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The Eucharist and the mission of the Church

on Monday, 30 June 2008. Posted in 2008 Eucharistic congress

Cardinal Telesphore ToppoThe next day, Cardinal Telesphore Toppo, archbishop of Ranchi, India, gave a catechesis on the relationship between the Eucharist and the mission of the Church. Here are large excerpts:

"Pope John Paul II in his 2004, Mission Sunday Message called ‘Eucharist and Mission’, insisted that ‘around Christ in the Eucharist the Church grows as the people, temple and family of God: one, holy, Catholic and apostolic. At the same time she understands better her character of universal sacrament of salvation and visible reality with a hierarchical structure.’

"This is clearly evident in the life of the early Christians for whom the Eucharist was central to their existence as a community. They met often for this common feast. They gathered in the private houses of fellow Christians. They listened to the teaching of the Apostles, prayed together, conversed about their own problems, shared a meal and commemorated the Lord who was present in their midst in the breaking of the bread in memory of Him.

"As a consequence of this Eucharistic sharing their care and concern for one another developed and grew. They shared their possessions and became visible as true disciples of Jesus. This fellowship meal and the life of sharing were the hallmarks of their religious identity. They understood the symbol instituted by Jesus Christ as a call to build up a new society based on the dual commandment of love: love of God and love of neighbour.

"The life of sharing was so essential to the Eucharistic community that for the Apostle Paul, a celebration in which this spirit of love and sharing were absent was not the Lord’s Supper. (1 Cor.11, 20). The Eucharist lost much of its meaning if it did not inspire and promote compassion, mercy and love. This is expressed beautifully in the Acts of the Apostles: ‘There was not a single needy person among them’ (Acts 4, 34).

"That is the reason why the early Christians were so acceptable to many people, especially the poor and the marginalised. Christianity was a dynamic movement towards the liberation of mankind from selfishness and exploitation, which are at the root of the unjust society. All were meant to equal in the believing community and this was symbolized by the Eucharistic meal. This was not an easy ideal to be reached. This was a spirituality developed in the midst of the ordinary everyday life with its daily struggles and, at that time also, in the midst contestation and persecution. Ordinary men and women lived this Christian spirituality and began the process of building a new society, a new human family as envisaged by Jesus Christ.

"The early Church Fathers placed very great stress on this community building and on the social dimension of the Eucharist. ‘Do you wish to honour the Body of Christ? Do not despise Him when He is naked. Do not honour Him here in the Church building with silks, only to neglect Him outside, when He is suffering from cold and from nakedness. For He who said, ‘This is My Body’ is the same who said, ‘You saw Me, a hungry man, and you did not give Me to eat’. Of what use is it to load the table of Christ? Feed the hungry and then come and decorate the table. You are making a golden chalice and you do not give a cup of cold water? The Temple of your afflicted brother’s body is more precious than this Temple (the church). The Body of Christ becomes for you an altar. It is more holy than the altar of stone on which you celebrate the holy sacrifice. You are to contemplate this altar everywhere, in the street and in the open squares’ (St. John Chrysostom).

We are celebrating this Eucharistic Congress with the theme, "Eucharist as the gift of God for the life of the World". As disciples of Jesus, living in a period of the Church’s life when the thrust towards the evangelizing mission is acquiring prominence again we must make sure that our Eucharistic life gives us a renewed sense of mission. We are celebrating the Eucharist in a world that is torn apart by discrimination, dehumanized by exploitative socio-economic structures, often dominated by the selfishness of human greed and avarice, which at times, have unfortunately even been justified by religious principles. (...)

"The selfish interests of individuals is achieved at the cost of the common good. The spirit of competition, which is the norm of progress and growth, exalts the powerful and mighty; it fosters the growth in the number of the poor and the oppressed classes. It affirms the individuals and destroys the community. It presents consumerism as a value and creates poverty as the permanent lot of many men and women of today. It is necessary to bring in the value of selfgiving and sharing as the guiding norm for building up the society. The participation in the Eucharist should empower us to become agents that build up a society based on self-giving, not on selfishness. Where there is sharing, there no one will be in need, where there is greed and selfishness there everyone will be always in need because nothing can satisfy selfish people.

"The Eucharist has a power that can challenge any situation that is opposed to the Kingdom of God. Jesus faced death and inaugurated the new Kingdom of God through His resurrection. The early Christian community found their genuine identity and their strength to bear witness to the Gospel in their Eucharistic gathering. They were able to face the challenges of the most powerful empire that opposed the Christian message.

Let us try in this Eucharistic Congress to discover the power of the Eucharist as a force for transformation not only of our own lives but also of the whole of society; and to bring out its potentiality to make our Christian life credible and our Christian witness powerfully convincing. Let us resolve to make the Eucharist the building power of our parishes and of our small Christian communities. If this is systematically done both by the pastors through their animation and by the faithful through their active involvement in the Sunday celebrations, our Christian communities will give rise to a new society in their parish territory.

The new society which we need is not a mere industrially or technologically advanced social set-up, rather it is a society in which acceptance of one another, love for one another and mutual sharing will become the law and style of life. Only Christians who experience week after week the unconditional self-giving love of Christ in the Eucharistic celebration can do this.