OF THE HOLY FATHER JOHN PAUL II
TO THE BISHOPS, CLERGY AND FAITHFUL
FOR THE YEAR OF THE EUCHARIST
October 2004–October 2005
1. “Stay with us, Lord, for it is almost evening” (cf. Lk 24:29). This was
the insistent invitation that the two disciples journeying to Emmaus on the
evening of the day of the resurrection addressed to the Wayfarer who had
accompanied them on their journey. Weighed down with sadness, they never
imagined that this stranger was none other than their Master, risen from the
dead. Yet they felt their hearts burning within them (cf. v. 32) as he spoke to
them and “explained” the Scriptures. The light of the Word unlocked the hardness
of their hearts and “opened their eyes” (cf. v. 31). Amid the shadows of the
passing day and the darkness that clouded their spirit, the Wayfarer brought a
ray of light which rekindled their hope and led their hearts to yearn for the
fullness of light. “Stay with us”, they pleaded. And he agreed. Soon afterwards,
Jesus' face would disappear, yet the Master would “stay” with them, hidden in
the “breaking of the bread” which had opened their eyes to recognize him.
2. The image of the disciples on the way to Emmaus can serve as a fitting guide
for a Year when the Church will be particularly engaged in living out the
mystery of the Holy Eucharist. Amid our questions and difficulties, and even our
bitter disappointments, the divine Wayfarer continues to walk at our side,
opening to us the Scriptures and leading us to a deeper understanding of the
mysteries of God. When we meet him fully, we will pass from the light of the
Word to the light streaming from the “Bread of life”, the supreme fulfilment of
his promise to “be with us always, to the end of the age” (cf. Mt 28:20).
3. The “breaking of bread”—as the Eucharist was called in earliest times—has
always been at the centre of the Church's life. Through it Christ makes present
within time the mystery of his death and resurrection. In it he is received in
person as the “living bread come down from heaven” (Jn 6:51), and with him we
receive the pledge of eternal life and a foretaste of the eternal banquet of the
heavenly Jerusalem. Following the teaching of the Fathers, the Ecumenical
Councils and my own Predecessors, I have frequently urged the Church to reflect
upon the Eucharist, most recently in the Encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia.
Here I do not intend to repeat this teaching, which I trust will be more deeply
studied and understood. At the same time I thought it helpful for this purpose
to dedicate an entire Year to this wonderful sacrament.
4. As is known, the Year of the Eucharist will be celebrated from October 2004
to October 2005. The idea for this celebration came from two events which will
serve to mark its beginning and end: the International Eucharistic Congress,
which will take place from 10-17 October 2004 in Guadalajara, Mexico, and the
Ordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, which will be held in the Vatican
from 2-29 October 2005 on the theme: “The Eucharist: Source and Summit of the
Life and Mission of the Church”. I was also guided by another consideration:
this year's World Youth Day will take place in Cologne from 16-21 August 2005. I
would like the young people to gather around the Eucharist as the vital source
which nourishes their faith and enthusiasm. A Eucharistic initiative of this
kind had been on my mind for some time: it is a natural development of the
pastoral impulse which I wanted to give to the Church, particularly during the
years of preparation for the Jubilee and in the years that followed it.
5. In the present Apostolic Letter, I wish to reaffirm this pastoral continuity
and to help everyone to grasp its spiritual significance. As for the particular
form which the Year of the Eucharist will take, I am counting on the personal
involvement of the Pastors of the particular Churches, whose devotion to this
great Mystery will not fail to suggest suitable approaches. My Brother Bishops
will certainly understand that this initiative, coming as it does so soon after
the celebration of the Year of the Rosary, is meant to take place on a deeply
spiritual level, so that it will in no way interfere with the pastoral
programmes of the individual Churches. Rather, it can shed light upon those
programmes, anchoring them, so to speak, in the very Mystery which nourishes the
spiritual life of the faithful and the initiatives of each local Church. I am
not asking the individual Churches to alter their pastoral programmes, but to
emphasize the Eucharistic dimension which is part of the whole Christian life.
For my part, I would like in this Letter to offer some basic guidelines; and I
am confident that the People of God, at every level, will welcome my proposal
with enthusiasm and fervent love.
