Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of June 16, 2003
The Church from the Eucharist
The Eucharist gives the church its life --- and its being
By GLEN ARGAN
In his 2000 pastoral letter on the Eucharist, Archbishop Thomas Collins says, "We need to catch the excitement of the early Christians. . . . Our faith can become stale. It must be constantly refreshed by the experience of an encounter with the risen Lord. That opportunity is open to us every time we celebrate the Eucharist."
The archbishop's comments are perhaps a precursor to Pope John Paul's talk of "Eucharistic amazement" in his new encyclical, The Church from the Eucharist. The pope's little phrase should set the tone for our approach to the Eucharist. The Mass is not primarily a communion meal; primarily, it is the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the re-enactment of the one paschal mystery.
Fellowship has its place at the Mass, but that is not its centrepiece. A Corpus Christi procession with balloons and streamers would introduce elements of human celebration, but it would bury "Eucharistic amazement" under elements of human spectacle.
The second chapter -The Eucharist Builds the Church - of the encyclical begins to show us why Pope John Paul has entitled the letter The Church from the Eucharist. The Eucharist is not some extra element added on to the life of the Church. So the Eucharist gives the Church its life and its being.
The pope begins this chapter by asking, "How does the Church grow?" But although he later says the Eucharist is "the source and summit of all evangelization," it is not primarily numerical growth to which he is referring. He is not asking how the Church grew from a handful of people at the time of Christ to more than one billion Catholics today.
Rather, he is asking about the one body. How did the Church begin its life? How is its communion and spiritual growth fostered?
The Eucharist is "a causal influence" in forming the Church. The apostles' presence at the Last Supper "mysteriously involves them in the sacrifice which would be completed later on Calvary." The apostles are not surrogates for the rest of us; they "were both the seeds of the new Israel and the beginning of the sacred hierarchy," the pope says, quoting Vatican II.
"From that time forward until the end of the age, the Church is built up through sacramental communion with the Son of God, who was sacrificed for our sake" (n. 21).
Baptism incorporates us into Christ's body and that incorporation "is constantly renewed and consolidated by sharing in the Eucharistic sacrifice" (n. 22). Through the Eucharist, we share in Christ's self-offering.
This double sense of the word "communion" shows that the Church originates in the Eucharist not only in its beginnings, but constantly through time. The Church is a communion of the baptized and that communion is constantly made stronger, knit together more firmly in the Holy Spirit, through our participation in the Eucharist.
The pope also builds on the philosopher's insight that people are fundamentally social animals. We hunger to be one with others. This yearning is "superabundantly" fulfilled through the Eucharist, which "far surpasses that of the simple human experience of sharing a meal" (n. 24).
In the last paragraph of this chapter, the pope shifts gears. While remaining true to his topic of the Eucharist building the Church, he raises the topic of Eucharistic adoration - worship of the Eucharist outside the Mass. He says this adoration "is of inestimable value for the life of the Church" (n. 25).
He also says pastors have a responsibility to encourage this form of worship, in particular, the exposition of the Blessed Sacrament.
"It is pleasant to spend time with (the Lord), to lie close to his breast like the beloved disciple and to feel the infinite love present in his heart."
It is this quiet worship outside the Mass that is perhaps the clearest sign of our "Eucharistic amazement" - it reveals the "excitement" we have about drawing close to the Lord in the Eucharist. While this form of prayer is often a solitary undertaking, it too feeds the growth of Christ's body. "By not only celebrating (the Eucharist) but also by praying before it outside of Mass we are enabled to make contact with the very wellspring of grace."
By showing that the Eucharist is the very source of the Church itself, the pope has laid the groundwork for, in future chapters, of showing how everything in the Church must be in harmony with the paschal mystery which is its source.