|Reflection on Sacramentum Caritatis|
|Cardinal Jozef Tomko
President of the Pontifical Committee for International Eucharistic Congresses
|The gift of Eucharist needs celebration,
In the sign of continuity
The Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis is the ripe fruit of the Synod of Bishops, gathered, approved and deepened by the Pope who is the Synod's President. This continuity with the Synodal Assembly is also visible in the frequent reference to the proposals formulated and voted on by the Synod Fathers.
Thus, the Document is truly a development of the collegial work of the Pastors of the Church to which Peter's seal has now been affixed.
But the Exhortation also comes in continuity with Benedict XVI's first Encyclical in the sign of divine love. This is emphasized by the title Sacramentum Caritatis, which alludes to Deus Caritas Est and expresses a profound continuity. The two helmsmen of the Church sought to direct the attention of the universal ecclesiastical community to the centre and source of its vitality.
After the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, in his Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte, John Paul II once again presented Christ as the only programme for the third millennium: "The programme already exists: it is the plan found in the Gospel and in the living Tradition, it is the same as ever. Ultimately, it has its centre in Christ himself, who is to be known, loved and imitated, so that in him we may live the life of the Trinity, and with him transform history" (n. 29).
Thus, the programme is Jesus Christ, the Risen One who comes to dwell among us. The Eucharist is the sacramental presence of the love of God that is expressed in the boundless love of Christ (cf. Jn 13:1).
This continuity was further deepened by the Encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia, published on Holy Thursday 2003: "The Church draws her life from Christ in the Eucharist; by him she is fed and by him she is enlightened" (n. 6).
The 48th International Eucharistic Congress was celebrated the following year — in October 2004 — at Guadalajara, Mexico. The conclusion of the Congress marked the beginning of the Year of the Eucharist; it was during this Year that the Synodal Assembly we are referring to was held.
It should be pointed out that the International Eucharistic Congress of Guadalajara fits into this continuity and thus draws attention to Eucharistic Congresses in general, since they are a special form of Eucharistic devotion. They are mentioned only once in the Exhortation, in paragraph n. 68, but other reflections in the Document implicitly apply to the celebration of Eucharistic Congresses.
Context of Eucharistic Congresses
In the general economy of the Post-Synodal Document, Eucharistic Congresses have their place in Part Two. Indeed, they presuppose faith, masterfully summed up in Part One, about "The Eucharist, a mystery to be believed" on the basis of its Trinitarian origin which guarantees its character as an on-going gift (cf. nn. 6-8).
The Eucharist is the gift of Trinity, the gift that the Church received from Christ her Lord, "the gift par excellence", as John Paul II forcefully emphasized in the above-mentioned Encyclical, "for it is the gift of himself, of his person in his sacred humanity, as well as the gift of his saving work" (Ecclesia de Eucharistia, n. 11).
Now, the Church must respond to the gift, especially a gift such as this, with celebration and adoration, as Pope Benedict XVI explains in Part Two of his Exhortation on "The Eucharist, a mystery to be celebrated", in which many beautiful things can be read.
I would like the Exhortation to awaken in the faithful "an increased sense of the mystery of God present among us.... Amid the legitimate diversity of signs used in the context of different cultures, everyone should be able to experience and express the awareness that at each celebration we stand before the infinite majesty of God, who comes to us in the lowliness of the sacramental signs" (n. 65).
These words introduce the four paragraphs on "Adoration and Eucharistic devotion". They are an invitation to express that "Eucharistic wonder" (n. 97) which Jesus' love, culminating in the gift of the Eucharist, has continued to kindle in his disciples down the ages since the Last Supper.
First of all, the Exhortation dispels an insidious objection that circulated in the immediate post-Conciliar period; it claimed that the Eucharistic Bread was not given to us to be contemplated but to be eaten. The contrary is affirmed with an incisive citation of the great Augustine: "peccemus non adorando" — we should sin if we were not to adore it!
