Wednesday 4 October 2000


1. Prominent among the many aspects of the Eucharist is that of "memorial", which is related to a biblical theme of primary importance. We read, for example, in the Book of Exodus: "God remembered his covenant with Abraham and Jacob" (
Ex 2,24). In Deuteronomy, however, it says: "You shall remember what the Lord your God did ..." (Dt 7,18). In the Bible, the remembrance of God and the remembrance of man are interwoven and form a fundamental element in the life of God's People. However, this is not the mere commemoration of a past that is no more, but a zikkarōn, that is, a "memorial". It "is not merely the recollection of past events, but the proclamation of the mighty works wrought by God for men. In the liturgical celebration of these events, they become in a certain way present and real" (CEC 1363). The memorial recalls the bond of an unfailing covenant: "The Lord has been mindful of us; he will bless us" (Ps 115,12).

Biblical faith thus implies the effective recollection of the works of salvation. They are professed in the "Great Hallel", Psalm 136, which - after proclaiming creation and the salvation offered to Israel in the Exodus - concludes: "It is he who remembered us in our low estate, for his steadfast love endures for ever; and rescued us ...; he who gives food to all flesh, for his steadfast love endures for ever" (Ps 136,23-25). We find similar words in the Gospel on the lips of Mary and Zechariah: "He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy ... to remember his holy covenant" (Lc 1,54).

2. In the Old Testament, the "memorial" par excellence of God's works in history was the Passover liturgy of the Exodus: every time the people of Israel celebrated the Passover, God effectively offered them the gifts of freedom and salvation. In the Passover rite, therefore, the two remembrances converge: the divine and the human, that is, saving grace and grateful faith. "This day shall be for you a memorial day, and you shall keep it as a feast to the Lord.... It shall be to you as a sign on your hand and as a memorial between your eyes, that the law of the Lord may be in your mouth; for with a strong hand the Lord has brought you out of Egypt" (Ex 12,14 Ex 13,9). By virtue of this event, as a Jewish philosopher said, Israel will always be "a community based on remembrance" (M. Buber).

3. The interweaving of God's remembrance with that of man is also at the centre of the Eucharist, which is the "memorial" par excellence of the Christian Passover. For "anamnesis", i.e., the act of remembrance, is the heart of the celebration: Christ's sacrifice, a unique event done ephapax, that is, "once for all" (He 7,27 He 9,12 He 9,26 He 10,12), extends its saving presence in the time and space of human history. This is expressed in the last command, which Luke and Paul record in the account of the Last Supper: "This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.... This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me" (1Co 11,24-25 cf. Lc 22,19). The past of the "body given for us" on the Cross is presented alive today and, as Paul declares, opens onto the future of the final redemption: "As often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes" (1Co 11,26). The Eucharist is thus the memorial of Christ's death, but it is also the presence of his sacrifice and the anticipation of his glorious coming. It is the sacrament of the risen Lord's continual saving closeness in history.

Thus we can understand Paul's exhortation to Timothy: "Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, descended from David" (2Tm 2,8). In the Eucharist this remembrance is alive and at work in a special way.

4. The Evangelist John explains to us the deep meaning of the "memorial" of Christ's words and events. When Jesus cleanses the temple of the merchants and announces that it will be destroyed and rebuilt in three days, John remarks: "When he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word which Jesus had spoken" (Jn 2,22). This memorial which produces and nourishes faith is the work of the Holy Spirit, "whom the Father will send in the name" of Christ: "He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you" (Jn 14,26). Thus there is an effective remembrance: one that is interior and leads to an understanding of the Word of God, and a sacramental one, which takes place in the Eucharist. These are the two realities of salvation which Luke combined in his splendid account of the disciples of Emmaus, structured around the explanation of the Scriptures and the "breaking of the bread" (cf. Lc 24,13-55).

5. "To remember" is therefore "to bring back to the heart" in memory and affection, but it is also to celebrate a presence. "Only the Eucharist, the true memorial of Christ's paschal mystery, is capable of keeping alive in us the memory of his love. It is, therefore, the secret of the vigilance of the Church: it would be too easy for her, otherwise, without the divine efficacy of this continual and very sweet incentive, without the penetrating power of this look of her Bridegroom fixed on her, to fall into forgetfulness, insensitivity and unfaithfulness" (Apostolic Letter Patres Ecclesiae, III: Ench. Vat., 7, 33). This call to vigilance opens our Eucharistic liturgies to the full coming of the Lord, to the appearance of the heavenly Jerusalem. In the Eucharist Christians nurture the hope of the definitive encounter with their Lord.

The Holy Father appealed for peace in West Africa and for the release of two kidnapped missionaries. He also expressed his sorrow for two other missionaries killed in Uganda and Burundi:

For several weeks there has been disturbing news of deadly attacks on the local population in Guinea and on the refugees from Liberia and Sierra Leone. In God's name I ask that an end be put to this violence and that the rights of all be respected, especially those of refugees, who are already living in precarious conditions.

I also make a heartfelt appeal for the release of the two Xaverian priests, Fr Franco Manganello and Fr Victor Mosele, who were kidnapped from the Pamalap Mission in the Forecariah region on 6 September last.

Lastly, I express my sorrow and my prayer for two Gospel workers who have been brutally killed in recent days: Fr Raffaele Di Bari, a Comboni Missionary in Uganda, and Mr Antonio Bargiggia, a lay missionary of the Brothers of the Poor in Burundi. May the Lord welcome into his peace these faithful servants, who died while fulfilling the "greatest commandment", that of love.

* * * * * * * * *

I warmly welcome the new students of the Pontifical Beda College, and the seminarians of the Pontifical North American College who will be ordained to the Diaconate tomorrow. I extend a special greeting to the National Jubilee pilgrimage from Scotland, led by Bishops Taylor, Devine and Logan; and to the Diocesan pilgrimages from Hamilton in Bermuda, led by Bishop Kurtz; Seattle, led by Archbishop Brunett; San Francisco, led by Archbishop Levada; Saint Thomas, led by Bishop Murry; Scranton, led by Bishop Dougherty; and Brownsville, led by Bishop Peńa. Upon all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors, especially those from England, Ireland, Scotland, Japan, Bermuda and the United States of America, I invoke the joy and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Wednesday 11 October 2000


Eucharist is perfect sacrifice of praise

1. "Through him, with him, in him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honour is yours, almighty Father". This proclamation of Trinitarian praise seals the prayer of the Canon at every Eucharistic celebration. The Eucharist, in fact, is the perfect "sacrifice of praise", the highest glorification that rises from earth to heaven, "the source and summit of the Christian life in which (the children of God) offer the divine victim (to the Father) and themselves along with it" (Lumen gentium
LG 11). In the New Testament, the Letter to the Hebrews teaches us that the Christian liturgy is offered by "a high priest, holy, blameless, unstained, separated from sinners, exalted above the heavens", who achieved a unique sacrifice once and for all by "offering up himself" (cf. He 7,26-27). "Through him then", the Letter says, "let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God" (He 13,15). Today let us briefly recall the two themes of sacrifice and praise which are found in the Eucharist, sacrificium laudis.

2. First of all the sacrifice of Christ becomes present in the Eucharist. Jesus is really present under the appearances of bread and wine, as he himself assures us: "This is my body ... this is my blood" (Mt 26,26 Mt 26,28). But the Christ present in the Eucharist is the Christ now glorified, who on Good Friday offered himself on the cross. This is what is emphasized by the words he spoke over the cup of wine: "This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many" (Mt 26,28 cf. Mc 14,24 Lc 22,20). If these words are examined in the light of their biblical import, two significant references appear. The first consists of the expression "blood poured out" which, as the biblical language attests (cf. Gn 9,6), is synonymous with violent death. The second is found in the precise statement "for many", regarding those for whom this blood is poured out. The allusion here takes us back to a fundamental text for the Christian interpretation of Scripture, the fourth song of Isaiah: by his sacrifice, the Servant of the Lord "poured out his soul to death", and "bore the sin of many" (Is 53,12 cf. He 9,28 1P 2,24).

