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Monday, June 3, 2013

0281: Reflections on the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ by Pope Benedict XVI



Entry 0281: Reflections on the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ by Pope Benedict XVI during His Pontificate 




On eight occasions during his Pontificate, Pope Benedict XVI delivered reflections on the Solemnity of the Sacred Body and Blood of Christ, on 26 May 2005, 15 June 2006, 7 June 2007, 22 May 2008, 11 June 2009, 3 June 2010, 23 June 2011, and 7 June 2012. Here are the texts of the eight homilies delivered on these occasions.


MASS AND EUCHARISTIC PROCESSION
ON THE SOLEMNITY OF CORPUS DOMINI

HOMILY OF HIS HOLINESS BENEDICT XVI

Square before the Basilica of St John Lateran, Thursday, 26 May 2005

Dear Brothers in the Episcopate and in the Priesthood,

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

On the feast of Corpus Domini, the Church relives the mystery of Holy Thursday in the light of the Resurrection. There is also a Eucharistic procession on Holy Thursday, when the Church repeats the exodus of Jesus from the Upper Room to the Mount of Olives.

In Israel, the night of the Passover was celebrated in the home, within the intimacy of the family; this is how the first Passover in Egypt was commemorated, the night in which the blood of the paschal lamb, sprinkled on the crossbeam and doorposts of the houses, served as protection against the destroyer.

On that night, Jesus goes out and hands himself over to the betrayer, the destroyer, and in so doing, overcomes the night, overcomes the darkness of evil. Only in this way is the gift of the Eucharist, instituted in the Upper Room, fulfilled: Jesus truly gives his Body and his Blood. Crossing over the threshold of death, he becomes living Bread, true manna, endless nourishment for eternity. The flesh becomes the Bread of Life.

In the Holy Thursday procession, the Church accompanies Jesus to the Mount of Olives: it is the authentic desire of the Church in prayer to keep watch with Jesus, not to abandon him in the night of the world, on the night of betrayal, on the night of the indifference of many people.

On the feast of Corpus Domini, we again go on this procession, but in the joy of the Resurrection. The Lord is risen and leads us. In the narrations of the Resurrection there is a common and essential feature; the angels say: the Lord “goes ahead of you to Galilee, where you will see him” (Mt 28: 7).

Taking this into deep consideration, we can say that this “going ahead” of Jesus implies a two-way direction.

The first is, as we have heard, Galilee. In Israel, Galilee was considered to be the doorway to the pagan world. And in reality, precisely on the mountain in Galilee, the disciples see Jesus, the Lord, who tells them: “Go... and make disciples of all the nations” (Mt 28: 19).

The other preceding direction of the Risen One appears in the Gospel of St John, in the words of Jesus to Mary Magdalene: “Do not hold me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father” (Jn 20: 17).

Jesus goes before us next to the Father, rises to the heights of God and invites us to follow him. These two directions on the Risen One’s journey are not contradictory, for both indicate the path to follow Christ.

The true purpose of our journey is communion with God. He himself is the house of many dwelling places (see Jn 14: 2ff.); but we can be elevated to these dwelling places only by going “towards Galilee”, travelling on the pathways of the world, taking the Gospel to all nations, carrying the gift of his love to the men and women of all times.

Therefore, the journey of the Apostles extends to the “ends of the earth” (see Acts 1: 6ff.). In this way, Sts Peter and Paul went all the way to Rome, a city that at that time was the centre of the known world, the true caput mundi.

The Holy Thursday procession accompanies Jesus in his solitude towards the via crucis. The Corpus Domini procession responds instead in a symbolic way to the mandate of the Risen One: I go before you to Galilee. Go to the extreme ends of the world, take the Gospel to the world.

Of course, by faith, the Eucharist is an intimate mystery. The Lord instituted the Sacrament in the Upper Room, surrounded by his new family, by the 12 Apostles, a prefiguration and anticipation of the Church of all times.

And so, in the liturgy of the ancient Church, the distribution of Holy Communion was introduced with the words Sancta sanctis: the holy gift is intended for those who have been made holy.

In this way a response was given to the exhortation of St Paul to the Corinthians: “A man should examine himself first; only then should he eat of the bread and drink of the cup...” (I Cor 11: 28).

Nevertheless, from this intimacy that is a most personal gift of the Lord, the strength of the Sacrament of the Eucharist goes above and beyond the walls of our Churches. In this Sacrament, the Lord is always journeying to meet the world. This universal aspect of the Eucharistic presence becomes evident in today’s festive procession.

We bring Christ, present under the sign of bread, onto the streets of our city. We entrust these streets, these homes, our daily life, to his goodness. May our streets be streets of Jesus! May our houses be homes for him and with him! May our life of every day be penetrated by his presence.

With this gesture, let us place under his eyes the sufferings of the sick, the solitude of young people and the elderly, temptations, fears - our entire life. The procession represents an immense and public blessing for our city: Christ is, in person, the divine Blessing for the world. May the ray of his blessing extend to us all!

In the Corpus Domini procession, we walk with the Risen One on his journey to meet the entire world, as we said. By doing precisely this, we too answer his mandate: “Take, eat... Drink of it, all of you” (Mt 26: 26ff.).

It is not possible to “eat” the Risen One, present under the sign of bread, as if it were a simple piece of bread. To eat this Bread is to communicate, to enter into communion with the person of the living Lord. This communion, this act of “eating”, is truly an encounter between two persons, it is allowing our lives to be penetrated by the life of the One who is the Lord, of the One who is my Creator and Redeemer.

The purpose of this communion, of this partaking, is the assimilation of my life with his, my transformation and conformation into he who is living Love. Therefore, this communion implies adoration, it implies the will to follow Christ, to follow the One who goes ahead of us. Adoration and procession thereby make up a single gesture of communion; they answer his mandate: “Take and eat”.

Our procession finishes in front of the Basilica of St Mary Major in the encounter with Our Lady, called by the dear Pope John Paul II, “Woman of the Eucharist”. Mary, Mother of the Lord, truly teaches us what entering into communion with Christ is: Mary offered her own flesh, her own blood to Jesus and became a living tent of the Word, allowing herself to be penetrated by his presence in body and spirit.

Let us pray to her, our holy Mother, so that she may help us to open our entire being, always more, to Christ’s presence; so that she may help us to follow him faithfully, day after day, on the streets of our life. Amen.


HOLY MASS AND EUCHARISTIC PROCESSION ON
THE SOLEMNITY OF THE SACRED BODY AND BLOOD OF CHRIST

HOMILY OF HIS HOLINESS BENEDICT XVI

Saint John Lateran, Thursday, 15 June 2006

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

On the eve of his Passion, during the Passover meal, the Lord took the bread in his hands - as we heard a short time ago in the Gospel passage - and, having blessed it, he broke it and gave it to his Disciples, saying: “Take this, this is my body”. He then took the chalice, gave thanks and passed it to them and they all drank from it. He said: “This is my blood, the blood of the covenant, to be poured out on behalf of many” (Mk 14: 22-24).

