Hearts of Prayer: Sacred Liturgy

Reflections on the Apostolic Exhortation of Pope Benedict XVI
Sacramentum Caritatis

Renewal depends on faith and Eucharistic worship
by Angelo Cardinal Schola
Patriarch of Venice

I. Introduction

1. In the space of love

It is not by chance that among all the names attributed to the Eucharist down the centuries the Holy Father chose as the title of this Document one of St. Thomas Aquinas' definitions of the Eucharistic Mystery: Sacramentum Caritatis. Indeed, for Aquinas, the memorial of the gift that Christ makes of himself in his Body and his Blood is the supreme sacrament of divine love.

Thus, the profound magisterium of Deus Caritas Est shines out in the Apostolic Exhortation. In these past two years of his Pontificate, the Holy Father's insistence on the truth of love states clearly that we are facing one of the crucial themes on which the future of the Church and of humanity is staked. Even if the Pope had not explicitly affirmed: "I wish to set the present Exhortation alongside my first Encyclical Letter, Deus Caritas Est" (Sacramentum Caritatis, n. 5), his frequent references to the Encyclical would have sufficed to confirm it (cf. nn. 5, 9, 11, 82, 88, 89).

Jesus' Eucharistic love continues to astound us. It astounded the Twelve when he knelt to wash their feet, loving them "to the very end"; it astounded the disciples at Emmaus in the breaking of the bread. He is the incarnate love of God who by his nature is always amazing. That "Eucharistic amazement" of which the Servant of God John Paul II spoke with effective intensity, is proposed as the main way, accessible to the men and women of our time, to experience love.

2. A fruit of the Synod

The long, well-structured development of the 11th Ordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops (cf. nn. 3-4) has produced its most mature fruit in Sacramentum Caritatis, Pope Benedict XVI's Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation on the Eucharist as the Source and Summit of the Church's Life and Mission.

It is well known that within the Papal Magisterium, Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortations are a specific "literary genre". In them, the Supreme Pontiff authoritatively gathers, confirms and deepens what has been communicated, discussed and approved in the course of the Synod, from the convocation of the Assembly to its conclusion.

Thus, in the text of Sacramentum Caritatis, we hear the implicit or explicit resonance of the various documents that accompanied the Synod: from the Lineamenta to the Instrumentum Laboris, from the two Relationes, ante et post Disceptationem, to the 50 Propositiones drafted by the circuli minores and approved by the Plenary Assembly.

Likewise, in the Synod Hall we could hear the echo of off-the-cuff interventions — desired for the first time by Benedict XVI — which, in addition to their doctrinal contribution frequently offered moving accounts of various communities and their Pastors. At times even at the risk of their lives, Christians are spreading Christ's loving charity which they celebrate in the mystery.

3. New studies

If, on the one hand, the Apostolic Exhortation is the ripe fruit of a journey completed, on the other it explicitly sets for itself the goal of paving the way to a further deepening. Actually, its aim is "to offer some basic directions aimed at a renewed commitment to Eucharistic enthusiasm and fervor in the Church" (n. 5).

With this in view, the publication of a Eucharistic Compendium, as the Synod Fathers suggested (cf. n. 93), will also make a valuable contribution.

II. An act of 'receptio' of the conciliar teaching

1. A well-structured unity

Reading and studying the Exhortation are facilitated by its layout, as well structured as it is close-knit. It rests on three inseparable interconnected aspects: Eucharistic Mystery, liturgical action and new spiritual worship. This is the very pivot on which is hinged the entire teaching that the Holy Father has desired to present in the Exhortation.

Indeed, he states: "I wish here to endorse the wishes expressed by the Synod Fathers by encouraging the Christian people to deepen their understanding of the relationship between the Eucharistic Mystery, the liturgical action and the new spiritual worship which derives from the Eucharist as the sacrament of charity" (n. 5).

The Exhortation is consequently structured in three parts, each of which examines in depth one of the three dimensions of the Eucharist, overcoming any juxtaposition of doctrine, liturgical praxis and Christian life. The three parts of the text — The Eucharist, a mystery to be believed; The Eucharist, a mystery to be celebrated and The Eucharist, a mystery to be lived — are so closely bound together that the content of each part enlightens the other two.

