On the Eucharist and the Mass
by John Paul II
The Sacrament of the Eucharist (Holy Communion)
On the Eucharist and the Mass
The Lord’s Day—as Sunday was called from apostolic times—has always been accorded special attention in the history of the Church because of its close connection with the very core of the Christian mystery. In fact, in the weekly reckoning of time, Sunday recalls the day of Christ’s resurrection. It is Easter, which returns week by week, celebrating Christ’s victory over sin and death, the fulfillment in Him of the first creation, and the dawn of “a new creation.” In commemorating the day of Christ’s resurrection, not just once a year, but every Sunday, the Church seeks to indicate to every generation the true fulcrum of history, to which the mystery of the world’s origin and its final destiny leads.
Why not make the Lord’s Day a more intense time of sharing, encouraging all the inventiveness of which Christian charity is capable? Inviting to a meal people who are alone, visiting the sick, providing food for needy families, spending a few hours in voluntary work and acts of solidarity: these would certainly be ways of bringing into people’s lives the love of Christ received at the Eucharistic table.
“I am with you always, to the end of the age.” This promise of Christ never ceases to resound in the Church as the fertile secret of her life and the wellspring of her hope. As the day of Resurrection, Sunday is not only the remembrance of a past event: It is a celebration of the living presence of the Risen Lord in the midst of His own people.
For this presence to be properly proclaimed and lived, it is not enough that the disciples of Christ pray individually and commemorate the death and resurrection of Christ inwardly, in the secrecy of their hearts. Those who have received the grace of Baptism are not saved as individuals alone, but as members of the Mystical Body, having become part of the People of God. It is important, therefore, that they come together to express fully the very identity of the Church, the Ecclesia, the assembly called together by the Risen Lord who offered His life to reunite “the dispersed children of God.”
The Church lives by the Eucharist, by the fullness of this sacrament, the stupendous content and meaning of which have often been expressed in the Church from the most distant times down to our own days. And though this teaching is sustained by the acuteness of theologians, by men and women of deep faith and prayer, and by ascetics and mystics—in complete fidelity to the Eucharistic mystery—it remains incapable of grasping and translating into words what the Eucharist is in all its fullness, what is expressed by it and what is actuated by it.
Indeed, the Eucharist is the ineffable sacrament—the essential commitment and, above all, the visible grace and source of supernatural strength for the Church. With all the greater reason, then, it is not permissible for us, in thought, life, or action, to take away from this truly most holy sacrament its full magnitude and its essential meaning. It is at one and the same time a Sacrifice-sacrament, a Communion-sacrament, and a Presence-sacrament. And although it is true that the Eucharist always was and must continue to be the most profound revelation of the human brotherhood of Christ’s disciples and confessors, it cannot be treated merely as an occasion for manifesting this brotherhood. When celebrating the sacrament of the Body and Blood of the Lord, the full magnitude of the divine mystery must be respected—as must the full meaning of this sacramental sign in which Christ is really present and is received, the soul is filled with grace, and the pledge of future glory is given.
The Kingdom of God becomes present in the celebration of the sacrament of the Eucharist, which is the Lord’s Sacrifice. In this celebration, the fruits of the earth and the work of human hands—the bread and wine—are transformed mysteriously, but really and substantially, through the power of the Holy Spirit and the words of the minister, into the Body and Blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God and Son of Mary, through whom the Kingdom of the Father has been made present in our midst.
The goods of this world and the work of our hands—the bread and wine—serve for the coming of the definitive Kingdom, since the Lord, through His Spirit, takes them up into Himself in order to offer Himself to the Father and to offer us with Himself in the renewal of His one Sacrifice, which anticipates God’s Kingdom and proclaims its final coming.
Thus, the Lord unites us with Himself through the Eucharist—Sacrament and Sacrifice—and He unites us with Himself and with one another by a bond stronger than any natural union. Thus united, He sends us into the whole world to bear witness, through faith and works, to God’s love, preparing the coming of His Kingdom and anticipating it, though in the obscurity of the present time.
Eucharistic worship constitutes the soul of all Christian life. In fact, Christian life is expressed in the fulfilling of the greatest commandment, that is to say, in the love of God and neighbour, and this love finds its source in the Blessed Sacrament, which is commonly called the sacrament of love.
The Eucharist signifies this charity, and therefore recalls it, makes it present, and, at the same time, brings it about. Every time that we consciously share in it, there opens in our souls a real dimension of that unfathomable love that includes everything that God has done and continues to do for us human beings; as Christ says: “My Father is still working, and I also am working.”
Together with this unfathomable and free gift, which is charity revealed in its fullest degree in the saving sacrifice of the Son of God—the sacrifice of which the Eucharist is the indelible sign—there also springs up within us a lively response of love. We not only know love; we ourselves begin to love. We enter upon the path of love, and along this path make progress.
Thanks to the Eucharist, the love that springs up within us becomes deeper and grows stronger. Eucharistic worship is therefore precisely the expression of that love which is the authentic and deepest characteristic of the Christian vocation. This worship springs from the love and serves the love to which we are all called in Jesus Christ.
A living fruit of this worship is the perfecting of the image of God that we bear within us, an image that corresponds to the one that Christ has revealed in us. As we thus become adorers of the Father “in spirit and truth”—who then mature to an ever-fuller union with Christ—we are ever more united to Him, ever more in harmony with Him.
The authentic sense of the Eucharist becomes the school of active love for our neighbour. We know that this is the true and full order of love that the Lord has taught us: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” The Eucharist educates us to this love in a deeper way: it shows us, in fact, what value each person, our brother or sister, has in God’s eyes, if Christ offers Himself equally to each one, under the species of bread and wine. If our Eucharistic worship is authentic, it must make us grow in awareness of the dignity of each person. The awareness of that dignity becomes the deepest motive of our relationship with our neighbour.
We must also become particularly sensitive to all human suffering and misery, to all injustice and wrong, and seek the way to redress them effectively. Let us learn to discover with respect the truth about the inner self that becomes the dwelling place of God in the Eucharist. Christ comes into the hearts of our brothers and sisters and visits their consciences.
How the image of each and every one changes when we become aware of this reality. This sense of the Eucharistic mystery leads us to a love for our neighbour, to a love for every human being.
Our community has the duty to make the Eucharist the place where fraternity becomes practical solidarity, where the last are the first in the minds and attentions of the brethren, where Christ Himself—through the generous gifts from the rich to the very poor—may somehow prolong in time the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves.
The Eucharist is the full realization of the worship that humanity owes to God, and it cannot be compared to any other religious experience. The Risen Lord calls the faithful together to give them the light of His Word and the nourishment of His Body as the perennial sacramental wellspring of redemption. The grace flowing from this wellspring renews humanity, life, and history.