Adoremus, Society for the Renewal of the Sacred Liturgy
Francis Cardinal Arinze
THE HOLY EUCHARIST UNITES HEAVEN AND EARTH
(Address at Eucharistic Congress in the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., on September, 25 2004)
1. Event of Grace
The mystery of the Holy Eucharist has brought us together. Our faith in sacramental celebration of the sacrifice which our beloved Savior Jesus Christ offered of himself and then enabled the Church to continue till the end of time is manifesting itself in many ways in these two days of grace.
We all thank the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious in the United States of America for the excellent arrangements they have made for this Eucharistic Congress.
In these two days of our faith celebration and manifestation we celebrate the Eucharistic sacrifice; we are fed with the Body and Blood of Christ, and we have ample opportunity to adore Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. Moreover, we have read and listened to Sacred Scripture, picked up books on the Holy Eucharist, and reflected, contemplated and prayed. We have praised God in the Liturgy of the Hours. After the concluding Mass this evening, we are going to honor our Eucharistic Lord in solemn procession.
Reflecting on the theme of this Eucharistic Congress, "Heaven unites with Earth" we see the Holy Eucharist as the mystery of faith in which Christ is the High Priest. This sacrifice and sacrament brings creation together and offers it to God. The Apocalypse, or the Book of Revelation, as it also known, presents a striking imagery of the heavenly liturgy and helps us appreciate how the Eucharistic celebration, as it were, looks heavenward. At the same time, the Eucharist commits us to do our part to make this world a better place in which to live. Indeed, the Eucharist unites heaven and earth and calls for our active faith response. These will now form the points for our reflection.
2. The Holy Eucharist Mystery of Faith
The Holy Eucharist is a great mystery of our faith. Around it are centered many of the mysteries of redemption.
After original sin, God did not abandon humanity in its sad state. He promised a Savior. In the fullness of time the Eternal Father who is rich in mercy sent His Only-begotten Son. For love of us and for our salvation the Son of God took on human nature. He did the work of our salvation by His entire life, but especially by the paschal mystery of His suffering, death and resurrection.
The night before He freely gave His life for us in the sacrifice of the Cross, Jesus at the Last Supper gave to the Church the wonderful sacrifice and sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. He turned bread and wine into His Body and Blood. He gave the Apostles power to do the same: "Do this in remembrance of me" (Lk 22:19). And He gave them His Body to eat and His Blood to drink. Thus, the Council of Trent (1545-1563) teaches us, Jesus wanted "to leave to His beloved spouse the Church a visible sacrifice (as the nature of man demands) by which the bloody sacrifice which He was to accomplish once for all on the cross would be re-presented, its memory perpetuated until the end of the world, and its salutary power be applied to the forgiveness of the sins we daily commit" (Council of Trent, DS 1740; cf also 1 Cor 11:23; Heb 7:24, 27; Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1366; Ecclesia De Euchcharistia., 11, 12).
As sacrament, the Holy Eucharist is the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ and, therefore, the whole Christ who is truly, really and substantially present (cf Council of Trent: DS 1651). We receive him in Holy Communion.
The Eucharistic celebration, this ritual sacramental celebration of the paschal mystery of Christ, also called the sacrifice of the Mass, is the supreme act of the public worship of the Church. It is "the fount and apex of the whole Christian life" (Lumen Gentium, 10). It is an action that involves the whole Church on earth, in heaven and in purgatory. And it has Jesus Christ as its Chief Priest and Victim. Indeed, it is He who through the Eucharistic mystery links earth to heaven, as the rest of this paper will strive to show.
3. Jesus Christ our High Priest
If the Eucharist unites heaven and earth, it is mainly thanks to Jesus Christ. "The word became flesh, He lived among us" (Jn 1:14). In the incarnation, heaven comes down to earth. As the Church sings in the first Christmas preface, "In the wonder of the incarnation your eternal Word has brought to the eyes of faith a new and radiant vision of your glory. In him we see our God made visible and so are caught up in love of the God we cannot see" (Roman Missal).
