The Holy Eucharist as the very heart of the Church's
The words that begin and give this Encyclical its name, "The Church
draws her life from the Eucharist", already offer us a glimpse at the
meaning and significance of this document of the Magisterium of John Paul
Its intent is to reaffirm the centrality of the Eucharist in the very
life of the People of God and to grasp the style of it within the lived
experience of the ecclesial reality.
This is the goal motivating John Paul II in offering this document to
the Catholic Christian community so that everyone may be able to
"experience it ever anew" (n. 7).
The occasion for the Encyclical is both the 25th year of John Paul II's
Petrine ministry and Holy Thursday, a day on which it is the Pope's solid
practice to send a pastoral-theological Reflection to ordained ministers
on their respective commitment and to explain the ministerial nature of
Christ the Head.
However, we learn in paragraph 9 what motivated the Holy Father to
write this document, which echoes the Apostolic Letter Dominicae Cenae
which he signed on 24 February 1980 and in which he pointed out "some
aspects of the Eucharistic mystery and its importance for the life of
those who are its ministers" (Ecclesia de Eucharistia, n. 9).
In this Encyclical John Paul II notes an "interior growth within the
Christian community" (n. 10) due to the liturgical reform of Vatican II,
which "has greatly contributed to a more conscious, active and fruitful
participation in the Holy Sacrifice of the Altar on the part of the
"In many places", he notes, "adoration of the Blessed Sacrament
is also an important daily practice and becomes an inexhaustible source of
holiness.... Unfortunately, alongside these lights, there are also
shadows. In some places the practice of Eucharistic adoration has been
almost completely abandoned.... At times, one encounters an extremely
reductive understanding of the Eucharistic mystery. Stripped of its
sacrificial meaning, it is celebrated as if it were simply a fraternal
banquet. Furthermore, the necessity of the ministerial priesthood,
grounded in apostolic succession, is at times obscured and the sacramental
nature of the Eucharist is reduced to its mere effectiveness as a form of
proclamation.... The Eucharist is too great a gift to tolerate ambiguity
and depreciation" (n. 10).
In the Introduction John Paul II recalls the place of the institution
of the Eucharist (n. 2) and the time of the "Sacred Triduum", "the hour of
our redemption" to which "every priest who celebrates Holy Mass, together
with the Christian community which takes part in it, is led back in
spirit" (n. 4).
The Pontiff's recollections, which run the gamut of his years of
priestly ministry, extend from his presiding over the Eucharistic
celebrations in little villages in Poland (cf. n. 8), or "on the humble
altar of a country church, in chapels built along mountain paths, on
altars built in stadiums and in city squares, or in St Peter's Basilica"
Both meaningful and touching is the Pontiff's mention that "during the
Great Jubilee of the Year 2000 [he] had an opportunity to celebrate the
Eucharist in the Cenacle of Jerusalem" (n. 2), one of the holiest and most
meaningful places in Christianity, which today bears no signs of the
Passover meal eaten by Christ and his disciples.
The Encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia is composed of six
chapters, plus an introduction and a conclusion.1
The document's intent is to expound Catholic teaching on the Eucharist
in the light of what the Church has defined in the various Councils up to
Vatican II, trying to offer clear doctrinal interpretations in order to
help the reader gain a proper understanding of this mysterium fidei
and foster an ecumenical process that aims at a broad and true communion,
in the consciousness of what is the patrimony of faith of each Church and
Christian Community. It is precisely this great consideration for
ecumenical progress that John Paul II has expressed several times,2
both in regard to the Eastern Church as well as with our brethren of the
Anglican Communion and the Ecclesial Communities born during the
Reformation, that demands an adult relationship to the Depositum Fidei,
which is basic to our being in Christ.
Certainly it is not in order to impede our journey towards unity but so
that this journey may be made in charity, which cannot be achieved without
Irenics does not benefit true communion.
"Christ's prayer reminds us that this gift needs to be received and
developed ever more profoundly", John Paul II affirms. "The invocation 'ut
unum sint' is, at one and the same time, a binding imperative, the
strength that sustains us and a salutary rebuke for our slowness and
"Let us take what unites us and leave aside what divides us", was a
saying of Blessed Pope John XXIII. This "leaving aside what divides us"
does not mean building upon equivocation; rather, it means that through a
common study and discernment of what is fundamental, we can construct our
koinonia in the charity of the truth.
The very first chapter of the Encyclical emphasizes some aspects of
Eucharist which are part of its theological reflection and which we intend
to develop: the sacrificial aspect; the real presence; the Eucharist,
source, criterion and apex of communion; Eucharist and the ordained
A premise to this is the consideration that the Pontiff himself made in
Dominicae Cenae on the Christocentric sacramental nature of the
1. Christocentric sacramentality
The concept of the sacred which we give to the Eucharist is in the
unchanged essence of the "Mysterium", instituted by the Redeemer of the
world during the Last Supper. It is from Christ's action that the
Eucharist derives its sacredness, namely, it is a sacred action because in
it are the continual presence and action of Christ, the "Holy One" of God
(Lk 1:35; Jn 6:69, Rev 3:7), "Consecrated by the Father" (Jn 10:36)...,
"High Priest of the New Covenant" (Heb 3:1; 4:15). It is he who is "the
offerer and the offered, the consecrator and the consecrated".4
"The sacredness of the Mass, therefore, is not a 'sacralization', that
is to say, something that man adds to Christ's action in the Upper Room,
for the Holy Thursday supper was a sacred rite, a primary and constitutive
liturgy, through which Christ... celebrated sacramentally the mystery of
his Passion and Resurrection, the heart of every Mass".5
The sacredness of the Eucharistic celebration is connected to Christ's
action which he willed in order to perfect the ancient Passover, which was
a prelude to his redemptive sacrifice made to the Father by his acting as
the single and pleasing Mediator for the "restoration" of impoverished
mankind, marked by Adam's sin. This sacredness of the Eucharist comes
intrinsically from Christ and the Church is its guardian and represents
its meaning, both in the Eucharistic celebration and in the preservation
of the bread and wine over which the "memorial celebration" is repeated
(cf. n. 12).
The sacredness of the Eucharistic celebration is instituted by Christ,6
and the words and actions of every ordained minister to which the
conscious and active participation of the whole Eucharistic assembly
correspond echo the words and actions of the Last Supper. The ordained
minister presides over and offers the Eucharistic sacrifice in persona
Christi capitis, not only in the name of or in place of Christ.
"In persona" means a sacramental identification with Christ, the
Eternal High Priest of the New Covenant, who is the Author and principal
subject of this, his own sacrifice, in which in truth he cannot be
replaced by anyone.
The ministry of those who have received the sacrament of Orders, in the
economy of salvation chosen by Christ, manifests that the Eucharist they
celebrate is a gift which radically surpasses the power of the assembly
and is, however, irreplaceable in order to validly interlink the
Eucharistic celebration to the sacrifice of the Cross and the Last Supper.7
Christ alone could and can always be the true and effective "victim of
expiation for our sins... and for the sins of the whole world" (I Jn 2:2).
"Only his sacrifice", Dominicae Cenae recalls, "—
and no one else's
able and is able to haves a 'propitiatory power' before God, the Trinity
and the transcendent holiness. Awareness of this reality throws a certain
light on the character and significance of the priest celebrant who, by
confecting the holy Sacrifice and acting 'in persona Christi', is
sacramentally (and ineffably) brought into that most profound sacredness,
and made part of it, spiritually linking with it in turn all those
participating in the Eucharistic assembly".8
Therefore, it is not a question of creating an artificial "sacramentalization".
Here we are asked to recognize the mysterium fidei that has been
handed on "for the life of the world".
The sacredness is therefore a single entity with the representation of
the sacrifice of the Cross that becomes a source of holiness and grace
because it is the same Paschal Mystery of Christ which he underwent for
humanity, the Redemption and Salvation. It is the "mysterium", that is,
the Eucharist, the presence of the whole Christ, that reinforces that
sacredness or divine life within us, which Baptism has offered us and by
which we have been made righteous in Christ.