IN THE WAKE OF THE COUNCIL
AND THE GREAT JUBILEE
Looking towards Christ
6. Ten years ago, in Tertio Millennio Adveniente (10 November 1994), I had the
joy of proposing to the Church a programme of preparation for the Great Jubilee
of the Year 2000. It seemed to me that this historic moment presented itself as
a great grace. I realized, of course, that a simple chronological event, however
evocative, could not by itself bring about great changes. Unfortunately the
Millennium began with events which were in tragic continuity with the past, and
often with its worst aspects. A scenario emerged which, despite certain positive
elements, is marred by acts of violence and bloodshed which cause continued
concern. Even so, in inviting the Church to celebrate the Jubilee of the
two-thousandth anniversary of the Incarnation, I was convinced—and I still am,
more than ever!—that this celebration would be of benefit to humanity in the
Jesus Christ stands at the centre not just of the history of the Church, but
also the history of humanity. In him, all things are drawn together (cf. Eph
1:10; Col 1:15-20). How could we forget the enthusiasm with which the Second
Vatican Council, quoting Pope Paul VI, proclaimed that Christ is “the goal of
human history, the focal point of the desires of history and civilization, the
centre of mankind, the joy of all hearts, and the fulfilment of all aspirations”?(1)
The Council's teaching gave added depth to our understanding of the nature of
the Church, and gave believers a clearer insight not only into the mysteries of
faith but also into earthly realities, seen in the light of Christ. In the
Incarnate Word, both the mystery of God and the mystery of man are revealed.(2)
In him, humanity finds redemption and fulfilment.
7. In the Encyclical Redemptor Hominis, at the beginning of my Pontificate, I
developed this idea, and I have frequently returned to it on other occasions.
The Jubilee was a fitting time to invite believers once again to consider this
fundamental truth. The preparation for the great event was fully Trinitarian and
Christocentric. Within this plan, there clearly had to be a place for the
Eucharist. At the start of this Year of the Eucharist, I repeat the words which
I wrote in Tertio Millennio Adveniente: “The Year 2000 will be intensely
Eucharistic; in the Sacrament of the Eucharist the Saviour, who took flesh in
Mary's womb twenty centuries ago, continues to offer himself to humanity as the
source of divine life”.(3) The International Eucharistic Congress, held that
year in Rome, also helped to focus attention on this aspect of the Great Jubilee.
It is also worth recalling that my Apostolic Letter Dies Domini, written in
preparation for the Jubilee, invited believers to meditate on Sunday as the day
of the Risen Lord and the special day of the Church. At that time I urged
everyone to rediscover the celebration of the Eucharist as the heart of Sunday.(4)
Contemplating with Mary the face of Christ
8. The fruits of the Great Jubilee were collected in the Apostolic Letter Novo
Millennio Ineunte. In this programmatic document, I suggested an ever greater
pastoral engagement based on the contemplation of the face of Christ, as part of
an ecclesial pedagogy aimed at “the high standard” of holiness and carried out
especially through the art of prayer.(5) How could such a programme be complete
without a commitment to the liturgy and in particular to the cultivation of
Eucharistic life? As I said at the time: “In the twentieth century, especially
since the Council, there has been a great development in the way the Christian
community celebrates the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist. It is necessary
to continue in this direction, and to stress particularly the Sunday Eucharist
and Sunday itself, experienced as a special day of faith, the day of the Risen
Lord and of the gift of the Spirit, the true weekly Easter”.(6) In this context
of a training in prayer, I recommended the celebration of the Liturgy of the
Hours, by which the Church sanctifies the different hours of the day and the
passage of time through the liturgical year.
9. Subsequently, with the proclamation of the Year of the Rosary and the
publication of the Apostolic Letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae, I returned to the
theme of contemplating the face of Christ, now from a Marian perspective, by
encouraging once more the recitation of the Rosary. This traditional prayer, so
highly recommended by the Magisterium and so dear to the People of God, has a
markedly biblical and evangelical character, focused on the name and the face of
Jesus as contemplated in the mysteries and by the repetition of the “Hail Mary”.
In its flow of repetitions, it represents a kind of pedagogy of love, aimed at
evoking within our hearts the same love that Mary bore for her Son. For this
reason, developing a centuries-old tradition by the addition of the mysteries of
light, I sought to make this privileged form of contemplation an even more
complete “compendium of the Gospel”.(7) And how could the mysteries of light not
culminate in the Holy Eucharist?
From the Year of the Rosary to the Year of the Eucharist
10. In the midst of the Year of the Rosary, I issued the Encyclical Letter
Ecclesia de Eucharistia, with the intention of shedding light on the mystery of
the Eucharist in its inseparable and vital relation to the Church. I urged all
the faithful to celebrate the Eucharistic sacrifice with due reverence, offering
to Jesus present in the Eucharist, both within and outside Mass, the worship
demanded by so great a Mystery. Above all, I suggested once again the need for a
Eucharistic spirituality and pointed to Mary, “woman of the Eucharist”,(8) as
The Year of the Eucharist takes place against a background which has been
enriched by the passage of the years, while remaining ever rooted in the theme
of Christ and the contemplation of his face. In a certain sense, it is meant to
be a year of synthesis, the high-point of a journey in progress. Much could be
said about how to celebrate this year. I would simply offer some reflections
intended to help us all to experience it in a deeper and more fruitful way.
THE EUCHARIST, A MYSTERY OF LIGHT
“He interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things
concerning himself” (Lk 24:27)
11. The account of the Risen Jesus appearing to the two disciples on the road to
Emmaus helps us to focus on a primary aspect of the Eucharistic mystery, one
which should always be present in the devotion of the People of God: The
Eucharist is a mystery of light! What does this mean, and what are its
implications for Christian life and spirituality?
Jesus described himself as the “light of the world” (Jn 8:12), and this quality
clearly appears at those moments in his life, like the Transfiguration and the
Resurrection, in which his divine glory shines forth brightly. Yet in the
Eucharist the glory of Christ remains veiled. The Eucharist is pre-eminently a
mysterium fidei. Through the mystery of his complete hiddenness, Christ becomes
a mystery of light, thanks to which believers are led into the depths of the
divine life. By a happy intuition, Rublëv's celebrated icon of the Trinity
clearly places the Eucharist at the centre of the life of the Trinity.
12. The Eucharist is light above all because at every Mass the liturgy of the
Word of God precedes the liturgy of the Eucharist in the unity of the two “tables”,
the table of the Word and the table of the Bread. This continuity is expressed
in the Eucharistic discourse of Saint John's Gospel, where Jesus begins his
teaching by speaking of the mystery of his person and then goes on to draw out
its Eucharistic dimension: “My flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink
indeed” (Jn 6:55). We know that this was troubling for most of his listeners,
which led Peter to express the faith of the other Apostles and of the Church
throughout history: “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal
life” (Jn 6:68). In the account of the disciples on the road to Emmaus, Christ
himself intervenes to show, “beginning with Moses and all the prophets”, how
“all the Scriptures” point to the mystery of his person (cf. Lk 24:27). His
words make the hearts of the disciples “burn” within them, drawing them out of
the darkness of sorrow and despair, and awakening in them a desire to remain
with him: “Stay with us, Lord” (cf. v. 29).
13. The Fathers of the Second Vatican Council, in the Constitution Sacrosanctum
Concilium, sought to make “the table of the word” offer the treasures of
Scripture more fully to the faithful.(9) Consequently they allowed the biblical
readings of the liturgy to be proclaimed in a language understood by all. It is
Christ himself who speaks when the Holy Scriptures are read in the Church.(10)
The Council Fathers also urged the celebrant to treat the homily as part of the
liturgy, aimed at explaining the word of God and drawing out its meaning for the
Christian life.(11) Forty years after the Council, the Year of the Eucharist can
serve as an important opportunity for Christian communities to evaluate their
progress in this area. It is not enough that the biblical passages are read in
the vernacular, if they are not also proclaimed with the care, preparation,
devout attention and meditative silence that enable the word of God to touch
people's minds and hearts.
“They recognized him in the breaking of bread” (cf. Lk 24:35)
14. It is significant that the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, duly
prepared by our Lord's words, recognized him at table through the simple gesture
of the “breaking of bread”. When minds are enlightened and hearts are enkindled,
signs begin to “speak”. The Eucharist unfolds in a dynamic context of signs
containing a rich and luminous message. Through these signs the mystery in some
way opens up before the eyes of the believer.
