VATICAN CITY, APRIL 17, 2003 (Zenit.org).- Here is a summary, issued by the Vatican press office, of John Paul II’s new encyclical, “Ecclesia de Eucharistia,” published today.
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The fourteenth Encyclical Letter of Pope John Paul II is intended to offer a deeper reflection on the mystery of the Eucharist in its relationship with the Church. The document is relatively brief, but significant for its theological, disciplinary and pastoral aspects. It will be signed on Holy Thursday, during the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, within the liturgical setting of the beginning of the Paschal Triduum.
The Eucharistic Sacrifice, “the source and summit of the Christian life”, contains the Church’s entire spiritual wealth: Jesus Christ, who offers himself to the Father for the redemption of the world. In celebrating this “mystery of faith”, the Church makes the Paschal Triduum become “contemporaneous” with men and women in every age.
The first chapter, “The Mystery of Faith”, explains the sacrificial nature of the Eucharist which, through the ministry of the priest, makes sacramentally present at each Mass the body “given up” and the blood “poured out” by Christ for the world’s salvation. The celebration of the Eucharist is not a repetition of Christ’s Passover, or its multiplication in time and in space; it is the one sacrifice of the Cross, which is re-presented until the end of time. It is, in the words of Saint Ignatius of Antioch, “a medicine of immortality, an antidote to death”. As a pledge of the future Kingdom, the Eucharist also reminds believers of their responsibility for the present earth, in which the weak, the most powerless and the poorest await help from those who, by their solidarity, can give them reason for hope.
“The Eucharist Builds the Church” is the title of the second chapter. When the faithful approach the sacred banquet, not only do they receive Christ, but they in turn are received by him. The consecrated Bread and Wine are the force which generates the Church’s unity. The Church is united to her Lord who, veiled by the Eucharistic species, dwells within her and builds her up. She worships him not only at Holy Mass itself, but at all other times, cherishing him as her most precious “treasure”.
The third chapter is a reflection on “The Apostolicity of the Eucharist and of the Church”. Just as the full reality of Church does not exist without apostolic succession, so there is no true Eucharist without the Bishop. The priest who celebrates the Eucharist acts in the person of Christ the Head; he does not possess the Eucharist as its master, but is its servant for the benefit of the community of the saved. It follows that the Christian community does not “possess” the Eucharist, but receives it as a gift.
These reflections are developed in the fourth chapter, “The Eucharist and Ecclesial Communion”. The Church, as the minister of Christ’s body and blood for the salvation of the world, abides by all that Christ himself established. Faithful to the teaching of the Apostles, united in the discipline of the sacraments, she must also manifest in a visible manner her invisible unity. The Eucharist cannot be “used” as a means of communion; rather it presupposes communion as already existing and strengthens it. In this context emphasis needs to be given to the commitment to ecumenism which must mark all the Lord’s followers: the Eucharist creates communion and builds communion, when it is celebrated truthfully. It cannot be subject to the whim of individual or of particular communities.
“The Dignity of the Eucharistic Celebration” is the subject of the fifth chapter. The celebration of the “Mass” is marked by outward signs aimed at emphasizing the joy which assembles the community around the incomparable gift of the Eucharist. Architecture, sculpture, painting, music, literature and, more generally, every form of art demonstrate how the Church, down the centuries, has feared no extravagance in her witness to the love which unites her to her divine Spouse. A recovery of the sense of beauty is also needed in today’s celebrations.
The sixth chapter, “At the School of Mary, ‘Woman of the Eucharist'”, is a timely and original reflection on the surprising analogy between the Mother of God, who by bearing the body of Jesus in her womb became the first “tabernacle”, and the Church who in her heart preserves and offers to the world Christ’s body and blood. The Eucharist is given to believers so that their life may become a continuous Magnificat in honor of the Most Holy Trinity.
The Conclusion is demanding: those who wish to pursue the path of holiness need no new “programs”. The program already exists: it is Christ himself who calls out to be known, loved, imitated and proclaimed. The implementation of this process passes through the Eucharist. This is seen from the witness of the Saints, who at every moment of their lives slaked their thirst at the inexhaustible source of this mystery and drew from it the spiritual power needed to live fully their baptismal calling.