|THE EUCHARIST AND FREEDOM|
|Pontifical Committee for International Eucharistic
A 'Statio Orbis' in Eastern Europe
1. The 46th International Eucharistic Congress will be celebrated in Wroclaw, Poland, in 1997. For the first time in the history of the International Eucharistic Congresses, this will be a very timely occasion to reflect on the rich and stimulating theme of the Eucharist in relation to freedom. With the whole Church we are indeed moving towards the celebration of the third millennium of the Christian era at the close of a century which has witnessed the drama of entire nations being subjugated to totalitarian regimes. This painful experience has involved in a special way the nations of Eastern Europe. Only a few years ago, divine Providence allowed us to behold the signs of this oppression collapsing almost suddenly before our eyes. The celebration of the Congress will take place in the very heart of Eastern Europe, in Poland, in order to shed its light on all the nations which during the last decades have experienced the tragic negation of personal and social freedom. Thus, the Eucharistic mystery will highlight not only the positive experience of both the historical and social aspects of freedom but also the supernatural quality of the freedom with which Christ has set us free.
The Eucharist—about which the whole Church will pause in adoration, as at a "<Statio Orbis>"—must, however, shed its light with the splendour of truth on all the nations of the world, not only on those which are still deprived of freedom or undergoing the trials of war; nor only on those people who are oppressed by new forms of poverty, underdevelopment, racial hatred, bad government, or the abuse of the mass media.... For all people of the world the message of Christ's true freedom must ring out as an urgent summons to proclaim truth, to respect the rights of God as guaranteeing the right of humanity, to seek concord and work towards true peace in justice.
The Eucharist, mystery of faith and life, gift of freedom
2. The Eucharist is at the centre of the Church's faith and life. In Christ Jesus, the Incarnate Word, who died and is glorified, the living Bread and our Passover, we have the essence of all aspects of our redemption.
The 46th International Eucharistic Congress is focused on presenting and celebrating the mystery of the Eucharist in the light of a concept of far-reaching anthropological, social and salvific significance: freedom. This word "freedom" expresses the great quest of humanity, the desire of all people. Freedom is an expression of that spark of truth and life with which humanity was created in the image and likeness of God. Freedom both signifies humanity's noblest expression and is also fraught with its greatest risk: "God willed that man should be 'left in the hand of his own counsel', so that he might of his own accord seek his Creator and freely attain his full and blessed perfection by cleaving to him."
Freedom is God's gift made to humanity in creation, and even more in redemption. It is, indeed, to the mystery of redemption that Paul is referring when he says: "For freedom Christ has set us free. (Gal 5:1). Precisely because freedom is a fragile and endangered gift, it has been "redeemed" from sin and is "saved" by the gift of the Holy Spirit, in whom we have become children of God, freed from the slavery of sin so as to cry out together "Abba! Father!" (cf. Gal 4:46). The same Spirit enables us to turn to others as our brothers and sisters in the freedom and evangelical fraternity of the children of the one Father.
For this reason, so that we may remain free, Christ himself willed that the mystery of redemption and our liberation-his and our Passover-should be sacramentally presented to us in the Eucharist at all times and in all places until his glorious and definitive return, when "freed from the corruption of sin and death, we shall sing the glory of the Father with every creature".
On the threshold of the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000
3. A strong summons to Christian freedom springs from its happy coincidence with the immediate preparation for the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000. In the tradition of the people of Israel, a Jubilee Year was indeed a joyful and community celebration of the freedom and liberation offered to all by God. Christ himself, consecrated by the Spirit and sent by the Father, came to put into effect the great Jubilee of redemption. "It is he who brings liberty to those deprived of it, who frees the oppressed and gives back sight to the blind (cf. Mt 11:45; Lk 7:22). In this way he ushers in 'a year of the Lord's favour', which he proclaims not only with his words but above all by his actions".
The Great Jubilee of salvation was accomplished in the paschal mystery of the death and Resurrection of Christ, of which the Eucharist is the perpetual memorial.
In the perspective of preparation for the Great Jubilee of 2000, the year 1997, that of the International Eucharistic Congress of Krakow, will be dedicated especially to celebrating the one Saviour of the world, "Jesus Christ, the same yesterday and today and for ever" (Heb 13:8), for "a renewed appreciation of Christ, Saviour and Proclaimer of the Gospel, with special reference to the fourth chapter of the Gospel of Luke, where the theme of Christ's mission of preaching the Good News and the theme of the Jubilee are interwoven...".
The providential choice of the theme <Eucharist and Freedom> is meant to place at the centre of the celebration of the Eucharistic Congress Christ the Lord, source of freedom and true liberation.
The reflections suggested by the theme and proposed in this text are intended as an aid for the Church's preparation in the different nations. All alike, both the faithful and pastors, focusing on the Eucharist, should prepare for the Congress by following together a path which leads from listening to the Word, meditation, celebration and commitment, towards joyfully experiencing that freedom by which Christ has set us free and continues to set us free in the mystery of Redemption.
1. The painful experience of a difficult time
A witness to true freedom
4. The proclamation of the Eucharist as the source of freedom is very relevant today. Never perhaps as in our century has the longing for freedom coexisted with the trampling underfoot of the most elementary rights of individuals and nations. The conscience of humanity has wonderfully matured in this century as regards the dignity of the human person; and yet, never before perhaps have there been such terrible crimes committed against freedom and human rights.
Only recently, after many years of totalitarian rule, has the social and political freedom of humanity been restored to the nations of Eastern Europe, while at the same time, a crisis of true freedom is being experienced in the developed nations which have a long tradition of democracy. These facts present a powerful challenge for the Church.
What action must be taken to enable the Church, meditating on the Eucharist, to restore a true sense of freedom? How can the innate human sense of freedom become the foundation of a worthy response to the Creator? How can it be the basis of a society whose citizens and Christians, as well as the nations and peoples of the world, who are called to be one single family, may live together in fraternal solidarity?
The Church seeks in the light of Christ's Word and strengthened by the Bread of Life to be above all in this world "a living witness to truth and freedom, to justice and peace, so that all humanity may find in it reason to hope for the renewal of the world".