The entire history of God with humanity is recapitulated in these words. The past alone is not only referred to and interpreted, but the future is anticipated - the coming of the Kingdom of God into the world. What Jesus says are not simply words. What he says is an event, the central event of the history of the world and of our personal lives.

These words are inexhaustible. In this hour, I would like to meditate with you on just one aspect. Jesus, as a sign of his presence, chose bread and wine. With each one of the two signs he gives himself completely, not only in part. The Risen One is not divided. He is a person who, through signs, comes near to us and unites himself to us.

Each sign however, represents in its own way a particular aspect of his mystery and through its respective manifestation, wishes to speak to us so that we learn to understand the mystery of Jesus Christ a little better.

During the procession and in adoration we look at the consecrated Host, the most simple type of bread and nourishment, made only of a little flour and water. In this way, it appears as the food of the poor, those to whom the Lord made himself closest in the first place.

The prayer with which the Church, during the liturgy of the Mass, consigns this bread to the Lord, qualifies it as fruit of the earth and the work of humans.

It involves human labour, the daily work of those who till the soil, sow and harvest [the wheat] and, finally, prepare the bread. However, bread is not purely and simply what we produce, something made by us; it is fruit of the earth and therefore is also gift.

We cannot take credit for the fact that the earth produces fruit; the Creator alone could have made it fertile. And now we too can expand a little on this prayer of the Church, saying: the bread is fruit of heaven and earth together. It implies the synergy of the forces of earth and the gifts from above, that is, of the sun and the rain. And water too, which we need to prepare the bread, cannot be produced by us.

In a period in which desertification is spoken of and where we hear time and again the warning that man and beast risk dying of thirst in these waterless regions - in such a period we realize once again how great is the gift of water and of how we are unable to produce it ourselves.

And so, looking closely at this little piece of white Host, this bread of the poor, appears to us as a synthesis of creation. Heaven and earth, too, like the activity and spirit of man, cooperate. The synergy of the forces that make the mystery of life and the existence of man possible on our poor planet come to meet us in all of their majestic grandeur.

In this way we begin to understand why the Lord chooses this piece of bread to represent him. Creation, with all of its gifts, aspires above and beyond itself to something even greater. Over and above the synthesis of its own forces, above and beyond the synthesis also of nature and of spirit that, in some way, we detect in the piece of bread, creation is projected towards divinization, toward the holy wedding feast, toward unification with the Creator himself.

And still, we have not yet explained in depth the message of this sign of bread. The Lord mentioned its deepest mystery on Palm Sunday, when some Greeks asked to see him. In his answer to this question is the phrase: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (Jn 12: 24).

The mystery of the Passion is hidden in the bread made of ground grain. Flour, the ground wheat, presuppose the death and resurrection of the grain. In being ground and baked, it carries in itself once again the same mystery of the Passion. Only through death does resurrection arrive, as does the fruit and new life.

Mediterranean culture, in the centuries before Christ, had a profound intuition of this mystery. Based on the experience of this death and rising they created myths of divinity which, dying and rising, gave new life. To them, the cycle of nature seemed like a divine promise in the midst of the darkness of suffering and death that we are faced with.

In these myths, the soul of the human person, in a certain way, reached out toward that God made man, who, humiliated unto death on a cross, in this way opened the door of life to all of us. In bread and its making, man has understood it as a waiting period of nature, like a promise of nature that this would come to exist: the God that dies and in this way brings us to life.

What was awaited in myths and that in the very grain of wheat is hidden like a sign of the hope of creation - this truly came about in Christ. Through his gratuitous suffering and death, he became bread for all of us, and with this living and certain hope. He accompanies us in all of our sufferings until death. The paths that he travels with us and through which he leads us to life are pathways of hope.

When, in adoration, we look at the consecrated Host, the sign of creation speaks to us. And so, we encounter the greatness of his gift; but we also encounter the Passion, the Cross of Jesus and his Resurrection. Through this gaze of adoration, he draws us toward himself, within his mystery, through which he wants to transform us as he transformed the Host.

The primitive Church discovered yet another symbol in the bread. The Doctrine of the Twelve Apostles, a book written around the year 100, contains in its prayers the affirmation: “Even as this broken bread was scattered over the hills, and was gathered together and became one, so let Thy Church be gathered together from the ends of the earth into Thy Kingdom” (IX, 4).

Bread made of many grains contains also an event of union: the ground grain becoming bread is a process of unification. We ourselves, many as we are, must become one bread, one body, as St Paul says (see I Cor 10: 17). In this way the sign of bread becomes both hope and fulfilment.

In a very similar way the sign of wine speaks to us. However, while bread speaks of daily life, simplicity and pilgrimage, wine expresses the exquisiteness of creation: the feast of joy that God wants to offer to us at the end of time and that already now and always anticipates anew a foretaste through this sign.

But, wine also speaks of the Passion: the vine must be repeatedly pruned to be purified in this way; the grapes must mature with the sun and the rain and must be pressed: only through this passion does a fine wine mature.

On the feast of Corpus Christi we especially look at the sign of bread. It reminds us of the pilgrimage of Israel during the 40 years in the desert. The Host is our manna whereby the Lord nourishes us - it is truly the bread of heaven, through which he gives himself.

In the procession we follow this sign and in this way we follow Christ himself. And we ask of him: Guide us on the paths of our history! Show the Church and her Pastors again and again the right path! Look at suffering humanity, cautiously seeking a way through so much doubt; look upon the physical and mental hunger that torments it! Give men and women bread for body and soul! Give them work! Give them light! Give them yourself! Purify and sanctify all of us! Make us understand that only through participation in your Passion, through “yes” to the cross, to self-denial, to the purifications that you impose upon us, our lives can mature and arrive at true fulfilment. Gather us together from all corners of the earth. Unite your Church, unite wounded humanity! Give us your salvation! Amen.


HOLY MASS AND EUCHARISTIC PROCESSION
TO THE BASILICA OF SAINT MARY MAJOR
ON THE SOLEMNITY OF CORPUS CHRISTI

HOMILY OF HIS HOLINESS BENEDICT XVI

Square in front of the Basilica of Saint John Lateran, Thursday, 7 June 2007

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

We have just sung the Sequence: “Dogma datur christianis, / quod in carnem transit panis, / et vinum in sanguinem - this [is] the truth each Christian learns, / bread into his flesh he turns, to his precious blood the wine”.

Today we reaffirm with great joy our faith in the Eucharist, the Mystery that constitutes the heart of the Church. In the recent Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis I recalled that the Eucharistic Mystery “is the gift that Jesus Christ makes of himself, thus revealing to us God’s infinite love for every man and woman” (no. 1).

Corpus Christi, therefore, is a unique feast and constitutes an important encounter of faith and praise for every Christian community. This feast originated in a specific historical and cultural context: it was born for the very precise purpose of openly reaffirming the faith of the People of God in Jesus Christ, alive and truly present in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist. It is a feast that was established in order to publicly adore, praise and thank the Lord, who continues “to love us “to the end’, even to offering us his body and his blood” (Sacramentum Caritatis, no. 1).

The Eucharistic celebration this evening takes us back to the spiritual atmosphere of Holy Thursday, the day on which in the Upper Room, on the eve of his Passion, Christ instituted the Most Holy Eucharist.

Corpus Christi is thus a renewal of the mystery of Holy Thursday, as it were, in obedience to Jesus’ invitation to proclaim from “the housetops” what he told us in secret (see Mt 10: 27). It was the Apostles who received the gift of the Eucharist from the Lord in the intimacy of the Last Supper, but it was destined for all, for the whole world. This is why it should be proclaimed and exposed to view: so that each one may encounter “Jesus who passes” as happened on the roads of Galilee, Samaria and Judea; in order that each one, in receiving it, may be healed and renewed by the power of his love. Dear friends, this is the perpetual and living heritage that Jesus has bequeathed to us in the Sacrament of his Body and his Blood. It is an inheritance that demands to be constantly rethought and relived so that, as venerable Pope Paul VI said, its “inexhaustible effectiveness may be impressed upon all the days of our mortal life” (see Insegnamenti, 25 May 1967, p. 779).

Also in the Post-Synodal Exhortation, commenting on the exclamation of the priest after the consecration: “Let us proclaim the mystery of faith!”, I observed: with these words he “proclaims the mystery being celebrated and expresses his wonder before the substantial change of bread and wine into the body and blood of the Lord Jesus, a reality which surpasses all human understanding” (no. 6).

Precisely because this is a mysterious reality that surpasses our understanding, we must not be surprised if today too many find it hard to accept the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. It cannot be otherwise. This is how it has been since the day when, in the synagogue at Capernaum, Jesus openly declared that he had come to give us his flesh and his blood as food (see Jn 6: 26-58).

This seemed “a hard saying” and many of his disciples withdrew when they heard it. Then, as now, the Eucharist remains a “sign of contradiction” and can only be so because a God who makes himself flesh and sacrifices himself for the life of the world throws human wisdom into crisis.

However, with humble trust, the Church makes the faith of Peter and the other Apostles her own and proclaims with them, and we proclaim: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (Jn 6: 68). Let us too renew this evening our profession of faith in Christ, alive and present in the Eucharist. Yes, “this [is] the truth each Christian learns, / bread into his flesh he turns, / to his precious blood the wine”.

At its culminating point, in the Sequence we sing: “Ecce panis angelorum, / factus cibus viatorum: / vere panis filiorum” - “Lo! The angel’s food is given / to the pilgrim who has striven; / see the children’s bread from heaven”. And by God’s grace we are the children.

The Eucharist is the food reserved for those who in Baptism were delivered from slavery and have become sons; it is the food that sustained them on the long journey of the exodus through the desert of human existence.

Like the manna for the people of Israel, for every Christian generation the Eucharist is the indispensable nourishment that sustains them as they cross the desert of this world, parched by the ideological and economic systems that do not promote life but rather humiliate it. It is a world where the logic of power and possessions prevails rather than that of service and love; a world where the culture of violence and death is frequently triumphant.

Yet Jesus comes to meet us and imbues us with certainty: he himself is “the Bread of life” (Jn 6: 35, 48). He repeated this to us in the words of the Gospel Acclamation: “I am the living bread from Heaven, if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever” (see Jn 6: 51).

In the Gospel passage just proclaimed, St Luke, narrating the miracle of the multiplication of the five loaves and two fish with which Jesus fed the multitude “in a lonely place”, concludes with the words: “And all ate and were satisfied” (see Lk 9: 11-17).

I would like in the first place to emphasize this “all”. Indeed, the Lord desired every human being to be nourished by the Eucharist, because the Eucharist is for everyone.

If the close relationship between the Last Supper and the mystery of Jesus’ death on the Cross is emphasized on Holy Thursday, today, the Feast of Corpus Christi, with the procession and unanimous adoration of the Eucharist, attention is called to the fact that Christ sacrificed himself for all humanity. His passing among the houses and along the streets of our city will be for those who live there an offering of joy, eternal life, peace and love.

In the Gospel passage, a second element catches one’s eye: the miracle worked by the Lord contains an explicit invitation to each person to make his own contribution. The two fish and five loaves signify our contribution, poor but necessary, which he transforms into a gift of love for all.

“Christ continues today” I wrote in the above-mentioned Post Synodal Exhortation, “to exhort his disciples to become personally engaged” (Sacramentum Caritatis, no. 88).

Thus, the Eucharist is a call to holiness and to the gift of oneself to one’s brethren: “Each of us is truly called, together with Jesus, to be bread broken for the life of the world” (ibid.).

Our Redeemer addressed this invitation in particular to us, dear brothers and sisters of Rome, gathered round the Eucharist in this historical square.

I greet you all with affection. My greeting is addressed first of all to the Cardinal Vicar and to the Auxiliary Bishops, to my other venerable Brother Cardinals and Bishops, as well as to the numerous priests and deacons, men and women religious and the many lay faithful.

At the end of the Eucharistic celebration we will join in the procession as if to carry the Lord Jesus in spirit through all the streets and neighbourhoods of Rome. We will immerse him, so to speak, in the daily routine of our lives, so that he may walk where we walk and live where we live.

Indeed we know, as the Apostle Paul reminded us in his Letter to the Corinthians, that in every Eucharist, also in the Eucharist this evening, we “proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (see I Cor 11: 26). We travel on the highways of the world knowing that he is beside us, supported by the hope of being able to see him one day face to face, in the definitive encounter.

In the meantime, let us listen to his voice repeat, as we read in the Book of Revelation, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me” (Rv 3: 20).

The Feast of Corpus Christi wants to make the Lord’s knocking audible, despite the hardness of our interior hearing. Jesus knocks at the door of our heart and asks to enter not only for the space of a day but for ever. Let us welcome him joyfully, raising to him with one voice the invocation of the Liturgy:

“Very bread, Good Shepherd, tend us, / Jesu, of your love befriend us.... /You who all things can and know, /who on earth such food bestow, / grant us with your saints, though lowest, / where the heav’nly feast you show, / fellow heirs and guests to be”.

Amen!


