Reflection: Year of the Eucharist
In reading the text of the Instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum,
a Document desired by the Holy Father, I thought back several times to
what the Pontiff himself wrote in his Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation
Ecclesia in Europa: "Despite the dechristianization of vast areas
of the European Continent, there are signs which suggest an image of a
Church which, in believing, proclaims, celebrates and serves her Lord"
"A Church which... celebrates and serves her Lord" is a beautiful
description of the Church's task. With her Liturgies she elevates the
daily life of human beings to the realm of the sacred.
The definition of the sacred formulated by the theologian, M.D. Chenu
"The sacred is what has been removed from its natural goal, in order to
be dedicated and referred directly to its supernatural goal"
becomes crystallized in human life. The Church, which "in believing,
proclaims, celebrates and serves her Lord", as the Pope wrote, is a true
hope for the world invaded by the secularism and systematic atheism
to which the Second Vatican Council refers in Gaudium et Spes
which co-maintain that "man is an end to himself, and the sole maker,
with supreme control, of his own history" (n. 20).
It is possible to exclude God in many ways, even without naming him,
and unfortunately people are doing so. This leads to a lifestyle often
deplored by the Holy Father with these words: "Human beings live as if
God did not exist".
Renewal through the Liturgy
In this situation, a dignified liturgical celebration can be of great
help in leading people to a proper relationship with the transcendent,
with God. This real possibility of renewal through the Liturgy justifies
the publication of the Instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum and
makes it highly appropriate.
In addition to the hope of providing the secularized world with a
remedy, there is also, let us say, an "inner" reason for accepting the
Instruction "with open arms":
"Certain signs point to a weakening in the sense of mystery in those
very liturgical celebrations that should be fostering that sense. It is,
therefore, urgent that the authentic sense of the Liturgy be revived in
the Church. The Liturgy... is a means of sanctification; it is a
celebration of the Church's faith, and a means of transmitting the
faith" (Ecclesia in Europa, n. 70).
A dignified liturgical celebration helps us to acquire a deeper
perception of the mystery and to broaden the dimensions of the sacred.
The Holy Father finds a convincing argument for this in the beauty of
liturgical celebrations that speak to the heart.
In Ecclesia in Europa, he writes, "Together with Sacred
Scripture and the teachings of the Fathers of the Church it [the
Liturgy] is a living source of authentic and sound spirituality. As the
tradition of the venerable Eastern Churches also clearly emphasizes, it
is through the Liturgy that the faithful enter into communion with the
Most Holy Trinity and experience their sharing in the divine nature as a
gift of grace. In this way the Liturgy becomes a foretaste of final
blessedness and a sharing in the glory of heaven" (n. 70).
The same conviction, more forcefully expressed by the Second Vatican
Council, is found in Sacrosanctum Concilium: "In the earthly
liturgy we take part in a foretaste of that heavenly liturgy which is
celebrated in the Holy City of Jerusalem towards which we journey as
pilgrims, where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God, Minister of
the holies and of the true tabernacle" (n. 8).
Role of the sense of the sacred
By viewing the Liturgy in this perspective, we become aware of the
need and the duty to celebrate it in a holy way ("sancta sancte"), and
we clearly understand the insistence with which the Instruction
Redemptionis Sacramentum asks us to affirm, respect and preserve the
sacred nature of the place, persons and actions and all that is part of
a liturgical rite, especially the celebration of the Blessed Eucharist.
In the Instruction, "We are not dealing with meticulous instructions
compiled by 'legalistic minds'", as Cardinal Francis Arinze, Prefect of
the Congregation, said in his presentation of Redemptionis
Sacramentum; rather, the Document intends to educate us in the
sacred in order to enable us to celebrate the mystery of Christ
properly, because "external action must be illuminated by faith and
charity, which unite us with Christ and with one another" (Redemptionis
Sacramentum, n. 5).
For this to happen, we must accept willingly and observe faithfully
what the texts of the sacred Liturgy ask of us.
"The liturgical words and rites, moreover, are a faithful expression,
matured over the centuries, of the understanding of Christ, and they
teach us to think as he himself does; by conforming our minds to these
words, we raise our hearts to the Lord" (ibid., n. 5).
If we read the Instruction without prejudice and with docility to the
Spirit, then Redemptionis Sacramentum offers us motivated
assistance that will help us to better reach the ideal objective of
conforming our sentiments to those of Christ and not to be content with
a cold and uniform rubric.
We note that St Paul, in his First Letter to the Corinthians (cf.
11:20) was unhappy about the tone of certain celebrations. He wanted to
re-establish the Corinthians' sense of celebration in relation to Jesus'
celebration "on the night when he was betrayed", and thereby to restore
holiness to their gatherings (cf. I Cor 11:23). "For as often as you eat
this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he
comes.... So then, my brethren, when you come together to eat, wait for
if anyone is hungry, let
him eat at home..." (I Cor 11:16, 33-34).
In writing these words, St Paul's intention was to renew the
Corinthians' meetings, to free them from abuse and make them holy by
recourse to the sacrificial value of the Eucharistic celebration (cf.
also I Cor 10:16-18).
And rightly, St Thomas, the Angelic Doctor, exclaimed, almost as if
he wanted to comment on I Cor 11:26: "O Sacrum Convivium", not
merely any meeting of friends; "in quo Christus sumitur", Christ
gives himself to us, so that we do not faint on the way as we journey
toward sanctification (cf. Mt 15:32);
memoria passionis eius!". This aspect of the Eucharist is very
"Stripped of its sacrificial meaning, the mystery is understood as if
its meaning and importance were simply that of a fraternal banquet" (Redemptionis
Sacramentum, n. 38, citing Ecclesia de Eucharistia, n. 10).
The Crucified and Risen Jesus, the principal Liturgist, is with us; he
asks us to unite ourselves to him `with a deep sense of the sacred.
Dignified celebration of Eucharist
The sense of mystery and of the sacred must always be alive in the
celebrating, praying and worshipping Church. The Instruction intends to
ensure that this will be so by reminding sacred ministers of the
existence of the rights of the lay faithful, the Catholic people, to
have a Liturgy that corresponds to the depth of the mystery celebrated
and to the spiritual good of the individual members of the faithful and
of the entire community.
The Instruction speaks at least 14 times of the rights of the
faithful to be present and to be able to enjoy the holiness of the
greatest mystery that is celebrated. The faithful ius habent
have the right:
"to a liturgical celebration that is an expression of the Church's
life in accordance with her tradition and discipline" (n. 11);
"It is the right of all of Christ's faithful that the Liturgy...
should truly be as the Church wishes, according to her stipulations" (n.
"The Catholic people have the right that the Sacrifice of the Holy
Mass should be celebrated for them in an integral manner" (n. 12);
"It is the Catholic community's right that the celebration of the
Most Holy Eucharist should be carried out for it in such a manner that
it truly stands out as a sacrament of unity" (n. 12);
"Christ's faithful have the right that ecclesiastical authority
should fully and effectively regulate the Sacred Liturgy lest it should
ever seem to be 'anyone's private property' (n. 18);
"It is the right of the Christian people... that their diocesan
Bishop should take care to prevent the occurrence of abuses" (n. 24);
"It is the right of the community of Christ's faithful that
especially in the Sunday celebration there should customarily be true
and suitable sacred music, and that there should always be an altar,
vestments and sacred linens that are dignified, proper and clean" (n.
"All of Christ's faithful likewise have the right to a celebration of
the Eucharist that has been... carefully prepared in all its parts" (n.
"The faithful have a right to visit the Most Holy Sacrament of the
Eucharist frequently for adoration, and to take part in adoration before
the Most Holy Eucharist exposed at least at some time in the course of
any given year" (n. 139);
"The diocesan Bishop should acknowledge and foster... the right of
the... faithful to form guilds or associations for the carrying out of
adoration, even almost continuous adoration" (n. 141);
"'No Christian community is built up which does not grow from and
hinge on the celebration of the Most Holy Eucharist' (Presbyterorum
Ordinis, n. 6). Hence, it is the Christian people's right to have
the Eucharist celebrated for them on Sunday, and whenever holy days of
obligation... occur... insofar as this is possible" (n. 162);
"All priests, to whom the Priesthood and the Eucharist are entrusted
'for the sake of' others, should remember that they are enjoined to
provide the faithful with the opportunity to satisfy the obligation of
participating at Mass on Sundays... the lay faithful have the right...
that no priest should ever. refuse... to celebrate Mass for the people"
"If participation at the celebration of the Eucharist is
impossible... then it is the Christian people's right that the diocesan
Bishop should provide... for some celebration to be held on Sundays for
that community under his authority and according to the Church's norms"
"Any Catholic, whether priest or deacon or lay member of Christ's
faithful, has the right to lodge a complaint regarding a liturgical
abuse to the diocesan Bishop" (n. 184).
In order to participate in all that the Church
priests and faithful
desires to "say" to the Lord through the Liturgy, this list of rights to
which the faithful are entitled should not be considered useless or
Just as universal respect for "human rights" is frequently and
rightly insisted upon in secular life today, we should also ensure that
we satisfy the rights of the faithful with at least equal if not greater
insistence. Jesus Christ has granted these rights to them, and in giving
himself to them, he wants them to stay with him.
No one can consider the Liturgy as "private property" or treat it as
such (cf. n.. 18). "Let each one of the sacred ministers ask himself,
even with severity, whether he has respected the rights of the lay
members of Christ's faithful, who confidently entrust themselves and
their children to him, relying on him to fulfil for the faithful those
sacred functions that the Church intends to carry out in celebrating the
sacred Liturgy at Christ's command" (n. 186).
Faithful observation of the directives of the competent authority
facilitates our union with Christ and with one another; it also brings
about that uplifting of the hearts "sursum corda" of those
present that the celebration of the Eucharistic mystery requires.
In the field of Liturgy, which must always be held sacred, the desire
to debase with superficial and sometimes secularizing criticism the
treasury of fruits that have matured down the ages in the sunshine of
the Holy Spirit, would be damaging.
Nor should it be said that this bars access to progress. A door is
left open for appropriate adaptations; moreover, the revival of the
sense of the sacred must itself be considered a desirable and greater
mark of progress, worth far more than frequent alterations (cf. n. 39)
which at times distract the faithful and disturb the unity of the
Role of ordained ministers
The priest is a "sacred minister" who is indispensable. Without a
priest there can be no Eucharist.
Priests should never be considered as "employees" or "delegates" of
the community required to carry out a certain number of "programmed"
The priest is a "gift" of God. As such, he gathers together the
community of believers to glorify God.
Thus, no one should seek to manipulate either the priest himself or
what he does, or to reduce it to purely profane or political ends.
Let the priest humbly consider himself a representative of Christ. He
must not divest himself of his proper dignity by having non-consecrated
ministers replace him (cf. n. 32), even with the "good" intention of
"promoting" lay people.
He will also carry out his mission with holiness outside the Church.
For example, the Document opportunely recalls that in taking Holy
Communion to the sick, the priest should go straight from the altar to
the sick person's home (cf. n. 133), without stopping to do any errands.
The priest, invested with the pastoral care of a parish, should know
that "under the authority of the diocesan Bishop, [he] is bound to
regulate and supervise [the Liturgy] in his parish lest abuses occur"
(cf. n. 32).
Role of lay faithful
The sense of the sacred should be deepened and fostered in the lay
faithful to make their participation in the celebration of the Eucharist
more deeply felt and active. Their attendance should not be equated
"with a mere presence, and still less with a passive one", but they
should be catechized and led to understand that their presence is "a
true exercise of faith and of the baptismal dignity" (n. 37).
If they are called to assist at liturgical celebrations, they should
be well instructed and distinguished by their Christian life and
fidelity to the Magisterium (cf. n. 46). "To be avoided is the danger of
obscuring the complementary relationship between the action of clerics
and that of lay persons" (n. 45).
Furthermore, lay people should not take to themselves the tasks
proper to ordained ministers; even if they have been appointed
extraordinary ministers of Communion, they must not exercise this
ministry except in the case of objective need (cf. n. 157), and "it is
never allowed for the extraordinary minister of Holy Communion to
else to administer the Eucharist" (n. 159).
It was appropriate for the Instruction to call attention to
cleanliness, dignity and beauty in the preparation of all that is needed
for a dignified celebration. It was good to remind the faithful, with
regard to the laundering of sacred linen, that it "is praiseworthy for
this to be done by pouring the water from the first washing, done by
hand, into the church's sacrarium or into the ground in a suitable
place. After this a second washing can be done in the usual way" (n.
120). Even this detail can inculcate a sense of the sacred in the
To conclude, I would like to mention an example lived in a Slovakian
parish in the days of Communism.
In the Parish of Moyzesovo, during Midnight Mass of Christmas 1978,
the parish priest died while distributing Holy Communion. The
consecrated Hosts were scattered all over a large area of the church
The faithful gathered up the sacred species with great devotion,
using holy cards to carry the Hosts to the altar while they waited for a
priest they had summoned to help them in this disconcerting situation.
Some might classify this behaviour as "infantile", but I see the
gesture of those parishioners as confirmation of their profound sense of
the sacred, which inspired in them that simple way of behaving.
The "Year of the Eucharist" established by the Holy Father lies
before us. It may be a year of "putting out into the deep" in the sea of
doctrine to deepen our knowledge of the Eucharistic Mystery; in the area
of religious practice, it could well be a year that increases a delicate
and respectful love of the Blessed Eucharist that the faithful express
through an ever more devout way of celebrating the memorial of what
Jesus did "on the night when he was betrayed".
It could also be a year of reorganization and a wider dissemination
in parishes of adoration of the Lord Jesus sacramentally present in our
midst. In such a way, we will see further confirmation of the fact that
Ecclesia de Eucharistia is alive.