Trials and victories of Christian freedom
5. The Eucharistic Congress will take place at the end of a century which should have been a wonderful era of freedom. But freedom has been trampled down by totalitarian systems in the countries of the East: both by the brutality of Stalinist oppression, and by the tyranny of Nazism. The power of a spirit of independence has, nonetheless, become apparent even when in public life freedom has been severely restricted or completely eliminated. The totalitarian systems did not endeavour to form human persons from within, they imposed external pressure. According to the ideology they proclaimed, industrialized society, which came about as a result of scientific and technological achievements, could not become the fruit of free decisions involving the participation of all free people. Freedom became untrustworthy.
At the same time, these systems showed themselves to be powerless when confronted with the inner freedom of human persons. Concentration camps, gulags, prisons and political trials brought about the inhuman destruction of millions of human beings. But they also occasioned untold triumphs of the human spirit. Human life took on a deeper significance in pardon, in effective love for one's neighbour, to the point of offering one's own life for the good of the enemy and for a better world. These were the triumphs of men and women whose lives were never disfigured by betrayal, collaboration with the forces of evil or compromise with the powerful.
A high price was paid in-human terms. But this was offset by the wonderful witness of inner freedom. One might ask what was the source of this strength of character. What enabled human beings to sacrifice their lives in defending truth, justice or the lives of others? How can we explain the fact that in the very act of losing one's life from a human point of view one discovers the fullness of one's destiny, one's own "salvation"? Such questions cannot be satisfactorily answered without referring to human conscience, in whose core the divine law is etched and which is formed through experiencing universal and transcendent values.
The experience of genocide and the triumph of the human spirit reveal both the tragic and inspiring aspects of the reality of our time, aspects which cannot be regarded as something banal. In a poignant way these aspects signify the mystery of human beings' encounter with God, or rather, with the One who is the revelation of God, Christ Jesus. Experience has shown that the human spirit has ultimately proved stronger than the power of totalitarian regimes. These latter suddenly collapsed either because of their intrinsic weakness or because of the yearning for freedom, which for decades filled the hearts of men and women, or, moreover, because of the special grace of God's providence and mercy.
2. Truth and freedom: the ambiguity of contemporary culture
The risk of freedom in contemporary culture
6. While a new situation of freedom has been created in many nations-often resulting from a reaction to a culture of dependence-we are, at the same time, experiencing today a sense of unbridled liberalism. The life-style created today is based on a notion of freedom that is almost absolute, lacking the moderation which the dignity of redeemed humanity demands for true freedom. The outcome of the loss of personal relationships is loneliness, the syndrome of the lonely crowd, a sense of the absurd, selfishness and emptiness regarding the meaning of existence which drives people more and more towards aggressive and brutal behaviour. This emptiness regarding the purpose of existence increasingly results in seeking substitutes for true freedom: for example, consumerism and hedonism, while on the other hand a great variety of alternative religious movements and the phenomenon of the rise of sects attempt to provide a delusive and alienating response for those seeking the true meaning of life.
While it is true that the humanistic currents of the Enlightenment shaped the notion of human rights the interpretation of these rights without reference to the perspective of the natural law failed to recognize the dignity of the human person as person. This resulted in liberal and subjective trends which are based on certain individualistic claims regarding how to define and decide the nature of truth, justice and morality.
God did not bestow his own likeness, and hence the possibility of true freedom, on an ideologically privileged race. He did not hand over humanity to a revolutionary class struggling for the government of souls, nor did he entrust to a liberal State the task of reflecting the divine. Human beings, in fact, as persons bear within themselves the image of the personal God, an image reinstated by the Redeemer's grace. They are, however, born not already free- as liberal thought affirms-but with the capacity of becoming free and assured by the promise of liberating salvation. Human nature is weakened by the heritage of sin. For the development of personal freedom, capability and formation, human persons require, above all, to be redeemed, that is, ransomed by God himself. The mystery of evil is overcome by the mystery of salvation. The gift of true freedom
7. The problem of freedom in the world today concerns the relationship between freedom and truth -that relationship perceived by conscience formed according to the revelation of the Gospel and the Church's teaching. John Paul II states: "only the freedom which submits to the Truth leads the human person to his true good. The good of the person is to be in the Truth and to <do> the Truth".
The rupture of the link between truth and freedom has produced in our day a general collapse of values and, at times, a real catastrophe regarding the meaning of humanity. John Paul II denounces some of the symptoms of this situation: "All around us we encounter contempt for human life after conception and before birth; the ongoing violation of basic rights of the person, the unjust destruction of goods minimally necessary for a human life". All false interpretations of freedom, so often denounced by the Church's Magisterium in our time, find expression in a crisis of true freedom in the life of individuals, families, and society.
In the face of this situation the message of Paul is still relevant regarding the need for human freedom to be freed from sin, redeemed by grace. "For freedom Christ has set us free" (Gal 5:1). Freedom itself needs to be set free. It is Christ who sets it free. "By his glorious Cross Christ has won salvation for all men. [...] The grace of Christ is not in the slightest way a rival of our freedom when this freedom accords with the sense of the true and the good that God has put in the human heart. On the contrary, as Christian experience attests especially in prayer, the more docile we are to the promptings of grace, the more we grow in inner freedom and confidence during trials, such as those we face in the pressures and constraints of the outer world. By the working of grace the Holy Spirit educates us in spiritual freedom in order to make us free collaborators in his work in the Church and in the world".
3. The Christian's response to freedom
Contemplating the crucified and risen Christ
8. Faced with the difficulty of understanding in depth the true meaning of freedom, we behold 'shining before our eyes the splendour of the truth of Christ, the crucified and risen Lord, in his free sacrificial offering of himself to the Father for his brothers and sisters. "<The crucified Christ reveals the authentic meaning of freedom; he lives it fully in the total gift of himself> and calls his disciples to share in his freedom". "Contemplation of Jesus Crucified is thus the highroad which the Church must tread every day if she wishes to understand the full meaning of freedom: the gift of self in <service to God and one's brethren.> Communion with the crucified and risen Lord is the never-ending source from which the Church draws unceasingly in order to live in freedom, to give of herself and to serve. [...] Jesus then, is the living, personal summation of perfect freedom in total obedience to the will of God. His crucified flesh fully reveals the unbreakable bond between freedom and truth, just as his Resurrection from the dead is the supreme exaltation of the fruitfulness and saving power of a freedom lived out in truth".
