Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Homilies delivered during the Celebration of
the Mass of the Lord’s Supper
by Pope Benedict XVI

Entry 0348: Homilies delivered during the Celebration of
the Mass of the Lord’s Supper 
Pope Benedict XVI

On seven occasions in the course of his pontificate, Pope Benedict XVI delivered reflections during the celebration of the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, on 13 April 2006, 5 April 2007, 20 March 2008, 9 April 2009, 1 April 2010, 21 April 2011, and 5 April 2012. Here are the texts of the seven homilies delivered on these occasions.



Basilica of St John Lateran, Holy Thursday, 13 April 2006

Dear Brothers in the Episcopate and in the Priesthood,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,

“Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end” (Jn 13: 1).

God loves his creature, man; he even loves him in his fall and does not leave him to himself. He loves him to the end. He is impelled with his love to the very end, to the extreme:  he came down from his divine glory.

He cast aside the raiment of his divine glory and put on the garb of a slave. He came down to the extreme lowliness of our fall. He kneels before us and carries out for us the service of a slave:  he washes our dirty feet so that we might be admitted to God’s banquet and be made worthy to take our place at his table - something that on our own we neither could nor would ever be able to do.

God is not a remote God, too distant or too great to be bothered with our trifles. Since God is great, he can also be concerned with small things. Since he is great, the soul of man, the same man, created through eternal love, is not a small thing but great, and worthy of God’s love.

God’s holiness is not merely an incandescent power before which we are obliged to withdraw, terrified. It is a power of love and therefore a purifying and healing power.

God descends and becomes a slave, he washes our feet so that we may come to his table. In this, the entire mystery of Jesus Christ is expressed. In this, what redemption means becomes visible.

The basin in which he washes us is his love, ready to face death. Only love has that purifying power which washes the grime from us and elevates us to God’s heights.

The basin that purifies us is God himself, who gives himself to us without reserve - to the very depths of his suffering and his death. He is ceaselessly this love that cleanses us; in the sacraments of purification - Baptism and the Sacrament of Penance - he is continually on his knees at our feet and carries out for us the service of a slave, the service of purification, making us capable of God.

His love is inexhaustible, it truly goes to the very end.

“You are clean, but not all of you”, the Lord says (Jn 13: 10). This sentence reveals the great gift of purification that he offers to us, because he wants to be at table together with us, to become our food. “But not all of you” - the obscure mystery of rejection exists, which becomes apparent with Judas’ act, and precisely on Holy Thursday, the day on which Jesus made the gift of himself, it should give us food for thought. The Lord’s love knows no bounds, but man can put a limit on it.

“You are clean, but not all of you”:  What is it that makes man unclean?

It is the rejection of love, not wanting to be loved, not loving. It is pride that believes it has no need of any purification, that is closed to God’s saving goodness. It is pride that does not want to admit or recognize that we are in need of purification.

In Judas we see the nature of this rejection even more clearly. He evaluated Jesus in accordance with the criteria of power and success. For him, power and success alone were real; love did not count. And he was greedy:  money was more important than communion with Jesus, more important than God and his love.

He thus also became a liar who played a double game and broke with the truth; one who lived in deceit and so lost his sense of the supreme truth, of God. In this way, he became hard of heart and incapable of conversion, of the trusting return of the Prodigal Son, and he disposed of the life destroyed.

You are clean, but not all of you”. Today, the Lord alerts us to the self-sufficiency that puts a limit on his unlimited love. He invites us to imitate his humility, to entrust ourselves to it, to let ourselves be “infected” by it.

He invites us - however lost we may feel - to return home, to let his purifying goodness uplift us and enable us to sit at table with him, with God himself.

Let us add a final word to this inexhaustible Gospel passage:  “For I have given you an example” (Jn 13: 15); “You also ought to wash one another’s feet” (Jn 13: 14). Of what does “washing one another’s feet” consist? What does it actually mean?

This:  every good work for others - especially for the suffering and those not considered to be worth much - is a service of the washing of feet.

The Lord calls us to do this:  to come down, learn humility and the courage of goodness, and also the readiness to accept rejection and yet to trust in goodness and persevere in it.

But there is another, deeper dimension. The Lord removes the dirt from us with the purifying power of his goodness. Washing one another’s feet means above all tirelessly forgiving one another, beginning together ever anew, however pointless it may seem. It means purifying one another by bearing with one another and by being tolerant of others; purifying one another, giving one another the sanctifying power of the Word of God and introducing one another into the Sacrament of divine love.

The Lord purifies us, and for this reason we dare to approach his table. Let us pray to him to give to all of us the grace of being able to one day be guests for ever at the eternal nuptial banquet. Amen!



Basilica of St John Lateran, Holy Thursday, 5 April 2007

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In the Reading from the Book of Exodus which we have just heard, the celebration of the Passover of Israel is described, just as in Mosaic Law it found its definitive form.

At the outset, it might have been a spring feast for nomads. For Israel, however, it was transformed into a commemorative feast of thanksgiving and, at the same time, hope.

The centre of the Passover meal, regulated by specific liturgical provisions, was the lamb as the symbol of Israel’s redemption from slavery in Egypt.

For this reason the paschal haggada was an integral part of the Passover meal based on lamb: the narrative commemoration of the fact that it had been God himself who set Israel free by “stretching out his hand”.

He, the mysterious and hidden God, had shown himself to be stronger than Pharaoh, in spite of all the power that Pharaoh could muster.

Israel was never to forget that God had personally taken the history of his People in hand and that this history was based permanently on communion with God. Israel must not forget God.

The words of the commemoration were surrounded by words of praise and thanksgiving taken from the Psalms. Thanking and blessing God reached its culmination in the berakah, which in Greek is eulogia or eucaristia: praising God becomes a blessing for those who bless him. The offering given to God comes back blessed to man.

All this built a bridge from the past to the present and toward the future: Israel had not yet been liberated. The nation was still suffering, like a small people, in the sphere of tension between the great powers.

Thus, remembering with gratitude God’s past action became at the same time supplication and hope: Bring to completion what you have begun! Grant us freedom once and for all!

It was on the eve of his Passion that Jesus together with his disciples celebrated this meal with its multiple meanings. This is the context in which we must understand the new Passover which he has given to us in the Blessed Eucharist.

There is an apparent discrepancy in the Evangelists’ accounts, between John’s Gospel on the one hand, and what on the other Mathew, Mark and Luke tell us.

According to John, Jesus died on the Cross at the very moment when the Passover lambs were being sacrificed in the temple. The death of Jesus and the sacrifice of the lambs coincided.

However, this means that he must have died the day before Easter and could not, therefore, have celebrated the Passover meal in person - this, at any rate, is how it appears.

According to the three Synoptic Gospels, the Last Supper of Jesus was instead a Passover meal into whose traditional form he integrated the innovation of the gift of his Body and Blood.

This contradiction seemed unsolvable until a few years ago. The majority of exegetes were of the opinion that John was reluctant to tell us the true historical date of Jesus’ death, but rather chose a symbolic date to highlight the deeper truth: Jesus is the new, true Lamb who poured out his Blood for us all.

In the meantime, the discovery of the [Dead Sea] Scrolls at Qumran has led us to a possible and convincing solution which, although it is not yet accepted by everyone, is a highly plausible hypothesis. We can now say that John’s account is historically precise.

Jesus truly shed his blood on the eve of Easter at the time of the immolation of the lambs.

In all likelihood, however, he celebrated the Passover with his disciples in accordance with the Qumran calendar, hence, at least one day earlier; he celebrated it without a lamb, like the Qumran community which did not recognize Herod’s temple and was waiting for the new temple.

Consequently, Jesus celebrated the Passover without a lamb - no, not without a lamb: instead of the lamb he gave himself, his Body and his Blood. Thus, he anticipated his death in a manner consistent with his words: “No one takes [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord” (Jn 10: 18).

At the time when he offered his Body and his Blood to the disciples, he was truly fulfilling this affirmation. He himself offered his own life. Only in this way did the ancient Passover acquire its true meaning.

In his Eucharistic catecheses, St John Chrysostom once wrote: Moses, what are you saying? Does the blood of a lamb purify men and women? Does it save them from death? How can the blood of an animal purify people, save people or have power over death? In fact, Chrysostom continues, the immolation of the lamb could be a merely symbolic act, hence, the expression of expectation and hope in One who could accomplish what the sacrifice of an animal was incapable of accomplishing.

The Lamb and Temple

Jesus celebrated the Passover without a lamb and without a temple; yet, not without a lamb and not without a temple. He himself was the awaited Lamb, the true Lamb, just as John the Baptist had foretold at the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (Jn 1: 29).

And he himself was the true Temple, the living Temple where God dwells and where we can encounter God and worship him. His Blood, the love of the One who is both Son of God and true man, one of us, is the Blood that can save. His love, that love in which he gave himself freely for us, is what saves us. The nostalgic, in a certain sense, ineffectual gesture which was the sacrifice of an innocent and perfect lamb, found a response in the One who for our sake became at the same time Lamb and Temple.

Thus, the Cross was at the centre of the new Passover of Jesus. From it came the new gift brought by him, and so it lives on for ever in the Blessed Eucharist in which, down the ages, we can celebrate the new Passover with the Apostles.

From Christ’s Cross comes the gift. “No one takes [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord”. He now offers it to us.

The paschal haggada, the commemoration of God’s saving action, has become a memorial of the Cross and Resurrection of Christ - a memorial that does not simply recall the past but attracts us within the presence of Christ’s love.

Thus, the berakah, Israel’s prayer of blessing and thanksgiving, has become our Eucharistic celebration in which the Lord blesses our gifts - the bread and wine - to give himself in them.

Let us pray to the Lord that he will help us to understand this marvelous mystery ever more profoundly, to love it more and more, and in it, to love the Lord himself ever more.

Let us pray that he will increasingly draw us to himself with Holy Communion. Let us pray that he will help us not to keep our life for ourselves but to give it to him and thus to work with him so that people may find life: the true life which can only come from the One who himself is the Way, the Truth and the Life. Amen.



Basilica of St John Lateran, Holy Thursday, 20 March 2008

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

St John begins his account of how Jesus washed his disciples’ feet with an especially solemn, almost liturgical language. “Before the feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end” (Jn 13: 1). Jesus’ “hour”, to which all his work had been directed since the outset, had come. John used two words to describe what constitutes the content of this hour: passage (metabainein, metabasis) and agape - love. The two words are mutually explanatory; they both describe the Pasch of Jesus: the Cross and the Resurrection, the Crucifixion as an uplifting, a “passage” to God’s glory, a “passing” from the world to the Father. It is not as though after paying the world a brief visit, Jesus now simply departs and returns to the Father. The passage is a transformation. He brings with him his flesh, his being as a man. On the Cross, in giving himself, he is as it were fused and transformed into a new way of being, in which he is now always with the Father and contemporaneously with humankind. He transforms the Cross, the act of killing, into an act of giving, of love to the end. With this expression “to the end”, John anticipates Jesus’ last words on the Cross: everything has been accomplished, “It is finished” (19: 30). Through Jesus’ love the Cross becomes metabasis, a transformation from being human into being a sharer in God’s glory. He involves us all in this transformation, drawing us into the transforming power of his love to the point that, in our being with him, our life becomes a “passage”, a transformation. Thus, we receive redemption, becoming sharers in eternal love, a condition for which we strive throughout our life.

This essential process of Jesus’ hour is portrayed in the washing of the feet in a sort of prophetic and symbolic act. In it, Jesus highlights with a concrete gesture precisely what the great Christological hymn in the Letter to the Philippians describes as the content of Christ’s mystery. Jesus lays down the clothes of his glory, he wraps around his waist the towel of humanity and makes himself a servant. He washes the disciples’ dirty feet and thus gives them access to the divine banquet to which he invites them. The devotional and external purifications purify man ritually but leave him as he is replaced by a new bathing: Jesus purifies us through his Word and his Love, through the gift of himself. “You are already made clean by the word which I have spoken to you”, he was to say to his disciples in the discourse on the vine (Jn 15: 3). Over and over again he washes us with his Word. Yes, if we accept Jesus’ words in an attitude of meditation, prayer and faith, they develop in us their purifying power. Day after today we are as it were covered by many forms of dirt, empty words, prejudices, reduced and altered wisdom; a multi-facetted semi-falsity or falsity constantly infiltrates deep within us. All this clouds and contaminates our souls, threatens us with an incapacity for truth and the good. If we receive Jesus’ words with an attentive heart they prove to be truly cleansing, purifications of the soul, of the inner man. The Gospel of the washing of the feet invites us to this, to allow ourselves to be washed anew by this pure water, to allow ourselves to be made capable of convivial communion with God and with our brothers and sisters. However, when Jesus was pierced by the soldier’s spear, it was not only water that flowed from his side but also blood (Jn 19: 34; see I Jn 5: 6-8). Jesus has not only spoken; he has not left us only words. He gives us himself. He washes us with the sacred power of his Blood, that is, with his gift of himself “to the end”, to the Cross. His word is more than mere speech; it is flesh and blood “for the life of the world” (Jn 6: 51). In the holy sacraments, the Lord kneels ever anew at our feet and purifies us. Let us pray to him that we may be ever more profoundly penetrated by the sacred cleansing of his love and thereby truly purified!

If we listen attentively to the Gospel, we can discern two different dimensions in the event of the washing of the feet. The cleansing that Jesus offers his disciples is first and foremost simply his action - the gift of purity, of the “capacity for God” that is offered to them. But the gift then becomes a model, the duty to do the same for one another. The Fathers have described these two aspects of the washing of the feet with the words sacramentum and exemplum. Sacramentum in this context does not mean one of the seven sacraments but the mystery of Christ in its entirety, from the Incarnation to the Cross and the Resurrection: all of this becomes the healing and sanctifying power, the transforming force for men and women, it becomes our metabasis, our transformation into a new form of being, into openness for God and communion with him. But this new being which, without our merit, he simply gives to us must then be transformed within us into the dynamic of a new life. The gift and example overall, which we find in the passage on the washing of the feet, is a characteristic of the nature of Christianity in general. Christianity is not a type of moralism, simply a system of ethics. It does not originate in our action, our moral capacity. Christianity is first and foremost a gift: God gives himself to us - he does not give something, but himself. And this does not only happen at the beginning, at the moment of our conversion. He constantly remains the One who gives. He continually offers us his gifts. He always precedes us. This is why the central act of Christian being is the Eucharist: gratitude for having been gratified, joy for the new life that he gives us.

Yet with this, we do not remain passive recipients of divine goodness. God gratifies us as personal, living partners. Love given is the dynamic of “loving together”, it wants to be new life in us starting from God. Thus, we understand the words which, at the end of the washing of the feet, Jesus addresses to his disciples and to us all: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another” (Jn 13: 34). The “new commandment” does not consist in a new and difficult norm that did not exist until then. The new thing is the gift that introduces us into Christ’s mentality. If we consider this, we perceive how far our lives often are from this newness of the New Testament and how little we give humanity the example of loving in communion with his love. Thus, we remain indebted to the proof of credibility of the Christian truth which is revealed in love. For this very reason we want to pray to the Lord increasingly to make us, through his purification, mature persons of the new commandment.

In the Gospel of the washing of the feet, Jesus’ conversation with Peter presents to us yet another detail of the praxis of Christian life to which we would like finally to turn our attention. At first, Peter did not want to let the Lord wash his feet: this reversal of order, that is, that the master - Jesus - should wash feet, that the master should carry out the slave’s service, contrasted starkly with his reverential respect for Jesus, with his concept of the relationship between the teacher and the disciple. “You shall never wash my feet”, he said to Jesus with his usual impetuosity (Jn 13: 8). His concept of the Messiah involved an image of majesty, of divine grandeur. He had to learn repeatedly that God’s greatness is different from our idea of greatness; that it consists precisely in stooping low, in the humility of service, in the radicalism of love even to total self-emptying.

And we too must learn it anew because we systematically desire a God of success and not of the Passion; because we are unable to realize that the Pastor comes as a Lamb that gives itself and thus leads us to the right pasture.

When the Lord tells Peter that without the washing of the feet he would not be able to have any part in him, Peter immediately asks impetuously that his head and hands be washed. This is followed by Jesus’ mysterious saying: “He who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet” (Jn 13: 10). Jesus was alluding to a cleansing with which the disciples had already complied; for their participation in the banquet, only the washing of their feet was now required. But of course this conceals a more profound meaning. What was Jesus alluding to? We do not know for certain. In any case, let us bear in mind that the washing of the feet, in accordance with the meaning of the whole chapter, does not point to any single specific sacrament but the sacramentum Christi in its entirety - his service of salvation, his descent even to the Cross, his love to the end that purifies us and makes us capable of God. Yet here, with the distinction between bathing and the washing of the feet, an allusion to life in the community of the disciples also becomes perceptible, an allusion to the life of the Church. It then seems clear that the bathing that purifies us once and for all and must not be repeated is Baptism - being immersed in the death and Resurrection of Christ, a fact that profoundly changes our life, giving us as it were a new identity that lasts, if we do not reject it as Judas did. However, even in the permanence of this new identity, given by Baptism, for convivial communion with Jesus we need the “washing of the feet”. What does this involve? It seems to me that the First Letter of St John gives us the key to understanding it. In it we read: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1: 8ff.). We are in need of the “washing of the feet”, the cleansing of our daily sins, and for this reason we need to confess our sins as St John spoke of in this Letter. We have to recognize that we sin, even in our new identity as baptized persons. We need confession in the form it has taken in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. In it the Lord washes our dirty feet ever anew and we can be seated at table with him.

But in this way the word with which the Lord extends the sacramentum, making it the exemplum, a gift, a service for one’s brother, also acquires new meaning: “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet” (Jn 13: 14). We must wash one another’s feet in the mutual daily service of love. But we must also wash one another’s feet in the sense that we must forgive one another ever anew. The debt for which the Lord has pardoned us is always infinitely greater than all the debts that others can owe us (see Mt 18: 21-35). Holy Thursday exhorts us to this: not to allow resentment toward others to become a poison in the depths of the soul. It urges us to purify our memory constantly, forgiving one another whole-heartedly, washing one another’s feet, to be able to go to God’s banquet together.

Holy Thursday is a day of gratitude and joy for the great gift of love to the end that the Lord has made to us. Let us pray to the Lord at this hour, so that gratitude and joy may become in us the power to love together with his love. Amen.



Basilica of St John Lateran, Holy Thursday, 9 April 2009

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Qui, pridie quam pro nostra omniumque salute pateretur, hoc est hodie, accepit panem: these words we shall pray today in the Canon of the Mass. “Hoc est hodie” – the Liturgy of Holy Thursday places the word “today” into the text of the prayer, thereby emphasizing the particular dignity of this day. It was “today” that He did this: he gave himself to us for ever in the Sacrament of his Body and Blood. This “today” is first and foremost the memorial of that first Paschal event. Yet it is something more. With the Canon, we enter into this “today”. Our today comes into contact with his today. He does this now. With the word “today”, the Church’s Liturgy wants us to give great inner attention to the mystery of this day, to the words in which it is expressed. We therefore seek to listen in a new way to the institution narrative, in the form in which the Church has formulated it, on the basis of Scripture and in contemplation of the Lord himself.

The first thing to strike us is that the institution narrative is not an independent phrase, but it starts with a relative pronoun: qui pridie. This “qui” connects the entire narrative to the preceding section of the prayer, “let it become for us the body and blood of Jesus Christ, your only Son, our Lord.” In this way, the institution narrative is linked to the preceding prayer, to the entire Canon, and it too becomes a prayer. By no means is it merely an interpolated narrative, nor is it a case of an authoritative self-standing text that actually interrupts the prayer. It is a prayer. And only in the course of the prayer is the priestly act of consecration accomplished, which becomes transformation, transubstantiation of our gifts of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ. As she prays at this central moment, the Church is fully in tune with the event that took place in the Upper Room, when Jesus’ action is described in the words: “gratias agens benedixit – he gave you thanks and praise”. In this expression, the Roman liturgy has made two words out of the one Hebrew word berakha, which is rendered in Greek with the two terms eucharistía and eulogía. The Lord gives thanks. When we thank, we acknowledge that a certain thing is a gift that has come from another. The Lord gives thanks, and in so doing gives back to God the bread, “fruit of the earth and work of human hands”, so as to receive it anew from him. Thanksgiving becomes blessing. The offering that we have placed in God’s hands returns from him blessed and transformed. The Roman liturgy rightly interprets, therefore, our praying at this sacred moment by means of the words: “through him, we ask you to accept and bless these gifts we offer you in sacrifice”. All this lies hidden within the word “eucharistia”.

There is another aspect of the institution narrative cited in the Roman Canon on which we should reflect this evening. The praying Church gazes upon the hands and eyes of the Lord. It is as if she wants to observe him, to perceive the form of his praying and acting in that remarkable hour, she wants to encounter the figure of Jesus even, as it were, through the senses. “He took bread in his sacred hands …” Let us look at those hands with which he healed men and women; the hands with which he blessed babies; the hands that he laid upon men; the hands that were nailed to the Cross and that forever bear the stigmata as signs of his readiness to die for love. Now we are commissioned to do what he did: to take bread in our hands so that through the Eucharistic Prayer it will be transformed. At our priestly ordination, our hands were anointed, so that they could become hands of blessing. Let us pray to the Lord at this hour that our hands will serve more and more to bring salvation, to bring blessing, to make his goodness present!

From the introduction to the Priestly Prayer of Jesus (see Jn 17:1), the Canon takes these words: “Looking up to heaven, to you his almighty Father …” The Lord teaches us to raise our eyes, and especially our hearts. He teaches us to fix our gaze upwards, detaching it from the things of this world, to direct ourselves in prayer towards God and thus to raise ourselves. In a hymn from the Liturgy of the Hours, we ask the Lord to guard our eyes, so that they do not take in or cause to enter within us “vanitates” – vanities, nothings, that which is merely appearance. Let us pray that no evil will enter through our eyes, falsifying and tainting our very being. But we want to pray above all for eyes that see whatever is true, radiant and good; so that they become capable of seeing God’s presence in the world. Let us pray that we will look upon the world with eyes of love, with the eyes of Jesus, recognizing our brothers and sisters who need our help, who are awaiting our word and our action.

Having given thanks and praise, the Lord then breaks the bread and gives it to the disciples. Breaking the bread is the act of the father of the family who looks after his children and gives them what they need for life. But it is also the act of hospitality with which the stranger, the guest, is received within the family and is given a share in its life. Dividing (dividere), sharing (condividere) brings about unity. Through sharing, communion is created. In the broken bread, the Lord distributes himself. The gesture of breaking also alludes mysteriously to his death, to the love that extends even to death. He distributes himself, the true “bread for the life of the world” (see Jn 6:51). The nourishment that man needs in his deepest self is communion with God himself. Giving thanks and praise, Jesus transforms the bread, he no longer gives earthly bread, but communion with himself. This transformation, though, seeks to be the start of the transformation of the world – into a world of resurrection, a world of God. Yes, it is about transformation – of the new man and the new world that find their origin in the bread that is consecrated, transformed, transubstantiated.