2. The sacrificial aspect
The roots of the interpretation, method and event of the Christian
Pasch are in the ancient Passover perpetuated in time with the memory of
the faith and culture of the People of the Old Covenant. In this context
is the proclamation of the commitment made by the God of Abraham to free
His People who fulfil a sacrificial action (slaying a lamb) with a special
sign value (the blood on the doorway of the houses), which then becomes an
express desire that saves them from the angel of death.
The Galilean Rabbi, consciously fulfilling his mission as Redeemer and
Saviour, places himself in a disposition of true and efficacious listening
to the Father's will, making his own the path of kenosis
(humiliation) which will lead him from the quasi-sacramental act of the
washing of the feet at the Last Supper (Jn 13:1-20) to the "obedience" to
death and death on the Cross (Phil 2:8), his glorification and the "cause"
of his Resurrection.
The Apostle Paul understands and makes his own the faith of the
post-Paschal community when, with conscious veracity, he affirms to the
community of Corinth what he received from the Lord, taking them back to
the night on which he was betrayed, when Christ instituted the "memorial"
of the Passover of his death and Resurrection (I Cor 11:23), which is one
of the specific dimensions of the nature of the community of the disciples
of the Risen Lord (Acts 2:42).
The Encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia states that "the words of
the Apostle Paul bring us back to the dramatic setting in which the
Eucharist was born. The Eucharist is indelibly marked by the event of the
Lord's passion and death, of which it is not only a reminder but the
sacramental re-presentation. It is the sacrifice of the Cross perpetuated
down the ages. This truth is well expressed by the words with which the
assembly in the Latin rite responds to the priest's proclamation of the
'Mystery of Faith': 'We announce your death, O Lord'" (n. 11).
The faith of the Church today in the Eucharist that is celebrated has
the same criteria that we find in the second century as expressed in the
First Apologia of Justin,9 and in the writings of the Fathers
of the undivided Church, such as Irenaeus, Tertullian, Clement of
Alexandria, Cyprian, John Chrysostom and Cyril of Jerusalem.
The Fractio Panis lived by the Christian community is imbued
"with the awareness of having been set apart by the sacredness of Christ's
action and by having consumed the banquet of the new Passover, which has
its foundation in the Lord's sacrifice".10
The presence and very action of the "Church constantly draws her life
from the redeeming sacrifice", the Encyclical affirms. "She approaches it
not only through faith-filled remembrance, but also through a real
contact, since this sacrifice is made present ever anew, sacramentally
perpetuated, in every community which offers it at the hands of the
consecrated minister. The Eucharist thus applies to men and women today
the reconciliation won once for all by Christ for mankind in every age"
As if he wanted to "reinforce" our common faith in the close bond
between the sacrifice of Golgotha and the Eucharist, in the first chapter
of the Encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia John Paul II recalls that
"the Eucharist is a sacrifice in the strict sense, and not only in a
general way, as if it were simply a matter of Christ's offering himself to
the faithful as their spiritual food. The gift of his love and obedience
to the point of giving his life (cf. Jn 10:17-18) is in the first place a
gift to his Father. Certainly it is a gift given for our sake, and indeed
that of all humanity (cf. Mt 26:28; Mk 14:24; Lk 22:20; Jn 10:15)" (n.
The contemporary Magisterium's most striking emphasis on the
sacrificial dimension of the Eucharist understood as part of the sacrifice
of Golgotha itself can be found both in the Second Vatican Council, where
it states that, "Taking part in the Eucharistic sacrifice, which is the
font and apex of the whole Christian life, they offer the Divine Victim to
God, and offer themselves along with It",11 as well as in the
Mysterium Fidei of Paul VI, where he affirms that "by means of the
Mystery of the Eucharist, the Sacrifice of the Cross which was once
carried out on Calvary is reenacted in wonderful fashion and is constantly
recalled, and its salvific power is applied to the forgiving of the sins
It is an efficacious sacrifice offered by Christ in the obedience of
the Church so that by their free adherence individuals may benefit from
what Christ, the "New Man" and the "New Creation", has acquired once and
for all on behalf of all of humanity.