In the crucified and risen Christ shines forth the truth of the free gift with which Jesus, "having loved his own who were in the world, loved them to the end" (Jn 13:1). The Eucharist is the sacrament of this love. This truth also corresponds in a special way to the truth about humanity and to the understanding of freedom. No one can live without being welcomed and accepted by another person, without experiencing love and giving love. "Man cannot live without love. He remains a being that is incomprehensible for himself, his life is senseless, if love is not revealed to him, if he does not encounter love, if he does not experience it and make it his own, if he does not participate intimately in it".
On the one hand, a person finds fulfilment by being consumed in love, and in this way realizes his or her own infinite potential. On the other hand, love is also a particular kind of freedom, because one who loves moves constantly towards freedom-towards the freedom that sets one free from one's own limitations, from one's selfishness.
The bread of freedom and life
9. Contemplation of the Crucified One and the gift of love have been the key to understand so many heroic lives of those who by listening to the words of the Master and being nourished by the Eucharistic Bread have remained faithful and borne witness to the truth of God. These examples from the past remain as an urgent reminder that, living in our society, we need to experience the indissoluble relationship between sharing in the Eucharistic Liturgy and the authentic freedom of God's children. We celebrate and bear witness to the freedom with which Christ has set us free by being nourished by the Word of the Gospel and the Eucharistic Bread, by entering into communion with Christ, by adoring the Father in spirit and truth, and by showing love for our brothers and sisters even to the point of giving up our lives for them.
We should also remember that in this century, as during the first ages of the Church, the Eucharist has been the Bread of Freedom, the viaticum for courage and martyrdom. In the catacombs of the 20th century, its celebration has aroused faith and hope and strengthened the new martyrs who, by the witness of their lives and often at the price of death have upheld the dignity of conscience and the value of obedience to God's law.
The International Eucharistic Congress can be an appropriate occasion for commemorating the martyrs of Christian freedom, for strengthening the bonds of communion and for building a new society -a society which will stand firm against any regression to the moral poverty experienced during the century. Fixing our eyes on Christ, who is our Passover and liberation, this Congress offers an opportunity to hand on an education in the true sense of the freedom of God's children.
1. Christ's free offering
The life of Christ, a mystery of freedom
10. The celebration of the Eucharist highlights the filial obedience with which Christ surrendered himself into the hands of those who crucified him and into the hands of the Father. Christ's whole work of salvation is founded on the mystery of his limitless obedience to the Father. The Letter to the Hebrews tells us how Christ entered upon his saving work; as he came into the world, he said: "Sacrifices and offerings thou hast not desired [...] in burnt offerings and sin offerings thou has taken no pleasure. Then I said, 'Lo, I have come to do thy will, O God'" (Heb 10:5-7). During his public activity, Christ himself illustrated his life's programme with these words: "My food is to do the will of him who sent me, and to accomplish his work" (Jn 4:34). Fidelity to this programme, which he often reiterated, reaches its dramatic climax in the mystery of the agony in Gethsemane and the death on the cross. In the Garden of Olives Christ concludes the torture of his mysterious hesitation by expressing his heroic readiness: "My Father [...] thy will be done" (Mt 26:42). On the cross, where he finally accomplished his work in accepting death, he seals his life's programme with the terse exclamation: "It is finished" (Jn 19:30). These words sum up his submission to the Father throughout his life; they are also the last act of the work accomplished by Christ: the work of salvation and rehabilitation of humanity in which human freedom is reborn.
'A death he freely accepted'
11. Christian tradition has applied to Christ's voluntary offering the words of the prophet Isaiah: "He was offered because he so willed" (<Oblatus est quia ipse voluit>-cf. Is. 53:7 according to the Vulgate). His supreme freedom in accomplishing the work entrusted to him by the Father is clearly evident at the beginning of the "book of glory", that is, the chapters in which John narrates the glorious passion of the Lord. "Now before the feast of the Passover when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end" (Jn 13:1). These words show that on Holy Thursday Christ was clearly conscious of the fact that the historic moment of the accomplishment of his mission had arrived-a moment, that is, at the same time an historic one for all humanity. This moment was reached also because of what had taken place in the early hours of that day; it had its climax in his death: "obedient unto death, even death on a Cross" (Phil 2:8). "Jesus' hour" is thus wholly immersed in obedience and love. One of the principal moments of this hour is the mystery of the Eucharist.
By instituting the memorial of his sacrifice at the Last Supper, Jesus expressed in the most transparent manner the freedom with which he offers in immense love to his disciples his body and blood, which he poured out as a sign of his free and voluntary gift. The liturgy of the Church reminds us of Jesus' gesture of freedom in certain Eucharistic prayers from both the Western and Oriental traditions: "Before he was given up to death, a death he freely accepted, he took bread..."; "Father ... in fulfilment of your will he gave himself up to death". An Oriental anaphora expresses this clearly: "Accepting to suffer voluntarily for us sinners, he who committed no sin in the night when he was betrayed, or rather, when he gave himself up for the life and salvation of the world..".
This liturgical proclamation reminds us daily of the free act of love by which Christ offered himself to the Father for us, and, day after day, surrenders himself to the Church, so that in turn she may be for the faithful a source of true freedom in self-giving.
2. The mystery of the Eucharist
The Eucharist, gift of liberation
12. The Church's Eucharistic liturgy recalls the gift of the freedom with which Christ has set us free at the heart of the celebration while introducing the words of institution: "When the time had come to give his life for our liberation, he took bread..."; "he always loved those who were his own in the world. When the time came for him to be glorified by you, his heavenly Father, he showed the depth of his love". The Eucharist expresses the mystery of Christ's freedom, the gift of liberation; it means love to the end, for only love can liberate.
The Holy Father Pope John Paul II put this eloquently in one of his first homilies during his third "Eucharistic pilgrimage" to Poland in 1987: "The Eucharist belongs to that Hour, to Christ's hour of redemption, to the hour of redemption in the history of humanity and of the world. This is the hour in which the Son of Man 'loved unto the end'. To the end he affirmed the saving power of love. He revealed that God himself is love. There has never been, and there will never be a greater revelation, a more radical confirmation of this truth: 'Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life' (Jn 15:13) for all, that they may 'have life and have it to the full' (Jn 10:10)".
