January 2001- Edition
The Holy Father's New Encyclical on the Eucharist - Ecclesia de Eucharistia
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (#1323): “At the Last Supper, on the night he was betrayed, our Savior instituted the Eucharistic sacrifice of his Body and Blood. This he did in order to perpetuate the sacrifice of the cross throughout the ages until he should come again, and so to entrust to his beloved Spouse, the Church, a memorial of his death and resurrection: a sacrament of love, a sign of unity, a bond of charity, a Paschal banquet ‘in which Christ is consumed, the mind is filled with grace, and a pledge of future glory is given to us.’”
Pope John Paul II in his general audience on September 27, 2000 said that in the Eucharist “God reveals His glory in a mysteriously great yet humble way: great because it is the principal form of Christ’s presence among us, and humble because Christ appears under the ordinary and everyday signs of bread and wine.”
From the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas 1 comes the following excerpt about the Eucharist:
Christ Himself instituted this great sacrament at the Last Supper. He knew that He was shortly to leave this earth. He knew that He would not remain in this world much longer in His bodily presence. But He did not wish to leave His faithful disciples entirely. He wished to remain with His followers in some way. And so He gave us His presence in the sacrament of the Eucharist to take the place of His historical bodily presence.
Besides, He wished to leave men a remembrance of His Passion. Faith in His Passion is necessary for salvation. But in the course of time men might forget His Passion and death on the Cross. In the Eucharist He has given men a perpetual remembrance of His Passion. He instituted this sacrament at the Last Supper, because He knew that the last words and actions of men who are about to leave this world are more likely to be remembered with love and devotion than any other words or actions.
The Eucharist was, as it were, His last will and testament to the human race. Shortly before His death, resurrection and ascension into heaven, He left men His Body and Blood as the food of their souls. It was the most precious gift He had to leave us, because the Eucharist is Christ Himself, the Author and Dispenser of God’s grace.
In the mind of Christ, the Eucharist is to be the food of souls.
“I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If any man eat of this bread, he shall live forever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, for the life of the world . . . Except you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you shall not have life in you. He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood hath everlasting life: and I will raise him up in the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed: and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood abideth in me and I in him.”
John 6: 51-55
Because the Eucharist is the food of souls, Christ chose bread and wine for the matter of this sacrament. Bread is the staple food of all mankind, and wheaten bread is the bread most commonly used among men. For this reason, Christ chose bread to be the sacramental sign of His Body. But man not only needs solid food, he also needs liquid refreshment. Wine is a liquid nourishment universal to mankind. Wine made from grapes is the only true wine. Hence Christ chose wine to be the sacramental sign of His Blood.
When He instituted this sacrament at the Last Supper, Christ, according to the custom of His country, mixed a little bit of water with the wine. In the Mass, a little water is mixed with the wine which is to be changed into Christ’s Blood. This water represents the Christian people, the members of the Church. This represents the union of the faithful with Christ. Christ wanted to give men His own Body and Blood as the food of their souls. Hence, as the sacramental sign of His Body and Blood, He chose elements that would be recognized as food by men.
In the sacrament of the Eucharist, bread and wine are changed into the Body and Blood of Christ. Christ Himself is truly present in the Eucharist under the appearances of bread and wine. The Eucharist is, then the perfect sacrament of the New Law. In the other sacraments, the sensible rite signifies and causes the grace of Christ to come to the souls of men.
In the Eucharist, we have Christ Himself and the grace which He brings to the souls of men. This is a testimonial to the depth of Christ’s love for men. His delight are to be with the children of men.
In the Eucharist Christ, Who has ascended into Heaven, still remains with men on earth. Because he cannot be seen by human eyes in the Eucharist, because His presence in the Eucharist is sacramental and mysterious, the Eucharist is challenge to the faith of men. By believing in the truth of this great mystery, by believing that He who could feed five thousand men with a few loaves of bread, can feed millions of men with His Body and Blood in the Eucharist, men prove the strength, the splendor and the perfection of their faith.
