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Jesus, founder of the Sacramental structure in the life of the Church

Catechesis by Pope John Paul II on Jesus Christ
General Audience, Wednesday 13 July 1988 - in Italian & Spanish  

"1. "I am with you always, to the end of the world" (Mt 28:20). Those words of the risen Christ when sending the apostles out into the whole world, attest that the Son of God, who, on coming into the world, began the kingdom of God in the history of humanity, transmitted it to the apostles in close connection with the continuation of his messianic mission. "As my father appointed a kingdom for me, so do I appoint for you" (Lk 22:29). To achieve this kingdom and the fulfillment of his own mission, he instituted in the church a visible ministerial structure. This was to last "to the end of the world," according to the principle of apostolic succession suggested by these very words of the risen Christ. It is a ministry linked to the mystery. Consequently the apostles regarded themselves and wished to be regarded as "servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God," as St. Paul says (1 Cor 4:1). The Church's ministerial structure supposes and includes a sacramental structure and it is one of service ( ministerium ).

2. This relationship between ministerium and mysterium recalls a fundamental theological truth. It is Christ's promise not only to be with the apostles, that is, with the Church, until the end of the world, but to be himself in the Church, as the source and principle of divine life. That divine life belongs to him who confirmed, by means of the paschal mystery, his victorious power over sin and death. Through the Church's apostolic service Christ wishes to transmit this divine life, so that they may "remain in him and he in them." He expressed this in the parable of the vine and the branches which was part of his farewell discourse narrated in John's Gospel (cf. 15:5 ff.): "I am the vine and you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing" (Jn 15:5).

3. Therefore, by Christ's institution, the Church possesses not only its ministerial structure, visible and external, but simultaneously (and above all) an interior capacity belonging to an invisible, but real sphere, where there is the source of every bestowal of divine life, of the sharing in God's trinitarian life. That life is in Christ and is communicated from Christ to humanity through the action of the Holy Spirit for the fulfillment of God's salvific plan. Instituted by Christ, the sacraments are visible signs of this capacity to transmit the new life, the new gift of self which God himself has made to man, namely, grace. They signify grace and at the same time communicate it. Later we shall devote a special series of reflections to the Church's sacraments. What we are interested in at the moment is to point out first of all the essential union of the sacraments with Christ's mission. In founding the Church, Christ endowed it with a sacramental structure. The sacraments, as signs, belong to the Church's visible order. Simultaneously, they signify and communicate the divine life, which pertains to the invisible mystery from which the supernatural vitality of the People of God in the Church derives. This is the invisible dimension of the life of the Church, which in participating in Christ's mystery, draws this life from him, as an undepleted and inexhaustible source, and identifies herself to an ever greater extent with him as the sole "vine" (cf. Jn 15:1).

4. At this point we must at least mention the specific insertion of the sacraments in the ministerial structure of the Church.

We know that during Jesus' public activity, he performed signs (cf. e.g., Jn 2:23; 6:2 ff.). Each one of them manifested God's salvific power (omnipotence), with the freeing of human beings from physical evil. At the same time, however, these signs, that is, miracles, precisely as "signs," indicated the overcoming of moral evil, the transformation and renewal of man in the Holy Spirit. The sacramental signs, with which Christ has endowed his Church, must serve the same purpose. That is clearly evident from the Gospel.

5. As regards Baptism, this sign of spiritual purification was already used by John the Baptist. Jesus had received from him "the baptism of repentance" at the Jordan (cf. Mk 1:9; and parallel places). However, John himself clearly distinguished his baptism from that which would be administered by Christ: "He who is coming after me...will baptize you with the Holy Spirit" (Mt 3:11). Moreover, in the fourth Gospel we find an interesting reference to the baptism administered by Jesus, and more precisely by his disciples "in the land of Judea," separately from John (cf. Jn 3:22, 26; 4:2).

In his turn Jesus speaks of the baptism which he himself must receive, thereby indicating his future passion and death on the cross: "There is a baptism with which I must be baptized, and how great is my anguish until it is accomplished!" (Lk 12:50). He asked the two brothers, John and James, "Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?" (Mk 10:38).

6. If we wish to refer, strictly speaking, to the sacrament which will be transmitted to the Church, we find it specially indicated in Jesus' words to Nicodemus: "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God" (Jn 3:5).

In sending the apostles to preach the Gospel in the whole world, Jesus commanded them to administer precisely this baptism: the baptism "in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" (Mt 28:19). He made clear that "He who believes and is baptized will be saved" (Mk 16:16). "To be saved," "to enter the kingdom of God," means to have the divine life, which Christ gives as "the vine to the branches" (Jn 15:1). He gives it by means of his baptism wherewith he himself was baptized in the paschal mystery of his death and resurrection. St. Paul magnificently presents the Christian baptism as "burial in the death of Christ," to remain united with him in the resurrection and to live a new life (cf. Rom 6:3, 11). Baptism is the sacramental beginning of this new life of man.

The fundamental importance of baptism for sharing in the divine life is emphasized by the words with which Christ sent forth the apostles to preach the Gospel to the whole world (cf. Mt 28:19).

7. The apostles themselves - closely united with Christ's Pasch - are endowed with authority to forgive sins. Naturally, Christ also possessed that authority: "The Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins" (Mt 9:6). He transmitted that same power to the apostles after the resurrection, when he breathed on them and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained" (Jn 20:22-23). To forgive sins means, in effect, to restore to man the sharing in the life which is in Christ. The sacrament of Penance (or Reconciliation) is therefore essentially connected with the mystery "of the vine and the branches."

8. However, it is the Eucharist which is the full expression of this communion of life with Christ. Jesus instituted this sacrament on the eve of his redemptive death on the cross, during the Last Supper (the paschal meal) in the upper room of Jerusalem (cf. Mk 14:22-24; Mt 26:26-30; Lk 22:19-20 and 1 Cor 11:23-26). The sacrament is the lasting sign of the presence of his body given up to death and of his blood poured out "for the remission of sins." Likewise, every time it is celebrated, it makes present the salvific sacrifice of the world's Redeemer. All this takes place beneath the sacramental sign of bread and wine, and therefore of the paschal banquet, connected by Jesus himself with the mystery of the cross. We are reminded of this by the words of institution repeated in the sacramental formula: "This is my body which will be given up for you; this is the cup of my blood...shed for you and for all, so that sins may be forgiven."

9. The food and drink, which in the temporal order serve to sustain human life, in their sacramental significance indicate and effect participation in the divine life, which is in Christ, "the vine." At the cost of his redemptive sacrifice, he communicates this life to the "branches," his disciples and followers. This is made evident by the words of the announcement of the Eucharist spoken in the synagogue of Capernaum: "I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give is my flesh for the life of the world" (Jn 6:51). "He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day" (Jn 6:54).

10. The Eucharist as a sign of the fraternal meal is closely connected with the promulgation of the commandment of mutual love (cf. Jn 13:34; 15:12).

According to Pauline teaching this love intimately unites all members of the ecclesial community: "Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body" (1 Cor 10:17). This union, the fruit of fraternal love, in some way reflectes the trinitarian unity formed by the Son with the Father as is evident from Jesus' prayer: "That they all may be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you" (Jn 17:21). It is the Eucharist that makes us partakers in the unity of God's life according to the words of Jesus himself: "As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me" (Jn 6:57).

Precisely for this reason the Eucharist is the sacrament which in a very special way "builds up the Church" as a community participating in the life of God through Christ, the one vine.


After the Catechesis, Pope John Paul II greeted the pilgrims in various languages

Ai numerosi pellegrini spagnoli

Amadísimos hermanos y hermanas,

JUNTO A ESTAS reflexiones de la catequesis de hoy, deseo presentar mi más cordial saludo de bienvenida a todas las personas, familias y grupos de España y de los diversos Países de América Latina.

Veo complacido que se halla presente una numerosísima peregrinación de la Familia Salesiana, procedente de España: Salesianos, Hijas de María Auxiliadora, Cooperadores, Ex-alumnos, Voluntarios de Don Bosco.

Con vuestra visita a Roma deseáis testimoniar vuestra condición católica, universal, en el seno de la Iglesia de Cristo. Agradezco vivamente vuestras expresiones de adhesión y cercanía al Sucesor de Pedro y aliento a todos a una renovada fidelidad y entusiasmo apostólico en vuestras respectivas Comunidades y Asociaciones.

En este Año Mariano os encomiendo de manera particular a la protección de María Auxiliadora y os exhorto a seguir las enseñanzas y el ejemplo de entrega generosa a la Iglesia y a las almas que caracterizó a vuestro Fundador, San Juan Bosco, de quien conmemoramos el primer Centenario de su muerte.

Deseo también saludar a los miembros de la Hermandad de la Santísima Virgen de Gracia, de Carmona (Sevilla), así como a las peregrinaciones procedentes de Salamanca, Teruel, Granada y México.

A todos imparto una especial Bendición Apostólica.

