Eucharist, sacrament of unity and source of division


(RNS) — You will know that we are Christians by our love, but you will know that we are Catholics by our fights.

Unfortunately, one of the things that Catholics fight for is the Eucharist. In his June 29 apostolic letter to the Catholic people, Pope Francis denounces this division while describing the Eucharist as the sacrament of unity.

The letter, “Desiderio Desideravi” (“I have ardently desired”), gives full support to the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council, which called for the full, conscious and active participation of the laity in the Eucharist. Francis is clearly saddened by those who reject the reforms the council deemed absolutely necessary.

The Pope does not consider the pre-Vatican II liturgy equal to the Reformed liturgy, which was to be the liturgy of the whole Church. “I want this unity to be restored throughout the Church,” he wrote. “We cannot return to this ritual form that the council fathers, cum Petro and sub Petro, felt the need to reform.

The Eucharist is essential to the life of the Church, according to Francis’ letter. In the Eucharist, “we are guaranteed the possibility of encountering the Lord Jesus and of bringing to us the power of his paschal mystery”, he writes. But this is not done as individuals but as a community: “The liturgy does not say ‘I’ but ‘we’.

It links the Eucharist to Pentecost, when, according to the book of Acts, the Christian community received the Spirit after Jesus ascended into heaven. “It is the community of Pentecost which is capable of breaking bread in the certainty that the Lord is alive, risen from the dead, present by his word, by his gestures, by the offering of his Body and his Blood” , he added. wrote. “Only the Church of Pentecost can conceive of the human being as a person, open to a full relationship with God, with creation and with his brothers and sisters.”

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“The liturgy is praise”, requiring docility to the Holy Spirit, who appeared at Pentecost in the form of tongues of fire on the heads of the apostles. The pope said, “It has not to do with an abstract mental process, but with becoming Him.” He quotes Pope Leo the Great, who wrote: “Our participation in the Body and Blood of Christ has no other end than to make us become what we eat.

Francis does not want the Eucharist “to be marred by a superficial and shortened understanding of its value or, even worse, by its exploitation in the service of an ideological vision, whatever its hue.” The art of celebrating the Eucharist “cannot be reduced to a simple mechanism of rubrics, and even less should it be thought of as an imaginative – sometimes wild – creativity without rules”.

Both types of celebrants tend to make themselves, rather than Christ, the center of the liturgy.

Francis speaks extensively of the Paschal Mystery, but distinguishes it from the “vague phrase ‘sense of mystery'”, which conservative critics say has been removed from the liturgy by the reforms.

“The astonishment or wonder of which I speak is not a sort of overcoming before an obscure reality or a mysterious rite. It is, on the contrary, to marvel at the fact that the saving plan of God was revealed in the paschal act of Jesus (cf. Eph 1, 3-14), and that the power of this paschal act continues to reach us in the celebration of the ‘mysteries’, of the sacraments,” the pope wrote, referring to Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians.

A priest raises the Eucharist after having consecrated it during a mass in Latin. Photo by Andrew Gardner/Creative Commons

Francis’s letter contains many quotable lines, like those quoted above, that may inspire and educate Catholics in their participation in the Eucharist, but despite Francis’ intentions, this letter will be more helpful to seminary teachers than to the faithful in general. It is filled with exhortations on the necessity of liturgical formation, but it is not in itself a catechetical work.

The letter is a sincere cry to end the liturgical wars and enter into the mystery of Christ’s death and resurrection. Francis notes this explicitly in his first line linking it to his motu proprio “Traditionis custodes” of 2021, which puts limits on the celebration of the ancient rite.

“The non-acceptance of the liturgical reform, he writes, diverts us from the obligation to find answers to the question that I come back to repeat: how to grow in our capacity to fully live the liturgical action? How can we continue to be amazed by what is happening at the party before our eyes? We need a serious and dynamic liturgical formation.

In truth, that’s why I don’t find the letter very helpful, because it never fully answers these questions. The pope allowed himself to be distracted by the dissenters, focusing on the concerns of a small but vocal minority opposed to the council’s reforms. This renders the letter of little interest to the vast majority of Catholics who do not oppose the reforms, but need to be drawn deeper into the mystery of the Eucharist.

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Unfortunately, there is a great deal of ignorance among Catholics (including bishops and priests) about the Eucharist. Too many Catholics still think that the purpose of the Eucharist is to make Christ present on the altar so that we can adore him.

It is good for blessing, but the Eucharist is where the Christian community remembers the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, praises and thanks the Father, unites in the sacrifice of Christ and asks that the Spirit transform us into the body of Christ so that we can continue his mission on earth.

This is the heart of the Eucharist as seen in the eucharistic prayer proclaimed at Mass.

Francis, we need another letter, one that helps the average Catholic understand and participate in the Eucharist.


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