June 1, 2007

Seeking the Face of the Lord

Church and Eucharist cannot exist without each other

(Third in a series)

Pope Benedict XVI devoted a section of his apostolic exhortation “Sacramentum Caritatis” (“The Sacrament of Charity”) to the relationship between the Eucharist and the Church.

His theological development—perhaps a bit challenging to understand—underscores the absolute importance of the Eucharist in the life of the Church.

He helps us realize that without the Church there is no Eucharist, and without the Eucharist there is no Church. As individuals, we grasp the fact that the Eucharist and our participation in it is not a “take it or leave it” matter.

In the sacrifice of the cross, Christ gave birth to the Church as his bride and his body. Christian antiquity used the same words, Corpus Christi, to designate Christ’s body born of the Virgin Mary, his eucharistic body and his ecclesial body.

Pope Benedict writes in his apostolic exhortation, “A contemplative gaze ‘upon him whom they have pierced’ (Jn 19:37) leads us to reflect on the causal connection between Christ’s sacrifice, the Eucharist and the Church.”

In his encyclical on the Eucharist, “Ecclesia de Eucharistia,” Pope John Paul II wrote: “[The Church] draws her life from the Eucharist” (433).

Pope Benedict notes, “The Eucharist is Christ who gives himself to us and continually builds us up as his body. Hence, in the striking interplay between the Eucharist which builds up the Church and the Church herself which ‘makes’ the Eucharist, the primary causality is expressed in the first formula: the Church is able to celebrate and adore the mystery of Christ present in the Eucharist precisely because Christ first gave himself to her in the sacrifice of the cross. The Church’s ability to ‘make’ the Eucharist is completely rooted in Christ’s self-gift to her” (n. 14).

“The Eucharist is thus constitutive of the Church’s being and activity (n. 15). … The Second Eucharistic Prayer, invoking the Paraclete, formulates its prayer for the unity of the Church as follows: ‘May all of us who share in the body and blood of Christ be brought together in unity by the Holy Spirit.’ … The Eucharist is thus found at the root of the Church as a mystery of communion. The late Pope John Paul II, in his encyclical “Ecclesia de Eucharistia,” spoke of the memorial of Christ as ‘the supreme manifestation of communion in the Church’ ” (458) (n. 15).

Pope Benedict makes the point that the unifying ecclesial function of the Eucharist underscores why sharing the Eucharist with other ecclesial communions that are not in full communion with the See of Peter, and do not believe as we do, is not acceptable. He also says, “At the same time, emphasis on the ecclesial character of the Eucharist can become an important element of the dialogue with the Communities of the Reformed [Protestant] tradition” (n. 15).

Clearly, the eucharistic mystery in all its facets is profound and essential to our Catholic faith. I wonder how lifelong Catholics can walk away from their eucharistic faith, join a Protestant community and not miss it. One need not be a theologian capable of grasping theological depths to realize that without the Eucharist one is left with little. This is why the Catholic Church respects and protects the Eucharist as its chief treasure.

Logically, the Holy Father next considers the relationship of the Eucharist and the other sacraments. He cites the Second Vatican Council: “All the sacraments, and indeed all ecclesiastical ministries and works of the apostolate, are bound up with the Eucharist and are directed toward it. For in the most blessed Eucharist is contained the entire spiritual wealth of the Church, namely Christ himself our Pasch and living bread, who gives life to humanity through his flesh—that flesh which is given life and gives life by the Holy Spirit. Thus men and women are invited and led to offer themselves, their works and all creation in union with Christ” (On the Life and Ministry of Priests, 5).

Pope Benedict wrote: “This close relationship of the Eucharist with the other sacraments and the Christian life can be most fully understood when we contemplate the mystery of the Church herself as a sacrament. The Council in this regard stated that ‘the Church, in Christ, is a sacrament—a sign and instrument—of communion with God and of the unity of the entire human race’ (Lumen Gentium, 1). To quote St. Cyprian, as ‘a people made one by the unity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit,’ she is the sacrament of Trinitarian communion” (n. 16).

As the universal sacrament of salvation, “the Church receives and at the same time expresses what she herself is in the seven sacraments, thanks to which God’s grace concretely influences the life of the faithful, so that their whole existence, redeemed by Christ, can become an act of worship pleasing to God” (n. 16).

Local site Links: