The Sacrament of Unity and Peace

Author: Pope Paul VI


Pope Paul VI

On the feast of Corpus Christi the Holy Father took part in the celebration of the feast at Ostia. He celebrated Mass in the open air outside the parish church of Mary, Queen of Peace, and afterwards he preached the following homily:

Dear Brothers and Children,

What is the meaning of this unusual and solemn ceremony we are now celebrating? Have you thought about it? From the secret silence of our Tabernacles, which only the believing and devoted faithful—educated in the mysteries of our religion—may approach, we bring forth the Holy Eucharist and carry it into lay and secular society, into the public squares and streets, and among the houses where everyday life goes on, wrapped up in its temporal affairs. For a moment we bring to a halt the feverish pace of the city's movement, and we profess boldly and with a display of publicity this extraordinary, almost unimaginable truth: He is here! Jesus is among us! Christ is present! We proclaim with joy and insistence this mysterious reality. We are carried to the height of enthusiasm, even of rapture in making our act of faith. We bear witness in action and with songs that seem to well up in our churches and spread to the world outside; nay, more, they overflow our very souls which are flooded with an uncontainable interior fulness which must, for once, proclaim itself to the world.

"Come to Me, and I will comfort you!"

If this be so, then this celebration has a twofold meaning, a twofold purpose. The first aim is to arouse us from our habitual familiarity, from our intolerable lack of appreciation of the Eucharist. However mysterious it may be, it is nonetheless real, close, present, most important for our better understanding and for a more open and cordial meeting with Jesus. In this sacrament he offers and gives himself to each one of us. He is sacrificed for us. He is received in Holy Communion. He becomes within us the principle of the new life, of his own divine life, which is shared also by our body, destined as it is to the resurrection and eternity. Thus he waits for us and invites us. He speaks to us in the interior dialogue of his Word which is woven into our human experience, a dialogue that fills us with grace and truth. To achieve this first end, our Eucharistic worship, resounding with joyous hymns and expressed in public by the community, should not end with the conclusion of these ceremonies. It must continue. It must not only be something external and social, but it must also be internal and personal. Exterior exuberance must give way to intense, almost ecstatic adoration, absorbed in a deep sense of the Eucharistic mystery. This is what we all have to do!

Invitation to the table of Jesus

Aroused and awakened by this solemn celebration, we must straightaway devote ourselves to the contemplative worship of the Eucharist. We must somehow explore its hidden riches. The sacramental form that encloses it must be united with the concrete form of our present life and with the assured hope of our future life. We must abandon ourselves to the limitless love the Eucharist offers us through faith. The invitation is extended to all. It is not reserved for the select few. It is an invitation to sit at the family table of Jesus. The little ones are the first to be invited. The wise are expected and, as it were, challenged to think and understand. But all believers are called: the poor, the hungry, the thirsty, the suffering and the troubled. Jesus calls again from his humble eucharistic hiding place: "Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." (Matt. 11, 28). This is the first aim of today's celebration.

The Eucharist enlightens social life

The second aim of the feast of "Corpus Domini" is to shed a bright light on social life as such, whether or not the source of that light is understood by society. Is this celebration, by any chance, a demonstration, a confrontation with the different opinions of others? Certainly not! The sacramental veil which contains and conceals the divine presence, is raised only to those who wish it, to those who believe. Access is both open and reserved. Faith offers, but does not impose. What it offers today is human sympathy, love. We must reflect for a moment on the reverberation of the Eucharist on the world to which we show our Bread of mystery. We should observe how the unique light emanating from it, the sacramental presence of Jesus, is refracted and lights up the surrounding human scene in as many colours, in as many aspects, as there are possibilities of development, aspirations and deeds of humanity. It would require a long discourse to describe the play of colours cast by the Eucharist on the canvas of our lives, in other words the lessons of truth and love which it projects upon the human screen. For the present it will suffice to give a brief indication of the most obvious and immediate of these reflections: unity.

The perfect sign of unity

Surely it is clear to you who hear Us that the Eucharist offers an outstanding, supreme and unquestionable lesson of unity to the anonymous mass lacking internal bonds, such as constitutes the modern city. It is a lesson of unity, if you wish, to the crowd, compact and conscious of being a people, but ever divided in itself by inbuilt antagonisms. Here we should remember what this sacrament symbolizes and teaches. In the words of St. Paul: "Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread", which is "a participation in the body of Christ." (I Cor. 10; 17, 16) In the Didache we read: "As this broken bread was scattered upon the mountains, what was brought together and became one, so let thy church, be gathered together from the ends of the earth" in the celebration of the Eucharist. (Didache, 9, 4). St. Thomas Aquinas, theologian, doctor and poet of the Eucharist, tells us: "The reality of this sacrament, that is, the grace proper to it, is the unity of the Mystical Body," which is the Church (S. Th. 111, 73, 3).

A sign to the world

For this reason, is not the Eucharist perhaps a sign to which our modern world should turn with complete sympathy if unity is the goal of its aspirations? The world seeks peace and strives to bring it about. At times it disrupts and disturbs it. But it always, as it were, fatefully yearns for it and tries to re-establish it. If the brotherhood of man, their working together in unity, and finally peace, constitutes the supreme good in the temporal and social order, should not the world discover in the Eucharist the simplest and clearest formula to interpret, define and direct that supreme good? And if the world left to itself should despair of being able to cement mankind into one real family (and how many dark and ominous trials can be produced in the world by this despair!), should not the world hearken to the Eucharistic message which proclaims that this sacrament is not merely a sign and a symbol, but it is besides food and a driving force and a grace which produces what it signifies?

Christ's greatest gift

Sons and Brothers, let us at least who believe in and are devoted to this operative mystery, accept Jesus' invitation to be one (John 17, 2 1); to seek to establish harmony and concord among ourselves; to foster what unites us and not what divides us and sets us one against another; to "build up the Church" which is the Mystical Body of Christ. To that Mystical Body, Christ's sacramental and real Body has been entrusted, and through the Mystical Body, Christ's real Body continues to exist among us throughout the ages.

It would take us too long to dwell upon the other social and moral reflections which the Eucharist presents to the world. This sacrament, for example, is a gift, the great and complete gift of Christ to his followers. It is also a sacrificial gift of himself. It renews in a symbolic and unbloody manner the sacrifice he endured in a cruel and bloody manner unto death in order to redeem and save us. And what moral value is offered by this aspect of the Eucharist even to the secular consideration of intelligent men concerning the true values that make for a better world!

Thus we could perhaps discuss the lesson of charity towards our brethren who are in need given to us by this Bread which is offered and multiplied to satisfy the hunger of all. We might also meditate on the joy surrounding the Eucharist since it is, as the liturgy reminds us in a Biblical reference (Wisdom 16, 20), the bread "that contains in itself every sweetness". The Eucharist teaches us to fulfil life's pilgrimage—so often burdened with sorrows and misfortunes—in the sure hope of the eventual eschatological expectation, the blessed and final encounter with the risen and glorious Christ.

Let these shafts of light travel through our city, and let them shine with particular brilliance on this new quarter of Rome that borders the sea and welcomes so many guests in search of sun, fresh air, and health. And let us act in such a way that these rays of the Eucharist will not have dazzled in vain the eyes of our souls, made humble, docile and happy by the celebration of "Corpus Domini".

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
27 June 1968, page 3

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