As I emphasized in my Encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia, it is important that
no dimension of this sacrament should be neglected. We are constantly tempted to
reduce the Eucharist to our own dimensions, while in reality it is we who must
open ourselves up to the dimensions of the Mystery. “The Eucharist is too great
a gift to tolerate ambiguity and depreciation”.(12)
15. There is no doubt that the most evident dimension of the Eucharist is that
it is a meal. The Eucharist was born, on the evening of Holy Thursday, in the
setting of the Passover meal. Being a meal is part of its very structure. “Take,
eat... Then he took a cup and... gave it to them, saying: Drink from it, all of
you” (Mt 26:26, 27). As such, it expresses the fellowship which God wishes to
establish with us and which we ourselves must build with one another.
Yet it must not be forgotten that the Eucharistic meal also has a profoundly and
primarily sacrificial meaning.(13) In the Eucharist, Christ makes present to us
anew the sacrifice offered once for all on Golgotha. Present in the Eucharist as
the Risen Lord, he nonetheless bears the marks of his passion, of which every
Mass is a “memorial”, as the Liturgy reminds us in the acclamation following the
consecration: “We announce your death, Lord, we proclaim your resurrection...”.
At the same time, while the Eucharist makes present what occurred in the past,
it also impels us towards the future, when Christ will come again at the end of
history. This “eschatological” aspect makes the Sacrament of the Eucharist an
event which draws us into itself and fills our Christian journey with hope.
“I am with you always...” (Mt 28:20)
16. All these dimensions of the Eucharist come together in one aspect which more
than any other makes a demand on our faith: the mystery of the “real” presence.
With the entire tradition of the Church, we believe that Jesus is truly present
under the Eucharistic species. This presence—as Pope Paul VI rightly explained—is
called “real” not in an exclusive way, as if to suggest that other forms of
Christ's presence are not real, but par excellence, because Christ thereby
becomes substantially present, whole and entire, in the reality of his body and
blood.(14) Faith demands that we approach the Eucharist fully aware that we are
approaching Christ himself. It is precisely his presence which gives the other
aspects of the Eucharist — as meal, as memorial of the Paschal Mystery, as
eschatological anticipation — a significance which goes far beyond mere symbol-
ism. The Eucharist is a mystery of presence, the perfect fulfilment of Jesus'
promise to remain with us until the end of the world.
Celebrating, worshiping, contemplating
17. The Eucharist is a great mystery! And it is one which above all must be well
celebrated. Holy Mass needs to be set at the centre of the Christian life and
celebrated in a dignified manner by every community, in accordance with
established norms, with the participation of the assembly, with the presence of
ministers who carry out their assigned tasks, and with a serious concern that
singing and liturgical music be suitably “sacred”. One specific project of this
Year of the Eucharist might be for each parish community to study the General
Instruction of the Roman Missal. The best way to enter into the mystery of
salvation made present in the sacred “signs” remains that of following
faithfully the unfolding of the liturgical year. Pastors should be committed to
that “mystagogical” catechesis so dear to the Fathers of the Church, by which
the faithful are helped to understand the meaning of the liturgy's words and
actions, to pass from its signs to the mystery which they contain, and to enter
into that mystery in every aspect of their lives.
18. There is a particular need to cultivate a lively awareness of Christ's real
presence, both in the celebration of Mass and in the worship of the Eucharist
outside Mass. Care should be taken to show that awareness through tone of voice,
gestures, posture and bearing. In this regard, liturgical law recalls—and I
myself have recently reaffirmed(15)—the importance of moments of silence both in
the celebration of Mass and in Eucharistic adoration. The way that the ministers
and the faithful treat the Eucharist should be marked by profound respect.(16)
The presence of Jesus in the tabernacle must be a kind of magnetic pole
attracting an ever greater number of souls enamoured of him, ready to wait
patiently to hear his voice and, as it were, to sense the beating of his heart.
“O taste and see that the Lord is good!” (Ps 34:8).
During this year Eucharistic adoration outside Mass should become a particular
commitment for individual parish and religious communities. Let us take the time
to kneel before Jesus present in the Eucharist, in order to make reparation by
our faith and love for the acts of carelessness and neglect, and even the
insults which our Saviour must endure in many parts of the world. Let us deepen
through adoration our personal and communal contemplation, drawing upon aids to
prayer inspired by the word of God and the experience of so many mystics, old
and new. The Rosary itself, when it is profoundly understood in the biblical and
christocentric form which I recommended in the Apostolic Letter Rosarium
Virginis Mariae, will prove a particularly fitting introduction to Eucharistic
contemplation, a contemplation carried out with Mary as our companion and
This year let us also celebrate with particular devotion the Solemnity of Corpus
Christi, with its traditional procession. Our faith in the God who took flesh in
order to become our companion along the way needs to be everywhere proclaimed,
especially in our streets and homes, as an expression of our grateful love and
as an inexhaustible source of blessings.
SOURCE AND MANIFESTATION
“Abide in me, and I in you” (Jn 15:4)
19. When the disciples on the way to Emmaus asked Jesus to stay “with” them, he
responded by giving them a much greater gift: through the Sacrament of the
Eucharist he found a way to stay “in” them. Receiving the Eucharist means
entering into a profound communion with Jesus. “Abide in me, and I in you” (Jn
15:4). This relationship of profound and mutual “abiding” enables us to have a
certain foretaste of heaven on earth. Is this not the greatest of human
yearnings? Is this not what God had in mind when he brought about in history his
plan of salvation? God has placed in human hearts a “hunger” for his word (cf.
Am 8:11), a hunger which will be satisfied only by full union with him.
Eucharistic communion was given so that we might be “sated” with God here on
earth, in expectation of our complete fulfilment in heaven.
One bread, one body
20. This special closeness which comes about in Eucharistic “communion” cannot
be adequately understood or fully experienced apart from ecclesial communion. I
emphasized this repeatedly in my Encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia. The Church
is the Body of Christ: we walk “with Christ” to the extent that we are in
relationship “with his body”. Christ provided for the creation and growth of
this unity by the outpouring of his Holy Spirit. And he himself constantly
builds it up by his Eucharistic presence. It is the one Eucharistic bread which
makes us one body. As the Apostle Paul states: “Because there is one bread, we
who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread” (1Cor 10:17). In
the mystery of the Eucharist Jesus builds up the Church as a communion, in
accordance with the supreme model evoked in his priestly prayer: “Even as you,
Father, are in me, and I in you, that they may also be in us, so that the world
may believe that you have sent me” (Jn 17:21).
21. The Eucharist is both the source of ecclesial unity and its greatest
manifestation. The Eucharist is an epiphany of communion. For this reason the
Church sets conditions for full participation in the celebration of the
Eucharist.(18) These various limitations ought to make us ever more conscious of
the demands made by the communion which Jesus asks of us. It is a hierarchical
communion, based on the awareness of a variety of roles and ministries, as is
seen by the reference to the Pope and the Diocesan Bishop in the Eucharistic
Prayer. It is a fraternal communion, cultivated by a “spirituality of communion”
which fosters reciprocal openness, affection, understanding and forgiveness.(19)
“... of one heart and soul” (Acts 4:32)
22. At each Holy Mass we are called to measure ourselves against the ideal of
communion which the Acts of the Apostles paints as a model for the Church in
every age. It is the Church gathered around the Apostles, called by the word of
God, capable of sharing in spiritual goods but in material goods as well (cf.
Acts 2:42-47; 4:32-35). In this Year of the Eucharist the Lord invites us to
draw as closely as possible to this ideal. Every effort should be made to
experience fully those occasions mentioned in the liturgy for the Bishop's
“Stational Mass”, which he celebrates in the cathedral together with his
presbyters and deacons, with the participation of the whole People of God. Here
we see the principal “manifestation” of the Church.(20) It would be praiseworthy
to specify other significant occasions, also on the parochial level, which would
increase a sense of communion and find in the Eucharistic celebration a source
of renewed fervour.
The Lord's Day
23. In a particular way I ask that every effort be made this year to experience
Sunday as the day of the Lord and the day of the Church. I would be happy if
everyone would reflect once more on my words in the Apostolic Letter Dies
Domini. “At Sunday Mass, Christians relive with particular intensity the
experience of the Apostles on the evening of Easter, when the Risen Lord
appeared to them as they were gathered together (cf. Jn 20:19). In a sense, the
People of God of all times were present in that small nucleus of disciples, the
first-fruits of the Church”.(21) During this year of grace, priests in their
pastoral ministry should be even more attentive to Sunday Mass as the
celebration which brings together the entire parish community, with the
participation of different groups, movements and associations.
THE EUCHARIST, PRINCIPLE AND PLAN OF “MISSION”
“They set out immediately” (cf. Lk 24:33)
24. The two disciples of Emmaus, upon recognizing the Lord, “set out immediately”
(cf. Lk 24:33), in order to report what they had seen and heard. Once we have
truly met the Risen One by partaking of his body and blood, we cannot keep to
ourselves the joy we have experienced. The encounter with Christ, constantly
intensified and deepened in the Eucharist, issues in the Church and in every
Christian an urgent summons to testimony and evangelization. I wished to
emphasize this in my homily announcing the Year of the Eucharist, based on the
words of Saint Paul: “As often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you
proclaim the Lord's death until he comes” (1 Cor 11:26). The Apostle closely
relates meal and proclamation: entering into communion with Christ in the
memorial of his Pasch also means sensing the duty to be a missionary of the
event made present in that rite.(22) The dismissal at the end of each Mass is a
charge given to Christians, inviting them to work for the spread of the Gospel
and the imbuing of society with Christian values.
25. The Eucharist not only provides the interior strength needed for this
mission, but is also —in some sense—its plan. For the Eucharist is a mode of
being, which passes from Jesus into each Christian, through whose testimony it
is meant to spread throughout society and culture. For this to happen, each
member of the faithful must assimilate, through personal and communal meditation,
the values which the Eucharist expresses, the attitudes it inspires, the
resolutions to which it gives rise. Can we not see here a special charge which
could emerge from this Year of the Eucharist?
26. One fundamental element of this plan is found in the very meaning of the
word “Eucharist”: thanksgiving. In Jesus, in his sacrifice, in his unconditional
“yes” to the will of the Father, is contained the “yes”, the “thank you” and the
“amen” of all humanity. The Church is called to remind men and women of this
great truth. This is especially urgent in the context of our secularized
culture, characterized as it is by a forgetfulness of God and a vain pursuit of
human self-sufficiency. Incarnating the Eucharistic “plan” in daily life,
wherever people live and work—in families, schools, the workplace, in all of
life's settings—means bearing witness that human reality cannot be justified
without reference to the Creator: “Without the Creator the creature would
disappear”.(23) This transcendent point of reference, which commits us
constantly to give thanks for all that we have and are—in other words, to a
“Eucharistic” attitude—in no way detracts from the legitimate autonomy of
earthly realities,(24) but grounds that autonomy more firmly by setting it
within its proper limits.
In this Year of the Eucharist Christians ought to be committed to bearing more
forceful witness to God's presence in the world. We should not be afraid to
speak about God and to bear proud witness to our faith. The “culture of the
Eucharist” promotes a culture of dialogue, which here finds strength and
nourishment. It is a mistake to think that any public reference to faith will
somehow undermine the rightful autonomy of the State and civil institutions, or
that it can even encourage attitudes of intolerance. If history demonstrates
that mistakes have also been made in this area by believers, as I acknowledged
on the occasion of the Jubilee, this must be attributed not to “Christian roots”,
but to the failure of Christians to be faithful to those roots. One who learns
to say “thank you” in the manner of the crucified Christ might end up as a
martyr, but never as a persecutor.
The way of solidarity
27. The Eucharist is not merely an expression of communion in the Church's life;
it is also a project of solidarity for all of humanity. In the celebration of
the Eucharist the Church constantly renews her awareness of being a “sign and
instrument” not only of intimate union with God but also of the unity of the
whole human race.(25) Each Mass, even when celebrated in obscurity or in
isolation, always has a universal character. The Christian who takes part in the
Eucharist learns to become a promotor of communion, peace and solidarity in
every situation. More than ever, our troubled world, which began the new
Millennium with the spectre of terrorism and the tragedy of war, demands that
Christians learn to experience the Eucharist as a great school of peace, forming
men and women who, at various levels of responsibility in social, cultural and
political life, can become promotors of dialogue and communion.
