October 2005 – The Eucharist

The Eucharist: Source and Summit of the Life and Mission of the Church

The Year of the Eucharist initiated last year by Pope John Paul II will be concluded by his successor, Pope Benedict XVI, during this month’s Synod on the Eucharist. 40 years after the liturgical reforms initiated by the Second Vatican Council , we are at the threshold of what some have called “the reform of the reform”.

Too often in the years following the Council, “Full, active, conscious participation” became a mantra justifying superficial and trendy innovations that often resulted in a trivialized and too often vulgarized celebration of the Sacred Mystery. “Full, active, conscious participation” is not primarily about the vernacular, or about multiplying new liturgical roles and ministries; it means allowing oneself to be penetrated by the life of the One who is Lord, the One who is my Creator and Redeemer. Liturgy is fundamentally about Christ! Thus, the goal of every Holy Communion, which our participation in the liturgy normally culminates with, is to assimilate my life to his, it is to bring about my transformation and conformity to the One who is living Love.

Since Church’s practice must continually be placed alongside her perennial teachings, no one should be afraid of “the reform of the reform”. We are to see if the law of prayer corresponds to the law of faith. The decline in Sunday Mass attendance, confusion among significant number of the faithful concerning the teaching on the Real Presence, the great disproportion between the many who receive holy communion and the few who go to confession as well the casual participation of those who dissent from Church teachings on faith and morals, are all topics to be considered by the Synod fathers.

The Synod on the Eucharist holds great promise for the Church, especially in light of Pope John Paul II’s Ecclesia de Eucaristia and Mane nobiscum Domine, as well as the Instrumentum laboris, (the working paper)of the Synod itself. These are truly inspirational teachings that really help guide us as we seek to make reality the promise of Vatican II’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy.

The Instrumentum laboris begins with these words: “From the very beginning, the Church has drawn her life from the Eucharist. This sacrament is the reason for her existence, the inexhaustible source of her holiness, the power of her unity, the bond of her communion, the source of her dynamism in preaching the gospel, the principle of her evangelizing activity, the font of charity, the heart of human promotion and the anticipation of her glory in the eternal banquet at the wedding feast of the Lamb.”

Liturgy is not something “we do” – as if it were a purely human work; rather, liturgy is a gift we receive, for it is always first and foremost Christ’s work. In Christ, God humbled himself – first by taking on our human nature in the Incarnation, and then, by allowing us to participate in his own divinity, through our communion in His Body and Blood. As Pope Benedict XVI said on the Solemnity of Corpus Christi “communion implies adoration, it implies the will to follow Christ, to follow the One who goes ahead of us”. That is what full, active, conscious participation is all about.