3. Real presence
In 1967, shortly after the Second Vatican Council and Paul VI's
Encyclical Mysterium Fidei, the Congregation of Rite's
Instruction Eucharisticum Mysterium suggested for the reflection of
the whole Catholic community the diverse ways in which Christ is present
in the Church. Its objective was, and still is, that the faithful "should
achieve a deeper understanding of the mystery of the Eucharist", including
"the principal ways in which the Lord is present to his Church in
liturgical celebrations. He is always present in a body of the faithful
gathered in his name (Mt 18:20).... He is present both in the person of
the minister, 'the same now offering through the ministry of the priest
who formerly offered himself on the cross' (DS 1743), and above all under
the species of the Eucharist".13
"In this sacrament, in fact, Christ is present in a unique way, the
total Christ... God and man, substantially and permanently".14
The paragraph closes with a reference to Mysterium Fidei, which
points out that Christ's presence under the species of the Eucharist "is
called 'real' not to exclude the idea that the others are 'real' too, but
rather to indicate presence par excellence, because it is substantial and
through it Christ becomes present whole and entire, God and man".15
In his Encyclical John Paul II returns to cite not only the whole
elaboration of Catholic theology and the Magisterium, but that
depositum fidei that, because of the reflection of theologians, the
development by Catholic Christian asceticism, the spiritual and liturgical
life of the Ecclesial Communities and institutes and movements, is the
greatest treasure possessed by the Catholic Church of both East and West.
The awareness that the bread and wine which are "blessed by the prayer
of his word"16 become his flesh and his blood17 is
the common patrimony of the undivided Church. It would be the Christian of
the second millennium who would develop through the concepts of the
philosophy of that day the doctrine which we know as that of
How moving it is to read in the catechesis of Cyril of Jerusalem the
recommendation he makes to his faithful to "consider... the bread and the
wine not as bare elements, for they are, according to the Lord's
declaration, the Body and Blood of Christ; for even though sense suggests
this to you, yet let faith establish you".19
Without betraying anything of Tradition nor of theological speculation,
not only of the great Thomas Aquinas, Paul VI offers us the expression
"special real presence", thus leaving room to respect the ancient doctrine
of the Eastern Church.
If we allow ourselves to be galvanized by this deep conviction of
another type of logic, the Eucharist can only be seen as the "mysterium
fidei", "a mystery which surpasses our understanding and can only be
received in faith".20
If, however, such a reality does take place, it is clear that it can
happen only in the dimension of the substance of the contingent elements
of bread and wine in the Body of Christ, which remains and endures
uninterruptedly in this sacramental newness as long as the species lasts.
It would be quite difficult to understand, because of the particularity of
the divine action, a precariously transitory presence merely by reason of
the signification (transignification) or end (transfinalization).
God's action is an action that has a definitive sign and affects the
substance of the one who receives that action, as is true for conversion
If one accepts this doctrine as the Church does, and not only the
Catholic Church, Eucharistic worship outside of the celebration of the
Mass becomes logical.
Indeed, this worship, John Paul II states, "is strictly linked to the
celebration of the Eucharistic Sacrifice... and is directed towards
communion, both sacramental and spiritual. It is the responsibility of
Pastors to encourage, also by their personal witness, the practice of
Eucharistic adoration, and exposition of the Blessed Sacrament in
particular, as well as prayer of adoration before Christ present under the
4. The Eucharist: source, criterion and apex of communion
Often when we hear people talking about communion or koinonia
one thinks about the horizontal dimension.
Although this human solidarity is very important for us Christians, it
is and must be the fruit of the exercise of the theological virtue of
However and rightly so, it is our duty to allow ourselves to become
involved in a hierarchical interpretation of values and truths including,
I dare say, and especially so, for Christians. The first form of
koinonia that we should seek and bring about is our incorporation into
Christ, which Baptism has ontologically brought about in the believer.
