“The Sunday Eucharist Is the Testimony of Charity”
ROME, JUNE 17, 2010 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave Tuesday at the inauguration of the ecclesial convention of the Diocese of Rome, held in the Basilica of St. John Lateran.
The theme of the three-day convention, which ends today, is “‘If They Opened Their Eyes, They Would Recognize Him and Proclaim Him.’ The Sunday Eucharist Is the Testimony of Charity”
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Dear Brothers and Sisters!
The Psalm says: “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!” (Psalm 133:1). It really is like this: it is a profound motive of joy for me to meet again with you and share the great good that the parishes and the other ecclesial realities of Rome have realized in this pastoral year. I greet with fraternal affection the cardinal vicar and I thank him for the courteous words he addressed to me and for the diligence he dedicates daily to the governance of the diocese, in supporting priests and the parish communities. I greet the auxiliary bishops, the entire Presbyterate and each one of you. I address a cordial thought to all those who are sick and in particular difficulties, assuring them of my prayer.
As Cardinal Vallini recalled, we are engaged, since last year, in the verification of ordinary pastoral care. This evening we will reflect on two points of primary importance: “Sunday Eucharist and Testimony of Charity.” I am aware of the great work that the parishes, the associations and the movements have realized, through meetings of formation and encounter, to deepen and live better these two fundamental components of the life and the mission of the Church and of every individual believer. This has also fostered that pastoral responsibility that, in the diversity of ministries and charisms, must be diffused ever more if we really want the Gospel to reach the heart of every inhabitant of Rome. So much has been done, and we thank the Lord; but still much remains to be done, always with his help.
Faith can never be presupposed, because every generation needs to receive this gift through the proclamation of the Gospel and to know the truth that Christ has revealed to us. The Church, therefore, is always engaged in proposing to all the deposit of the faith; contained in it also is the doctrine on the Eucharist — central mystery in which “is enclosed all the spiritual good of the Church, namely, Christ himself, our Pasch” (“Presbyterorum Ordinis,” No. 5) — doctrine that today, unfortunately, is not sufficiently understood in its profound value and in its relevance for the existence of believers. Because of this, it is important that a more profound knowledge of the mystery of the Body and Blood of the Lord be seen as an exigency of the different communities of our diocese of Rome. At the same time, in the missionary spirit that we wish to nourish, it is necessary to spread the commitment to proclaim such Eucharistic faith, so that every man will encounter Jesus Christ who has revealed the “close” God, friend of humanity, and to witness it with an eloquent life of charity.
In all his public life, through the preaching of the Gospel and miraculous signs, Jesus proclaimed the goodness and mercy of the Father towards man. This mission reached its culmination on Golgotha, where the crucified Christ revealed the face of God, so that man, contemplating the Cross, be able to recognize the fullness of love (cf. Benedict XVI, “Deus Caritas Est,” No. 12).
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The sacrifice of Calvary is mysteriously anticipated in the Last Supper, when Jesus, sharing with the Twelve the bread and wine, transforms them into his body and his blood, which shortly after he would offer as immolated Lamb. The Eucharist is the memorial of the Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, of his love to the end for each one of us, memorial that He willed to entrust to the Church so that it would be celebrated throughout the centuries. According to the meaning of the Hebrew word “zakar,” the “memorial” is not simply the memory of something that happened in the past, but a celebration which actualizes that event, so as to reproduce its salvific force and efficacy. Thus, “the sacrifice that Christ offered to the Father, once and for all, on the Cross in favor of humanity, is rendered present and actual” (Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 280). Dear brothers and sisters, in our time the word sacrifice is not liked, rather it seems to belong to other times and to another way of understanding life. However, properly understood, it is and remains fundamental, because it reveals to us with what love God loves us in Christ.
