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The Eucharist is the source of the Church's life

Catechesis by Pope John Paul II on the Church
General Audience, Wednesday 8 April 1992 - in Italian & Spanish  

"1. According to the Second Vatican Council the truth of the Church as a priestly community is realized through the sacraments; it comes to fulfillment in the Eucharist. Indeed, we read in Lumen Gentium that the faithful, "Taking part in the Eucharistic sacrifice, which is the fount and apex of the whole Christian life...offer the divine victim to God, and offer themselves along with it" (LG 11). The Eucharist is the source of the Christian life because whoever shares in it receives the motivation and strength to live as a true Christian. Christ's sacrifice on the cross imparts to the believer the dynamism of his generous love. The Eucharistic banquet nourishes the faithful with the Body and Blood of the divine Lamb sacrificed for us and it gives them the strength to "follow in his footsteps" (cf. 1 Pet 2:21). The Eucharist is the summit of the whole Christian life because the faithful bring to it all their prayers and good works, their joys and sufferings. These modest offerings are united to the perfect sacrifice of Christ. Thus they are completely sanctified and lifted up to God in an act of perfect worship which brings the faithful into the divine intimacy (cf. Jn 6:56-57). Therefore, as St. Thomas Aquinas writes, the Eucharist is "the culmination of the spiritual life and the goal of all the sacraments" (Summa Theol., III, q. 66, a. 6).

2. The Angelic Doctor also notes that the "effect of this sacrament is the unity of the mystical body [the Church], without which there can be no salvation. Therefore it is necessary to receive the Eucharist, at least by desire (in voto), in order to be saved" (III, q. 73, a. 1, ad 2). These words echo everything Jesus himself said about the necessity of the Eucharist for the Christian life: "Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day" (Jn 6:53-54). According to these words of Jesus, the Eucharist is a pledge of the resurrection to come, but it is already a source of eternal life in time. Jesus does not say "will have eternal life," but "has eternal life." Through the food of the Eucharist, Christ's eternal life penetrates and flows within human life.

3. The Eucharist requires the participation of the Church's members. According to the Council, "Both by reason of the offering and through Holy Communion all take part in this liturgical service, not indeed, all in the same way but each in that way which is proper to himself" (LG 11). Participation is common to the entire "priestly people," who have been allowed to unite themselves to the offering and the Communion. But this participation differs according to the condition of the Church's members, in accord with the sacramental institution. There is a specific role for the priestly ministry. However, it does not eliminate, but rather promotes the role of the common priesthood. It is a specific role willed by Christ when he charged his apostles with celebrating the Eucharist in his memory, by instituting for this function the sacrament of Holy Orders, conferred on bishops and priests (and on deacons as ministers of the altar).

4. The purpose of the priestly ministry is to gather the people of God: "All belonging to this people, since they have been sanctified by the Holy Spirit, can offer themselves as 'a sacrifice, living, holy, pleasing to God' (Rom 12:1)" (PO 2). If, as I have mentioned in the preceding catecheses, the common priesthood is meant to offer spiritual sacrifices, the faithful can make this offering because they are "sanctified by the Holy Spirit." The Holy Spirit, who animated Christ's sacrifice on the cross (cf. Heb 9:14), will give life to the offering of the faithful.

5. According to the Council, because of the priestly ministry spiritual sacrifices can achieve their goal. "Through the ministry of the priests, the spiritual sacrifice of the faithful is made perfect in union with the sacrifice of Christ. He is the only mediator who in the name of the whole Church is offered sacramentally in the Eucharist and in an unbloody manner until the Lord himself comes" (PO 2). In virtue of Baptism and Confirmation, as we stated in the preceding catecheses, the Christian is qualified to participate "as if ex officio" in divine worship, which has its center and culmination in the sacrifice of Christ made present in the Eucharist. But the Eucharistic offering entails the involvement of an ordained minister. The offering is fulfilled in the act of consecration carried out by the priest in Christ's name. In this way the priestly ministry contributes to the full expression of the universal priesthood. As the Council states, citing St. Augustine, the ministry of priests tends to this, that "The entire commonwealth of the redeemed and the society of the saints be offered to God through the High Priest who offered himself also for us in his passion that we might be the body of so great a head [1] " (PO 2).

