|An introductory extract from
ON THE MYSTERY AND
WORSHIP OF THE EUCHARIST (DOMINICAE CENAE)
Apostolic Exhortation of Pope John Paul II promulgated on February 24, 1980.
To All the Bishops of the Church.
My venerable and dear brothers,
2. The present letter that I am addressing to you, my venerable and dear brothers in
the episcopate--and which is, as I have said, in a certain way a continuation of the
previous one--is also closely linked with the mystery of Holy Thursday, and is related to
the priesthood. In fact I intend to devote it to the Eucharist, and in particular to
certain aspects of the Eucharistic Mystery and its impact on the lives of those who are
the ministers of It: and so those to whom this letter is directly addressed are you, the
bishops of the Church; together with you, all the priests; and, in their own rank, the
In reality, the ministerial and hierarchical priesthood, the priesthood of the bishops
and the priests, and, at their side, the ministry of the deacons--ministries which
normally begin with the proclamation of the Gospel--are in the closest relationship with
the Eucharist. The Eucharist is the principal and central raison d'Ítre of the sacrament
of the priesthood, which effectively came into being at the moment of the institution of
the Eucharist, and together with it. Not without reason the words "Do this in
memory of me" are said immediately after the words of eucharistic consecration, and
we repeat them every time we celebrate the holy Sacrifice.
Through our ordination--the celebration of which is linked to the holy Mass from the
very first liturgical evidence--we are united in a singular and exceptional way to the
Eucharist. In a certain way we derive from it and exist for it. We are also, and in a
special way, responsible for it--each priest in his own community and each bishop by
virtue of the care of all the communities entrusted to him, on the basis of the
sollicitudo omnium ecclesiarum that St. Paul speaks of. Thus we bishops and priests are
entrusted with the great "mystery of Faith," and while it is also given to the
whole People of God, to all believers in Christ, yet to us has been entrusted the
Eucharist also "for" others, who expect from us a particular witness of
veneration and love towards this sacrament, so that they too may be able to be built up
and vivified "to offer spiritual sacrifices."
In this way our eucharistic worship, both in the celebration of Mass and in our
devotion to the Blessed Sacrament, is like a life-giving current that links our
ministerial or hierarchical priesthood to the common priesthood of the faithful, and
presents it in its vertical dimension and with its central value. The priest fulfills his
principal mission and is manifested in all his fullness when he celebrates the
Eucharist, and this manifestation is more complete when he himself allows the depth of
that mystery to become visible, so that it alone shines forth in people's hearts and
minds, through his ministry. This is the supreme exercise of the "kingly
priesthood," "the source and summit of all Christian life."
3. This worship is directed towards God the Father through Jesus Christ in the Holy
Spirit. In the first place towards the Father, who, as St. John's Gospel says, "loved
the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not
be lost but may have eternal life."
It is also directed, in the Holy Spirit, to the incarnate Son, in the economy of
salvation, especially at that moment of supreme dedication and total abandonment of
Himself to which the words uttered in the Upper Room refer: "This is my body given up
for you.... This is the cup of my blood shed for you...." The liturgical
acclamation: "We proclaim your death, Lord Jesus" takes us back precisely to
that moment; and with the proclamation of His resurrection we embrace in the same act of
veneration Christ risen and glorified "at the right hand of the Father," as also
the expectation of His "coming in glory." Yet it is the voluntary emptying of
Himself, accepted by the Father and glorified with the resurrection, which, sacramentally
celebrated together with the resurrection, brings us to adore the Redeemer who
"became obedient unto death, even death on a cross."
And this adoration of ours contains yet another special characteristic. It is
compenetrated by the greatness of that human death, in which the world, that is to say
each one of us, has been loved "to the end."
Thus it is also a response that tries to repay that love immolated even to the death on
the cross: it is our "Eucharist," that is to say our giving Him thanks, our
praise of Him for having redeemed us by His death and made us sharers in immortal life
through His resurrection.
This worship, given therefore to the Trinity of the Father and of the Son and of the
Holy Spirit, above all accompanies and permeates the celebration of the Eucharistic
Liturgy. But it must fill our churches also outside the timetable of Masses. Indeed, since
the Eucharistic Mystery was instituted out of love, and makes Christ sacramentally
present, it is worthy of thanksgiving and worship. And this worship must be prominent in
all our encounters with the Blessed Sacrament, both when we visit our churches and when
the sacred species are taken to the sick and administered to them.
Adoration of Christ in this sacrament of love must also find expression in various
forms of eucharistic devotion: personal prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, Hours of
Adoration, periods of exposition--short, prolonged and annual (Forty Hours)--eucharistic
benediction, eucharistic processions, eucharistic congresses. A particular mention
should be made at this point of the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ as an act of
public worship rendered to Christ present in the Eucharist, a feast instituted by my
predecessor Urban IV in memory of the institution of this great Mystery. All this
therefore corresponds to the general principles and particular norms already long in
existence but newly formulated during or after the Second Vatican Council.
The encouragement and the deepening of eucharistic worship are proofs of that authentic
renewal which the council set itself as an aim and of which they are the central point.
And this, venerable and dear brothers, deserves separate reflection. The Church and the
world have a great need of eucharistic worship. Jesus waits for us in this sacrament of
love. Let us be generous with our time in going to meet Him in adoration and in
contemplation that is full of faith and ready to make reparation for the great faults and
crimes of the world. May our adoration never cease.
View the complete
text of Dominicae Cenae from the EWTN Online Document Library.