The International Eucharistic Congress that will be held in Quebec City in June 2008 offers both the local Church and the universal Church an intense time to pray, reflect on, and celebrate the gift of the Holy Eucharist. The forty-ninth in a series of congresses that have marked the Church's life for more than a century, the Quebec conference coincides with the 400th anniversary of the foundation of the first French city in North America, which would become in the 17th century an important entry point for missionary activity on the entire continent.
The central theme of the Congress, approved by Pope Benedict XVI, is "The Eucharist, God's gift for the life of the world." It is particularly important today to remember God's gift, for, in the midst of remarkable technological progress, notably in the area of communication, our world experiences a deep interior emptiness that it perceives as an absence of God. Fascinated by its own creative capacities, contemporary humanity tends to forget its Creator and set itself up as the sole master of its own destiny.
This temptation to put ourselves in God's place does not silence the longing for the infinite that inhabits our depths and the authentic values that we strive to develop, even if they do risk leading us astray. The value we place on freedom, our longing for equality, the ideal of solidarity, our access to unrestricted communications, our technological abilities and the protection of the environment are unquestionably admirable values that are a credit to our world and bring forth fruits of justice and brotherhood.
In addition, forgetting the Creator risks closing human beings in on themselves, in a self-centeredness that results in an inability to love and make lasting commitments, and increasingly frustrates the universal longing for love and freedom. For man, created in God's image and for communion with God, "cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself." ¹ The fulfillment of the human person comes about by this self-gift that signifies openness to the other, welcome and respect for life.
But today human beings are constantly pushing back the limits of our mastery over the transmission and end of life. Unchecked, this power over life and death, although technologically possible, threatens humanity itself. For, in the strong words of Pope John Paul II, a "culture of death" has taken over many secularized societies. The death of God in the culture leads almost inevitably to the death of the human being. We see this, not only in currents of nihilistic thought, but above all in the conflictual and broken relationships that are multiplying at all levels of human experience, disrupting marriage and the family, multiplying ethnic and social conflicts, and increasing the gulf between the rich and the huge majority who are the poor.
Despite our keener consciousness of human dignity and human rights, we are witnessing the multiplication of violations of these rights almost everywhere on the planet: the accumulation of weapons of mass destruction, which make a lie of all talk of peace; a growing concentration of material goods in the hands of a few, which skews the spread of globalization, while, to our shame, the fundamental needs of masses of the poor are ignored. World peace is undermined by injustice and misery, and terrorism becomes the weapon of choice of the desperate.
On the religious level, people today are no longer willing to submit themselves to an authority that dictates their conduct. They must cope with widespread access to many different beliefs and the growing difficulty of handing on to new generations the heritage that they have received from their own religious tradition. The Christian faith is no exception to this pattern, and is even more affected by it because its transmission relies on revelation that reason alone cannot measure. Jealous of their hard-won freedom, human beings construct their own spirituality without any reference to religion, thus sometimes giving in to the excessively individualistic tendencies of contemporary democratic cultures.
"The Church has received the Eucharist from Christ her Lord not as one gift – however precious – among so many others, but as the gift par excellence, for it is the gift of himself, of his person in his sacred humanity, as well as the gift of his saving work". ²
The servant of God, John Paul II, ended and crowned his long pontificate during the year of the Eucharist that he set up following his encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia. He wanted to rekindle in the heart of the Church an admiration for this supreme gift of the Holy Eucharist and stir up renewed adoration of this Sacrament which contains the very Person of the Lord Jesus in his sacred humanity. The October 2005 Synod of Bishops on The Eucharist in the Life and Mission of the Church prolonged and deepened this reflection by spelling out the pastoral implications of the Eucharistic mystery.
"At the Last Supper, on the night when He was betrayed, our Saviour instituted the Eucharistic sacrifice of His Body and Blood. He did this in order to perpetuate the sacrifice of the Cross throughout the centuries until He should come again, and so to entrust to His beloved spouse, the Church, a memorial of His death and resurrection: a sacrament of love, a sign of unity, a bond of charity, a paschal banquet in which Christ is eaten, the mind is filled with grace, and a pledge of future glory is given to us."4
What the Saviour instituted on the night he was betrayed was the gift of himself, impelled by the depths of his love: "Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end" (Jn 13.1). The institution of the Holy Eucharist is the gift of Love in Person; it is God who gives himself in the Sacrament of the Passover of Christ. Jesus instituted this Sacrament by a rite that continues the gift of his life as a sacrifice that takes away sin, and he conveyed its meaning by a gesture of service, the washing of feet.
