October 2005 - Volume 10, Issue 3
The Eucharist: Source of Unity and Holiness
A Pastoral Letter Marking the Close of the Year of the Eucharist October 2005
During the nearly 27 years of his pontificate, Pope John Paul II brought many gifts to the Church. His parting gift was "The Year of the Eucharist," which closes this month with the World Synod of Bishops in Rome. His successor, Pope Benedict XVI, gratefully accepted this gift and continues to stress the centrality of the Eucharist in the life of the Church.
In the Diocese of Bridgeport, we have observed the Year of the Eucharist by focusing on the Eucharist in Sunday homilies; by increased opportunities for Eucharistic adoration; by an excellent clergy study day on the liturgy by Msgr. James P. Moroney of the U.S. Bishops' Conference; and by talks on the Eucharist in various parishes. Special mention must also be made of the Eucharistic Holy Hours for Vocations conducted throughout the diocese this past year. I am grateful to all who promoted and observed this special time of grace in the life of the Church.
Now, as this special year draws to a close, I invite you to reflect with me on the Eucharist as the source of unity and holiness. Christ gave us the Eucharist to unite us with Himself and with one another. The Lord gave us the Eucharist so that, as individuals and as a community of faith, we would share the splendor of His holiness. As the sign and cause of our unity, the Eucharist builds up the Church and enables her to participate in and reflect the unity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The Eucharist sustains each of us in our journey through life and enables us to grow in likeness to Christ.
II. Pastoral Consolations and Challenges
The importance of the Eucharist is obvious to those who regularly participate in Sunday and weekday Mass. The famous words of the Second Vatican Council on the liturgy as "the source and summit of the Christian life" (Lumen Gentium, 11; Sacrosanctum Concilium, 10) strike a deep chord in anyone formed at the table of the Eucharist. Who of us has not experienced the "wonder and awe" of this "holy and living sacrifice?" Who of us has not experienced joy, consolation, and strength in receiving the true Body and Blood of Christ and in drawing close to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament reserved? Every priest knows people whose lives were changed by their encounter with the Lord in the Eucharist. Many priests, deacons, religious, and married couples will tell you that they first discovered their vocations while taking part in Mass. I applaud the many parents in our diocese who work closely with clergy, religious educators, and Catholic school teachers to hand on the Church's Eucharistic faith to their children. I also attest that I could not fulfill my ministry as your bishop without the strength that comes from daily Mass.
Yet, some two-thirds of Catholics have minimal or even no contact with the Eucharist. Recent statistics compiled for the national Official Catholic Directory confirm a decline in sacramental practice. Many parents, who are "the first teachers of their children in the ways of faith" (see Rite of Baptism), do not regularly participate in the Eucharist. Parish priests and catechists have told me of their frustration when parents bring their children to religious education classes but not to Sunday Mass because of sports or other leisure activities. And even parents who take seriously their obligation to participate in Mass each Sunday, sometimes find it difficult to convince their children, especially as they get older, to attend. Far from experiencing the Spirit's gift of "wonder and awe," they often claim to be bored.
I suspect theirs is the boredom we feel when we try to read a long book that is hard to understand. We quickly lose interest and turn to something more familiar, like a favorite TV program! I daresay that many parents and children don't find Mass terribly interesting because they don't really know what happens at Mass. Some are unaware of the true presence of Christ in the Eucharist. As a result, they don't see how the Mass can change their hearts and their lives. Perhaps the words used in the liturgy and in homilies do not mean much to those who have not been sufficiently evangelized and catechized. And perhaps our lives are too crowded with other things that seem more attractive than the Mass.
But in everyone's life the question of their relationship with God eventually surfaces. The human heart longs for contact with the living God. It hungers precisely for Jesus' gift of Self in the Eucharist. One highly successful man said to me recently, "Bishop, I've fulfilled all my life's dreams . . . and I'm miserable." He went on to tell me how all his goals, now fulfilled, left him feeling hollow. Saint Augustine's famous phrase still rings true, "You made us for yourself and our hearts are restless until they rest in you" (Confessions, Book X). Or, as The Imitation of Christ tells us: "Until you are united intimately with Christ, you will never find your true rest" (Lib. 2,1-6). All of us know someone feeling hollow and in need of being hallowed! This includes young people whose lives may seem full but whose hearts are searching for truth and love. We should not underestimate their idealism and goodness, but neither should we overlook the pressures they face to engage in destructive behaviors. They should not be deprived of the Lord's love and guidance at such a critical time in their lives.
