Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of June 2, 2003
The Church from the Eucharist
By GLEN ARGAN
First in a series of seven articles
The "Eucharistic amazement," of which the pope speaks, stands in stark contrast with the spirit of our own age which too often can only see routine ritual and be bored by it. Such boredom only betrays our lack of catechesis on the Eucharist and our own failures to plumb the depths of this mystery - the mystery of our salvation. It is the boredom of the consumer society, which constantly seeks new sources of stimulation after the last fad loses its lustre.
The pope tries to put the paschal mystery at the centre of our understanding of the Eucharist. The Eucharist is what makes us Church. It does so by making present the events of Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday. "At every celebration of the Eucharist, we are spiritually brought back to the paschal triduum" (n. 3).
This is the hour of our redemption. For 1,000 years, the Jewish priests had tried to appease God's anger for the unfaithfulness of humanity by sacrificing sheep, goats and other domestic animals as a form of atonement. But such sacrifices could never atone, could never set humanity free from the weight of sin.
It is only by God becoming human and freely surrendering himself for theremission of our sins that we can be set free. Pope John Paul quotes the book of Hebrews to emphasize Christ's priesthood and sacrificial offering: "Christ . . . as the high priest of the good things to come . . . entered once for all into the holy place, taking not the blood of goats and calves but his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption" (9:11-12).
It is this sacrifice that is again made present at every Eucharist. And how can one not be amazed at the love and mercy of such a God?
One of "the dark clouds" the pope wants to banish with his encyclical is this failure to realize that, above all, the Eucharist is the holy sacrifice. "Stripped of its sacrificial meaning, it is celebrated as it were simply a fraternal banquet," he says (n. 10).
Once this notion of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is seen as central, all the other dark clouds and shadows will disperse. We will have no trouble seeing the truth of the pope's statement that the Eucharist "unites heaven and earth. It embraces and permeates all creation" (n. 8). We will see the wisdom of the practice of Eucharistic Adoration. We will see clearly that "the Church draws her life from the Eucharist" (n. 1). We will know why the Second Vatican Council spoke of the Eucharist as "the source and summit of the Christian life" (n. 1).
These are not empty words; they are the greatest truths we can know. They are truths out of which flow lives of happiness, fulfillment and fruitfulness. And they centre around the Eucharist - Christ's perfect sacrifice made real for us today.
Pope John Paul concludes his introduction to the encyclical with a brief mention of some of the shadows and dark clouds that surround the Eucharist today. But he raises their spectre not so much to condemn as to introduce an encyclical aimed at enabling the Eucharist to "continue to shine forth in all its radiant mystery."
(Next week: The Mystery of Faith)
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