Summary of Ecclesia de Eucharistia by St. John Paul II

Introduction

The Eucharist “stands at the centre of the Church’s life” (3) for at least 3 important reasons:

First, at “every celebration of the Eucharist, we are spiritually brought back to the Paschal Triduum” (3) – the foundation and wellspring of the Church’s existence (NB: “Born” @ Pentecost & “took shape” @ Last Supper). Christ entrusted His Church to perenially make present the Paschal Mystery.

Second, “the Church draws her life from the Eucharist” (1) because the Eucharist is Christ Himself: “This truth does not simply express a daily experience of faith but recapitulates the heart of the mystery of the Church” (1). The Eucharist is “the most precious possession which the Church can have in her journey through history” (9).

Third, the Church, which is “the universal sacrament of salvation” (LG 48), effects Her mission in a special way by celebrating the Eucharist. In the Eucharistic celebration, which “is always in some way celebrated on the altar of the world” (8), heaven and earth are united, all creation is embraced and permeated by His presence, and “the world which came forth from the hands of God the Creator now returns to him redeemed by Christ” (8).

Chapter One: The Mystery of Faith

The Eucharist is truly “a mysterium fidei, a mystery [of love] which surpasses our understanding and can only be received in faith” (15).

We proclaim your death, O Lord”

When the priest proclaims “the Mystery of Faith”, our response, We proclaim your death, O Lord”, expresses a central truth: “the Eucharist is indelibly marked by the event of the Lord’s passion and death, of which it is not only a reminder but the sacramental re-presentation… this central event of salvation becomes really present (it is applied to us in the “today” of the Liturgy) and “the work of our redemption is carried out” (LG 3 qtd in 11). First and foremost a gift to the Father, Christ also entrusts His own spiritual sacrifice to the Church, so that we too many offer the divine Victim to God and offer ourselves along with Him.

“This sacrifice is so decisive for the salvation of the human race that Jesus Christ offered it and returned to the Father only after he had left us a means of sharing in it as if we had been present there” (11).

“Truly, in the Eucharist, he shows us a love which goes “to the end” (cf. Jn 13:1), a love which knows no measure” (11).

“And profess your resurrection” 

Since the Eucharistic Sacrifice also makes present “the mystery of the resurrection which crowned his sacrifice” (14), we receive the living and risen Christ in Holy Communion – the “bread of life” (John 6:35, 48), the “living bread” (John 6:51). Therefore, “the saving efficacy of the sacrifice is fully realized when the Lord’s body and blood are received in communion: “so he who eats Me will live because of Me” (John 6:57). 

“This pledge of the future resurrection comes from the fact that the flesh of the Son of Man, given as food, is his body in its glorious state after the resurrection. With the Eucharist we digest, as it were, the “secret” of the resurrection. For this reason Saint Ignatius of Antioch rightly defined the Eucharistic Bread as “a medicine of immortality, an antidote to death”” (18). 

“Until you come again”

The eschatological thrust of this concluding statement of the assembly following the consecration reminds us that the Eucharist is a foretaste of the fullness of heavenly joy promised by Christ (cf. Jn 15:11), a “pledge of future glory” (cf. John 6:54), “the first-fruits of a future fullness which will embrace man in his totality” (18), a real communion with the Church in her heavenly “liturgy” (19).

“Proclaiming the death of the Lord “until he comes” (1 Cor 11:26) entails that all who take part in the Eucharist be committed to changing their lives and making them in a certain way completely “Eucharistic”. It is this fruit of a transfigured existence and a commitment to transforming the world in accordance with the Gospel which splendidly illustrates the eschatological tension inherent in the celebration of the Eucharist and in the Christian life as a whole: “Come, Lord Jesus!” (Rev 22:20)” (20).

Chapter 2: The Eucharist Builds the Church

“[T]he celebration of the Eucharist is at the centre of the process of the Church’s growth” (21), whereby the Church is both strengthened in unity as the Body of Christ (cf. 1 Cor 10:16-17) and confirmed in mission as the sacrament of salvation:

“The gift of Christ and his Spirit which we receive in Eucharistic communion superabundantly fulfils the yearning for fraternal unity deeply rooted in the human heart” (24).

“The Eucharist thus appears as both the source and the summit of all evangelization, since its goal is the communion of mankind with Christ and in him with the Father and the Holy Spirit” (22).

Eucharistic Adoration

“The worship of the Eucharist outside of the Mass is of inestimable value for the life of the Church” (25). Eucharistic adoration flows from the celebration of the Mass and is oriented towards it.

“It is pleasant to spend time with him, to lie close to his breast like the Beloved Disciple (cf. Jn 13:25) and to feel the infinite love present in his heart. If in our time Christians must be distinguished above all by the “art of prayer”, how can we not feel a renewed need to spend time in spiritual converse, in silent adoration, in heartfelt love before Christ present in the Most Holy Sacrament? How often, dear brother and sisters, have I experienced this, and drawn from it strength, consolation and support!” (25).

Chapter 3: The Apostolicity of the Eucharist and of the Church

Since “the Eucharist builds the Church and the Church makes the Eucharist” (26), we can also say that the Eucharist, in the words of the Nicene Creed, is “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic”.

Using the CCC’s threefold explanation of how the Church is apostolic (cf. 857), JP2 states:

  1. The Eucharist is founded on the Apostles – insofar as Jesus entrusted the Eucharist to them and the Apostles have faithfully handed down this practice to us today.
  2. The Eucharist is celebrated in conformity with the faith of the Apostles – the Church’s Magisterium has safeguarded the apostolic teaching in regards to the Eucharist (in precision and proper terminology).
  3. The Eucharist can only be celebrated by the Apostle’s successors – only the ordained priest, who “is a gift which the assembly receives through episcopal succession going back to the Apostles” (29), can bring about the Eucharistic Sacrifice by virtue of his “specific sacramental identification with the eternal High Priest” (29).

