Let Us Renounce Rivalry and Discord

Author: Pope Paul VI


Pope Paul VI

The homily which His Holiness Pope Paul VI delivered in the afternoon of Holy Thursday April 3rd at celebration of Mass "In Coena Domini" in the basilica of St. John Lateran, was centred around a heartfelt call to return to the inner unity of the Church. Here is the text of his discourse.


We are hesitant to speak this evening, in this assembly, in this "ecclesia", which is the type of the "ecclesia" of all Catholicity, and for that very reason is the same as every single gathering of faithful, which has convened around an altar, and has been called there and is served by the marvellous ministry of their pastors, as if they were all together with us, and, as us, celebrating this mysterious supper of the Lord.

We hesitate, because We fear to disturb the personal interior meditation of your thoughts, which We suppose to be going on deeply in each of you, with a special effort to achieve a final concentration in a moment of clear awareness, to take in something of the rite which we are celebrating, something of its meaning, of its mysterious reality, of its indescribable repercussions upon our psychologies, on our mentalities, and upon our souls. Just because we are here, that we have come to join in this special, indeed very special ceremony, each of us is caught up by a feeling of recollection, by a need to rediscover himself through contact with and in the light of this celebration.

We will try, in Our few words, which also form part of the rite which we are celebrating. We will try not to loosen your interior tension, not to distract you, but rather to further if possible the evident and basic course of your same thoughts.

Christ's Spiritual Presence

What are they directed towards at this moment? What is the chief content of your thoughts? They are concerned with a well known scene in the Gospel, the Lord's last supper with his disciples. Let us try to recall that event well. Let each of us try to construct a picture of it, to see it in our own imaginations. Our picture of it is an act of memory. And we at once see that this memory has a special value, for it is a memory which Christ himself wished to us to have. "Do this", Jesus said on that very occasion, "do this in memory of me" (Lk. 22, 19; 1 Cor. 11, 24). In a few moments we shall repeat those words literally. This commemoration therefore establishes an historical relationship, a direct and premeditated one between Christ and ourselves, a relationship of compliance with his will, of fidelity to his word and a spiritual presence on his part. There is a particular intention in it: to transform us who remember, us spectators, into guests; to make us sit down at that table which was so simple but was also loaded with such immense and profound meanings. A remembrance that becomes present, history is our history; a story that becomes present and actual for us, and in us, as if we were now, as if we were then, seated at that paschal feast, where the traditional Pasch was consumed in celebration of the liberation of the chosen People from slavery, through the immolation of the lamb (cf. St. Gaudentius, Primus Tractatus), and where it was replaced by the new Pasch, our Pasch, "in which Christ", as St. Paul explained, "is immolated" (I Cor. 5, 7). He assumes the prophetic and tragic function of "Lamb of God", of him who "takes away the sin of the world" (Jn. 1, 29); and he inaugurated that new Testament, in which we live now; he inaugurated it by giving his last supper, which was to be renewed as the perennial announcement of his death (I Cor. 11, 26), and was to have the value of a sacrifice, making him present with his Body and with his Blood, as an immolated victim represented in the signs of the bread and the blood, which are made into spiritual food for us, that is to say means of communion and founts of life, of the very life of Christ infused into us.

The People of God's Unity in the Mystical Body

Infused into us. Why? Clearly so that we may live in him, in Christ. This is the marvel: "Whoever eats of me, Jesus said, will live because of me", and will live for me (Jn. 6, 57; Cf. St. Augustine in Jn. tr. 26, P.L. 35, 1615). But how, how? That is, what is the essential significance, the supernatural effect, the "res", as theologians say (cf. St. Thos. 111, 73, 3), of this sacrificial food, through which Christ communicates himself to us and we enter into him? It is a new, mysterious unity, which will arise exactly from participation in the Eucharist, because Eucharist is the name that will be assumed by this celebration of mindful and grateful love, this "Agape", this sacrificial communion; it is the unity of the Mystical Body, it is the Church, Christ's Mystical Body, living by faith, by hope and by charity. No words are clearer in this case than the Apostle's: "we though many are one body, all of us who partake of the one bread" (I Cor. 10, 17).

Brethren! It is on this thought that We should like our meditation about the rite to rest—our meditation upon the paschal meal which we are celebrating. It is certainly not a new and original thought! It would be a pity if it were! It is the true, conclusive and opportune thought for our Easter. That is, it is the thought of union, rather, we can say, of unity, of mysterious, vital, binding unity, which ought so to come alive in us that it can make us live by it, be our light for out practical and social life, and form the characteristic feature of our Roman Catholicism: union; unity amongst us!

This appeal seems opportune to Us. There is so much talk of unity in the world. Human history, in spite of ruptures, struggles and inequalities which divide mankind, is moving towards unity. Will it get there, or will its striving towards world harmony prove to have been vain effort? And if, mankind did arrive at that goal, will it turn out to be a good thing, or a misfortune, because of the "one dimension" that it might take on, in other words, because of the loss of its free and manifold modes of expression? Humanity needs to unite itself in solidarity and love. And where shall we find the type and fount of such things?

There is talk of pluralism in Christian denominations; and when will such unity be possible to be said to be effected and perfected, if not when it is unanimous in confessing a single faith, which is the indispensable condition for participation in one and the same eucharistic communion?

Centrifugal Tendencies

There is talk of renewal in the doctrine and in the conscience of the Church of God; but how can the living and true Church be authentic and persistent if the complex structure that forms it and defines it a spiritual and social "mystical body", is today so often and so gravely corroded by dissent and challenge and by forgetfulness of its hierarchical structure, and is countered in its divine and indispensable constituent charism, its pastoral authority? How can it claim to be a Church, that is a united people, even though locally broken up and historically and legitimately diversified, when a practically schismatic ferment is dividing it, subdividing it and breaking it into groups which are more than anything else zealous for arbitrary and fundamentally egoistical autonomy, masked by Christian pluralism or liberty of conscience? How will it be able to be built up by activity that would like to be called apostolic, when this is deliberately led by centrifugal tendencies and when it develops, not the mentality of communitarian love, but rather that of partisan polemics, or when it prefers dangerous and equivocal sympathies, which need to be met. with unyielding reserve, as against friendships founded on fundamental principles,marked by indulgence towards mutual defects and needing concurrence and collaboration.

The Spirit of Charity

There is still talk of the Church, of the Catholic Church, our own: but can we say to ourselves that in her members, in her institutions and her work she is truly living by a sincere spirit or union and charity, which makes her worthy to celebrate our most holy daily Mass without hypocrisy and without the unfeelingness of habit? Have we not amongst us those "schismatics", those "dissensions" sadly denounced in St. Paul's first letter to the Corinthians, which is the lesson chosen for our instruction today? (I Cor. 1, 10; 12, 25; 11, 18).

We still need always to build up that charity, that virtuous unity of sentiments and relationships which the Eucharist will elevate, in the testamentary words of Christ (cf. Jn. 13, 34-35; 17, 21 etc.).

And at this moment which comes just before our communion with Christ, who unifies us, his followers and members, let us renew our inward manner of thinking and acting (cf Eph. 4, 23); let us renounce the spirit of emulation, rivalry and discord, the subtle temptation to speak ill amongst ourselves who are brethren; and, if need be, let us expand our souls to forgiveness for whoever may have done us wrong, and let us promise reconciliation with whomever we have to restore relationships of human intercourse (cf. Matth. 5, 23): how can we approach the Christian feast of charity and unity unless we have this peace in our hearts?

And let us ask Christ Jesus for a grace today: that he may give his Church, this Church of Rome called "to preside overcharity" (St. Ignatius, Epist. ad Romanos. Inscript. ed. Funk, Patres Apostolici, page 222), to preserve andperfect her still in her own interior unity, as the Passoverof the Lord demands. So may it be.  

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
10 April 1969, page 4

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