In the face of these pastoral challenges and opportunities, we are called to renew our Eucharistic faith. Evangelization, preaching, and catechesis must fully reflect the saving power of the Eucharist. The celebration of Holy Mass must reflect our communion of faith, a unity of belief and worship given by Christ in the Holy Spirit. We need to be vigorous in helping young people and those who no longer practice their faith to open their hearts to the saving presence and action of Christ in the Eucharist. This message is most effectively delivered by parents, clergy, catechists, school teachers, and youth leaders whose hearts are aglow with the splendor of the Eucharist.
III. Christ Is Truly Present
What is the truth to which you and I must bear united witness? Surely it is the truth and living presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Yet not everyone understands this truth in the same way. An incorrect or inadequate understanding of this truth hinders us from seeing how the Eucharist is the source of our unity and holiness. To make this point clear, I will mention briefly some deficient understandings of the Lord's Eucharistic presence, followed by the Church's authentic teaching, which is both doctrinally sound and spiritually fruitful.
A. Deficient Notions of Eucharistic Presence
Some think of Christ's real presence in the Eucharist like the presence of necessary but inanimate objects in their lives. It's like having your briefcase in the car as you drive to the office. Such an interpretation might sound far-fetched until we remember that some theologians erroneously distinguish between Jesus' "active" presence in the celebration of the Eucharist and His supposedly "static" presence in the Blessed Sacrament reserved. Nor should we forget that those who are poorly catechized are likely to see the consecrated bread and wine as "things" - rather than the substance of the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Christ under the appearances of bread and wine.
For others, Jesus' Eucharistic presence is merely "symbolic." Sometimes the Eucharist is wrongly viewed as a sign that only reminds us that Christ is present, rather than a sign by which Christ is actually made present. Some writers have spoken of the Eucharistic bread and wine as mere evocative symbols that make us feel as though the Lord were present to us. But thoughts and feelings alone do not transform us. Only the true and objective presence of Christ has the power to change us.
The opinions just cited are wrong because they regard the presence of Christ in the Eucharist as entirely subjective. He is present only in the eye of the beholder - only in the minds of those who believe He is present. In his homily just prior to the last Conclave, the future Pope Benedict XVI spoke of the "dictatorship" of relativism and subjectivism, and he is right. Many believe that all religious teachings and moral norms lack objective truth; some doubt the capacity of both faith and reason to attain the truth securely. By contrast, we must firmly teach that Christ is objectively present in the Eucharist, "independently of our minds," as the God-given source of our holiness and unity (Pope Paul VI, Credo of the People of God, 1968).
In addition, most of us move about in cyberspace. We spend time at our computers in search of information, contact with others, and entertainment. So prevalent is cyberspace in our lives that we may conflate the virtual world with the real world where actual human contact is possible. But for all our technical know-how, we still grasp the difference between visiting Mom on Mother's Day and sending her an e-mail. Certainly, Mom knows the difference! Thankfully, Jesus didn't merely ask us to read His e-mails or take His calls. He intervenes personally in our lives.
B. The Church's Teaching on the Lord's Eucharistic Presence
In the Bread of Life Discourse in the Gospel of John (See John 6:22-59), Jesus describes Himself as "the living bread that came down from heaven." (John 6:51) This is a clear reference not only to the "bread" of God's Word, but above all to the Eucharistic Bread, the true Body of Christ. As the Bread of Life Discourse proceeds, Jesus' intent to give Himself to us as our food and drink becomes utterly apparent. Jesus says: "Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His Blood, you have no life in you. . . . My flesh is food indeed" (John 6:53, 55).
Reflecting on the Gospel of John and on the Eucharistic words of Jesus in the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew 26:26; Mark, 14:22; Luke, 22:19, ff.), as well as the teaching of Saint Paul (see, for example, 1 Cor. 5:7; 1 Cor. 11:24-25), the Church has always understood the Lord's intent to draw closer to us than we could ever ask or imagine. He does so to make us holy and to make us "one body, one spirit" (Eucharistic Prayer III) in bearing witness to His saving love.
