by Fr. Tommy Lane
On Holy Thursday this year (2003) our Holy Father Pope John Paul II published a Letter on the Eucharist (Ecclesia de Eucharistia). Since Jesus talks of himself as the bread of life in the Gospel today (John 6:41-51) I would like to share some ideas with you from the Pope’s letter.
The Eucharist is at the center of the Church (§3). The Church was born at Pentecost but a decisive moment in the shaping of the Church was the institution of the Eucharist in the Upper Room during the Last Supper (§5). What more could Jesus have done for us? In the Eucharist Jesus shows a love which goes to the end and knows no measure (§11). Our relationship with Christ begins at baptism and is strengthened by the Eucharist (§22). Whenever Mass is celebrated we are led back in spirit to Calvary (§4). The Mass makes present the sacrifice of the Cross, it does not add to it or multiply it but makes Christ’s sacrifice present in time. The sacrifice of Christ and the sacrifice of the Eucharist are one single sacrifice (§12).
We talk of the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist because Jesus’ presence in the Eucharist is a presence in the fullest sense, where Jesus is wholly and entirely present. The consecration at Mass changes the whole substance of the bread into the substance of the body of Christ and the whole substance of the wine into the substance of his blood and the Church calls this change transubstantiation (§15).
In our Gospel today Jesus promises eternal life:
This is the bread come down from
The Pope says those who feed on Christ in the Eucharist need not wait until the next life to receive eternal life, they already possess it on earth as the first-fruits of future fullness. In the Eucharist we receive the pledge of our bodily resurrection at the end of the world (§18) and when we celebrate the Eucharist we are united with the liturgy in heaven where the angels and saints are continually praising God (§19).
We are all united through the Eucharist, though many we share one bread (1 Cor 10:16-17). Bread is made up of many grains of wheat but in the bread the difference between them is not apparent, likewise we are joined to one another and united in Christ through the Eucharist (§23).
Concerning adoration of the Blessed Sacrament the Pope says,
“The worship of the Eucharist outside of the Mass is of inestimable value for the life of the Church… It is pleasant to spend time with him, to lie close to his breast like the Beloved Disciple (cf. Jn 13:25) and to feel the infinite love present in his heart. If in our time Christians must be distinguished above all by the “art of prayer”, how can we not feel a renewed need to spend time…in silent adoration, in heartfelt love before Christ present in the Most Holy Sacrament? How often, dear brothers and sisters, have I experienced this, and drawn from it strength, consolation and support!…Saint Alphonsus Liguori…wrote: “Of all devotions, that of adoring Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament is the greatest after the sacraments, the one dearest to God and the one most helpful to us”. The Eucharist is a priceless treasure: by not only celebrating it but also by praying before it outside of Mass we are enabled to make contact with the very wellspring of grace… In the course of the day the faithful should not omit visiting the Blessed Sacrament…”(§25)
The Pope says the annual Corpus Christi procession with the Eucharist is a grace from the Lord and that unfortunately in some places Eucharistic adoration has been almost completely abandoned (§10).
Then the Pope writes of the connection between the Eucharist and priesthood. When we gather for Mass the whole congregation joins in offering the Eucharist by virtue of the fact that we share in the mission of Christ yet it is the ordained priest acting in the person of Christ who confects the Eucharist. That is why only the priest recites the Eucharistic prayer (§28). Since it is the priest who confects the Eucharist, other Christian denominations do not have the total Eucharistic mystery because they are separated from us by not having a valid Sacrament of Holy Orders which ordains priests (§30). That is why we do not receive Communion from other Christian denominations so that there is no ambiguity about the Eucharist and in order to witness to the truth (§30). Ecumenical initiatives have led to Eucharistic practices contrary to our faith (§10). The Pope then goes on to write that the Eucharist is the principal and chief reason for the sacrament of the priesthood which effectively came into being at the moment of the institution of the Eucharist. While priests are engaged in many activities the Eucharist is the true center of their lives and ministry (§31). Some parishes have a Sunday celebration but not a celebration of the Eucharist because they lack a priest. This should inspire them to pray to the Lord of the harvest to send laborers to his harvest (§32). No Christian community can be built up unless it has its basis and center in the celebration of the most Holy Eucharist (§33). The very title of the Pope’s letter, Ecclesia de Eucharistia which means Church of the Eucharist, underlines the link between the Church and the Eucharist.
The Eucharist brings us union or communion with God and therefore it is not by chance that the term communion is one of the names given to this sacrament (§34). The Eucharist takes for granted that union or communion between us and God already exists (§35). Therefore anyone conscious of grave sin must receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation before coming to communion (§36). The sacraments of Eucharist and Reconciliation are very closely connected (§37). Whenever we celebrate the Eucharist we do so in union with the local bishop and the Pope. If we were not in union with them it would be a contradiction.
The Pope wrote the letter because he wishes to rekindle our amazement at the Eucharist (§6). We can see his amazement clearly in what he says about Eucharistic adoration and I conclude now with an excerpt again of what the Pope says about adoration:
“It is pleasant to spend time with him, to lie close to his breast like the Beloved Disciple (cf. Jn 13:25) and to feel the infinite love present in his heart. If in our time Christians must be distinguished above all by the “art of prayer”, how can we not feel a renewed need to spend time in spiritual converse, in silent adoration, in heartfelt love before Christ present in the Most Holy Sacrament?” (§25)
More homilies for the Nineteenth Sunday Year B
Related Homilies: John Chapter 6 - Jesus’ Sermon on the Eucharist 2011