The Wonder of the Eucharist

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 Church.

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.

The document 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. "

The Pope 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 blood."

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)."

There 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 poorest.

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.

The document 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 saints."

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 Eucharist.

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 in full.

Most Rev. Henry J. Mansell
Bishop of Buffalo
April 25, 2003