March 30, 2007


Believing, celebrating and living the sacrament of charity

(Listen to this editorial being read)

The recently published apostolic exhortation of Pope Benedict XVI “Sacramentum Caritatis” (“The Sacrament of Charity”) is a wonderful resource for adult faith formation.

By calling our attention to the Eucharist as the source of divine love constantly renewed for us—and available to us—the Holy Father invites us “to celebrate and adore the mystery of Christ” who is really present in this sacrament through the gift of the Father and the power of the Holy Spirit.

The pope also challenges us to believe what the Church teaches; to celebrate it with reverence and beauty; and to live it concretely in our daily lives through right living, active participation in the mission of the Church, and our personal efforts to sanctify and transform the world.

Too often, exhortations on the Eucharist become purely “spiritual,” and writing about the way liturgy is celebrated becomes merely aesthetic or functional. Similarly, teaching about social justice or charity too often seems to be divorced from the Church’s prayer and its doctrine or catechesis.

In “The Sacrament of Charity,” the pope brings all this together. By drawing our attention to the Eucharist as a mystery to be believed, celebrated and lived, the Holy Father helps us to better understand why the Church teaches that this most holy sacrament must be understood and experienced as the heart of Christian faith.

“The celebration and worship of the Eucharist enable us to draw near to God’s love and to persevere in that love,” the pope tells us. Authentic celebration and worship require that we believe in this profound mystery … that we celebrate with dignity and with great joy … and that we live what we believe and celebrate in our all daily affairs—in the home, in the workplace and in the world.

Only when we understand the important connections between what we believe—how we celebrate and how we live day in and day out—can we begin to appreciate what the Holy Father calls “the all-encompassing effect of eucharistic worship.” Authentic Christian life “cannot be relegated to something private and individual, but tends by its very nature to permeate every aspect of our existence.”

Indeed, the pope tells us, “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.”

In “The Sacrament of Charity,” the pope connects his teaching, or catechesis, on the Eucharist with reflections on practical implications for liturgical celebration—the quality of homilies, the way liturgies should be celebrated, posture and gestures, language and architecture, and even accessibility to people with disabilities. It may be tempting to dismiss these practical reflections as less important than the Holy Father’s reflections on eucharistic theology, but that would be a mistake.

In a way, the whole point of “The Sacrament of Charity” is the inter-connectedness of all these things. Certainly there can be discussion and disagreement on matters of liturgical observance, but in the end, there can be no real division between what we Christians believe, how we celebrate and the way we live our faith.

In remarks made shortly after his recent apostolic exhortation was published, Pope Benedict said that he wanted to emphasize that Jesus gives us the gift of love in the Eucharist so that we can share this gift with others. “This is the source of Christian joy, the joy of love,” the pope said.

Let’s pray for the grace to grow in our understanding and practice of this eucharistic mystery.

May we truly believe it is God’s gift to us. May we celebrate it with immense joy. And may we really live it in all our affairs—today and every day.

— Daniel Conway

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