Year of the Eucharist
Bishop Cornelius J. Pasichny, OSBM
Catholics around the world will celebrate a special Year of the Eucharist from October 2004 to October 2005. As announced by Pope John Paul II, the observance will begin with the closing of the 48th International Eucharistic Congress in Guadalajara, Mexico on October 17, 2004, and will end with the next ordinary assembly of the Synod of Bishops to be held in the Vatican from October 2 to 29, 2005, the theme of which is: The Eucharist—Source and Summit of the Life and Mission of the Church.
This special year of the public celebration of the of the Holy Eucharist is meant to proclaim the faith of the church to the world, to renew and make more profound the faith in the Eucharist in the hearts of the faithful, increase their appreciation of it, and their participation in this Sacrifice and reception of this Sacrament.
In announcing this Eucharistic Year, the Pope referred to the words of St. Paul: "For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes" (I Cor. 11: 26), thereby stressing that the Eucharist is a "memorial of the redeeming sacrifice of Christ." And so, to partake in the Eucharistic sacrifice means to unite oneself "to the mystery of the death of the Lord," and to become His "herald," His "missionary," and thereby to proclaim the death of the Lord until He comes.
Referring to the Gospel statement that Christ is "the living bread which came down from heaven" (John 6: 51), John Paul observes that Christ, as "the living bread which comes down from heaven" (John 6: 51), is the only one who can satisfy the hunger of the human soul always and everywhere. "And all those who nourish themselves worthily at his table, become living instruments of his presence of love, mercy and peace," he said.
The Eucharist is the Life of the Church
The opening words of Pope John Paul's encyclical letter on the Eucharist,
Ecclesia de Eucharistia, are: "The Church draws her life from the Eucharist."
They are meant to show that this sacrament is the source and summit of the
Church's life and activity. That is why the Church treasures this most precious
Eucharistic gift and constantly gives thanks to God for it.
So it is not surprising that the present pontiff has made this Sacrament the focus of his pastoral concern in a variety of ways. He has dedicated his first encyclical in this new millennium to the Eucharist and named it "The Church of the Eucharist." When he introduced a new set of Mysteries for meditation on the rosary, he named the fifth one, "The Institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper." He continues the venerable tradition of International Eucharistic Congresses and approves the 48th such congress for this year in Mexico. And for the ordinary assembly of the Synod of Bishops for next year he chooses a Eucharistic theme, as noted above. And finally, he designates this Eucharistic Year to be observed by the universal church.
Sacrifice and Communion
The church stresses the importance of the Eucharist because it is the greatest
and most precious gift that the Lord left in the church for the people He
redeemed with His blood. The Eucharist embodies Christ Himself, the Son of
God. Veiling His body and blood in the bread and wine, Jesus, the Lamb of
God who takes away the sin of the world, offers, through His priests, His
sacrifice on the cross in the Divine Liturgy, in an unbloody manner, for the
salvation of His people in every age.
This unbloody sacrifice of Christ's is also our sacrifice, a sacrifice which we offer to the Father not only as an expiatory offering for our sins and for the salvation of the world, but also as a sacrifice most worthy of God Himself, a sacrifice of praise, a sacrifice of thanksgiving for all our blessings, and a sacrifice of petition for all our needs. All these various aspects of this sacrifice are expressed in the various prayers of the Divine liturgy.
But there is more. The Eucharistic sacrifice requires that the victim, the Lamb of God, be consumed. Those who offer this sacrifice and those who participate in it, eat the one who offers Himself, and whom they offer, in sacrifice. Thus, the Eucharistic Bread and Wine that they eat is the Body and Blood of Christ who came down from heaven and gives the communicants a share in God's life. Christ comes to them and intimately remains with them and in them; He assures them of their own resurrection after death; and promises them eternal life with God. Truly, there is nothing greater, nothing more marvelous and more beneficial for God's people than the Sacrifice and Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist.
A Work of God's Love, Wisdom and Might
What could have moved the Son of God to leave His sacrifice for the church, and Himself as divine nourishment for His people? Only His infinite love for us. As John Paul said in a recent sermon, this is a great "mystery of love that is renewed every day in the holy Mass." Only God's wisdom could have conceived such a unique and accessible way of remaining with us, and only God's power could have made it a reality.
On our part, what we bring to this awesome mystery is our faith in the Lord's word and in His presence in this sacrament. Only the eyes of faith can reveal it to us. When Jesus first promised to give His body and blood as heavenly food, there were those who did not believe Him. "This teaching is difficult," they said; "who can accept it?" (John 6: 60). And so, many "turned back and no longer went about with him" (John 6: 66). But Jesus did not retract His teaching, but explained that this mystery cannot be grasped by reason. He said, "It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life" (John 6: 63). Then He challenged the apostles: "Do you also wish to go away?" Peter answered Him: "Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God" (John 6: 68-69). Peter's response should be our prayer of faith in Christ's words and in His Sacrament.
We can never cease admiring this great and magnificent work of God, treasuring it and responding to the Lord's invitation: "Take, eat, this is my body," and "Drink from it all of you; for this is my blood…" (Matthew 26: 26, 28). And so we should often approach Jesus in the Holy Eucharist , with a profound faith and sincere love, and offer Him as our sacrifice to the Father and nourish ourselves on His Body and Blood for the forgiveness of sins and life everlasting.