June 29, 2007

Seeking the Face of the Lord

Eucharist, like Virgin Mary, guides us to our heavenly home

(Seventh in a series)

Webster’s Dictionary defines “eschatology” as “any system of religious doctrines concerning last or final matters, as death, judgment or an afterlife.”

Pope Benedict XVI’s apostolic exhortation “The Sacrament of Charity” concludes Part I, “The Eucharist, a Mystery to be Believed,” with a section on the Eucharist and eschatology.

He said: “If it is true that the sacraments are part of the Church’s pilgrimage through history toward the full manifestation of the victory of the risen Christ, it is also true that, especially in the liturgy of the Eucharist, they give us a real foretaste of the eschatological fulfillment for which every human being and all creation are destined (cf. Rom 8:19ff).

“Man is created for that true and eternal happiness which only God’s love can give. But our wounded freedom would go astray were it not already able to experience something of that future fulfillment.

“Moreover, to move forward in the right direction, we all need to be guided towards our final goal. That goal is Christ himself, the Lord who conquered sin and death, and who makes himself present to us in a special way in the eucharistic celebration. … The eucharistic banquet, by disclosing its powerful eschatological dimension, comes to the aid of our freedom as we continue our journey” (n. 30).

By his self-gift, Christ inaugurated the eschatological age. He came to gather together the scattered People of God

(cf. Jn 11:52). He showed his intention to fulfill the promises and expectations of the people of Israel.

“In the calling of the Twelve, which is to be understood in relation to the twelve tribes of Israel, and in the command he gave them at the Last Supper, before his redemptive passion, to celebrate his memorial, Jesus showed that he wished to transfer to the entire community which he had founded the task of being, within history, the sign and instrument of the eschatological gathering that had its origin in him. Consequently, every eucharistic celebration sacramentally accomplishes the eschatological gathering of the People of God” (n. 31).

In the eucharistic celebration, we proclaim that Christ has died and risen, and will come again. And so it is a pledge of the future glory in which our bodies too will be glorified, and our hope that we will meet once again, face to face, those who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith, is strengthened. In this context, the Holy Father reminds us of the importance of prayers for the dead, especially the offering of Mass for them, so that once purified, they can come to the beatific vision of God (cf. n. 32).

Part I of the exhortation concludes with a consideration of the Eucharist and the Virgin Mary. “From the relationship between the Eucharist and the individual sacraments, and from the eschatological significance of the sacred mysteries, the overall shape of the Christian life emerges, a life called at times to be an act of spiritual worship, a self-offering pleasing to God” (n. 33).

While we are still on the journey, we gratefully acknowledge that God’s gifts to us have already found perfect fulfillment in the Virgin Mary, Mother of God and our Mother. The Holy Father writes: “Mary’s Assumption, body and soul, into heaven is for us a sign of sure hope, for it shows us, on our pilgrimage through time, the eschatological goal of which the sacrament of the Eucharist enables us even now to have a foretaste” (n. 33).

“From the Annunciation to Pentecost, Mary of Nazareth appears as someone whose freedom is completely open to God’s will. … A virgin attentive to God’s word, she lives in complete harmony with his will; she treasures in her heart the words that come to her from God and, piecing them together like a mosaic, she learns to understand them more deeply (cf. Lk 2:19, 51); Mary is the great Believer who places herself confidently in God’s hands, abandoning herself to his will. … From the Annunciation to the Cross, Mary is the one who received the Word, made flesh within her and then silenced in death. It is she, lastly, who took into her arms the lifeless body of the one who truly loved his own ‘to the end’ ” (n. 33).

“Consequently, every time we approach the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharistic liturgy, we also turn to her who, by her complete fidelity, received Christ’s sacrifice for the whole Church. The Synod Fathers rightly declared that ‘Mary inaugurates the Church’s participation in the sacrifice of the Redeemer.’ … Mary of Nazareth, icon of the nascent Church, is the model for each of us, called to receive the gift that Jesus makes of himself in the Eucharist” (n. 33).

Beginning next week: Consideration of Part II, “The Eucharist, a Mystery to be Celebrated.” †

Local site Links: