POST-SYNODAL APOSTOLIC EXHORTATION
OF THE HOLY FATHER
TO THE BISHOPS, CLERGY, CONSECRATED PERSONS
AND THE LAY FAITHFUL
ON THE EUCHARIST
AS THE SOURCE AND SUMMIT
OF THE CHURCH’S LIFE AND MISSION
PART ONE: THE EUCHARIST, A MYSTERY TO BE BELIEVED
The blessed Trinity and the Eucharist
The Eucharist: Jesus the true Sacrificial Lamb
The Holy Spirit and the Eucharist
The Eucharist and the Church
The Eucharist and the Sacraments
I. The Eucharist and Christian initiation
II. The Eucharist and the sacrament of reconciliation
IV. The Eucharist and the Sacrament of Holy Orders
Gratitude and hope 
V. The Eucharist and matrimony
The Eucharist and Eschatology
Prayer for the dead 
PART TWO: THE EUCHARIST, A MYSTERY TO BE CELEBRATED
The Eucharistic celebration, the work of “Christus Totus”
Ars celebrandi 
Liturgical song 
The homily 
The sign of peace 
Care for prisoners 
The Latin language 
Interior participation in the celebration
Adoration and Eucharistic devotion
PART THREE: THE EUCHARIST, A MYSTERY TO BE LIVED
The Eucharistic form of the Christian life
The Eucharist, a mystery to be proclaimed
Freedom of worship 
The Eucharist, a mystery to be offered to the world
1. The sacrament of charity (1), the Holy Eucharist is the gift that Jesus Christ makes of Himself, thus revealing to us God’s infinite love for every man and woman. This wondrous sacrament makes manifest that “greater” love which led Him to “lay down His life for His friends” (Jn 15:13). Jesus did indeed love them “to the end” (Jn 13:1). In those words the Evangelist introduces Christ’s act of immense humility: before dying for us on the Cross, He tied a towel around Himself and washed the feet of His disciples. In the same way, Jesus continues, in the sacrament of the Eucharist, to love us “to the end,” even to offering us His body and His blood. What amazement must the Apostles have felt in witnessing what the Lord did and said during that Supper! What wonder must the eucharistic mystery also awaken in our own hearts!
2. In the sacrament of the altar, the Lord meets us, men and women created in God’s image and likeness (cf. Gen 1:27), and becomes our companion along the way. In this sacrament, the Lord truly becomes food for us, to satisfy our hunger for truth and freedom. Since only the truth can make us free (cf. Jn 8:32), Christ becomes for us the food of truth. With deep human insight, Saint Augustine clearly showed how we are moved spontaneously, and not by constraint, whenever we encounter something attractive and desirable. Asking himself what it is that can move us most deeply, the saintly Bishop went on to say: “What does our soul desire more passionately than truth?” (2) Each of us has an innate and irrepressible desire for ultimate and definitive truth. The Lord Jesus, “the way, and the truth, and the life” (Jn 14:6), speaks to our thirsting, pilgrim hearts, our hearts yearning for the source of life, our hearts longing for truth. Jesus Christ is the Truth in person, drawing the world to Himself. “Jesus is the lodestar of human freedom: without Him, freedom loses its focus, for without the knowledge of truth, freedom becomes debased, alienated and reduced to empty caprice. With him, freedom finds itself.” (3) In the sacrament of the Eucharist, Jesus shows us in particular the truth about the love which is the very essence of God. It is this evangelical truth which challenges each of us and our whole being. For this reason, the Church, which finds in the Eucharist the very center of her life, is constantly concerned to proclaim to all, opportune importune (cf. 2 Tim 4:2), that God is love.(4) Precisely because Christ has become for us the food of truth, the Church turns to every man and woman, inviting them freely to accept God’s gift.
3. If we consider the bimillenary history of God’s Church, guided by the wisdom of the Holy Spirit, we can gratefully admire the orderly development of the ritual forms in which we commemorate the event of our salvation. From the varied forms of the early centuries, still resplendent in the rites of the Ancient Churches of the East, up to the spread of the Roman rite; from the clear indications of the Council of Trent and the Missal of Saint Pius V to the liturgical renewal called for by the Second Vatican Council: in every age of the Church’s history the eucharistic celebration, as the source and summit of her life and mission, shines forth in the liturgical rite in all its richness and variety. The Eleventh Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, held from October 2-23, 2005 in the Vatican, gratefully acknowledged the guidance of the Holy Spirit in this rich history. In a particular way, the Synod Fathers acknowledged and reaffirmed the beneficial influence on the Church’s life of the liturgical renewal which began with the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council (5). The Synod of Bishops was able to evaluate the reception of the renewal in the years following the Council. There were many expressions of appreciation. The difficulties and even the occasional abuses which were noted, it was affirmed, cannot overshadow the benefits and the validity of the liturgical renewal, whose riches are yet to be fully explored. Concretely, the changes which the Council called for need to be understood within the overall unity of the historical development of the rite itself, without the introduction of artificial discontinuities.(6)
4. We should also emphasize the relationship between the recent Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist and the events which have taken place in the Church’s life in recent years. First of all, we should recall the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, with which my beloved Predecessor, the Servant of God John Paul II, led the Church into the third Christian millennium. The Jubilee Year clearly had a significant eucharistic dimension. Nor can we forget that the Synod of Bishops was preceded, and in some sense prepared for, by the Year of the Eucharist which John Paul II had, with great foresight, wanted the whole Church to celebrate. That year, which began with the International Eucharistic Congress in Guadalajara in October 2004, ended on October 23, 2005, at the conclusion of the XI Synodal Assembly, with the canonization of five saints particularly distinguished for their eucharistic piety: Bishop Józef Bilczewski, Fathers Gaetano Catanoso, Zygmunt Gorazdowski and Alberto Hurtado Cruchaga, and the Capuchin Fra Felice da Nicosia. Thanks to the teachings proposed by John Paul II in the Apostolic Letter Mane Nobiscum Domine (7) and to the helpful suggestions of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments,(8) many initiatives were undertaken by Dioceses and various ecclesial groups in order to reawaken and increase eucharistic faith, to improve the quality of eucharistic celebration, to promote eucharistic adoration and to encourage a practical solidarity which, starting from the Eucharist, would reach out to those in need. Finally, mention should be made of the significance of my venerable Predecessor’s last Encyclical, Ecclesia de Eucharistia (9), in which he left us a sure magisterial statement of the Church’s teaching on the Eucharist and a final testimony of the central place that this divine sacrament had in his own life.
5. This Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation seeks to take up the richness and variety of the reflections and proposals which emerged from the recent Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops – from the Lineamenta to the Propositiones, along the way of the Instrumentum Laboris, the Relationes ante and post disceptationem, the interventions of the Synod Fathers, the auditores and the fraternal delegates – and to offer some basic directions aimed at a renewed commitment to eucharistic enthusiasm and fervor in the Church. Conscious of the immense patrimony of doctrine and discipline accumulated over the centuries with regard to this sacrament,(10) I wish here to endorse the wishes expressed by the Synod Fathers (11) by encouraging the Christian people to deepen their understanding of the relationship between the eucharistic mystery, the liturgical action, and the new spiritual worship which derives from the Eucharist as the sacrament of charity. Consequently, I wish to set the present Exhortation alongside my first Encyclical Letter, Deus Caritas Est, in which I frequently mentioned the sacrament of the Eucharist and stressed its relationship to Christian love, both of God and of neighbor : “God incarnate draws us all to Himself. We can thus understand how agape also became a term for the Eucharist: there God’s own agape comes to us bodily, in order to continue his work in us and through us” (12).
PART ONE: THE EUCHARIST, A MYSTERY TO BE BELIEVED
“This is the work of God: that you believe in him whom he has sent” (Jn 6:29)
6. “The mystery of faith!” With these words, spoken immediately after the words of consecration, the priest proclaims the mystery being celebrated and expresses his wonder before the substantial change of bread and wine into the body and blood of the Lord Jesus, a reality which surpasses all human understanding. The Eucharist is a “mystery of faith” par excellence: “the sum and summary of our faith.” (13) The Church’s faith is essentially a eucharistic faith, and it is especially nourished at the table of the Eucharist. Faith and the sacraments are two complementary aspects of ecclesial life. Awakened by the preaching of God’s word, faith is nourished and grows in the grace-filled encounter with the Risen Lord which takes place in the sacraments: “faith is expressed in the rite, while the rite reinforces and strengthens faith.” (14) For this reason, the Sacrament of the Altar is always at the heart of the Church’s life: “thanks to the Eucharist, the Church is reborn ever anew!” (15) The more lively the eucharistic faith of the People of God, the deeper is its sharing in ecclesial life in steadfast commitment to the mission entrusted by Christ to His disciples. The Church’s very history bears witness to this. Every great reform has in some way been linked to the rediscovery of belief in the Lord’s eucharistic presence among His people.
The Blessed Trinity and the Eucharist
7. The first element of eucharistic faith is the mystery of God Himself, trinitarian love. In Jesus’ dialogue with Nicodemus, we find an illuminating expression in this regard: “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him” (Jn 3:16-17). These words show the deepest source of God’s gift. In the Eucharist Jesus does not give us a “thing,” but Himself; He offers His own body and pours out His own blood. He thus gives us the totality of His life and reveals the ultimate origin of this love. He is the eternal Son, given to us by the Father. In the Gospel we hear how Jesus, after feeding the crowds by multiplying the loaves and fishes, says to those who had followed Him to the synagogue of Capernaum: “My Father gives you the true bread from heaven; for the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven, and gives life to the world” (Jn 6:32-33), and even identifies Himself, His own flesh and blood, with that bread: “I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh” (Jn 6:51). Jesus thus shows that He is the bread of life which the eternal Father gives to mankind.
8. The Eucharist reveals the loving plan that guides all of salvation history (cf. Eph 1:10; 3:8- 11). There the Deus Trinitas, who is essentially love (cf. 1 Jn 4:7-8), becomes fully a part of our human condition. In the bread and wine under whose appearances Christ gives Himself to us in the paschal meal (cf. Lk 22:14-20; 1 Cor 11:23-26), God’s whole life encounters us and is sacramentally shared with us. God is a perfect communion of love between Father, Son and Holy Spirit. At creation itself, man was called to have some share in God’s breath of life (cf. Gen 2:7). But it is in Christ, dead and risen, and in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, given without measure (cf. Jn 3:34), that we have become sharers of God’s inmost life. (16) Jesus Christ, who “through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God” (Heb 9:14), makes us, in the gift of the Eucharist, sharers in God’s own life. This is an absolutely free gift, the superabundant fulfilment of God’s promises. The Church receives, celebrates and adores this gift in faithful obedience. The “mystery of faith” is thus a mystery of trinitarian love, a mystery in which we are called by grace to participate. We too should therefore exclaim with Saint Augustine: “If you see love, you see the Trinity.” (17)
The Eucharist: Jesus the true Sacrificial lamb
9. The mission for which Jesus came among us was accomplished in the Paschal Mystery. On the Cross from which He draws all people to Himself (cf. Jn 12:32), just before “giving up the Spirit,” He utters the words: “it is finished” (Jn 19:30). In the mystery of Christ’s obedience unto death, even death on a Cross (cf. Phil 2:8), the new and eternal covenant was brought about. In His crucified flesh, God’s freedom and our human freedom met definitively in an inviolable, eternally valid pact. Human sin was also redeemed once for all by God’s Son (cf. Heb 7:27; 1 Jn 2:2; 4:10). As I have said elsewhere, “Christ’s death on the Cross is the culmination of that turning of God against Himself in which He gives Himself in order to raise man up and save Him. This is love in its most radical form.” (18) In the Paschal Mystery, our deliverance from evil and death has taken place. In instituting the Eucharist, Jesus had spoken of the “new and eternal covenant” in the shedding of His blood (cf. Mt 26:28; Mk 14:24; Lk 22:20). This, the ultimate purpose of His mission, was clear from the very beginning of His public life. Indeed, when, on the banks of the Jordan, John the Baptist saw Jesus coming towards him, he cried out: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn 1:29). It is significant that these same words are repeated at every celebration of Holy Mass, when the priest invites us to approach the altar: “This is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Happy are those who are called to His supper.” Jesus is the true paschal lamb who freely gave Himself in sacrifice for us, and thus brought about the new and eternal covenant. The Eucharist contains this radical newness, which is offered to us again at every celebration. (19)
10. This leads us to reflect on the institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper. It took place within a ritual meal commemorating the foundational event of the people of Israel: their deliverance from slavery in Egypt. This ritual meal, which called for the sacrifice of lambs (cf. Ex 12:1-28, 43-51), was a remembrance of the past, but at the same time a prophetic remembrance, the proclamation of a deliverance yet to come. The people had come to realize that their earlier liberation was not definitive, for their history continued to be marked by slavery and sin. The remembrance of their ancient liberation thus expanded to the invocation and expectation of a yet more profound, radical, universal and definitive salvation. This is the context in which Jesus introduces the newness of His gift. In the prayer of praise, the Berakah, he does not simply thank the Father for the great events of past history, but also for His own “exaltation.” In instituting the sacrament of the Eucharist, Jesus anticipates and makes present the sacrifice of the Cross and the victory of the resurrection. At the same time, He reveals that He Himself is the true sacrificial lamb, destined in the Father’s plan from the foundation of the world, as we read in The First Letter of Peter (cf. 1:18-20). By placing His gift in this context, Jesus shows the salvific meaning of His death and resurrection, a mystery which renews history and the whole cosmos. The institution of the Eucharist demonstrates how Jesus’ death, for all its violence and absurdity, became in Him a supreme act of love and mankind’s definitive deliverance from evil.
11. Jesus thus brings His own radical novum to the ancient Hebrew sacrificial meal. For us Christians, that meal no longer need be repeated. As the Church Fathers rightly say, figura transit in veritatem: the foreshadowing has given way to the truth itself. The ancient rite has been brought to fulfilment and definitively surpassed by the loving gift of the incarnate Son of God. The food of truth, Christ sacrificed for our sake, dat figuris terminum. (20) By His command to “do this in remembrance of me” (Lk 22:19; 1 Cor 11:25), He asks us to respond to His gift and to make it sacramentally present. In these words the Lord expresses, as it were, His expectation that the Church, born of His sacrifice, will receive this gift, developing under the guidance of the Holy Spirit the liturgical form of the sacrament. The remembrance of His perfect gift consists not in the mere repetition of the Last Supper, but in the Eucharist itself, that is, in the radical newness of Christian worship. In this way, Jesus left us the task of entering into His “hour.” “The Eucharist draws us into Jesus’ act of self-oblation. More than just statically receiving the incarnate Logos, we enter into the very dynamic of His self-giving.” (21) Jesus “draws us into Himself.” (22) The substantial conversion of bread and wine into His body and blood introduces within creation the principle of a radical change, a sort of “nuclear fission,” to use an image familiar to us today, which penetrates to the heart of all being, a change meant to set off a process which transforms reality, a process leading ultimately to the transfiguration of the entire world, to the point where God will be all in all (cf. 1 Cor 15:28).
The Holy Spirit and the Eucharist
12. With His word and with the elements of bread and wine, the Lord Himself has given us the essentials of this new worship. The Church, His Bride, is called to celebrate the eucharistic banquet daily in His memory. She thus makes the redeeming sacrifice of her Bridegroom a part of human history and makes it sacramentally present in every culture. This great mystery is celebrated in the liturgical forms which the Church, guided by the Holy Spirit, develops in time and space. (23) We need a renewed awareness of the decisive role played by the Holy Spirit in the evolution of the liturgical form and the deepening understanding of the sacred mysteries. The Paraclete, Christ’s first gift to those who believe, (24) already at work in Creation (cf. Gen 1:2), is fully present throughout the life of the incarnate Word: Jesus Christ is conceived by the Virgin Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit (cf. Mt 1:18; Lk 1:35); at the beginning of His public mission, on the banks of the Jordan, He sees the Spirit descend upon Him in the form of a dove (cf. Mt 3:16 and parallels); He acts, speaks and rejoices in the Spirit (cf. Lk 10:21), and He can offer Himself in the Spirit (cf. Heb 9:14). In the so-called “farewell discourse” reported by John, Jesus clearly relates the gift of His life in the paschal mystery to the gift of the Spirit to His own (cf. Jn 16:7). Once risen, bearing in His flesh the signs of the passion, He can pour out the Spirit upon them (cf. Jn 20:22), making them sharers in His own mission (cf. Jn 20:21). The Spirit would then teach the disciples all things and bring to their remembrance all that Christ had said (cf. Jn 14:26), since it falls to Him, as the Spirit of truth (cf. Jn 15:26), to guide the disciples into all truth (cf. Jn 16:13). In the account in Acts, the Spirit descends on the Apostles gathered in prayer with Mary on the day of Pentecost (cf. 2:1-4) and stirs them to undertake the mission of proclaiming the Good News to all peoples. Thus it is through the working of the Spirit that Christ Himself continues to be present and active in His Church, starting with her vital center which is the Eucharist.
13. Against this backdrop we can understand the decisive role played by the Holy Spirit in the eucharistic celebration, particularly with regard to transubstantiation. An awareness of this is clearly evident in the Fathers of the Church. Saint Cyril of Jerusalem, in his Catecheses, states that we “call upon God in His mercy to send His Holy Spirit upon the offerings before us, to transform the bread into the body of Christ and the wine into the blood of Christ. Whatever the Holy Spirit touches is sanctified and completely transformed” (25). Saint John Chrysostom too notes that the priest invokes the Holy Spirit when he celebrates the sacrifice: (26) like Elijah, the minister calls down the Holy Spirit so that “as grace comes down upon the victim, the souls of all are thereby inflamed” (27). The spiritual life of the faithful can benefit greatly from a better appreciation of the richness of the anaphora: along with the words spoken by Christ at the Last Supper, it contains the epiclesis, the petition to the Father to send down the gift of the Spirit so that the bread and the wine will become the body and blood of Jesus Christ and that “the community as a whole will become ever more the body of Christ” (28). The Spirit invoked by the celebrant upon the gifts of bread and wine placed on the altar is the same Spirit who gathers the faithful “into one body” and makes of them a spiritual offering pleasing to the Father (29).
The Eucharist and the Church
14. Through the sacrament of the Eucharist Jesus draws the faithful into His “hour;” He shows us the bond that He willed to establish between Himself and us, between His own person and the Church. Indeed, in the sacrifice of the Cross, Christ gave birth to the Church as His Bride and His body. The Fathers of the Church often meditated on the relationship between Eve’s coming forth from the side of Adam as he slept (cf. Gen 2:21-23) and the coming forth of the new Eve, the Church, from the open side of Christ sleeping in death: from Christ’s pierced side, John recounts, there came forth blood and water (cf. Jn 19:34), the symbol of the sacraments (30). A contemplative gaze “upon Him whom they have pierced” (Jn 19:37) leads us to reflect on the causal connection between Christ’s sacrifice, the Eucharist and the Church. The Church “draws her life from the Eucharist” (31). Since the Eucharist makes present Christ’s redeeming sacrifice, we must start by acknowledging that “there is a causal influence of the Eucharist at the Church’s very origins” (32). The Eucharist is Christ who gives Himself to us and continually builds us up as His body. Hence, in the striking interplay between the Eucharist which builds up the Church, and the Church herself which “makes” the Eucharist (33), the primary causality is expressed in the first formula: the Church is able to celebrate and adore the mystery of Christ present in the Eucharist precisely because Christ first gave Himself to her in the sacrifice of the Cross. The Church’s ability to “make” the Eucharist is completely rooted in Christ’s self-gift to her. Here we can see more clearly the meaning of Saint John’s words: “He first loved us” (1 Jn 4:19). We too, at every celebration of the Eucharist, confess the primacy of Christ’s gift. The causal influence of the Eucharist at the Church’s origins definitively discloses both the chronological and ontological priority of the fact that it was Christ who loved us “first.” For all eternity He remains the one who loves us first.
15. The Eucharist is thus constitutive of the Church’s being and activity. This is why Christian antiquity used the same words, Corpus Christi, to designate Christ’s body born of the Virgin Mary, His eucharistic body and His ecclesial body.(34) This clear datum of the tradition helps us to appreciate the inseparability of Christ and the Church. The Lord Jesus, by offering Himself in sacrifice for us, in His gift effectively pointed to the mystery of the Church. It is significant that the Second Eucharistic Prayer, invoking the Paraclete, formulates its prayer for the unity of the Church as follows: “may all of us who share in the body and blood of Christ be brought together in unity by the Holy Spirit.” These words help us to see clearly how the res of the sacrament of the Eucharist is the unity of the faithful within ecclesial communion. The Eucharist is thus found at the root of the Church as a mystery of communion (35).
The relationship between Eucharist and communio had already been pointed out by the Servant of God John Paul II in his Encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia. He spoke of the memorial of Christ as “the supreme sacramental manifestation of communion in the Church” (36). The unity of ecclesial communion is concretely manifested in the Christian communities and is renewed at the celebration of the Eucharist, which unites them and differentiates them in the particular Churches, “in quibus et ex quibus una et unica Ecclesia catholica exsistit” (37). The fact that the one Eucharist is celebrated in each Diocese around its own Bishop helps us to see how those particular Churches subsist in and ex Ecclesia. Indeed, “the oneness and indivisibility of the eucharistic body of the Lord implies the oneness of His mystical body, which is the one and indivisible Church. From the eucharistic center arises the necessary openness of every celebrating community, of every particular Church. By allowing itself to be drawn into the open arms of the Lord, it achieves insertion into his one and undivided body.” (38) Consequently, in the celebration of the Eucharist, the individual members of the faithful find themselves in their Church, that is, in the Church of Christ. From this eucharistic perspective, adequately understood, ecclesial communion is seen to be catholic by its very nature (39). An emphasis on this eucharistic basis of ecclesial communion can also contribute greatly to the ecumenical dialogue with the Churches and Ecclesial Communities which are not in full communion with the See of Peter. The Eucharist objectively creates a powerful bond of unity between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Churches, which have preserved the authentic and integral nature of the eucharistic mystery. At the same time, emphasis on the ecclesial character of the Eucharist can become an important element of the dialogue with the Communities of the Reformed tradition (40).
The Eucharist and the Sacraments
16. The Second Vatican Council recalled that “all the sacraments, and indeed all ecclesiastical ministries and works of the apostolate, are bound up with the Eucharist and are directed towards it. For in the most blessed Eucharist is contained the entire spiritual wealth of the Church, namely Christ Himself our Pasch and our living bread, who gives life to humanity through His flesh — that flesh which is given life and gives life by the Holy Spirit. Thus men and women are invited and led to offer themselves, their works and all creation in union with Christ.” (41) This close relationship of the Eucharist with the other sacraments and the Christian life can be most fully understood when we contemplate the mystery of the Church herself as a sacrament. (42) The Council in this regard stated that “the Church, in Christ, is a sacrament — a sign and instrument — of communion with God and of the unity of the entire human race.” (43) To quote Saint Cyprian, as “a people made one by the unity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit,” (44) she is the sacrament of trinitarian communion.
The fact that the Church is the “universal sacrament of salvation” (45) shows how the sacramental economy ultimately determines the way that Christ, the one Savior, through the Spirit, reaches our lives in all their particularity. The Church receives and at the same time expresses what she herself is in the seven sacraments, thanks to which God’s grace concretely influences the lives of the faithful, so that their whole existence, redeemed by Christ, can become an act of worship pleasing to God. From this perspective, I would like here to draw attention to some elements brought up by the Synod Fathers which may help us to grasp the relationship of each of the sacraments to the eucharistic mystery.
I. The Eucharist and Christian initiation
17. If the Eucharist is truly the source and summit of the Church’s life and mission, it follows that the process of Christian initiation must constantly be directed to the reception of this sacrament. As the Synod Fathers said, we need to ask ourselves whether in our Christian communities the close link between Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist is sufficiently recognized. (46) It must never be forgotten that our reception of Baptism and Confirmation is ordered to the Eucharist. Accordingly, our pastoral practice should reflect a more unitary understanding of the process of Christian initiation. The sacrament of Baptism, by which we were conformed to Christ,(47) incorporated in the Church and made children of God, is the portal to all the sacraments. It makes us part of the one Body of Christ (cf. 1 Cor 12:13), a priestly people. Still, it is our participation in the Eucharistic sacrifice which perfects within us the gifts given to us at Baptism. The gifts of the Spirit are given for the building up of Christ’s Body (1 Cor 12) and for ever greater witness to the Gospel in the world. (48) The Holy Eucharist, then, brings Christian initiation to completion and represents the center and goal of all sacramental life. (49)
18. In this regard, attention needs to be paid to the order of the sacraments of initiation. Different traditions exist within the Church. There is a clear variation between, on the one hand, the ecclesial customs of the East (50) and the practice of the West regarding the initiation of adults, (51) and, on the other hand, the procedure adopted for children. (52) Yet these variations are not properly of the dogmatic order, but are pastoral in character. Concretely, it needs to be seen which practice better enables the faithful to put the sacrament of the Eucharist at the center, as the goal of the whole process of initiation. In close collaboration with the competent offices of the Roman Curia, Bishops’ Conferences should examine the effectiveness of current approaches to Christian initiation, so that the faithful can be helped both to mature through the formation received in our communities and to give their lives an authentically eucharistic direction, so that they can offer a reason for the hope within them in a way suited to our times (cf. 1 Pet 3:15).
19. It should be kept in mind that the whole of Christian initiation is a process of conversion undertaken with God’s help and with constant reference to the ecclesial community, both when an adult is seeking entry into the Church, as happens in places of first evangelization and in many secularized regions, and when parents request the sacraments for their children. In this regard, I would like to call particular attention to the relationship between Christian initiation and the family. In pastoral work it is always important to make Christian families part of the process of initiation. Receiving Baptism, Confirmation and First Holy Communion are key moments not only for the individual receiving them but also for the entire family, which should be supported in its educational role by the various elements of the ecclesial community. (53) Here I would emphasize the importance of First Holy Communion. For many of the faithful, this day continues to be memorable as the moment when, even if in a rudimentary way, they first came to understand the importance of a personal encounter with Jesus. Parish pastoral programs should make the most of this highly significant moment.
II. The Eucharist and the Sacrament of Reconciliation
20. The Synod Fathers rightly stated that a love for the Eucharist leads to a growing appreciation of the sacrament of Reconciliation. (54) Given the connection between these sacraments, an authentic catechesis on the meaning of the Eucharist must include the call to pursue the path of penance (cf. 1 Cor 11:27-29). We know that the faithful are surrounded by a culture that tends to eliminate the sense of sin (55) and to promote a superficial approach that overlooks the need to be in a state of grace in order to approach sacramental communion worthily. (56) The loss of a consciousness of sin always entails a certain superficiality in the understanding of God’s love. Bringing out the elements within the rite of Mass that express consciousness of personal sin and, at the same time, of God’s mercy, can prove most helpful to the faithful.(57) Furthermore, the relationship between the Eucharist and the sacrament of Reconciliation reminds us that sin is never a purely individual affair; it always damages the ecclesial communion that we have entered through Baptism. For this reason, Reconciliation, as the Fathers of the Church would say, is laboriosus quidam baptismus; (58) they thus emphasized that the outcome of the process of conversion is also the restoration of full ecclesial communion, expressed in a return to the Eucharist. (59)
21. The Synod recalled that Bishops have the pastoral duty of promoting within their Dioceses a reinvigorated catechesis on the conversion born of the Eucharist, and of encouraging frequent confession among the faithful. All priests should dedicate themselves with generosity, commitment and competency to administering the sacrament of Reconciliation. (60) In this regard, it is important that the confessionals in our churches should be clearly visible expressions of the importance of this sacrament. I ask pastors to be vigilant with regard to the celebration of the sacrament of Reconciliation, and to limit the practice of general absolution exclusively to the cases permitted, (61) since individual absolution is the only form intended for ordinary use. (62) Given the need to rediscover sacramental forgiveness, there ought to be a Penitentiary in every Diocese. (63) Finally, a balanced and sound practice of gaining indulgences, whether for oneself or for the dead, can be helpful for a renewed appreciation of the relationship between the Eucharist and Reconciliation. By this means the faithful obtain “remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven.” (64) The use of indulgences helps us to understand that by our efforts alone we would be incapable of making reparation for the wrong we have done, and that the sins of each individual harm the whole community. Furthermore, the practice of indulgences, which involves not only the doctrine of Christ’s infinite merits, but also that of the communion of the saints, reminds us “how closely we are united to each other in Christ … and how the supernatural life of each can help others.” (65) Since the conditions for gaining an indulgence include going to confession and receiving sacramental communion, this practice can effectively sustain the faithful on their journey of conversion and in rediscovering the centrality of the Eucharist in the Christian life.
22. Jesus did not only send His disciples forth to heal the sick (cf. Mt 10:8; Lk 9:2, 10:9); He also instituted a specific sacrament for them: the Anointing of the Sick.(66) The Letter of James attests to the presence of this sacramental sign in the early Christian community (cf. 5:14-16). If the Eucharist shows how Christ’s sufferings and death have been transformed into love, the Anointing of the Sick, for its part, unites the sick with Christ’s self-offering for the salvation of all, so that they too, within the mystery of the communion of saints, can participate in the redemption of the world. The relationship between these two sacraments becomes clear in situations of serious illness: “In addition to the Anointing of the Sick, the Church offers those who are about to leave this life the Eucharist as viaticum.” (67) On their journey to the Father, communion in the Body and Blood of Christ appears as the seed of eternal life and the power of resurrection: “Anyone who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life and I will raise him up on the last day” (Jn 6:54). Since viaticum gives the sick a glimpse of the fullness of the Paschal Mystery, its administration should be readily provided for. (68) Attentive pastoral care shown to those who are ill brings great spiritual benefit to the entire community, since whatever we do to one of the least of our brothers and sisters, we do to Jesus himself (cf. Mt 25:40).
IV. The Eucharist and the Sacrament of Holy Orders
23. The intrinsic relationship between the Eucharist and the sacrament of Holy Orders clearly emerges from Jesus’ own words in the Upper Room: “Do this in memory of me” (Lk 22:19). On the night before He died, Jesus instituted the Eucharist and at the same time established the priesthood of the New Covenant. He is priest, victim and altar: the mediator between God the Father and His people (cf. Heb 5:5-10), the victim of atonement (cf. 1 Jn 2:2, 4:10) who offers Himself on the altar of the Cross. No one can say “this is my body” and “this is the cup of my blood” except in the name and in the person of Christ, the one high priest of the new and eternal Covenant (cf. Heb 8-9). Earlier meetings of the Synod of Bishops had considered the question of the ordained priesthood, both with regard to the nature of the ministry (69) and the formation of candidates.(70) Here, in the light of the discussion that took place during the last Synod, I consider it important to recall several important points about the relationship between the sacrament of the Eucharist and Holy Orders. First of all, we need to stress once again that the connection between Holy Orders and the Eucharist is seen most clearly at Mass, when the Bishop or priest presides in the person of Christ the Head.
The Church teaches that priestly ordination is the indispensable condition for the valid celebration of the Eucharist.(71) Indeed, “in the ecclesial service of the ordained minister, it is Christ Himself who is present to His Church as Head of His Body, Shepherd of His flock, High Priest of the redemptive sacrifice.” (72) Certainly the ordained minister also acts “in the name of the whole Church, when presenting to God the prayer of the Church, and above all when offering the eucharistic sacrifice.” (73) As a result, priests should be conscious of the fact that in their ministry they must never put themselves or their personal opinions in first place, but Jesus Christ. Any attempt to make themselves the center of the liturgical action contradicts their very identity as priests. The priest is above all a servant of others, and he must continually work at being a sign pointing to Christ, a docile instrument in the Lord’s hands. This is seen particularly in his humility in leading the liturgical assembly, in obedience to the rite, uniting himself to it in mind and heart, and avoiding anything that might give the impression of an inordinate emphasis on his own personality. I encourage the clergy always to see their eucharistic ministry as a humble service offered to Christ and his Church. The priesthood, as Saint Augustine said, is amoris officium, (74) it is the office of the good shepherd, who offers his life for his sheep (cf. Jn 10:14-15).
24. The Synod Fathers wished to emphasize that the ministerial priesthood, through ordination, calls for complete configuration to Christ. While respecting the different practice and tradition of the Eastern Churches, there is a need to reaffirm the profound meaning of priestly celibacy, which is rightly considered a priceless treasure, and is also confirmed by the Eastern practice of choosing Bishops only from the ranks of the celibate. These Churches also greatly esteem the decision of many priests to embrace celibacy. This choice on the part of the priest expresses in a special way the dedication which conforms him to Christ and his exclusive offering of himself for the Kingdom of God. (75) The fact that Christ Himself, the eternal priest, lived His mission even to the sacrifice of the Cross in the state of virginity constitutes the sure point of reference for understanding the meaning of the tradition of the Latin Church. It is not sufficient to understand priestly celibacy in purely functional terms. Celibacy is really a special way of conforming oneself to Christ’s own way of life. This choice has first and foremost a nuptial meaning; it is a profound identification with the heart of Christ the Bridegroom who gives His life for His Bride. In continuity with the great ecclesial tradition, with the Second Vatican Council (76) and with my predecessors in the papacy, (77) I reaffirm the beauty and the importance of a priestly life lived in celibacy as a sign expressing total and exclusive devotion to Christ, to the Church and to the Kingdom of God, and I therefore confirm that it remains obligatory in the Latin tradition. Priestly celibacy lived with maturity, joy and dedication is an immense blessing for the Church and for society itself.
25. In the light of the connection between the sacrament of Holy Orders and the Eucharist, the Synod considered the difficult situation that has arisen in various Dioceses which face a shortage of priests. This happens not only in some areas of first evangelization, but also in many countries of long-standing Christian tradition. Certainly a more equitable distribution of clergy would help to solve the problem. Efforts need to be made to encourage a greater awareness of this situation at every level. Bishops should involve Institutes of Consecrated Life and the new ecclesial groups in their pastoral needs, while respecting their particular charisms, and they should invite the clergy to become more open to serving the Church wherever there is need, even if this calls for sacrifice. (78) The Synod also discussed pastoral initiatives aimed at promoting, especially among the young, an attitude of interior openness to a priestly calling. The situation cannot be resolved by purely practical decisions. On no account should Bishops react to real and understandable concerns about the shortage of priests by failing to carry out adequate vocational discernment, or by admitting to seminary formation and ordination candidates who lack the necessary qualities for priestly ministry (79). An insufficiently formed clergy, admitted to ordination without the necessary discernment, will not easily be able to offer a witness capable of evoking in others the desire to respond generously to Christ’s call. The pastoral care of vocations needs to involve the entire Christian community in every area of its life. (80) Obviously, this pastoral work on all levels also includes exploring the matter with families, which are often indifferent or even opposed to the idea of a priestly vocation. Families should generously embrace the gift of life and bring up their children to be open to doing God’s will. In a word, they must have the courage to set before young people the radical decision to follow Christ, showing them how deeply rewarding it is.
26. Finally, we need to have ever greater faith and hope in God’s providence. Even if there is a shortage of priests in some areas, we must never lose confidence that Christ continues to inspire men to leave everything behind and to dedicate themselves totally to celebrating the sacred mysteries, preaching the Gospel and ministering to the flock. In this regard, I wish to express the gratitude of the whole Church for all those Bishops and priests who carry out their respective missions with fidelity, devotion and zeal. Naturally, the Church’s gratitude also goes to deacons, who receive the laying on of hands “not for priesthood but for service.” (81) As the Synod Assembly recommended, I offer a special word of thanks to those Fidei Donum priests who work faithfully and generously at building up the community by proclaiming the word of God and breaking the Bread of Life, devoting all their energy to serving the mission of the Church. (82) Let us thank God for all those priests who have suffered even to the sacrifice of their lives in order to serve Christ. The eloquence of their example shows what it means to be a priest to the end. Theirs is a moving witness that can inspire many young people to follow Christ and to expend their lives for others, and thus to discover true life.
V. The Eucharist and Matrimony
27. The Eucharist, as the sacrament of charity, has a particular relationship with the love of man and woman united in marriage. A deeper understanding of this relationship is needed at the present time. (83) Pope John Paul II frequently spoke of the nuptial character of the Eucharist and its special relationship with the sacrament of Matrimony: “The Eucharist is the sacrament of our redemption. It is the sacrament of the Bridegroom and of the Bride.” (84) Moreover, “the entire Christian life bears the mark of the spousal love of Christ and the Church. Already Baptism, the entry into the People of God, is a nuptial mystery; it is so to speak the nuptial bath which precedes the wedding feast, the Eucharist.” (85) The Eucharist inexhaustibly strengthens the indissoluble unity and love of every Christian marriage. By the power of the sacrament, the marriage bond is intrinsically linked to the eucharistic unity of Christ the Bridegroom and his Bride, the Church (cf. Eph 5:31-32). The mutual consent that husband and wife exchange in Christ, which establishes them as a community of life and love, also has a eucharistic dimension. Indeed, in the theology of Saint Paul, conjugal love is a sacramental sign of Christ’s love for his Church, a love culminating in the Cross, the expression of his “marriage” with humanity and at the same time the origin and heart of the Eucharist. For this reason the Church manifests her particular spiritual closeness to all those who have built their family on the sacrament of Matrimony. (86) The family — the domestic Church (87) — is a primary sphere of the Church’s life, especially because of its decisive role in the Christian education of children. (88) In this context, the Synod also called for an ackno