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April 2014
Vol. XX, No. 2

Pope Francis on the Eucharist

The Eucharist: Source and Summit of the Church's Life

In his recent series of teachings on the Sacraments of the Church, Pope Francis dedicated two Wednesday audiences and a homily to exploring the nature the Eucharist, its centrality to the Church’s very identity, its application in our lives, and how the celebration of the Eucharist rediscovers and revitalizes the “sense of the sacred.”

“In the Eucharist, Christ is always renewing His gift of self, which He made on the Cross,” the pope said. “His whole life is an act of total sharing of self out of love.”
“It is so important to go to Mass on Sunday,” Pope Francis spontaneously added to the text of his February 5 audience, “not just to pray, but to receive Communion. It is a beautiful thing to do,” he said, for Sunday is “precisely the day of the resurrection of the Lord. That is why Sunday is so important to us.”

Following are the Wednesday audiences of February 5 and February 12, 2014, on the sacrament of the Eucharist; and excerpts from his homily on February 10, focusing on the Mass as a “theophany” — or visible manifestation of God — and how the celebration of Mass allows us to enter into the sacred mystery of God.

Eucharist I – The Summit of God’s Saving Action
General Audience
Saint Peter’s Square
Wednesday, 5 February 2014 

Dear Brothers and Sisters, Good morning!

Today I will speak to you about the Eucharist. The Eucharist is at the heart of “Christian initiation,” together with Baptism and Confirmation, and it constitutes the source of the Church’s life itself. From this Sacrament of love, in fact, flows every authentic journey of faith, of communion, and of witness.

What we see when we gather to celebrate the Eucharist, the Mass, already gives us an intuition of what we are about to live. At the center of the space intended for the celebration there is an altar, which is a table covered with a tablecloth, and this makes us think of a banquet. On the table there is a cross to indicate that on this altar what is offered is the sacrifice of Christ: He is the spiritual food that we receive there, under the species of bread and wine. Beside the table is the ambo, the place from which the Word of God is proclaimed: and this indicates that there we gather to listen to the Lord who speaks through Sacred Scripture, and therefore the food that we receive is also His Word.

Word and Bread in the Mass become one, as at the Last Supper, when all the words of Jesus, all the signs that He had performed, were condensed into the gesture of breaking the bread and offering the chalice, in anticipation of the sacrifice of the cross, and in these words: “Take, eat; this is my body... Take, drink of it; for this is my blood.”

Jesus’ gesture at the Last Supper is the ultimate thanksgiving to the Father for His love, for His mercy. “Thanksgiving” in Greek is expressed as “eucharist.” And that is why the Sacrament is called the Eucharist: it is the supreme thanksgiving to the Father, who so loved us that He gave us His Son out of love. This is why the term Eucharist includes the whole of that act, which is the act of God and man together, the act of Jesus Christ, true God and true Man.

Therefore the Eucharistic Celebration is much more than a simple banquet: it is exactly the memorial of Jesus’ Paschal Sacrifice, the mystery at the center of salvation. “Memorial” does not simply mean a remembrance, a mere memory; it means that every time we celebrate this Sacrament we participate in the mystery of the passion, death, and resurrection of Christ. The Eucharist is the summit of God’s saving action: the Lord Jesus, by becoming bread broken for us, pours upon us all of His mercy and His love, so as to renew our hearts, our lives, and our way of relating with Him and with the brethren. It is for this reason that commonly, when we approach this Sacrament, we speak of “receiving Communion,” of “taking Communion”: this means that by the power of the Holy Spirit, participation in Holy Communion conforms us in a singular and profound way to Christ, giving us a foretaste already now of the full communion with the Father that characterizes the heavenly banquet, where together with all the Saints we will have the joy of contemplating God face to face.

Dear friends, we don’t ever thank the Lord enough for the gift He has given us in the Eucharist! It is a very great gift and that is why it is so important to go to Mass on Sunday. Go to Mass, not just to pray, but to receive Communion, the bread that is the Body of Jesus Christ who saves us, forgives us, unites us to the Father. It is a beautiful thing to do! And we go to Mass every Sunday because that is the day of the resurrection of the Lord. That is why Sunday is so important to us. And in this Eucharist we feel this belonging to the Church, to the People of God, to the Body of God, to Jesus Christ. We will never completely grasp the value and the richness of it.

Let us ask Him then that this Sacrament continue to keep His presence alive in the Church and to shape our community in charity and communion, according to the Father’s heart. This is done throughout life, but is begun on the day of our First Communion. It is important that children be prepared well for their First Communion and that every child receive it, because it is the first step of this intense belonging to Jesus Christ, after Baptism and Confirmation.

Eucharist II — The Identity of the Church Flows from the Eucharist
General Audience
Wednesday, 12 February 2014 

Dear Brothers and Sisters, Good morning.

In the last Catechesis I emphasized how the Eucharist introduces us into real communion with Jesus and His mystery. Now let us ask ourselves several questions that spring from the relationship between the Eucharist that we celebrate and our life, as a Church and as individual Christians.

How do we experience the Eucharist?
When we go to Sunday Mass, how do we live it? Is it only a moment of celebration, an established tradition, an opportunity to find oneself or to feel justified, or is it something more?

There are very specific signals for understanding how we are living this, how we experience the Eucharist; signals that tell us if we are living the Eucharist in a good way or not very well.

The first indicator is our way of looking at or considering others. In the Eucharist, Christ is always renewing His gift of self, which He made on the Cross. His whole life is an act of total sharing of self out of love; thus, He loved to be with His disciples and with the people whom He had a chance to know. This meant for Him sharing in their aspirations, their problems, what stirred their soul and their life. Now we, when participating in Holy Mass, we find ourselves with all sorts of men and women: young people, the elderly, children; poor and well-off; locals and strangers alike; people with their families and people who are alone —  But the Eucharist which I celebrate, does it lead me to truly feel they are all like brothers and sisters? Does it increase my capacity to rejoice with those who are rejoicing and cry with those who are crying? Does it urge me to go out to the poor, the sick, the marginalized? Does it help me to recognize in theirs the face of Jesus?

We all go to Mass because we love Jesus and we want to share, through the Eucharist, in His passion and His resurrection. But do we love, as Jesus wishes, those brothers and sisters who are the most needy?  For example, in Rome these days we have seen much social discomfort either due to the rain, which has caused so much damage to entire districts, or because of the lack of work, a consequence of the global economic crisis.  I wonder, and each one of us should wonder: I who go to Mass, how do I live this?  Do I try to help, to approach and pray for those in difficulty?  Or am I a little indifferent? Or perhaps do I just want to talk: “did you see how this or that one is dressed?” Sometimes this happens after Mass and it should not! We must concern ourselves with our brothers and sisters who need us because of an illness, a problem. Today, it would do us such good to think of these brothers and sisters of ours who are beset by these problems here in Rome: problems that stem from the grave situation caused by the rain and social instability and unemployment. Let us ask Jesus, whom we receive in the Eucharist, to help us to help them.

A second indication, a very important one, is the grace of feeling forgiven and ready to forgive. At times someone may ask: “Why must one go to Church, given that those who regularly participate in Holy Mass are still sinners like the others?” We have heard it many times! In reality, the one celebrating the Eucharist doesn’t do so because he believes he is or wants to appear better than others, but precisely because he acknowledges that he is always in need of being accepted and reborn by the mercy of God, made flesh in Jesus Christ. If any one of us does not feel in need of the mercy of God, does not see himself as a sinner, it is better for him not to go to Mass! We go to Mass because we are sinners and we want to receive God’s pardon, to participate in the redemption of Jesus, in His forgiveness. The “Confession” which we make at the beginning is not “pro forma,” it is a real act of repentance! I am a sinner and I confess it, this is how the Mass begins! We should never forget that the Last Supper of Jesus took place “on the night He was betrayed” (I Cor 11:23). In the bread and in the wine, which we offer and around which we gather, the gift of Christ’s body and blood is renewed every time for the remission of our sins. We must go to Mass humbly, like sinners, and the Lord reconciles us.

A last valuable indication comes to us from the relationship between the Eucharistic Celebration and the life of our Christian communities. We must always bear in mind that the Eucharist is not something we make; it is not our own commemoration of what Jesus said and did. No. It is precisely an act of Christ! It is Christ who acts there, who is on the altar. It is a gift of Christ, who makes Himself present and gathers us around Him, to nourish us with His Word and with His life. This means that the mission and the very identity of the Church flows from there — from the Eucharist — and from there always takes its shape. A celebration may be flawless on the exterior, very beautiful — but if it does not lead us to encounter Jesus Christ, it is unlikely to bear any kind of nourishment to our heart and our life. Through the Eucharist, however, Christ wishes to enter into our life and permeate it with His grace, so that in every Christian community there may be coherence between liturgy and life.

The heart fills with trust and hope by pondering on Jesus’ words recounted in the Gospel: “he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day” (Jn 6:54).

Let us live the Eucharist with the spirit of faith, of prayer, of forgiveness, of repentance, of communal joy, of concern for the needy and for the needs of so many brothers and sisters, in the certainty that the Lord will fulfill what He has promised us: eternal life. Amen. So be it!

Rediscover a “Sense of the Sacred” at Mass
February 10 Homily Excerpts

To rediscover the sense of the sacred — the mystery of the Real Presence of God in the Mass — was Pope Francis’s invitation in his homily during the Eucharistic celebration at Casa Santa Marta on February 10.

The first Reading of the day speaks of the “theophany” of God in the time of Solomon the king. The Lord came down like a cloud upon the temple, which was filled with the glory of God. The Lord, the pope said, speaks to His people in many ways: through the prophets, the priests, the Sacred Scriptures. But with the theophanies, He speaks in another way, “different from the Word: it is another presence, closer, without mediation, near. It is His presence.” This, he explained, happens in the liturgical celebration. The liturgical celebration is not a social act, a good social act; it is not a gathering of the faithful to pray together. It is something else. In the liturgy, God is present,” but it is a closer presence. In the Mass, in fact, “the presence of the Lord is real, truly real.”

“When we celebrate the Mass, we don’t accomplish a representation of the Last Supper: no, it is not a representation. It is something else: it is the Last Supper itself. It is to really live once more the Passion and the redeeming Death of the Lord. It is a theophany: the Lord is made present on the altar to be offered to the Father for the salvation of the world. We hear or we say, ‘But, I can’t now, I have to go to Mass, I have to go to hear Mass.’ The Mass is not ‘heard,’ it is participated in; and it is a participation in this theophany, in this mystery of the presence of the Lord among us.”

Nativity scenes, the Way of the Cross... these are representations. The Mass, on the other hand, “is a real commemoration, that is, it is a theophany: God approaches and is with us, and we participate in the mystery of the Redemption.”  Unfortunately, too often we look at the clock during Mass, “counting the minutes.” This, the pope said, is not the attitude the liturgy requires of us: the liturgy is God’s time, God’s space, and we must place ourselves there: in God’s time, in God’s space, and not look at the clock.”
 
“The liturgy is to really enter into the mystery of God, to allow ourselves to be brought to the mystery, and to be in the mystery,” he said. We are all “gathered here to enter into the mystery: this is the liturgy. It is God’s time, it is God’s space, it is the cloud of God that surrounds all of us. To celebrate the liturgy is to have this availability to enter into the mystery of God,” to enter into His space, His time, to entrust ourselves to this mystery. 

Pope Francis concluded, “We would do well today to ask the Lord to give to each of us this ‘sense of the sacred’ — this sense that makes us understand that it is one thing to pray at home, to pray in Church, to pray the Rosary, to pray so many beautiful prayers, to make the Way of the Cross, so many beautiful things, to read the Bible — [but] the Eucharistic celebration is something else. In the celebration we enter into the mystery of God, into that street that we cannot control: only He is the unique One — the glory, the power — He is everything.

“Let us ask for this grace: that the Lord would teach us to enter into the mystery of God.”

(Homily excerpts from Vatican Radio website: en.radiovaticana.va/news/2014/02/10/pope_francis:_rediscover_a_sense_of_the_sacred/en1-771852).

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