Eucharist Makes the Church (Part 2)

Father Paul McPartlan on Sharing in Christ’s Life

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LONDON, FEB. 25, 2005 ( The Eucharist contains riches to feed and forgive us, to strengthen and unite us, and to guide and protect us on our pilgrim way.

So says Father Paul McPartlan, professor of dogmatic theology at the University of London, and a member of the Vatican’s International Theological Commission and author of “Sacrament of Salvation: An Introduction to Eucharistic Ecclesiology” (T&T Clark/Continuum).

He shared with ZENIT how the Church is supremely privileged to know Christ and to share his life, the life of true communion.

Part 1 of this interview appeared Thursday.

Q: What is the significance of the Holy Father choosing this year as the Year of the Eucharist?

Father McPartlan: Pope John Paul wants to launch the Church strongly into the new millennium. To have a year concentrating on the mystery of the Eucharist is a vital part of this project, because the Eucharist contains riches to feed and forgive us, to strengthen and unite us, and to guide and protect us on our pilgrim way. Jesus himself is with us and we recognize him in the breaking of bread, as the disciples did at Emmaus.

In his profoundly inspiring apostolic letter “Novo Millennio Ineunte,” the Holy Father particularly identified the “great challenge” that faces us at the start of the new millennium, namely, that of making the Church “the home and the school of communion” if we truly wish “to be faithful to God’s plan and respond to the world’s deepest yearnings.”

The world is longing for peace and true community in families, in neighborhoods, in nations and in the family of nations. People seek life-enhancing relations in all these contexts and a unity that enables a fulfilling diversity. This is the mystery of communion, ultimately patterned on the Trinity.

Only Christ, who comes bearing the secret of God’s life, can solve the riddle and show the way to true communion. The Church is supremely privileged to know Christ and already to share his life, the life of communion. We receive Communion regularly from its true source, the very gift that the world is most seeking.

Our parishes, dioceses and all our Church structures really ought to model good, life-enhancing relations, in the strength of the Eucharist. This is a great calling, in the light of which we should regularly examine how we are doing.

Moreover, we receive the gift of Communion in order to minister it to a waiting and needy world. It isn’t given just for us to keep it to ourselves. How vital it is, therefore, to concentrate on this gift, really to try and grow in the living of it and to develop our sense of mission in the strength of it. It has been entrusted to us and a responsibility has been laid upon us.

The Year of the Eucharist is a providential time for renewed rejoicing in this gift and renewed commitment to our mission in the world.

Q: Some say that a decline in respect for the body of Christ parallels a decline in respect for human life. How do you think we should view ourselves and others in the light of the Eucharist?

Father McPartlan: In 1 Corinthians 11:29, St. Paul himself told the Church in Corinth to discern the body of Christ with respect when they received the Eucharist, and it seems that he had a double meaning in mind: They must receive worthily the body and blood of Christ, but they must also treat worthily the members of the body and not humiliate the poor.

Respect for Christ in the Eucharist must be accompanied by respect for Christ in one another and, of course, in ourselves. A profound passage from Vatican II’s pastoral constitution on the Church in the modern world, “Gaudium et Spes,” No. 22, teaches that, by his incarnation, the Son of God has united himself with every single human being.

The face of Christ is reflected and refracted in countless forms across humanity, and respect for him necessarily involves respect for all human life.

We celebrate Christmas, when the Son of God truly took flesh and became vulnerable as one of us. In the Eucharist, he becomes present in the humble staples of human life, bread and wine. In the world around us he is present, particularly as he himself said in Matthew 25:31-46 in those who suffer — of whom there have dramatically been so many in the tsunami disaster.

We need to hold all these presences together, so as to have an integrated respect for him and for all those whom he loves.

Moreover, the fact that Jesus so readily gives himself to us in the Eucharist is a constant reminder to us to give ourselves to others, particularly those in need, because to give is to be Christ-like and godly.

Quoting a lovely passage from St. Leo, which could equally have come from St. Augustine, Vatican II taught in “Lumen Gentium,” No. 26, that our “sharing in the body and blood of Christ has no other effect than to accomplish our transformation into that which we receive.”

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