On earth as the Incarnate Word, Jesus Christ lifts earth to heaven by Himself being the victim and the priest in His redemptive sacrifice. He was already symbolized by the paschal lamb in the exodus (cf Exod 12:21-23). John the Baptist pointed him out: "Look, there is the lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world" (Jn 1:28). Jesus Himself was later to declare that He was freely giving His life for us: "The Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me" (Jn 10:17). The Apocalypse pays Christ tribute: "Worthy is the Lamb that was sacrificed to receive power, riches, wisdom, strength, honor, glory and blessing" (Rev 5:12).
In the Eucharistic sacrifice, Christ offers to His beloved bride, the Church, the possibility to be associated with him in offering to the Eternal Father a perfect sacrifice of adoration for the sins of humanity and eloquent petition in the name of Christ. Since He has taken our nature, Jesus associates us with Himself in this august mystery. In Himself He summarizes, recapitulates and in a sense takes with him all humanity in this supreme act of worship.
In the Eucharist as sacrament, Jesus gives us a pledge of eternal life, a ticket for heaven. We have His own guarantee: "This is the bread which comes down from heaven, so that a person may eat it and not die. I am the living bread which has come down from heaven. Anyone who eats this bread will live for ever, and the bread that I shall give is my flesh for the life of the world" (Jn 6:50-51).
4. Cosmic Dimension of the Holy Eucharist
One dimension of the Holy Eucharist that should not escape our attention is that Jesus associates with Himself not only all humanity but also all creation, and offers all to His Eternal Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit.
The Son of God became man "to gather together into one the scattered children of God" (Jn 11:52). By the paschal mystery of His passion, death and resurrection He redeemed humanity.
But the work of redemption goes beyond human beings in its effects and involves all creation. Original sin had turned many created things against man. And man was not always honoring God with them, as he should. The whole creation has been awaiting its own redemption, "groaning in labor pains", as St. Paul puts it (Rm 8:22). "The whole creation is waiting with eagerness for the children of God to be revealed" (Rm 8:19).
Pope John Paul II testifies that as he in his ministry as priest, Bishop and Pope has celebrated the Holy Eucharist in chapels, parish churches, basilicas, lakeshores, seacoasts, public squares and stadiums, he has experienced the Eucharist as always in some way celebrated on the altar of the world. The Eucharist embraces and permeates all creation. "The Son of God became man in order to restore all creation, in one supreme act of praise, to the One who made it from nothing. He, the Eternal High Priest who by the blood of His Cross entered the eternal sanctuary, thus gives back to the Creator and Father all creation redeemed" (Eccl. De Euch., 8).
St. Paul already told the Colossians that the Incarnate Word is the first-born of all creation and that "God wanted all fullness to be found in Him, and through Him to reconcile all things to Him, everything in heaven and everything on earth, by making peace through His death on the cross" (Col 1:15, 19-20).
And the second Christmas preface says of Christ: "He has come to lift up all things to Himself, to restore unity to creation, and to lead mankind from exile into your (the Father’s) heavenly kingdom" (Roman Missal).
Christ entrusts the celebration of this Eucharistic sacrifice, with its cosmic dimension, to His Church. At Mass therefore humanity, associating with it all creation, offers the supreme act of adoration, praise and thanksgiving, through Christ, with Christ and in Christ to the Eternal Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit.
5. Apocalyptic Imagery of the Heavenly Liturgy
The Book of Revelation speaks in prophetic and apocalyptic language with the Jerusalem temple worship as background. But it also speaks of the Church beginning to spread in the world and presents Jesus Christ as the Gospel Lamb, the King of the universe, the High Priest, the Lord of history and the immaculate Victim on His throne.
In the Apocalypse, divine worship is praise of heaven begun on earth. The cult images are powerful and clearly liturgical. Examples are adoration of the immolated Lamb on His throne, hymns and canticles, acclamations of the crowds of the elect dressed in white, descent of the Church of heaven on earth, the Jerusalem of which the Lord Jesus is the temple. And the people are a priestly and royal one. The visions recall many cult elements: seven candlesticks, the long white robe of the Son of Man, the white dress of the old men and of the Saints, the altar, the Amen and the exultant Alleluia.
At the same time the Book of Revelation also describes the exasperation of the fight between hell and the faithful of Christ, between the Woman and her children and the Beast, the false prophet who would do all in his power to seduce the inhabitants of the world.