This teaching is consoling but also challenging. Some feel that the Lord is too close for comfort and would prefer that He keep His distance. For the Savior who draws so close to us not only invites us to repent of our sins (see Mt. 4:17) but also gives us the strength to do so. We should not fear the true presence of the Lord; rather, we should welcome Him. In the words of Pope Benedict XVI: "We need a God who is close, a God who puts Himself in our hands and who loves us" (Homily, "The Eucharist, Sacrament of Unity," Bari, May 29, 2005, Origins, June 23, 2005). Pope John Paul II spoke in the same vein in his final encyclical when he wrote: "The Church has received the Eucharist from Christ her Lord not as one gift - however precious - but as the gift par excellence, for it is the gift of Himself" (Ecclesia de Eucharistia [On the Eucharist], no. 11).
May I now invite you to consider four points that will help explain how Christ's true presence in the Eucharist can make us holy and united - if we but allow the Lord the opportunity to accomplish His work in and among us?
1. The Eucharist is a personal encounter with Christ
The Eucharist is a personal encounter of the crucified and risen Christ with the worshipping community itself as well as each member of that community. This encounter involves Christ's bodily and spiritual presence as well as our bodily and spiritual presence. In giving us the gift of Himself, Jesus Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit, communicates His saving words and deeds and makes them present. For what the Redeemer said and did for our salvation is inseparable from the presence Person of the Word made Flesh.
Jesus gives Himself to us in a bodily and spiritual way through the sacramental signs of bread and wine. In the power of the Holy Spirit, the bread and wine are totally transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1376, repeats: ". . . by the consecration of the bread and wine there takes place a change of the whole substance of the bread into the substance of the Body of Christ our Lord and of the whole substance of wine into the substance of His Blood. This change the holy Catholic Church has fittingly and properly called transubstantiation (Council of Trent, 1551, DS 1642)." In the same way, Pope John Paul II, citing the teaching of Pope Paul VI, reminds us that the Mass ". . . involves a most special presence which . . . is called 'real' not as a way of excluding all other types of presence as if they were 'not real,' but because it is a presence in the fullest sense: a substantial presence whereby Christ, the God-Man, is wholly and entirely present" (Pope John Paul II, Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 15; Pope Paul VI, Mysterium Fidei, 21).
Note that the scriptural word for "body" is not limited only to the flesh; it refers to the whole person. Thus the bread and wine are transformed into Jesus' Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. It is the same Body in which Christ, the God-Man, died and rose to save us. This clear teaching of the Church mirrors the realism of the Bread of Life Discourse and avoids a "disembodied" notion of holiness that keeps reasserting itself through history in Gnosticism's various guises, most recently in The DaVinci Code. Gnosticism is a false theory of salvation by secret knowledge (gnosis). In effect, it claims: If you're "in the know" you'll be saved. But salvation is not "a head trip." It requires an open profession of the Church's faith which, in turn, shapes how we are to live. It involves body, mind, and spirit. As the future Pope Benedict XVI once wrote: "[Jesus, in the Bread of Life Discourse] says that faith in God who became man is believing in a God with a body and that this faith is real and fulfilled; it brings full union only if it is itself corporeal, if it is a sacramental event in which the corporeal Lord seizes hold of our bodily existence" (Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, op. cit., p. 77). Similarly, in his "Theology of the Body," Pope John Paul II taught us about the importance of the body in expressing what is in the soul. One might think of one's body almost like a sacramental sign that reveals and conceals what is in the depth of our hearts. So we should see the Eucharist as a union of presences - His and ours - a union of presences that Saint Paul compares to a marriage in which husband and wife become one flesh (see 1 Cor. 6:17 with reference to Gen. 2:24; see also Eph. 5:22 ff).
2. Christ in His Mysteries Is "Re-Presented" in the Eucharist
In his final Apostolic Letter, Mane Nobiscum, Domine, Pope John Paul II gave us an account of why the Eucharist is fundamental to holiness. In his reflection, our late Holy Father describes the encounter of the Risen Lord with two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35). As they walked along, Jesus opened their minds and hearts to the meaning of the Scriptures. As we journey through life, Christ continues to open our minds to the meaning of the Scriptures, for when the Scriptures are proclaimed in the liturgy, "it is Christ Himself who speaks to us" (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 7). The Word of God proclaimed from the Lectionary, coupled with the Mass prayers, the homily, and the recitation of the Nicene Creed should form an ongoing school of the Christian life wherein we come to know, deeply and personally, the Christ we are called to follow.