HOLY MASS AND EUCHARISTIC PROCESSION
TO THE BASILICA OF SAINT MARY MAJOR
ON THE SOLEMNITY OF CORPUS CHRISTI

HOMILY OF HIS HOLINESS BENEDICT XVI

Square in front of the Basilica of Saint John Lateran, Thursday, 22 May 2008

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

After the strong season of the liturgical year which, focusing on Easter spreads over three months - first the 40 days of Lent, then the 50 days of Eastertide -, the liturgy has us celebrate three Feasts which instead have a “synthetic” character: the Most Holy Trinity, then Corpus Christi, and lastly, the Sacred Heart of Jesus. What is the precise significance of today’s Solemnity, of the Body and Blood of Christ? The answer is given to us in the fundamental actions of this celebration we are carrying out: first of all we gather around the altar of the Lord, to be together in his presence; secondly, there will be the procession, that is walking with the Lord; and lastly, kneeling before the Lord, adoration, which already begins in the Mass and accompanies the entire procession but culminates in the final moment of the Eucharistic Blessing when we all prostrate ourselves before the One who stooped down to us and gave his life for us. Let us reflect briefly on these three attitudes, so that they may truly be an expression of our faith and our life.

The first action, therefore, is to gather together in the Lord’s presence. This is what in former times was called “statio”. Let us imagine for a moment that in the whole of Rome there were only this one altar and that all the city’s Christians were invited to gather here to celebrate the Saviour who died and was raised. This gives us an idea of what the Eucharistic celebration must have been like at the origins, in Rome and in many other cities that the Gospel message had reached. In every particular Church there was only one Bishop and around him, around the Eucharist that he celebrated, a community was formed, one, because one was the blessed Cup and one was the Bread broken, as we heard in the Apostle Paul’s words in the Second Reading (see I Cor 10: 16-17). That other famous Pauline expression comes to mind: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3: 28). “You are all one”! In these words the truth and power of the Christian revolution is heard, the most profound revolution of human history, which was experienced precisely around the Eucharist: here people of different age groups, sex, social background, and political ideas gather together in the Lord’s presence. The Eucharist can never be a private event, reserved for people chosen through affinity or friendship. The Eucharist is a public devotion that has nothing esoteric or exclusive about it. Here too, this evening, we did not choose to meet one another, we came and find ourselves next to one another, brought together by faith and called to become one body, sharing the one Bread which is Christ. We are united over and above our differences of nationality, profession, social class, political ideas: we open ourselves to one another to become one in him. This has been a characteristic of Christianity from the outset, visibly fulfilled around the Eucharist, and it is always necessary to be alert to ensure that the recurring temptations of particularism, even if with good intentions, do not go in the opposite direction. Therefore Corpus Christi reminds us first of all of this: that being Christian means coming together from all parts of the world to be in the presence of the one Lord and to become one with him and in him.

The second constitutive aspect is walking with the Lord. This is the reality manifested by the procession that we shall experience together after Holy Mass, almost as if it were naturally prolonged by moving behind the One who is the Way, the Journey. With the gift of himself in the Eucharist the Lord Jesus sets us free from our “paralyses”, he helps us up and enables us to “proceed “, that is, he makes us take a step ahead and then another step, and thus sets us going with the power of the Bread of Life. As happened to the Prophet Elijah who had sought refuge in the wilderness for fear of his enemies and had made up his mind to let himself die (see I Kgs 19: 1-4). But God awoke him from sleep and caused him to find beside him a freshly baked loaf: “Arise and eat”, the angel said, “else the journey will be too great for you” (I Kgs 19: 5,7). The Corpus Christi procession teaches us that the Eucharist seeks to free us from every kind of despondency and discouragement, wants to raise us, so that we can set out on the journey with the strength God gives us through Jesus Christ. It is the experience of the People of Israel in the exodus from Egypt, their long wandering through the desert, as the First Reading relates. It is an experience which was constitutive for Israel but is exemplary for all humanity. Indeed the saying: “Man does not live by bread alone, but... by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord” (Dt 8: 3), is a universal affirmation which refers to every man or woman as a person. Each one can find his own way if he encounters the One who is the Word and the Bread of Life and lets himself be guided by his friendly presence. Without the God-with-us, the God who is close, how can we stand up to the pilgrimage through life, either on our own or as society and the family of peoples? The Eucharist is the Sacrament of the God who does not leave us alone on the journey but stays at our side and shows us the way. Indeed, it is not enough to move onwards, one must also see where one is going! “Progress” does not suffice, if there are no criteria as reference points. On the contrary, if one loses the way one risks coming to a precipice, or at any rate more rapidly distancing oneself from the goal. God created us free but he did not leave us alone: he made himself the “way” and came to walk together with us so that in our freedom we should also have the criterion we need to discern the right way and to take it.

At this point we cannot forget the beginning of the “Decalogue”, the Ten Commandments, where it is written: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before me” (Ex 20: 2-3). Here we find the meaning of the third constitutive element of Corpus Christi: kneeling in adoration before the Lord. Adoring the God of Jesus Christ, who out of love made himself bread broken, is the most effective and radical remedy against the idolatry of the past and of the present. Kneeling before the Eucharist is a profession of freedom: those who bow to Jesus cannot and must not prostrate themselves before any earthly authority, however powerful. We Christians kneel only before God or before the Most Blessed Sacrament because we know and believe that the one true God is present in it, the God who created the world and so loved it that he gave his Only Begotten Son (see Jn 3: 16). We prostrate ourselves before a God who first bent over man like the Good Samaritan to assist him and restore his life, and who knelt before us to wash our dirty feet. Adoring the Body of Christ, means believing that there, in that piece of Bread, Christ is really there, and gives true sense to life, to the immense universe as to the smallest creature, to the whole of human history as to the most brief existence. Adoration is prayer that prolongs the celebration and Eucharistic communion and in which the soul continues to be nourished: it is nourished with love, truth, peace; it is nourished with hope, because the One before whom we prostrate ourselves does not judge us, does not crush us but liberates and transforms us.

This is why gathering, walking and adoring together fills us with joy. In making our own the adoring attitude of Mary, whom we especially remember in this month of May, let us pray for ourselves and for everyone; let us pray for every person who lives in this city, that he or she may know you, O Father and the One whom you sent, Jesus Christ and thus have life in abundance. Amen.


HOLY MASS AND EUCHARISTIC PROCESSION
TO THE BASILICA OF SAINT MARY MAJOR
ON THE SOLEMNITY OF CORPUS CHRISTI

HOMILY OF HIS HOLINESS BENEDICT XVI

Square outside the Basilica of Saint John Lateran, Thursday, 11 June 2009

“This is my Body.... This is my Blood”.

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

These words that Jesus spoke at the Last Supper are repeated every time that the Eucharistic Sacrifice is renewed. We have just heard them in Mark’s Gospel and they resonate with special power today on the Solemnity of Corpus Christi. They lead us in spirit to the Upper Room, they make us relive the spiritual atmosphere of that night when, celebrating Easter with his followers, the Lord mystically anticipated the sacrifice that was to be consummated the following day on the Cross. The Institution of the Eucharist thus appears to us as an anticipation and acceptance, on Jesus’ part, of his death. St Ephrem the Syrian writes on this topic: during the Supper Jesus sacrificed himself; on the Cross he was sacrificed by others (see Hymn on the Crucifixion, 3, 1).