3. The same sacrificial and redemptive dimension of the Eucharist is expressed by Jesus' words over the bread at the Last Supper, as they are traditionally related by Luke and Paul: "This is my body which is given for you" (Lc 22,19 cf. 1Co 11,24). Here too there is a reference to the sacrificial self-giving of the Servant of the Lord according to the passage from Isaiah already mentioned (Is 53,12): "He poured out his soul to death...; he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors". "The Eucharist is above all else a sacrifice. It is the sacrifice of the Redemption and also the sacrifice of the New Covenant, as we believe and as the Eastern Churches clearly profess: "Today's sacrifice', the Greek Church stated centuries ago [at the Synod of Constantinople against Sotericus in 1156-57], "is like that offered once by the Only-begotten Incarnate Word; it is offered by him (now as then), since it is one and the same sacrifice'" (Apostolic Letter Dominicae Cenae, n. 9).

50 4. The Eucharist, as the sacrifice of the New Covenant, is the development and fulfilment of the covenant celebrated on Sinai when Moses poured half the blood of the sacrificial victims on the altar, the symbol of God, and half on the assembly of the children of Israel (cf. Ex 24,5-8). This "blood of the covenant" closely united God and man in a bond of solidarity. With the Eucharist the intimacy becomes total; the embrace between God and man reaches its apex. This is the fulfilment of that "new covenant" which Jeremiah had foretold (cf. Jr 31,31-34): a pact in the spirit and in the heart, which the Letter to the Hebrews extols precisely by taking the prophet's oracle and linking it to Christ's one definitive sacrifice (cf. He 10,14-17).

5. At this point we can illustrate the other affirmation: the Eucharist is a sacrifice of praise. Essentially oriented to full communion between God and man, "the Eucharistic sacrifice is the source and summit of the whole of the Church's worship and of the Christian life. The faithful participate more fully in this sacrament of thanksgiving, propitiation, petition and praise, not only when they wholeheartedly offer the sacred victim, and in it themselves, to the Father with the priest, but also when they receive this same victim sacramentally" (Sacred Congregation of Rites, Eucharisticum Mysterium, n. 3e).

As the term itself originally says in Greek, Eucharist means "thanksgiving"; in it the Son of God unites redeemed humanity to himself in a hymn of thanksgiving and praise. Let us remember that the Hebrew work todah, translated "praise", also means "thanksgiving". The sacrifice of praise was a sacrifice of thanksgiving (cf. Ps 50,14 Ps 50,23 [49]). At the Last Supper, in order to institute the Eucharist, Jesus gave thanks to his Father (cf. Mt 26,26-27 and parallels); this is the origin of the name of this sacrament.

6. "In the Eucharistic sacrifice the whole of creation loved by God is presented to the Father through the death and the Resurrection of Christ" (CEC 1359). Uniting herself to Christ's sacrifice, the Church in the Eucharist voices the praise of all creation. The commitment of every believer to offer his existence, his "body", as Paul says, as a "living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God" (Rm 12,1), in full communion with Christ, must correspond to this. In this way, one life unites God and man, Christ crucified and raised for us all and the disciple who is called to give himself entirely to him.

The French poet Paul Claudel sings of this intimate communion of love, putting these words on Christ's lips: "Come with me, where I Am, in yourself, / and I will give you the key to life. / Where I Am, there eternally / is the secret of your origin ... / .... Where are your hands that are not mine? And your feet that are not nailed to the same cross? I died and rose once and for all! We are very close to one another / .... How can you separate yourself from me / without breaking my heart?" (La Messe lą-bas).

The Holy Father called for an end to the violence in the Middle East and asked believers to pray that the path of dialogue would be resumed:

With great anguish we are following the very tense situation in the Middle East, once again shaken by events that have claimed numerous victims and have not even spared several holy places.

In view of this critical situation, I can only urge everyone to put an immediate end to this spiral of violence, as I invite all believers to pray to God that the peoples and leaders of that region will return to the path of dialogue in order to find again the joy of being children of God, their common Father.
* * *

I extend a special greeting to the English-speaking visitors, especially to the Jubilee pilgrims from the Archdiocese of Saint Andrew’s and Edinburgh in Scotland led by Archbishop O’Brien, and from the Diocese of Leeds in England, led by Bishop Constant. I greet the pilgrims from the Archdiocese of Washington led by Cardinal Hickey, to whom I offer my cordial good wishes for his Eightieth Birthday, which he is celebrating today. I also greet the pilgrim groups from Indianapolis led by Archbishop Buechlein, from Metuchen led by Bishop Breen, from Lincoln led by Bishop Bruskewitz, and from Nashville led by Bishop Kmiec. I welcome the winners of the Worldwide Jubilee Writing Contest, and the Delegates to the Thirteenth International Workshop being held at the Universitą Cattolica del Sacro Cuore. Upon all of you and your families I invoke the joy and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Wednesday 18 October 2000