In the offering that Jesus makes of himself we find all the novelty of Christian worship. In ancient times men offered in sacrifice to the divinity the animals or first fruits of the earth. Jesus, instead, offers himself, his body and his whole existence: He himself in person becomes the sacrifice that the liturgy offers in the Holy Mass. In fact, with the consecration of the bread and wine they become his true body and blood. Saint Augustine invited his faithful not to pause on what appeared to their sight, but to go beyond: “Recognize in the bread — he said — that same body that hung on the cross, and in the chalice that same blood that gushed from his side” (Disc. 228 B, 2). To explain this transformation, theology has coined the word “transubstantiation,” word that resounded for the first time in this Basilica during the IV Lateran Council, of which in five years will be the 8th centenary. On that occasion the following expressions were inserted in the profession of faith: “his body and his blood are truly contained in the sacrament of the altar, under the species of bread and wine, because the bread is transubstantiated into the body, and the wine into the blood by divine power” (DS, 802). Therefore, it is essential to stress, in the itineraries of education of children in the faith, of adolescents and of young people, as well as in “centers of listening” to the Word of God, that in the sacrament of the Eucharist Christ is truly, really and substantially present.
The Holy Mass, celebrated in the respect of the liturgical norms and with a fitting appreciation of the richness of the signs and gestures, fosters and promotes the growth of Eucharistic faith. In the Eucharistic celebration we do not invent something, but we enter into a reality that precedes us, more than that, which embraces heaven and earth and, hence, also the past, the future and the present. This universal openness, this encounter with all the sons and daughters of God is the grandeur of the Eucharist: we go to meet the reality of God present in the body and blood of the Risen One among us. Hence, the liturgical prescriptions dictated by the Church are not external things, but express concretely this reality of the revelation of the body and blood of Christ and thus the prayer reveals the faith according to the ancient principle “lex orandi – lex credendi.” And because of this we can say “the best catechesis on the Eucharist is the Eucharist itself well celebrated” (Benedict XVI, Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation “Sacramentum Caritatis,” No. 64). It is necessary that in the liturgy the transcendent dimension emerge with clarity, that of the mystery, of the encounter with the Divine, which also illumines and elevates the “horizontal,” that is the bond of communion and of solidarity that exists between all those who belong to the Church. In fact, when the latter prevails, the beauty, profundity and importance of the mystery celebrated is fully understood. Dear brothers in the priesthood, to you the bishop has entrusted, on the day of your priestly Ordination, the task to preside over the Eucharist. Always have at heart the exercise of this mission: celebrate the divine mysteries with intense interior participation, so that the men and women of our City can be sanctified, put into contact with God, absolute truth and eternal love.
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And let us also keep present that the Eucharist, joined to the cross and resurrection of the Lord, has dictated a new structure to our time. The Risen One was manifested the day after Saturday, the first day of the week, day of the sun and of creation. From the beginning Christians have celebrated their encounter with the Risen One, the Eucharist, on this first day, on this new day of the true sun of history, the Risen Christ. And thus time always begins again with the encounter with the Risen One and this encounter gives content and strength to everyday life. Because of this, it is very important for us Christians, to follow this new rhythm of time, to meet with the Risen One on Sunday and thus “to take” with us his presence, which transforms us and transforms our time. Moreover, I invite all to rediscover the fecundity of Eucharistic adoration: before the Most Holy sacrament we experience in an altogether particular way that “abiding” of Jesus, which He himself, in the Gospel of John, posits as necessary condition to bear much fruit (cf. John 15:5) and to avoid our apostolic action being reduced to sterile activism, but that instead it be testimony of the love of God.
Communion with Christ is always communion also with his body, which is the Church, as the Apostle Paul reminds, saying: “The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread” (1 Corinthians:16-17). It is, in fact, the Eucharist that transforms a simple group of persons into ecclesial community: the Eucharist makes the Church. Therefore, it is fundamental that the celebration of the Holy Mass be effectively the culmination, the “bearing structure” of the life of every parish community.
I exhort all to take better care, also through apposite liturgical groups, of the preparation and celebration of the Eucharist, so that all who participate can encounter the Lord. It is the Risen Christ, who renders himself present in our today and gathers us around himself. Feeding on Him we are freed from the bonds of individualism and, through communion with Him, we ourselves become, together, one thing, his mystical Body. Thus the differences are surmounted due to profession, to class, to nationality so that we discover ourselves members of one great family, that of the children of God, in which to each is given a particular grace for common usefulness. The world and men do not have need of a another social aggregation, but have need of the Church, which is in Christ as a sacrament, “which is sign and instrument of the profound union with God and of the unity of the whole human race” (“Lumen Gentium,” No. 1), called to make the light of the Risen Lord shine on all people.
