Father Cantalamessa Explains Why Frequent Communion

2nd Lenten Sermon at Vatican

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VATICAN CITY, MARCH 4, 2005 (Zenit.org).-
Becoming one with Christ is an effect of receiving Communion, and the reason behind exhorting its frequent reception, said the Papal Household preacher in a Lenten meditation.

Reflecting today on the fifth stanza of the Eucharistic hymn «Adoro Te Devote,» Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa led the second in a series of meditations, held in the Vatican on Fridays during Lent.

John Paul II, who has been hospitalized for the past eight days, was unable to participate in the meditation.

Father Cantalamessa’s sermon, held in the Redemptoris Mater Chapel in the Apostolic Palace, was attended by members of the Roman Curia and other cardinals, bishops and religious close to the Vatican.

The fifth stanza – «Memorial of the Lord’s death! / Living bread that gives life to man / grant that my soul live from you / and that it always taste your sweetness» — is theologically the «most profound of the whole hymn,» said Father Cantalamessa to ZENIT.

The Eucharist is the «presence of the incarnation and memorial of Easter,» he added.

«The Pauline perspective emphasizes the idea of sacrifice and immolation, making the Eucharist the proclamation of the Lord’s death and the fulfillment of Easter,» said Father Cantalamessa.

Examples in the writing of Paul include: «For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes» (1 Corinthians 11:26); and «For our paschal lamb, Christ, has been sacrificed» (1 Corinthians 5:7).

«The Johannine perspective emphasizes the idea of the Eucharist as banquet and communion: ‘For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink’ (John 6:55),» he said.

«One explains the Eucharist from the paschal mystery, the other from the incarnation; if in fact Christ’s flesh gives life to the world it is because ‘the Word became flesh’ (John 1:14). The two dimensions of the Eucharist — as sacrifice and sacrament — are reconciled, which are not always easy to keep together,» said the preacher.

The two views of the Eucharist, the Pauline — «centered on the paschal mystery» — and the Johannine — «centered on the incarnation of the Word» — «gave rise since antiquity to two different and complementary Eucharistic theologies and spiritualities: the Alexandrian and the Antiochian,» said Father Cantalamessa.

«The Alexandrian view of the Eucharist is closely connected with a certain way of understanding the incarnation,» he said.

Father Cantalamessa continued by saying that the Gospel of John does «not say that he was made in the flesh, but, repeatedly, that he became flesh, to show his union … So that whoever eats the sacred flesh of Christ has eternal life: the flesh has, in fact, in itself the Word, which is life by nature.»

«Here everything assumes an extremely concrete and realistic character. Whoever eats the flesh and drinks the blood of Christ is united and merged in him, as wax united to wax. As leaven makes the whole dough rise, so a small portion of Eucharistic bread fills all our body with divine energy. He is in us and we in him, as leaven in the dough and dough in the leaven. Thanks to the Eucharist we make ourselves ‘corporeal’ with Christ,» said Father Cantalamessa.

«The practical consequence of all this is an urgent exhortation to frequent Communion,» stressed the papal preacher.

From the Johannine view we can appreciate «other elements which have become of great importance,» such as «the emphasis on service» as highlighted by the washing of the feet in the Gospel of John.

Father Cantalamessa said that John’s Gospel also underlines «the role of the Father in the Eucharist.» «‘It was not Moses who gave the bread from heaven; my Father gives you the true bread from heaven,’ (John 6:32) Jesus said to the Jews.»

In the Antiochian perspective, the Eucharist is presented «in its aspect of sacrifice, as memorial of an event, the death and resurrection of Christ,» said Father Cantalamessa. «Everything is centered on the paschal mystery.»

«We today can also complete and actualize this second patristic view of the Eucharist in the light of the doctrine of the Mystical Body and of the universal priesthood of all the baptized,» said Father Cantalamessa.

Finally, the prayerful conclusion of this stanza, «as simple as it is profound» — «grant that my soul live from you» — encloses for its part a «causal and final value,» both of «provenance as well as destiny,» he said.

«It means that whoever eats the body of Christ lives ‘from’ him, namely, because of him, on the strength of the life that comes from him,» but also lives «in view of him, because of his glory, love and kingdom.»

The last verse makes us want to «taste the sweetness» of Christ. «The Eucharist has always been one of the privileged places of mystical experience,» said Father Cantalamessa.

The best summary of «this sweetness» is in the liturgy of the feast of Corpus Domini: «How good, Lord, is your spirit! To show thy tenderness to your children, you have given them a delicious bread brought down from heaven, which fills the hungry with good things and leaves the weary rich empty.»

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