Lineamenta for the Synod on the Eucharist
Dec 31, 2007

Lineamenta for the Synod on the Eucharist

Lineamenta for the Synod on the Eucharist

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Adoremus, Society for the Renewal of the Sacred Liturgy

Lineamenta for the Synod on the Eucharist
The Eucharist: Source and Summit of the Life & Mission of the Church

Preface & questions published June 2004
Introduction through Chapter 3 published June 2005
Chapters 4 through Conclusion will be published in the July-August 2005


In the history of the Synod of Bishops, the consultation for the upcoming synodal assembly is somewhat novel insofar as the topic to be treated is also the subject of a recently published papal encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia, on the Eucharist and its vital relation to the Church. Because of the encyclical’s direct influence on the consultation and on the synod’s work, this fact merits consideration.

Not surprisingly, a synod is called to treat material which is part of the ordinary papal Magisterium. What is unusual is the timing and the announcement. Shortly after the Holy Father writes on the Eucharist, he proposes the same subject for a synod. The entire matter is of great importance for the Holy Father, the bishops and the Church.

The encyclical clearly manifests the desire of the Pope to urge its readers, the members of the universal Church, to re-dedicate themselves with new spiritual vigor and love to the Eucharistic mystery so vital to the Church. This act of the ordinary Magisterium is concerned with repeating to the People of God, in a manner adapted to the times, a perennial and necessary truth for the Church’s continuation in history.

Many reasons exist for calling the pastors together to treat a subject so decisive for the life and mission of the Church. By its nature, a synodal assembly is consultative. On this occasion the Holy Father is not calling the bishops to make recommendations on how to present doctrine but to consider the needs and pastoral implications of the Eucharist in celebration, worship, preaching, charity and various works in general.

The following point deserves consideration. Given the similarity in titles, the question inevitably arises as to why the Holy Father has chosen a topic already treated. The response comes from observing the present state of affairs in the Church. Today, the Church is undeniably experiencing a certain "Eucharistic need" based not on an incertitude regarding the presentation of doctrine — as occurred in the period of the Second Vatican Council — but on a Eucharistic practice which calls for a renewed attitude of love that is expressed in acts of faith in the One who is present for those continuing to search for him in our world: "Master, where do you live?".

This Lineamenta is intended to encourage episcopal conferences, the Eastern Churches sui iuris, the Dicasteries of the Roman Curia and the Union of Superiors General to invite the participation of all in the Church so that they can enter into discussion and take a pastoral inventory. In this way, the responses of these entities to the questions in the Lineamenta might be indicative and complete, thereby ensuring a fruitful synod.

To properly prepare for the next stage in the synod process, these responses should arrive at the General Secretariat before December 31, 2004.

With this consultation the path toward the Synod continues in the particular Churches, where the Bishops, as Pastors of the flock, prepare themselves, in collegiality with their fellow bishops and in union with the Holy Father, to reflect on this great Sacrament which gives life to the Church.

25 February 2004

Why a Synod on the Eucharist?

1. The unseen God manifested Himself in the Word-Made-Flesh, His Son, Jesus Christ. After the ascension, “what until then was visible of our Redeemer was changed into a sacramental presence”.1 For this reason, “We see one thing and understand another. We see a man (Jesus), but we make an act of faith in God”.2

The Church, the Sacrament of humanity’s salvation in Jesus Christ, exists through her worship centered on the Incarnate Word, Sacrament of the Father. The Roman Canon and the anaphora of Saint John Chrysostom state that the Mass is an oblationem rationabilem and a “logikèn latreían”, brought about by the Divine Word, in which spirit and reason participate. He who is the Word speaks to the individual and awaits an intelligible, reasoned (rationabile obsequium) response. In this way, human words becomes adoration, sacrifice and thanksgiving (eucharistia). This “spiritual worship” (cf. Rm 12:1) is at the core of an active, intelligible “participation” by the People of God in the Eucharistic mystery,3 reaching its fullness in the reception of Holy Communion.4

2. The Second Vatican Council treated the Eucharistic Mystery in Chapter III of the Constitution De Sacra Liturgia. What is said in this document about the liturgy, the source and summit of the Church’s actions, concerns for the most part the celebration of the Eucharist or, as the Eastern Churches say, the “Divine Liturgy”. The topic of the next synod is to be the Eucharist in which the People of God participate in virtue of Baptism. The Eucharist is the “summit” of Christian initiation and all apostolic activity, because the Sacrament presupposes membership in the communion of the Church. At the same time, it is the “source”, because the Sacrament is nourishment for her life and mission.5 For this reason, the Encyclical of Pope John Paul II, Ecclesia De Eucharistia, referring to the Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte in which he made the appeal for people to know, love and imitate Christ, states that “a renewed impetus in Christian living passes through the Eucharist”.6

3. The Sixth Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops treated the topic of reconciliation and, in this context, the Sacrament of Penance, the ordinary means of returning to communion with Christ and the Church, a communion which culminates in the Eucharist. This subject is amply presented in the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Reconciliatio et Pænitentia. The Fifth Ordinary General Assembly, on the Family, also gave attention to the basic communion of blood and spirit which has the source of its vitality in another sacrament, Matrimony, a great mystery and sign of the union between Christ and His Church. (cf. Eph 5:32) The last four ordinary general assemblies have reflected on the basic groups which make up the Church’s communion, namely, the lay faithful, the ministerial priesthood, those in the consecrated life and bishops. The Eucharist presupposes ecclesial communion, a communion which the Sacrament brings to perfection.7 It is understandable, then, that a synodal assembly should treat the Sacrament which manifests the apostolicity and catholicity of the Church and causes unity and holiness to increase.

Such a treatment will permit:

a. that the Eucharist maintain its central place in the eyes of the Church, at the universal and local levels — especially in parishes and communities — even in the preparatory phase of the synod;

b. that a necessary increase of faith in the Eucharist may result;

c. that, in giving preeminence to this topic, the synodal assembly might give special importance to the beginning of the third millennium of Christianity and contribute to the renewal program in the life and Christian mission of individuals and communities; and

d. that the Church’s teaching on the Sacred Eucharist might be taken up anew and more profoundly received in its entirety. This Sacrament has always received special attention in apostolic times, in the Church Fathers and holy medieval writers, in Councils — particularly Trent and Vatican II — and in the principal inter-dicasterial and pontifical documents, including the recent encyclical of Pope John Paul II, Ecclesia de Eucharistia.

4. The topic chosen by Pope John Paul II for the Eleventh Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops is Eucharistia fons et culmen vitæ et missionis Ecclesiæ. Three aspects emerge from those deserving consideration:

a. The Son of God, Jesus Christ, through His actions at the Last Supper and particularly His words “Do this in Memory of me”, did not intend simply to institute a fraternal meal but a liturgy, a true act of worship and adoration of the Father “in spirit and in truth” (Jn 4:24);

b. Liturgical reform did not lead to the destruction of the secular patrimony of the Catholic Church but was intended to foster, in faithfulness to Catholic tradition, the renewal of the liturgy for the sanctification of Christians; and

c. The Lord has desired His Real Presence in the Blessed Sacrament so that God-Emmanuel might be, today and always, a God near to humanity as its Redeemer and Lord.

5. The context for the preparation and actual work of the Eleventh Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops is the entire Magisterium and teaching on the Eucharist, particularly that of the Second Vatican Council, which has made the Church more aware that “at the Last Supper, on the night when He was betrayed, Our Savior 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…”8 As a beloved spouse, the Church knows she is to celebrate “the memorial of His death and resurrection, a sacrament of life, a sign of unity, a bond of charity, a paschal banquet, in which Christ is consumed, the mind is filled with grace, and a pledge of future glory is given to us”.9

Eucharistic doctrine, with its biblical, patristic and theological foundations, together with its catechetical and mystagogical connotations, permeates all the documents of the Second Vatican Council and the post-conciliar Magisterium and is intended to lead to a deeper appreciation of the mystery of the Eucharist and to adoration of this mystery, as illustrated in the traditions of the East and West, in the one Catholic Church. From the post-conciliar documents which have captured the spirit of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, the following remain basic for understanding the Eucharist and Eucharistic celebrations: the Encyclical Letter Mysterium Fidei of Pope Paul VI and the Institutio Generalis Missalis Romani, published in 1970 and revised in 2000, containing the norms to be observed for Holy Mass in the Roman rite. These texts, together with the Catechism of the Catholic Church,10 the Codes of Canon Law in the Latin Church11 and the Eastern Churches,12 the Instruction for Applying the Liturgical Prescriptions of the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, published in 1996, have provided a deeper understanding of Eucharistic doctrine and offered pastoral guidelines to which Pope John Paul II has made reference in his Encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia.13

The Sacrament of the New and Everlasting Covenant

The Eucharist in Salvation History

6. The Old Testament offering and sacrifice made to God as a sign of thanksgiving, supplication and reparation for sin is the remote preparation for the Last Supper of Jesus Christ. This is recalled in the figure of the Servant of JHVH who offers Himself in sacrifice, pouring out His blood for the new covenant (cf. Is 42:1-9; 49:8) in place of humanity and for its benefit. The religious festivals of the Jews, especially those of the Passover memorial of Exodus and the sacrificial banquet, serve to express thanksgiving for God’s favors and provide access to communion with Him through the victim sacrificed. (cf. I Cor 10:18-21) The Eucharist also unites a person to the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Furthermore, according to Jewish worship and tradition, the blessing (beraka) is both the communication of divine life to humanity and mankind’s wondrous acknowledgment and adoration of God’s work. This happens in the sacrifice in the temple and the meal in the home. (cf. Gn 1:28; 9:1; 12:2-3; Lk 1:69-79) At one time, the blessing was euloghia, that is, “praise to God”, and eucharistia, that is, “thanksgiving”. In Christianity, the latter term will come to identify the form and content of the anaphora or the Eucharistic prayer. 

At the time of Christ, the Jews also had a sacred meal or a sacrificial banquet (tôdâ) (cf. for example, Ps 22; Ps 51) which included a thanksgiving and an unbloody sacrifice of bread and wine. This allows for another aspect of the Last Supper to be understood — that of a sacrificial banquet of thanksgiving. The Old Testament rite of pouring out blood in sacrifice serves as the background for the topic of the covenant which God gratuitously makes with His people. (cf. Exodus 24:1-11) This rite, foretold by the prophets (cf. Is 55:1-5; Jer 31:31-34; Ez 36:22-28) and absolutely necessary to understand the Last Supper and the entire revelation of Christ, bears the name (berit in Hebrew, translated in Greek as diathéke) used to designate the body of New Testament writings. At the Last Supper, the Lord sealed the covenant, His testament with His disciples and the entire Church.

The prophetic signs and the memorial foretold in the Old Testament (the supper in Egypt, the gift of manna, the annual celebration of the Passover) are fulfilled in the Church’s sacraments or sacred mysteries. They have the God-given power of sanctifying, transforming and deifying in virtue of the death and resurrection of the Lord, celebrated each Sunday, indeed daily, in the Christian Pasch. Saint Ambrose states: “Now consider which is more excellent, the bread of angels or the Flesh of Christ, which is indeed the body of life…. One is figure, the other is truth”.14

The One Sacrifice and Priesthood of Jesus Christ    

7. The historic fact of the Last Supper is narrated in the Gospels of Saint Matthew (Mt 26:26-28), Saint Mark (Mk 14:22-23), Saint Luke (Lk 22:19-20) and in Saint Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians (I Cor 11:23-25), all of which provide some understanding of the event. Jesus Christ gives Himself (cf. Jn 13:1) to humanity as nourishment; He gives His body and sheds His blood for us. This covenant is new because it inaugurates a new state of communion between God and humanity. (cf. Heb 9:12) Furthermore, this covenant is new and supercedes the old, because the Son gives Himself on the cross. To those who receive Him, He gives the power of becoming children of the Father. (cf. Jn 1:12; Gal 3:26) The command, “Do this in memory of me”, refers to fidelity to the action and its continuity, until the Lord comes again. (cf. I Cor 11:26)

With this act, the Church reminds the world that an indestructible friendship exists between God and humanity, because of the love of Christ, who conquered evil through His offering of self. In this sense, the Eucharist provides the unifying power of the human race and is also the place of that unity. The new character and meaning of the Last Supper are immediately and directly tied to the redemptive act of the cross and resurrection of the Lord, God’s “last word” to humanity and the world. In this way, Christ, longing to make His Passover and to offer Himself (cf. Lk 22:14-16), becomes our Pasch. (cf. I Cor 5:7) The cross began at supper. (cf. 1 Cor 11:26) Jesus Christ, in an unbloody manner at Supper and in His blood on the cross, is at one and the same time both priest and victim offered to the Father: “a sacrifice that the Father accepted, giving, in return for this total self-giving by His Son, who ‘became obedient even to death’ (Phil 2:8), His own paternal gift, that is to say the grant of new immortal life in the resurrection, since the Father is the first source and the giver of life from the beginning”.15 For this reason, the death of Christ is inseparable from His resurrection (cf. Rm 4:24-25), which brings new life and in which we are immersed at Baptism. (cf. Rm 6:4)

8. The Gospel of Saint John treats the mystery of the Eucharist in Chapter 6. On a plan similar to that of the Last Supper, Saint John recounts the miracle of the bread distributed to a crowd, while Jesus speaks of the bread which gives life, that is, His flesh and blood, true food and true drink. The person who has faith in Jesus Christ eats His flesh and obtains eternal life. Understanding the discourse on the Eucharist is difficult: it is accessible only to the one who seeks Jesus and not himself. (cf. Jn 6:14, 26) After Pentecost, this awareness is expressed in the frequent meeting of the baptized, according to apostolic teaching, in fraternal communion and for the fractio panis (cf. Acts 2:42.46; 20:7-11), at the “Lord’s Supper”. (cf. I Cor 11:20) This is the foundation of the apostolic dimension of the Eucharist. The New Testament accounts of the Eucharist, as thanksgiving and sacramental memorial, highlight the fact that recognizing the Lord’s Body and Blood in communion with the consecrated bread and wine is a recognition of His presence. By the same token, it is a grave error, indeed a condemnation, to consider the “Lord’s Supper” as any other meal. (Cf. I Cor 11:29) Furthermore, the Apostle states as a known fact that the Lord’s presence in His Body and Blood does not depend on the conditions of those who receive Him. Communion makes them one body, because the life of Christ flows in them. They are one heart and one mind (cf. Acts 2:46; 4:32-33), to the point of making the communion of goods possible, after the manner of the apostolic Church, who shared the joys and sufferings of her members, namely, in a lived charity. (cf. I Cor 12:26-27)

The Bible provides basic truths about the Eucharist, making the Sacrament of the Altar a unique, sacrificial, priestly reality; thanksgiving and praise of the Father; the memorial of the Paschal Mystery; and the abiding Presence of the Lord.16

Thanksgiving and Praise to the Father

9. In the Church’s memory, the words of Jesus’ presence in our midst are at the center of the Eucharistic celebration: “This is my Body … this is the cup of my Blood….” Jesus offers Himself as the true, final sacrifice, bringing to fulfillment all the types found in the Old Testament. All unattainable desires are satisfied in Him.

According to the prophet (cf. Is 53:11ff), Jesus is to suffer for many and demonstrate that the longed-for, true sacrifice and worship is accomplished in Him. He Himself is the one who stands before God, interceding not for Himself but for all. This intercession is a true sacrifice, a prayer, a thanksgiving-celebration to God in whom we and the world are restored. The Eucharist is therefore a sacrifice to God in Jesus Christ for receiving the gift of His love.

10. Jesus Christ is the Living One, who is in glory, in the sanctuary of heaven, which He has entered through His blood. (cf. Heb 9:12) In this eternal, unchangeable state as High Priest (cf. Heb 8:1-2), “He holds His priesthood permanently, because He continues forever”. (Heb 7:24ff) He offers Himself to the Father and continues to work, because of the infinite merits of His earthly life, the redemption of humanity and the cosmos, which are transformed and restored in Him. (cf. Eph 1:10) This means that the Son, Jesus Christ, is mediator of a new covenant for those who have been called to an eternal inheritance. (cf. Heb 9:15) His sacrifice endures into eternity in the Holy Spirit who reminds the Church all that the Lord has done as High and Eternal Priest. (cf. Jn 14:26; 16:12-15) Saint John Chrysostom notes that the one who truly offers the divine liturgy is Jesus Christ; He who celebrated the Eucharist “during that supper, works the same miracle today. We have holy orders but He is the one who sanctifies and transforms the offering”.17 Therefore, “it is not a figure or some kind of sacrifice, but a true sacrifice”.18

God saw fit to accept the immolation of His Son as a victim for sin. The Church prays that this sacrifice leads to the salvation of the world. Sacrifice and sacramental renewal are one and the same, instituted in the Supper which Christ commanded His Apostles to celebrate in His memory as a sacrifice of praise, thanksgiving, atonement and expiation.19 Therefore, because of the Lord’s sacrificial love, “the Mass makes present the sacrifice of the Cross; it does not add to the sacrifice nor does it multiply it”.20 Sacrifice is the primary act; afterwards, comes the meal in which we take as food the Lamb immolated on the Cross.