Eucharist, banquet of communion with God

1. "We have become Christ. For if he is the head we are the members; he and we together are the whole man" (Augustine, Tractatus in Joh., 21, 8). St Augustine's bold words extol the intimate communion that is created between God and man in the mystery of the Church, a communion which, on our journey through history, finds its supreme sign in the Eucharist. The commands, "Take, eat ... Drink of it ..." (
Mt 26,26-27), which Jesus gives his disciples in that room on the upper floor of a house in Jerusalem on the last evening of his earthly life (cf. Mc 14,15), are rich in meaning. The universal symbolic value of the banquet offered in bread and wine (cf. Is 25,6) already suggests communion and intimacy. Other more explicit elements extol the Eucharist as a banquet of friendship and covenant with God. For, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church recalls, it is "at the same time, and inseparably, the sacrificial memorial in which the sacrifice of the cross is perpetuated, and the sacred banquet of communion with the Lord's body and blood" (CEC 1382).

2. Just as in the Old Testament the movable shrine in the desert was called the "tent of meeting", that is, of the encounter between God and his people and of brethren in faith among themselves, the ancient Christian tradition called the Eucharistic celebration the "synaxis", i.e., "meeting". In it "the Church's inner nature is revealed, a community of those summoned to the synaxis to celebrate the gift of the One who is offering and offered: participating in the Holy Mysteries, they become "kinsmen' of Christ, anticipating the experience of divinization in the now inseparable bond linking divinity and humanity in Christ" (Orientale lumen, n. 10).

If we wish to reflect more deeply on the genuine meaning of this mystery of communion between God and the faithful, we must return to Jesus' words at the Last Supper. They refer to the biblical category of "covenant", recalled precisely through the connection between Christ's blood and the sacrificial blood poured out on Sinai: "This is my blood of the covenant" (Mc 14,24). Moses had said: "Behold the blood of the covenant" (Ex 24,8). The covenant on Sinai which united Israel to the Lord with a bond of blood, foretold the new covenant which would give rise - to use an expression of the Greek Fathers - to a kinship as it were between Christ and the faithful (cf. Cyril of Alexandria, In Johannis Evangelium, XI; John Chrysostom, In Matthaeum hom., LXXXII, 5).

3. It is especially in the Johannine and Pauline theologies that the believer's communion with Christ in the Eucharist is extolled. In his discourse at the synagogue in Capernaum Jesus says explicitly: "I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live for ever" (Jn 6,51). The entire text of this discourse is meant to emphasize the vital communion which is established in faith between Christ, the Bread of life, and whoever eats it. In particular, we find the Greek verb menein, "to abide, to dwell", which is typically used in the Fourth Gospel to indicate the mystical intimacy between Christ and the disciple: "He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him" (Jn 6,56 cf. Jn 15,4-9).

4. Then the Greek word for "communion", koinonia, is used in the reflection of the First Letter to the Corinthians, where Paul speaks of the sacrificial banquets of idolatry, calling them the "table of demons" (1Co 10,21), while expressing a valid principle for all sacrifices: "Those who eat the sacrifices are partners in the altar" (1Co 10,18). The Apostle applies this principle in a clear and positive way to the Eucharist: "The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation (koinonia) in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a participation (koinonia) in the body of Christ?... We all partake of the one bread" (1Co 10,16-17). "Sharing in the Eucharist, the sacrament of the New Covenant, is the culmination of our assimilation to Christ, the source of "eternal life', the source and power of that complete gift of self" (Veritatis splendor VS 21).