“The Eucharist is “the centre and summit of priestly ministry” (31).

In the Eucharist, which “is the principal and central raison d’être of the sacrament of priesthood” (DC 2), we discover the wellspring of authentic priestly vocations, the divine source of a priest’s pastoral charity (cf. PO 14), and the heart of a parish community.

As a result, a priest should celebrate the Eucharist daily:

“In this way priests will be able to counteract the daily tensions which lead to a lack of focus and they will find in the Eucharistic Sacrifice—the true centre of their lives and ministry—the spiritual strength needed to deal with their different pastoral responsibilities. Their daily activity will thus become truly Eucharistic” (31).

Chapter 4: The Eucharist and Ecclesial Communion

Since the Eucharist is “the culmination of all the sacraments in perfecting our communion” (34) with the Triune God, in order to truly participate in the Eucharistic celebration, it presupposes and demands:

  1. Invisible communion with God — which presupposes a life of grace manifest through the practice of the theological virtues.
  2. Visible communion with (1) teaching of the Apostles, (2) the sacraments, (3) ecclesiastical governance.

Although we should have a strong desire to celebrate the Eucharist with those of other Churches and Ecclesiastical Communities, to do so without these 3 bonds of visible communion is not only invalid but “might well prove instead to be an obstacle, to the attainment of full communion, by weakening the sense of how far we remain from this goal and by introducing or exacerbating ambiguities with regard to one or another truth of the faith” (44). 

Chapter 5: The Dignity of the Eucharistic Celebration

On Holy Thursday, Jesus’ institution of the Eucharist shows “visible traces of a liturgical “sensibility” shaped by Old Testament tradition and open to being reshaped in Christian celebrations in a way consonant with the new content of Easter” (47).

“Like the woman who anointed Jesus in Bethany, the Church has feared no “extravagance”, devoting the best of her resources to expressing her wonder and adoration before the unsurpassable gift of the Eucharist” (48).

Although the “banquet setting” suggests familiarity, the Eucharistic Banquet is truly a sacrificial and a “sacred” banquet that we are unworthy to partake in.

As a result, the Church has appropriately developed “outward forms meant to evoke and emphasize the grandeur of the event being celebrated” (49). As her expression continues to organically develop, the Church must always be aware of the ineffable mystery and adhere faithfully to the liturgical norms set by the Church, concretely expressing the ecclesial nature of the Eucharist.

Chapter 6: At the School of Mary, “Woman of the Eucharist”

Mary is truly a “woman of the Eucharist” (53).

First, she is our support and guide in acquiring an interior disposition of Eucharistic faith.

“With the same maternal concern which she showed at the wedding feast of Cana, Mary seems to say to us: “Do not waver; trust in the words of my Son. If he was able to change water into wine, he can also turn bread and wine into his body and blood, and through this mystery bestow on believers the living memorial of his passover, thus becoming the ‘bread of life’ ” (54).

Second, Mary, in a way, anticipated physically at the Annunciation what happens to us when we receive the Eucharist.

“As a result, there is a profound analogy between the Fiat which Mary said in reply to the angel, and the Amen which every believer says when receiving the body of the Lord” (55).

Third, Mary anticipated the Church’s Eucharistic faith when she became the first “tabernacle” at the Visitation (and the first Eucharistic procession too!)

“And is not the enraptured gaze of Mary as she contemplated the face of the newborn Christ and cradled him in her arms that unparalleled model of love which should inspire us every time we receive Eucharistic communion?” (55).

Fourth, Mary “made her own the sacrificial dimension of the Eucharist” (56) throughout her entire life (cf. Simeon’s prophecy, the Passion, etc).

“In her daily preparation for Calvary, Mary experienced a kind of “anticipated Eucharist”—one might say a “spiritual communion”—of desire and of oblation, which would culminate in her union with her Son in his passion, and then find expression after Easter by her partaking in the Eucharist which the Apostles celebrated as the memorial of that passion” (56).

“What must Mary have felt as she heard from the mouth of Peter, John, James and the other Apostles the words spoken at the Last Supper: “This is my body which is given for you” (Lk 22:19)? The body given up for us and made present under sacramental signs was the same body which she had conceived in her womb! For Mary, receiving the Eucharist must have somehow meant welcoming once more into her womb that heart which had beat in unison with hers and reliving what she had experienced at the foot of the Cross” (56).

In the “memorial” of Christ’s Passion, “all that Christ did with regard to his Mother for our sake is also present” (57). We must accept Mary into our lives and allow her to accompany us and teach us. We must develop Mary’s “Eucharistic attitude”, as shown in the Magnificat. 

“The Magnificat expresses Mary’s spirituality, and there is nothing greater than this spirituality for helping us to experience the mystery of the Eucharist. The Eucharist has been given to us so that our life, like that of Mary, may become completely a Magnificat!” (58).

Conclusion

“Here [in the Eucharist] is the Church’s treasure, the heart of the world, the pledge of the fulfillment for which each man and woman, even unconsciously, yearns” (59).

“Every commitment to holiness, every activity aimed at carrying out the Church’s mission, every work of pastoral planning, must draw the strength it needs from the Eucharistic mystery and in turn be directed to that mystery as its culmination. In the Eucharist we have Jesus, we have his redemptive sacrifice, we have his resurrection, we have the gift of the Holy Spirit, we have adoration, obedience and love of the Father. Were we to disregard the Eucharist, how could we overcome our own deficiency?” (60).

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