Moreover, a significant achievement of the Synod's work has been, precisely, to overcome some dualism — for example, between Eucharistic faith and rite, celebration and worship, doctrine and pastoral care — which at times is still present in the life of the Ecclesial Community and in theological reflection.

This is by virtue of the innovative affirmation of the centrality of liturgical action in the Church's life. Indeed, it is the heart of the whole text.

At the very beginning of Part Two, recalling the classical axiom lex orandi — lex credendi, Benedict XVI says: "[T]he Eucharist should be experienced as a mystery of faith, celebrated authentically and with a clear awareness that 'the intellectus fidei has a primordial relationship to the Church's liturgical action'. Theological reflection in this area can never prescind from the sacramental order instituted by Christ himself. On the other hand, the liturgical action can never be considered generically, prescinding from the mystery of faith" (n. 34).

The Holy Father's teaching clearly illustrates how the Liturgical action (a mystery to celebrate) is that specific action which makes conformation of Christian life (a mystery to live, a new devotion) possible to faith (a mystery to believe). In the Eucharistic rite (cf. nn. 3, 6, 38, 40), the place of traditio par excellence, the Christian receives (receptio) the gift of Christ himself to become, by virtue of faith and sacramental regeneration, a member of his Body which is the Church.

2. 'Ars celebrandi' and 'actuosa participatio'

A second doctrinal innovation of great importance presented by the Exhortation must be interpreted in the light of this fundamental achievement. It is a teaching that aspires to foster a further deepening of liturgical reform and the renewal of celebratory practices in Christian communities.

I am referring to the importance of the ars celebrandi (art of celebrating) for an ever more actuosa participatio (active, full and fruitful participation). In fact, with reference to celebration, the Document's insistence on the dependence of the actuosa participatio on the ars celebrandi is particularly innovative.

In taking up Propositio 2 approved by the Synodal Assembly, Benedict XVI asserts that "the ars celebrandi is the best way to ensure their actuosa participatio. The ars celebrandi is the fruit of faithful adherence to the liturgical norms in all their richness; indeed, for 2,000 years this way of celebrating has sustained the faith life of all believers, called to take part in the celebration as the People of God, a royal priesthood, a holy nation (cf. I Pt 2:4-5, 9)" (n. 38).

3. New, creative presentation of 'Sacrosanctum Concilium'

Benedict XVI's teaching on the inseparable unity between faith professed, liturgical action and new worship thus proves to be a development of n. 7 of the Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium: "Every liturgical celebration, because it is an action of Christ the Priest and of his Body, which is the Church, is a sacred action surpassing all others. No other action of the Church can equal its efficacy by the same title and to the same degree".

Benedict XVI's teaching in this regard represents a paradigm of the reception of the conciliar texts. We are in the presence of that hermeneutic of continuity which the Holy Father has explicitly mentioned as the necessary key to understanding and accepting the Second Vatican Council (cf. n. 3, note 6).

III. Structure and content of the Exhortation

It is now opportune to sum up the content of the three parts of the Exhortation, reflecting on certain doctrinal aspects and on the precious pastoral guidelines presented in them.

In this regard, it is useful to note, incidentally, that Sacramentum Caritatis offers at least 50 practical liturgical or pastoral suggestions. By virtue, precisely, of the profoundly unitary structure of the Exhortation, in presenting the individual contents of each part it will be impossible not to highlight the connections with the subjects found in the other two parts of the Document.

1. Eucharist, mystery to be believed:

The gift of the Trinity

In Part One (nn. 6-33) the mystery of the Eucharist is illustrated with reference to its Trinitarian origins which assure the permanent character of the gift (cf. nn. 7-8): "This is an absolutely free gift, the superabundant fulfillment of God's promises. The Church receives, celebrates and adores this gift in faithful obedience" (n. 8).

The deep root of all that the Exhortation teaches on adoration and its intrinsic relationship with the Eucharistic celebration (cf. nn. 66-69) is found in this teaching: "Eucharistic Adoration is simply the natural consequence of the Eucharistic celebration, which is itself the Church's supreme act of adoration" (n. 66).

The importance of the practice of Eucharistic Adoration (cf. n. 67) and the forms of Eucharistic devotion (cf. n. 68) are then accurately described.