5. This communion with Christ thus produces an inner transformation of the believer. St Cyril of Alexandria effectively describes this event, showing its resonance in life and in history: "Christ forms us in his image so that the features of his divine nature will shine in us through sanctification, justice and a good life in conformity with virtue. The beauty of this image shines in us who are in Christ, when we show ourselves to be good people through our deeds" (Tractatus ad Tiberium Diaconum sociosque, II, Responsiones ad Tiberium Diaconum sociosque, in In divi Johannis Evangelium, vol. III, Brussels 1965, p. 590). "By sharing in the sacrifice of the Cross, the Christian partakes of Christ's self-giving love and is equipped and committed to live this same charity in all his thoughts and deeds. In the moral life the Christian's royal service is also made evident and effective" (Veritatis splendor VS 107). This royal service is rooted in Baptism and blossoms in Eucharistic communion. The way of holiness, love and truth is therefore the revelation to the world of our intimacy with God, expressed in the Eucharistic banquet.

Let us express our desire for the divine life offered in Christ in the warm tones of a great theologian of the Armenian Church, Gregory of Narek (10th century): "It is not for his gifts, but for the Giver that I always long. It is not glory to which I aspire, but the Glorified One whom I desire to embrace.... It is not rest that I seek, but the face of the One who gives rest that I implore. It is not for the wedding feast, but for desire of the Bridegroom that I languish" (XII Prayer).
* * *

I warmly welcome the many English-speaking pilgrims and visitors here today. I greet the pilgrims from the Diocese of Copenhagen, led by Bishop Czeslaw Kozon, the American pilgrims from the Archdiocese of Atlanta, led by Archbishop John Donoghue, and the Diocese of Metuchen, with Bishop Vincent Breen. I am happy to welcome the Irish Delegation to the World Mission Congress, led by Bishop John Magee, the members of the General Chapter of the Benedictine Sisters of Tutzing, the members of the Alliance of the Holy Family International, and the delegates to the World Conference on Non-Destructive Testing. Upon all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors, especially those from England, Ireland, Scotland, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, the Philippines, Japan, Canada and the United States of America I invoke the abundant blessings of Almighty God.

Wednesday 25 October 2000 - The Eucharist, "a taste of eternity in time'


1. "In the earthly liturgy we share, by way of foretaste, in that heavenly liturgy" (Sacrosanctum Concilium,
SC 8 cf. Gaudium et spes GS 38). These limpid and essential words of the Second Vatican Council show us a fundamental dimension of the Eucharist: its being a "futurae gloriae pignus", a pledge of future glory, as beautifully expressed by the Christian tradition (cf. Sacrosanctum Concilium, SC 47). "This sacrament", St Thomas Aquinas notes, "does not admit us at once to glory, but bestows on us the power of coming into glory and, therefore, is called viaticum" (Summa Theol., III 79,2, ad 1). The communion with Christ that we enjoy now while we are pilgrims and wayfarers on the paths of history anticipates that supreme encounter on the day when "we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is" (1Jn 3,2). Elijah, who collapsed helplessly under a broom tree during his journey in the wilderness and was strengthened by a mysterious bread until he reached the summit of his encounter with God (cf. 1R 19,1-8), is a traditional symbol of the journey of the faithful, who find strength in the Eucharistic bread to advance towards the shining goal of the holy city.

2. This is also the profound meaning of the manna prepared by God on the steppes of Sinai, the "food of angels", providing every pleasure and suited to every taste, a manifestation of God's sweetness toward his children (cf. Sg 16,20-21). Christ himself will be the one to shed light on this spiritual significance of the Exodus event. He is the one who enables us to taste in the Eucharist the twofold savour of the pilgrim's food and the food of messianic fullness in eternity (cf. Is 25,6).

To borrow a phrase from the Jewish Sabbath liturgy, the Eucharist is a "taste of eternity in time" (A. J. Heschel). Just as Christ lived in the flesh while remaining in the glory of God's Son, so the Eucharist is a divine and transcendent presence, a communion with the eternal, a sign that "the earthly city and the heavenly city penetrate one another" (Gaudium et spes GS 40). The Eucharist, memorial of Christ's Passover, is by its nature the bearer of the eternal and the infinite in human history.

3. This aspect, which opens the Eucharist to God's future while leaving it anchored to present reality, is illustrated by the words Jesus spoke over the cup of wine at the Last Supper (cf. Lc 22,20 1Co 11,25). With these same words Mark and Matthew evoke the covenant in the blood of the sacrifices on Sinai (cf. Mc 14,24 Mt 26,28 Ex 24,8). Luke and Paul, however, reveal the fulfilment of the "new covenant" foretold by the prophet Jeremiah: "Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant I made with their fathers" (Jr 31,31-32). Jesus, in fact, declares: "This cup is the new covenant in my blood". In biblical language "new" usually means progress, final perfection.

