If anyone eats this bread, he shall live
The 47th International Eucharistic Congress closed on Sunday
evening, 25 June, with a solemn Mass celebrated by the Holy Father
in St Peter's Square. Concelebrating with the Pope were Cardinals,
Bishops and priests who had taken part in the Congress and were
joined by thousands of the faithful from Rome and around the world.
Also present were 10,000 boys and girls who had recently received
their First Holy Communion. The area below the altar was decorated
with an "infiorata", a symbolic depiction of the Eucharist
made of thousands of flower petals by artists from Genzano, a small
town near Rome.
After the Gospel had been chanted in Latin, the Holy Father gave
the following homily in Italian. Here is a translation.
1. "Take; this is my body.... This is my blood"
These words spoken by Jesus at the Last Supper ring out today in
our assembly, as we prepare to close the International Eucharistic
Congress. They resound with unusual intensity, as a renewed
Christ entrusts to us his Body given .and his Blood poured out.
He entrusts them to us as he did to the Apostles in the Upper Room
before the supreme sacrifice on Golgotha. Peter and the others at
the table were astonished and deeply moved at these words. But could
they understand at the time how far these words would take them?
At that moment the promise Jesus had made at the synagogue in
Capernaum was fulfilled: "I am the bread of life.... the
bread I will give is my flesh, for the life of the world"
(Jn 6:48, 51). The promise was fulfilled on the very eve of the
Passion in which Jesus would offer himself for humanity's
2. "This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out
for many" (Mk 14: 24).
In the Upper Room Jesus speaks of covenant. It is a term which
the Apostles have no difficulty in understanding, since they belong
to the people with whom Yahweh, as the first reading tells us, had
made the old covenant during the exodus from Egypt (cf. Ex 19-24).
They vividly remember Mount Sinai and Moses, who had come down from
that mountain carrying the divine Law engraved on two stone tablets.
Christ is the mediator of a new covenant
They did not forget that Moses had taken the "book of the
covenant" and read it aloud; and the people had agreed, saying:
"All the Lord has said, we will heed and do" (ibid.,
24:7). Thus a covenant was made between God and his people, sealed
with the blood of animals offered in sacrifice. For this reason
Moses had sprinkled the people, saying: "This is the blood of
the covenant which the Lord has made with you in accordance with all
these words of his" (ibid., 24:8).
The Apostles, then, understood the reference to the old covenant.
But what did they understand of the new? Certainly very
little. The Holy Spirit will have to descend to open their minds:
then they will understand the full sense of Jesus' words. They will
understand and rejoice.
We heard a clear echo of this joy in the words proclaimed a few
moments ago from the Letter to the Hebrews: "If the sprinkling
of defiled persons with the blood of goats and bulls and with the
ashes of a heifer sanctifies for the purification of the flesh, how
much more shall the blood of Christ!" (9:13-14). And the author
of the Letter concludes: "Therefore Christ is the mediator of a
new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised
eternal inheritance" (9:15).
3. "This is the cup of my blood". On Holy
Thursday evening the Apostles reached the threshold of the great
mystery. When, at the end of the supper, they went out with him
to the Garden of Olives, they could not know yet that the words he
had pronounced over the bread and the cup would be dramatically
fulfilled the following day, in the hour of the Cross. Perhaps not
even on the tremendous and glorious day that the Church calls feria
sexta in parasceve—Good
Friday—did they realize that
what Jesus had handed on to them under the appearances of bread and
wine contained the paschal reality.
There is an illuminating passage in the Gospel of Luke. Speaking
of the two disciples on the way to Emmaus, the Evangelist notes
their disappointment: "We had hoped that he was the one to
redeem Israel" (Lk 24:21). The other disciples must have also
shared this sentiment before meeting the risen Christ. Only after
the resurrection did they begin to understand that human
redemption had been achieved in Christ's Passover. The Holy
Spirit will later guide them into the full truth by revealing to
them that the Crucified One had given his body and poured out his
blood as a sacrifice of expiation for the sins of human beings, for
the sins of the whole world (cf. 1 Jn 2:2).
