Spirituality Year of the Eucharist
The year from Oct. 2004 - Oct. 2005 has been declared the "Year of the Eucharist" by Pope, John-Paul II (cf. Apostolic Letter "Mane nobiscum Domine", 7th of October 2004). We will post articles on this mystery which is at the heart of the life of the Church.
Extracts from the address of His Holiness Pope John Paul II to the Plenary Meeting of The Congregatiion for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments
2. The Sacred Liturgy, described by Sacrosanctum Concilium as the summit of the Church's life, can never be reduced to a mere aesthetic reality. Neither can it be considered simply as a means to pedagogical or ecumenical ends. Before all else, the celebration of the sacred mysteries is an act of praise to the Triune God's sovereign majesty, and is willed by God Himself. Through the Sacred Liturgy man, personally and collectively, presents himself before God to render thanksgiving, fully conscious that his existence cannot be complete without praising God and doing His will as he strives for the Kingdom which is already present but whose definitive advent is only to be found in the Parousia of the Lord Jesus. Were the Liturgy not to have its effects on life, it would become void and displeasing to God.
3. The celebration of the Liturgy is an act of the virtue of religion which, in keeping with its nature, must be characterised by a profound sense of the sacred. Both the individual and the community must be aware that, in a special way, through the Liturgy they come into the presence of Him who is thrice holy and transcendent. Consequently, the disposition required of them is one that can only flow from that reverence and awe deriving from an awareness of being in the presence of the majesty of Almighty God. Did not God Himself wish to express this when he commanded Moses to remove his sandals in the presence of the burning bush? Was it not because of this same realization that Moses and Elijah did not dare gaze on God facie in faciem.
The People of God require a comportment in their priests and deacons that is completely imbued with reverence and dignity since it allows them to penetrate invisible realities without words or explanations. The Roman Missal, promulgated by Saint Pope Pius V, and the various Eastern Liturgies, contain many very beautiful prayers with which the priest expresses a profound sense of reverence and humility before the Sacred Mysteries. These prayers reveal the very substance of every Liturgy.
A liturgical celebration, at which the priest presides, is an assembly of prayer, gathered in faith to hear the Word of God. Its primary object is to offer to God the living, pure and holy Sacrifice made once and for all time by Jesus Christ on Calvary, and which is rendered present at every Holy Mass celebrated by the Church so as to worship God in spirit and in truth.
on eucharistic doctrine and adoration
This important encyclical of Pope Paul VI was prompted by concern caused by the spread of heterodox theories regarding the mystery of the Holy Eucharist. Hence the Pope refers to “certain opinions which trouble the mind of the faithful” on the subject of “private Masses, the dogma of transubstantiation and eucharistic adoration.” The aim of the encyclical is to recall the doctrines of the Church on these questions. Many elements of doctrines are evoked, and among these the Pope concentrates on those which are most attacked.
Thus we find, right from the start of the encyclical, a synthesis on the very nature of the mystery, taken from the Council of Trent, the teaching of which Vatican II made a point of recalling: “At the Last Supper, on the night when He was betrayed, our Saviour instituted the Eucharistic Sacrifice of His Body and Blood. He did this in order to perpetuate the Sacrifice of the Cross throughout the centuries 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 eaten, the mind is filled with grace, and a pledge of future glory is given to us.” This quotation therefore recalls first of all that the Mass perpetuates and applies the sacrifice of the Cross: this sacrifice is thus “unceasingly made present in our memory and its salutary virtue is applied for the remission of the sins which are committed each day”. This is effected by a non-bloody immolation. Upon this, therefore, depends the salvation of mankind, personal salvation and the salvation of the whole world. This applies to the living, but also to the dead, as the Fathers of the Church already taught.
The sacrament of the Eucharist is bound to the sacrifice of the Mass: “Sacrifice and sacrament are integrated together in the same Mystery so that one cannot be separated from the other”. This sacrament is “the perfection of the spiritual life and the end of all the other sacraments”, as the Pope recalls, quoting St Thomas.
What are its fruits? The sacrament gives a spiritual food to the hearts of the faithful through Communion. It strengthens and delights, vivifies and purifies. It gives grace and anticipates the gift of eternal life. Hence it is necessary to have a pure and holy heart for Communion.
From the ecclesiastical point of view, the sacrament effects the unity of the Mystical body, expressed by Communion, which creates a close bond of charity: according to the expression of the council of Trent, Christ made it “a symbol of this single Body of which He is the Head.” This is attested abundantly by the testimony of Christian antiquity and the Fathers of the Church. The Eucharist is thus the heart and the centre of the Church, the “sign and cause of the unity of the mystical Body, and it constitutes in itself a stirring appeal for unity of Christians.”
The Pope insists again on this bond with the mystery of the Church: "[the Church] in her entirety, taking in union with Christ the part of priest and victim, offers the Sacrifice of the Mass and is offered in it in her entirety.” The Mass is thus the spiritual centre of the Church. From this it follows that any Mass is public and social: “the Mass, even if it is celebrated in particular by a priest, is never, for all that, a private proceeding, but the action of Christ and the Church.” Therefore private Mass should not be undervalued: “ the celebration of Mass in private is not to be censured, but on the contrary to be approved”; moreover “one may not favour the so-called ‘community’ Mass in such a way as to devalue the private Mass”. In any case, it is the whole Church which offers the Sacrifice, “without detriment to the proper difference in nature, not merely in degree, which distinguishes the priesthood of the faithful from the hierarchical priesthood”.
Finally, the Pope develops at length the questions of transubstantiation and the Real Presence, fearing the spread of erroneous concepts in this regard. Thus he makes a point of firmly recalling that the Church is attached to the term ‘transubstantiation’: it is not a question of mere ‘transignification’ or ‘transfinalisation’. What takes place is a “conversion of all the substance of the bread to the body of Christ and all the substance of the wine to the blood of Christ; a singular and marvellous conversion, which the Catholic Church names in all accuracy and in the proper use of the term, ‘transubstantiation’”. The Church fixed an immutable rule of language which “must religiously be respected”. The word employed by the Church is particularly adequate, and belongs to these formulas which are “intelligible for men of all times and all places”.
To support his argument, the Pope quotes testimonies of the Fathers of the Church and the Councils, in order to show the constancy and the unanimity of tradition in the assertion of this doctrinal point.
This miraculous conversion involves the Real Presence of the Saviour. This presence is not merely symbolic, but it is at the same time sacramental: “by the effect of the words of consecration He begins to be sacramentally present as spiritual food for the faithful under the species of bread and wine”. It is also real and substantial: “this presence is named ‘real’, not on a purely exclusive basis, as if the other manners of presence were not ‘real’, but par excellence or “antonomasia”, because it is substantial, and Christ, the God-man, thereby makes Himself present entirely”. Consequently Christ is present, “truly, really and substantially, under the appearance of these realities perceptible to the senses”, as Paul VI recalls, quoting the Council of Trent. He also specifies that “Christ whole and entire is present in His physical, even corporeal, reality, although according to a different mode of presence from that in which bodies occupy a place”. Therefore it is not the senses that should be trusted, “but the words of Christ, which have the capacity to change, to transform, to ‘transelementize’ the bread and the wine into to the Body and Blood of the Lord”. Consequently each fragment must be the object of “precautions and an extreme respect”. The Pope also underlines that this presence is not brought about only by the faith of the Church, “but by the fact of objective reality itself”.
This objective reality means that the Real Presence remains in the sacred species even after the Mass. Worship is therefore always due to them: it is necessary to offer “this worship of adoration to the Sacrament of the Eucharist not only during the Mass but also apart from its celebration”. The Christian tradition is rich in testimonies concerning this worship. One should not cease to promote it: “Please promote, without sparing words or efforts, Eucharistic worship, towards which all other forms of piety must ultimately converge.” We should therefore be mindful to visit and honour the Blessed Sacrament.
