Adoremus, Society for the Renewal of the Sacred Liturgy
The Year of the Eucharist
Catechesis of His Holiness John Paul II on the Eucharist
Word, Eucharist and divided Christians — John Paul II, General Audience, November 15, 2000
Eucharist is sacrament of the Church’s unity — John Paul II, General Audience, November 8, 2000
The Eucharist, "a taste of eternity in time" — John Paul II, General Audience, October 25, 2000
Eucharist, banquet of communion with God — John Paul II, General Audience, October 18, 2000
Eucharist is perfect sacrifice of praise — John Paul II, General Audience, October 11, 2000
The Eucharist: "memorial" par excellence of the Christian Passover — John Paul II, General Audience, October 4, 2000
The Eucharist is the celebration of divine glory — John Paul II, General Audience, September 27, 2000
The Eucharist Is at the Heart of the Priest’s Spirituality — John Paul II, General Audience, June 9, 1993
The Eucharist Is the Source of the Church’s Life — — John Paul II, General Audience, April 8, 1992
The Intrinsic Link between the Eucharist and the Gift of the Holy Spirit — — John Paul II, General Audience, September 13, 1989
Jesus’ promise "…before many days you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit" (Acts 1:5), indicates the special link between the Holy Spirit and baptism. We saw in the previous reflection that beginning with John’s baptism of penance at the Jordan when he announced the coming of Christ, we are brought close to him who will baptize "with the Holy Spirit and with fire." We are also brought close to that unique baptism with which he himself was to be baptized (cf. Mk 10:38): the sacrifice of the cross offered by Christ "through the eternal Spirit" (Heb 9:14). He became "the last Adam who became a life-giving spirit," according to the statement of St. Paul (cf. 1 Cor 15:45). We know that on the day of the resurrection Christ granted to the apostles the Spirit, the giver of life (cf. Jn 20:22), and also later at Pentecost when all were "baptized with the Holy Spirit" (cf. Acts 2:4).
There is therefore an objective relationship between Christ’s paschal sacrifice and the gift of the Spirit. Since the Eucharist mystically renews Christ’s redemptive sacrifice, one can easily see the intrinsic link between this sacrament and the gift of the Spirit. In founding the Church through his coming on the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit established it in objective relationship to the Eucharist, and ordered it toward the Eucharist.
Jesus had said in one of his parables: "The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a marriage feast for his son" (Mt 22:2). The Eucharist is the sacramental anticipation and, in a certain sense, a "foretaste" of that royal feast which the Book of Revelation calls "the marriage supper of the Lamb" (cf. Rev 19:9). The bridegroom who is at the center of that marriage feast and of its Eucharistic foreshadowing and anticipation is the Lamb who "took away the sins of the world," the Redeemer.
In the Church born of the baptism of Pentecost, when the apostles and with them the other disciples and followers of Christ, were "baptized with the Spirit," the Eucharist is and remains until the end of time the sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ.
In it is present "the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God" (Heb 9:14); the blood "poured out for many" (Mk 14:24) "for the forgiveness of sins" (Mt 26:28); the blood "which purifies your conscience from dead works" (cf. Heb 9:14); the "blood of the covenant" (Mt 26:28). When instituting the Eucharist, Jesus himself said: "This cup…is the new covenant in my blood" (Lk 22:20; cf. 1 Cor 11:25), and he told the apostles: "Do this in remembrance of me" (Lk 22:19).
In the Eucharist-on each occasion-there is re-presented the sacrifice of the Body and Blood offered by Christ once for all on the cross to the Father for the redemption of the world. The Encyclical Dominum et Vivificantem states: "In the sacrifice of the Son of Man the Holy Spirit is present and active…. The same Christ Jesus in his own humanity opened himself totally to this action…[which] from suffering enables salvific love to spring forth" (n. 40).
The Eucharist is the sacrament of this redemptive love, closely connected with the Holy Spirit’s presence and action. At this point how can we fail to recall Jesus’ words in the synagogue of Capernaum, after the multiplication of the bread (cf. Jn 6:27), when he proclaimed the necessity of being nourished on his body and blood? Many of his hearers thought his discourse "on eating his body and drinking his blood" (cf. Jn 6:53) "a hard saying" (Jn 6:60). Realizing their difficulty, Jesus said to them: "Do you take offense at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending where he was before?" (Jn 6:61-62). That was an explicit allusion to his future ascension into heaven. At that very point he added a reference to the Holy Spirit which would be fully understood only after the ascension. He said: "It is the Spirit that gives life, the flesh is of no avail; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life" (Jn 6:63).