The Memorial of the Paschal Mystery

11. “Doing in Christ’s memory” means remembering His entire life. These mysteries of redemption are made present, in their own way, throughout the year, at Mass. In a special manner, the Mass is a memorial — according to Saint Paul — of His act of emptying Himself (cf. Phil 2), the supreme gesture of love which made Him obedient unto death on the cross. Each time we eat His Body and drink His Blood we proclaim His death (cf. I Cor 11:26) and resurrection (cf. Acts 2:32-36; Rm 10:9; I Cor 12:3; Phil 2:9-11), until He comes again. He, then, is the sacrificial Paschal Lamb (cf. I Cor 5:7-8) who stands, because He is risen. (Rev 5:6)

The institution of the Eucharist took place at the Last Supper. The words pronounced by Jesus are an anticipation of His death. These words, however, would have been empty, if His love did not have the power to bring Him from death to the resurrection. For this reason, Christian tradition calls the death and resurrection of Christ mysterium paschale. This expression means that the Eucharist is more than a simple supper. Its cost was a death overcome in resurrection. From the open side of Christ, the Church is born; from here come the sacraments which build up the Church — Baptism and the Eucharist, the gift and bond of charity. (cf. Jn 19:34) Thus, in the Eucharist we adore Him who died but is now alive for evermore. (cf. Rev 1:18) This is expressed in the Roman Canon immediately after the consecration: “In this sacrifice, O Father, we your people and your ministers, recall His passion, His resurrection from the dead, and His ascension into glory; and from the many gifts you have given us we offer to you, God of glory and majesty, this holy and perfect sacrifice: the Bread of Life and the Cup of Eternal Salvation”.

During this “mystical supper”,21 Jesus Christ brings together in His Person the past of the Old Covenant, the present of the New Covenant and the future of the things to come.22 With the Eucharist, we enter into another dimension of time not subject to our measurement, in which the future, illuminated by the past, is offered to us as the unchanging present. In this way, the mystery of Christ, Alpha and Omega, becomes contemporaneous to each person in every age and time.23 Time grows short (cf. I Cor 7:29), we await the resurrection of the dead and even now live the life of heaven. “This mystery makes heaven of earth”.24

The Abiding Presence of the Lord

12. In the sacraments Jesus Christ acts through sensible signs which, without changing their appearances, take on a capacity that leads to sanctification. Christ is present in the Eucharist, Body and Blood, soul and divinity, giving Himself and His life to all. In the Old Testament, God sent those who would point out His presence: in the cloud (shekhinà), in the tent, in the temple. In the New Testament, in the fullness of time, He comes to live among humanity as the Word-Made-Flesh (cf. Jn 1:14), becoming Emmanuel indeed (cf. Mt 1:23), speaking through the Son, His heir.

To make understandable what takes place in the Sacrament in receiving Holy Communion, Saint Paul states: “He who is united to the Lord becomes one spirit with Him” (I Cor 6:17), in a new life which comes from the Holy Spirit. Saint Augustine had a deep perception of this mystery, earlier understood by Saint Ignatius of Antioch and later developed by the many monks, mystics and theologians who came after him. The Divine Liturgy is Christ’s presence “which gathers (ekklesiázon) all of creation”,25 beckons all to assemble around the holy altar and “providentially unites them to Himself and to one another”.26 Saint John Chrysostom says: “When you are about to approach the holy table, believe that the King of Creation is present there”.27 For this reason, adoration is inseparable from communion.

The Real Presence of Jesus Christ is truly a great mystery!28 The Second Vatican Council used the same word as the Council of Trent to describe the mystery: through transubstantiation the Lord is made present in His Body and Blood.29 The Eastern Fathers speak of the metabolismos30 of the bread and wine into Christ’s Body and Blood. These are two significant ways of reconciling mystery and reason, since, as Pope Paul VI has affirmed, the Eucharistic presence “constitutes in its own way the greatest of miracles”.31

The Eucharist: A Gift to the Church, Always to be Discovered

The Fathers and Doctors of the Church

13. Since the Last Supper, the Church has used many names to refer to the Sacrament: the Lord’s Supper, the Breaking of Bread, the Holy Sacrifice and Oblation, the Eucharistic Assembly, Holy Mass, the Mystical Supper and the Holy and Divine Liturgy.32 The preferred term, however, is the Eucharist, to indicate that the Sacrament is above all “to give thanks” (from the Greek word Eucharistein). This explains the fact that the Eucharist begins to be celebrated by the baptized on Sunday mornings without catechumens and penitents. The procedure for celebration seems already to be described in the Emmaus account in Saint Luke’s Gospel. (cf. Lk 24:25-31) On Easter Sunday evening, the risen Lord appears to the disciples. They listen to Him evermore intently, until He finally reveals Himself in the act of giving thanks and breaking bread. According to the Apostolic Tradition, the Eucharist is the revelation of the Father in the mystery of His Son, who redeems humanity. At the same time, it is the Church’s act of thanksgiving for this salvific redemption.33 In this document, considered one of the oldest testimonies after the apostolic age, the Church’s unceasing connection to the Eucharist is repeatedly emphasized. After the consecration, the presence of the Holy Spirit is invoked to make the Church worthy to make the offering.