The evening of Holy Thursday, Jesus knew that he was bringing to its fulfillment the memorial of the Jewish Passover meal: he took bread, blessed it and said, "Take this, all of you, and eat it. This is my body which will be given up for you" then he took the cup filled with wine and said, "Take this, all of you, and drink from it; this is the cup of my blood, the blood of the new and everlasting covenant. It will be shed for you and for all. Do this in memory of me."
By these gestures and words, Jesus instituted a new rite, his paschal rite, by which he offered himself in place of the traditional lamb, giving himself and sacrificing himself out of love. His act of love fulfills the New Covenant in his Blood, which frees humanity from sin and death.
The institution of the Eucharist conceals a profound mystery that transcends our ability to understand and our categories. It is the mystery of faith par excellence. The Eucharist constantly nourishes the Church, for from the Eucharist the Church draws her life and her reason for existence.
What, then, is the content of this memorial that the Church, since its origins, has celebrated as the Lord's gift par excellence? Jesus established its essential form at the Last Supper when he spoke the words of institution over the bread and the wine to change them into his Body and Blood. But this act by which Christ gives his own person conceals a content whose depths cannot be exhausted since it contains the whole Passover of the Lord, that is, his offering to the Father of love unto death on the Cross and his Resurrection from the dead by the power of the Holy Spirit.
When the Church celebrates the Eucharist, it welcomes the gift of Christ who hands himself over to sinners out of obedience to the Father's will. St. Paul proclaims it solemnly in the hymn to the Philippians: "He humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted Him and gave Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Phil 2.8-11).
Thus the Church welcomes the Father's gift to the world in his only Son, incarnate and crucified: "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him may not perish but may have eternal life" (Jn 3.16).
In light of this doctrine, we understand even better why all the sacramental life of the Church and of each Christian reaches its summit and its fullness in the Eucharist. In this Sacrament, the mystery of Christ's sacrificial self offering to the Father on the altar of the Cross is renewed continuously by his own will.
The Eucharist, as the memorial of the death and resurrection of the Lord, thus does much more than recall a past event: it represents sacramentally an event that is always "now" – since Jesus'offering of love on the cross was accepted by the Father and glorified by the Holy Spirit. Consequently this offering transcends time and space, and by the Lord's explicit will, remains permanently available to the faith of the Church. "Do this in memory of me."
When the Church celebrates the Eucharistic banquet, she does not do "as if" it were the first time. Rather, the Church welcomes the definitive eschatological event, the event of a unique love that is always offered to us. This banquet of love takes its inexhaustible substance from the sacrifice of love of the Son of God made man, who has been lifted up and always intercedes for us.
The supreme gift of the Eucharist is a covenant mystery, the nuptial mystery joining God and humanity. In the Eucharist the living God constantly gives rebirth to the Church as a people brought together, as the Body and Spouse of Christ, as a living community that is at the same time a single mystical Person with Him. Saint Augustine says, "Let us rejoice then and give thanks that we have become not only Christians, but Christ himself." ¹³
The Church is the people of the New Covenant, as inseparable from the Eucharist as the body is inseparable from the head, living from the Eucharist as a wife lives from the gift of her husband. As heir to and partner in the Eucharistic mystery, the Church, quickened by the Spirit and shaped by Mary's faith, participates in God's gift to the world. The Church herself is a sacrament, that is, "a sign and instrument both of a very closely knit union with God and of the unity of the whole human race."14 Indeed, the Church is the universal sacrament of Trinitarian communion for the world.
God's gift to the world came about thanks to a woman, blessed among all women, who believed and handed herself over unconditionally to the mysterious Word of her Lord. Mary of Nazareth is the woman who, above all others, said "yes" to the God of the covenant, thus becoming at the annunciation, the fulfilment of the daughter of Sion, the beginning of the Church. Her "yes" accompanied the incarnation of God's Word from the first moment of his conception to his death and Resurrection. No other creature possesses such a concrete memory of the Word enfleshed even unto Eucharistic flesh.
No other human being knows so perfectly what the mercy, pardon, compassion and suffering of redeeming Love means. Mary is the Eucharistic woman par excellence, 15 the new Eve whose utter openness allows the fecundity of the new Adam to take its course. "Mater Dei et Mater Ecclesiae."
God's gift to the banquet of love commits the Church to sharing this gift with the whole of humanity, which is called to become Christ's body and spouse. The Church's primary devotion to this mystery is its full, marvelling, worshipping faith. For, in response to the ultimate mystery of God's Eucharistic self-offering, must correspond the supreme mystery of faith: the Church's total, gratitude-filled adherence, united with Mary's pure faith. The Holy Spirit's mission is to assure this nuptial relationship between the perpetual realization of the Eucharistic mystery and the Church's welcome that thus nourishes the world's hope by its witness.
The first form of sharing that springs immediately from the Eucharistic heart of Jesus is the new commandment of love: "I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another" (Jn 13.34). This commandment is new because its measure is no longer to love the neighbour as ourselves, but as Jesus loved. It is new because it puts before us the essential demand of entering into the eschatological community of disciples who are united to Him by the same faith; it is new in the measure that it requires humility and a willingness to serve that enables us to take the last place and die for others.
"Dear brethren, the Lord has marked out for us the fullness of love that we ought to have for each other. He tells us:'No one has greater love than the man who lays down his life for his friends'… John the evangelist, who recorded (these words), draws the conclusion in one of his letters:'As Christ laid down his life for us, so we too ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. "We should indeed love one another as he loved us, he who laid down his life for us." 20
The Eucharistic Celebration makes Christ's disciples aware of their responsibility for their own ongoing need to be reconciled and to be artisans of reconciliation. They express this by celebrating the Sacrament of Reconciliation that purifies their hearts for Eucharistic Communion and by their decisions to welcome each other with their different cultures and life choices.
That around the world the Christian Churches celebrate the Lord's Supper separately is a sign of historical and doctrinal differences that it is impossible to conceal or overlook. United by one and the same baptism, Christ's disciples cannot forget the consequences of their divisions on their individual or collective witness to the world. The realization that they cannot all gather in full communion at the same table and sorrow over the resulting weakening of the missionary witnessing opens hearts to a search for reconciliation among all the members of the Body of Christ, "so that they may be one" (Jn 17.11).
Each Eucharist is celebrated in anticipation of, and hope for the reunification of the one people of God at the one table of the Lord.
The Church is the community of disciples that professes its belonging to the Lord by its distinctive sign: the practice of mutual love and fraternal love for all. We cannot love with the same love as Christ without constantly receiving this love from Him. His new commandment is not a simple moral ideal offered for our freedom. It is a covenant, a love shared between the Lord and his disciples, which increases and shines on the world if it is constantly renewed at its source, the Sunday Eucharist. Today it is important to re-evangelize Sunday, for in many places its meaning has been obscured under pressure from an individualistic and materialistic culture. How can we rediscover the meaning of this assembly of disciples around the risen Lord? By remembering our Christian roots, to which many eloquent voices testify. At the beginning of the fourth century in North Africa, some Christians preferred to die rather than live without Sunday, that is, without the Lord whom they encountered in the holy Eucharist.
The Church, the risen Lord's partner, lives because of this gift of God and, united to Jesus Christ, the High Priest, gives this gift to humanity. The world benefits from the love of Christians and the Church's worship that glorifies God by interceding for the world. Whether the Church dialogues with God in worship or in her mission to the world, the Church does not live for herself, but for the one who came "that they may have life, and have it abundantly" (Jn 10.10).
A. The Spiritual Worship of the BaptizedIt points to a totally renewed life: "So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God" (1 Cor 10.31). "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God" (Rom 12.2). This new worship shows itself, among other ways, by humility and service, "each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned" (Rom 12.3).
The Eucharist makes Christ present in the act of adoration par excellence, his death on the Cross. By his act of absolute love unto death, Christ returns to the Father with reconciled humankind and obtains for all the Spirit of love and peace, the Spirit who gives life to the Church's adoration in spirit and in truth. Though Him, with Him and in Him, the whole Church adores in the name of redeemed humanity.
In the offering of the holy Sacrifice in persona Christi, Caput et Corpus, as Saint Augustine puts it, including the active participation of the faithful in the mystery of praise, thanksgiving and communion, Christ and the Church carry out this supreme act of adoration. This act of adoration in which Christ and the Church engage in the Eucharistic Celebration does not end with the liturgy. It is prolonged in his permanent sacramental presence, which invites the faithful to participate by adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.
Eucharistic adoration outside Mass prolongs the memorial by inviting the faithful to remain with the Lord who is present in the Blessed Sacrament: "The Teacher is here and is calling for you" (Jn 11.28). In Eucharistic adoration, the faithful recognize the Lord's real presence and join themselves to his act of self-offering to the Father. Their adoration shares in his adoration because it is through Him, with Him and in Him that all prayer and adoration are given to God and accepted by God. Is not Christ, who announced to the Samaritan woman that the Father was seeking those who adored in spirit and in truth (Jn 4.23-26), the first adorer who leads the long line of all men and women who adore? (Heb 12.2, 24).
Once again we are witnessing everywhere in the Church a fervent revival of this "art of prayer" that Pope John Paul II associated with Eucharistic adoration, which increases both the Church's witness to God's love and her intercession for the needs of the world. The practice of adoration reinforces in the faithful the sense of the sacredness of the Eucharistic Celebration which has, unfortunately, decreased in certain areas. Explicitly recognizing the divine presence in the sacred species outside of Mass contributes to promoting the faithful's active and interior participation in the celebration and helps them to see it as more than a social ritual. The fruits of Eucharistic adoration also influence the spiritual worship we offer throughout the whole of life – doing God's will every day.
Contemplating Christ in a state of self-offering and immolation in the Blessed Sacrament teaches us to give ourselves without limit, actively and passively, to the point of being given like the Eucharistic bread which is given from one hand to another in Holy Communion. Does not the One whom we visit and adore in the tabernacle teach us to persevere in love, day in and day out, welcoming the circumstances and events of life and everything about them, leaving out nothing but sin, as we try to produce as much fruit as possible? True adoration is the gift of self in love, the ecstasy of love in the present moment, for the glory of God and the service of the neighbour.
In this way Christ's adoration, and the Church's, is sacramentally actualized in the celebration of the Eucharist, and is prolonged in the heart of the community and the faithful.
"The two disciples of Emmaus, upon recognizing the Lord,'set out immediately'(cf. Lk 24.33), in order to report what they had seen and heard. Once we have truly met the Risen One, we cannot keep the Good News to ourselves and the joy we have experienced. The encounter with Christ, constantly intensified and deepened in the Eucharist, issues in the Church and in every Christian an urgent summons to testimony and evangelization." 34
The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ." When the Church celebrates the memorial of the death and resurrection of Christ, she never stops asking God "Remember, Lord," all those for whom Christ came to bring life. This constant prayer expresses the identity of the Church and its mission, for the Church knows that she is in solidarity with and responsible for the salvation of all humanity. Living from the Eucharist, the Church participates in Christ's universal prayer of intercession and brings to humanity the hope of eternal life. 35
The Eucharist opens to sharing those who are tempted to close their hands. It highlights reconciliation instead of division. It puts life and human dignity at the centre of our faith commitment. In a society too often dominated by a "culture of death," which the search for individual comfort, money or power only intensifies, the Eucharist reminds us of the rights of the poor and the duty of justice and solidarity. It awakens the community to the immense gift of the New Covenant that calls all humanity to go beyond itself. In the American continent, as elsewhere, the Church started with a missionary vision. Its faith and ecclesiastical institutions gave birth to a local Church that, inspired by the first community in Jerusalem, helped shape the characteristics of this emerging people. This Church, like the society in which it took root, was marked by an initial dynamism: Ursulines and Hospitallers; Recollets and Jesuits, lay associates and secular priests crossed the ocean to proclaim the gospel of God in a new land.
In the mystical adventure of these men and women, which pushed them to the limits of physical endurance, courage and faith, the Church deeply identified with this growing country. By once again drawing on its roots in the Eucharist, the great missionary thrust that so marked the history of this country must continue and deepen as it faces the new challenges of secularization. Following the example of John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI has constantly appealed to human responsibility, particularly that of leaders and heads of state: "On the basis of available statistical data, it can be said that less than half of the immense sums spent worldwide on armaments would be more than sufficient to liberate the immense masses of the poor from destitution. This challenges humanity's conscience. To peoples living below the poverty line, more as a result of situations to do with international political, commercial and cultural relations than as a result of circumstances beyond anyone's control, our common commitment to truth can and must give new hope." 37
"However, we know that evil does not have the last word, because it was the Crucified and Risen Christ who overcame it, and his triumph is expressed with the power of merciful love. His Resurrection gives us this certainty: despite all the darkness that exists in the world, evil does not have the last word. Sustained by this certainty, we will be able, with greater courage and enthusiasm, to commit ourselves to work for the birth of a more just world." 38
"The Eucharist is the very source of Christian marriage. The Eucharistic Sacrifice, in fact, represents Christ's covenant of love with the Church, sealed with His Blood on the Cross. In this sacrifice of the New and Eternal Covenant, Christian spouses encounter the source from which their own marriage covenant flows, is interiorly structured and continuously renewed.
As a representation of Christ's sacrifice of love for the Church, the Eucharist is a fountain of charity. In the Eucharistic gift of charity the Christian family finds the foundation and soul of its'communion'and its'mission': by partaking in the Eucharistic Bread, the different members of the Christian family become one body, which reveals and shares in the wider unity of the Church. Their sharing in the Body of Christ that is'given up'and in His Blood that is'shed'becomes a never-ending source of missionary and apostolic dynamism for the Christian family." 40
Moreover, by thus strengthening its consciousness of being the domestic Church, the family participates more actively in witnessing to the faith and love that the Church incarnates in the heart of society.
"By its very nature the Eucharist is at the centre of the consecrated life, both for individuals and for communities. It is the daily viaticum and source of the spiritual life for the individual and for the Institute. By means of the Eucharist all consecrated persons are called to live Christ's Paschal Mystery, uniting themselves to Him by offering their own lives to the Father through the Holy Spirit. Frequent and prolonged adoration of Christ present in the Eucharist enables us in some way to relive Peter's experience at the Transfiguration:'It is well that we are here'. In the celebration of the mystery of the Lord's Body and Blood, the unity and charity of those who have consecrated their lives to God are strengthened and increased." 41
The Synod on the Eucharist of October 2005 spoke in this way of consecrated persons: "Your Eucharistic witness in the service of Christ is a cry of love in the darkness of the world, an echo of the ancient Marian hymns, the Stabat Mater and the Magnificat. May the Woman of the Eucharist par excellence, crowned with stars, and rich in love, the Virgin of the Assumption and of the Immaculate Conception, watch over you in your service of God and the poor, in the joy of Easter, for the hope of the world." 43
By way of conclusion, a few texts of Vatican II will synthesize the Trinitarian, nuptial and missionary perspectives that we wish to give to the theme of the International Eucharistic Congress of 2008. God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that through Him, with Him and in Him, the world might live the Trinitarian life. The Holy Eucharist is God's gift par excellence, a wedding present, welcomed and celebrated by the Church, which makes the Church the universal sacrament of the New Covenant. This gift of love essentially commits the Church to the Holy Spirit's mission, as it encounters humanity's universal desire for freedom in love.
"For God's Word, through Whom all things were made, was Himself made flesh and dwelt on the earth of men (see Jn 1.3,14). Thus, He entered the world's history as a perfect man, taking that history up into Himself and summarizing it (Eph 1.10). HeHimself revealed to us that'God is love'(1 Jn 4:8) and at the same time taught us that the new command of love was the basic law of human perfection and hence of the world's transformation." 44
"While helping the world and receiving many benefits from it, the Church has a single intention: that God's kingdom may come, and that the salvation of the whole human race may come to pass. For every benefit which the People of God during its earthly pilgrimage can offer to the human family stems from the fact that the Church is'the universal sacrament of salvation', simultaneously manifesting and arising from the mystery of God's love." 46
"The Most Blessed Eucharist contains the entire spiritual boon of the Church, that is, Christ himself, our Pasch and Living Bread, by the action of the Holy Spirit through his very flesh vital and vitalizing, giving life to men who are thus invited and encouraged to offer themselves, their labors and all created things, together with Him." 48
Bread yourself, good Shepherd, tend us; Jesus, with your love befriend us. You refresh us and defend us; to your lasting goodness send us that the land of life we see. Lord, who all things both rule and know, who on this earth such food bestow, Grant that we your saints may follow to the banquet you make hallow. 49
(Excerpts taken from the Theological Document for the Eucharistic Congress)
1. Second Vatican Council, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et Spes, n. 24.
2. John Paul II, Encyclical Letter, Ecclesia de Eucharistia, n. 11.
4. Second Vatican Council, Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, n. 47
13. Saint Augustine, In ev. Jo. (21, 8: PL 35, 1568). See the Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 795.
14. Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, n. 1.
15. See John Paul II, Encyclical Letter, Ecclesia de Eucharistia, nn. 53-58.
20. Saint Augustine, Homily on the Gospel of John (Tract. 84, 1-2: CCL 36, 536-638), in The Liturgy of the Hours, Vol. II (New York: Catholic Book Publishing Corp., 1976), p. 449.
34. John Paul II, Apostolic Letter,Mane nobiscum Domine, n. 24.
35. Second Vatican Council, Pastoral constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et Spes, n. 1.
37. Benedict XVI, Audience with the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See, January 9, 2006.
38. Benedict XVI, General audience, April 12, 2006.
40. John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation, Familiaris Consortio, n. 37.
41. John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation, Vita Consecrata, n. 95.
43. Synod on the Eucharist, Message to the People of God, n. 20, 21, October 2005.
44. Second Vatican Council, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et Spes, n. 38.
46. Second Vatican Council, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et Spes, n. 45.
48. Second Vatican Council, Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests, Presbyterorum Ordinis, n. 5.
49. Saint Thomas Aquinas, Eucharistic hymn, Lauda Sion. With them heirs and guests to be.