Jesus came to reveal to us the love of the Father, because “man cannot live without love” (John Paul II, “Redemptoris Hominis,” No. 10). Love is, in fact, the fundamental experience of every human being, what has given meaning to daily living. Nourished by the Eucharist we also, following the example of Christ, live for Him, to be witnesses of love. Receiving the Sacrament, we enter into communion of blood with Jesus Christ. In the Hebrew conception, blood indicates life; thus we can say that being nourished by the Body of Christ we receive the life of God and learn to look at reality with his eyes, abandoning the logic of the world to follow the divine logic of gift and gratuitousness.
St. Augustine recalls that during a vision he thought he heard the voice of the Lord who said to him: “I am the nourishment of adults. Grow up, and you will eat me, without, because of this, my being transformed into you, as the nutriment of your flesh; but you are transformed into me” (cf. Confessions VII, 10, 16). When we receive Christ, the love of God expands in our innermost self, modifies our heart radically and makes us capable of gestures that, by the expansive force of good, can transform the life of those that are next to us. Charity is able to generate an authentic and permanent change of society, acting in the hearts and minds of men, and when it is lived in truth “it is the principal propelling force for the true development of every person and of the whole of humanity” (Benedict XVI, Encyclical Caritas in Veritate, 1).
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For the disciples of Jesus, the testimony of charity is not a passing sentiment, but on the contrary it is what molds life in every circumstance. I encourage all, in particular the Caritas and Deacons, to be committed in the delicate and essential field of education to charity, as permanent dimension of personal and community life.
This City of ours asks of Christ’s disciples, with a renewed proclamation of the Gospel, a clearer and more limpid testimony of charity. It is with the language of love, desirous of the integral good of man that the Church speaks to the inhabitants of Rome. In these years of my ministry as your Bishop, I have been able to visit several places where charity is lived intensely. I am grateful to all those who are engaged in the different charitable structures, for the dedication and generosity with which they serve the poor and the marginalized. The needs and poverty of so many men and women interpellate us profoundly: it is Christ Himself who every day, in the poor, asks us to assuage his hunger and thirst, to visit him in hospitals and prisons, to accept and dress him. A celebrated Eucharist imposes on us and at the same time renders us capable of becoming, in our turn, bread broken for brothers, coming to meet their needs and giving ourselves. Because of this, a Eucharistic celebration that does not lead to meet men where they live, work and suffer, to take to them the love of God, does not manifest the love it encloses. To be faithful to the mystery that is celebrated on the altars we must, as the Apostle Paul exhorts us, offer our bodies, ourselves, in spiritual sacrifice pleasing to God (cf. Romans 12:1) in those circumstances that require dying to our I and constitute our daily “altar.” Gestures of sharing create communion, renew the fabric of interpersonal relations, marking them with gratuitousness and gift, and allowing for the construction of the civilization of love. In a time such as the present of economic and social crisis, let us be in solidarity with those who live in indigence to offer all the hope of a better tomorrow worthy of man. If we really live as disciples of the God-Charity, we will help the inhabitants of Rome to discover themselves brothers and children of the one Father.
The very nature of love requires definitive and irrevocable choices of life. I turn to you in particular, dearly beloved young people: do not be afraid to choose love as the supreme rule of life. Do not be afraid to love Christ in the priesthood and, if you perceive in your heart the call of the Lord, follow him in this extraordinary adventure of love; abandon yourselves with trust to him! Do not be afraid to form Christian families that live faithful, indissoluble love open to life! Give witness that love, as Christ lived it and as the Magisterium of the Church teaches, does not take anything away from our happiness, but on the contrary it gives that profound joy that Christ promised to his disciples.
May the Virgin Mary accompany the path of our Church of Rome with her maternal intercession. Mary, who in an altogether singular way lived communion with God and the sacrifice of her own Son on Calvary, enable us to live ever more intensely, piously and consciously the mystery of the Eucharist, to proclaim with the word and life the love that God has for every man. Dear friends, I assure you of my prayer and impart my heartfelt Apostolic Blessing to you all. Thank you.
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