Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of April 28, 2003
The Eucharist -- Christ's greatest gift
Church teaching reaffirmed in Holy Thursday encyclical
By CINDY WOODEN
The Eucharist "unites heaven and earth. It embraces and permeates all creation."
- Ecclesia de Eucharistia
"This is no metaphorical food," he said. As the Gospel of John says, "My flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed."
Pope John Paul said the Second Vatican Council led to a "more conscious, active and fruitful participation" in the Mass, but at the same time, "some abuses have occurred, leading to confusion with regard to sound faith and Catholic doctrine concerning this wonderful sacrament."
In some places, he said, Eucharistic adoration has almost disappeared, and some people focus so much on its character as a "fraternal banquet" that they forget its sacrificial meaning.
The Mass, the pope said, "makes Christ's one, definitive redemptive sacrifice present in time" and allows people of all times to participate in it as if they had been in Jerusalem with Jesus.
"The Eucharist is too great a gift to tolerate ambiguity and depreciation," he said. Faithful observance of liturgical norms is "a guarantee of our love for Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament."
While the pope said he has seen firsthand how beautifully local language, customs and culture can be incorporated into the Mass, creativity has sometimes been overemphasized.
"Liturgy is never anyone's private property, be it of the celebrant or of the community in which the mysteries are celebrated," he said.
The Eucharist and the Church are so intimately connected, the pope said, that those who share the Eucharist must share the Church's faith in the real presence of Christ and acknowledge the unity of faith as passed on and protected by the pope and the bishops in unity with him.
Regular Eucharistic sharing with other Christians is a hope to be prayed for and a goal to work toward, but it is not a step on the way toward Christian unity, he said.
"If this treasure is not to be squandered, we need to respect the demands which derive from its being the sacrament of communion in faith and in apostolic succession," the pope wrote.
Pope John Paul reaffirmed Church teaching that those who have committed a serious sin must go to Confession before receiving Communion, but he also said people who are indifferent to the suffering of the poor are not worthy to partake of the sacrament.
In a chapter on the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Eucharist, Pope John Paul described Jesus' mother as "the first tabernacle in history," the vessel "in which the Son of God, still invisible to our human gaze, allowed himself to be adored by Elizabeth" as the pregnant Mary visited her cousin.
Mary's "yes" to the Incarnation and believers' "Amen" to receiving Christ in the Eucharist are analogous, he said.
The Gospels do not mention Mary as being with the disciples at the Last Supper, he said, but "Mary must have been present at the Eucharistic celebrations of the first generation of Christians."
"For Mary, receiving the Eucharist must have somehow meant welcoming once more into her womb that heart which had beat in unison with hers and reliving what she had experienced at the foot of the cross," the pope wrote.
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