Christological institution, Spirit work

The Holy Father's affirmations on the institution of the Eucharist in relation to the Jewish Passover meal (cf. n. 10), which refer to his Discourse in the hall on 6 October 2005, are particularly meaningful and nourished by a strong ecumenical inspiration: "By his command to 'do this in remembrance of me' (Lk 22:19; I Cor 11:25), he asks us to respond to his gift and to make it sacramentally present.

"In these words the Lord expresses, as it were, his expectation that the Church, born of his sacrifice, will receive this gift, developing under the guidance of the Holy Spirit the liturgical form of the Sacrament. The remembrance of his perfect gift consists not in the mere repetition of the Last Supper, but in the Eucharist itself, that is, in the radical newness of Christian worship" (n. 11).

This is a crucial passage for shedding light on the radical novum brought about by Jesus within the ancient ritual meal.

Indeed, we do not repeat the act of the Last Supper of Jesus chronologically situated in the rite, but celebrate the Eucharist as the radical novum of Christian culture. He draws us into his "hour" itself, the mystery of his death and Resurrection, the innovative principle of transformation — "a sort of 'nuclear fission'" — (n. 11) — of all history and of the entire cosmos.

In this perspective, moreover, the Document's insistence on the importance of Sunday as the day on which shines out the splendour of the Paschal Mystery (cf. nn. 72-75) can be understood.

The Holy Father forcefully indicates the criterion of authentic liturgical creativity when, in n. 12, he says: "This great mystery is celebrated in the liturgical forms which the Church, guided by the Holy Spirit, develops in time and space", that is, in all the cultures. The fertile role of the Holy Spirit in the Eucharistic celebration itself (epiclesis) is manifest "particularly with regard to transubstantiation" (n. 13).

The Eucharist and the Church

The Trinitarian, Christological and Pneumatological root of the celebration of the Eucharistic Mystery provides the basis for a deeper exploration in a Eucharistic key of the theological reality of the Church. The Pope proposes different topics in this regard.

First of all, the fact that the Eucharist is the causal principle of the Church: "We too, at every celebration of the Eucharist, confess the primacy of Christ's gift. The causal influence of the Eucharist at the Church's origins definitively discloses both the chronological and ontological priority of the fact that it was Christ who loved us 'first'" (n. 14).

While Benedict XVI affirms the circularity between the Eucharist, which builds the Church, and the Church herself, which celebrates the Eucharist, he takes a significant magisterial decision, opting for the primacy of Eucharistic causality over the causality of the Church (cf. n. 14). This close examination also highlights an element of doctrinal newness in Sacramentum Caritatis.

Furthermore, the Church's Eucharistic origins explain why she is communio (cf. n. 15) and guarantee the sacramental character of the Church herself (cf. n. 16).

Eucharist and the seven sacraments

From n. 16 to n. 29, the Exhortation examines in depth the centrality of the Eucharist in the seven sacraments. These pages are particularly full of pastoral instructions. We mention the most important.

In the first place, recognition of the fact that "[the] Holy Eucharist, then, brings Christian initiation to completion and represents the centre and goal of all sacramental life" (n. 17). This entails the need to ascertain the order in which the sacraments of Christian initiation are conferred (cf. n. 18).

With regard to the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the Holy Father insists on the need for "a reinvigorated catechesis on the conversion born of the Eucharist" (n. 21) through frequent confession, care for pastoral concerns in the parish (including the arrangement and use of confessionals) and in the Diocese (ensuring the presence of the penitentiary), and an adequate pastoral approach to indulgences.

The Anointing of the Sick and the holy Viaticum will give the faithful a possibility of being united "with Christ's self-offering for the salvation of all" (n. 22).

Eucharist and Orders

The relationship between the Eucharist and the Sacraments of Holy Orders and of Matrimony deserves special attention. This is both because of the rich exchange that took place on these topics in the Synod Hall and because of the Holy Father's authoritative intervention upon them.

These two Sacraments — the sacraments at the service of communion, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church calls them — find in the Eucharist their profound raison d'être and most invigorating nourishment.

In many passages of the Exhortation's text, the Pope reflects on the relationship between Eucharist and the Sacrament of Holy Orders and priestly spirituality (cf. nn. 23-26, 39, 53, 75 and 80). In this regard, he stresses the irreplaceability of priestly service for the valid celebration of Holy Mass, which must never be confused with other assemblies which gather in the absence of a priest and at which an authorized minister presides (cf. n. 75).

Furthermore, Benedict XVI, in accepting the Synod Assembly's proposal, reaffirms and deepens the relationship between priestly ordination and celibacy: "While respecting the different practice and tradition of the Eastern Churches, there is a need to reaffirm the profound meaning of priestly celibacy, which is rightly considered a priceless treasure.... This choice on the part of the priest expresses in a special way the dedication which conforms him to Christ and his exclusive offering of himself for the Kingdom of God. The fact that Christ himself, the eternal priest, lived his mission even to the sacrifice of the Cross in the state of virginity constitutes the sure point of reference for understanding the meaning of the tradition of the Latin Church" in this regard (n. 24).

In this way, taking up the Magisterium of his Predecessors and in particular the Christological, ecclesiological and eschatological reasoning of Paul VI's Encyclical Sacerdotalis Caelibatus (1967), Pope Benedict XVI rejects every justification of celibacy on a purely functional basis. Instead, "this choice has first and foremost a nuptional meaning; it is a profound identification with the heart of Christ the Bridegroom who gives his life for his Bride" (Sacerdotalis Caelibatus, n. 14).

Thus, the Latin practice of obligatory celibacy for priests is reconfirmed as an inestimable treasure for the entire ecclesial communio.

The dwindling number of clergy currently found on several continents must be confronted primarily by a witness to the beauty of priestly life, to show young people how deeply "re-warding" is the decision to follow Christ radically; and secondly, by painstaking vocational formation through a careful presentation of spiritual life and rigorous discernment that ascertains the authenticity of vocational motivation (cf. n. 25). The Holy Father expresses heartfelt gratitude to priests in general and to fidei donum priests in particular (cf. n.-26).

Eucharist and Matrimony

The Apostolic Exhortation makes as its own and deepens the Synod's reflections on the relationship between the divine Eucharist and the married state.

Benedict XVI recalls that the Eucharist, a nuptial sacrament par excellence, "inexhaustibly strengthens the indissoluble unity and love of every Christian marriage. By the power of the sacrament, the marriage bond is intrinsically linked to the Eucharistic unity of Christ the Bridegroom and his Bride, the Church" (n. 27).

One can understand the strong encouragement and closeness, founded on the Sacrament of Matrimony, of the Church to all families, which play a lead role in children's Christian education (cf. n. 19), as well as the attention that Christian communities must lavish on the careful formation of couples preparing for marriage (cf. n. 29).

Starting with the nuptial character of the Eucharist, Benedict XVI reinterprets the topic of the unicity of Christian marriage, referring to the issue of polygamy (cf. n. 28), and to that of the indissolubility of the conjugal bond (cf. n. 29). The text contains important pastoral suggestions for baptized persons in the lamentable situation of having celebrated the Sacrament of Matrimony and who have then divorced and remarried.

The Exhortation, after reasserting that despite "their condition of life... the divorced and remarried continue to belong to the Church, which accompanies them with special concern" (n. 29), lists at least nine ways of participating in community life for these faithful who, albeit without receiving Communion, can thus adopt a Christian way of life.

The Holy Father also emphasizes the need, when legitimate doubts arise, to ascertain the possible nullity of the marriage within a reasonable timeframe through careful investigation by the ecclesiastical tribunals, carried out in an authentically pastoral spirit and hence imbued with love for the truth.

Lastly, Benedict XVI also gives a practical form to the Synod Fathers' suggestion regarding the situation of those whose marriage has not been annulled and for whom objective circumstances make it impossible to dissolve the new bond contracted. He suggests that they commit themselves "to living their relationship in fidelity to the demands of God's laws, as friends, as brother and sister" (n. 29), that is, by transforming their relationship into realistic friendship.

Over and above facile preconceptions, this suggestion outlines a courageous and realistic proposal. Pastoral experience points out this way as appropriate for resuming one's journey of faith and recovering access to the sacraments, "taking care to observe the Church's established and approved practice in this regard" (n. 29). With time, these members of the faithful will gradually be able to reorder their affections in accordance with the authentic view of love represented by the Sacrament of the Altar.