The Eucharist is linked with this heavenly liturgy and, if well celebrated and lived on earth, will inaugurate the reign of God and dismiss the Devil and his angels.
6. The Celebrants of the Heavenly Liturgy
The Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks of "the celebrants of the heavenly liturgy". Christ crucified and risen is the Lamb "standing as though it had been slain". He is the one high priest of the true sanctuary. The river of the water of life from the throne of God and of the Lamb is a symbol of the Holy Spirit.
"Recapitulated in Christ", these are the participants in the service of the praise of God, in the heavenly liturgy: the heavenly powers, all creation (the four living beings), the servants of the Old and New Covenants (the twenty-four elders), the new People of God (the 144,000), especially the martyrs slain for the word of God, and the all-holy Mother of God (the Woman), the Bride of the Lamb, and finally a great multitude which no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes, and peoples and tongues (cf CCC, 1137, 1138; Rev. passim).
"What you have come to is Mount Zion and the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem where the millions of angels have gathered for the festival, with the whole Church of first-born sons, enrolled as citizens of heaven" (Heb. 12:22-23).
Let us now look further into how the Holy Eucharist celebrated here on earth shows its awareness of its link with the heavenly liturgy.
7. In Union with the Heavenly Host
The Church in celebrating the Eucharistic sacrifice is very aware of doing so in union with the heavenly host. One Eucharist Prayer after another confesses: "In union with the whole Church we honor Mary, the ever-virgin Mother of Jesus Christ our Lord and God" (Roman Missal Euch. Prayer I). Then the following are named: St. Joseph, the Apostles, the Martyrs, the confessors, the virgins and all the Saints. "May their merits and prayers", the Church prays, "gain us your constant help and protection" (ibid.). The Eastern Rite Anaphoras, or Eucharistic prayers, do the same.
The Angels are given special mention in the preface. Here are examples. "And so with all choirs of angels in heaven we proclaim your glory and join in their unending hymn of praise" (Advent I). "In our unending joy we echo on earth the song of the angels in heaven as they praise your glory forever" (II Sunday of Lent). "With thankful praise, in company with the angels, we glorify the wonders of your power" (III Sunday of Lent). These references to the angels are only natural, as the cry "Holy, Holy, Holy" that we make our own immediately afterwards is attributed by Scripture to them (cf Is 6:2; Rev 4:8).
The Church suffering in purgatory is not forgotten. The Eucharistic sacrifice is also offered for the faithful departed who "have died in Christ but are not yet wholly purified" (Council of Trent: DS 1743), so that they may be able to enter into the light and peace of Christ (cf CCC, 1371).
It follows therefore that at the Mass "our union with the Church in heaven is put into effect in the noblest manner when with common rejoicing we celebrate together the praise of the divine Majesty" (Lumen Gentium, 50). "In the earthly liturgy, by way of foretaste, we share in that heavenly liturgy which is celebrated in the holy city of Jerusalem toward which we journey as pilgrims" (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 8; cf also I Cor 15:28; CCC 1090, 1326).
8. Eschatological Dimension of the Holy Eucharist
The Holy Eucharist brings us to tend towards the life to come. "When you eat this bread, then, and drink this cup, you are proclaiming the Lord’s death until He comes", St. Paul tells the Corinthians (I Cor 11:26). Christ promised His Apostles His own joy so that their joy may be complete (cf Jn 15:11). The Eucharist is a foretaste of this joy. It is a confident waiting "in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ" (Roman Missal: Embolism after the Lord’s Prayer).
When we receive Jesus in Holy Communion one of the results is that we get a pledge of eternal life, of our bodily resurrection, since Jesus promised that those who so receive him in this sacrament have eternal life and He will raise them up at the last day (cf Jn 6:54). Therefore St. Ignatius of Antioch called Holy Communion "a medicine of immortality, and antidote of death" (Ad Ephesios, 20: PG 5, 661; quoted in Eccl. De Euch., 18; cf also Sacrosanctum Concilium, 47).
