Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
June 13, 2005
Welcome those seeking Christ
Forty years ago this summer, Pope Paul VI, in the midst of the Second Vatican Council, issued an encyclical on the Eucharist. Mysterium Fidei (Mystery of Faith) is not one of Pope Paul's most widely remembered encyclicals. But it was written, he said, out of "serious pastoral concern and anxiety" over the spread of opinions which confused the faithful about the nature of the Eucharist and the devotion due to Christ's presence in the Eucharist.
Among the opinions that concerned Pope Paul was the exaggeration of the aspect of the Eucharist as a sacramental sign at the expense of emphasis on Christ's real presence in the sacrament. He wanted to again emphasize the Church's doctrine of transubstantiation - "the marvellous conversion of the whole substance of the bread into the Body and of the whole substance of the wine into the Blood of Christ."
Another of the pope's concerns was the opinion that Christ is no longer present in the consecrated hosts that remain after Mass.
The Eucharist is the centre of our worship, the living presence of Christ in our midst. It is fortuitous that Pope John Paul II declared the current year to be the Year of the Eucharist, an opportunity for us to focus more fervently on what this sacrament means for our lives.
Such focus would be incomplete if we did not again reflect on Pope Paul's teaching in Mysterium Fidei. Christ is present in the Church in many ways, he said - through prayer, acts of charity, the quest for eternal life, preaching and in other ways. "But there is yet another manner in which Christ is present in his Church, a manner which surpasses all the others; it is his presence in the sacrament of the Eucharist. . . . The reason is clear; it contains Christ himself."
It would be wrong, the pope said, to reduce the Eucharistic presence to a sign of the spiritual presence of Christ and of his union with the faithful. The bread and wine are a sign precisely because they have been completely transformed into a new reality - the bodily presence of Jesus Christ.
Here we have the mystery of faith. We are not to trust in our senses, but in "the words of Christ which have the power to transform, change and transmute the bread and wine into his body and blood."
Pope Paul urged the faithful to attend Mass daily, if possible, "receive Holy Communion with a pure heart and give thanks to Christ our Lord for so great a gift." He also encouraged the faithful to visit the Eucharist at times when Mass is not being celebrated to express their love and gratitude and to acknowledge the Lord's presence.
Mysterium Fidei is a call for reverence in an irreverent age. But our age is also one of individualism and we must be careful not to let our reverence become individualistic.
Pope John Paul II, in his 1998 letter on The Day of the Lord, noted that Christians "are not saved as individuals alone, but as members of the mystical body." The day of the Lord is also the day of the Church. "This is why on the pastoral level, the community aspect of the Sunday celebration should be particularly stressed."
If we must deepen our reverence for the Eucharist, Christ's presence in the sacrament also calls us to be a welcoming people. Welcoming to those who are perhaps silent and uninvolved members of our parishes, but also to the outsiders.
It was Jesus who sat with the sinners and tax collectors. When the overly pious ones objected, Jesus said he was a physician - a physician to sinners and those who might appear odd or threatening, but also, one would suppose, to those who exalt themselves by rejecting sinners.
If we are serious about believing in Christ's real presence in the Eucharist, that belief will lead us to honour the Eucharist with reverence. It will also lead us to welcome, with open arms, those to whom Jesus sought to bring healing.
- Glen Argan
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