On the Relation Between Eucharist and Mary in Tradition

Interview With Father Jesús Castellano Cervera

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ROME, MAY 7, 2003 (Zenit.org).- In his encyclical «Ecclesia de Eucharistia» John Paul II dedicates Chapter 6 to the «School of Mary, ‘Woman of the Eucharist.'»

To understand in greater depth the relation between the Blessed Virgin and the Eucharist, ZENIT interviewed Discalced Carmelite Father Jesús Castellano Cervera, president of the Teresianum School of Theology and an expert in Marian studies and consultor of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Q: Don’t you consider somewhat singular the Pope’s decision to dedicate a whole chapter to Mary in an encyclical on the Eucharist?

Father Castellano: Mary’s relation to the Eucharist is evident, especially if two fundamental aspects of the Eucharist are considered.

The first is the continuity of the mystery of the Incarnation, exactly as John presents it in Chapter 6 of the Gospel: indissoluble connection between the Word made flesh [see John 1:14] and the flesh that he gives for the life of the world [see John 6:51 and following]. The chapter in the prologue of the Gospel, verse 14, uses the same expression «the Word became flesh,» and also «I shall give you my flesh.»

In the measure that the mystery of the Incarnation is connected to the Virgin, of whom the Word takes flesh, we can say that it is a central aspect of the Eucharist, and not a devotional aspect.

St. Augustine himself said in the Commentary on Psalm 98:9: «Of the flesh of Mary, he took flesh, in this flesh the Lord walked here, and he has given us this same flesh to eat for our salvation; and no one eats that flesh without having first adored it … as we do not sin adoring it but sin if we do not adore it.»

The second fundamental aspect is that the Eucharist is the memorial of the death of Christ, and in that moment of Calvary, John recalls Mary’s presence at the foot of the cross. It is a presence in which the Virgin is associated with the mystery and with the offering of Christ to the Father, and in the offering of herself to the Father.

We cannot not think of the Virgin Mary, present in this mystery, of which the Eucharist is the sacramental connection; therefore, either because the Incarnation or because of the sacrifice of the cross, Mary is present.

Moreover, there are numerous expressions of the Fathers of the Church that bring the mystery of the Incarnation closer to that of the Eucharist.

Q: Could you give an example?

Father Castellano: Peter Chrysologus said that Christ «is the bread that sowed in the Virgin, leavened in the flesh, kneaded in the Passion, baked in the oven of the sepulcher, kept in the Church, taken to the altars, gives the faithful heavenly food every day.»

In the Summa Theologiae, St. Thomas Aquinas made a comparison between the virginal birth, which is of a supernatural order, and the eucharistic conversion, which is also supernatural.

The relation between the Eucharist and the Virgin is an integral part of the whole Tradition. In some Eastern rites, for example in the Ethiopian liturgy, they recite: «You are the basket of this bread of burning flame and the cup of this wine. O Mary, who produce in your womb the fruit of the oblation.»

And also: «O Virgin, who brought to fruition what we are about to eat and who made to gush forth what we are about to drink. O bread that lives in you: life-giving bread and salvation for the one who eats it with faith.»

Q: However, we must admit that at present this relation between Mary and the Eucharist is not known or reflected upon.

Father Castellano: In reality, the Pontiffs have always stressed this aspect of Tradition. Paul VII, for example, in «Marialis Cultus» exhorted [us] «to live the Eucharist with the sentiments of faith and love of Mary, Virgin who listened, Virgin of prayer, Virgin who offered, Virgin Mother, as well as Virgin model and teacher of spiritual worship in daily life, transforming herself in a pleasing offering to God.»

We could also refer to John Paul II, who introduced the Institution of the Eucharist among the luminous mysteries of the holy rosary.

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