Ai pellegrini di lingua portoghese 

SAÚDO, CORDIALMENTE, quantos me ouvem, de língua portuguesa; em particular, os grupos nomeados provenientes de diversas cidades do Brasil, a peregrinaçao de Belém do Pará, e os peregrinos de Portugal à Terra Santa e hoje aqui: sejam todos bem-vindos! E que desta visita ao túmulo de Sao Pedro, leveis renovada a vossa fé na Igreja e no seu divino Fundador, Jesus Cristo! Com votos de felicidades, graça e paz, vos abençoo, a vós às vossas famílias.

Ai pellegrini francesi

Chers Frères et Sœurs,

JE SUIS HEUREUX d’accueillir les pèlerins et visiteurs de langue française, et de leur souhaiter des vacances bénéfiques, aussi bien pour l’esprit et l’âme que pour le corps.

J’offre mes vœux aux Sœurs de la Divine Providence de Saint-Jean-de-Bassel qui célèbrent le vingt-cinquième anniversaire de leur profession religieuse. Je salue les paroissiens de Deinz, en Belgique, et le pèlerinage marial “Triomphe de Marie” venant de l’Ile de la Réunion.

Enfin j’ai une pensée spéciale pour les Scouts de Clécy, en Normandie, qui ont été éprouvés récemment par la mort tragique d’une de leur camarade. Ma prière s’unit à la vôtre, chers amis, pour Marie-Hélène, pour sa famille, et aussi pour son agresseur. Je vous bénis de grand cœur, vous et tous ceux qui sont ici présents.

Ai fedeli di lingua inglese

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I EXTEND A SPECIAL WORD of welcome to the groups of musicians who are present today, in particular the Vocal Ensemble of the College of the Desert, the New York Young Musicians Ensemble, and the Saint John the Evangelist Choir from Honesdale, Pennsylvania. As you lift up the hearts of others through music and song, may God fill your own hearts with the fullness of his peace.

* * *

I OFFER CORDIAL GREETINGS to the group of pilgrims who have come from the Holy Rosary Church in Bangkok, Thailand. Dear friends: As you visit the various Shrines of Our Lady during this Marian Year, may the Mother of God lead you to an ever greater love of her divine Son.

* * *

IT IS A JOY to welcome the many priests and religious who are present at this audience. In particular my greetings go to the School Sisters of Notre Dame who are celebrating the Twenty-fifth Anniversary of Religious Profession, and to the Resurrectionist priests and Sisters who are taking part in renewal courses in Rome. May the Risen Christ renew within each of you the joy and grace of your vocation.

And to all the English-speaking visitors. I extend a very warm welcome, especially to those from Ireland, Korea, Canada and the United States.

To you and your loved ones I impart my Apostolic Blessing.

Ai pellegrini di lingua tedesca

Liebe Brüder und Schwestern!

MIT DIESEN KURZEN Überlegungen grüße ich herzlich alle heutigen Audienzteilnehmer deutscher Sprache. Alle Einzelpilger und die genannten Gruppen, darunter besonders die zahlreichen Jugendlichen; vor allem die große Jugendgruppe aus Vechta. Mit besten Ferienwünschen erteile ich euch allen von Herzen meinen Apostolischen Segen.

Ai pellegrini polacchi

WITAM SERDECZNIE wszystkich pielgrzymów z Polski: wszystkie grupy, które już wczoraj wieczór pozdrowiłem, tych, z którymi wczoraj wieczór miałem sposobność się spotkać, a także te grupy, które doszły. Są to mianowicie: uczestnicy Uniwersytetu Letniego zorganizowanego przez Polski Instytut Kultury Chrześcijańskiej w Rzymie; pielgrzymi z Wieliczki od ojców reformatorów, a także z Krakowa, Warszawy i Kazimierza, szlakiem sanktuariów maryjnych; księża z diecezji katowickiej; poza tym uczestnicy grup turystycznych z Warszawy, PKS, Turysta i Orbis. Wszystkich serdecznie pozdrawiam, zarówno tych, których spotkałem wczoraj, jaki nowo przybyłych . . . Wszystkim zgromadzonym serdecznie życzę, ażeby wiara w Kościół stale się w nich pogłębiała i dojrzewała.

Ad alcuni pellegrinaggi italiani ed al gruppo internazionale dei partecipanti al “Festival della Collina”

DESIDERO ORA rivolgere un cordiale saluto alle rappresentanze di alcuni Istituti Religiosi, che stanno celebrando o che hanno appena celebrato il loro Capitolo Generale: i Canonici Regolari dell’Immacolata Concezione, le Suore Francescane Missionarie di Gesù Bambino, le Suore Domenicane Insegnanti e Infermiere di S. Caterina da Siena e le Suore dell’Istituto dei Sacri Cuori di Gesù e Maria.