Saint Ignatius of Antioch witnesses to the obligation of participating in the Eucharist so as to strengthen harmony in the faith and to conquer the divisions provoked by Satan. He invites all to live the Eucharist in unity, because the Body and Blood of Christ are one, and because there is one altar and one bishop. He also exhorts the community to recognize in the Eucharist the flesh of Jesus Christ which suffered for sins, but is now risen.34 The Eucharist is spiritual nourishment for eternal life, a universal sacrifice foretold by the prophet Malachi, the font of true peace.35 The celebrated passage from Saint Justin describes the Sunday Eucharist, the day on which the creation of the world and the resurrection of Jesus Christ take place.36 Saint Irenaeus uses the Eucharist to affirm the reality of the incarnation against Gnosticism. He also repeatedly underlines Christ’s Real Presence in the Body and Blood, and the necessity of partaking of the Eucharist, if our body is to enjoy a resurrection.37 Saint Cyprian insists on identifying the bread and wine with the Body and Blood of Christ and cites two effects of communion: strength for martyrs and unity for Christians.38

14. The official recognition of the Church led to the first theological reflection which eventually determined future Eucharistic doctrine on the Christ’s Real Presence, on the manner in which it is realized and on the sacrificial aspect. This is seen in the catechesis of the Church Fathers which preceded, accompanied and followed Christian initiation. Saint Gregory of Nyssa, for example, maintains that Eucharistic communion brings adherence to the Body of Christ, just as faith brings adherence to His soul,39 and confers immortality. The bishop Saint Cyril of Jerusalem, referring to Saint Peter, recalls that in the Eucharist we become participants in the divine nature.40 Saint John Chrysostom looks at the Eucharist from the perspective of baptismal initiation, as the food of a life which is received and sustained in the struggle against Satan. His words of explanation are particularly helpful in understanding the eschatological aspect of the Sacrament: “For when you see the Lord sacrificed, laid upon the altar, and the priest standing and praying over the victim, and all the worshippers empurpled with that precious blood, can you then think that you are still among men, and standing upon the earth? Are you not, on the contrary, straightway translated to heaven, and casting out every carnal thought from the soul, do you not, with disembodied spirit and pure reason, contemplate the things which are in heaven?”41

The Eucharistic reality, together with its sanctifying power coming from the passion and resurrection of Jesus Christ, not to mention the epiclesis which makes all who receive communion one, is characteristic of Theodore of Mopsuestia’s thoughts on Eucharistic doctrine and ritual.42 For him, baptismal life is nourished in the Eucharist. Saint Ambrose develops the Eucharist in the Old Testament economy and in eschatology.43 Jesus’ words pronounced by the priest, through which Jesus offers and is offered to the Father, are a proof of His Real Presence. Various Church Fathers begin to reflect on the transformation of the substance of the bread and wine. Saint Augustine’s thoughts on the Eucharist focus primarily on its realism and symbolism,44 its connection to the Church-Body (Christus Totus)45 and the sacrificial nature of the Sacrament.46

15. The Eucharist is the Sacrament of Christ’s presence, which, according to Saint Thomas Aquinas, differentiates it from the other sacraments.47 His use of the term “repræsentare” indicates that the Eucharist is not simply a pious recollection of the dead and risen Lord, who wishes to touch every person, but His effective and efficacious presence.48 The meaning of the Sacrament is threefold: “The first concerns the past, insofar as it commemorates the passion of the Lord, which was a true sacrifice…. Accordingly, the celebration of this Sacrament is called Christ’s sacrifice. The second … concerns the present effect, namely the unity of the Church in which people are brought together through this Sacrament…. The third concerns the future, since this Sacrament is a prefigurement of the Divine Blessedness to be realized in heaven”.49 In the office of Corpus Christi, Saint Thomas Aquinas has left a famous hymn which states this meaning in lyric form: O Sacrum Convivium, in quo Christus sumitur, recolitur memoria passionis eius, mens impletur gratia et futuræ gloriæ nobis pignus dator.

Saint Bonaventure has also contributed to Eucharistic theology, pointing to the spirit of piety necessary for receiving Christ in Holy Communion. In addition to the Lord’s words at the Last Supper, he recalls that in the Eucharist the Lord’s promise is fulfilled: “I am with you all days even until the end of the age”. (Mt 28:20)50 In the Sacrament of the Eucharist, Christ is really and truly present in the Church.

The Sacrament of the Church’s Unity and Holiness

16. The Eucharist also reveals the nature of the Church, one, holy, catholic and apostolic, both at the local and universal levels. The recent encyclical of Pope John Paul II, Ecclesia De Eucharistia, makes a particularly enlightening contribution to the Church’s Magisterium in understanding the relation between the Eucharist and the Church. The greatness and beauty of the Catholic Church rests in the fact that she does not remain fixed in any one age or millennium. Rather, she continues, develops and penetrates the mystery more and more, proposing truths which are to be believed by the world and celebrated in the liturgy, thus making clear that the one Church of Christ endures in her.

Saint Augustine explains the Eucharist to neophytes on Easter night in the following manner: “You must be enlightened as to what you have received. Listen therefore briefly to what the Apostle says, or better, what Christ says through His Apostle, on the Sacrament of the Lord’s Body: ‘One bread, though many, we are one body’. Behold, this is everything. Though I have spoken to you briefly, do not count the number of words but their weight instead!”51 This sentence of the Apostle, according to the saintly Bishop of Hippo, is a summary of the mystery which they received.

From the Church’s very beginning, however, there are signs of resistance to this reality by those who preferred, instead, to close themselves off in a limited group of people. (cf. I Cor 11:17-22) Because of its unifying power,52 the Eucharist has always meant bringing persons together, overcoming barriers and leading people to a new unity in the Lord. The Eucharist is the Sacrament with which Christ unites us to Himself in one Body and makes the Church holy.

The Apostolicity of the Eucharist

17. The Lord left the sacraments to the apostles. In this manner, the Church received them, and for two thousand years has transmitted them in fidelity to the apostolic faith. From the day of the ascension, the Church has fixed her gaze on the Lord who said, “No one has ascended into heaven but He who descended from heaven, the Son of Man”. (Jn 3:13) Christ, risen and ascended into heaven with His glorified, earthly body, remains on earth in His Mystical Body, the Church, in her members (cf. I Cor 12:5) and in the sacraments, especially the Eucharist. He said beforehand: “If I do not go away, the Counselor will not come to you”. (Jn 16:7) He who made possible the Corpus Verum in the incarnation, now gives life to the Corpus Mysticum, the Church.

The apostolicity of the Eucharist and the Church is not simply a mark historical in nature, but the ongoing manifestation that Christ is present to each person in every age;53 it concerns the mystery of ecclesial communion. The Encyclical Letter Ecclesia De Eucharistia quotes an incisive phrase from Saint Augustine: “You receive your own mystery”.54 This presence, a consequence of the incarnation, is therefore the mystery of faith in which the mystery of the Church is also revealed. In the Eucharistic celebration, then, the Church is full of wonder55 and made to contemplate: Ave verum Corpus natum de Maria Virgine.

18. The Second Vatican Council has stated that the Church grows through the redemption at work in the Sacrament of the Altar.56 Pope Paul VI recalls that the Roman Missal is proof of an uninterrupted tradition of the Roman Church and “the theology of the Eucharistic mystery”.57 Pope John Paul II mentions the inseparable connection between the Eucharist and the Church using the aphorism, “the Eucharist makes the Church and the Church makes the Eucharist”. He then affirms that what is professed in the Nicene-Costantinopolitan Creed about the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church, must also be applied to the Eucharist, above all the mark of apostolicity,58 “not because it did not originate in Christ… but because it is celebrated in conformity to the faith of the apostles”.59 Furthermore, “succession to the apostles in the pastoral mission necessarily entails the Sacrament of Holy Orders”.60 In a real way, the Church’s mark of apostolicity is intrinsic to the profound communion of the Mystical Body and the cause of her interior transformation. This understanding clearly leads to the fact that the Eucharist is a ‘gift and mystery’, “which radically transcends the power of the assembly”.61 The Eucharist is not brought about by the community from within, but is given to the community from above. This is emphasized in priestly ordination with which the Church provides a local community with a minister who can celebrate.

Consequently, “it cannot be forgotten that, if the Church makes the Eucharist, the Eucharist makes the Church to the point of becoming the criterion of confirmation for the same right doctrine”.62 For this reason, the Eucharist is a gift to be discovered personally as communion with Christ, the depth of mystery and existential truth.

The Catholicity of the Eucharist

19. No less important is the catholicity of the Eucharist or its relation to the universal and local Church. Communion, which has “not by chance become one of the names given to this sublime sacrament”,63 is also the nature of the Church. Even though the Church “continually lives and grows”64 from the Eucharist and manifests herself in it, the celebration of the Sacrament “cannot be the starting point for communion; it presupposes that communion already exists, a communion which it seeks to consolidate and bring to perfection”.65 The Second Vatican Council recalls that Catholic communion is expressed in the “bonds” coming from a professed faith, an apostolic doctrine, the sacraments and ecclesiastical government.66 Holy Communion requires then “a context where the outward bonds of communion are intact”,67 especially in Baptism and Orders. These bonds are necessary in the Eucharist, which to be visibly catholic must be celebrated una cum Papa et Episcopo, the principles of visible unity on the universal and local levels. This is “intrinsically required for the celebration of the Eucharistic sacrifice [which] for its character of ecclesial communion … while always offered in a particular community, is never a celebration of that community alone … but the image and true presence of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church”.68

20. In the first centuries of Christianity, utmost importance was given to having only one bishop and one altar in each city as an expression of the unity of the one Lord. In His gift of self in the Eucharist, Christ is entirely present in each place. Wherever the Eucharist is celebrated, the entire mystery of the Church is also present. At the same time, Christ is uniquely present in each place; He cannot to be received in discord. Precisely because Christ is undivided and unable to be separated from His members, the Eucharist renders its sign value only when it is celebrated in union with the whole Church.

Pope Paul VI, in the 1969 Apostolic Constitution Missale Romanum, expressed his desire that the Missal, revised according to the norms of Vatican II, be considered as a means of bearing witness to and affirming the unity of the Church and expressing, in the variety of languages, “one identical prayer”. Herein lies the meaning of observing liturgical and canonical norms concerning the Eucharist. When she gives the norms for the Eucharist, the Church takes to heart Jesus’ command to the apostles of preparing for the Passover. (cf. Lk 22:12)

Consequently: “the profound relationship between the invisible and the visible elements of ecclesial communion is constitutive of the Church as the sacrament of salvation. Only in this context can there be a legitimate celebration of the Eucharist and true participation in it. Consequently, it is an intrinsic requirement of the Eucharist that it should be celebrated in communion, and specifically maintaining the various bonds of that communion intact”.69

The Eucharist: The Mystery of the Faith Proclaimed

The Magisterium of the Catholic Church

21. In presenting faith in the Eucharist and refuting doctrinal and pastoral errors which have appeared over time, the conciliar and papal Magisterium of the Catholic Church draws primarily on the apostolic and patristic traditions of both East and West.

The Council of Trent, in three decrees, defined Eucharistic doctrine after the Protestant Reformation, particularly in regard to the true, real and substantial presence of the Lord Jesus, true God and true Man, in the species of bread and wine. It also affirmed that the Body of the Lord is present not only under the appearance of bread but also of wine and His Blood is present not only under the appearance of wine but also of bread. Furthermore, the Lord Jesus Christ is also present in each species with His soul and divinity. Thus, Christ, the Father’s Word, true God and true Man, is present whole and entire under the two species and in each of them.70 The same Council also defined transubstantiation,71 the manner of receiving communion72 and the relation between the unbloody sacrifice of the Mass and the bloody sacrifice of the cross.73 It also affirmed that to consider the words of institution and the command to celebrate in His memory in a figurative, typological or metaphorical way would be erroneous and unworthy of the nature of the Sacrament.74 The institution of the Eucharistic sacrifice makes present the priesthood of Christ, while the redemptive power of the cross obtains for humanity the forgiveness of sins, of both the living and the dead.75

The sacrificial nature of the Mass, developed in Mediator Dei by Pope Pius XII,76 is reaffirmed by the Second Vatican Council. Christ is the one and only priest, the ministers act in His name, re-present the one sacrifice of the New Covenant until He comes again,77 continually renewing the Church. Those validly ordained78 act in persona Christi.79

The Nature of the Eucharist

22. Beginning with the Tridentine doctrine on the Eucharist, the Second Vatican Council clarifies the various modes of Christ’s presence and specifically states the different characteristics of Eucharistic presence.80 Thus, the work of redemption, accomplished once and for all by Jesus Christ, continues to extend its effects each time the sacrifice of the cross, in which Christ Our Pasch is immolated, is celebrated on the altar in His memory.81 As for the sacramental effects, the Eucharist completes the building of the Church, the Body of Christ, and makes it grow.82 Therefore, it has salvific effects on the Church’s members, conferring on them the grace of unity and charity insofar as the Eucharist is the spiritual food of the soul, the antidote for sin, the beginning of future glory and the fountain of holiness.

Pope Paul VI reaffirmed in the Encyclical Letter Mysterium Fidei that the Mass is always the action of Christ and the Church, even in the exceptional case of being celebrated in private, that is, by the priest alone. Christ is present not in a spiritual or symbolic way, but in a real manner in the Eucharist, as the source of the unity of the Church, His Body.83 According to the faith which the Church has professed from the beginning, the Eucharist, unlike the other sacraments, is “the flesh of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who suffered for our sins and whom the Father in His goodness has raised from the dead”.84 Concerning the transubstantiation of the species, Paul VI, in both the Encyclical and the Profession of Faith, again emphasized the causal link with the Real Presence. Christ makes Himself present in the Eucharist through a transformation of the entire substance of the two species.85

The teaching of Pope Paul VI develops the subject of transubstantiation insofar as he declared that, after this substantial change, the two species “acquire new meaning and a new end in that they contain a new reality which justly is defined as ontological”.86

The Eucharist and the Incarnation of the Word

23. In bodily form Jesus was the Son of God present in the midst of humanity. This was affirmed not only by Him but by both the Spirit and the Father, primarily at His Baptism and Transfiguration. Throughout history, the Lord is present day by day, “always, to the close of the age”. (Mt 28:20) This presence, finding its source in the Father and continually re-given to Him, is made present to every person, in every time, through the Holy Spirit. The divine fullness of the Word of Life was in the humanity of Jesus of Nazareth. Since His ascension (cf. Mk 16:19-20; Lk 24:50-53; Acts 1:9-14) He remains in the mystery of the Eucharist, the Sacrament par excellence of the presence of God in the midst of humanity. The ascension does not mean that Christ went to a heaven beyond our sight. The open heavens indicate the manner of His return: “In this … the Son of Man was known in a most exalted and holy manner as the Son of God: being even more present (præsentior) in His divinity, though more distant in His humanity…. When I will ascend to my Father, then you can touch me in a more perfect and exalted manner”.87 Therefore, at His ascension, Jesus Christ did not absent Himself from the world but became present in a new manner.

Christ said: “You will not see me again, until you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord’”. (Mt 23:39) The apostles took the chalice of blessing from Christ, when He returned to them alive. From that moment, each time the Church gathers, she acclaims Him as blessed. In the liturgy, Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord is added to the triple Holy, Holy Holy.

24. Consequently, the Christian faith is not only believing in the existence of God or the historic person of Jesus, but in Him, the Word of God made flesh, continually abiding among us. At the beginning of His earthly life He had a mortal body bound by space and time; now He has a risen body no longer bound by them. In fact, the risen Lord passes through locked doors, overcomes unspeakable distances in a lightning flash so as to make Himself known, heard, seen and touched by His own. From the moment of His resurrection and ascension, His presence is a new reality.