The Eucharist, pledge of eternal life

The anthropological importance of the Eucharistic gift is highlighted in a fascinating way in the Exhortation when it dwells on the eschatological dimension of the Eucharist (cf. nn. 30-32). The Holy Sacrament is in fact a foretaste of eternal life because "our wounded freedom would go astray were it not already able to experience something of that future fulfillment" (n. 30).

2. The Eucharist, a mystery to be celebrated

Part Two of the Exhortation (cf. nn. 34-69) illustrates the procedure of the liturgical action in the celebration, pointing out the elements that deserve further examination and making some very important pastoral suggestions.

Benefits of liturgical renewal

The teaching contained in Part Two highlights the benefit of liturgical reform recommended by the Second Vatican Council. The difficulties and even the occasional abuses "cannot overshadow the benefits and the validity of the liturgical renewal, whose riches are yet to be fully explored" (n. 3).

To the sources of the Eucharistic rite

Faithful to the principle on which the entire proposed teaching is founded, in Part Two the Exhortation begins by recognizing that: "Our faith and the Eucharistic liturgy both have their source in the same event: Christ's gift of himself in the Paschal Mystery" (n. 34).

This is why it is necessary to recognize forcefully that "the Eucharistic liturgy is essentially an actio Dei which draws us into Christ through the Holy Spirit", and that, in this very way, "[t]he Church celebrates the Eucharistic sacrifice in obedience to Christ's command, based on her experience of the Risen Lord and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit" (n. 37). The Paschal event in Eucharistic action thus coincides with the rite itself, understood as the root of spiritual worship which impresses a Eucharistic form on the life of Christians.

Two considerations follow which are both doctrinal and liturgical and constitute an original contribution of the Exhortation.

Liturgical beauty

In the first place is the emphasis on the "liturgy's intrinsic beauty" (n. 36), which "is no mere aestheticism but the concrete way in which the truth of God's love in Christ encounters us, attracts us and delights us, enabling us to emerge from ourselves and drawing us towards our true vocation, which is love" (n. 35).

The Pope's guidelines concerning the richness of the liturgical signs are founded on this principle (silence, liturgical vestments, gestures: standing, kneeling... (cf. n. 40); art at the service of the celebration (cf. n. 41): in this regard, what has been said about the location of the tabernacle in churches can also be recalled (cf. n. 69) as well as liturgical song.

All these elements are fundamental to the development of that mystagogical approach to catechesis, which in the Exhortation, on the lines of what the Synod Fathers stated, the Pope has proposed as a way "which would lead the faithful to understand more deeply the mysteries being celebrated" (n. 64).

'Ars celebrandi - actuosa participatio': practical instructions

The second observation, which makes a considerable contribution to a deeper doctrinal and liturgical knowledge of the .Eucharist, concerns the so-called ars celebrandi and its intrinsic connection with the actuosa participatio. We have already reflected on this subject, treated specifically in n. 38 of Sacramentum Caritatis. We now urgently need to underline several guidelines contained in the Exhortation with which it is intended to encourage this participatio.

The Holy Father affirms that "the active participation called for by the Council must be understood in more substantial terms, on the basis of a greater awareness of the mystery being celebrated and its relationship to daily life" (n. 52).

As can be seen, the reference is once again to the unity expressed between Eucharistic Mystery, liturgical action and new spiritual worship. The unity of the three factors appears obvious when the Holy Father describes the personal conditions required for an actuosa participatio (cf. n. 55).

Active participation will also be encouraged by a well-ordered inculturation that must be practiced "in accordance with the real needs of the Church as she lives and celebrates the one mystery of Christ in a variety of cultural situations" (n. 54). The Bishops' Conferences, in agreement with the Holy See, will take care of this crucial task.

To further encourage a more adequate active participation, the Holy Father reflects in the Exhortation on certain special pastoral aspects — the use of the communications media (cf. n. 57); attention to the sick and disabled (cf. n. 58), to prisoners (cf. n. 59) and to migrants (cf. n. 60); large-scale concelebrations (cf. n. 61) and Eucharistic celebrations in small groups (cf. n. 63) — and he proposes that recourse to the use of Latin in the liturgy should become more usual, especially in large international celebrations, without neglecting the importance of Gregorian Chant (cf. n. 62).