“This is my Blood”. Here the reference to the sacrificial language of Israel is clear. Jesus presents himself as the true and definitive sacrifice, in which was fulfilled the expiation of sins which, in the Old Testament rites, was never fully completed. This is followed by two other very important remarks. First of all, Jesus Christ says that his Blood “is poured out for many” with a comprehensible reference to the songs of the Servant of God that are found in the Book of Isaiah (see ch. 53). With the addition “blood of the Covenant” Jesus also makes clear that through his death the prophesy of the new Covenant is fulfilled, based on the fidelity and infinite love of the Son made man. An alliance that, therefore, is stronger than all humanity’s sins. The old Covenant had been sealed on Sinai with a sacrificial rite of animals, as we heard in the First Reading, and the Chosen People, set free from slavery in Egypt, had promised to obey all the commandments given to them by the Lord (see Ex 24: 3).

In truth, Israel showed immediately by making the golden calf that it was incapable of staying faithful to this promise and thus to the divine Covenant, which indeed it subsequently violated all too often, adapting to its heart of stone the Law that should have taught it the way of life. However, the Lord did not fail to keep his promise and, through the prophets, sought to recall the inner dimension of the Covenant and announced that he would write a new law upon the hearts of his faithful (see Jer 31: 33), transforming them with the gift of the Spirit (see Ez 36: 25-27). And it was during the Last Supper that he made this new Covenant with his disciples and humanity, confirming it not with animal sacrifices as had happened in the past, but indeed with his own Blood, which became the “Blood of the New Covenant”. Thus he based it on his own obedience, stronger, as I said, than all our sins.

This is clearly highlighted in the Second Reading, taken from the Letter to the Hebrews, in which the sacred author declares that Jesus is the “mediator of a new covenant” (9: 15). He became so through his blood, or, more exactly, through the gift of himself, which gives full value to the outpouring of his blood. On the Cross, Jesus is at the same time victim and priest: a victim worthy of God because he was unblemished, and a High Priest who offers himself, by the power of the Holy Spirit, and intercedes for the whole of humanity. The Cross is therefore a mystery of love and of salvation which cleanses us as the Letter to the Hebrews states from “dead works”, that is, from sins, and sanctifies us by engraving the New Covenant upon our hearts. The Eucharist, making present the sacrifice of the Cross, renders us capable of living communion with God faithfully.

Dear brothers and sisters whom I greet with affection, starting with the Cardinal Vicar and the other Cardinals and Bishops present like the Chosen People gathered on Sinai, this evening let us too reaffirm our fidelity to the Lord. A few days ago, in opening the annual Diocesan Convention [of Rome] I recalled the importance of remaining, as Church, attentive to the word of God in prayer and in exploring the Scriptures, especially through the practice of lectio divina, that is, through reading the Bible in meditation and veneration. I know that in this respect many initiatives which enrich our diocesan community have been promoted in parishes, seminaries and religious communities, in confraternities and in apostolic associations and movements. I address my fraternal greeting to the members of this multiplicity of Church bodies. Your numerous presence at this celebration, dear friends, highlights the fact that God moulds our community, characterized by a plurality of cultures and by different experiences. God moulds it as “his” People, as the one Body of Christ, thanks to our heartfelt participation in the twofold banquet of the Word and of the Eucharist. Nourished by Christ, we, his disciples, receive the mission to be “the soul” of this City of ours (see Letter to Diognetus, 6: ed. Funk, I, p. 400; see also Lumen Gentium no. 38), a leaven of renewal, bread “broken” for all, especially for those in situations of hardship, poverty or physical and spiritual suffering. Let us become witnesses of his love.

I address you in particular, dear priests, whom Christ has chosen so that with him you may be able to live your life as a sacrifice of praise for the salvation of the world. Only from union with Jesus can you draw that spiritual fruitfulness which generates hope in your pastoral ministry. St Leo the Great recalls that “our participation in the Body and Blood of Christ aspires to nothing other than to become what we receive” (Sermo 12, De Passione 3, 7, PL 54). If this is true for every Christian it is especially true for us priests. To become the Eucharist! May precisely this be our constant desire and commitment, so that the offering of the Body and Blood of the Lord which we make on the altar may be accompanied by the sacrifice of our existence. Every day, we draw from the Body and Blood of the Lord that free, pure love which makes us worthy ministers of Christ and witnesses to his joy. This is what the faithful expect of the priest: that is, the example of an authentic devotion to the Eucharist; they like to see him spend long periods of silence and adoration before Jesus as was the practice of the Holy Curé d’Ars, whom we shall remember in a special way during the upcoming Year for Priests.

St John Mary Vianney liked to tell his parishioners: “Come to communion.... It is true that you are not worthy of it, but you need it” (Bernard Nodet, Le curé d’Ars. Sa pensée - Son coeur, éd. Xavier Mappus, Paris 1995, p. 119). With the knowledge of being inadequate because of sin, but needful of nourishing ourselves with the love that the Lord offers us in the Eucharistic sacrament, let us renew this evening our faith in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. We must not take this faith for granted! Today we run the risk of secularization creeping into the Church too. It can be translated into formal and empty Eucharistic worship, into celebrations lacking that heartfelt participation that is expressed in veneration and in respect for the liturgy. The temptation to reduce prayer to superficial, hasty moments, letting ourselves be overpowered by earthly activities and concerns, is always strong. When, in a little while, we recite the Our Father, the prayer par excellence, we will say: “Give us this day our daily bread”, thinking of course of the bread of each day for us and for all peoples. But this request contains something deeper. The Greek word epioúsios, that we translate as “daily”, could also allude to the “super-stantial” bread, the bread “of the world to come”. Some Fathers of the Church saw this as a reference to the Eucharist, the bread of eternal life, the new world, that is already given to us in Holy Mass, so that from this moment the future world may begin within us. With the Eucharist, therefore, Heaven comes down to earth, the future of God enters the present and it is as though time were embraced by divine eternity.

Dear brothers and sisters, as happens every year, at the end of Holy Mass the traditional Eucharistic procession will set out and with prayer and hymns we shall raise a unanimous entreaty to the Lord present in the consecrated host. We shall say, on behalf of the entire City: “Stay with us Jesus, make a gift of yourself and give us the bread that nourishes us for eternal life! Free this world from the poison of evil, violence and hatred that pollute consciences, purify it with the power of your merciful love”. “And you, Mary, who were the woman “of the Eucharist’ throughout your life, help us to walk united towards the heavenly goal, nourished by the Body and Blood of Christ, the eternal Bread of life and medicine of divine immortality”. Amen!