We must not forget, however, as the Encyclical Ecclesia de
Eucharistia reminds us, that such an incorporation "is constantly
renewed and consolidated by sharing in the Eucharistic Sacrifice,
especially by that full sharing which takes place in sacramental
communion. We can say not only that each of us receives Christ, but
also that Christ receives each of us.... Eucharistic communion
brings about in a sublime way the mutual 'abiding' of Christ and each of
his followers: 'Abide in me, and I in you' (Jn 15:4)".
"By its union with Christ, the People of the New Covenant... become a
'sacrament' for humanity", as Vatican II states,22 "a sign and
instrument of the salvation achieved by Christ... for the redemption of
"The Church's mission stands in continuity with the mission of Christ:
'As the Father has sent me, even so I send you' (Jn 20:21). From the
perpetuation of the sacrifice of the Cross and her communion with the Body
and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist, the Church draws the spiritual power
needed to carry out her mission" (n. 22).
Precisely in this sense does the Second Vatican Council rightly present
the Eucharist as the source and culminating point of all evangelization,
insofar as the objective of evangelization is precisely the communion of
people with Christ and in him with the Father and the Holy Spirit.24
The Encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia offers us the opportunity
to reflect as an Ecclesial Community on the foundations on which our being
Church rests and the objectives that pastoral activity sets for itself in
order to be present for evangelization in our post-modern society. We must
start afresh from Christ and set out into the deep: "Duc in altum"
Yes, abandon a logic that is narcissistic and implosive and achieve
instead a style of spirituality of communion that is proper to the mystery
of the Incarnation, where the Word gets so involved to the point of taking
on human flesh in order to heal and raise man up to a familiar communion
with his Creator, which enables the person to relate to God as Saviour and
Father. The Christian seeks this koinonia in order to live out its
meaning, creating space for a Christ-like lifestyle and letting himself or
herself be deeply touched by the dynamism that belongs to the Eucharistic
mystery, which contains in itself this tending towards God and others.
Expressing the concept of spirituality of communion, John Paul II
explained it as "the heart's contemplation of the mystery of the Trinity
dwelling within us and whose light we must also be able to see shining on
the faces of the brothers and sisters around us".
"A spirituality of communion also means an ability to think of our
brothers and sisters in faith within the profound unity of the Mystical
Body and therefore as 'those who are part of me'...".25
Today more than ever it is necessary to "make the Church the home and
school of Communion, communion understood as the great challenge facing us
in the millennium that is beginning, if we want to be faithful to God's
plan and respond as well to the deep expectations of the world".26
The Eucharist is the highest and most efficacious "christic"
sacramental action for effecting and consolidating the Church in its unity
of the Mystical Body (cf. n. 23). We can find the roots of this unifying
efficaciousness in Paul's recommendations to the community of Corinth:
"The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?
Because the loaf of bread is one, we, though many, are one body, for we
all partake of the one loaf" (I Cor 10:1617).
It is difficult in theory to reject this unifying efficaciousness that
the Eucharist brings about ex opere operato. However, the value of
the gift must be enhanced and made more effective through the ex opere
operantis. Otherwise, we would not bear witness to the dünamis
of the Sacrament. To build the unity of the Church ab intra and
ad extra, and furthermore, to find its meaningfulness and power from
the Eucharist,27 we must seriously seek to build within
individuals and within the whole Christian community a communion "both in
its invisible dimension, which, in Christ and through the working
of the Holy Spirit, unites us to the Father and among ourselves, and in
its visible dimension, which entails communion in the teaching of
the Apostles, in the sacraments and in the Church's hierarchical order".28
John Paul II recalls that the Eucharistic celebration, however, cannot
be the point of departure for communion, since the former already
presupposes both invisible and visible communion, "which it seeks to
consolidate and bring to perfection".29
Here, therefore, we get into the whole problem of the need, besides
faith, for perseverance in sanctifying grace and charity (cf. Gal 5:6),
remaining within the bosom of the Church with one's "body and heart".30
"...Keeping these invisible bonds intact is a specific moral duty
incumbent upon Christians who wish to participate fully in the Eucharist
by receiving the Body and Blood of Christ".31
However, ecclesial communion must also be visible.
The criteria of this visibility are offered to us by the Second Vatican
Council: "They are fully incorporated in the society of the Church who,
possessing the Spirit of Christ, accept her entire system and all the
means of salvation given to her, and are united with her as part of her
visible bodily structure and through her with Christ... [through] the
bonds ... [of the] profession of faith, the sacraments, and ecclesiastical
government and communion".32
We have thus been presented with the reasons that give us the
possibility of completing our celebration of the mysterium fidei by
receiving the Body of the Lord.
Mention of the state of grace recalls the great gift of the Sacrament
of Reconciliation (cf. n. 37) and the conscientious assessment of the
subject which matters to God (cf. n. 37).
Regarding visible communion the Encyclical recalls: "The Eucharist, as
the supreme sacramental manifestation of communion in the Church, demands
to be celebrated in a context where the outward bonds of communion are
"It is not possible to give communion to a person who is not baptized
or to one who rejects the full truth of the faith regarding the
Eucharistic mystery. Christ is the truth", John Paul II states, "and he
bears witness to the truth (cf. Jn 14:6; 18:37); the sacrament of his Body
and Blood does not permit duplicity" (n. 38).
5. Eucharist, ordained ministry
The relationship between the Eucharist and the ordained ministry is
analogous to the consequentiality that exists between Christ and
Without the adaptability and action of the Word of God and his
Incarnation, we would not have had the economy of salvation to which the
whole of humanity has access today.
The ordained ministry has always been present in the Church because,
through the proclamation, conversion and faith in Christ who died and is
risen, the Church is to be hope for the whole of humanity which seeks to
establish a true relationship between man and God, and between the person
himself and the whole human family.
The Church is built and has been founded on the Apostles, in the sense
that Christ himself desired it to be so and entrusted to them the
proclamation and the "implantatio Ecclesiae". He wanted it as such
so that, founded on the Apostles, it could be the sacrament of salvation
for all people and for the whole person.
This is brought about because Christ is present in the Church and acts
in history through the Church as Saviour, thus becoming the true servant
of the truth about man and of man.
The one who gathers and makes dispersed humanity into the People of God
is Christ, our sole Mediator.
This ministerial nature substantially and completely consumed by Christ
in his salvific event must
accordance with his will
realized in every age and in every human reality (cf. Mt 28:19).
"For this reason, already during his public ministry (cf. Mt 16:18),
and then most fully aftere his death and Resurrection (cf. Mt 28; Jn 20;
21), Jesus had conferred on Peter and the Twelve entirely special powers
with regard to the future community and the evangelization of all peoples.
After having called them to follow him, he kept them at his side and lived
with them, imparting his teaching of salvation to them through word and
example, and finally he sent them out to all mankind.
"To enable them to carry out this mission Jesus confers upon the
apostles, by a specific Paschal outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the same
messianic authority which he had received from the Father, conferred in
its fullness in his Resurrection: 'All authority in heaven and on earth
has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations,
baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy
Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I
am with you always, to the close of the age' (Mt 28:18-20).
"Jesus thus established a close relationship between the ministry
entrusted to the apostles and his own mission: 'He who receives you
receives me, and he who receives me receives him who sent me' (Mt 10:40);
'He who hears you hears me, and he who rejects you rejects me, and he who
rejects me rejects him who sent me' (Lk 10:16).... And so the apostles,
not by any special merit of their own but only through a gratuitous
participation in the grace of Christ, prolong throughout history to the
end of time the same mission of Jesus on behalf of humanity".33
The ordained ministry that the Church passes on and from which she
benefits has its origins in Christ's will for the building up of the
community as a sacrament of God's love for the whole of humankind.
It is the ordained ministry at the level of the episcopate and
presbyterate that, through the laying on of hands, perpetuates the
specific gestural expressiveness of Christ her Head, the One who can and
really does regenerate the people of the New Covenant through his yes to
"With the imposition of hands on the faithful Christian the gift of the
Spirit is communicated (cf. II Tim 1:6) which configures and consecrates
the ordained minister to Christ the priest and makes him a sharer in the
mission of Christ the priest in its twofold aspect of authority and
service. This authority does not belong to the minister: it is, in fact,
the manifestation of the exousia, that is, of the power of the Lord
in virtue of which the priest fulfils his role of ambassador in the
eschatological work of reconciliation (cf. II Cor 5:18-20).... The fact
that this reality which imprints a sign lasts for his whole lifetime
serves to express the fact that Christ irrevocably associated himself to
the Church for the salvation of the world and that the Church herself is
definitively consecrated to God. The [ordained] minister, whose life bears
the seal of the gift received through the sacrament of Orders reminds the
Church that the gift of God is definitive".34
In the third chapter of the Encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia,
entitled "The Apostolicity of the Eucharist and of the Church", John Paul
II first points out three aspects of the apostolicity of the Eucharist
(cf. nn. 27-28), paraphrasing the footnote about the apostolicity of the
Church; he then presents his thoughts on the close bond between the
"ordained ministry and the Eucharist".
"If the Eucharist is the centre and summit of the Church's life, it is
likewise the centre and summit of priestly ministry. For this reason, with
a heart filled with gratitude to our Lord Jesus Christ, I repeat that the
Eucharist 'is the principal and central raison d'être
of the sacrament of priesthood, which effectively came into being at the
moment of the institution of the Eucharist"' (n. 31).
The first paragraph of the Conciliar Decree Presbyterorum Ordinis
clearly places the ordained priesthood in the mystery of Christ himself.
The priestly life is a representation of the ministerial nature of
Christ the Head. As a priest of the sacred realities, the ordained
minister acts in persona Christi, and therefore represents Christ
in his mission and in the salvific event, giving a people back to God and
giving back to the people a sign of their belonging to God through those
efficacious acts proper to the glorious Christ, that is, the sacraments.
Proclamation itself and the building up of the Ecclesia cannot
disregard the ministerial nature of those who preside over the Fractio
Panis in persona Christi, making present the Father's saving
will, and this has made possible that salvation which is Christ's
obedience, lived and consumed in the Paschal Mystery.
Christ therefore lives and is present in a real and special way in the
Eucharist, which builds up the Church, only thanks to the ministerial
nature of those whom he has incorporated into himself in a way different
than the baptismal priesthood.
The imposition of hands, the gesture that actually transmits the
ordained ministry (priesthood, episcopate), ontologically, enables the
faithful Christian to become for the community the one who accomplishes
the attention of the One who restored humanity to familiarity with God
Christ, the priest and victim of the New Covenant.
The finality of his identity is to build up the Church through the
potestas over the Eucharistic Body of Christ.
The concrete efficaciousness of the ordained ministry is precisely in
the fact that the subject is constituted and incorporated in this specific
ministerial nature of Christ, which is ontologically distinct from the
common priesthood, without which it would be impossible to have redemption
and the salvation that we enjoy today thanks to the proclamation and
The specific identity-bearing ministerial nature of the ordained
minister is the fulfilment of Christ's availability to "historicize" the
Redemption in obedience to the Father's saving plan, perpetuating Christ's
gesture and his express desire to "Do this in memory of me".
With the ministerial nature that is proper to the two levels of the
sacrament of Holy Orders ("presbyter and episcopus") the Eucharist builds
up the Church and highlights for us the inseparable bond that exists
between the Church and the ordained ministry.
The faith of the Church of the East and the Catholic Church of the West
has always affirmed the constitutive and essential bond between the
ministerial priesthood and the Eucharist.