Indeed, the Word of God is spirit and life! In the power of the Holy Spirit, the mysteries of the life Christ proclaimed in Scripture are not only recalled and explained but also made present for us. The Liturgy of the Word is no mere history lesson because the events proclaimed therein become contemporaneous with us. The mysteries of Christ's life, the words and deeds by which He revealed the Father, pull up alongside us in time as the Eucharist unfolds. For example, Christ proclaims the Sermon on the Mount just as much to us as He did to those who first heard His words.
Keeping in mind the power of God's Word unleashed in the liturgy, we can more readily understand what happens in the second part of the Mass, the Liturgy of the Eucharist. Like the disciples who walked with Jesus to Emmaus, we find ourselves at table with the Risen Lord where we recognize Him "in the breaking of bread" (Luke 24:35), a most ancient phrase for the Eucharist. Just as the mysteries of Christ's life, such as His preaching and miracles, culminated in the "hour" of His death and resurrection, so also in the Eucharist. In the Eucharistic Prayer, prayed in the power of the Holy Spirit, the Paschal Mystery of Christ, the sacrifice of the Cross crowned by the glory of the Resurrection, is truly made present. The Mass is the living memorial of Christ's sacrifice of love. As Pope John Paul II has written: "The Mass makes present the sacrifice of the Cross; it does not add to that sacrifice nor does it multiply it. What is repeated is its memorial celebration, its 'commemorative representation' . . . which makes Christ's one, definitive redemptive sacrifice always present in time" (Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 12). By taking part in the banquet of Christ's sacrifice through worthy reception of Holy Communion, we are nourished and strengthened for our own pasch, our own "passage" from the death of sin to the new life of grace. "The Eucharist is a true banquet, in which Christ offers Himself as our nourishment" (Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 16).
3. This sacramental encounter with Christ takes place for the sake of our salvation
Notice the words of consecration: "This is My Body, given for you." "This is My Blood . . . it will be shed for you and for all, so that sins might be forgiven." Christ's presence brings with it His saving deeds, especially His death and resurrection, which "have passed over into the sacraments" (see Pope Leo I, Sermons, 74:2). In other words, through the Mass we share in all Christ did to save us.
Salvation consists in the Lord's removing from us the burden our sins. Sin is serious business. It hinders, even destroys, our relationship with God. It undermines our relationships with others and produces all sorts of discord. Sin causes deep divisions within our own hearts. It has marred relations among Christians, as well as relations with other believers and with non-believers.
The real presence of Christ in the Eucharist is a wondrous mystery beyond human understanding, but it is not a mere metaphysical miracle for its own sake. As Pope Benedict XVI says, "the goal of the Eucharist is the transformation of those who receive it" (see Sunday Homily, World Youth Day). Similarly, Saint Augustine observes that while we transform the ordinary food we eat, the Eucharist is the food that transforms us who partake of it (see Confessions VIII, 10:16). The first and necessary change we must undergo is conversion - turning away from sin and turning towards the Lord. Through the Sacrament of Reconciliation, our hearts must be cleansed of sin, especially serious sin, and cleared of the barriers that prevent communion with God and with the Church. In the Eucharist, Jesus' oneness with the Father, revealed in His obedient acceptance of the cross, is applied to our sinfulness which separates us from God and others. Thus we are transformed from isolated, self-centered individuals trapped by disordered affections into a community united in the adoration of the living God and the service of others.
The Eucharistic transformations we must undergo constitute a life-long process. We receive the Eucharist Sunday after Sunday (and sometimes daily) so as to be continually transformed from sinners into saints. Ultimately we are looking to that day when our mortal bodies will be transformed into resurrected bodies and our whole being will be caught up in worshipping God face to face with all the saints and angels. In the memorable phrase of Pope John Paul II: "With the Eucharist we digest, as it were, the 'secret' of the resurrection" (Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 18).
4. Union with the Trinity and with One Another in the Church
In his final encyclical, Pope John Paul II reminded us that Jesus' sacrifice on the Cross "was so decisive for the salvation of the human race that Jesus offered it and returned to His heavenly Father only after He had left us a means of sharing in it, as if we had been present there" (Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 12). The Eucharist is that means. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, the Eucharist brings into the present Jesus' complete self-offering so that we can share in it, here and now. Like the Virgin Mary standing beneath the Cross of Jesus, we are enabled to add our "yes" to Jesus' self-offering. Jesus' merciful love, released into our lives through the Eucharist, gives us ongoing strength to renounce the glamour of evil and the cult of self, and draws us into the inward life of the Trinity, together with the saints who stand in adoration before His throne. United to Christ's self-offering we discover how to live, not for ourselves, but for God and for others. Reconciled and united by the Lord's sacrificial love, the worshipping community mirrors what the whole Church must continually become: "a people brought into unity from the unity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit" (Lumen Gentium, 4; Saint Cyprian, De Orat. Dom. 23; Saint Augustine, Serm. 71; Saint John Damascene, Adv. Iconocl).
This prompts two additional considerations: first, a brief reflection on the meaning of "active participation" in the liturgy; and second, a word on celebrating the liturgy so as to manifest the Church's unity.
The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy of Vatican II strongly and rightfully encouraged "full, conscious, and active participation" in the liturgy (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 14). This phrase naturally calls to mind our responsibility to be attentive to the readings and prayers of the liturgy and to take part in the spoken and sung responses and hymns. We can also think of active participation in terms of various liturgical roles such as lector, cantor, and extraordinary minister of the Eucharist. But all forms of active participation must be animated by the true spirit of the liturgy. They are to help us interiorize the true beauty and power of the Church's worship. They are a means toward the ultimate goal of the liturgy: full, conscious, and active participation in the life of the Trinity.
A second consideration pertains to the Eucharist as "both the source of ecclesial unity and its greatest manifestation" (Mane Nobiscum, Domine, 21). The unity in question is not a mere human consensus but rather the Spirit's gift of unity through our sharing in one Body of Christ. As Pope John Paul II wrote: "Our union with Christ, which is a gift and grace for each of us, makes it possible for us, in him, to share in the unity of His Body which is the Church" (Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 23). Elsewhere our late Holy Father draws our attention to the unity of the original nucleus of the Church at prayer: "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" (Mane Nobiscum, Domine, 21; Acts 4:32). This portrait comes to life most completely in the Diocese of Bridgeport when I, as diocesan bishop, gather with the clergy and lay faithful of this local Church in the Cathedral Church of Saint Augustine for the celebration of the Eucharist. As the Second Vatican Council teaches, this is the "principal manifestation" of the Church (Mane Nobiscum, Domine, 22; Sacrosanctum Concilium, 41). Such Masses are occasions of grace and joy when the whole diocese manifests and deepens its unity as in Christ.
Clearly, the Eucharist is Christ's work of making us one with the Father and with one another, a work accomplished by the power of the Holy Spirit. Thus Pope John Paul II reminded us that "the liturgy is never anyone's private property, be it of the celebrant or of the community in which the mysteries are celebrated" (Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 52). When unauthorized practices are imposed on the liturgy, the very instrument of our unity as a Church becomes instead the source of divisions and factions. These liturgical abuses can range from improvising the words of the Eucharistic Prayer to importing discontinued practices (rubrics) from the Mass as it was before the reform of Pope Paul VI. The liturgy as it exists today allows for a wide variety of legitimate options. It is for the Holy See and the Episcopal Conference, not a diocese, or parish, or individual, to work out adaptations for a given country or territory; this is being done again as the new translation of the Roman Missal into English proceeds. But going beyond allowable options and approved adaptations often distorts the faith of the Church embedded in the liturgy; it causes confusion and division among both clergy and laity; it contributes to the absence of many Catholics from Sunday Mass; and it damages the "substantial unity" of the Roman Rite (See Redemptionis Sacramentum, 11, Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, 2004). Continual experimentation, whether rooted in ideologies on the right or the left, undermines the unity of the Church. In fact, "the Catholic people have the right that the Sacrifice of the Mass should be celebrated for them in an integral manner, according to the entire doctrine of the Church's Magisterium. . . . It is the Catholic community's right that the celebration of the Most Holy Eucharist should be carried out in such a manner that it truly stands out as a sacrament of unity, to the exclusion of all blemishes and actions that might engender divisions and factio s in the Church" Ibid 12. Such divisions and factions are not merely the cause of unpleasant feelings or the occasion for uncharitable comments. Even more seriously, they hinder and even undermine the ability of the Church to evangelize. The Lord prayed that we would be one "so that the world might believe" (John 18:20).