When, therefore, the priest says to us before the Preface: "Lift up your hearts", let us also think of the future life, of heaven, where the Eucharist is bringing us. Pope John Paul II has put it beautifully: "The Eucharist is really a glimpse of heaven appearing on earth. It is a glorious ray of the heavenly Jerusalem which pierces the clouds of our history and lights up our journey" (Eccl. De Euch., 19). "Come, Lord Jesus" (Rev. 22:20). "The Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come!’ Let everyone who listens answer, ‘Come’" (Rev. 22:17).
9. Eucharist and Commitment to this World
The fact that the Eucharist brings us to long for, to strain or tend towards the world to come, must not be interpreted to imply a diminishing of interest in the improvement of this present world on earth. Quite the contrary.
At the end of Mass the deacon or priest says to us: "Ite, Missa est". "Go, our celebration is ended. You are now sent to go and live what we have prayed, and sung and heard. Go to serve God and your neighbor".
The Second Vatican Council is clear on this commitment to improve the earth: "The expectation of a new earth must not weaken but rather stimulate our concern for cultivating this one. For here grows the body of a new human family, a body which even now is able to give some kind of foreshadowing of the new age. Earthly progress must be carefully distinguished from the growth of Christ’s kingdom. Nevertheless, to the extent that the former can contribute to the better ordering of human society, it is of vital concern to the kingdom of God" (Gaudium et Spes, 39).
Therefore the Holy Eucharist commits us to undertake initiatives to promote development, justice and peace. Solidarity and cooperation should replace competition and domination. Oppression, repression or exploitation of individuals or of the poorer minorities or countries should be eliminated. The Christian who is exiting from the Eucharistic celebration should examine his or her conscience on what can or should be done for the poor, the sick, the handicapped and the needy in general.
Christ washed the feet of His Apostles to teach them that the Holy Eucharist sends us to actively love our neighbor (cf Jn 13). St. Paul tells the Corinthians that their participation in the Holy Eucharist is defective if they are indifferent towards the poor (cf I Cor 11:17-22, 27-34). The recent Instruction of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments stresses this dimension of our participation in the Eucharistic celebration: "The offerings that Christ’s faithful are accustomed to present for the Liturgy of the Eucharist in Holy Mass are not necessarily limited to bread and wine for the eucharistic celebration, but may also include gifts given by the faithful in the form of money or other things for the sake of charity toward the poor. Moreover, external gifts must always be a visible expression of that true gift that God expects from us: a contrite heart, the love of God and neighbor by which we are conformed to the sacrifice of Christ, who offered himself for us." (Redemptionis Sacramentum, 70). There is no doubt that the Holy Eucharist commits us to strive to make this world a better place in which to live (cf Eccl. De Euch., 70).
10. Our Response
As we conclude these reflections, we adore and thank our Lord Jesus Christ who has given us the honor and the possibility of being associated with Him in the offering of the Eucharistic sacrifice.
We pray Him to teach us to offer ourselves at Mass through Him and with Him, to make of us an everlasting gift to God the Father (cf Roman Missal: Euch. Prayer III). Then the Eucharistic sacrifice becomes for each of us the center of our day and our week, which will all be like an offertory procession. The Eucharist teaches the Church to offer herself. As St. Augustine says: "The Church continues to reproduce this sacrifice in the sacrament of the altar so well-known to believers wherein it is evident to them that in what she offers she herself is offered " (De Civ. Dei, 10, 6: PL 41, 283; CCC, 1372).
The Holy Eucharist calls on us human beings to be the voice of creation in offering it all to God. The family, work, science and culture, politics and government, the mass media and recreation, plus sun, moon, trees, rivers and all created things, should all be offered to God. All creation, redeemed by Christ, should be symbolically offered to God in the Eucharistic sacrifice.
We celebrate the Mass in union with the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Angels and the Saints. We pray for the souls suffering in purgatory. We look heaven-wards to the time when all those redeemed by Christ will be together to sing for eternity the praises of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
Today we pray for the abundant blessings of the Eucharistic Jesus on the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious and all the members of their religious institutes or congregations. By their consecrated lives they are without words witnessing to Christ and proclaiming "that the kingdom of God and its over mastering necessities are superior to all earthly considerations" (Lumen Gentium, 44). May the Holy Eucharist be the center of their lives, their hopes, their joys.
To Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist be honor and glory now and forever.
Francis Cardinal Arinze
25th September 2004
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