HOLY MASS AND EUCHARISTIC PROCESSION
TO THE BASILICA OF SAINT MARY MAJOR
ON THE SOLEMNITY OF CORPUS CHRISTI

HOMILY OF HIS HOLINESS BENEDICT XVI

Square outside the Basilica of Saint John Lateran, Thursday, 3 June 2010

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The priesthood of the New Testament is closely linked to the Eucharist. For this reason today, on the Solemnity of Corpus Christi and almost at the end of the Year for Priests, we are invited to meditate on the relationship between the Eucharist and the priesthood of Christ. We are also oriented to this direction by the First Reading and the Responsorial Psalm that present Melchizedek. The brief passage from the Book of Genesis (see 14: 18-20) says that Melchizedek, King of Salem, was “priest of God Most High” and therefore “brought out bread and wine” and “blessed him [Abram]”, who had just returned after winning a battle. Abram himself gave Melchizedek a tenth of everything. In the last verse, the Psalm in turn contains solemn words, sworn by God himself who declares to the Messiah-King: “You are a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek” (Ps 110[109]: 4); thus the Messiah is not only proclaimed King but also Priest. It is from this passage that the author of the Letter to the Hebrews drew for his broad and articulate explanation. And we have re-echoed it in the refrain: “You are a priest for ever” Christ the Lord: almost a profession of faith that acquires special significance on today’s Feast. It is the joy of the community, the joy of the whole Church which, in contemplating and adoring the Most Holy Sacrament, recognizes in it the real and permanent presence of Jesus, the Eternal High Priest.

The Second Reading and the Gospel focus attention on the Eucharistic mystery instead. From the First Reading of the Letter to the Corinthians (see 11: 23-26) is taken the fundamental passage in which St Paul reminds this community of the meaning and value of the “Lord’s Supper”, which the Apostle had transmitted and taught and which risked being lost. Whereas the Gospel is St Luke’s version of the account of the miracle of the loaves and fishes: a sign attested to by all the Evangelists and that foretells the gift that Christ was to make of himself in order to give to all humanity eternal life. Both these texts highlight the prayer of Christ, in the act of breaking bread. There is of course a clear difference between the two moments: when he breaks the loaves and fishes for the crowds, Jesus thanks the heavenly Father for his providence, trusting that he will not let the people go hungry. In the Last Supper, instead, Jesus transforms the bread and wine into his own Body and Blood so that the disciples may be nourished by him and live in close and real communion with him.

The first thing always to remember is that Jesus was not a priest in accordance with the Jewish tradition. He did not come from a family of priests. He did not belong to the lineage of Aaron but rather that of Judah and was therefore legally barred from taking the path of the priesthood. Jesus of Nazareth himself and his activities do not follow in the wake of the ancient priests but rather in that of the prophets. And in this line Jesus took his distance from the ritual conception of religion, criticizing the structure that gave value to human precepts linked to ritual purity rather than to the observance of God’s commandments: namely, love of God and of one’s neighbour which, as the Lord says, “is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices” (Mk 12: 33). Even in the Temple of Jerusalem, a sacred place par excellence, Jesus makes an exquisitely prophetic gesture when he drives out the money changers and livestock vendors, all things that served for offering the traditional sacrifices. Thus Jesus was not recognized as a priestly but rather as a prophetic and royal Messiah. Even his death, which we Christians rightly call a “sacrifice”, had nothing to do with the ancient sacrifices; indeed, it was quite the opposite; it was the execution of a death sentence by crucifixion, the most ignominious punishment, which took place outside the walls of Jerusalem.

In what sense, therefore, was Jesus a priest? The Eucharist itself tells us. We can start with the simple words that describe Melichizedek: He “brought out bread and wine” (Gen 14: 18). This is what Jesus did at the Last Supper: he offered bread and wine and in that action recapitulated the whole of himself and his whole mission. That gesture, the prayer that preceded it and the words with which he accompanied it contain the full meaning of the mystery of Christ, as the Letter to the Hebrews expresses it in a crucial passage that we should quote: “In the days of his flesh”, the author writes of Our Lord, “Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard for his godly fear. Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and being made perfect he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek” (5: 8-10). In this text, which clearly alludes to the spiritual agony of Gethsemane, Christ’s Passion is presented as a prayer and an offering. Jesus faces his “hour” which leads him to death on the Cross, immersed in a profound prayer that consists of the union of his own will with that of the Father. This dual yet single will is a will of love. Lived in this prayer, the tragic trial that Jesus faces is transformed into an offering, into a living sacrifice.

The Letter to the Hebrews says that Jesus “was heard”. In what sense? In the sense that God the Father liberated him from death and restored him to life. He was heard precisely because of his total abandonment of himself to the Father’s will: God’s plan of love could be perfectly fulfilled in Jesus who, having obeyed to the end, to his death on the Cross, became a “cause of salvation” for all who obey him. In other words, he became the High Priest for having taken upon himself all the sin of the world, as the “Lamb of God”. It is the Father who confers this priesthood upon him at the very moment in which Jesus passes over from his death to his Resurrection. He is not a priest according to the Mosaic law (see Lev 8-9), but “after the order of Melchizedek”, according to a prophetic order, dependent only on his special relationship with God.

Let us return to the words of the Letter to the Hebrews which say: “Although he was a Son he learned obedience through what he suffered”. Christ’s priesthood entailed suffering. Jesus truly suffered and did so for our sake. He was the Son and did not need to learn obedience but we do, we did need to and we always will. Therefore the Son took upon himself our humanity and for our sake he let himself be “taught” obedience in the crucible of suffering, he let himself be transformed by it like the grain of wheat that has to die in the earth in order to bear fruit. By means of this process Jesus was “made perfect” in Greek, teleiotheis. We must pause to reflect on this term because it is very important. It indicates the fulfilment of a journey, that is, the very journey and transformation of the Son of God through suffering, through his painful Passion. It is through this transformation that Jesus Christ became the “high priest” and can save all who entrust themselves to him. The term teleiotheis, correctly translated by the words “made perfect”, belongs to a verbal root which, in the Greek version of the Pentateuch, that is, the first five Books of the Bible, is always used to mean the consecration of the ancient priests. This discovery is very valuable because it tells us that for Jesus the Passion was like a priestly consecration. He was not a priest according to the Law but became one existentially in his Pasch of Passion, death and Resurrection: he gave himself in expiation and the Father, exalting him above every creature, made him the universal Mediator of salvation.

Let us return in our meditation, to the Eucharist that will shortly be the focus of our liturgical assembly. In it, Jesus anticipated his Sacrifice, a non-ritual but a personal sacrifice. At the Last Supper his actions were prompted by that “eternal spirit” with which he was later to offer himself on the Cross (see Heb 9: 14). Giving thanks and blessing, Jesus transforms the bread and the wine. It is divine love that transforms them: the love with which Jesus accepts, in anticipation, to give the whole of himself for us. This love is nothing other than the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of the Father and of the Son, who consecrates the bread and the wine and changes their substance into the Body and Blood of the Lord, making present in the Sacrament the same sacrifice that is fulfilled in a bloody way on the Cross. We may therefore conclude that Christ is a true and effective priest because he was filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, he was filled with the whole fullness of God’s love and precisely “in the night on which he was betrayed”, precisely, “in the hour... of darkness” (see Lk 22: 53). It is this divine power, the same power that brought about the Incarnation of the Word, that transformed the extreme violence and extreme injustice into a supreme act of love and justice. This is the work of the priesthood of Christ which the Church inherited and extended in history, in the dual form of the common priesthood of the baptized and the ordained priesthood of ministers, in order to transform the world with God’s love. Let us all, priests and faithful, nourish ourselves with the same Eucharist, let us all prostrate ourselves to adore it, because in it our Master and Lord is present, the true Body of the Jesus is present in it, the Victim and the Priest, the salvation of the world. Come let us exult with joyful songs! Come, let us adore him! Amen.