6. After the sacrifice has taken place, the Eucharistic communion which follows is meant to provide the faithful with the spiritual force necessary for the full development of the "priesthood," and especially for offering all the sacrifices of their everyday life. We read in the Decree Presbyterorum Ordinis: "Priests must instruct their people to offer to God the Father the divine victim in the Sacrifice of the Mass, and to join to it the offering of their own lives" (PO 5). It can be said that according to Jesus' intention in formulating the new commandment of love at the Last Supper, Eucharistic communion enables those who receive it to put it into practice: "Love one another as I have loved you" (Jn 13:34; 15:12).

7. Participatation in the Eucharistic banquet testifies to their unity, as the Council points out in writing that the faithful, "Strengthened in Holy Communion by the Body of Christ...then manifest in a concrete way that unity of the People of God which is suitably signified and wondrously brought about by this most august sacrament" (LG 11).

This is the truth which the Church's faith inherited from St. Paul, who wrote: "The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because the loaf of bread is one, we though many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf" (1 Cor 10:16-17). For this reason St. Thomas saw the Eucharist as the sacrament of the Mystical Body's unity [2] . We conclude this ecclesiological-Eucharistic catechesis by emphasizing that, if Eucharistic communion is the efficacious sign of unity, it then gives the faithful a continually new impulse to mutual love and reconciliation, and the sacramental strength necessary for preserving good understanding in family and ecclesial relationships.

[1]   De Civitate Dei, 10, 6: PL 41, 284
[2]   Summa Theol., III, q. 72, a. 3"

After the Catechesis, Papa Giovanni Paolo II greeted the pilgrims in various languages

Ai fedeli di espressione tedesca 

Schwestern und Brüder!

Zum Abschluß dieser kurzen Betrachtung grüße ich alle deutsch sprachigen Pilger und Besucher sehr herzlich. Besonders heiße ich den Domchor aus Paderborn und die Kirchenchöre aus der Region Mönchengladbach willkommen, ebenso die Behindertengruppe mit Teilnehmern aus verschiedenen deutschen Diözesen sowie die Schwestern der Christlichen Liebe, die an einem Erneuerungskurs in Rom teilnehmen.

Euch allen wünsche ich in diesen Tagen vor Ostern ein vertieftes Verständnis für die Kraft und den Segen, die uns die Sakramente der Kirche, vor allem die heilige Eucharistie und das Bußsakrament, zu schenken vermögen und erteile Euch, Euren lieben Angehörigen in der Heimat sowie allen, die uns geistlich verbunden sind, von Herzen meinen Apostolischen Segen.

Ai fedeli di lingua francese 

Chers Frères et Sœurs,

Je salue cordialement les pèlerins de langue française présents à cette audience. J’offre en particulier mes vœux au groupe de prêtres et de diacres de Montréal qui sont en stage. Je salue les personnes consacrées, les paroissiens, les étudiants et les jeunes qui viennent pour la première fois dans la Ville éternelle ou qui la retrouvent. À chacun d’entre vous, je souhaite de tirer profit de ces moments pour revenir chez lui fortifié dans la foi puisée au cœur de l’Église.

À quelques jours du commencement de la Semaine Sainte, je demande à Dieu de vous tourner toujours davantage vers Lui et de vous combler de ses Bénédictions!

Ai pellegrini di espressione inglese 

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I gladly welcome all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors. In particular, I greet the international group of the Sisters of Notre Dame. Dear Sisters: may your visit to Rome strengthen you in the love of the Church and fidelity to the See of Peter. In the delicate work of training the members of your Congregation may you always be moved by a deep and abiding trust in our Lord Jesus Christ.

