June 10, 2005


Pope John Paul II and the Year of the Eucharist

Pope John Paul II was deeply devoted to the Eucharist. At the conclusion of his 2003 Encyclical, On the Eucharist, he writes: “For over half a century, every day, beginning on 2 November 1946, when I celebrated my first Mass in the Crypt of St. Leonard in Wawel Cathedral in Krakow, my eyes gazed in recollection upon the host and the chalice, where time and space somehow ‘merge’ and the drama of Golgotha is represented in a living way, thus revealing its mysterious ‘contemporaneity.’ Each day my faith has been able to recognize in the consecrated bread and wine the divine Wayfarer who joined the two disciples on the road to Emmaus and opened their eyes to the light and their hearts to new hope.”

Pope John Paul II found God in the daily celebration of the Eucharist, and he led millions of people in all regions of the world to intimate communion with Christ. “The Eucharistic sacrifice is intrinsically directed to the inward union of the faithful with Christ through Communion,” he said. “We receive the very One who offered himself for us; we receive his body which he gave up for us on the cross and his blood which he poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” This pope was holy because his entire life (all his words and actions) reflected his own personal search for God and his absolute confidence that the best place to encounter Christ is in the holy Eucharist.

This is the mysterium fidei, the most profound mystery of our Christian faith: that one man’s death and resurrection have liberated us from sin and death. And that we are invited to participate in this ineffable mystery in the most intimate way possible through this great sacrament of Communion with Christ. As the late pope said, “We can say not only that each of us receives Christ, but also that Christ receives each of us. He enters into friendship with us …. eucharistic Communion brings about in a sublime way the mutual ‘abiding’ of Christ and each of his followers: ‘Abide in me, and I in you’ (Jn 15:4).”

The ritual of the Church seeks to make this experience of intimate communion with God accessible to us every day (or at least every Sunday) in the celebration of the Eucharist. In every Mass, no matter where it is celebrated, no matter who attends, and no matter what the occasion may be, the holiness of God is presented to us in all its unfathomability. And—even more wondrously—in every Mass God shares himself with us in the most intimate way possible through the gift of Christ’s body and blood in holy Communion. As Pope John Paul II says, “Christ receives each of us. He enters into friendship with us.”

In the days immediately following the Holy Father’s death, pastors in parishes throughout the world reported a surge in Mass attendance (and in the reception of the sacrament of reconciliation). Nothing would have made Pope John Paul II happier than to know that, through him, people of faith everywhere were led to a renewed love and appreciation for the holy Eucharist. It might be said that one of the late pope’s last gifts to the Church was this Year of the Eucharist that we celebrate now. (Another of his parting gifts was surely his witness to suffering and death.)

As we observe the Year of the Eucharist, we cannot help but remember the Polish pope who so dearly loved this great mystery of our faith—and who was so eager to share this great gift with people of every race, language and culture throughout the world.

As we celebrate this very special year here in central and southern Indiana—particularly with the archdiocese’s Year of the Eucharist celebration from 2-5 p.m. on June 12 at Victory Field in Indianapolis—we honor the late pope. But, most of all, we follow his example by “opening wide the doors to Christ” and by letting Christ enter into friendship with us through this great sacrament of his body and blood poured out for us—to free us and to make us one with each other and with him.

— Daniel Conway

(Daniel Conway is a member of the editorial committee of the board of directors of Criterion Press Inc.)

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