On the Eucharist

The Eucharistic celebration is much more than a simple banquet

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Here is the translation of the Holy Father’s continuing catecheses on the Sacraments during his weekly General Audience today in St. Peter’s Square.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters, good morning, but it is not a nice day, [the weather] is a bit nasty …

Together with Baptism and Confirmation, the Eucharist is at the heart of “Christian initiation,” and it constitutes the source of the very life of the Church. In fact, from this Sacrament of Love flows every authentic path of faith, of communion and of testimony.

What we see, when we come together to celebrate the Eucharist — the Mass, makes us realize what we are about to live. At the center of the area allocated to the celebration is the altar, which is a table, covered with a cloth, and this makes us think of a banquet. On the table there is a cross, to indicate that on that altar the sacrifice of Christ is offered: He is the spiritual food that is received there, under the signs of bread and wine. Next to the altar is the pulpit, that is, the place from which the Word of God is proclaimed: this indicates that we gather there to hear the Lord who speaks through the Sacred Scriptures, and therefore the food that is received is also His Word.

Word and Bread become altogether one in the Mass, as in the Last Supper, when all Jesus’ words, all the signs he made, were condensed in the gesture of breaking the bread and offering the chalice, anticipation of the sacrifice of the cross, and in those words: “Take and eat, this is my Body … Take and drink, this is my Blood.”

The gesture Jesus made in the Last Supper is His utmost thanksgiving to the Father for His love, for His mercy. “Thanksgiving” in Greek is “eucharist.” And for this the Sacrament  is called the Eucharist: it is the supreme thanksgiving to the Father, who has loved us so much to give us his Son out of love. This is why the term Eucharist recapitulates all that gesture, which is the gesture of God and man together, gesture of Jesus Christ, true God and true man.

Therefore, the Eucharistic celebration is much more than a simple banquet: it is in fact the memorial of Jesus’ Passover, the central mystery of salvation. “Memorial” does not mean only memory, a simple memory but it means that every time that we celebrate this Sacrament we participate in the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Christ. The Eucharist is at the apex of God’s action of salvation: the Lord Jesus, making himself broken bread for us, sheds on us in fact all His mercy and His love, so as to renew our heart, our existence and our way of relating to Him and to our brothers. It is because of this that ordinarily, when we approach this Sacrament, we say we “receive Communion,” we make our Communion”: this means that, in the power of the Holy Spirit, participation at the Eucharistic table conforms us in a unique and profound way to Christ, giving us a foretaste already now of  the full communion with the Father that characterizes the heavenly banquet, where with all the Saints we will have the unimaginable joy of contemplating God face to face.

Dear friends, we never thank the Lord enough for the gift He has given us with the Eucharist! It is a great gift and for this reason it is very important to go to Mass on Sunday. Go to Mass not only to pray, but to receive Communion, this bread that is the body of Christ that saves us, forgives us, that unites us to the Father. It is beautiful to do this! And every Sunday we go to Mass, because it is the very day of the Resurrection of the Lord. For this reason, Sunday is so important for us. And with the Eucharist we feel this belonging to the Church, to the People of God, to the Body of God, to Jesus Christ. We will never end gathering all its value and richness. Let us ask Him then that this Sacrament may continue to maintain His presence alive in the Church and mold our communities in charity and communion, according to the heart of the Father. And this is done during your whole life, but it begins to be done on the day of First Communion. It is important that the children are prepared well for First Communion and that each child does it, because it is the first step of this strong belonging to Jesus Christ, after Baptism and Confirmation. Thank you!

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Dear Brothers and Sisters: In our catechesis on the sacraments of Christian initiation, we now reflect on the Eucharist, the sacrament of Christ’s Body and Blood. As the source of the Church’s life, the Eucharist accompanies every step of our pilgrimage of faith, fellowship and witness. The Mass is a banquet which nourishes us not only with the bread of life received from the altar, where Christ’s sacrifice is offered, but also with the proclamation of God’s word in the Scriptures. At the Last Supper, Christ gave us this sacrament when he broke bread and offered the cup as the foreshadowing of his sacrifice on the Cross. In the Eucharistic sacrifice, Jesus has thus given us the supreme prayer of thanksgiving to God our merciful Father. As the memorial of the Lord’s passion, death and resurrection, the Eucharist makes present the paschal mystery in all its saving power. May we give thanks for this great gift, which grants us a foretaste of the heavenly banquet when we will see God face to face. Let us ask the Lord, present in this holy sacrament, always to shape our lives and our communities.

Holy Father (in Italian):

I greet all the English-speaking pilgrims present at today’s Audience, including those from England and the United States. I greet in particular the group of Pallottine Missionary Sisters. Upon you and your families I invoke God’s blessings of joy and peace!

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I give a cordial welcome to the Italian-speaking faithful. I am happy to receive the Bishops that are taking part in the Congress organized by Sant’Egidio Community, and the priests taking part in the week of study on the human formation of candidates to the priesthood, organized by the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross. I hope that your visit to Peter’s sepulcher is a propitious occasion for renewed missionary commitment in the proclamation of the Gospel, particularly to the least and the poor. I greet the parish groups, especially the faithful of the Saint Pasquale Baylon di Portici parish; the military men of the Sassari Brigade and the Roman Association of Hotel Keepers. I hope that for all this meeting will reinforce the faith, growth in hope, and stimulate charity.

I also address a special thought to so many people, our brothers and sisters who are suffering the consequences of so much rain in the areas of Tuscany and here in Rome. Let us all pray and we are close to them with our strength, our solidarity and with our love.

I address a special thought to young people, the sick and newlyweds. Due to the rain, the sick are gathered in the [Paul VI] Audience Hall and I was able to greet them before arriving here, and they are following the Audience in front of a screen. Today we celebrate the Memorial of Saint Agatha, Virgin and Martyr. May her heroic virtue stimulate you, dear young people, in particular the students of the Schools of the Congregation of Saint John the Baptist, to understand the importance of purity and virginity; may it help you, dear sick, to accept the cross in spiritual union with the heart of Christ; and may it encourage you, dear newlyweds, to understand the role of woman in your family life.

[Translation by ZENIT]
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