It is also Luke and Paul who stress that the Eucharist is an anticipation of the horizon of glorious light belonging to the kingdom of God. Before the Last Supper Jesus said: "I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I tell you I shall not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God. And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said, "Take this, and divide it among yourselves; for I tell you that from now on I shall not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes'" (Lc 22,15-18). And Paul explicitly recalls that the Eucharistic supper looks forward to the Lord's final coming: "As often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes" (1Co 11,26).

4. The fourth Evangelist, John, extols this orientation of the Eucharist towards the fullness of God's kingdom in the well-known discourse on the "bread of life" that Jesus gave at the synagogue in Capernaum. The symbol he used as a biblical reference was, as was already mentioned, the manna offered by God to Israel on its pilgrimage through the desert. Regarding the Eucharist, Jesus solemnly declared: "If anyone eats of this bread, he will live for ever.... He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.... This is the bread which came down from heaven, not such as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live for ever" (Jn 6,51 Jn 6,54 Jn 6,58). In the language of the fourth Gospel, "eternal life" is the divine life itself which transcends the bounds of time. Being a communion with Christ, the Eucharist is thus a sharing in God's life, which is eternal and conquers death. Jesus therefore says: "This is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up at the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him should have eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day" (Jn 6,39-40).

5. In this light - as a Russian theologian, Sergei Bulgakov, evocatively said - "the liturgy is heaven on earth". For this reason, in the Apostolic Letter Dies Domini I quoted the words of Paul VI, urging Christians not to neglect "this encounter, this banquet which Christ prepares for us in his love.

May our sharing in it be most worthy and joyful! It is Christ, crucified and glorified, who comes among his disciples, to lead them all together into the newness of his Resurrection. This is the climax, here below, of the covenant of love between God and his people: the sign and source of Christian joy, a stage on the way to the eternal feast" (n. 58; cf. Gaudete in Domino, conclusion).
* * *

I am happy to welcome the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present here today. I greet the pilgrims from the Diocese of Portsmouth in England, led by Bishop Hollis, and from the United States, the Archdiocese of Portland, led by Archbishop Vlazny, the Diocese of Saint Petersburg, led by Bishop Lynch, the Diocese of Jackson, led by Bishop Houck, the Diocese of La Crosse, led by Bishop Burke, the Diocese of Wilmington, led by Bishop Saltarelli, and the Diocese of Albany, led by Bishop Hubbard. I gladly welcome the participants in the World Congress of the International Uro-Gynecological Association. Upon all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors, especially those from England, Wales and the United States of America, I invoke the joy and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ.

                                                                               November 2000

Wednesday 8 November 2000 - Eucharist is sacrament of the Church's unity


1. "O sacrament of devotion! O sign of unity! O bond of charity!". St Augustine's exclamation in his commentary on the Gospel of John (In Joannis Evangelium, 26, 13) captures the theme and sums up the words that Paul addressed to the Corinthians and we have just heard: "Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread" (
1Co 10,17). The Eucharist is the sacrament and source of the Church's unity. This has been stressed since the beginnings of the Christian tradition and is based on the sign of the bread and wine. This is how it is stated in the Didache, a writing composed at the dawn of Christianity: "Just as this broken bread was first scattered on the mountains and, after being harvested, became one reality, so may your Church be gathered from the ends of the earth into your kingdom" (9, 1).

2. St Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage, echoed these words in the third century, saying: "The sacrifices of the Lord themselves highlight the unanimity of Christians strengthened by solid, indivisible charity. For when the Lord calls the bread formed of the union of many grains his body, and when he calls the wine pressed from many clusters of grapes and poured together his blood, in the same way he indicates our flock formed of a multitude united together" (Ep. ad Magnum, 6). This Eucharistic symbolism of the Church's unity returns frequently in the Fathers and Scholastic theologians. "The Council of Trent summarized the doctrine, teaching that our Saviour left the Eucharist to his Church "as a symbol of her unity and of the charity with which he wanted all Christians to be closely united with one another'; and for this reason it is "a symbol of that one body of which he is the head'" (Paul VI, Mysterium fidei , Ench. Vat., 2, 424; cf. Council of Trent, Decr. de SS. Eucharistia, introd. and ch. 2). The Catechism of the Catholic Church sums it up very effectively: "Those who receive the Eucharist are united more closely to Christ. Through it Christ unites them to all the faithful in one body - the Church" (CEC 1396).