The First Letter of Saint John seems to make reference to this divine manner of reaching people throughout history: “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life … we proclaim also to you so that you might have fellowship with us”. (I Jn 1:1-3) Saint Ambrose comments: “…we prove the truth of the mystery with the mystery of the incarnation itself. Was not this done in the ordinary course of nature, when the Lord Jesus was born of Mary?… Very well, that which we re-present is the body, born of the Virgin…. It is the true flesh of Christ, who was crucified and was buried. It is indeed the sacrament of His flesh”.88

Consequently, the truth and reality of the incarnation of the Word is at the basis of the Body of Christ in the Eucharist and the Body of Christ, His Church,89 as they are also for the doctrine of the Eucharist and sacramental theology. Saint Hilary maintained that “if it is true that the Word was made flesh (cf. Jn 1:14), then it is also true that in the food of the Eucharist, we receive the Word-Made-Flesh”.90 Pope John Paul II writes, “The Eucharist, while commemorating the passion and resurrection, is also in continuity with the incarnation. At the Annunciation, Mary conceived the Son of God in the physical reality of His body and blood, thus anticipating within herself what to some degree happens sacramentally in every believer who receives, under the signs of bread and wine, the Lord’s Body and Blood”.91

Lights and Shadows in Appreciating the Gift

25. Since the Second Vatican Council, the pope and bishops have periodically made needed pronouncements to encourage application of the liturgical reform and to assess its results. In the Encyclical Letter Ecclesia De Eucharistia, Pope John Paul II, after having treated the positive elements or lights — primarily the participation of the faithful at the liturgy — passed “with profound grief” to the shadows, including, in some places, the complete abandonment of the practice of Eucharistic adoration and abuses which lead “to confusion with regard to sound faith and Catholic doctrine concerning this wonderful sacrament”.92 The lights which come from the Eucharist as sacrament need to be separated from the shadows which come from human deeds. For example, there are indications in Eucharistic catechesis and practice of an overemphasis on a single aspect, e.g., on the Eucharist as meal, on the baptismal common priesthood, on the sufficiency of a Liturgy of the Word only and on ecumenical practices at Mass which are contrary to the faith and discipline of the Church.

Ritual practices need to regain a sense of the totality of the mystery of the Eucharist, understood to be: the Word of God proclaimed, the community gathered with a priest who celebrates in persona Christi, the rendering of thanks to God the Father for His gifts, the transubstantiation of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of the Lord, His sacramental presence as a result of the Lord’s words of consecration, the offering to the Father of the sacrifice of the Cross and communion with the Body and Blood of the risen Christ. The Holy Father states: “The mystery of the Eucharist — sacrifice, presence, banquet — does not allow for reduction or exploitation; it must be experienced and lived in its integrity … [consequently] the Church is firmly built up and it becomes clear what she truly is”.93

26. In another place the Encyclical Letter clearly states: “The Church constantly draws her life from the redeeming sacrifice; she approaches it not only through faith-filled remembrance, but also through a real contact, since this sacrifice is made present ever new, sacramentally perpetuated, in every community which offers it as the hands of the consecrated minister”.94 The Eucharist has the power of the Spirit who is transmitted to humanity in communion and in adoration of the Lord, who is really present.

The life of grace is transmitted in a sensible way through each sacrament, but in a more evident manner in the Eucharist. The Church does not give life to herself; she does not build herself up; she lives because of a reality which precedes her. “The joint and inseparable activity of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, who is at the origin of the Church, of her consolidation and her continued life, is at work in the Eucharist”.95 Therefore, the Church is not born from below; communio is a grace, a gift which comes from above.

“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. Nor does it remain confined to the past, since ‘all that Christ is — all that He did and suffered for all men — participates in the divine eternity and so transcends all times’ (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1085)”.96

The Eucharist: Signum Unitatis

27. “Come together in a common faith and in Jesus Christ …” says Saint Ignatius of Antioch, “breaking one bread which is the medicine of immortality”.97 Saint John Chrysostom says, “this is the unity of faith: when we are one; when everyone acknowledges the bond which unites us”.98 Admittance into the unity of the Sacred Eucharist presupposes unity in the faith received at Baptism, because in the Sacrament we enter into communion with the one whom, according to our faith in Him, we believe to be consubstantial with the Father. How would it be possible to receive Christ in communion with a person who has a different faith in Him? We would be guilty of the Body and Blood of the Lord. (cf. I Cor 11:27) The Church, as a mother, has anguish and love for non-believers, catechumens and those far from the faith but she does not have the power to give communion to the non-baptized, nor to those teaching error nor to persons living an immoral life.99

In receiving the one bread, we enter into one life and we become one Body of the Lord. The effect of the Eucharist is to join Christians who were once scattered into the unity of the one bread and the one cup. Consequently, communion can be received only in union with the whole Church, after overcoming any separation because of religion or morality.100

28. With this in mind, we should treat intercommunion with the required humility and patience. Instead of a kind of experimentation which sacrifices the greatness of the mystery of the Eucharist, reducing the Sacrament to a mere human instrument, the preferred choice is to defer, in common prayer and hope, to “respect the demands from its being the sacrament of communion in faith and in apostolic succession”.101

The Orthodox Churches and the ancient Eastern Churches share the same faith in the Eucharist, because they have true sacraments.102 Therefore, in certain cases, Eucharistic communion is possible.103 Nevertheless, what remains to be considered carefully is the relationship between Eucharistic hospitality and proselytism. Some Church communities of the Reformation, above all Lutherans, believe in Christ’s presence during the celebration, but, without the Sacrament of Orders, they have not conserved the genuine and integral substance of the Eucharistic mystery.104 Though some successes in dialogue have occurred, no full agreement exists. Therefore, only in the case of the spiritual need of a well-prepared, non-Catholic member, that is, one who professes the same faith in the Eucharist, can Holy Communion be given. A Catholic, however, can only receive communion from a validly ordained minister.105


The Center of the Cosmic Liturgy
29. The Lord’s incarnation and ascension have made communication possible between heaven and earth, a mystery hidden in the vision of Jacob’s Ladder (cf. Gn 28:12) and foretold by Christ Himself (cf. Jn 1:51). The Book of Revelation, with the altar of the Lamb at the center of the heavenly Jerusalem descending to earth, is the archetype of Christian worship: the worship of God by humanity and humanity’s communion with God.106 In the invocation supplices t

The Editors