It seems, then, that the Pope insists particularly on the dogma of the Real Presence and transubstantiation, and on the bond of the Eucharist with the mystery of the Church, and especially her unity. This forms part of a detailed reminder of the many points of doctrine related to a correct approach to this sacrament. None the less, the Pope reaffirms that the Eucharist is, and remains, a mystery of faith, as the title of the encyclical underlines, along with the words of the hymn of Saint Thomas: “Taste, touch and sight in thee are each deceived/The ear alone most safely is believed”. This is why Paul VI affirms that “the Eucharist is a most sublime mystery and even, properly speaking, as the Liturgy says, the Mystery of faith.”
In order to benefit from the effects of the Mass, we must seek to correspond to them. We must therefore distinguish the four ends of the sacrifice of the Cross (hence of the Mass): adoration, thanksgiving, reparation and petition. We can then enter into the intentions of Christ.
1. The sacrifice of the Mass is a sacrifice of LATRIA (adoration): Christ sacrifices Himself for the glory of God. The Mass is theocentric: God is first served. The first of Christ’s sentiments on the Cross, the fundamental disposition of His soul, is one of adoration and filial love towards the infinite majesty of His Father. What, then, is the principal act of adoration, of worship? Sacrifice. Let us therefore offer our sacrifices, whatever causes us pain or suffering, in union with the mind of Christ in His sacrifice. We should remember that if we have communion with Christ, it is with Christ in His sacrifice. Let us then participate in the sacrifice of Christ.
2. The sacrifice of the Mass is a EUCHARISTIC sacrifice: a sacrifice of thanksgiving. Adoration is recognition of God’s greatness; thanksgiving celebrates His infinite goodness. God has a right to our gratitude. In the liturgy, our gratitude appropriates the whole universe in order to find a voice and sing of the good that God has done us. This is a fundamental aspect of the Mass, so much so that the Mass is called ‘Eucharist’ or ‘Eucharistic sacrifice’. Let us, too, during Mass, know how to express our gratitude to God for the good things He lavishes on us, those which we know and those which we do not even guess at. “This wonderful sacrifice was instituted so that we might be free from ingratitude towards God” (St Irenaeus).
3. The Mass is a PROPITIATORY sacrifice: a term rather unfamiliar to modern ears. The Mass saves us, the Mass perfectly fulfils divine justice; because of it, God is propitious towards us. The sacrifice of Christ is expiatory: the Mass brings about the remission of our sins, in accordance with the dispositions of our hearts, in which Our Lord ought to find humility and contrition.
4. The sacrifice of the Mass is an IMPETRATORY sacrifice: it is the moment to entrust our desires, our petitions, to Christ. Our petitions, united to the Blood of Christ, find their best advocate in Our Lord, the most powerful of intercessors. Each Mass allows us to ask a grace from God, as we confidently abandon ourselves to Him.Our Lord assures us, and His word is truth: “all that you ask of God in My name, He will grant you”. What can the Father refuse His Son, imploring it of Him upon the Cross?
It will be noticed that the first two ends of the Mass are concerned with God, whereas the last two are more directly concerned with us. We must make these ends our own in our prayer at Mass. This is the best form of participation: to unite ourselves with the priest, the instrument of Christ who offers His sacrifice to His Father for these four ends. Hence the following prayer:
My God, I adore You and I love You.
These, then, are the four ends of the sacrifice, the reasons why the Church invites us to participate at Mass. What are their fruits? The Mass does not directly remit sins, but fosters contrition and conversion. The Mass partially, but immediately, remits the temporal punishment due to sins already forgiven. Moreover, our petitions are granted if they are just, and if we form them with a heart that is properly disposed.
All this applies to our assistance at Mass, even if we do not make a sacramental communion. Sacramental communion is not indispensable, although it is highly desirable. It brings our participation to perfection, along with its particular fruits, which consist first of all in our union with Christ, who transforms us interiorly, conforms us to Himself, strengthens and sanctifies us, heals us, gives us joy and unites us to the whole Church.
Let us meditate on these words of Cardinal Journet: “It is such a sweet and awe-inspiring thing to think that Jesus gathers us every day to redeem the world with Him.”
Without the Eucharist, Christianity would be an ideology. Now, by means of the Eucharist, Christ remains on earth in person. We do not live in His Church to preserve His thinking or His memory, but so that He may really receive our praises and the honours due to Him, from this moment on. These praises and honours testify to the love which we, mere creatures, have for Him, the King of kings. By means of the Eucharist, the Incarnation is prolonged from the crib at Bethlehem to reach us.