We said that breaking the bread is an act of communion, an act of uniting through sharing. Thus, in the act itself, the intimate nature of the Eucharist is already indicated: it is agape, it is love made corporeal. In the word “agape”, the meanings of Eucharist and love intertwine. In Jesus’ act of breaking the bread, the love that is shared has attained its most radical form: Jesus allows himself to be broken as living bread. In the bread that is distributed, we recognize the mystery of the grain of wheat that dies, and so bears fruit. We recognize the new multiplication of the loaves, which derives from the dying of the grain of wheat and will continue until the end of the world. At the same time, we see that the Eucharist can never be just a liturgical action. It is complete only if the liturgical agape then becomes love in daily life. In Christian worship, the two things become one – experiencing the Lord’s love in the act of worship and fostering love for one’s neighbour. At this hour, we ask the Lord for the grace to learn to live the mystery of the Eucharist ever more deeply, in such a way that the transformation of the world can begin to take place.

After the bread, Jesus takes the chalice of wine. The Roman Canon describes the chalice which the Lord gives to his disciples as “praeclarus calix” (the glorious cup), thereby alluding to Psalm 23 [22], the Psalm which speaks of God as the Good Shepherd, the strong Shepherd. There we read these words: “You have prepared a banquet for me in the sight of my foes … My cup is overflowing” – calix praeclarus. The Roman Canon interprets this passage from the Psalm as a prophecy that is fulfilled in the Eucharist: yes, the Lord does indeed prepare a banquet for us in the midst of the threats of this world, and he gives us the glorious chalice – the chalice of great joy, of the true feast, for which we all long – the chalice filled with the wine of his love. The chalice signifies the wedding-feast: now the “hour” has come to which the wedding-feast of Cana had mysteriously alluded. Yes indeed, the Eucharist is more than a meal, it is a wedding-feast. And this wedding is rooted in God’s gift of himself even to death. In the words of Jesus at the Last Supper and in the Church’s Canon, the solemn mystery of the wedding is concealed under the expression “novum Testamentum”. This chalice is the new Testament – “the new Covenant in my blood”, as Saint Paul presents the words of Jesus over the chalice in today’s second reading (1 Cor 11:25). The Roman Canon adds: “of the new and everlasting covenant”, in order to express the indissolubility of God’s nuptial bond with humanity. The reason why older translations of the Bible do not say Covenant, but Testament, lies in the fact that this is no mere contract between two parties on the same level, but it brings into play the infinite distance between God and man. What we call the new and the ancient Covenant is not an agreement between two equal parties, but simply the gift of God who bequeaths to us his love – himself. Certainly, through this gift of his love, he transcends all distance and makes us truly his “partners” – the nuptial mystery of love is accomplished.

In order to understand profoundly what is taking place here, we must pay even greater attention to the words of the Bible and their original meaning. Scholars tell us that in those ancient times of which the histories of Israel’s forefathers speak, to “ratify a Covenant” means “to enter with others into a bond based on blood or to welcome the other into one’s own covenant fellowship and thus to enter into a communion of mutual rights and obligations”. In this way, a real, if non-material form of consanguinity is established. The partners become in some way “brothers of the same flesh and the same bones”. The covenant brings about a fellowship that means peace (see ThWNT II, 105-137). Can we now form at least an idea of what happened at the hour of the Last Supper, and what has been renewed ever since, whenever we celebrate the Eucharist? God, the living God, establishes a communion of peace with us, or to put it more strongly, he creates “consanguinity” between himself and us. Through the incarnation of Jesus, through the outpouring of his blood, we have been drawn into an utterly real consanguinity with Jesus and thus with God himself. The blood of Jesus is his love, in which divine life and human life have become one. Let us pray to the Lord, that we may come to understand ever more deeply the greatness of this mystery. Let us pray that in our innermost selves its transforming power will increase, so that we truly acquire consanguinity with Jesus, so that we are filled with his peace and grow in communion with one another.

Now, however, a further question arises. In the Upper Room, Christ gives his Body and Blood to the disciples, that is, he gives himself in the totality of his person. But can he do so? He is still physically present in their midst, he is standing in front of them! The answer is: at that hour, Jesus fulfils what he had previously proclaimed in the Good Shepherd discourse: “No one takes my life from me: I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down and I have power to take it again …” (Jn 10:18). No one can take his life from him: he lays it down by his own free decision. At that hour, he anticipates the crucifixion and resurrection. What is later to be fulfilled, as it were, physically in him, he already accomplishes in anticipation, in the freedom of his love. He gives his life and he takes it again in the resurrection, so as to be able to share it for ever.

Lord, today you give us your life, you give us yourself. Enter deeply within us with your love. Make us live in your “today”. Make us instruments of your peace! Amen.


Basilica of St John Lateran, Holy Thursday, 1st April 2010

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In his Gospel, Saint John, more fully than the other three evangelists, reports in his own distinctive way the farewell discourses of Jesus; they appear as his testament and a synthesis of the core of his message. They are introduced by the washing of feet, in which Jesus’ redemptive ministry on behalf of a humanity needing purification is summed up in this gesture of humility. Jesus’ words end as a prayer, his priestly prayer, whose background exegetes have traced to the ritual of the Jewish feast of Atonement. The significance of that feast and its rituals – the world’s purification and reconciliation with God – is fulfilled in Jesus’ prayer, a prayer which anticipates his Passion and transforms it into a prayer. The priestly prayer thus makes uniquely evident the perpetual mystery of Holy Thursday: the new priesthood of Jesus Christ and its prolongation in the consecration of the Apostles, in the incorporation of the disciples into the Lord’s priesthood. From this inexhaustibly profound text, I would like to select three sayings of Jesus which can lead us more fully into the mystery of Holy Thursday.

First, there are the words: “This is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent” (Jn 17:3). Everyone wants to have life. We long for a life which is authentic, complete, worthwhile, full of joy. This yearning for life coexists with a resistance to death, which nonetheless remains inescapable. When Jesus speaks about eternal life, he is referring to real and true life, a life worthy of being lived. He is not simply speaking about life after death. He is talking about authentic life, a life fully alive and thus not subject to death, yet one which can already, and indeed must, begin in this world. Only if we learn even now how to live authentically, if we learn how to live the life which death cannot take away, does the promise of eternity become meaningful. But how does this happen? What is this true and eternal life which death cannot touch? We have heard Jesus’ answer: this is eternal life, that they may know you – God – and the one whom you have sent, Jesus Christ. Much to our surprise, we are told that life is knowledge. This means first of all that life is relationship. No one has life from himself and only for himself. We have it from others and in a relationship with others. If it is a relationship in truth and love, a giving and receiving, it gives fullness to life and makes it beautiful. But for that very reason, the destruction of that relationship by death can be especially painful, it can put life itself in question. Only a relationship with the One who is himself Life can preserve my life beyond the floodwaters of death, can bring me through them alive. Already in Greek philosophy we encounter the idea that man can find eternal life if he clings to what is indestructible – to truth, which is eternal. He needs, as it were, to be full of truth in order to bear within himself the stuff of eternity. But only if truth is a Person, can it lead me through the night of death. We cling to God – to Jesus Christ the Risen One. And thus we are led by the One who is himself Life. In this relationship we too live by passing through death, since we are not forsaken by the One who is himself Life.

But let us return to Jesus’ words – this is eternal life: that they know you and the One whom you have sent. Knowledge of God becomes eternal life. Clearly “knowledge” here means something more than mere factual knowledge, as, for example, when we know that a famous person has died or a discovery was made. Knowing, in the language of sacred Scripture, is an interior becoming one with the other. Knowing God, knowing Christ, always means loving him, becoming, in a sense, one with him by virtue of that knowledge and love. Our life becomes authentic and true life, and thus eternal life, when we know the One who is the source of all being and all life. And so Jesus’ words become a summons: let us become friends of Jesus, let us try to know him all the more! Let us live in dialogue with him! Let us learn from him how to live aright, let us be his witnesses! Then we become people who love and then we act aright. Then we are truly alive.

Twice in the course of the priestly prayer Jesus speaks of revealing God’s name. “I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world” (v. 6). “I have made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them” (v. 26). The Lord is alluding here to the scene of the burning bush, when God, at Moses’ request, had revealed his name. Jesus thus means to say that he is bringing to fulfilment what began with the burning bush; that in him God, who had made himself known to Moses, now reveals himself fully. And that in doing so he brings about reconciliation; that the love with which God loves his Son in the mystery of the Trinity now draws men and women into this divine circle of love. But what, more precisely, does it mean to say that the revelation made from the burning bush is finally brought to completion, fully attains its purpose? The essence of what took place on Mount Horeb was not the mysterious word, the “name” which God had revealed to Moses, as a kind of mark of identification. To give one’s name means to enter into relationship with another. The revelation of the divine name, then, means that God, infinite and self-subsistent, enters into the network of human relationships; that he comes out of himself, so to speak, and becomes one of us, present among us and for us. Consequently, Israel saw in the name of God not merely a word steeped in mystery, but an affirmation that God is with us. According to sacred Scripture, the Temple is the dwelling-place of God’s name. God is not confined within any earthly space; he remains infinitely above and beyond the world. Yet in the Temple he is present for us as the One who can be called – as the One who wills to be with us. This desire of God to be with his people comes to completion in the incarnation of the Son. Here what began at the burning bush is truly brought to completion: God, as a Man, is able to be called by us and he is close to us. He is one of us, yet he remains the eternal and infinite God. His love comes forth, so to speak, from himself and enters into our midst. The mystery of the Eucharist, the presence of the Lord under the appearances of bread and wine, is the highest and most sublime way in which this new mode of God’s being-with-us takes shape. “Truly you are a God who is hidden, O God of Israel”, the prophet Isaiah had prayed (45:15). This never ceases to be true. But we can also say: Truly you are a God who is close, you are a God-with-us. You have revealed your mystery to us, you have shown your face to us. You have revealed yourself and given yourself into our hands… At this hour joy and gratitude must fill us, because God has shown himself, because he, infinite and beyond the grasp of our reason, is the God who is close to us, who loves us, and whom we can know and love.