Nor are specific instructions lacking on the participation of non-Catholic Christians in Eucharistic celebrations (cf. n. 56), and also of people who belong to other religions or who are nonbelievers (cf. n. 50).

We have already had an opportunity to reflect on how this actuosa participatio is expressed above all in adoration (cf. nn. 66-69) and on how "the ars celebrandi should foster a sense of the sacred and the use of outward signs which help to cultivate this sense" (n. 40).

Eucharistic celebration's structure

Part Two of the Exhortation also wishes to make a contribution to the structure of the Eucharistic celebration (cf. nn. 43-51).

Once again, the important coincidence between liturgical action and rite comes to the fore. Only an adequate ritual practice can express that ars celebrandi which makes the actuosa participatio possible.

First of all, the Pope recalls "the inherent unity of the rite of Mass" (n. 44), which must also be expressed in the manner in which the Liturgy of the Word is celebrated. In fact, "the word which we proclaim and accept is the Word made flesh (cf. Jn 1:14); it is inseparably linked to Christ's person and the sacramental mode of his continued presence" (n. 45).

The homily must also contribute to demonstrating that the Word of God is closely related "to the sacramental celebration and the life of the community" (n. 46).

Furthermore, Benedict XVI recalls the significant educational value for the life of the Church, especially in this historical period, of the presentation of the gifts (cf. n. 47), of the exchange of the sign of peace (cf. n. 49) and of the Ite, missa est (cf. n. 51). The Holy Father entrusts to the competent Dicasteries the examination of possible modifications to these two last points.

Finally, Benedict XVI teaches us that "Eucharistic spirituality and theological reflection are enriched if we contemplate in the anaphora the profound unity between the invocation of the Holy Spirit and the institution narrative" (n. 48).

3. The Eucharist, a mystery to be lived

In Part Three, the last part of the Apostolic Exhortation (cf. nn. 70-93), can be seen the ability of the mystery believed and celebrated to constitute the ultimate and definitive horizon of Christian existence: "the mystery 'believed' and 'celebrated' contains an innate power making it the principle of new life within us and the form of our Christian existence" (n. 70).

Anthropological importance of the Eucharist

The reflection in Part Three is in fact already anticipated from the very beginning of the Exhortation where the anthropological importance of the Eucharist is forcefully reasserted.

With the sober but incisive traits that characterize his teaching, Benedict XVI reaffirms from the very first lines of his Exhortation that the gift of the Eucharist is for the human being and responds to the expectations of the human being, obviously of every human being of every age, but especially of our contemporaries: "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. In this Sacrament, the Lord truly becomes food for us, to satisfy our hunger for truth and freedom" (n. 2).

The choice of the words — "pilgrim hearts", "truth" and "freedom" (cf. n. 2) — is certainly not accidental. Christians, completely foreign to any spiritualistic flight from the world or from the circumstances in which they are called to live, find in the Eucharistic celebration the living, true God who can save their lives. And the conversation partner of this salvation is human freedom.

The gift of the Eucharist, in fact, initially calls human freedom into question and makes it an anticipation of definitive liberation. In recalling such an evocative feature of St Augustine's anthropology, the Holy Father reminds us that man is involved in total freedom in his own actions only when he encounters something desirable: what does the soul long for more ardently than truth? Therefore, "[precisely] because Christ has become for us the food of truth, the Church turns to every man and woman, inviting them freely to accept God's gift" (n. 2).

In addition, in entrusting to his disciples the memorial of the gift of his Body and Blood, Jesus involved their freedom in his own thanksgiving to the Father, thereby inaugurating the new worship of God through which the whole of existence is placed under the sign of the salvation brought about by the sacrifice of Christ.

The 'logiké latreía' and the Eucharistic form of Christian life

The anthropological importance of the Eucharist emerges with full force in the new worship characteristic of the Christian. The paragraphs in the Exhortation on the logiké latreía, spiritual worship (cf. nn. 70-71) and the Eucharistic form of Christian life (cf. n. 76), an expression that frequently recurs in Part Three (cf. nn. 70, 71, 76, 77, 80, 82, 84), are truly profound and beautiful.

Christian worship shines out in its full power and newness. On the basis of Eucharistic action, every circumstance of life becomes, so to speak, "sacramental". There is no longer any absolute separation between sacred and profane.

The Eucharistic Mystery is the dynamic factor that transfigures life. Regenerated by Baptism and incorporated eucharistically in the Church, the human being can at last fulfill himself completely, learning to offer his "own body", that is, the whole of himself as a living sacrifice holy and acceptable to God (cf. Rom 12:1-2).

"There is nothing authentically human — our thoughts and affections, our words and deeds — that does not find in the Sacrament of the Eucharist the form it needs to be lived to the full. Here we can see the full human import of the radical newness brought by Christ in the Eucharist: the worship of God in our lives cannot be relegated to something private and individual, but tends by its nature to permeate every aspect of our existence.

"Worship pleasing to God thus becomes a new way of living our whole life, each particular moment of which is lifted up, since it is lived as part of a relationship with Christ and as an offering to God. The glory of God is the living man (cf. I Cor 10:31). And the life of man is the vision of God" (n. 71).

Ecclesial belonging, evangelization of cultures and life as a vocation

"The Eucharistic form of Christian life is clearly an ecclesial and communitarian form" (n. 76).

It implies, moreover, the possibility of a new culture, that is, of that "new way of thinking" (n. 77) that is "capable of engaging every cultural reality and bringing to it the leaven of the Gospel" (n. 78).

This relationship with human cultures is born from the fact that "[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" (n. 79). This is also the reason why the Holy Father speaks of "living our lives as a vocation" (n. 79).

All the Christian faithful are called to live their lives as a vocation on the solid foundation of the Eucharist: the lay faithful (cf. n. 79), priests (cf. n. 80) and those called to the consecrated life (cf. n. 81). Every Christian's existence is seen by Sacramentum Caritatis as a humble and glad response to the Father's exalting call.

Moral transformation and Eucharistic consistency

Every member of the faithful is therefore called to a profound transformation of his or her existence. The Holy Father affirms: "The moral transformation implicit in the new worship instituted by Christ is a heartfelt yearning to respond to the Lord's love with one's whole being, while remaining ever conscious of one's own weakness" (n. 82).

In this perspective the responsibility of Christians in public and political positions assumes particular importance, who: "by virtue of their social or political position, must make decisions regarding fundamental values, such as respect for human life, its defense from conception to natural death, the family built upon marriage between a man and a woman, the freedom to educate one's children and the promotion of the common good in all its forms. These values are not negotiable. Consequently, Catholic politicians and legislators, conscious of their grave responsibility before society, must feel particularly bound, on the basis of a properly formed conscience, to introduce and support laws inspired by values grounded in human nature. There is an objective connection here with the Eucharist (cf. I Cor 11:27-29). Bishops are bound to reaffirm constantly these values as part of their responsibility to the flock entrusted to them" (n. 83).

Witness as a form of mission

In offering one's life one can identify the permanent source of witness. Living the Eucharistic Mystery also means being introduced to a new knowledge of reality and a new awareness of one's responsibility.

This is why Benedict XVI examines the relationship between Eucharist and mission (cf. n. 84) in terms of witness: "The first and fundamental mission that we receive from the sacred mysteries we celebrate is that of bearing witness by our lives. The wonder we experience at the gift God has made to us in Christ gives new impulse to our lives and commits us to becoming witnesses of his love" (n. 85).

Witness and mission — whose sole intention is to "bring Christ to others" (n. 86) — thereby becomes the way in which the mystery of the Eucharist documents the fruitfulness of lived belief.

Benedict XVI reminds us that "we become witnesses when, through our actions, words and way of being, Another makes himself present. Witness could be described as the means by which the truth of God's love comes to men and women in history, inviting them to accept freely this radical newness. Through witness, God lays himself open, one might say, to the risk of human freedom" (n. 85).

The emblem and archetype of this dynamic is the witness of martyrdom, the crowning point of the new spiritual worship pleasing to God. In martyrdom, life is forfeited in order to witness to the truth of love as the exhaustive meaning of one's own life, and the Eucharist is displayed in the full brightness of its truth. In this regard, a reference to freedom of worship and to religious freedom has not been omitted (cf. n. 87).