SOLEMNITY OF CORPUS CHRISTI

HOMILY OF HIS HOLINESS BENEDICT XVI

Square outside the Basilica of Saint John Lateran, Thursday, 23 June 2011

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The Feast of Corpus Christi is inseparable from Holy Thursday, from the Mass in Caena Domini, in which the Institution of the Eucharist is solemnly celebrated. Whereas on the evening of Holy Thursday we relive the mystery of Christ who offers himself to us in the bread broken and the wine poured out, today, on the day of Corpus Christi, this same mystery is proposed for the adoration and meditation of the People of God, and the Blessed Sacrament is carried in procession through the streets of the cities and villages, to show that the Risen Christ walks in our midst and guides us towards the Kingdom of Heaven.

What Jesus gave to us in the intimacy of the Upper Room today we express openly, because the love of Christ is not reserved for a few but is destined for all. In the Mass in Caena Domini last Holy Thursday, I stressed that it is in the Eucharist that the transformation of the gifts of this earth takes place — the bread and wine — whose aim is to transform our life and thereby to inaugurate the transformation of the world. This evening I would like to focus on this perspective.

Everything begins, one might say, from the heart of Christ who, at the Last Supper, on the eve of his passion, thanked and praised God and by so doing, with the power of his love, transformed the meaning of death which he was on his way to encounter. The fact that the Sacrament of the Altar acquired the name “Eucharist” — “thanksgiving” — expresses precisely this: that changing the substance of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ is the fruit of the gift that Christ made of himself, the gift of a Love stronger than death, divine Love which raised him from the dead. This is why the Eucharist is the food of eternal life, the Bread of Life. From Christ’s heart, from his “Eucharistic prayer” on the eve of his passion flows that dynamism which transforms reality in its cosmic, human and historical dimensions. All things proceed from God, from the omnipotence of his Triune Love, incarnate in Jesus. Christ’s heart is steeped in this Love; therefore he can thank and praise God even in the face of betrayal and violence, and in this way changes things, people and the world.

This transformation is possible thanks to a communion stronger than division, the communion of God himself. The word “communion”, which we also use to designate the Eucharist, in itself sums up the vertical and horizontal dimensions of Christ’s gift.

The words “to receive communion”, referring to the act of eating the Bread of the Eucharist, are beautiful and very eloquent. In fact, when we do this act we enter into communion with the very life of Jesus, into the dynamism of this life which is given to us and for us. From God, through Jesus, to us: a unique communion is transmitted through the Blessed Eucharist.

We have just heard in the Second Reading the words of the Apostle Paul to the Christians of Corinth: “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread” (1 Cor 10:16-17).

St Augustine helps us to understand the dynamic of Eucharistic communion when he mentions a sort of vision that he had, in which Jesus said to him: “I am the food of strong men; grow and you shall feed on me; nor shall you change me, like the food of your flesh into yourself, but you shall be changed into my likeness” (Confessions, vii, 10, 18).

Therefore whereas food for the body is assimilated by our organism and contributes to nourishing it, in the case of the Eucharist it is a different Bread: it is not we who assimilate it but it assimilates us in itself, so that we become conformed to Jesus Christ, a member of his Body, one with him. This passage is crucial. In fact, precisely because it is Christ who, in Eucharistic communion changes us into him, our individuality, in this encounter, is opened, liberated from its egocentrism and inserted into the Person of Jesus who in his turn is immersed in Trinitarian communion. The Eucharist, therefore, while it unites us to Christ also opens us to others, makes us members of one another: we are no longer divided but one in him. Eucharistic communion not only unites me to the person I have beside me and with whom I may not even be on good terms, but also to our distant brethren in every part of the world.

Hence the profound sense of the Church’s social presence derives from the Eucharist, as is testified by the great social saints who were always great Eucharistic souls. Those who recognize Jesus in the sacred Host, recognize him in their suffering brother or sister, in those who hunger and thirst, who are strangers, naked, sick or in prison; and they are attentive to every person, they work in practice for all who are in need.

Therefore our special responsibility as Christians for building a supportive, just and brotherly society comes from the gift of Christ’s love. Especially in our time, in which globalization makes us more and more dependent on each other, Christianity can and must ensure that this unity is not built without God, that is, without true Love, which would give way to confusion, individualism and the tyranny of each one seeking to oppress the others. The Gospel has always aimed at the unity of the human family, a unity that is neither imposed from the outside nor by ideological or economic interests but on the contrary is based on the sense of reciprocal responsibility, so that we may recognize each other as members of one and the same Body, the Body of Christ, because from the Sacrament of the Altar we have learned and are constantly learning that sharing, love, is the path to true justice.

Let us now return to Jesus’ action at the Last Supper. What happened at that moment? When he said: “this is my body which is given for you, this is the cup of my blood which is poured out for many, what happened? In this gesture Jesus was anticipating the event of Calvary. Out of love he accepted the whole passion, with its anguish and its violence, even to death on the cross. In accepting it in this manner he changed it into an act of giving. This is the transformation which the world needs most, to redeem it from within, to open it to the dimensions of the Kingdom of Heaven.

However, God always wishes to bring about this renewal of the world on the same path followed by Christ, that way which is indeed he himself. There is nothing magic about Christianity. There are no short-cuts; everything passes through the humble and patient logic of the grain of wheat that broke open to give life, the logic of faith that moves mountains with the gentle power of God. For this reason God wishes to continue to renew humanity, history and the cosmos through this chain of transformations, of which the Eucharist is the sacrament. Through the consecrated bread and wine, in which his Body and his Blood are really present, Christ transforms us, conforming us to him: he involves us in his work of redemption, enabling us, through the grace of the Holy Spirit, to live in accordance with his own logic of self-giving, as grains of wheat united to him and in him. Thus are sown and continue to mature in the furrows of history unity and peace, which are the end for which we strive, in accordance with God’s plan.

Let us walk with no illusions, with no utopian ideologies, on the highways of the world bearing within us the Body of the Lord, like the Virgin Mary in the mystery of the Visitation. With the humility of knowing that we are merely grains of wheat, let us preserve the firm certainty that the love of God, incarnate in Christ, is stronger than evil, violence and death. We know that God prepares for all men and women new heavens and a new earth, in which peace and justice reign — and in faith we perceive the new world which is our true homeland.

This evening too, let us start out: while the sun is setting on our beloved city of Rome: Jesus in the Eucharist is with us, the Risen One who said: “I am with you always, to the close of the age” (Mt 28:20). Thank you, Lord Jesus! Thank you for your faithfulness which sustains our hope. Stay with us because night is falling. “Very bread, Good Shepherd, tend us, Jesus, of your love befriend us, You refresh us, you defend us, Your eternal goodness send us in the land of life to see”. Amen.


HOLY MASS FOR THE SOLEMNITY OF CORPUS CHRISTI

HOMILY OF HIS HOLINESS BENEDICT XVI

Basilica of Saint John Lateran, Thursday, 7 June 2012

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

This evening I would like to meditate with you on two interconnected aspects of the Eucharistic Mystery: worship of the Eucharist and its sacred nature. It is important to reflect on them once again to preserve them from incomplete visions of the Mystery itself, such as those encountered in the recent past.

First of all, a reflection on the importance of Eucharistic worship and, in particular, adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. We shall experience it this evening, after Mass, before the procession, during it and at its conclusion. A unilateral interpretation of the Second Vatican Council penalized this dimension, in practice restricting the Eucharist to the moment of its celebration. Indeed it was very important to recognize the centrality of the celebration in which the Lord summons his people, gathers it round the dual table of the Word and of the Bread of life, nourishes and unites it with himself in the offering of the Sacrifice.

Of course, this evaluation of the liturgical assembly in which the Lord works his mystery of communion and brings it about still applies; but it must be put back into the proper balance. In fact — as often happens — in order to emphasize one aspect one ends by sacrificing another. In this case the correct accentuation of the celebration of the Eucharist has been to the detriment of adoration as an act of faith and prayer addressed to the Lord Jesus, really present in the Sacrament of the Altar.

This imbalance has also had repercussions on the spiritual life of the faithful. In fact, by concentrating the entire relationship with the Eucharistic Jesus in the sole moment of Holy Mass one risks emptying the rest of existential time and space of his presence. This makes ever less perceptible the meaning of Jesus’ constant presence in our midst and with us, a presence that is tangible, close, in our homes, as the “beating Heart” of the city, of the country, and of the area, with its various expressions and activities. The sacrament of Christ’s Charity must permeate the whole of daily life.

Actually it is wrong to set celebration and adoration against each other, as if they were competing. Exactly the opposite is true: worship of the Blessed Sacrament is, as it were, the spiritual “context” in which the community can celebrate the Eucharist well and in truth. Only if it is preceded, accompanied and followed by this inner attitude of faith and adoration can the liturgical action express its full meaning and value. The encounter with Jesus in Holy Mass is truly and fully brought about when the community can recognize that in the Sacrament he dwells in his house, waits for us, invites us to his table, then, after the assembly is dismissed, stays with us, with his discreet and silent presence, and accompanies us with his intercession, continuing to gather our spiritual sacrifices and offer them to the Father.

In this regard I am pleased to highlight the experience we shall be having together this evening too. At the moment of Adoration, we are all equal, kneeling before the Sacrament of Love. The common priesthood and the ministerial priesthood are brought together in Eucharistic worship. It is a very beautiful and significant experience which we have had several times in St Peter’s Basilica, and also in the unforgettable Vigils with young people — I recall, for example, those in Cologne, London, Zagreb and Madrid. It is clear to all that these moments of Eucharistic Vigil prepare for the celebration of the Holy Mass, they prepare hearts for the encounter so that it will be more fruitful.

To be all together in prolonged silence before the Lord present in his Sacrament is one of the most genuine experiences of our being Church, which is accompanied complementarily by the celebration of the Eucharist, by listening to the word of God, by singing and by approaching the table of the Bread of Life together. Communion and contemplation cannot be separated, they go hand in hand. If I am truly to communicate with another person I must know him, I must be able to be in silence close to him, to listen to him and look at him lovingly. True love and true friendship are always nourished by the reciprocity of looks, of intense, eloquent silences full of respect and veneration, so that the encounter may be lived profoundly and personally rather than superficially. And, unfortunately, if this dimension is lacking, sacramental communion itself may become a superficial gesture on our part.

Instead, in true communion, prepared for by the conversation of prayer and of life, we can address words of confidence to the Lord, such as those which rang out just now in the Responsorial Psalm: “O Lord, I am your servant; I am your servant, the son of your handmaid. / You have loosed my bonds./ I will offer to you the sacrifice of thanksgiving /and call on the name of the Lord” (Ps 116[115]:16-17).

I would now like to move on briefly to the second aspect: the sacred nature of the Eucharist. Here too so we have heard in the recent past of a certain misunderstanding of the authentic message of Sacred Scripture. The Christian newness with regard to worship has been influenced by a certain secularist mentality of the 1960s and 70s. It is true, and this is still the case, that the centre of worship is now no longer in the ancient rites and sacrifices, but in Christ himself, in his person, in his life, in his Paschal Mystery. However it must not be concluded from this fundamental innovation that the sacred no longer exists, but rather that it has found fulfilment in Jesus Christ, divine Love incarnate.

The Letter to the Hebrews, which we heard this evening in the Second Reading, speaks to us precisely of the newness of the priesthood of Christ, “high priest of the good things that have come” (Heb 9:11), but does not say that the priesthood is finished. Christ “is the mediator of a new covenant” (Heb 9:15), established in his blood which purifies our “conscience from dead works” (Heb 9:14). He did not abolish the sacred but brought it to fulfillment, inaugurating a new form of worship, which is indeed fully spiritual but which, however, as long as we are journeying in time, still makes use of signs and rites, which will exist no longer only at the end, in the heavenly Jerusalem, where there will no longer be any temple (see Rev 21:22). Thanks to Christ, the sacred is truer, more intense and, as happens with the Commandments, also more demanding! Ritual observance does not suffice but purification of the heart and the involvement of life is required.

I would also like to stress that the sacred has an educational function and its disappearance inevitably impoverishes culture and especially the formation of the new generations. If, for example, in the name of a faith that is secularized and no longer in need of sacred signs, these Corpus Christi processions through the city were to be abolished, the spiritual profile of Rome would be “flattened out”, and our personal and community awareness would be weakened.

Or let us think of a mother or father who in the name of a desacralized faith, deprived their children of all religious rituals: in reality they would end by giving a free hand to the many substitutes that exist in the consumer society, to other rites and other signs that could more easily become idols.

God, our Father, did not do this with humanity: he sent his Son into the world not to abolish, but to give fulfilment also to the sacred. At the height of this mission, at the Last Supper, Jesus instituted the Sacrament of his Body and his Blood, the Memorial of his Paschal Sacrifice. By so doing he replaced the ancient sacrifices with himself, but he did so in a rite which he commanded the Apostles to perpetuate, as a supreme sign of the true Sacred One who is he himself. With this faith, dear brothers and sisters, let us celebrate the Eucharistic Mystery today and every day and adore it as the centre of our life and the heart of the world. Amen. 



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