Jesus’ hearers understood that first announcement of the Eucharist in a "material" sense. The Master immediately explained that his words would be clarified and understood only through the "Spirit, the giver of life." In the Eucharist Christ gives us his body and blood as food and drink, under the appearance of bread and wine, just as during the paschal meal at the Last Supper. Only through the Spirit, the giver of life, can the Eucharistic food and drink produce in us "communion," that is to say, the salvific union with Christ crucified and glorified.
A significant fact is linked to the Pentecost event: from the earliest times after the descent of the Holy Spirit the apostles and their followers, converted and baptized, "devoted themselves to the breaking of bread and the prayers" (Acts 2:42). It was as if the Holy Spirit himself had directed them toward the Eucharist. In the Encyclical Dominum et Vivificantem I stated: "Guided by the Holy Spirit, the Church from the beginning expressed and confirmed her identity through the Eucharist" (n. 62).
The primitive Church was a community founded on the teaching of the apostles (Acts 2:42). It was completely animated by the Holy Spirit who enlightened the believers to understand the Word, and gathered them together in charity around the Eucharist. Thus the Church grew into a multitude of believers who "were of one heart and soul" (Acts 4:32).
In the same encyclical already quoted we read: "Through the Eucharist, individuals and communities, by the action of the Paraclete-Counselor, learn to discover the divine sense of human life" (n. 62). They discover the value of the interior life, realizing in themselves the image of the Triune God. This is always presented to us in the books of the New Testament and especially in St. Paul’s letters, as the alpha and omega of our lives. That is to say, it is the principle according to which man is created and modeled, and the last end to which he is directed and led by the will and plan of the Father, reflected in the Son-Word and in the Spirit-Love. It is a beautiful and profound interpretation which patristic tradition has given of the key principle of Christian spirituality and anthropology. It was summarized and formulated in theological terms by St. Thomas (cf. Summa Theol., I, q. 93, a. 8). This is how it is expressed in the Letter to the Ephesians: "For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with might through his Spirit in the inner man, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have power to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God" (3:14-19).
It is Christ who gives us this divine fullness (cf. Col 2:9 f.) through the action of the Holy Spirit. Thus, filled with divine life, Christians enter and live in the fullness of the whole Christ, which is the Church, and through the Church, in the new universe which is gradually being constructed (cf. Eph 1:23; 4:12-13; Col 2:10). At the center of the Church is the Eucharist, where Christ is present and active in humanity and in the whole world by means of the Holy Spirit.
According to the Second Vatican Council the truth of the Church as a priestly community is realized through the sacraments; it comes to fulfillment in the Eucharist. Indeed, we read in Lumen Gentium that the faithful, "Taking part in the Eucharistic sacrifice, which is the fount and apex of the whole Christian life…offer the divine victim to God, and offer themselves along with it" (LG 11).
The Eucharist is the source of the Christian life because whoever shares in it receives the motivation and strength to live as a true Christian. Christ’s sacrifice on the cross imparts to the believer the dynamism of his generous love. The Eucharistic banquet nourishes the faithful with the Body and Blood of the divine Lamb sacrificed for us and it gives them the strength to "follow in his footsteps" (cf. 1 Pet 2:21).
The Eucharist is the summit of the whole Christian life because the faithful bring to it all their prayers and good works, their joys and sufferings. These modest offerings are united to the perfect sacrifice of Christ. Thus they are completely sanctified and lifted up to God in an act of perfect worship which brings the faithful into the divine intimacy (cf. Jn 6:56-57). Therefore, as St. Thomas Aquinas writes, the Eucharist is "the culmination of the spiritual life and the goal of all the sacraments" (Summa Theol., III, q. 66, a. 6).
The Angelic Doctor also notes that the "effect of this sacrament is the unity of the mystical body [the Church], without which there can be no salvation. Therefore it is necessary to receive the Eucharist, at least by desire (in voto), in order to be saved" (III, q. 73, a. 1, ad 2). These words echo everything Jesus himself said about the necessity of the Eucharist for the Christian life: "Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day" (Jn 6:53-54).