Social, cosmological implications of Eucharistic form of Christian existence

The Eucharistic form of Christian existence concerns every baptized member of the faithful, independently of the state of life to which he or she is called. This is why the Exhortation strongly recommends to all but particularly to the lay faithful that they "cultivate a desire that the Eucharist have an ever deeper effect on their daily lives, making them convincing witnesses in the workplace and in society at large" (n. 79).

An integral part of the Eucharistic form of Christian existence is the ability of the Sacrament that commemorates our salvation to make us see history and the whole world with new eyes. In fact, as Benedict XVI recalls, "the Eucharist reveals the loving plan that guides all of salvation history (cf. Eph 1:10; 3:8-11)" (n. 8).

The numerous and precise social implications of the Eucharistic Mystery believed in, celebrated and lived which the Pope lists can be understood precisely in the light of the mission to witness to the faith (cf. nn. 88-91).

The Exhortation does not hesitate to affirm that "the Eucharist thus compels all who believe... to become 'bread that is broken' for others, and to work for the building of a more just and fraternal world" (n. 88).

Indeed, "through the concrete fulfillment of this responsibility, the Eucharist becomes in life what it signifies in its celebration" (n. 89).

Even stronger are Benedict XVI's words on the situations of social injustice, violence and wars, terrorism, corruption and exploitation (cf. n. 89), and on human neediness (cf. n. 90).

The Church, which lives on the Eucharist especially through the responsibility of her lay faithful, must be present in history and society on every person's side, and especially on the side of those who, due to the injustice and selfishness of many, suffer destitution, hunger and endemic situations of illness by being barred from access to the most elementary food and health-care resources.

Jesus, "the food of truth", the Apostolic Exhortation says, "demands that we denounce inhumane situations in which people starve to death because of injustice and exploitation, and it gives us renewed strength and courage to work tirelessly in the service of the civilization of love" (n. 90). The Church's social doctrine is a precious means for teaching justice and charity (cf. n. 91).

In the eyes of Eucharistic faith, the connection between the Eucharist and the cosmos is certainly not optional. Moreover, the Eucharistic celebration itself implies the offering of the bread and wine, fruit of the earth and of peoples' life and work: "The relationship between the Eucharist and the cosmos helps us to see the unity of God's plan and to grasp the profound relationship between creation and the 'new creation' inaugurated in the Resurrection of Christ, the new Adam" (n. 92).

The theme of the safeguard of creation is developed and deepened in relation to God's good plan for all creation. Reality is not a merely neutral matter at the mercy of technical and scientific manipulation, but is desired by God with a view to the recapitulation in Christ of all things. From this comes the responsibility to safeguard creation that is proper to the Christian nourished with the Eucharist.

IV. The Eucharistic 'method'

To conclude this invitation to read the Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis, I would like to take up a precious indication of the method contained in the teaching of Benedict XVI.

I am referring to the conviction that the secret of a recovery of Christian life that can regenerate the People of God lies in authenticity of faith and Eucharistic worship. The doors to the reality of God who is love are flung open in the mystery of the divine Eucharist. The true understanding of reality is revealed.

In this perspective, "The Eucharist itself powerfully illuminates human history and the whole cosmos" (n. 92). We find ourselves facing a profound sacramental perspective — which explicitly takes up the teaching of the Servant of God John Paul II in his Encyclical Fides et Ratio, n. 13 (cf. n. 45) — in which "we learn, day by day, that every ecclesial event is a kind of sign by which God makes himself known and challenges us. The Eucharistic form of life can thus help foster a real change in the way we approach history and the world" (n. 92).

Where is it possible to contemplate the truth of these affirmations?

Benedict XVI tells us clearly in Part One and in the Conclusion of the Apostolic Exhortation: in "Mary Most Holy, we also see perfectly fulfilled the 'sacramental' way that God comes down to meet his creatures and involves them in his saving work" (n. 33).

"From Mary we must learn to become men and women of the Eucharist and of the Church" (n. 96).

Thus, the Eucharistic Mystery allows us to discover that every circumstance of life is inscribed on the sacramental horizon. Christ never ceases to knock at the door of our freedom so that we may welcome him and allow ourselves to be transformed by his redeeming love.

"True love is Jesus and he gives salvation to those who follow virtue". Indeed, Jesus truly loves because he loved us first without expecting anything in exchange, and he loves at every moment as though it were the last.

© Copyright L'Osservatore Romano
 August 1, 2007

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