This doctrine, as we have seen, has its roots in Christ's express will
in calling and sending the Twelve, both before and after the Passover; it
was defined by the Fourth Lateran Council (1215),35 reaffirmed
by the Second Vatican Council36 and by Sacerdotium
Ministeriale, the letter of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the
Faith published on 6 August 1983. Tradition and the recent Magisterium
highlight, on the relationship between the Eucharist and the ordained
ministry, that only in the Christian community in which there is an
ordained ministerial priesthood in the uninterrupted continuity of
apostolic succession, is there Eucharist and consequently the realization
and full presence of the mystery of the Church.
The Second Vatican Council does not fail to recall that where there is
no ordained ministry with these criteria, there is an absence of "the
proper reality of the Eucharistic mystery in its fullness"37
and consequently, there is no full and integral realization of communion."
This brief look we have given to some of the more important topics that
John Paul II wanted to consign to the Catholic Church should lead each of
us and the Ecclesial Community to relate to the "Mystery of Faith" in an
adult and thoughtful way.
The figure of Mary, presented to us as the "Woman of the Eucharist" (nn.
53-59), should encourage us. Indeed, the greatness of the Virgin of
Nazareth is in her "yes" (n. 55), that is, in the faith that the
spirituality of the Visitation has handed on to us (Lk 1:45).
The art that has welled up over the centuries around the Eucharistic
mystery, which John Paul II compares to the anointing in Bethany (Mt 26:8;
Mc 14:4; Jn 12:4), should cause to well up within our souls not the
feelings of perplexity shown by the disciples (n. 47), but the behaviour
of the woman whom John identifies as Mary, the sister of Lazarus, who knew
how to render honour to the presence of the Lord who was about to give his
life for his loved ones.
Like the woman of Bethany and like "the Church [that] has feared no
'extravagance', devoting the best of her resources to expressing her
wonder and adoration before the unsurpassable gift of the Eucharist" (n.
48), we too should give the best of our faith and piety so that the
Eucharist can really be a sacrament of communion and life.
1 The document is composed of: an introduction (1-10); The
mystery of faith (11-20); The Eucharist builds the Church (21-25); The
apostolicity of the Eucharist and of the Church (26-33); The Eucharist and
ecclesial communion (34-46); The dignity of the Eucharistic celebration
(47-52); At the school of Mary, Woman of the Eucharist" (53-58);
2 Cf. John Paul II, Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio
Ineunte, n. 48.
4 John Paul II, Apostolic Letter Dominicae Cenae, n.
6 Cf. ibid.
7 Cf. John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Ecclesia de
Eucharistia, n. 29.
8 John Paul II, Apostolic Letter Dominicae Cenae, n.
9 Cf. Justin, Apologia I, 65.
10 Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 1382.
11 Vatican II, Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium,
12 Paul VI, Encyclical Letter Mysterium Fidei, n. 27.
13 Congregation of Rites, Instruction Eucharisticum
Mysterium, n. 9.
14 Cf. ibid.
15 Paul VI, Encyclical Letter Mysterium Fidei, n. 40.
16 Justin, Apologia I, 66. " Cf. ibid.
17 Cf. ibid.
18 DS, 1642.
19 Cyril of Jerusalem, Mystagogical Catechesis, IV, 6.
20 John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Ecclesia de
Eucharistia, n. 15.
21 Ibid., n. 25.
22 Vatican II, Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium,
23 Ibid., n. 9.
24 Cf. Vatican II, Decree Presbyterorum Ordinis, nn.
25 Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and
Societies of Apostolic Life, Instruction "Starting Afresh From Christ", n.
26 John Paul II, Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Vita
Consecrata, n. 28.
27 Cf. Vatican II, Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium,
28 John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Ecclesia de
Eucharistia, n. 35.
30 Cf. Vatican II, Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium,
31 John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Ecclesia de
Eucharistia, n. 36.
32 Vatican II, Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium,
33 Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Pastores Dabo Vobis,
34 1971 Post-Synodal Document, Ultimis Temporibus, n.
35 Cf. DS, 802.
36 Cf. Vatican II, Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium,
nn. 10, 17, 28 and 41.
37 Vatican II, Decree Unitatis Redintegratio, n. 22.
36 Cf. Vatican II, Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium,