In the Heart of the Church

Reflections on the Apostolic Exhortation of Pope Benedict XVI
Sacramentum Caritatis

Receiving Eucharist, becoming Eucharist
by Josť Cardinal Saraiva Martins, C.M.F.
Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints


"Sacramentum caritatis": with this phrase borrowed from St. Thomas, Benedict XVI emphasizes the intrinsic relationship between the Eucharist and charity, thus declaring that the Eucharist is a love story, that is, intimately close to every believer: "In the Sacrament of the Altar, the Lord meets us, men and women created in God's image and likeness (cf. Gn. 1:27), and becomes our companion along the way" (n. 2).

In our imagination we can accompany the disciples of Emmaus (cf. Lk 24:1315) to hear Christ explain the Scriptures once again. While in the modest home of Cleopas, "he went to stay with them. When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened and they recognized him" (Lk 24:29-31).

The Eucharist turns out to be a continuous presence of God's love which comes to encounter the great expectation of communion that man needs. With the disciples one can discover how: "The Eucharist reveals the loving plan that guides all of salvation history.... There the Deus Trinitatis, who is essentially love (cf. I Jn 4:7-8), becomes fully a part of our human condition. In the bread and wine under whose appearances Christ gives himself to us in the Paschal Meal..., God's whole life encounters us and is sacramentally shared with us. God is a perfect communion of love between Father, Son and Holy Spirit.... But it is in Christ, dead and risen, and in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit,... that we have become sharers of God's inmost life" (n. 8).

Divine, human collaboration

In line with this intuition, one can catch a glimpse in the human work that collaborates with the divine creation of the bread and the wine in a supremely sacred act. If the Eucharist is a sign and reality of the interdivine communion, holiness is also donation, communion, transformation in God-Trinity of Love, by the work of the Spirit.

This is another way to define the holiness that is thrice Holy (cf. Is 6:3, cited in Rv 4:8), in which man participates through the Sacrament of Baptism and nourished by the Eucharist. In fact, one reads in the Exhortation: "It must never be forgotten that our reception of Baptism and Confirmation is ordered to the Eucharist.... The Holy Eucharist, then, brings Christian initiation to completion and represents the centre and goal of all sacramental life" (n. 17), therefore of the journey of Christian sanctification.

The Document emphasizes this relationship between the Eucharist and holiness: "In Christ, Head of his Body, the Church, all Christians are 'a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people [God] claims for his own, to declare his wonderful deeds' (I Pt 2:9).

"The Eucharist, as a mystery to be 'lived', meets each of us as we are and makes our concrete existence the place where we experience daily the radical newness of the Christian life.

"The Eucharistic sacrifice nourishes and increases within us all that we have already received at Baptism with its call to holiness, and this must be clearly evident from the way individual Christians live their lives" (n. 79).

In this last passage we can detect the hidden meaning of Christian holiness, to "become Eucharist", a gift of love for others, as so many Saint's and Blessed's witness, whose "holiness has always found its centre in the Sacrament of the Eucharist" (n. 94).

Hence, the centrality of the Eucharist in the itinerary of holiness, as the Exhortation affirms: "The Eucharist is at the root of every form of holiness, and each of us is called to the fullness of life in the Holy Spirit. How many times Saints have advanced along the way of perfection thanks to their Eucharistic devotion!" (ibid.).

Becoming bread for others

This is why every Christian, because he or she is truly inhabited by Christ like the host after consecration, must allow his Flesh and Blood to become "nourishment" for his neighbour, exactly as it happens in the Eucharist.

Men and women of all times and of all social conditions, canonized or not, have manifested the holiness of the Church in the fruits of grace that the Spirit has produced in them. In the unfolding of their lives they have expressed "the perfection of love" (Lumen Gentium, n. 39) to which all are called, according to the affirmation of St. Paul: "For this is the will of God, your sanctification" (I Thes 4:3).

Here is an allusion to the correspondence between the faith lived in the Sacrament of the Eucharist and the holiness of life witnessed to in the ordinary events of daily life.

In other words, whoever lives the Eucharist has the duty in life to communicate the gift of his or her permanent encounter with the love of God, who made himself life-giving bread, in order to build a holy and Immaculate Church.

This Eucharistic coherency, or better said, this fidelity to "God with us and in us", is to be expressed in all one's personal life choices and also in public witness, as stated in n. 82 of the Exhortation:

"In discovering the beauty of the Eucharistic form of the Christian life, we are also led to reflect on the moral energy it provides for sustaining the authentic freedom of the children of God. Here I wish to take up a subject that came up during the Synod about the connection between the Eucharistic form of life and moral transformation.

"Pope John Paul II stated that the moral life 'has the value of a "spiritual worship" (Rom 12:1; cf. Phil 3:3), flowing from and nourished by that inexhaustible source of holiness and glorification of God which is found in the sacraments, especially in the Eucharist: by sharing in the sacrifice of the Cross, the Christian partakes of Christ's self-giving love and is equipped and committed to live this same charity in all his thoughts and deeds'.

"In a word, 'worship' itself, Eucharistic communion, includes the reality both of being loved and of loving others in turn" (cf. n. 82).

Moreover, we can still say that there must be a strict correspondence and reciprocity between the Eucharist as "the Lord drawing near" and holiness of life that enables the interior life to transpire and vice-versa.

Interiorize to externalize

The Exhortation clearly states it in these terms: "Today, there is a need to rediscover that Jesus Christ is not just a private conviction or an abstract idea, but a real person, whose becoming part of human history is capable of renewing the life of every man and woman. Hence, the Eucharist, as the source and summit of the Church's life and mission, must be translated into spirituality, into a life lived 'according to the Spirit' (Rom 8:4ff.; cf. Gal 5:16, 25)" (n. 77).

Life according to the Spirit of the Risen One means to live a "holy Christian life" able to renew and affect human society. More properly speaking, it concerns the "sanctification of the world", beginning from the Sacrament of Love given.

This is what the Apostolic Exhortation affirms: "[T]o develop a profound Eucharistic spirituality that is also capable of significantly affecting the fabric of society, the Christian people... should be conscious that they do so in the name of all creation, aspiring to the sanctification of the world and working intensely to that end. The Eucharist itself powerfully illuminates human history and the whole cosmos.... The rite... leads us to see the world as God's creation, which brings forth everything we need for our sustenance. The world is not something indifferent.... Rather, it is part of God's good plan, in which all of us are called to be sons and daughters in the one Son of God, Jesus Christ (cf. Eph 1:4-12)" (n. 92).

This is an indirect reminder of the "Eucharistic presence" in the whole universe and a reminder of the consecrated bread and wine, more visible and palpable to us every day.

Mystery and Sacrament

These weighty words of the Pontiff form a true and proper mystagogical catechesis on the central and highest Sacrament of the Christian life. One is not mistaken to identify mystery as the category sustaining his Exhortation, which bears a specific importance if one thinks that the original Greek term mysterion has been translated into sacramentum; in the reciprocal recalling of these terms, the ultimate sense of the mystery is clarified, from which the mystic, understood as one who experiences the Mystery of God who is Love, lovingly knocks at the door of the Christian heart to have supper with him (cf. Rv 3:20).

From this comes the link between mystery-mystic-holiness in order to help us understand that holiness consists, in practice, in mystically and sacramentally reliving, but not less really, the Paschal Mystery or, more precisely, the wedding of the Lamb (Rv 19:7), or the new and eternal covenant sealed in the Blood of Christ, as n. 9 of the Exhortation affirms. The ultimate sense of the Eucharist is that it is a continuous donation which is never exhausted because in it divine love is active.

Paul was right when he saw a sign of the mystery of Christ in human love. The term "mystery" in Greek indicates a verbal root that refers to the contemplative silence typical of the saints and mystics: this encounter is a sign of a communication of the soul.

Faith in the Eucharistic mystery leads to contemplation of the Word made flesh, to reach that fullness of dialogue with God exactly as the one who is before the Eucharist in silence, which is not the absence of words but fullness of divine intimacy, and still more an embrace with God Love, which formally constitutes all holiness.

The urgency for all Christians to make time for silent contemplation in order to allow themselves to be humbly enlightened by the Sacrament of Love derives from this.

Thus, the Eucharist leads to discovering the primacy of the contemplative vocation, which we all need to discover ourselves in the God of Jesus Christ, together with his Saints.

© Copyright L'Osservatore Romano
 August 29, 2007


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