In this mystery of love, so powerfully expressed, which is at the heart of this "hour of history., the mystery of Jesus' obedience to the Father is inseparable from his human freedom. In instituting the Eucharist, Christ indeed underlines the fact that it is intimately related to the New Covenant through the "outpouring of blood" in his death, the climax of his submission to the Father in limitless filial obedience.
From the old to the new Passover
13. "I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer" (Lk 22:14). The institution of the Eucharist is associated in this way with the great tradition of the Jewish Passover, the annual memorial of the liberation from Egypt, which it gives a new direction in pointing it towards the memorial of the new Covenant.
The memorial of Israel's liberation was at the heart of the celebration of its Passover. In the prayers of the Hebrew tradition we read these eloquent words that accompanied the paschal banquet: "In every generation each individual is bound to regard himself as if he personally had gone forth from Egypt.... Therefore we are bound to thank, praise, laud, glorify, extol, honour, bless, exalt and reverence him who did all these miracles for our ancestors and for us: he brought us forth from bondage to freedom, from sorrow to joy, from mourning to holydays, from darkness to great light".
Jesus brings the Passover to fulfilment with his redeeming death and his Resurrection, according to the words of Paul: "Christ, our paschal lamb, has been sacrificed" (1 Cor 5:7). At the Last Supper he institutes the memorial of his Passover and invites his disciples to carry out until his return in glory this memorial of his body which is given and of his blood which is poured out.
In the gift of his body and the outpouring of his blood Christ affirms our liberation and redemption from sin, in the sacrifice of the New Covenant he expresses the fullness of our liberation and our salvation with the inner gift of the Spirit, and he summons us to the eternal Passover in his Kingdom.
The Eucharist, the bread come down from heaven the flesh offered for the life of the world, the gift of resurrection and life, is indeed Christ, the Incarnate Word, who died and is glorified; he leads us with him from this world to the Father and promises our final liberation, when he will raise us up on the last day (cf. Jn 6:51-54).
In the Eucharist we behold as in a mirror what we shall be enabled to contemplate face to face in eternity. We thus can face up to the burden of living filled with the strength of the Eucharist and the hope of "rising again". This hope also confers special characteristics on human freedom. It teaches patience, perseverance, self-giving and sacrifice. And it shows us that the risen Christ is the source and measure of the fullness of freedom.
3. Celebration of Christian freedom
The gift of the Spirit
14. The ineffable riches of the Cenacle, together with the gift of the priesthood, complete the command of the Apostles: "Do this in remembrance of me" (1 Cor 11:24; Lk 22:19). How profound and full of meaning is this command! What was instituted at the precise moment of that hour in the Cenacle, closely linked with what would happen in another moment of time on the same historic day, surpasses the limits of history as an event that would accompany the new People of God on their journey until the end of time. For Christians the Passover is, indeed, a person, Christ himself, and not merely an event of the past. Through the Resurrection of Christ, it remains in the "today" of eternity.
"As often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes" (1 Cor 11:26). We are called to participate in the gifts of redemption and salvation: the remission of sins, the gift of the Holy Spirit. The experience of liberation is renewed for us especially through the outpouring of the Spirit of the Risen One, as in a renewed Pentecost, so that we may respond to Christ's gift with the same attitude of love freely given: "That we might live no longer for ourselves but for him, he sent the Holy Spirit...".
The Eucharist, instituted by the words "do this in memory of men, becomes, then, the redemptive encounter through which the infinite riches of salvation-including the possibility of rehabilitation of human freedom destroyed by sin-are, as it were, made available to humanity for all time. Through the Eucharist humanity is offered the possibility of emerging from slavery with all its consequences that today are bringing it to the edge of the precipice of total destruction. All three aspects of the Eucharist: sacrifice, communion, presence, share in the work of growing into that freedom for which "Christ has set us free".
The liberating power of charity
15. The celebration of the breaking of the bread which is also called "the Lord's Supper" (1 Cor 11:20), constitutes the people of the New Covenant; it makes present the risen Lord and unites all who share in the one bread and the one chalice into one single body in Christ in the Holy Spirit (cf. 1 Cor 10:16-17). The divisions that remain within the community reflect, however, as Paul explains, an incomplete understanding of the original meaning of the Eucharist as communion with Christ and with one's brothers and sisters (cf. 1 Cor 11:17-22).
The communion of charity, on the contrary, and the sharing of goods are the condition and effect of communion with Christ in the Church. They eloquently express the fact that all barriers of selfishness have been broken down by the freedom with which Christ has set us free-that freedom granted to all believers who make up the new people (cf. Acts 2:42-45).
Irenaeus of Lyons was so fascinated by the freedom brought by Christ that he called the first disciples "preachers of truth and apostles of freedom". He presents the Christian Eucharist from the standpoint of freedom. As a gift from the Lord, the Eucharist is an offering of people who are free. Even in the midst of persecutions, the first Christian communities understood and bore witness to the fact that the Eucharistic celebration was the source of a great impetus to mutual charity. This charity was able to make brothers and sisters of them all, forming them into a new people who were educated to bear witness courageously even to the point of martyrdom. They became capable of bringing about the renewal of society through their charity and a fresh social sense of solidarity that sprang from the Eucharistic celebration and became expressed in the sharing of their goods and contribution towards those in need.
1. The primacy of the Word in evangelization
Evangelization and catechesis
16. The preparation of the 46th International Eucharistic Congress on the eve of the Church's celebration of the Great Jubilee Year 2000 offers a great opportunity for constantly "proclaiming" the true meaning of the Eucharist. It also expresses the task of ongoing re-evangelization of the Christian community on the basis of the Eucharist, which is the synthesis of word and sacrament. Christ's teaching turns us towards communion with him. What is proclaimed becomes a reality. There is a change in the form of proclamation. Evangelization becomes the proclamation of God's present action, creating through the Eucharist the greatest event of the ecclesial community. This community is called together and fashioned by the word as it relates to the sacrament and especially to the Word made flesh in the Eucharist.
The homily should meet the needs for evangelization and catechesis as they are experienced in our communities. The Lectionaries offer great riches for this purpose. We have to be sensitive also to the varying conditions of the baptized, both adults and young people, not neglecting to recognize that ours is a society critical of Christianity. Our task is to strengthen the faithful in their need for deepened faith and hope regarding their own lives in the midst of the world.
