VATICAN CITY, APRIL 17, 2003 (Zenit.org).- The encyclical “Ecclesia de Eucharistia,” published by John Paul II this Holy Thursday, is the most personal of the 14 he has written.
The encyclical has some vivid poetic passages, interlaced with phrases in which the Pope expresses his intense love for the Eucharist. The style is testimonial, common to papal documents of this type.
Described in the presentation by the Vatican Press Office as “a relatively short document (78 pages in the version published by the Vatican), but profound in its theological, disciplinary and pastoral aspects,” the encyclical is a text of six chapters, plus an Introduction and Conclusion, and 104 footnotes, the majority taken from the Second Vatican Council.
More than in any other of his documents, the Pope writes this encyclical in a very personal manner.
He does so by giving autobiographical notes, poetic quotations, metaphors and singularly personal topics, as well as unexpected contributions, such as the decision to dedicate the last chapter to Mary, whom he defines as a “Eucharistic” woman.
The Pope “confesses” to the reader the importance of the Eucharist in his ministry.
“From the time I began my ministry as the Successor of Peter, I have always marked Holy Thursday, the day of the Eucharist and of the priesthood, by sending a Letter to all the priests of the world. This year, the twenty-fifth of my Pontificate, I wish to involve the whole Church more fully in this Eucharistic reflection,” he writes.
The Holy Father’s memories in connection with the Eucharist are expressed in point No. 7, in which he says: “When I think of the Eucharist, and look at my life as a priest, as a Bishop, and as the Successor of Peter, I naturally recall the many times and places in which I was able to celebrate it.”
“I remember the parish church of Niegowic, where I had my first pastoral assignment, the collegiate church of Saint Florian in Krakow, Wawel Cathedral, Saint Peter’s Basilica and so many basilicas and churches in Rome and throughout the world.”
He continues: “I have been able to celebrate Holy Mass in chapels built along mountain paths, on lakeshores and seacoasts; I have celebrated it on altars built in stadiums and in city squares. … This varied scenario of celebrations of the Eucharist has given me a powerful experience of its universal and, so to speak, cosmic character.
“Yes, cosmic! Because even when it is celebrated on the humble altar of a country church, the Eucharist is always in some way celebrated on the altar of the world. It unites heaven and earth. It embraces and permeates all creation.”
Gratitude is another sentiment reflected in the encyclical. The Pope acknowledges that he takes up again the theme of his first reflections on the eucharistic mystery, during the early years of his apostolic ministry in the Chair of Peter.
He expresses “with even greater emotion and gratitude in my heart, echoing as it were the words of the Psalmist: ‘What shall I render to the Lord for all his bounty to me? I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord.'”
John Paul II, who began his ministry with the encyclical “Redemptor Hominis,” focused on Jesus Christ, “center of the cosmos and of history,” now takes up, in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, the issues that have concerned him most in this quarter of a century, which he considers decisive for the future of the Church.