The Document then in fact continues: "In the Eucharist, the Son of God comes to meet us and desires to become one with us; Eucharistic Adoration is simply the natural consequence of the Eucharistic celebration, which is itself the Church's supreme act of adoration.... The act of adoration outside Mass prolongs and intensifies all that takes place during the liturgical celebration itself" (n. 66).
Together with the Synodal Assembly, the Holy Father therefore recommends the practice of Eucharistic Adoration, both individually and in community. He also provides practical pastoral instructions on how it should be done and praises associations and institutes that encourage it.
It is in this context that he adds, "Naturally, already existing forms of Eucharistic piety retain their full value. I am thinking, for example, of processions with the Blessed Sacrament, especially the traditional procession on the Solemnity of Corpus Christi, the Forty Hours devotion, local, national and international Eucharistic Congresses, and other similar initiatives", which "are still worthy of being practised today" (n. 68).
In the face of these authoritative words and the great wealth of experience of the various Eucharistic Congresses, the objection of "triumphalism", raised by some in a certain period, appears futile.
Examining Eucharistic Congresses
Basically, to understand the value of Eucharistic Congresses it is necessary to participate in them. They can take place at the diocesan, national and international levels in various forms, but their purpose is always to express and increase the faith and love of the People of God for Christ in his Eucharistic Mystery.
The national and international Congresses are important. The latter began in France in 1881, born from fervent Eucharistic devotion thanks to the harmonious cooperation of laity and clergy, inspired by St. Peter Julian Eymard.
The theme of the first Congress was: "The Eucharist saves the world". It aimed to tackle the widespread religious indifference, so similar to the agnosticism of our times.
A Permanent Committee was set up for the preparation of the first Congress in Lille in 1881. It was approved by Leo XIII and subsequently became "Pontifical". This Committee continues to promote the regular celebration of International Eucharistic Congresses.
The Congresses are celebrated every four years on a different continent. Those celebrated in Rome during the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000 and chronologically over the years were memorable: in Breslau, Seville, Seoul, Nairobi, Philadelphia, Mumbai (Bombay), Munich and others.
The most recent, the 48th, was celebrated in October 2004 in Guadalajara, Mexico. The 49th will take place in Quebec, Canada, in June 2008.
Since the times of the Second Vatican Council they have acquired the features of the "Statio Orbis", a sort of "interval" when the particular Churches of the world are united round Christ in his "sacrament of love", together with the Pope or his Legate in a city, to express and deepen their faith.
Catecheses, the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice, adoration, the solemn Eucharistic procession, First Communions, charitable activities for the poor and the suffering and meetings for reflection organized for the various categories make this Congress a real opportunity for spiritual renewal with visible and invisible results, known only to God but certainly abundant.
It is impossible to forget the massive manifestation of faith in Guadalajara, which lasted a week with several million participants — even including groups from Siberia and Korea and a strong presence of Adorers of the Eucharist — and an impressive Eucharistic procession that went on for many hours and was accompanied by young people chanting: "Se ve, se siente, Jesus es presente!" [We see, we hear, Jesus is here], with 16,000 registered delegates present every day at the Eucharistic liturgies, followed by catecheses and testimonies and concluding with John Paul II's deeply-felt message via a television link-up.
Another recent experience, on a much smaller scale but important nevertheless, was the Congress organized by the Catholic University of Murcia, Spain. Also remarkable was the Italian National Congress, celebrated in Bari, at which Benedict XVI was present. The national Congresses in the Philippines and in Slovakia had different procedures.
The particular Churches of the world find in the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation a rich inspiration: "to solemnly show to humanity, 'The Eucharist, a gift of God for the life of the world', as the basic text for the upcoming Congress says" (Benedict XVI, Address to the Plenary Assembly of the Pontifical Committee for International Eucharistic Congresses, 9 November 2006; L'Osservatore Romano English edition, 22 November, p. 2).
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