A thorough reading of God's word (the <lectio divina>), both personally and communally, complements the homilies. Reflecting on the needs of humanity today and as a perennial response to Revelation, this can prove very fruitful during the preparation of the Eucharistic Congress.
Proclaiming the Eucharist to evangelize freedom
17. In his message to the Corinthians Paul reacted to possible distortions of the Eucharistic mystery and to a way of limited interpretation of it that failed to grasp its salvific realism and implications regarding commitment to faith and life. We must also, in the light of the Church's Magisterium, tirelessly bring out the authentic meaning of the Eucharistic revelation.
We should listen with love to the deep truth of the words with which Christ the Lord and the apostolic community expressed the full meaning of the Eucharist within the history of salvation, whose centre is the paschal mystery. Only in this way can we let the inexhaustible light of this mystery spring forth from the centre of the faith, worship and life of God's people.
Moreover, the Eucharist, which is indissolubly linked with the proclamation of the Word, makes it possible constantly to re-evangelize the Christian community so that Christ's teaching may resound in the minds of the people and take root in their hearts, while it offers them the gift of the true freedom he grants to his disciples. This will come about in accord with the same logic with which Jesus himself pointed to the path that leads from listening, to experiencing freedom: "if you continue in my word you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free" (Jn 8:31
We must above all remain faithful to the Word. This implies becoming closely related to the Master as followers of his teaching and imitators of his life. Remaining faithful to the Word is the essential condition for being disciples. This communion brings a gift which perhaps only those who are disciples can appreciate, although all seek it: namely, to know the truth. The truth of the Gospel frees, it also gives that great good desired by all: God's gift of freedom which is a capacity for love and the gift of self that does not enslave nor know any bounds. Only truth -Christ who is the Truth-makes us free. This means being free from the becoming conditioned by error through sin, free from selfishness; free in the positive sense to give of oneself even to the point of offering one's life itself in the service of God and our neighbour. At a time when the problem of freedom is so acute it remains essential to encounter Christ's word of truth and his power of liberation.
2. The gift of conversion and the path to holiness
Conversion and the Eucharist
18. The first fruit of the truth that makes us free is the full knowledge of ourselves that leads to conversion. Without conversion there is no possibility of experiencing true Christian freedom.
Christian freedom begins by acknowledging our need of forgiveness. This is the only way to come to authentic Christian transformation. What does this spiritual transformation mean? Negatively, it means liberation from whatever threatens the interior integration of a person. Therefore, it means liberation from the alienating influence of sin, that is, being saved from whatever is negative and evil, namely sin. Positively, conversion is the gift of that freedom which makes it possible to develop the qualities inherent in one's own character, it brings human persons to the fulfilment of the potential which they have received from the Creator.
When we think of the ideal of a liberated human being, an ideal that the Church should promote and realize, we think of what has already matured in human persons, namely, gifts which have been received from divine grace and which, because of this, ought to be fully realized. We think of the development and maturing of freedom. Pastoral care and education fosters the formation of this freedom in various ways: through the help given for human and social development, through the cultivation of a sense of discerning the experience of grace, through counseling, through promoting theological wisdom and prayer.
But everything begins and is celebrated in the mystery and ministry of reconciliation, that is, in the sacrament of Penance. Without this there is no true conversion sealed by the mediation of the Church, which in Christ's name pronounces the word of reconciliation, calls for reconciliation with God, bestows his grace, remits sins and frees from guilt.
The preparation for the Eucharistic Congress should heighten an awareness of true freedom through this sacrament of Penance with the joyful experience of knowing that we have been forgiven so that we may also become a leaven of reconciliation, forgiveness and peace in the Church and in society.
Path to holiness, way of freedom
19. Integral to a programme of evangelization and conversion, a pastorally centred approach to the relationship between the Eucharist and freedom should work out a concrete pedagogy which shows the way to live the word of God. This way will trace the meaning of "believing the Gospel" and the following of Christ, for herein lies the basis of every conversion, that is, wholehearted adherence to the Master and his cause.
The convincing power of Christian truth is experienced concretely in the freedom of God's children in the obedience of faith and holiness, which opens the way to evangelical freedom. Pope John Paul II states: "In particular, <the life of holiness> which is resplendent in so many members of the People of God, humble and often unseen, constitutes the simplest and most attractive way to perceive at once the beauty of truth, the liberating force of God's love, and the value of unconditional fidelity to all the demands of the Lord's law, even in the most difficult situations". For a knowledge of the truth that brings inner conviction, Christian holiness reveals the beauty of the divine plan the liberating power of love and the value of faithfulness.
In this context, the Eucharist holds an essential place as the Pope himself underlines: "by sharing in the sacrifice of the Cross, the Christian partakes of Christ's self-giving love and is equipped and committed to live this same charity in all his thoughts and deeds. In the moral life the Christian's royal service is also made evident and effective: with the help of grace, the more one obeys the new law of the Holy Spirit, the more one grows in the freedom to which he or she is called by the service of truth, charity and justice".
3. From Eucharistic prayer to prayer for freedom
20. Since the true freedom of God's children is a gift from above that shares in the nature of God, it calls for humble and intense prayer- on the part of the Church and of every member of the faithful. The Church celebrates the Eucharist with a rich variety of <anaphoras> or Eucharistic prayers from East and West. These prayers express in a wonderful manner the full meaning of the paschal mystery that is celebrated.
A sound preparation for and a mature fruit of the International Eucharistic Congress could be the rediscovery of the theology and spirituality of the Eucharistic prayers as well as their relationship to the gift of freedom with which Christ has set us free.
It would be useful to outline certain points which will
pedagogically foster a rediscovery of the prayer dimension of the Eucharist and which will teach us how to model our personal and communal prayer on the attitudes of Christ and the Church.
Thanksgiving for the gift
21. We must above all call to mind the saving deeds by which the Lord has done great things for our liberation throughout the history of salvation from creation to redemption, while we await for the fullness of the complete freedom of God's children to be realized in glory. Memory calls forth blessing, praise, thanksgiving, Eucharist.
In her <Magnificat>, that canticle of praise from which the Church draws its inspiration, the Virgin Mary invites us to magnify the Lord for the great things God has done for his people and continues to do for us in the salvation history of the Church and of all people.
The International Eucharistic Congress should be a great act of thanksgiving for the restored freedom that makes it possible for Christ in the Eucharist to radiate from the "<Statio Orbis>" of Eastern Europe to the ends of the earth.
Invoking the Spirit
22. Freedom is the gift of the Holy Spirit. In the Eucharist we call upon the Holy Spirit to sanctify the gifts and transform them into the body and blood of Christ, and to make of the liturgical assembly one body and one spirit. In the same way, fervent prayer must constantly rise up to the Father asking that, through the gift of the Spirit, true freedom in love, the liberating power of charity, may take firm root in the hearts of the faithful in communities, in families, in society, for the building of a new world.
The Blessed Virgin, who in her prayer invoked and awaited the Spirit of Pentecost, is a model of prayer and of persevering and confident invocation.
The Eucharistic Congress should be an intense and choral epiclesis of the whole Church, which unites in praying that true freedom may take root in consciences, be strengthened in peoples and extended to those nations that do not yet fully enjoy civil and religious freedom so that, free from every hindrance and restrictive influence, they may freely worship the true God.
Offering a free heart
23. The source of true freedom for all humanity is the free offering to the Father by which Christ has redeemed and sanctified us. The essential condition for being free and for promoting freedom will therefore be our humble and convinced offering of ourselves with the freedom that ennobles human persons in their relationship to God. This is the worthiest gift that can be made to God. In communion with Christ, Eucharistic prayer teaches us to make of our entire lives a perennial sacrifice, an offering acceptable to God in spiritual worship (cf. Rom 12:12). In our "yes" we give back to God what is God's so that the saving and sanctifying divine will may be accomplished in us.
In offering herself to God at the Annunciation and again freely when offering Christ in the temple and at Calvary, the Virgin Mother of the Lord is the incomparable model for the Church in the restitution made to God of our freedom and in our commitment of collaboration in God's saving design.
The Eucharistic Congress, by acknowledging the gift of personal and social freedom, should facilitate our response of faith and love, that response which we make in offering ourselves together with Christ. The whole Church, awakening to the gift received, can thus work together with God in enabling true freedom to take root in hearts, in society, in the family, in all nations.
24. In the Eucharistic prayer, while entrusting itself to the communion of saints and to the mediation of Christ, the Church presents to the Father in the Holy Spirit its universal intercession for the needs of humanity. In face of the panorama of our society with its false concepts and attitudes regarding freedom, which is not liberated and unredeemed; in confronting the bitter fruits of selfishness enslaving and contradicting the dignity of human persons, a powerful prayer of intercession should rise from the heart of every believer for the victims of hatred, violence, exploitation. Such intercessory prayer expresses the charity of Christ.
Mary, Mother of the Church, in her evangelical intercession at Cana and in her maternal mediation on behalf of all in heaven, is the model of that confident and universal prayer expressing the charity with winch we should be sensitive to our brothers and sisters in need.
This occasion of the Congress, while we look towards Christ, "the awaited of the nations and their Liberator", who is the Eucharistic Sun of truth and grace and whose rays light up the geography and history of humanity, this Eucharistic Congress should inspire a great prayer of intercession so that the freedom, attained at so high a price, may be enduring and become deeply rooted in all nations.
4. Presence, adoration, freedom
In face of the mystery
25. The ultimate dimension of the truth about the Eucharist is its mystery: the saving presence of Christ under the appearances of bread and wine. For the Lord willed to be permanently present in his Church as Emmanuel, God with us.
Although in-all its manifestations the Eucharist is a mystery of presence, this reality is particularly evident in silent prayer before the tabernacle and in the various traditional forms of Eucharistic adoration. This reality enables us to remain before God, recognizing the mystery and gift of God's presence. The greatness of God and human finiteness seem to meet in contemplation of the Eucharistic mystery.
In modern times, the dimension of mystery has been lost to a great extent. The truth of the spiritual dimension of human beings seems to be stifled by the model of activism, which the accelerated pace of living in the world stresses as the only form of life worthy of humanity. But human persons will always experience their limitation as finite beings, at least in the sense that they are not omnipotent, nor have the fullness of being, but are immersed in inscrutable mystery. The truth about the Eucharist, as a mystery, enables human beings to understand themselves as regards their deepest dimension which is open to unchanging mystery through the transcendence of the spirit. It is only in this context of the mystery of God that the mystery of human beings becomes clear. The mystery of the human person, of the world and of human history always points beyond humanity towards God.
Adoration and prayer: encounter of two freedoms
26. Christ's presence in the sacrament calls every believer to an act of faith and adoration in openness to the transcendent to which the encounter of silent adoration leads. The divine "Thou" addresses, reveals and fulfils the human "thou".
For prayer to be authentically Christian it is essential that there be "the meeting of two freedoms, the infinite freedom of God with the finite freedom of man". In the climate of today's civilization, the attitude of mediation, reflection, recollection and wonder is lost. This has its effect on the life of faith. It is difficult for people today, even for believers, to remain in God's presence, in the spirit of adoration and awe, thanksgiving, reparation and dedication, prayer and intercession, all of which spring from a heart that is free because it is capable of recognizing God.
Before the Blessed Sacrament contemplation of the mystery makes possible this essential encounter with Christ away from the bustle and superficiality in winch at times we are immersed. Only in the sanctuary of conscience, enlightened by a faith-awareness of being in the presence of God, does one experience true freedom, which responds freely to God's love. This experience reveals the truth that is God's and ours.
The Eucharist as the mystery of presence invites us to adoration. Pope John Paul II has written about the intrinsic relationship between freedom and adoration: "True worshippers of God must thus worship him 'in spirit and truth' (Jn 4:23): in <this worship they become free>. Worship of God and a relationship with truth are revealed in Jesus Christ as the deepest foundation of freedom".
5. Celebrating and living true Christian freedom
Attention to Eucharistic celebrations
27. How is the link between the Eucharist and freedom to be expressed in practice? How are we to bring out their relationship more clearly and effectively in today's world?