3. This traditional doctrine is deeply rooted in Scripture. Paul develops it in the passage already cited from the First Letter to the Corinthians, taking koinonia as the basic theme, that is, the communion which is established between the faithful and Christ in the Eucharist. "The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation (koinonia)in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a participation (koinonia)in the body of Christ?" (1Co 10,16). This communion is more precisely described in John's Gospel as an extraordinary relationship of "mutual interiority": "he in me and I in him". Jesus, in fact, says at the synagogue in Capernaum: "He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him" (Jn 6,56).

It is a theme that will also be underscored in the discourses at the Last Supper with the symbol of the vine: the branch is verdant and fruitful only if it is grafted on to the vine stem, from which it receives sap and support (Jn 15,1-7). Otherwise it is just a withered branch to be thrown into the fire: aut vitis aut ignis, "either the vine or the fire", St Augustine succinctly comments (In Johannis Evangelium, 81, 3). Here we see a unity, a communion, which is realized between the faithful and Christ present in the Eucharist, on the basis of the principle that Paul expresses this way: "Those who eat the sacrifices are partners in the altar" (1Co 10,18).

4. Because this type of "vertical" communion-koinonia makes us one with the divine mystery, it produces at the same time a communion-koinonia we could call "horizontal", or ecclesial, fraternal, capable of uniting all who partake of the same table in a bond of love. "We who are many are one body", Paul reminds us, "for we all partake of the one bread" (1Co 10,17). The discourse on the Eucharist anticipates the great ecclesial reflection which the Apostle will develop in chapter 12 of the same Letter, when he will speak of the body of Christ in its unity and multiplicity. The well-known description of the Jerusalem Church offered by Luke in the Acts of the Apostles also outlines this fraternal unity or koinonia, connecting it with the breaking of bread, that is, the Eucharistic celebration (cf. Ac 2,42). This communion is realized in concrete historical reality: "They devoted themselves to the Apostles' teaching and fellowship (koinonia), to the breaking of bread and the prayers.... All who believed were together and had all things in common" (Ac 2,42-44).

5. The profound meaning of the Eucharist is thus denied when it is celebrated without taking into acount the demands of charity and communion. Paul is severe with the Corinthians because when they meet together, "it is not the Lord's supper that you eat" (1Co 11,20), as a result of their divisions, injustices and selfishness. In this case, the Eucharist is no longer agape, that is, the expression and source of love. And whoever partakes of it unworthily, without making it bear fruit in fraternal charity, "eats and drinks judgement upon himself" (1Co 11,29). "In fact Christian life is expressed in the fulfilling of the greatest commandment, that is to say in the love of God and neighbour, and this love finds its source in the Blessed Sacrament, which is commonly called the sacrament of love" (Dominicae cenae, n. 5). The Eucharist recalls, makes present and brings about this charity.

Let us then answer the appeal of the Bishop and martyr Ignatius, who exhorted the faithful of Philadelphia in Asia Minor to unity: "One is the flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ, one is the chalice in the unity of his blood, one is the altar, just as one is the Bishop" (EP ad Philadelphenses, 4). And let us pray with the liturgy to God the Father: "Grant that we, who are nourished by his body and blood, may be filled with his Holy Spirit, and become one body, one spirit in Christ" (Eucharistic Prayer III).
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I warmly welcome the group from the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham in England, and the members of the International Path to Rome pilgrimage. I also greet the United States pilgrims from the Archdiocese of Hartford, led by Archbishop Cronin; and from the Dioceses of Youngstown, led by Bishop Tobin; Knoxville, led by Bishop Kurtz; and Joliet, led by Bishop Kaffer. Upon all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors, especially those from England, Thailand, Japan, Malawi, Canada and the United States of America, I invoke the joy and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ.