Our Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, presented a special gift to the
Church this past Holy Thursday. He published a beautiful encyclical,
Ecclesia de Eucharistia, on the relationship of the Eucharist and the
Every year since he was elected Pope, the Holy Father has
written a letter to priests on Holy Thursday. This year, the 25th of his
papacy, he addressed his letter, an encyclical, to all in the Church,
precisely because of its singular importance.
provides much food for prayerful reading, reflection, and meditation.
Particularly attractive is its strong personal and autobiographical
tone. Once again we see the Pope's powerful mystical bent at work.
Toward the end of the encyclical he writes: "For over a half century,
every day, beginning on November 2, 1946, when I celebrated my first
Mass in the Crypt of Saint Leonard in Wawel Cathedral in Krakow, my eyes
have gazed in recollection upon the host and the chalice, where time
and space in some way 'merge' and the drama of Golgotha is re-presented
in a living way, thus revealing its mysterious 'contemporaneity.'"
Mystical insights indeed!
The opening lines of the encyclical are
simple and cogent: "The Church draws her life from the Eucharist. This
truth does not simply express a daily experience of faith, but
recapitulates the heart of the mystery of the Church. "
speaks about his celebration of the Eucharist during the Jubilee Year
2000 in the Cenacle of Jerusalem, the Upper Room where Jesus Christ
instituted this most holy Sacrament. He goes on to describe the various
churches and locations where he has celebrated the Mass throughout his
priesthood, from his first parish assignment to the basilicas in Rome
and churches around the world.
Wherever the celebration may be,
the Pope says, "The Eucharist is always in some way celebrated on the
altar of the world. It unites heaven and earth. It embraces and
permeates all creation."
In affirming the teaching that the Mass
is both sacrifice and banquet, Pope John Paul II quotes the Catechism of
the Catholic Church: "The Mass is at the same time, and inseparably,
the sacrificial memorial in which the sacrifice of the Cross is
perpetuated and the sacred banquet of communion with the Lord's body and
The Pope reminds us unambiguously of the Real Presence of
Jesus Christ is the Eucharist: "This is no metaphorical bond: 'My flesh
is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed' (John 6:55)."
is extended and helpful reflection on the relationship of the Eucharist
and the Mystery of Faith, the Paschal Mystery: "Christ has died, Christ
is risen, Christ will come again."
The Pope declares forcefully
that the Eucharist nourishes us to meet our responsibilities for the
world today: the urgent need to work for peace, to base relationships
among peoples on solid premises of justice and solidarity, and to defend
human life from conception to its natural end. He calls us to bring
Christian vision and Christian hope to the weakest, the powerless, and
The Holy Father brings to our attention basic
Catholic teachings regarding the Eucharist: the need for the ordained
priest to celebrate the Eucharist, the need to receive the Sacrament of
Penance before receiving Holy Communion if one has committed serious
sin, and the need - in order to receive Holy Communion - to be in full
communion with the Church in the bonds of the profession of faith, the
sacraments, and ecclesiastical governance. The Pope also indicates once
again that Catholics are not to receive Communion in celebrations of
denominations not in union with the Catholic Church.
calls Catholics to renewed appreciation for adoration of the Blessed
Sacrament in the tabernacle. He points to the importance of learning the
art of prayer from Mary, "the first tabernacle in history." He assures
us that if we wish to rediscover in all its richness the profound
relationship between the Church and the Eucharist, we would be wise to
go to the "School of Mary," to "take our place at the school of the
For the past two years our Diocese has experienced a
comprehensive catechesis on the Eucharist. This program was carried out
in preparation for the publication of the General Instruction for the
Roman Missal. Our purposes were to develop a deeper appreciation for the
Eucharist, to stress the importance of following the Church's
liturgical norms, and to encourage more beautiful celebrations of the
Catechesis is the work of a lifetime. Pope John Paul II
has given us a fertile resource to enhance our wonder for the
Eucharist. You will be well rewarded for reading Ecclesia de Eucharistia
Most Rev. Henry J. Mansell
Bishop of Buffalo
April 25, 2003