To achieve this a renewed pastoral approach needs to be taken. The following are some suggestions:
a) In the first place special attention should be given to the quality of the Eucharistic celebrations. These celebrations must be pervaded by an atmosphere of faith, hope and charity so that they will be a festive expression of the faith of God's people, a joyful expression of encountering the Lord. In such an atmosphere we can experience the grace of being called by Christ, formed by him for discipleship united with him in the Eucharist in order to witness joyfully to our faith in the midst of the world without fear or embarrassment.
b) There is still need for all the suggestions from the post-conciliar liturgical renewal to be implemented in parishes, local communities and groups so that the Eucharistic celebration may be restored to its true significance as a paschal banquet which celebrated the freedom with which the Lord has set us free. The quality of celebrations can be enhanced by an appropriate choice of texts and hymns, fostering greater participation of the assembly, catechesis promoting understanding the rites and appropriate use of liturgical symbols. Everything should contribute towards a fitting expression of the paschal significance of the Eucharist. Likewise encouragement to participate in the Mass daily will enable Christians to encounter the Lord and, thus, bear lively witness to him in their families, the place of their work and at school.
The centrality of Sunday
28. One characteristic sign of the Christian life is under strong attack today from contemporary culture. We are referring to Sunday, the Lord's day and the day of the Church. This holiday is coming to be seen more and more as something secular and recreational, while the Christian meaning of Sunday is becoming excluded from the public sphere. In face of the alternative of a weekend dedicated solely to relaxation and amusement, the Christian community should reaffirm the sacred significance of Sunday as an occasion for freedom to adore God and to make his presence manifest in the midst of our society.
The day of the Lord's Resurrection or the weekly Passover should be fittingly celebrated by taking the necessary time to worship God especially through the Eucharist and other liturgical and devotional exercises. It should also leave room for rest, for family life, meeting friends and works of charity. In the Jewish tradition observance of the Sabbath was, and still is, an eloquent sign of the Lord's resting after his works and a perennial memorial of the freeing of God's people from the slavery of Egypt (cf. Dt 5:1315). Sunday, as the memorial of the Lord's Resurrection, should also be a joyful expression of the paschal freedom of the People of God.
All through the week we should learn to prepare for Sunday—in the "<scholae cantorum>", in choirs, schools, catechetical and other groups of Christian formation, as well as in the family. In this way the Eucharist will be experienced as a living memorial of Christ's Resurrection, the source and summit of our spiritual and cultural life. In short, it will be experienced as the most intense moment of our ecclesial, parochial, family and social reality.
6. From Eucharist to life
Eucharist and charity
29. We thoroughly prepare ourselves to celebrate the Eucharist, the source and summit of the Church's live, through reading and meditating the Word so that we may live its implications in social life through love and charity. "People today put more trust in witnesses than in teachers, in experience than in teaching, and in life and action than in theories.... The evangelical witness which the world finds most appealing is that of concern for people and of charity towards the poor, the weak and those who suffer".
The Eucharistic liturgy should create the foundation and motivation for charity. If it does not lead to serving humanity, to helping the poor and those who suffer, it does not achieve its purpose. If the Eucharistic celebration does not lead to the expression of mutual help among those who take part in it, an essential element is missing in the Eucharistic community. On the other hand, the more the liturgy fosters the inner need to offer service and love, the more often charity becomes proclaimed and witnessed, while, at the same time, it effectively promotes greater liturgical participation. In the midst of a situation of selfishness and the moral slavery of contemporary society, the Eucharist becomes an especially credible sign for those in doubt and unbelievers. Christ is present in the Eucharist and in the sacraments, as well as in his word; he is present also in those who are in need. The great patristic tradition, which is represented for instance by St. John Chrysostom, emphasizes the relationship between the sacrament of the Eucharist and the sacrament of the brother and sister who is poor and needy. This tradition recalls Christ's words: "I was hungry and you gave me food.... As you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me" (Mt 25:35-40).
'So that earth may become heaven'
30. In the first centuries of the Church the tradition of charity and social life underlined the duty of uniting the Eucharistic celebration and social charity. This tradition can be summed up in a phrase from St. John Chrysostom-a phrase which could still become a programme of Eucharistic life today: through works of mercy, live the charity born of the Eucharist, "so that earth may become heaven". The Eucharistic celebration is an urgent call to bring from the altar of the Eucharist into the world the liberating power of charity that renews all.
Today, because of a distorted sense of freedom or the persistence of forms of oppression, many of our brothers and sisters need to be brought back to an authentic experience of their dignity as God's children. After their joyful celebration of the Passover when gathered in the Eucharistic assembly, Christians set out along the roads of the world to proclaim, like the disciples of Emmaus, that they have listened to the voice of the Lord and have recognized him in the breaking of bread. Showing the joy and active love of the works of mercy towards the least of their brothers and sisters, with whom the Lord identified himself, they bring the experience of "heaven on earth" in the Eucharistic celebration to a world that for many is anything but heaven—rather, a place of suffering and slavery.
The community should be moved by the needs of the poor, the sick, the weak, the suffering, prisoners and the oppressed, as these needs are revealed, raised up and seen in a supernatural light. All these needs should inspire both the "collect", the prayer recited in the liturgy, and also the "collection" of offerings to be creatively employed in charity. The offerings should be carefully gathered and with equal care distributed by responsible representatives of the community. Thus, the special concentration of love in the Eucharist as divine service will be translated into practical human service for the promotion of life worthy of human beings.
Christians, enlightened by the Eucharist, should be the promoters of true reconciliation between persons, families and nations. They should play a positive part in fostering liberation and in bringing into our world the power of truth, goodness, beauty and justice.
Setting free the power of the good
31. For the first time an International Eucharistic Congress—the 46th—will be celebrated in Poland. It will significantly link the mystery of the Eucharist and Christ's gift of freedom. It should serve as a fine opportunity for a new evangelization and stimulate fresh enthusiasm that will foster zeal among priests, institutes of consecrated life, ecclesial movements, the laity and youth. All should play their part in deepening the Church's liturgical life as well as its charitable, cultural and social activities. The meeting-place for all these expressions of the Church's life should be the parish, which is in a special way the Eucharistic community.