At the service of the least
28. There is one other point which I would like to emphasize, since it
significantly affects the authenticity of our communal sharing in the Eucharist.
It is the impulse which the Eucharist gives to the community for a practical
commitment to building a more just and fraternal society. In the Eucharist our
God has shown love in the extreme, overturning all those criteria of power which
too often govern human relations and radically affirming the criterion of
service: “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all” (Mc
9:35). It is not by chance that the Gospel of John contains no account of the
institution of the Eucharist, but instead relates the “washing of feet” (cf. Jn
13:1-20): by bending down to wash the feet of his disciples, Jesus explains the
meaning of the Eucharist unequivocally. Saint Paul vigorously reaffirms the
impropriety of a Eucharistic celebration lacking charity expressed by practical
sharing with the poor (cf.1Cor 11:17-22, 27-34).
Can we not make this Year of the Eucharist an occasion for diocesan and parish
communities to commit themselves in a particular way to responding with
fraternal solicitude to one of the many forms of poverty present in our world? I
think for example of the tragedy of hunger which plagues hundreds of millions of
human beings, the diseases which afflict developing countries, the loneliness of
the elderly, the hardships faced by the unemployed, the struggles of immigrants.
These are evils which are present—albeit to a different degree—even in areas of
immense wealth. We cannot delude ourselves: by our mutual love and, in
particular, by our concern for those in need we will be recognized as true
followers of Christ (cf. Jn 13:35; Mt 25:31-46). This will be the criterion by
which the authenticity of our Eucharistic celebrations is judged.
29. O Sacrum Convivium, in quo Christus sumitur! The Year of the
Eucharist has its source in the amazement with which the Church contemplates
this great Mystery. It is an amazement which I myself constantly experience. It
prompted my Encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia. As I look forward to the
twenty-seventh year of my Petrine ministry, I consider it a great grace to be
able to call the whole Church to contemplate, praise, and adore in a special way
this ineffable Sacrament. May the Year of the Eucharist be for everyone a
precious opportunity to grow in awareness of the incomparable treasure which
Christ has entrusted to his Church. May it encourage a more lively and fervent
celebration of the Eucharist, leading to a Christian life transformed by love.
There is room here for any number of initiatives, according to the judgement of
the Pastors of the particular Churches. The Congregation for Divine Worship and
the Discipline of the Sacraments will not fail to provide some helpful
suggestions and proposals. I do not ask, however, for anything extraordinary,
but rather that every initiative be marked by a profound interiority. If the
only result of this Year were the revival in all Christian communities of the
celebration of Sunday Mass and an increase in Eucharistic worship outside Mass,
this Year of grace would be abundantly successful. At the same time, it is good
to aim high, and not to be content with mediocrity, since we know we can always
count on God's help.
30. To you, dear Brother Bishops, I commend this Year, confident that you will
welcome my invitation with full apostolic zeal.
Dear priests, who repeat the words of consecration each day, and are witnesses
and heralds of the great miracle of love which takes place at your hands: be
challenged by the grace of this special Year; celebrate Holy Mass each day with
the same joy and fervour with which you celebrated your first Mass, and
willingly spend time in prayer before the tabernacle.
May this be a Year of grace also for you, deacons, who are so closely engaged in
the ministry of the word and the service of the altar. I ask you, lectors,
acolytes and extraordinary ministers of holy communion, to become ever more
aware of the gift you have received in the service entrusted to you for a more
worthy celebration of the Eucharist.
In particular I appeal to you, the priests of the future. During your time in
the seminary make every effort to experience the beauty not only of taking part
daily in Holy Mass, but also of spending a certain amount of time in dialogue
with the Eucharistic Lord.
Consecrated men and women, called by that very consecration to more prolonged
contemplation: never forget that Jesus in the tabernacle wants you to be at his
side, so that he can fill your hearts with the experience of his friendship,
which alone gives meaning and fulfilment to your lives.
May all of you, the Christian faithful, rediscover the gift of the Eucharist as
light and strength for your daily lives in the world, in the exercise of your
respective professions amid so many different situations. Rediscover this above
all in order to experience fully the beauty and the mission of the family.
I have great expectations of you, young people, as I look forward to our meeting
at the next World Youth Day in Cologne. The theme of our meeting—“We have come
to worship him”—suggests how you can best experience this Eucharistic year.
Bring to your encounter with Jesus, hidden in the Eucharist, all the enthusiasm
of your age, all your hopes, all your desire to love.
31. We have before us the example of the Saints, who in the Eucharist found
nourishment on their journey towards perfection. How many times did they shed
tears of profound emotion in the presence of this great mystery, or experience
hours of inexpressible “spousal” joy before the sacrament of the altar! May we
be helped above all by the Blessed Virgin Mary, whose whole life incarnated the
meaning of the Eucharist. “The Church, which looks to Mary as a model, is also
called to imitate her in her relationship with this most holy mystery”.(26) The
Eucharistic Bread which we receive is the spotless flesh of her Son: Ave verum
corpus natum de Maria Virgine. In this Year of grace, sustained by Mary, may the
Church discover new enthusiasm for her mission and come to acknowledge ever more
fully that the Eucharist is the source and summit of her entire life.
To all of you I impart my Blessing as a pledge of grace and joy.
From the Vatican, on 7 October, the Memorial of Our Lady of the Rosary, in the
year 2004, the twenty-sixth of my Pontificate.
IOANNES PAULUS PP.II
(1) Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World Gaudium et Spes, 45.
(2) Cf. ibid., 22.
(3) No. 55: AAS 87 (1995), 38.
(4) Cf. Nos. 32-34: AAS 90 (1998), 732-734.
(5) Cf. Nos. 30-32: AAS 93 (2001), 287-289.
(6) Ibid., 35: loc. cit., 290-291.
(7) Cf. Apostolic Letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae (16 October 2002), 19-21: AAS
95 (2003), 18-20.
(8) Encyclical Letter Ecclesia de Eucharistia (17 April 2003), 53: AAS 95
(9) Cf. No. 51.
(10) Ibid., 7.
(11) Cf ibid., 52.
(12) Encyclical Letter Ecclesia de Eucharistia (17 April 2003), 10: AAS 95
(13) Cf. John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Ecclesia de Eucharistia (17 April
2003), 10: AAS 95 (2003), 439. Congregation for Divine Worship and the
Discipline of the Sacraments, Instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum on certain
matters to be observed or to be avoided regarding the Most Holy Eucharist (25
March 2004), 38: L'Osservatore Romano, Weekly Edition in English, 28 April 2004,
Special Insert, p.3.
(14) Cf. Encyclical Letter Mysterium Fidei (3 September 1965), 39: AAS 57
(1965), 764; Sacred Congregation of Rites, Instruction Eucharisticum Mysterium
on the Worship of the Eucharistic Mystery (25 May 1967), 9: AAS 59 (1967), 547.
(15) Cf. Message Spiritus et Sponsa, for the fortieth anniversary of the
Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium (4 December 2003), 13:
AAS 96 (2004), 425.
(16) Cf. Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments,
Instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum on certain matters to be observed or to be
avoided regarding the Most Holy Eucharist (25 March 2004): L'Osservatore Romano,
Weekly Edition in English, 28 April 2004, Special Insert.
(17) Cf. ibid., 137, loc. cit., p.11.
(18) Cf. John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Ecclesia de Eucharistia (17 April
2003), 44: AAS 95 (2003), 462; Code of Canon Law, canon 908; Code of Canons of
the Eastern Churches, canon 702; Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian
Unity, Directorium Oecumenicum (25 March 1993), 122-125, 129-131: AAS 85 (1993),
1086-1089; Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Letter Ad Exsequendam (18
May 2001): AAS 93 (2001), 786.
(19) Cf. John Paul II, Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte (6 January 2001),
43: AAS 93 (2001), 297.
(20) Cf. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy
Sacrosanctum Concilium, 41.
(21) No. 33: AAS 90 (1998), 733.
(22) Cf. Homily for the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ (10 June
2004): L'Osservatore Romano, 11-12 June 2004, p.6.
(23) Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in
the Modern World Gaudium et Spes, 36.
(25) Cf. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Pastoral Constitution on the Church
Lumen Gentium, 1.
(26) John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Ecclesia de Eucharistia (17 April 2003),
53: AAS 95 (2003), 469.