According to these words of Jesus, the Eucharist is a pledge of the resurrection to come, but it is already a source of eternal life in time. Jesus does not say "will have eternal life," but "has eternal life." Through the food of the Eucharist, Christ’s eternal life penetrates and flows within human life.
The Eucharist requires the participation of the Church’s members. According to the Council, "Both by reason of the offering and through Holy Communion all take part in this liturgical service, not indeed, all in the same way but each in that way which is proper to himself" (LG 11).
Participation is common to the entire "priestly people," who have been allowed to unite themselves to the offering and the Communion. But this participation differs according to the condition of the Church’s members, in accord with the sacramental institution. There is a specific role for the priestly ministry. However, it does not eliminate, but rather promotes the role of the common priesthood. It is a specific role willed by Christ when he charged his apostles with celebrating the Eucharist in his memory, by instituting for this function the sacrament of Holy Orders, conferred on bishops and priests (and on deacons as ministers of the altar).
The purpose of the priestly ministry is to gather the people of God: "All belonging to this people, since they have been sanctified by the Holy Spirit, can offer themselves as ‘a sacrifice, living, holy, pleasing to God’ (Rom 12:1)" (PO 2).
If, as I have mentioned in the preceding catecheses, the common priesthood is meant to offer spiritual sacrifices, the faithful can make this offering because they are "sanctified by the Holy Spirit." The Holy Spirit, who animated Christ’s sacrifice on the cross (cf. Heb 9:14), will give life to the offering of the faithful.
According to the Council, because of the priestly ministry spiritual sacrifices can achieve their goal. "Through the ministry of the priests, the spiritual sacrifice of the faithful is made perfect in union with the sacrifice of Christ. He is the only mediator who in the name of the whole Church is offered sacramentally in the Eucharist and in an unbloody manner until the Lord himself comes" (PO 2).
In virtue of Baptism and Confirmation, as we stated in the preceding catecheses, the Christian is qualified to participate "as if ex officio" in divine worship, which has its center and culmination in the sacrifice of Christ made present in the Eucharist. But the Eucharistic offering entails the involvement of an ordained minister. The offering is fulfilled in the act of consecration carried out by the priest in Christ’s name.
In this way the priestly ministry contributes to the full expression of the universal priesthood. As the Council states, citing St. Augustine, the ministry of priests tends to this, that "The entire commonwealth of the redeemed and the society of the saints be offered to God through the High Priest who offered himself also for us in his passion that we might be the body of so great a head  " (PO 2).
After the sacrifice has taken place, the Eucharistic communion which follows is meant to provide the faithful with the spiritual force necessary for the full development of the "priesthood," and especially for offering all the sacrifices of their everyday life. We read in the Decree Presbyterorum Ordinis: "Priests must instruct their people to offer to God the Father the divine victim in the Sacrifice of the Mass, and to join to it the offering of their own lives" (PO 5).
It can be said that according to Jesus’ intention in formulating the new commandment of love at the Last Supper, Eucharistic communion enables those who receive it to put it into practice: "Love one another as I have loved you" (Jn 13:34; 15:12).
Participating in the Eucharistic banquet testifies to their unity, as the Council points out in writing that the faithful, "Strengthened in Holy Communion by the Body of Christ…then manifest in a concrete way that unity of the People of God which is suitably signified and wondrously brought about by this most august sacrament" (LG 11).
This is the truth which the Church’s faith inherited from St. Paul, who wrote: "The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because the loaf of bread is one, we though many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf" (1 Cor 10:16-17). For this reason St. Thomas saw the Eucharist as the sacrament of the Mystical Body’s unity  . We conclude this ecclesiological-Eucharistic catechesis by emphasizing that, if Eucharistic communion is the efficacious sign of unity, it then gives the faithful a continually new impulse to mutual love and reconciliation, and the sacramental strength necessary for preserving good understanding in family and ecclesial relationships.
 De Civitate Dei, 10, 6: PL 41, 284
 Summa Theol., III, q. 72, a. 3
The catecheses which we are developing on the spiritual life of the priest especially concern presbyters, but they are addressed to all the faithful. It is indeed good that everyone should know the Church’s doctrine on the priesthood and what she desires of those who, having received it, are conformed to the sublime image of Christ, the eternal priest and most pure victim of the salvific sacrifice. That image is developed in the Letter to the Hebrews and in other texts of the apostles and evangelists, and it has been handed on faithfully in the Church’s Tradition of thought and life. Today too it is necessary for the clergy to be faithful to that image, which mirrors the living truth of Christ the priest and victim.
The reproduction of that image in priests is attained primarily through their life-giving participation in the Eucharistic mystery, to which the Christian priesthood is essentially ordered and linked. The Council of Trent emphasized that the bond between the priesthood and sacrifice comes from the will of Christ, who conferred upon his ministers "the power to consecrate, to offer and to distribute his Body and his Blood" (cf. DS 1764). In this there is a mystery of communion with Christ in being and doing, which must be translated into a spiritual life imbued with faith in and love for the Eucharist.
The priest is quite aware that he cannot count on his own efforts to achieve the purposes of his ministry. Rather, he is called to serve as an instrument of the victorious action of Christ whose sacrifice, made present on the altars, obtains for humanity an abundance of divine gifts. However, he also knows that, in order worthily to pronounce the words of consecration in the name of Christ–"This is my Body…. This is the cup of my Blood"–he must be profoundly united to Christ and seek to reproduce Christ’s countenance in himself. The more intensely he lives in Christ, the more authentically he can celebrate the Eucharist.
The Second Vatican Council recalled: "Priests act especially in the person of Christ as ministers of holy things, especially in the Sacrifice of the Mass" (PO 13) and that without a priest there can be no Eucharistic sacrifice. However, it emphasized that those who celebrate this sacrifice must fulfill their role in intimate spiritual union with Christ, with great humility, as his ministers in the service of the community. "They are asked to take example from that with which they deal, and inasmuch as they celebrate the mystery of the Lord’s death they should keep their bodies free of wantonness and lusts" (PO 13). In offering the Eucharistic sacrifice, presbyters must offer themselves personally with Christ, accepting all the renunciation and sacrifice required by their priestly life–again and always, with Christ and like Christ, sacerdos et hostia.
If the priest "hears" this truth proposed to him and to all the faithful as the voice of the New Testament and Tradition, he will grasp the Council’s earnest recommendation: "The daily celebration of Mass is strongly urged, since even if there cannot be present a number of the faithful, it is still an act of Christ and of the Church" (PO 13). The tendency to celebrate the Eucharist only when there was an assembly of the faithful emerged in those years. According to the Council, although everything possible should be done to gather the faithful for the celebration, it is also true that, even if the priest is alone, the Eucharistic offering which he performs in the name of Christ has the effectiveness that comes from Christ and always obtains new graces for the Church. Therefore I, too, recommend to priests and to all the Christian people that they ask the Lord for a stronger faith in this value of the Eucharist.
The l971 Synod of Bishops took up the conciliar doctrine, declaring: "Even if the Eucharist should be celebrated without participation of the faithful, it nevertheless remains the center of the life of the entire Church and the heart of priestly existence" (cf. Ench. Vat., 4, 1201).
This is a wonderful expression: "The center of the life of the entire Church." The Eucharist makes the Church, just as the Church makes the Eucharist. The presbyter, having been given the charge of building the Church, performs this task essentially through the Eucharist. Even when the participation of the faithful is lacking, he cooperates in gathering people around Christ in the Church by offering the Eucharist.
The Synod speaks further of the Eucharist as the "heart of priestly existence." This means that the presbyter, desiring to be and remain personally and profoundly attached to Christ, finds him first in the Eucharist, the sacrament which brings about this intimate union, open to a growth which can reach the heights of mystical identification.
At this level, too, which is that of so many holy priests, the priestly soul is not closed in on itself, because in a particular way in the Eucharist it draws on the love of him "who gives himself as food to the faithful" (PO 13). Thus he feels led to give himself to the faithful to whom he distributes the Body of Christ. It is precisely in being nourished by this Body that he is impelled to help the faithful to open themselves in turn to that same presence, drawing nourishment from his infinite charity, in order to draw ever richer fruit from the sacrament.
To this end the presbyter can and must provide the atmosphere necessary for a worthy Eucharistic celebration. It is the atmosphere of prayer: liturgical prayer, to which the people must be called and trained; the prayer of personal contemplation; the prayer of sound Christian popular tradition, which can prepare for, follow and to some extent also accompany the Mass; the prayer of holy places, of sacred art, of sacred songs, of sacred music, (especially on the organ). This is incarnated as it were in the formulas and rites, and continually inspires and uplifts everything so that it can participate in giving praise to God and in spiritually uplifting the Christian people gathered in the Eucharistic assembly.
To priests the Council also recommends, in addition to the daily celebration of the Mass, personal devotion to the Holy Eucharist, and especially that "daily colloquy with Christ, a visit to and veneration of the Most Holy Eucharist" (PO 18). Faith in and love for the Eucharist cannot allow Christ’s presence in the tabernacle to remain alone (cf. CCC 1418). Already in the Old Testament we read that God dwelt in a "tent" (or "tabernacle"), which was called the "meeting tent" (Ex 33:7). The meeting was desired by God. It can be said that in the tabernacle of the Eucharist too Christ is present in view of a dialogue with his new people and with individual believers. The presbyter is the first one called to enter this meeting tent, to visit Christ in the tabernacle for a "daily talk."
Lastly, I want to recall that, more than any other, the presbyter is called to share the fundamental disposition of Christ in this sacrament, that is, the "thanksgiving" from which it takes its name. Uniting himself with Christ the priest and victim, the presbyter shares not only his offering, but also his feelings, his disposition of gratitude to the Father for the benefits he has given to humanity, to every soul, to the priest himself, to all those who in heaven and on earth have been allowed to share in the glory of God. Gratias agimus tibi propter agnam gloriam tuam…. Thus, to counter the expressions of accusation and protest against God–which are often heard in the world–the priest offers the chorus of praise and blessing, which is raised by those who can recognize in man and in the world the signs of an infinite goodness.
1. According to the programme outlined in Tertio millennio adveniente, this Jubilee Year, the solemn celebration of the Incarnation, must be an "intensely Eucharistic" year (Tertio millennio adveniente, n. 55). Therefore, after having fixed our gaze on the glory of the Trinity that shines on man’s path, let us begin a catechesis on that great yet humble celebration of divine glory which is the Eucharist. Great, because it is the principal expression of Christ’s presence among us "always, to the close of the age" (Mt 28: 20); humble, because it is entrusted to the simple, everyday signs of bread and wine, the ordinary food and drink of Jesus’ land and of many other regions. In this everyday nourishment, the Eucharist introduces not only the promise but the "pledge" of future glory: "futurae gloriae nobis pignus datur" (St Thomas Aquinas, Officium de festo corporis Christi). To grasp the greatness of the Eucharistic mystery, let us reflect today on the theme of divine glory and of God’s action in the world, now manifested in the great events of salvation, now hidden beneath humble signs which only the eye of faith can perceive.
2. In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word kabód indicates the revelation of divine glory and of God’s presence in history and creation. The Lord’s glory shines on the summit of Sinai, the place of revelation of the divine Word (cf. Ex 24: 16). It is present in the sacred tent and in the liturgy of the People of God on pilgrimage in the desert (cf. Lv 9: 23). It dominates in the temple, the place – as the Psalmist says – "where your glory dwells" (Ps 26: 8). It surrounds all the chosen people as if in a mantle of light (cf. Is 60: 1): Paul himself knows that "they are Israelites, and to them belong the sonship, the glory, the covenants…" (Rom 9: 4).
3. This divine glory, which is manifest to Israel in a special way, is present in the whole world, as the prophet Isaiah heard the seraphim proclaim at the moment of receiving his vocation: "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory" (Is 6: 3). Indeed, the Lord reveals his glory to all peoples, as we read in the Psalter: "all the peoples behold his glory" (Ps 97: 6). Therefore, the enkindling of the light of glory is universal, so that all humanity can discover the divine presence in the cosmos.
It is especially in Christ that this revelation is fulfilled, because he "reflects the glory" of God(Heb 1: 3). It is also fulfilled through his works, as the Evangelist John testifies with regard to the sign of Cana: Christ "manifested his glory; and his disciples believed in him" (Jn 2: 11). He also radiates divine glory through his word which is divine: "I have given them your word", Jesus says to the Father; "the glory which you have given me, I have given to them"(Jn 17: 14, 22). More radically, Christ manifests divine glory through his humanity, assumed in the Incarnation: "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father" (Jn 1: 14).
4. The earthly revelation of the divine glory reaches its apex in Easter which, especially in the Johannine and Pauline writings, is treated as a glorification of Christ at the right hand of the Father (cf. Jn 12: 23; 13: 31; 17: 1; Phil 2: 6-11; Col 3: 1; 1 Tm 3: 16). Now the paschal mystery, in which "God is perfectly glorified" (Sacrosanctum Concilium, n. 7), is perpetuated in the Eucharistic sacrifice, the memorial of the death and resurrection entrusted by Christ to the Church, his beloved Spouse (cf. ibid., n. 47). With the command "Do this in remembrance of me" (Lk 22: 19), Jesus assures the presence of his paschal glory in all the Eucharistic celebrations which will mark the flow of human history. "Through the Holy Eucharist the event of Christ’s Pasch expands throughout the Church…. By communion with the Body and Blood of Christ, the faithful grow in that mysterious divinization which by the Holy Spirit makes them dwell in the Son as children of the Father" (John Paul II and Moran Mar Ignatius Zakka I Iwas, Joint Declaration, 23 June 1984, n. 6: Enchiridion Vaticanum, 9, 842).
5. It is certain that today we have the loftiest celebration of divine glory in the liturgy: "Since Christ’s death on the Cross and his resurrection constitute the content of the daily life of the Church and the pledge of his eternal Passover, the liturgy has as its first task to lead us untiringly back to the Easter pilgrimage initiated by Christ, in which we accept death in order to enter into life" (Apostolic Letter Vicesimus quintus annus, n. 6). Now, this task is exercised first of all through the Eucharistic celebration which makes present Christ’s Passover and communicates its dynamism to the faithful. Thus Christian worship is the most vivid expression of the encounter between divine glory and the glorification which rises from human lips and hearts. The way we "glorify the Lord generously" (Sir 35: 8) must correspond to "the glory of the Lord that filled the tabernacle" (cf. Ex 40: 34).
6. As St Paul recalls, we must also glorify God in our bodies, that is, in our whole existence, because our bodies are temples of the Spirit who is within us (cf. 1 Cor 6: 19, 20). In this light one can also speak of a cosmic celebration of divine glory. The world created, "so often disfigured by selfishness and greed", has in itself a "Eucharistic potential": it is "destined to be assumed in the Eucharist of the Lord, in his Passover, present in the sacrifice of the altar" (Orientale lumen, n. 11). The choral praise of creation will then respond, in harmonious counterpoint, to the breath of the glory of the Lord which is "above the heavens" (Ps 113: 4) and shines down on the world in order that "in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen!" (1 Pt 4: 11).
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 …" (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 zikkarôn, 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" (CCC, n. 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" (Lk 1: 54, 72).
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; 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" (Heb 7: 27; 9: 12, 26; 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" (1 Cor 11: 24-25; cf. Lk 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" (1 Cor 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" (2 Tm 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. Lk 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.
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, n. 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. Heb 7: 26-27). "Through him then", the Letter says, "let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God" (Heb 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, 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. Mk 14: 24; Lk 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. Heb 9: 28; 1 Pt 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" (Lk 22: 19; cf. 1 Cor 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 (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).
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. 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. Heb 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, 23). 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" (CCC, n. 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" (Rom 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 là-bas).
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. Mk 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" (CCC, n. 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" (Mk 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 betweeen 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. 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" (10: 21), while expressing a valid principle for all sacrifices: "Those who eat the sacrifices are partners in the altar" (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" (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, n. 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, n. 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).
1. "In the earthly liturgy we share, by way of foretaste, in that heavenly liturgy" (Sacrosanctum Concilium, n. 8; cf. Gaudium et spes, n. 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, n. 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" (1 Jn 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. 1 Kgs 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. Wis 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, n. 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. Lk 22: 20; 1 Cor 11: 25). With these same words Mark and Matthew evoke the covenant in the blood of the sacrifices on Sinai (cf. Mk 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" (Jer 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’" (Lk 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" (1 Cor 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, 54, 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