The Church is preparing to celebrate the Great Jubilee of the year 2000, which is so closely related to the experience of true freedom and authentic liberation also in the social sphere. In this context the Eucharistic celebration should contribute towards understanding the significance of giving freedom to prisoners, joy to the afflicted, health and hope to the sick and those who are beset by doubt, companionship for the lonely, assistance to the poor.
May the grace of the Eucharist, which is proclaimed, celebrated, communicated and adored, contribute towards breaking the circle of oppression, hatred and selfishness. May it promote a great movement of charity also in the social sphere through sincere commitment even to the point of giving up one's life for others. Through the culture of communion and unity, may it open up a new and wholly different horizon for the countries of the East that have only just emerged from a long period of oppression, and for all nations throughout the world. The disciples of Jesus will become in this way the seed of a new society where, in mutual solidarity, each one will gladly bear another's burdens and those who are interiorly free and reconciled will experience happiness and social peace.
On the way towards ultimate freedom
32. We can look forward to these things because the Eucharist interprets Christian hope in its own way. It shows that merely human activity and aspirations and human freedom with regard to every good cannot by themselves reach fulfilment in this world. In transcendent hope human beings possess aspirations, dreams and desires that can never be satisfied by human effort alone. The path to their fulfilment does not lead only to death. Their end, indeed, is not in the historical future, but in the transcendent future. Human history will not reach fulfilment, except in glory.
In considering the value of human activity in the light of the paschal mystery, the Second Vatican Council emphasized the meaning of that freedom which will only be complete when all humanity will be presented to the Father as an acceptable offering (cf. Rom 15:16). While we are on our way towards the future, the Church gives us this assurance: "A pledge of this hope, sustenance for this journey, our Lord left us in that sacrament of faith in which natural elements cultivated by men are turned into his glorious Body and Blood, the supper of fraternal communion, the foretaste of the heavenly banquet".
With Mary, the Mother of Jesus
33. In the programme of the Eucharistic Congress, although not explicit, there is the implicit conviction that our incorporation in Christ becomes possible through the maternal mediation of Mary, the Mother of the Son of God. This is not merely a pious reference to devotion to the Mother of God that is traditional for the Church and, in a particular way, for Poland and the countries of the East.
The Church sees in Mary a model of liberation. Freedom is given to human beings not only for the self-affirmation, but also for self-giving in love. This means recognizing the fact that human beings grow and develop by freely choosing to belong to the communities of which the family is the first cell, after which come the local and professional communities, the nation, the international community. An attitude of fidelity in self-giving is the vital energy which Mary, the Mother of God exemplifies in an outstanding way. For she is clearly at all times in communion with God and in solidarity with the People of God.
In the Virgin of the Annunciation, who freely gives herself up to co-operate with the Father for the salvation of humanity, in the Virgin of the Magnificat, whose song is of God's saving work in the past, present and future of history, John Paul II invites us to contemplate the one who is "totally dependent on God and completely directed towards him, and, at the side of her Son, she is <the most perfect image of freedom and of the liberation> of humanity and of the universe".
Already now we entrust to her maternal intercession the celebration of the 46th International Eucharistic Congress in Wroclaw. May there be abundant fruit springing from the Eucharist so that humanity and all nations, enlightened and nourished by Christ, the Light of the world and the Bread come down from heaven, may enjoy the true freedom for which he, the Redeemer of humanity, has set us free (cf. Gal 5:1).
1 <Catechism of the Catholic Church>, ET Geoffrey Chapman, 1994 (<CCC>), n. 1730, p. 388; cf. <GS>, n. 17; Sir 15:14.
2 Cf. <Eucharistic Prayer> IV.
3 Pope John Paul II, Apostolic Letter <Tertio millennio adveniente>, n. 11; (ET) Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1994.
4 Ibid., n. 40.
5 Cf. <Eucharistic Prayer> V: "<Pro diversis necessitatibus>" (For various needs).
6 Encyclical Letter <Veritatis splendor>, n. 84; ET Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1993-citing the Address to those taking part in the International Congress of Moral Theology (10 Apr. 1986), 1; <Insegnamenti> IX, 1 (1986), 970.
8 Cf. ibid.
9 <CCC>, nn. 1741-1742; ET <loc. cit.>, p. 390.
10 <Veritatis splendor>, n. 85; ET <loc. cit.>, p. 105.
11 Ibid., n. 87; ET <loc. cit.>, p. 107f.
12 John Paul II, Encyclical Letter, <Redemptor hominis>, n. 10; ET CTS Do 506 p. 27.
13 <Eucharistic Prayer> B.
14 <Eucharistic Prayer> IV.
15 <Anaphora of St. James>.
16 <Eucharistic Prayer of Reconciliation> B.
17 <Eucharistic Prayer> IV.
18 Homily during the Opening Mass of the National Eucharistic Congress, Warsaw, 8 June 1987.
19 <The Pessach Haggada>, ET by Joseph Loewy and Joseph Guens, "Sinai" Publishing, Tel Aviv, Israel, 1965.
20 <Eucharistic prayer> IV.
21 <Adversus Haereses>, III, 15, 3; PG 7, 919.
22 Ibid., IV, 18 1-2, PG 7, 1025.
23 <Veritatis splendor>, n. 107; ET <loc. cit,> p. 127.
24 Ibid.; ET <loc. cit.>, p. 128.
25 Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Letter <Orationis formas> (15 0ct. 1989), On Some Aspects of Christian Meditation, n. 3; ET Vatican City, p. 5.
26 <Veritatis splendor>, n. 37, ET <loc. cit.>, p. 106.
27 Pope John Paul II, Encyclical Letter <Redemptoris missio>, n. 42 ET CTS Do 601, p. 31—cf. Pope Paul VI, Apostolic Exhortation <Evangelii nuntiandi,> n. 41.
28 Cf. St. John Chrysostom, <In Math. Hom.>, 50, 34; PG 58, 508-509.
29 <In Act. Apost. Homily>, 11, 3 PG 60, 97-98.
30 Cf. Pope John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation <Christifideles laici,> n. 26.
31 Cf. Gaudium <et spes>, n. 38.
32 Encyclical Letter <Redemptoris Mater>, n. 37; ET <Briefing> 87, vol. 17 n. 8, p. 140—citing Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, <Instruction on Christian Freedom and Liberation> (22 March 1986), n. 97.
Weekly Edition in English
13 November 1996
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