The author of the Letter to the Hebrews again offers us a clear
synthesis of the mystery: "Christ ... entered once for all
into the Holy Place, taking not the blood of goats and calves but
his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption" (Heb
4. Today we affirm this truth at the Statio Orbis of this
International Eucharistic Congress, as, in obedience to Christ's
command, we do again "in his memory" what he did in the
Upper Room on the eve of his Passion.
"Take; this is my body.... This is my blood of the covenant,
which is poured out for many" (Mk 12:22,24). From this square
we want to repeat to the men and women of the third millennium the
extraordinary message: the Son of God became man for us and offered
himself in sacrifice for our salvation. He gives us his body and
blood as the food of a new life, of a divine life that is no longer
subject to death.
With deep feeling we once again receive from Christ's hands this
gift, so that through us it may reach every family and every city,
places of suffering and the workshops of hope in our time. The
Eucharist is the infinite gift of love: under the signs of bread and
wine we acknowledge and adore the one perfect sacrifice of Christ
offered for our salvation and that of all humanity. The Eucharist is
really "the mystery that sums up all the marvels wrought by God
for our salvation" (cf. St Thomas Aquinas, De sacr. Euch.,
Christ feeds his people and strengthens them in holiness
In the Upper Room the Church's Eucharistic faith was born and
is continually reborn. As the Eucharistic Congress now draws to
a close, we want to return spiritually to these origins, to the
moment of the Upper Room and of Golgotha, to give thanks for the
gift of the Eucharist, the priceless gift that Christ left us, the
gift by which the Church lives.
5. 0ur liturgical assembly will soon disperse, enriched by the
presence of faithful from every part of the world and made even more
attractive by this extraordinary floral display. I greet you all
with affection and cordially thank everyone!
Let us leave this gathering reinvigorated in our apostolic and
missionary commitment. May participation in the Eucharist make you,
the sick, more patient in your trials; you, married
couples, more faithful in your love; you, consecrated persons,
more persevering in your holy intentions; you, First Communion children,
and especially you, dear young people, who are preparing to
take personal responsibility for the future, stronger and more
generous. From this Statio Orbis my thoughts are already
looking ahead to the solemn Eucharistic celebration that will close
the World Youth Day. I say to you, young people of Rome,
Italy and the world: carefully prepare yourselves for this
international youth gathering, in which you will be called to take
up the challenges of the new millennium.
6. And you, Christ our Lord, who "in this great sacrament
feed your people and strengthen them in holiness, so that the family
of mankind may come to walk in the light of one faith, in one
communion of love" (Preface of the Holy Eucharist II),
always make your Church more steadfast and united, as she celebrates
the mystery of your saving presence.
Pour out your Spirit upon all who approach your sacred Table and
make them bolder in bearing witness to the commandment of your love,
so that the world may believe in you, who one day said: "I
myself am the living bread come down from heaven. If anyone eats
this bread, he shall live" (Jn 6:51).
You, Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Virgin Mary, are man's only
Saviour, "yesterday, today and for ever"!
At the end of Mass the Holy Father greeted the pilgrims in
various languages. To the English-speaking faithful he said:
I greet the English-speaking pilgrims who have joined in our
prayer of thanksgiving at this closing Mass of the International
Eucharistic Congress. May the continuing celebration of the Great
Jubilee ever increase the awareness and appreciation of the Lord's
saving presence in your midst. Upon all of you I invoke the grace
and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ.
After greeting the other groups, the Holy Father added
Lastly, I would especially like to thank the many Cardinals,
Archbishops and Bishops from around the world. This week we have
felt united with the Person of Christ as the Apostles were in the
Upper Room. Bring my heartfelt greeting and my Blessing to your
faithful. A thousand thanks again to everyone!