In the Eucharist, at the words of consecration uttered by Christ at the Last Supper, or now by the priest at Mass, bread and wine are no longer present. Instead the Body and Blood of Christ are present sacramentally. We can never hope to understand in this life how this change take place. This is a mystery beyond our comprehension...
Saint Thomas Aquinas 1
“We are called to respond to the gift of the Eucharist
by offering our entire lives to God
in a spirit of thanksgiving, love and obedience.”
Pope John Paul II in his general audience on September 27, 2000
To us in our fragile human condition spiritual growth awaits to happen, all we have to do is to feed our souls by receiving frequent communion, if possible daily communion. Years ago, I interviewed a friend and she had this to say about daily communion:
“Going to Mass each day
helps me to start my day
with focus on Jesus Christ who cares for me.
He gave his life for me
because of His love for me.
In Baptism, I received that love,
and in the Holy Eucharist,
the Body and Blood of Christ, he nourishes me
in mind, body and spirit.
I look forward to receiving Jesus each day
and hopefully becoming more in oneness with Him
through His grace, mercy and love.
I also look forward to
hearing the Scripture readings
and to the teachings of the Scripture
from our gifted pastor Father Kevin.
God’s Word is mighty and powerful
and to be applied to our lives
so that we might live a more victorious life
giving all praise and glory to God.”
The Pope schedules general audiences on Wednesday at the Vatican. Several of these general audiences have been on the topic of the Eucharist the fall of 2000. The topic of the general audience is researched well and is rich in resources and informational background. Pope John Paul II on November 8, 2000 in the general audience2 explained how the Eucharist is the sacrament of the Church’s unity:
Eucharist is Sacrament of the Church’s unity
1. “O sacrament of devotion! O sign of unity! O bond of charity!” St Augustine’s exclamation in his commentary on the Gospel of John (In Joannis Evangelium, 26, 13) captures the theme and sums up the words that Paul addressed to the Corinthians and we have just heard: “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread” (1 Cor 10: 17). The Eucharist is the sacrament and source of the Church’s unity. This has been stressed since the beginnings of the Christian tradition and is based on the sign of the bread and wine. This is how it is stated in the Didache, a writing composed at the dawn of Christianity: “Just as this broken bread was first scattered on the mountains and, after being harvested, became one reality, so may your Church be gathered from the ends of the earth into your kingdom” (9, 1).
2. St Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage, echoed these words in the third century, saying: “The sacrifices of the Lord themselves highlight the unanimity of Christians strengthened by solid, indivisible charity. For when the Lord calls the bread formed of the union of many grains his body, and when he calls the wine pressed from many clusters of grapes and poured together his blood, in the same way he indicates our flock formed of a multitude united together” (Ep. ad Magnum, 6). This Eucharistic symbolism of the Church’s unity returns frequently in the Fathers and Scholastic theologians. “The Council of Trent summarized the doctrine, teaching that our Saviour left the Eucharist to his Church as a symbol of her unity and of the charity with which he wanted all Christians to be closely united with one another’; and for this reason it is 'a symbol of that one body of which he is the head'” (Paul VI, Mysterium fidei: Ench. Vat., 2, 424; cf. Council of Trent, Decr. de SS. Eucharistia, introd. and ch. 2). The Catechism of the Catholic Church sums it up very effectively: “Those who receive the Eucharist are united more closely to Christ. Through it Christ unites them to all the faithful in one body - the Church” (CCC, 1396).
3. This traditional doctrine is deeply rooted in Scripture. Paul develops it in the passage already cited from the First Letter to the Corinthians, taking koinonia as the basic theme, that is, the communion which is established between the faithful and Christ in the Eucharist. “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation (koinonia) in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a participation (koinonia) in the body of Christ?” (10: 16). This communion is more precisely described in John’s Gospel as an extraordinary relationship of “mutual interiority”: “he in me and I in him”. Jesus, in fact, says at the synagogue in Capernaum: “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him” (Jn 6: 56).
It is a theme that will also be underscored in the discourses at the Last Supper with the symbol of the vine: the branch is verdant and fruitful only if it is grafted on to the vine stem, from which it receives sap and support (Jn 15: 1-7). Otherwise it is just a withered branch to be thrown into the fire: aut vitis aut ignis, “either the vine or the fire”, St Augustine succinctly comments (In Johannis Evangelium, 81, 3). Here we see a unity, a communion, which is realized between the faithful and Christ present in the Eucharist, on the basis of the principle that Paul expresses this way: “Those who eat the sacrifices are partners in the altar” (1 Cor 10: 18).
4. Because this type of “vertical” communion-koinonia makes us one with the divine mystery, it produces at the same time a communion-koinonia we could call “horizontal”, or ecclesial, fraternal, capable of uniting all who partake of the same table in a bond of love. “We who are many are one body”, Paul reminds us, “for we all partake of the one bread” (1 Cor 10: 17). The discourse on the Eucharist anticipates the great ecclesial reflection which the Apostle will develop in chapter 12 of the same Letter, when he will speak of the body of Christ in its unity and multiplicity. The well-known description of the Jerusalem Church offered by Luke in the Acts of the Apostles also outlines this fraternal unity or koinonia, connecting it with the breaking of bread, that is, the Eucharistic celebration (cf. Acts 2: 42). This communion is realized in concrete historical reality: “They devoted themselves to the Apostles’ teaching and fellowship (koinonia), to the breaking of bread and the prayers.... All who believed were together and had all things in common” (Acts 2: 42-44).
5. The profound meaning of the Eucharist is thus denied when it is celebrated without taking into acount the demands of charity and communion. Paul is severe with the Corinthians because when they meet together, “it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat” (1 Cor 11: 20), as a result of their divisions, injustices and selfishness. In this case, the Eucharist is no longer agape, that is, the expression and source of love. And whoever partakes of it unworthily, without making it bear fruit in fraternal charity, “eats and drinks judgement upon himself” (1 Cor 11: 29). “In fact Christian life is expressed in the fulfilling of the greatest commandment, that is to say in the love of God and neighbour, and this love finds its source in the Blessed Sacrament, which is commonly called the sacrament of love” (Dominicae cenae, n. 5). The Eucharist recalls, makes present and brings about this charity.
Let us then answer the appeal of the Bishop and martyr Ignatius, who exhorted the faithful of Philadelphia in Asia Minor to unity: “One is the flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ, one is the chalice in the unity of his blood, one is the altar, just as one is the Bishop” (Ep. ad Philadelphenses, 4). And let us pray with the liturgy to God the Father: “Grant that we, who are nourished by his body and blood, may be filled with his Holy Spirit, and become one body, one spirit in Christ” (Eucharistic Prayer III).
John Paul II, General Audience. Nov. 8, 2000
Let us remember:
Before so great a sacrament, the faithful can only echo humbly and with ardent faith the words of the Centurion: ‘Domine, non sum dignus ut intres sub tectum meum, sed tantum dic verbo, et sanabitur anima mea’ (‘Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul will be healed.’).”3
The Eucharist is Jesus!
“One thing have I asked of the Lord,
that will I seek after;
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life.”
Written and edited by Marta© 2001 LEAP OF FAITH – www.faithleap.org
1. Excerpt from MY WAY OF LIFE, Pocket Edition of St. Thomas The Summa Simplified for Everyone by Walter Farrell, O.P.,S.T.M. and Martin J. Healy, S.T.D. 1952
2. Pope John Paul II - General Audience on November 8, 2000. Copied from the Vatican website- www.vatican.va
3. Roman Missal, response to the invitation to communion; cf. Mt 8:8. - CCC
Catechism of the Catholic Church #1322-1419
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