold and ill-clad. He who said: 'This is my body' is the same who said: 'You saw me hungry and you gave me no food', and 'Whatever you did to the least of my brothers you did also to me' ... What good is it if the Eucharistic table is overloaded with golden chalices when your brother is dying of hunger. Start by satisfying his hunger and then with what is left you may adorn the altar as well”: Saint John Chrysostom, In Evangelium S. Matthaei, hom. 50:3-4: PG 58, 508-509; cf. John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Sollicitudo Rei Socialis (30 December 1987), 31: AAS 80 (1988), 553-556.
35Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium, 3.
37Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Decree on the Missionary Activity of the Church Ad Gentes, 5.
38“Moses took the blood and threw it upon the people, and said: 'Behold the blood of the Covenant which the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words'” (Ex 24,8).
39Cf. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium, 1.
40Cf. ibid., 9.
41Cf. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Decree on the Life and Ministry of Priests Presbyterorum Ordinis, 5. The same Decree, in No. 6, says: “No Christian community can be built up which does not grow from and hinge on the celebration of the most holy Eucharist”.
42In Epistolam I ad Corinthios Homiliae, 24, 2: PG 61, 200; Cf. Didache, IX, 4: F.X. Funk, I, 22; Saint Cyprian, Ep. LXIII, 13: PL 4, 384.
43PO 26, 206.
44Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium, 1.
45Cf. Ecumenical Council of Trent, Session XIII, Decretum de ss. Eucharistia, Canon 4: DS 1654.
46Cf. Rituale Romanum: De sacra communione et de cultu mysterii eucharistici extra Missam, 36 (No. 80).
47Cf. ibid., 38-39 (Nos. 86-90).
48John Paul II, Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte (6 January 2001), 32: AAS 93 (2001), 288.
49“In the course of the day the faithful should not omit visiting the Blessed Sacrament, which in accordance with liturgical law must be reserved in churches with great reverence in a prominent place. Such visits are a sign of gratitude, an expression of love and an acknowledgment of the Lord's presence”: Paul VI, Encyclical Letter Mysterium Fidei (3 September 1965): AAS 57 (1965), 771.
50Visite al SS. Sacramento e a Maria Santissima, Introduction: Opere Ascetiche, Avellino, 2000, 295.
54Cf. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Letter Sacerdotium Ministeriale (6 August 1983), III.2: AAS 75 (1983), 1005.
55Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium, 10.
57Cf. Institutio Generalis: Editio typica tertia, No. 147.
58Cf. Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium, 10 and 28; Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests Presbyterorum Ordinis, 2.
59“The minister of the altar acts in the person of Christ inasmuch as he is head, making an offering in the name of all the members”: Pius XII, Encyclical Letter Mediator Dei (20 November 1947): AAS 39 (1947), 556; cf. Pius X, Apostolic Exhortation Haerent Animo (4 August 1908): Acta Pii X, IV, 16; Pius XI, Encyclical Letter Ad Catholici Sacerdotii (20 December 1935): AAS 28 (1936), 20.
60Apostolic Letter Dominicae Cenae (24 February 1980), 8: AAS 72 (1980), 128-129.
61Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Letter Sacerdotium Ministeriale (6 August 1983), III.4: AAS 75 (1983), 1006; cf. Fourth Lateran Ecumenical Council, Chapter 1, Constitution on the Catholic Faith Firmiter Credimus: DS 802.
62Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Decree on Ecumenism Unitatis Redintegratio, 22.
63Apostolic Letter Dominicae Cenae (24 February 1980), 2: AAS 72 (1980), 115.
64Decree on the Life and Ministry of Priests Presbyterorum Ordinis, 14.
65Ibid., 13; cf. Code of Canon Law, Canon 904; Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, Canon 378.
66Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests Presbytero- rum Ordinis, 6.
67Cf. Final Report, II.C.1: L'Osservatore Romano, 10 December 1985, 7.
68Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium, 26.
69Nicolas Cabasilas, Life in Christ, IV, 10: SCh 355, 270.
70Camino de Perfección, Chapter 35.
71Cf. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on Some Aspects of the Church Understood as Communion Communionis Notio (28 May 1992), 4: AAS 85 (1993), 839-840.
72Cf. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium, 14.
73Homiliae in Isaiam,6, 3: PG 56, 139.
74No. 1385; cf. Code of Canon Law, Canon 916; Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, Canon 711.
75Address to the Members of the Sacred Apostolic Penitentiary and the Penitentiaries of the Patriarchal Basilicas of Rome (30 January 1981): AAS 73 (1981), 203. Cf. Ecumenical Council of Trent, Sess. XIII, Decretum de ss. Eucharistia, Chapter 7 and Canon 11: DS 1647, 1661.
76Canon 915; Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, Canon 712.
77Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium, 14.
78Saint Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, III, q. 73, a. 3c.
79Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on Some Aspects of the Church Understood as Communion Communionis Notio (28 May 1992), 11: AAS 85 (1993), 844.
80Cf. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium, 23.
81Ad Smyrnaeos, 8: PG 5, 713.
82Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium, 23.
83Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on Some Aspects of the Church Understood as Communion Communionis Notio (28 May 1992), 14: AAS 85 (1993), 847.
84Sermo272: PL 38, 1247.
86Cf. Nos. 31-51: AAS 90 (1998), 731-746.
87Cf. ibid., Nos. 48-49: AAS 90 (1998), 744.
88No. 36: AAS 93 (2001), 291-292.
89Cf. Decree on Ecumenism Unitatis Redintegratio, 1.
90Cf. Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium, 11.
91“Join all of us, who share the one bread and the one cup, to one another in the communion of the one Holy Spirit”: Anaphora of the Liturgy of Saint Basil.
92Cf. Code of Canon Law, Canon 908; Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, Canon 702; Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity, Ecumenical Directory, 25 March 1993, 122-125, 129-131: AAS 85 (1993), 1086-1089; Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Letter Ad Exsequendam, 18 May 2001: AAS 93 (2001), 786.
93“Divine law forbids any common worship which would damage the unity of the Church, or involve formal acceptance of falsehood or the danger of deviation in the faith, of scandal, or of indifferentism”: Decree on the Eastern Catholic Churches Orientalium Ecclesiarum, 26.
94No. 45: AAS 87 (1995), 948.
95Decree on the Eastern Catholic Churches Orientalium Ecclesiarum, 27.
96Cf. Code of Canon Law, Canon 844 §§ 3-4; Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, Canon 671 §§ 3-4.
97No. 46: AAS 87 (1995), 948.
98Cf. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Decree on Ecumenism Unitatis Redintegratio, 22.
99Code of Canon Law, Canon 844; Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, Canon 671.
100Cf. AAS 91 (1999), 1155-1172.
101No. 22: AAS 92 (2000), 485.
102Cf. No. 21: AAS 95 (2003), 20.
103No. 29: AAS 93 (2001), 285.
104Saint Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, III, q. 83, a. 4c.
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