A tutti voi, cari Fratelli e Sorelle, l’espressione del mio compiacimento per tali momenti così significativi nella vita dei vostri Istituti. Sono i momenti della riflessione, della revisione, della crescita, della speranza. I Capitoli Generali sono punti di arrivo e di partenza, durante i quali vi specchiate nella vostra Regola e vi proponete di osservarla meglio. Benedico i vostri lavori, i vostri propositi, le vostre speranze.

* * *

SALUTO CORDIALMENTE il gruppo di Religiose, provenienti da diverse Nazioni ed Istituti, ospiti della Comunità “Mater Ecclesiae” delle Suore Dorotee da Cemmo. La vostra permanenza romana, care Sorelle, vi sia di sollievo nel corpo e nello spirito. Possiate ripartire da qui con nuove energie, per essere ancora più operose nel bene.

* * *

UN CARO E AFFETTUOSO saluto anche agli alunni del Seminario di Cuneo. Grazie, cari giovani, per la vostra visita. Mi auguro che questa vostra permanenza a Roma parli alla vostra fede e vi dia motivi in più per proseguire la vostra formazione sacerdotale con maggior convinzione ed entusiasmo.

* * *

SALUTO CORDIALMENTE anche i gruppi “folk”, provenienti da vari Paesi dell’Est e dell’Ovest, che partecipano al “Festival della Collina”. Mi compiaccio per la vostra iniziativa, che tiene vive antiche tradizioni popolari, che spesso hanno origini cristiane e che comunque testimoniano delle peculiari caratteristiche culturali dei vari popoli e sono una ricchezza per il bene comune dell’umanità. Iniziative che affratellano, che favoriscono la pace, che promuovono l’arte e la cultura.

* * *

UN SALUTO, ANCORA, agli Allievi Ufficiali della Scuola delle Trasmissioni di Roma. Dice il vostro motto: “Spatia devinco disiuncta coniungo”. Questo certo è opera della tecnica, ma quanto più dev’essere opera dell’amore, e quanto bisogno c’è di quest’opera! Nel compimento del vostro dovere, voi favorite la concordia, la pace, l’unione degli spiriti. Vi auguro buon lavoro!

A tutti la mia affettuosa Benedizione.

Ai giovani

CARISSIMI GIOVANI a voi ora rivolgo un cordiale saluto. Tra pochi giorni ricorrerà la memoria della Madonna del Carmelo, una festa che spicca in modo particolare in quest’Anno Mariano che si avvia alla conclusione, e che da essa trae nuovi motivi di bellezza e di arricchimento.

Quanti sono i titoli della Vergine Santissima! Attorno a ciascuno di essi si raccoglie una tradizione, un movimento spirituale, una liturgia, potremmo dire addirittura una certa cultura ed un certo modo di vivere il cristianesimo. Mille sono le angolature sotto le quali possiamo rendere culto a Maria. E voi, cari giovani, avete qualche concreta forma di devozione alla Madonna? Cercatela, se ancora non l’avete, e restatele fedeli. Vi aiuti in ciò la mia Benedizione.

Agli ammalati

CARISSIMI MALATI qui presenti, vi saluto tutti con affetto e rispetto profondo. Se pensiamo che la sofferenza umana è stata assunta dal Verbo divino per salvare l’uomo peccatore, qualunque tipo di sofferenza non può non farci pensare alle sofferenze di Cristo. La Vergine Maria, che ha vissuto così da vicino la Croce del Figlio, ci aiuti e vi aiuti, cari malati, a penetrare il significato salvifico della sofferenza. La Madonna del Carmelo vi illumini sulla bellezza di questo mistero, mentre io vi benedico di tutto cuore.

Agli sposi novelli

CARISSIMI SPOSI NOVELLI, siate i benvenuti. Il pensiero che mi viene spontaneo in questo momento, è quello di esortarvi a mettere il vostro amore sotto la protezione della Vergine del Carmelo. Il segreto della buona riuscita del matrimonio consiste nel vivere questo sacramento nella luce di Maria. È la sua preghiera, è la sua intercessione che proteggerà il vostro amore dai pericoli, che lo renderà sempre fedele e fecondo, sempre più puro e più bello. Lasciatevi guidare da Maria. Il vostro amore diverrà così via di salvezza e di santificazione. Per Maria ed in Maria.

Vi accompagno con la mia Benedizione.

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