By contrast, faithful, prayerful, and serene observance of the Church's liturgical norms contributes to the unity of the Church and helps ensure that the holiness and saving power of the Eucharistic Lord truly shines through. While the personality and style of the celebrant, deacon, and other liturgical ministers are undoubtedly evident, they should never become the focus of attention. Instead, our entire persona should be pressed into service to make clear that the surpassing power of the Eucharist comes from Christ and not from us. Like John the Baptist, we must decrease so that Christ may increase! And in place of inventing one's own liturgical texts and practices, the real challenge is to penetrate the meaning of the approved liturgical texts and to unearth the riches the liturgy already contains. The valid, licit, and fruitful celebration of the Eucharist has its own meaning and saving power which, to repeat, is derived not from us but from the Lord.
IV. Our Response to the Mystery of Christ's True Presence
Although the Year of the Eucharist will end, the celebration of the Mass will go on until the end of time. Our sacramental encounter with Christ and our living contact with the mystery of His love should fill our hearts with hope and joy, with gratitude, adoration, and love. But how can we bring the fruits of this Eucharistic Year into the future?
As this pastoral letter draws to a close, allow me to offer some practical suggestions.
First, we must renew our focus on Sunday Mass. In the recent past, more than a few people suffered persecution and even martyrdom because they longed to share in the Eucharist. The late Francis Cardinal Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan tells of celebrating Mass with only a few drops of wine while in extended solitary confinement in the Vietnamese prison of Phu Khanh. As a young priest, I met a bishop from Eastern Europe who was imprisoned for celebrating the Eucharist for his people. Such inspiring stories should prompt us to reexamine the casual attitude toward Sunday Mass that is so prevalent today. If we truly believe in Christ's real presence in the Eucharist, we would never want to be absent from Sunday Mass. We would recognize our hunger for the holiness of the Bread of Life. We would readily see that the Mass is more important than anything else we participate in. I especially appeal to parents and younger Catholics to make Sunday Mass a regular part of your life. Make room for the Lord who comes to us in humility and love.
Second, we need to recover the link between the Eucharist and the Sacrament of Penance or Reconciliation. Saint Paul urges us to examine our consciences before partaking of the Eucharist: "Whoever, therefore, eats the bread and drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the Body and Blood of the Lord. A person should examine himself and so eat the bread and drink the cup" (1 Cor. 11:27-28). We should daily examine our consciences. If we become aware that we have committed a mortal sin, we are obliged to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation before receiving Holy Communion (see Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1385; 1415). Even when we are not guilty of mortal sin, we should receive the Sacrament of Penance regularly, about once a month. The continual cleansing of our hearts from the dead works of sin opens them ever more widely to truth and beauty of the Eucharistic sacrifice.
Third, the Eucharist, which is the source and manifestation of our unity in Christ, should commit us to authentic ecumenism. From the beginning of his pontificate, Benedict XVI has re-committed the Church to the cause of Christian unity. Through the working of the Holy Spirit much progress has been made in restoring bonds of communion broken over time by sin and misunderstanding. However, Eucharistic sharing will be possible only when full communion is reestablished in the profession of faith, the sacraments, and ecclesiastical governance (Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 44). We deeply long for the goal of Christian unity but it can only be attained by walking the path of truth. This requires the honest recognition of what still divides the Catholic Church from other Christian churches.
Members of Eastern Churches not in full communion with the Catholic Church may receive Holy Communion in a Catholic Church if they request it and they are properly disposed. In cases of grave necessity, individuals who belong to other Christian churches or ecclesial communions not in full communion with the Catholic Church can, with the permission of the diocesan bishop, receive Holy Communion. Such individuals must freely request the Eucharist, fully accept and profess the Church's Eucharistic faith, and be deprived for a long period of time from the sacraments in his or her own church or ecclesial communion. Catholics who find themselves in a similar situation can request the Eucharist from ministers of Churches with valid sacraments, including Holy Orders (see Code of Canon Law 844, para. 3-4; Ut Unum Sint, 13). Open invitations to receive Holy Communion should not be extended to those who are not in full communion with the Church even on occasions such as weddings and funerals.
Fourth, an important outgrowth of the Year of the Eucharist should be increased Eucharistic Adoration. What a blessing that the Lord continually remains with us, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity in the Blessed Sacrament reserved in the tabernacle! I am always inspired and encouraged when I visit the Saint John Fisher Seminary Residence where the Blessed Sacrament is adored throughout the day and night. I am grateful for the increasing number of parishes that offer opportunities for Eucharistic adoration and encourage all parishes to do so. This affords people throughout the Fairfield County the opportunity to spend time with the Lord, to deepen their friendship with Him, and to thank and adore the Lord who has chosen to remain with us in this personal and living fashion. Eucharistic adoration only heightens our appreciation and longing for the celebration of the Eucharist.
Fifth, we should pray earnestly for vocations to the priesthood and for priests already ordained. The Eucharist can be celebrated validly only by an ordained priest who acts in the very person of Christ as Head of the Church. Through Holy Orders, the priest is identified, in the depth of his being, with Christ, the eternal High Priest. In the power of the Holy Spirit, the priest is enabled to re-present the Lord's sacrifice and to consecrate the bread and wine into His Body and Blood. We need to encourage young men to consider whether God may be calling them to the sublime vocation of priesthood. Similarly, we need to offer priests already ordained our respect, encouragement, understanding, and love as they fulfill their challenging ministry. We should also pray to our Eucharistic Lord for vocations to the diaconate and consecrated life, and for good holy marriages and families, more necessary than ever for the good of the Church and our society.
Sixth, I want to commend all those who bring Holy Communion to the sick and homebound, especially the priests who serve as hospital chaplains and those who are extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist. How important is "the medicine of immortality" in time of illness or isolation! One important result of the Year of the Eucharist should be an increased appreciation of the importance of the sick and elderly as members of our worshipping community. We should not forget how precious is their dignity in the sight of God and how powerfully their prayers resound in heaven.
Seventh, I urge every Catholic in the Diocese of Bridgeport to grow in the Church's Eucharistic faith. Both the Old and New Testaments bear eloquent and united testimony to the banquet of Christ's sacrifice. The Church's teaching on the Eucharist is clear and life-giving. So I ask that you study the Scriptures and spend time reading those sections of the Catechism of the Catholic Church that pertain to the Eucharist (para. 1322-1419) as well as Pope John Paul II's final encyclical on the Eucharist, Ecclesia de Eucharistia, which I have cited often in this pastoral letter. I also ask that our Catholic schools and parish religious education programs ensure that young people are fully instructed in the Church's teaching on the Eucharist.
Finally, we receive the Eucharist as an undeserved gift from the Lord. In Holy Communion, we receive the Eternal Son of God who "emptied Himself" and "[took] the form of a slave" for the sake of our salvation (Philippians 2:7). The Lord has reached out to us in our spiritual poverty. His generosity should inspire in us a love for the poor who often lack "the daily bread" we pray for and receive. We should be mindful of the poor, the newly arrived, and all who lack the necessities of life. We are blessed to live in Fairfield County, but it is a very difficult place to be poor. May the Lord's generosity to us inspire us to be good servants of the poor, both at home and far beyond.
In reading the Acts of the Apostles, we come to realize that Mary, the Mother of the Lord, was present at the earliest Eucharistic celebrations of the Church (Acts 2:42). May I ask you to join with me in begging her to pray with us and for us - that in our parishes and families a deepened Eucharistic faith may take hold, and that we may become "Eucharistic missionaries" who bring the Good News of the Lord's sacrificial love to those who have fallen away and to those searching for a spiritual home. Through Mary's intercession, may we remain with the Lord who has willed to remain with us in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar.
Spirituality for Today contents copyright 1996-2014 Clemons Productions Inc. and the Diocese of Bridgeport unless otherwise noted