The Church, made up of the baptized, offers Him her homage through her liturgy. And from apostolic times onward, Europe has seen the development of a liturgical practice which we call the traditional rite. For the Latin Catholics of the West, that rite is the most accomplished form of this realism with regard to the Real Presence in the Eucharist. Let us explain.
Because the consecrated Host (after the transsubstantiation) is God, we may no longer say, do or see all that we might: God is there, and nothing may be preferred to Him. So, to take just one example, once the priest has pronounced the words of consecration over the host and over the wine in the chalice, multiple genuflexions and signs of the cross follow. These gestures translate an attitude of realism with regard to the Presence of God.
The traditional Mass encapsulates the truth of being itself, the truth of what the consecrated Host and wine really are.
BELIEVE: the first step to happiness
But if we are to find happiness in the truth which we contemplate, the truth must first be accessible to our intellect. Now, since the Eucharist presents our reason with a mystery, the truth must be believed before it can be understood. The act of faith opens the door to this mystery.
In the first place, we must believe: believe that God is there, present in all His divine substance, under the appearance of bread. In the order of creation, what condescension! In the order of reason, how impossible fully to grasp!
Faith has the edge over reason, yet reason is not thereby eliminated. On the contrary: without faith, reason alone could never have discovered this truth which, in human terms, defies explanation: that God is there under the appearance of bread, the Host which the priest has consecrated.
UNDERSTAND that the Eucharist is a person
Before reason can be made to savour the truth, it must first accept it by the act of faith. Therein lies its cross, which will lead it to Christ if it is willing to let itself be guided. Blessed Pierre-Julien Eymard, founder of the Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament in the nineteenth century, affirmed that
Faith in the Most Blessed Sacrament is the act of faith which gives most glory to Jesus Christ, obtains the most merit for a Christian and gives the most consolation to his heart.
Now that we believe that the substance of God has the appearance of bread (colour, taste, consistency), we must remain logical and realistic. We are in front of a Person. God presents himself before us. His presence is real, even though our senses are deficient and reason threatens to rebel. Here is the heart of the mystery: the appearance of bread remains, while God is there in person. God is Eucharist.
CONTEMPLATE so that the truth may triumph
Whether we contemplate or receive Communion, the Eucharist splendidly illuminates our souls, which silently enter into contact with God. Our whole being – body and soul – receives God. We are divinized.
This supreme mystical experience is accessible to anyone who is baptized. Blessed Elisabeth of the Trinity describes it clearly in a prayer which she composed after an eight-day retreat at her Carmelite monastery in Dijon, towards the end of the year 1904, a century ago:
[...] help me to forget myself entirely so as to take up my dwelling in You: still and at peace as if my soul were already in eternity [...] make it into Your heaven [...] I ask You to “clothe me with yourself ” [...] so that my life may be nothing other than a ray of Your life. [...] “Be present in me”: let it be as if the Incarnation of the Word were taking place in my soul, let me be another humanity for Him, in which He renews His whole Mystery.
These moments spent in the intimacy of the Eucharist are so many meetings of our own substance with the substance of God.
CONFORMING OURSELVES to Jesus as Victim (Hostia)
There is a change in the way we are, and we look at ourselves and at others in a new light. Grace is poured into our souls. God reigns in our being. We act under the influence of grace. We are saints. With a purer and more simple vision, we look at everything in the perspective of eternity. Our life takes on its true worth. Our suffering and our labours can be understood, and borne, only because they show God that nothing will separate us from Him.
CONCLUSION: life is a lesson learned in front of the tabernacle
The school of mysticism is open to all. The best pupils receive the palm of martyrdom or the haloes of eternal glory. Saints are formed in this school, which is only a few steps away from us: it is the Church. Her Master is present there in the tabernacle. With Him, we learn to love Him and our neighbour, to the point of giving all: our time, our efforts and our life itself.
The Eucharist is a sacrifice
The Lord's body and blood are received in communion
Mary and the Eucharist