Upon the visitors from England, the United States, India, Indonesia, New Guinea and the Philippines I invoke God’s abundant blessings.

Ai pellegrini di lingua spagnola 

Amadísimos hermanos y hermanas,

Deseo ahora presentar mi más cordial saludo de bienvenida a todos los peregrinos y visitantes de lengua española. En particular, a los numerosos grupos de jóvenes procedentes de Barcelona, de Madrid, de Oviedo, de Córdoba, Cádiz, La Coruña y de otros lugares de España. A vosotros, queridos chicos y chicas, os repito las palabras del apóstol Juan en su primera carta: “Os escribo a vosotros, jóvenes, porque sois fuertes y la Palabra de Dios permanece en vosotros”.

Saludo igualmente a la peregrinación procedente de México, así como a las demás personas, familias y grupos de los diversos Países de América Latina aquí presentes.

Con gran afecto imparto la Bendición Apostólica. 

Ai fedeli di espressione portoghese 

Amadíssimos Irmãos e Irmãs,

Convido os fiéis de língua portuguesa na perspectiva da Semana Santa, nomeadamente o grupo de portugueses de Lisboa e alguns brasileiros dos Estados do Maranhão, Piauí, Bahia, Espírito Santo, Minas Gerais, São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Paraná e Santa Catarina, a unirem-se em oração para que, reconhecendo a presença activa do Espírito Santo no Sacrifício eucarístico, consigam a luz e a força necessárias para dar vida a uma comunidade de amor e de paz no próprio lar e no mundo do trabalho. E que as bênçãos de Deus desçam sobre todos vós! 

Ai fedeli polacchi 

Serdecznie pozdrawiam polskich pielgrzymów: młodzież z duszpa sterstwa oo. paulinów w Częstochowie, z parafii Zwiastowania Pańskiego z Zamienia koło Mińska Mazowieckiego, osoby niepełnosprawne z Warszawy, z Klubu Inteligencji Katolickiej w Warszawie, nauczycieli z Ośrodka Szkolno-Wychowawczego w Wejherowie, pracowników i mieszkańców Domu Pomocy Społecznej oo. Kamilianów w Zbrosławicach, z parafii św. Józefa we Wrocławiu, młodzież z Ruchu “Światło-Życie” w Karlsbergu (Niemcy); grupy turystyczne: “Mistral” z Katowic, “Marco” z Bielska i Żywca, PKS z Łodzi, “Barbara” z Warszawy, TAU z Urzędu Miejskiego w Lublinie, “Esperanto-Tour” z Bydgoszczy oraz pielgrzymów indywidualnych z kraju i z emigracji. 

Ai giovani, agli ammalati e agli Sposi novelli 

Saluto tutti i gruppi di lingua italiana, provenienti da varie diocesi della Penisola. A tutti do il mio benvenuto. Saluto, in particolare, i giovani, gli ammalati e gli Sposi novelli. Desidero prendere lo spunto dalle ormai vicine celebrazioni della Pasqua per dire loro con quale intensità di fede la Chiesa rivive in questi giorni il mistero della morte e risurrezione del Signore, consapevole che Cristo è sempre presente in mezzo al suo popolo e, in modo speciale, nelle azioni liturgiche.

Sia la Pasqua per voi, giovani, che siete venuti così entusiasti e numerosi, motivo di rinnovato impegno nella vostra dedizione a Cristo. Spero che possiate celebrare con frutto la prossima Domenica delle Palme, Giornata diocesana della Gioventù.

Sia per voi, cari ammalati, il mistero della Passione occasione di meditazione delle sofferenze del Signore, fonte della nostra salvezza e della nostra speranza.

Sia sorgente di perenne grazia divina per voi, Sposi novelli, l’esempio di Cristo, testimone dell’amore eterno del Padre.

A tutti la mia Benedizione Apostolica.

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