The best-known petition of the priestly prayer is the petition for the unity of the disciples, now and yet to come. The Lord says, “I do not ask only on behalf of these – that is, the community of the disciples gathered in the Upper Room – but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me, and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (v. 20ff.; see vv. 11 and 13). What exactly is the Lord asking for? First, he prays for his disciples, present and future. He peers into the distance of future history. He sees the dangers there and he commends this community to the heart of the Father. He prays to the Father for the Church and for her unity. It has been said that in the Gospel of John the Church is not present – and it is true that word ekklesia is not used by John – and yet she appears here in her essential features: as the community of disciples who through the apostolic preaching believe in Jesus Christ and thus become one. Jesus prays for the Church to be one and apostolic. This prayer, then, is properly speaking an act which founds the Church. The Lord prays to the Father for the Church. She is born of the prayer of Jesus and through the preaching of the Apostles, who make known God’s name and introduce men and women into the fellowship of love with God. Jesus thus prays that the preaching of the disciples will continue for all time, that it will gather together men and women who know God and the one he has sent, his Son Jesus Christ. He prays that men and women may be led to faith and, through faith, to love. He asks the Father that these believers “be in us” (v. 21); that they will live, in other words, in interior communion with God and Jesus Christ, and that this inward being in communion with God may give rise to visible unity. Twice the Lord says that this unity should make the world believe in the mission of Jesus. It must thus be a unity which can be seen – a unity which so transcends ordinary human possibilities as to become a sign before the world and to authenticate the mission of Jesus Christ. Jesus’ prayer gives us the assurance that the preaching of the Apostles will never fail throughout history; that it will always awaken faith and gather men and women into unity – into a unity which becomes a testimony to the mission of Jesus Christ. But this prayer also challenges us to a constant examination of conscience. At this hour the Lord is asking us: are you living, through faith, in fellowship with me and thus in fellowship with God? Or are you rather living for yourself, and thus apart from faith? And are you not thus guilty of the inconsistency which obscures my mission in the world and prevents men and women from encountering God’s love? It was part of the historical Passion of Jesus, and remains part of his ongoing Passion throughout history, that he saw, and even now continues to see, all that threatens and destroys unity. As we meditate on the Passion of the Lord, let us also feel Jesus’ pain at the way that we contradict his prayer, that we resist his love, that we oppose the unity which should bear witness before the world to his mission.

At this hour, when the Lord in the most holy Eucharist gives himself, his body and his blood, into our hands and into our hearts, let us be moved by his prayer. Let us enter into his prayer and thus beseech him: Lord, grant us faith in you, who are one with the Father in the Holy Spirit. Grant that we may live in your love and thus become one, as you are one with the Father, so that the world may believe. Amen.


Basilica of St John Lateran, Holy Thursday, 21 April 2011

Dear Brothers and Sisters!

“I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer” (Lk 22:15). With these words Jesus began the celebration of his final meal and the institution of the Holy Eucharist. Jesus approached that hour with eager desire. In his heart he awaited the moment when he would give himself to his own under the appearance of bread and wine. He awaited that moment which would in some sense be the true messianic wedding feast: when he would transform the gifts of this world and become one with his own, so as to transform them and thus inaugurate the transformation of the world. In this eager desire of Jesus we can recognize the desire of God himself – his expectant love for mankind, for his creation. A love which awaits the moment of union, a love which wants to draw mankind to itself and thereby fulfill the desire of all creation, for creation eagerly awaits the revelation of the children of God (see Rom 8:19). Jesus desires us, he awaits us. But what about ourselves? Do we really desire him? Are we anxious to meet him? Do we desire to encounter him, to become one with him, to receive the gifts he offers us in the Holy Eucharist? Or are we indifferent, distracted, busy about other things? From Jesus’ banquet parables we realize that he knows all about empty places at table, invitations refused, lack of interest in him and his closeness. For us, the empty places at the table of the Lord’s wedding feast, whether excusable or not, are no longer a parable but a reality, in those very countries to which he had revealed his closeness in a special way. Jesus also knew about guests who come to the banquet without being robed in the wedding garment – they come not to rejoice in his presence but merely out of habit, since their hearts are elsewhere. In one of his homilies Saint Gregory the Great asks: Who are these people who enter without the wedding garment? What is this garment and how does one acquire it? He replies that those who are invited and enter do in some way have faith. It is faith which opens the door to them. But they lack the wedding garment of love. Those who do not live their faith as love are not ready for the banquet and are cast out. Eucharistic communion requires faith, but faith requires love; otherwise, even as faith, it is dead.

From all four Gospels we know that Jesus’ final meal before his passion was also a teaching moment. Once again, Jesus urgently set forth the heart of his message. Word and sacrament, message and gift are inseparably linked. Yet at his final meal, more than anything else, Jesus prayed. Matthew, Mark and Luke use two words in describing Jesus’ prayer at the culmination of the meal: “eucharístesas” and “eulógesas” – the verbs “to give thanks” and “to bless”. The upward movement of thanking and the downward movement of blessing go together. The words of transubstantiation are part of this prayer of Jesus. They are themselves words of prayer. Jesus turns his suffering into prayer, into an offering to the Father for the sake of mankind. This transformation of his suffering into love has the power to transform the gifts in which he now gives himself. He gives those gifts to us, so that we, and our world, may be transformed. The ultimate purpose of Eucharistic transformation is our own transformation in communion with Christ. The Eucharist is directed to the new man, the new world, which can only come about from God, through the ministry of God’s Servant.

From Luke, and especially from John, we know that Jesus, during the Last Supper, also prayed to the Father – prayers which also contain a plea to his disciples of that time and of all times. Here I would simply like to take one of these which, as John tells us, Jesus repeated four times in his Priestly Prayer. How deeply it must have concerned him! It remains his constant prayer to the Father on our behalf: the prayer for unity. Jesus explicitly states that this prayer is not meant simply for the disciples then present, but for all who would believe in him (see Jn 17:20). He prays that all may be one “as you, Father, are in me and I am in you, so that the world may believe” (Jn 17:21). Christian unity can exist only if Christians are deeply united to him, to Jesus. Faith and love for Jesus, faith in his being one with the Father and openness to becoming one with him, are essential. This unity, then, is not something purely interior or mystical. It must become visible, so visible as to prove before the world that Jesus was sent by the Father. Consequently, Jesus’ prayer has an underlying Eucharistic meaning which Paul clearly brings out in the First Letter to the Corinthians: “The bread that we break, is it not a sharing 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 10:16ff.). With the Eucharist, the Church is born. All of us eat the one bread and receive the one body of the Lord; this means that he opens each of us up to something above and beyond us. He makes all of us one. The Eucharist is the mystery of the profound closeness and communion of each individual with the Lord and, at the same time, of visible union between all. The Eucharist is the sacrament of unity. It reaches the very mystery of the Trinity and thus creates visible unity. Let me say it again: it is an extremely personal encounter with the Lord and yet never simply an act of individual piety. Of necessity, we celebrate it together. In each community the Lord is totally present. Yet in all the communities he is but one. Hence the words “una cum Papa nostro et cum episcopo nostro” are a requisite part of the Church’s Eucharistic Prayer. These words are not an addendum of sorts, but a necessary expression of what the Eucharist really is. Furthermore, we mention the Pope and the Bishop by name: unity is something utterly concrete, it has names. In this way unity becomes visible; it becomes a sign for the world and a concrete criterion for ourselves.

Saint Luke has preserved for us one concrete element of Jesus’ prayer for unity: “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren” (Lk 22:31). Today we are once more painfully aware that Satan has been permitted to sift the disciples before the whole world. And we know that Jesus prays for the faith of Peter and his successors. We know that Peter, who walks towards the Lord upon the stormy waters of history and is in danger of sinking, is sustained ever anew by the Lord’s hand and guided over the waves. But Jesus continues with a prediction and a mandate. “When you have turned again…”. Every human being, save Mary, has constant need of conversion. Jesus tells Peter beforehand of his coming betrayal and conversion. But what did Peter need to be converted from? When first called, terrified by the Lord’s divine power and his own weakness, Peter had said: “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” (Lk 5:8). In the light of the Lord, he recognizes his own inadequacy. Precisely in this way, in the humility of one who knows that he is a sinner, is he called. He must discover this humility ever anew. At Caesarea Philippi Peter could not accept that Jesus would have to suffer and be crucified: it did not fit his image of God and the Messiah. In the Upper Room he did not want Jesus to wash his feet: it did not fit his image of the dignity of the Master. In the Garden of Olives he wielded his sword. He wanted to show his courage. Yet before the servant girl he declared that he did not know Jesus. At the time he considered it a little lie which would let him stay close to Jesus. All his heroism collapsed in a shabby bid to be at the centre of things. We too, all of us, need to learn again to accept God and Jesus Christ as he is, and not the way we want him to be. We too find it hard to accept that he bound himself to the limitations of his Church and her ministers. We too do not want to accept that he is powerless in this world. We too find excuses when being his disciples starts becoming too costly, too dangerous. All of us need the conversion which enables us to accept Jesus in his reality as God and man. We need the humility of the disciple who follows the will of his Master. Tonight we want to ask Jesus to look to us, as with kindly eyes he looked to Peter when the time was right, and to convert us.

After Peter was converted, he was called to strengthen his brethren. It is not irrelevant that this task was entrusted to him in the Upper Room. The ministry of unity has its visible place in the celebration of the Holy Eucharist. Dear friends, it is a great consolation for the Pope to know that at each Eucharistic celebration everyone prays for him, and that our prayer is joined to the Lord’s prayer for Peter. Only by the prayer of the Lord and of the Church can the Pope fulfill his task of strengthening his brethren – of feeding the flock of Christ and of becoming the guarantor of that unity which becomes a visible witness to the mission which Jesus received from the Father.

“I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you”. Lord, you desire us, you desire me. You eagerly desire to share yourself with us in the Holy Eucharist, to be one with us. Lord, awaken in us the desire for you. Strengthen us in unity with you and with one another. Grant unity to your Church, so that the world may believe. Amen.


Basilica of St John Lateran, Holy Thursday, 5 April 2012

Dear Brothers and Sisters!

Holy Thursday is not only the day of the institution of the Most Holy Eucharist, whose splendor bathes all else and in some ways draws it to itself. To Holy Thursday also belongs the dark night of the Mount of Olives, to which Jesus goes with his disciples; the solitude and abandonment of Jesus, who in prayer goes forth to encounter the darkness of death; the betrayal of Judas, Jesus’ arrest and his denial by Peter; his indictment before the Sanhedrin and his being handed over to the Gentiles, to Pilate. Let us try at this hour to understand more deeply something of these events, for in them the mystery of our redemption takes place.

Jesus goes forth into the night. Night signifies lack of communication, a situation where people do not see one another. It is a symbol of incomprehension, of the obscuring of truth. It is the place where evil, which has to hide before the light, can grow. Jesus himself is light and truth, communication, purity and goodness. He enters into the night. Night is ultimately a symbol of death, the definitive loss of fellowship and life. Jesus enters into the night in order to overcome it and to inaugurate the new Day of God in the history of humanity.

On the way, he sang with his Apostles Israel’s psalms of liberation and redemption, which evoked the first Passover in Egypt, the night of liberation. Now he goes, as was his custom, to pray in solitude and, as Son, to speak with the Father. But, unusually, he wants to have close to him three disciples: Peter, James and John. These are the three who had experienced his Transfiguration – when the light of God’s glory shone through his human figure – and had seen him standing between the Law and the Prophets, between Moses and Elijah. They had heard him speaking to both of them about his “exodus” to Jerusalem. Jesus’ exodus to Jerusalem – how mysterious are these words! Israel’s exodus from Egypt had been the event of escape and liberation for God’s People. What would be the form taken by the exodus of Jesus, in whom the meaning of that historic drama was to be definitively fulfilled? The disciples were now witnessing the first stage of that exodus – the utter abasement which was nonetheless the essential step of the going forth to the freedom and new life which was the goal of the exodus. The disciples, whom Jesus wanted to have close to him as an element of human support in that hour of extreme distress, quickly fell asleep. Yet they heard some fragments of the words of Jesus’ prayer and they witnessed his way of acting. Both were deeply impressed on their hearts and they transmitted them to Christians for all time. Jesus called God “Abba”. The word means – as they add – “Father”. Yet it is not the usual form of the word “father”, but rather a children’s word – an affectionate name which one would not have dared to use in speaking to God. It is the language of the one who is truly a “child”, the Son of the Father, the one who is conscious of being in communion with God, in deepest union with him.

If we ask ourselves what is most characteristic of the figure of Jesus in the Gospels, we have to say that it is his relationship with God. He is constantly in communion with God. Being with the Father is the core of his personality. Through Christ we know God truly. “No one has ever seen God”, says Saint John. The one “who is close to the Father’s heart … has made him known” (1:18). Now we know God as he truly is. He is Father, and this in an absolute goodness to which we can entrust ourselves. The evangelist Mark, who has preserved the memories of Saint Peter, relates that Jesus, after calling God “Abba”, went on to say: “Everything is possible for you. You can do all things” (see 14:36). The one who is Goodness is at the same time Power; he is all-powerful. Power is goodness and goodness is power. We can learn this trust from Jesus’ prayer on the Mount of Olives.

Before reflecting on the content of Jesus’ petition, we must still consider what the evangelists tell us about Jesus’ posture during his prayer. Matthew and Mark tell us that he “threw himself on the ground” (Mt 26:39; see Mk 14:35), thus assuming a posture of complete submission, as is preserved in the Roman liturgy of Good Friday. Luke, on the other hand, tells us that Jesus prayed on his knees. In the Acts of the Apostles, he speaks of the saints praying on their knees: Stephen during his stoning, Peter at the raising of someone who had died, Paul on his way to martyrdom. In this way Luke has sketched a brief history of prayer on one’s knees in the early Church. Christians, in kneeling, enter into Jesus’ prayer on the Mount of Olives. When menaced by the power of evil, as they kneel, they are upright before the world, while as sons and daughters, they kneel before the Father. Before God’s glory we Christians kneel and acknowledge his divinity; by this posture we also express our confidence that he will prevail.

Jesus struggles with the Father. He struggles with himself. And he struggles for us. He experiences anguish before the power of death. First and foremost this is simply the dread natural to every living creature in the face of death. In Jesus, however, something more is at work. His gaze peers deeper, into the nights of evil. He sees the filthy flood of all the lies and all the disgrace which he will encounter in that chalice from which he must drink. His is the dread of one who is completely pure and holy as he sees the entire flood of this world’s evil bursting upon him. He also sees me, and he prays for me. This moment of Jesus’ mortal anguish is thus an essential part of the process of redemption. Consequently, the Letter to the Hebrews describes the struggle of Jesus on the Mount of Olives as a priestly event. In this prayer of Jesus, pervaded by mortal anguish, the Lord performs the office of a priest: he takes upon himself the sins of humanity, of us all, and he brings us before the Father.

Lastly, we must also pay attention to the content of Jesus’ prayer on the Mount of Olives. Jesus says: “Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet not what I want, but what you want” (Mk 14:36). The natural will of the man Jesus recoils in fear before the enormity of the matter. He asks to be spared. Yet as the Son, he places this human will into the Father’s will: not I, but you. In this way he transformed the stance of Adam, the primordial human sin, and thus heals humanity. The stance of Adam was: not what you, O God, have desired; rather, I myself want to be a god. This pride is the real essence of sin. We think we are free and truly ourselves only if we follow our own will. God appears as the opposite of our freedom. We need to be free of him – so we think – and only then will we be free. This is the fundamental rebellion present throughout history and the fundamental lie which perverts life. When human beings set themselves against God, they set themselves against the truth of their own being and consequently do not become free, but alienated from themselves. We are free only if we stand in the truth of our being, if we are united to God. Then we become truly “like God” – not by resisting God, eliminating him, or denying him. In his anguished prayer on the Mount of Olives, Jesus resolved the false opposition between obedience and freedom, and opened the path to freedom. Let us ask the Lord to draw us into this “yes” to God’s will, and in this way to make us truly free. Amen! 

© Copyright 2014 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Reflections on the Commemoration of All Souls
by Pope Benedict XVI

Entry 0347: Reflections on the Commemoration of All Souls 

by Pope Benedict XVI 

On eight occasions during his pontificate, Pope Benedict XVI delivered reflections on 2 November (or close to this date) for the commemoration of All Souls, in 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2012. Here are the texts of one brief address prior to the recitation of the Angelus and eight homilies delivered on these occasions.



Saint Peter’s Basilica, 11 November 2005

Your Eminences,
Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate and in the Presbyterate,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The month of November draws its special spiritual tone from the two days with which it opens:  the Solemnity of All Saints and the Commemoration of all the faithful departed. The mystery of the communion of saints illumines this month and the whole of the last part of the liturgical year in particular, directing our meditation to the earthly destiny of man in the light of Christ’s Pasch.

In it is founded that hope which, as St Paul said, is such that it “will not leave us disappointed” (see Rom 5: 5). Today’s celebration fits into this very context in which faith sublimates sentiments deeply engraved into the human soul. 

The great family of the Church finds in these days a time of grace and lives them, in accordance with her vocation, gathered closely around the Lord in prayer and offering his redeeming Sacrifice for the repose of the deceased faithful. Today, we offer it especially for the Cardinals and Bishops who have departed from us in this past year.

For a long time I was a member of the College of Cardinals, of which I was Dean for two and a half years. I therefore feel particularly attached to this special community over which I also had the honor to preside during the unforgettable days that followed the departure of the beloved Pope John Paul II.

Among the other shining examples he left us, his most precious is that of prayer, and at this time we are also piecing together his spiritual heritage, aware that his intercession continues even more intensely from Heaven.

In the past 12 months, five venerable Brother Cardinals have passed to “the other bank”:  Juan Carlos Aramburu, Jan Pieter Schotte, Corrado Bafile, Jaime Sin and, less than a month ago, Giuseppe Caprio. Today, together with their souls, let us entrust to the Lord the souls of the Archbishops and Bishops who have ended their earthly lives in the same period. Together, let us raise our prayers for each one of them, in the light of God’s words to us in this Liturgy.

The passage from the Book of Sirach contains first of all an exhortation to constancy in trial, hence, an invitation to trust in God. To men and women who are passing through the vicissitudes of life, Wisdom recommends:  “Cling to him [the Lord], forsake him not; thus will your future be great” (Sir 2: 3).

Those who place themselves at the Lord’s service and spend their lives in the ecclesial ministry are not exempt from trials; on the contrary, the trials are even more insidious, as the experience of the saints shows.

However, living in fear of God sets the heart free from any fear and immerses it into the abyss of his love. “You who fear the Lord, trust him... hope for good things, for lasting joy and mercy” (Sir 2: 8-9).

This invitation to trust is directly linked to the beginning of the passage of John’s Gospel just proclaimed:  “Do not let your hearts be troubled”, Jesus said to the Apostles at the Last Supper. “Have faith in God and have faith also in me” (Jn 14: 1). The human heart, ever restless until it finds a safe landing place in its wanderings, here at last reaches the solid rock where it can stop and rest.

Those who trust in Jesus place their trust in God himself. In fact, Jesus is true Man, but we can have complete and unconditional faith in him because, as he himself said to Philip a little later, he is in the Father and the Father is in him (see Jn 14: 10). In this, God truly came to meet our needs.

We human beings need a friend, a brother who takes us by the hand and accompanies us to the “Father’s house” (Jn 14: 2); we need someone who knows the way well. And God, with his “super-abundant” love for us (see Eph 2: 4), sent his Son not only to point it out to us but to become himself “the way” (Jn 14: 6).

“No one comes to the Father but through me” (Jn 14: 6), Jesus says. That “no one” admits no exceptions:  indeed, it matches another word that Jesus also said at the Last Supper when, offering the cup, he said:  “This is my blood, the blood of the covenant, to be poured out on behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins” (Mt 26: 28).

There are also “many places” in the Father’s house, in the sense that with God there is room for “all” (see Jn 14: 2). Jesus is the way open to “all”; there are no others. And what seem to be “other” ways, lead to him if they are authentic, or else they do not lead to life. Therefore, in sending his Only-begotten Son, the Father offered humanity a gift that is priceless.

This gift implies a responsibility which is all the greater, the closer the relationship with Jesus is that derives from it. “When much has been given a man”, the Lord says, “much will be required of him. More will be asked of a man to whom more has been entrusted” (Lk 12: 48).

For this reason, while we thank God for all the benefits that he has bestowed upon our deceased Brothers, let us offer for them the merits of the passion and death of Christ, so that they may fill the gaps due to human frailty.

The Responsorial Psalm (122[121]) and the second reading (I Jn 3: 1-2) enlarge our hearts with the wonder of hope to which we have been called. The Psalmist makes us sing this Psalm as a hymn to Jerusalem, asking us to imitate in spirit the pilgrims who “go up” to the Holy City and after a long climb, arrive full of joy at its gates:  “I rejoiced because they said to me, “We will go up to the house of the Lord’. And now we have set foot within your gates, O Jerusalem” (Ps 122[121]: 1-2).

The Apostle John, in his First Letter, expresses this joy, communicating to us the certainty, full of gratitude, that we have become children of God and at the same time, the expectation of the full manifestation of this reality:  “We are God’s children now; what we shall later be has not yet come to light... when it comes to light we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (I Jn 3: 2).

Venerable and dear Brothers, with our minds turned to this mystery of salvation, let us offer the divine Eucharist for the Cardinals and Prelates who have recently preceded us in the last journey, to eternal life. Let us invoke the intercession of St Peter and of the Blessed Virgin Mary in order that they welcome them to the Father’s house, in the trusting hope that we will one day be able to join them, to enjoy the fullness of life and peace. Amen.



Vatican Basilica, Saturday, 4 November 2006

Your Eminences,
Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In the past few days the Solemnity of All Saints and the Commemoration of All Souls have helped us to meditate on the final destination of our earthly pilgrimage. In this spiritual atmosphere, we have gathered round the altar of the Lord today to celebrate Holy Mass for the repose of the souls of the Cardinals and Bishops whom God has called to himself during the past year.

We see their familiar faces once again as we listen to the names of the late lamented Cardinals who have departed from us in these past 12 months: Leo Scheffczyk, Pio Taofinu’u, Raúl Francisco Primatesta, Angel Suquía Goicoechea, Johannes Willebrands, Louis-Albert Vachon, Dino Monduzzi and Mario Francesco Pompedda. I would also like to name each one of the Archbishops and Bishops, but let the consoling certainty suffice for us that their names “are written in Heaven”, as Jesus once said to the Apostles (Lk 10: 20).

Remembering the names of these brothers of ours in the faith refers us to the Sacrament of Baptism which marked, for each one of them as for every Christian, entry into the Communion of the Saints.

At the end of life, death deprives us of all that is earthly, but not of that Grace and that sacramental “character” by virtue of which we are indissolubly associated with Our Lord and Saviour’s Paschal Mystery. Emptied of all but clothed in Christ:  thus do the baptized cross the threshold of death and are presented to the just and merciful God.

In order that the white garment received in Baptism may be purified of every speck and every stain, the Community of believers offers the Eucharistic Sacrifice and other prayers of suffrage for those whom death has called to pass from time to eternity.

Praying for the dead is a noble practice that implies belief in the resurrection of the dead, in accordance with what has been revealed to us by Sacred Scripture and, in a complete way, by the Gospel.

We have just heard the account of Ezekiel’s vision of the dry bones (37: 1-14). This is certainly one of the most important and impressive biblical passages which lends itself to a twofold interpretation.

From the historical viewpoint, it responds to the need for hope by the Israelites deported to Babylon, distressed and afflicted at having to bury their dead in a foreign land.

The Lord announces to them through the mouth of the prophet that he will rescue them from that nightmare and enable them to return to the land of Israel. The evocative image of the bones that come to life and come together thus represents this people, who regains vigor and hope in order to return to their homeland.

However, Ezekiel’s long and eloquent oracle, which exalts the power of the Word of God to whom nothing is impossible, at the same time marks a decisive step ahead towards faith in the resurrection of the dead. This faith was to be fulfilled in the New Testament.

In the light of Christ’s Paschal Mystery, the vision of the dry bones acquires the value of a universal parable on the human race, a pilgrim in earthly exile subjected to the yoke of death.

The divine Word, incarnate in Jesus, comes to dwell in the world, many aspects of which make it a desolate valley; he shows full solidarity with human beings and brings them the glad tidings of eternal life. This announcement of hope is proclaimed to the depths of the afterworld, while the way that leads to the Promised Land is opened once and for all.

In the Gospel passage, we listened once again to the first verses of Jesus’ great prayer cited in Chapter 17 of John. The Lord’s sorrowful words show that the ultimate purpose of the entire “work” of the Son of God Incarnate consisted in giving eternal life to men and women (Jn 17: 2). Jesus also told us what eternal life consists in: “that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (Jn 17: 3).

In these words one can hear the praying voice of the Ecclesial Community, aware that the revelation of the “Name” of God received from the Lord is equivalent to the gift of eternal life. Knowing Jesus means knowing the Father; and knowing the Father means entering into real communion with the very Origin of Life, Light and Love.

Dear brothers and sisters, today we are thanking God in a special way for having made his Name known to these Cardinals and Bishops who have departed from us. They belong, according to the words of John’s Gospel, to the ranks of those whom the Father entrusted to the Son “out of the world” (Jn 17: 6).

To each one of them Christ “gave the words” of the Father, and they “received them” and they have “believed”; they have placed their trust in the Father and in the Son (see Jn 17: 8).

It was for them that he prayed (see Jn 17: 9), entrusting them to the Father (see Jn 17: 15, 17, 20-21), saying in particular, “Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to behold my glory” (Jn 17: 24).

We intend our prayers of suffrage today to be united with this prayer of the Lord which is priestly par excellence. Christ substantiated his entreaty to the Father with the gift of himself on the Cross; let us offer our prayers in union with the Eucharistic Sacrifice, which is the real and actual representation of that unique and saving self-emptying.

Dear brothers and sisters, the venerable deceased Cardinals and Bishops whom we are commemorating this morning lived in this faith. Each one of them was called in the Church to feel as if the Apostle Paul’s words, just now proclaimed in the second reading, were his own and to strive to put them into practice: “to me to live is Christ” (Phil 1: 21).

This vocation, received in Baptism, was reinforced in them with the Sacrament of Confirmation and with the three degrees of Sacred Orders, and was constantly nourished by participation in the Eucharist.

Through this sacramental process, their “being in Christ” grew steadily stronger and deeper, so that dying was no longer a loss - since they had already evangelically “lost” all things for the Lord and for the Gospel (see Mk 8: 35) - but a gain:  that of encountering Jesus at last, and with him, finding fullness of life.

Let us ask the Lord to obtain for these beloved Brothers of ours, the deceased Cardinals and Bishops, that they may reach the destination they so deeply desired. Let us ask this relying on the intercession of Mary Most Holy and on the prayers of the many people who knew them in their lives and appreciated their Christian virtues.

Let us gather together in this Holy Eucharist every thanksgiving and every supplication, for the benefit of their souls and of the souls of all the deceased, whom we commend to the divine mercy. Amen.



Vatican Basilica, Monday, 5 November 2007

Dear and Venerable Brothers,

After commemorating all the deceased faithful on their liturgical commemoration, we meet here in this Vatican Basilica in accordance with tradition to offer the Eucharistic Sacrifice in suffrage for the Cardinals and Bishops who, called by the Lord, departed from this world in the course of the year.

I remember with affection the names of the late Cardinals: Salvatore Pappalardo, Frédéric Etsou-Nzabi Bamungwabi, Antonio María Javierre, Angelo Felici, Jean-Marie Lustiger, Edouard Gagnon, Adam Koz³owiecki and Rosalio José Castillo Lara. I am thinking of the person and ministry of each one of them; although we are immersed in the sorrow of bereavement, let us raise our heartfelt thanks to God for the gift that he made to the Church in them, and for all the good which with his help they were able to achieve. Let us likewise entrust to the Eternal Father the deceased Patriarchs, Archbishops and Bishops, expressing our gratitude on behalf of the whole Catholic Community for them, too.

The Church’s prayer of suffrage “relies”, so to speak, on the prayer of Jesus himself which we heard in the Gospel passage: “Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am” (Jn 17: 24). Jesus was referring to his Disciples, and in particular to the Apostles who were with him at the Last Supper. But the Lord’s prayer extends to all his disciples of all times. In fact, a little earlier he said: “I do not pray for these only, but also for those who believe in me through their word” (Jn 17: 20). And if he asked here that all might be “one... so that the world may believe” (v. 21), we can also understand that he was asking the Father to be able to have with him, in the dwelling place of his eternal glory, all the disciples who died under the banner of faith.

“They... whom you gave me” (v. 24) is a beautiful definition of the Christian as such, but can obviously be applied specifically to those whom God the Father chose among the faithful to follow his Son more closely. In light of these words of the Lord, our thoughts at this time go in particular to the venerable Brothers for whom we are offering this Eucharist. They were men whom the Father “gave” to Christ. He removed them from the world, that “world” which “has not known” him (Jn 17: 25), and called them to become friends of Jesus. This was the most precious grace of their whole life. They were, of course, people with different characteristics, both because of their personal experiences and because of the ministry they exercised; but they all had in common the most important thing: friendship with the Lord Jesus. They received it as their lot on earth, as priests, and now, beyond death, they share in Heaven this “inheritance which is imperishable, undefiled and unfading” (1 Pt 1: 4). During his earthly existence Jesus made God’s Name known to them, admitting them to share in the love of the Most Holy Trinity. The Father’s love for his Son had penetrated them, and likewise the very Person of the Son, by virtue of the Holy Spirit, dwelled in each one of them (see Jn 17: 26): an experience of divine communion which tends by its nature to fill the whole of life, to transfigure it and to prepare it for the glory of eternal life.

It is consoling and salutary, in praying for the deceased, to meditate upon Jesus’ trust in his Father and thus to let oneself be enveloped by the serene light of this absolute abandonment of the Son to the will of his “Abba”. Jesus knows that the Father is always with him (see Jn 8: 29); that together they are one (see 10: 30). He knows that his own death must be a “baptism”, in other words, an “immersion” into God’s love (see Lk 12: 50), and he goes to meet it, certain that the Father will bring about in him the ancient prophecy we heard today in the first biblical Reading: “After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him” (Hos 6: 2). This oracle of the Prophet Hosea refers to the People of Israel and expresses trust in the Lord’s help: a trust which, unfortunately, the people sometimes lacked through fickleness and superficiality, even going so far as to abuse the divine benevolence. Rather, in the Person of Jesus, love for God the Father becomes completely sincere, authentic and faithful. He took upon himself the entire reality of ancient Israel and brought it to completion. The “we” of the People is condensed in the “I” of Jesus, in his repeated announcement of the Passion, death and Resurrection, when he openly revealed to his disciples what awaited him in Jerusalem: he was to be rejected by the elders and chiefs, arrested, condemned to death and crucified, and would rise on the third day (see Mt 16: 21). Christ’s unique trust is passed on to us through the gift of the Holy Spirit, to the Church in which we come to share through the Sacrament of Baptism. The “I” of Jesus becomes a new “we”, the “we” of his Church, when he is communicated to those who are incorporated into him through Baptism. And this identification is reinforced in all who have been configured to him in Sacred Orders, through a special call from the Lord.

The Responsorial Psalm has put on our lips the acute longing of a Levite far from Jerusalem and the Temple, who desires to return there to stand once again before the Lord (see Ps 42[41]: 1-3). “My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and behold the face of God?” (Ps 42[41]: 1-3). This thirst contains a truth that does not betray, a hope that does not disappoint. It is a thirst which even in the darkest night lights the way towards the source of life, as St John of the Cross so admirably expressed it. The Psalmist makes room for the laments of the soul but he sets in the heart and at the end of his wonderful hymn a refrain full of trust: “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise him, the salvation of my face and my God” (see vv. 5-6). In the light of Christ and of his Paschal Mystery, these words reveal all their marvelous truth: not even death can make the believer’s hope fruitless, because for our sake Christ entered the sanctuary of Heaven, and it is there that he desires to lead us, after having prepared a place for us (see Jn 14: 1-3).

Our beloved deceased Brothers recited this Psalm countless times with this faith and this hope. As priests they experienced its full existential resonance, taking upon themselves in addition the accusations and mockery of those who say to believers in their trial: “Where is your God?”

Now, at the end of their earthly exile, they have reached the Homeland. Following that path their Risen Lord made accessible to them, they have not entered a Sanctuary made with hands but Heaven itself (see Heb 9: 24). There, together with the Blessed Virgin Mary and all the Saints, may they contemplate God’s Face at last - this is our prayer - and sing his praises for ever and ever. Amen.




St Peter’s Square, Sunday, 2 November 2008

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Yesterday the feast of All Saints brought us to contemplate “your holy city, the heavenly Jerusalem, our mother” (Preface, All Saints). Today, with our heart still turned toward this ultimate reality, we commemorate all of the faithful departed, who have “gone before us marked with the sign of faith and... who sleep in Christ” (Eucharistic Prayer I). It is very important that we Christians live a relationship of the truth of the faith with the deceased and that we view death and the afterlife in the light of Revelation. Already the Apostle Paul, writing to the first communities, exhorted the faithful to “not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since”, he wrote, “we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep” (1 Thes 4: 13-14). Today too, it is necessary to evangelize about the reality of death and eternal life, realities particularly subject to superstitious beliefs and syncretisms, so that the Christian truth does not risk mixing itself with myths of various types.

In my Encyclical on Christian hope, I questioned myself about the mystery of eternal life (see Spe salvi, nos. 10-12). I asked myself: “Is the Christian faith a hope that transforms and sustains the lives of people still today?” (see ibid., no. 10). And more radically: “Do men and women of our time still long for eternal life? Or has earthly existence perhaps become their only horizon?” In reality, as St Augustine had already observed, all of us want a “blessed life”, happiness. We rarely know what it is like or how it will be, but we feel attracted to it. This is a universal hope, common to men and women of all times and all places. The expression “eternal life” aims to give a name to this irrepressible longing; it is not an unending succession of days, but an immersion of oneself in the ocean of infinite love, in which time, before and after, no longer exists. A fullness of life and of joy: it is this that we hope and await from our being with Christ (see ibid, no. 12).

Today we renew the hope in eternal life, truly founded on Christ’s death and Resurrection. “I am risen and I am with you always”, the Lord tells us, and my hand supports you. Wherever you may fall, you will fall into my hands and I will be there even to the gates of death. Where no one can accompany you any longer and where you can take nothing with you, there I will wait for you to transform for you the darkness into light. Christian hope, however, is not solely individual, it is also always a hope for others. Our lives are profoundly linked, one to the other, and the good and the bad that each of us does always effects others too. Hence, the prayer of a pilgrim soul in the world can help another soul that is being purified after death. This is why the Church invites us today to pray for our beloved deceased and to pause at their tombs in the cemeteries. Mary, Star of Hope, renders our faith in eternal life stronger and more authentic, and supports our prayer of suffrage for our deceased brethren.



Vatican Basilica, Monday, 3 November 2008

Your Eminences,
Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate and in the Priesthood,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,

On the day after the liturgical commemoration of All Souls, we are gathered today, according to a beautiful tradition, to celebrate the Eucharistic Sacrifice in suffrage for our Brother Cardinals and Bishops who have left this world during the last year. Our prayer is motivated and comforted by the mystery of the communion of saints, a mystery that we have newly contemplated anew in these past days in order to understand it, welcome it and live it ever more intensely.

In this communion we recall with great affection the Cardinals Stephen Fumio Hamao, Alfons Maria Stickler, Aloísio Lorscheider, Peter Poreku Dery, Adolfo Antonio Suárez Rivera, Ernesto Corripio Ahumada, Alfonso López Trujillo, Bernardin Gantin, Antonio Innocenti and Antonio José González Zumárraga. We believe and sense them to be alive in the God of the living. And with them we remember each of the Archbishops and Bishops, who in the last 12 months have passed from this world to the House of the Father. We want to pray for all, letting ourselves be enlightened in mind and heart by the Word of God that we have just heard.

The First Reading a passage from the Book of Wisdom (4: 7-15) reminded us that true, venerable old age is not only length of years, but wisdom and a pure existence, without malice. And if the Lord prematurely calls the righteous to himself, it is due to a loving design for him that is unknown to us. The premature death of a person dear to us becomes an invitation not to persist in living in a mediocre way, but to strain towards the fullness of life as soon as possible. In the Wisdom text there is a paradoxical vein that we find also in the Gospel pericope (Mt 11: 25-30). In both Readings a contrast emerges between what appears to the superficial glance of men and what, instead, the eyes of God see. The world considers a long life fortunate, but God, more than age, looks at the uprightness of heart. The world gives credit to the “wise” and “intelligent”, while God prefers the “lowly”. The general teaching that we can draw from this is that there are two dimensions to reality: a more profound, true and eternal one and the other, marked by finitude, transience and appearance. Now, it is important to emphasize that these two dimensions are not placed in simple temporal succession, as if true eternal life were to begin only after death. In reality, true life, eternal life already begins in this world, although within the precariousness of human history; eternal life begins in the measure to which we open ourselves to the mystery of God and welcome it in our midst. It is God, the Lord of life, in whom “we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17: 28), as St Paul said at the Areopagus in Athens.

God is the true wisdom that never ages, the authentic wealth that never corrupts, the happiness to which every man aspires in the depths of his heart. This truth, that passes through the Wisdom Books and re-emerges in the New Testament, comes to fulfilment in the existence and teaching of Jesus. In the perspective of Gospel wisdom, death itself is the bearer of a healthy teaching because it forces us to look reality in the face; it pushes us to recognize the transience of that which appears great and strong in the eyes of the world. In the face of death every reason for human pride vanishes and instead what seriously matters comes to the fore. Everything comes to an end, every one of us is passing through this world. Only God has life in himself; he is life. Ours is a life of participation, given ab alio, thus a man can gain eternal life only because of the particular relationship that the Creator himself has established with him. But God, on seeing man distancing himself from him, made a further step, he created a new relation between himself and us, of which today’s Second Reading speaks. He, Christ, “laid down his life for us” (1 Jn 3: 16).

If God St John writes has loved us freely, we too can, and we must, let ourselves be taken up in this giving gesture, and make of ourselves a free gift to others. In this way we know God as he knows us; in this way we dwell in him as he has willed to dwell in us, and we pass from death to life (see 1 Jn 3: 14) like Jesus Christ, who has overcome death with his Resurrection, thanks to the glorious power of the heavenly Father’s love.

Dear brothers and sisters, this Word of life and hope is deeply comforting before the mystery of death, especially when it strikes those who are most dear to us. Today the Lord assures us that our beloved Brothers, for whom we pray particularly in this Holy Mass, have passed from death to life because they have chosen Christ, they have welcomed his sweet yoke (see Mt 11: 29) and they dedicated themselves to the service of their brethren. Therefore, even if they must expiate their part of the punishment due to human frailty that marks all of us, helping us to stay humble, fidelity to Christ permits them to enter into the freedom of the children of God. If, however, having to part with them has saddened us, and even now their loss saddens us, faith fills us with an intimate comfort at the thought that, as it has been for the Lord Jesus, and always thanks to him, death no longer has power over them (see Rm 6: 9). Passing through the merciful Heart of Christ in this life they have entered a place of “rest” (Wis 4: 7). And now we like to think of them in the company of the Saints, finally relieved of the bitterness of this life, and we also sense the desire to be able to join such a happy company one day.

In the Responsorial Psalm we have repeated these consoling words: “Goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord for ever” (Ps 23 [22]: 6). Yes, we love to hope that the Good Shepherd has welcomed these Brothers of ours for whom we are celebrating the divine Sacrifice, at the sunset of their earthly days, and that he admit them into his inmost and blessed presence. The consecrated oil mentioned in the Psalm (23[22]: 5) has been placed three times on their head and once on their hands; the chalice (ibid.) of Jesus the Priest has become their chalice as well, which they have raised day after day, praising the name of the Lord. Now they have reached the heavenly pastures, where signs give way to reality.

Dear brothers and sisters, let us unite our common prayer and raise it to the Father of all goodness and mercy so that, through the intercession of Mary Most Holy, the encounter with the fire of his love quickly purifies our late departed friends from every imperfection and transforms them to the praise of his glory. And we pray that we, pilgrims on the earth, will always keep our eyes and heart focused on the ultimate goal for which we yearn, the House of the Father, Heaven. So be it!



Vatican Basilica, Thursday, 5 November 2009

Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate and in the priesthood,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,

“I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord!’“. The words of Psalm 122[121]: 1 which we have just sung invite us to lift our heart’s gaze towards the “house of the Lord”, towards the Heavens. It is there that the host of all the Saints whom, a few days ago, the Liturgy brought us to contemplate is mysteriously gathered in the beatific vision of God. The Solemnity of All Saints is followed by the commemoration of all the faithful departed. These two celebrations, lived in a profound atmosphere of faith and prayer, help to us to understand better the mystery of the Church in its totality and to comprehend ever more that life must be lived in continual, vigilant anticipation. It is a pilgrimage towards eternal life, the ultimate fulfilment that gives meaning and fullness to our earthly journey. Already “our feet have been standing” (v. 2) at the gates of the heavenly Jerusalem.

By now the following late Cardinals have reached this definitive destination: Avery Dulles, Pio Laghi, Stéphanos II Ghattas, Stephen Kim Sou-hwan, Paul Joseph Pham Ðính Tung, Umberto Betti, Jean Margéot, as have the numerous Archbishops and Bishops who have left us during this past year. We remember them with affection and we give thanks to God for the good that they achieved. We are gathered in this Vatican Basilica, as every year, to offer the Eucharistic Sacrifice for their souls. We think of them in the real and mysterious communion that unites us pilgrims on earth and those who have gone before us into the afterlife, certain that death does not break the bonds of spiritual fraternity forged by the Sacraments of Baptism and of Holy Orders.

In these our Venerable Brothers we like to recognize the servants of whom the Gospel parable we just heard speaks: faithful servants whom the master finds awake and ready when he comes home from the marriage feast (see Lk: 36-38); Pastors who have served the Church, providing the flock of Christ with the necessary care; witnesses of the Gospel whom, in the diversity of their gifts and works, have given proof of active vigilance, of generous dedication to the cause of the Kingdom of God. Every Eucharistic Celebration in which these men participated so many times, first as faithful and then as priests anticipates the Lord’s promise in the most eloquent way: that he himself, supreme and eternal Priest, will seat his servants at table and will come to serve them (see Lk 12: 37). Upon the Eucharistic table, nuptial feast of the New Covenant, Christ as the Paschal Lamb makes of himself food for us; destroys death; and gives us his life, life without end. Brothers and sisters, we too must be alert and vigilant: may the master find us so when he returns from the marriage feast, “if he comes in the second watch, or in the third” (see Lk 12: 37-38). Thus may we too, like the servants in the Gospel, become blessed!

“The souls of the righteous are in the hand of God” (Wis 3: 1). The First Reading, taken from the Book of Wisdom, speaks of the righteous who are persecuted, unjustly put to death. But, the sacred Author emphasizes, even if their deaths occurred in circumstances so humiliating and painful as to seem shocking, in truth, for those who have faith this is not so, for “they are at peace”. And even if they undergo punishment in the eyes of men, “their hope is full of immortality” (vv. 3-4). The loss of loved ones is painful. The event of death is a disquieting enigma; but for believers, however it occurs, it is always illumined by the “hope of immortality”. Faith sustains us in these moments, charged with human sadness and discouragement. “In your eyes, life is not taken away but transformed,” the Liturgy recalls, “and whilst the land of this earthly exile is destroyed, an eternal home is being prepared in Heaven” (Preface, Mass for the Dead). Dear brothers and sisters, we know well and we experience in our own journeys that there is no lack of difficulties and problems in this life. There are situations of suffering and of pain, difficult moments to understand and accept. All this, however, acquires worth and meaning if it is considered in the perspective of eternity. In fact, every challenge, accepted with persevering patience and offered for the Kingdom of God, already works to our spiritual advantage here on earth and above all in the next life, in Heaven. In this world we are in transit; we are tested in the crucible like gold, as the Sacred Scripture affirms (see Wis 3: 6). United mysteriously to Christ’s passion, we can make of our existence a pleasing offering to the Lord, a voluntary sacrifice of love.

In the Responsorial Psalm and in the Second Reading, taken from the First Letter of Peter, we find something of an echo of the words from the Book of Wisdom. While Psalm 122, which takes up the song of the pilgrims who come to the Holy City and, after a long journey, reach its gates full of joy, projects a festive feeling of paradise. St Peter exhorts us to keep the perspective of hope a “living hope” (1: 3) alive in our hearts during the earthly pilgrimage. He notes that, in the face of the inevitable dissolution of this world, we are made the promise of “an inheritance which is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading” (v. 4), because God in his great mercy has given us new life “through the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1: 3). This is why we must be “full of joy”, even if we are burdened with various afflictions. If, in fact, we persevere in the good, our faith, purified by many trials, will shine in all its splendor one day and will return to our praise, glory, and honor when Jesus manifests himself in his glory. Herein lies the reason for our hope, that already makes us “rejoice with unutterable and exalted joy” here, while we are journeying towards the purpose of our faith: the salvation of souls (see vv. 6-8).

Dear brothers and sisters, it is with these sentiments that we wish to entrust to Divine Mercy these Cardinals, Archbishops and Bishops, with whom we have worked together in the Lord’s vineyard. Once liberated from whatever remains of their human frailty, may the Heavenly Father welcome them into his eternal Kingdom and confer upon them the reward promised to the good and faithful servants of the Gospel. May the Blessed Virgin, with her maternal care, accompany them and open to them the gates of Paradise. May the Virgin Mary help us too, still travelers upon the earth, to keep our eyes fixed on the homeland that awaits us. May she encourage us to be ready with our “loins... girded and our lamps burning” to welcome the Lord “when he comes and knocks” (Lk 12: 35-36). At any hour and at any moment. Amen!



Altar of the Chair in the Vatican Basilica, Thursday, 4 November 2010

Your Eminences,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,

“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above”. The words we have just heard in the second reading (Col 3:1-4) invite us to raise our gaze to the reality of Heaven. With the expression “the things that are above” St Paul means Heaven, for he adds: “where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God”. The Apostle is referring to the condition of believers, of those who are “dead” to sin and whose life “is hidden with God in Christ”. They are called to live daily in the lordship of Christ, the principle and fulfilment of all their actions, witnessing to the new life bestowed upon them in Baptism. This renewal in Christ takes place in the heart of each person. While continuing the struggle against sin, it is possible to grow in virtue, attempting to give a full and willing answer to the grace of God.

Inversely, the Apostle indicates later “the things of the earth”. Thus highlighting that life in Christ entails a “choice of field”, a radical renunciation of everything that — like an anchor — ties man to earth, corrupting his soul. The search for the “things that are above” does not mean that Christians must neglect their earthly obligations and duties, rather that they must not get lost in them, as if they had a definitive value. Recalling the realities of Heaven is an invitation to recognize the relativity of what is destined to pass away, in the face of those values that do not know the deterioration of time. It is about working, committing oneself, allowing oneself the proper rest, but with the serene detachment of one who knows that he is only a traveler on the way to the heavenly Homeland; a pilgrim, in a certain sense, a foreigner on the path to Eternity.

The late Cardinals Peter Seiichi Shirayanagi, Cahal Brendan Daly, Armand Gaétan Razafindratandra, Tomáš Špidlík, Paul Augustin Mayer, Luigi Poggi have now arrived at this final destination; as have the numerous Archbishops and Bishops who left us in the course of this past year. Let us remember them with affection, thanking God for their gifts to the Church through our brothers who have preceded us in the sign of faith and now rest in the sleep of peace. Our gratitude becomes a prayer of suffrage for them, so that the Lord may receive them in the beatitude of Heaven. We offer this Holy Eucharist for their chosen souls, gathered around the altar on which is made present the Sacrifice which proclaims the victory of life over death, of grace over sin, of Heaven over hell.

We wish to remember our venerable Brothers as zealous Pastors, whose ministry was always marked by the eschatological horizon that sustains the hope of happiness without shadows, and has been promised to us after this life. As witnesses of the Gospel we are called to live the “things that are above”, which are fruits of the Spirit: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Gal 5:22), as Christians and pastors enlivened by profound faith, by the real desire to be conformed to Jesus and to be profoundly attached to his Person, ceaselessly contemplating his face in prayer. That is why they were able to have a foretaste of “eternal life”, of which the passage of today’s Gospel speaks (Jn 3:13-17), and which Christ himself promised “to the one who believes in him”. Indeed the expression “eternal life” designates the divine gift granted to humanity: communion with God in this world and its fullness in that of the future.

Eternal life was opened to us by the Paschal Mystery of Christ and faith is the way to reach it. This is what emerges from Jesus’ words to Nicodemus in the Gospel of the Evangelist John: “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life” (Jn 3:14-15). The explicit reference to the episode narrated in the book of Numbers (21:1-9) highlights the saving force of faith in the divine word. During the Exodus, the Hebrew people rebelled against Moses and God and were punished by the plague of fiery serpents. Moses asked for forgiveness and God, accepting the repentance of the Israelites, ordered him to “make a fiery serpent, and set it on a pole; and every one who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live”. And so it happened. Jesus, in his conversation with Nicodemus, revealed a more profound significance of this event of salvation, referring it to his own death and Resurrection: the Son of Man must be lifted on the wood of the Cross so that whoever believes in him may have life. St John sees precisely in the mystery of the Cross the moment in which the real glory of Jesus is revealed, the glory of a love that gives itself totally in the passion and death. Thus, paradoxically, from a sign of condemnation, death and failure, the Cross becomes a sign of redemption, life and victory, through faith, the fruits of salvation can be gathered.

Continuing this dialogue with Nicodemus, Jesus elaborates further on the salvific meaning of the Cross, revealing with ever greater clarity that it consists in the immense love of God and in the gift of the Only-Begotten Son: “God so loved the world that he gave his Only-Begotten Son”. This is one of the central verses of the Gospel. The subject is God the Father, origin of the whole creating and redeeming mystery. The verbs “to love” and “to give” indicate a decisive and definitive act that expresses the radicalism with which God approached man in love, even to the total gift, crossing the threshold of our ultimate solitude, throwing himself into the abyss of our extreme abandonment, going beyond the door of death. The object and beneficiary of divine love is the world, namely, humanity. It is a word that erases completely the idea of a distant God alien to man’s journey and reveals, rather, his true face. He gave us his Son out of love, to be the near God, to make us feel his presence, to come to meet us and carry us in his love so that the whole of life might be enlivened by this divine love. The Son of man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give life.

God does not domineer but loves without measure. He does not express his omnipotence in punishment, but in mercy and in forgiveness. Understanding all this means entering into the mystery of salvation. Jesus came to save, not to condemn; with the sacrifice of the Cross he reveals the loving face of God. Precisely by faith in the abundant love that has been given to us in Christ Jesus, we know that even the smallest force of love is greater than the greatest destructive force, which can transform the world, and by this same faith we can have the “reliable hope”, in eternal life and in the resurrection of the flesh.

Dear brothers and sisters, with the words of the first reading, taken from the Book of Lamentations, we pray that the Cardinals, Archbishops and Bishops, whom we are commemorating today, generous servants of the Gospel and of the Church, will now be able to know fully “how good the Lord is to the one who hopes in him, to the soul that seeks him” and experience that “in him is found mercy and redemption in abundance” (Ps 129), trying to walk in the path of goodness, sustained by the grace of God, always remembering that “here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city which is to come” (Heb 13:14). Amen.



Altar of the Chair in the Vatican Basilica, Thursday, 3 November 2011

Venerable Brothers,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The day after the liturgical commemoration of all the faithful departed we are gathered at the altar of the Lord to offer his Sacrifice in suffrage for the cardinals and bishops who, during the course of this year, came to the end of their earthly pilgrimage. With great affection we recall the venerable members of the College of Cardinals who have left us: Urbano Navarrete, SJ, Michele Giordano, Varkey Vithayathil, CSRR, Giovanni Saldarini, Agustín García-Gasco Vicente, Georg Maximilian Sterzinsky, Kazimierz Świątek, Virgilio Noè, Aloysius Matthew Ambrozic, Andrzej Maria Deskur. Together with them we present before the throne of the Most High the souls of the late Brothers in the Episcopate. For each and everyone we offer our prayers, enlivened by faith in eternal life and in the mystery of the communion of saints; a faith full of hope, also enlightened by the Word of God that we have heard.

The passage taken from the Book of the Prophet Hosea turns our thoughts immediately to the Resurrection of Jesus, to the mystery of his death and his reawakening to everlasting life. This text of Hosea — the first half of chapter six — was deeply impressed upon the heart and mind of Jesus. In fact, more than once in the Gospels he repeats verse six: “I desire love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God, rather than burnt offerings”. Jesus does not cite verse two but he makes it his own and brings it about in the Paschal Mystery: “After two days he will give life back to us and on the third he will raise us up again, and we will live in his presence”. In the light of these words the Lord Jesus entered the passion, he decisively embarked upon the road to the cross; he spoke openly to his disciples of what was to happen to him in Jerusalem, and the words of the Prophet Hosea echoed in his words: “The Son of man will be delivered into the hands of men and they will kill him; and when he is killed, after three days, he will rise” (Mk 9:31).

The Evangelist notes that the disciples “did not understand the saying, and they were afraid to ask him” (v. 32). We too, in the face of death, cannot fail to experience the sentiments and thoughts dictated by our human condition. And we are always surprised and overcome by a God indeed, who draws so close to us that he does not even stop before the abyss of death, who rather passes through it, remaining in the tomb for two days. However, exactly here the mystery of the “third day” occurs. Christ takes on our mortal flesh completely that it may be invested with the glorious power of God, by the breath of the life-giving Spirit who transforms and regenerates it. This is the baptism of the passion (see Lk 12:50), which Jesus received for us and about which St Paul writes in the Letter to the Romans. The expression used by the Apostle — “baptized into his death” (Rom 6:3) — never ceases to surprise us, such is the precision with which he summarizes the breathtaking mystery. Christ’s death is the source of life, for into it God poured all of his love, as in an immense cascade, which makes us think of the image of Psalm 42[41]: “Deep calls to deep / at the thunder of your cataracts / all your waves and all your billows have gone over me” (v. 8). The abyss of death is filled by another abyss that is greater still, namely, the love of God, which is such that death no longer has power over Jesus Christ (see Rom 8:9), nor over those who are associated with him through faith and baptism: “If we have died with Christ”, says St Paul, “we believe that we shall also live with him” (Rom 6:8). This “living with Jesus” is the fulfilment of the hope prophesied by Hosea: “… and we will live in his presence” (6:2).

In truth, it is only in Christ that such a hope finds its real foundation. It had previously run the risk of becoming an illusion, a symbol taken from the rhythm of the seasons: “as the showers, as the spring rains” (6:3). At the time of the Prophet Hosea the faith of the Israelites was in danger of being contaminated by the naturalistic religions of the land of Canaan, but this faith is unable to save anyone from death. God’s intervention in the drama of human history, however, does not obey any natural cycle; it only obeys his grace and faithfulness. The new and eternal life is the fruit of the tree of the Cross, a tree that blossoms and bears fruit from the light and power that radiate from the sun of God. Without the Cross of Christ all the energy of nature remains powerless before the negative force of sin. A beneficial force greater than that which moves the cycles of nature is needed, a Good greater than that of Creation itself: a love that proceeds from the “heart” of God himself and that, while it reveals the ultimate meaning of creation, renews it and directs it toward its original and final goal.

All of this happened in those “three days”, when the “grain of wheat” fell into the earth; where it remained for the time necessary to fill up the measure of the justice and mercy of God, and in the end produced “much fruit”, not remaining alone, but as the firstborn of many brothers (see Jn 12:24; Rom 8:29). Now, thanks to Christ and the work accomplished through him by the Most Holy Trinity, the images drawn from nature are no longer only symbols, illusory myths, but speak to us of a reality. At the origin of hope is the desire of the Father and the Son, which we heard about in the Gospel for this liturgy: “Father, I desire that those whom you have given me, may be with me where I am” (Jn 17:24). And among those whom the Father gave to Jesus are also the venerable Brothers for whom we offer this Eucharist: They “knew” God through Jesus, they knew his name, and love of the Father and the Son, the Holy Spirit, dwelled in them (see Jn 12:25-26), opening their life to heaven, to eternity. Let us thank God for this priceless gift. And, through the intercession of Mary Most Holy, let us pray that this mystery of communion, which filled their whole existence, be fully realized in each one of them.



Vatican Basilica, Altar of the Chair, Saturday, 3 November 2012

Venerable Brothers,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The atmosphere of the Communion of Saints and the Commemoration of the Faithful Departed is present and alive in our hearts. The liturgy has enabled us to live it intensely in the celebrations of the past few days. In particular, visiting cemeteries has allowed us to renew our bond with those loved ones who have left us; death, paradoxically, preserves what life cannot retain. We discover how our deceased lived, what they loved, feared and hoped, what they rejected, in a singular way from their tombs, that have remained almost as a mirror of their existence, of their world — challenging us and inducing us to reestablish a dialogue that death has put in jeopardy. Thus, the burial places are a kind of assembly, in which the living meet their dead and reaffirm the bonds of communion that death was unable to stop. And here in Rome, in these singular cemeteries, namely the catacombs, we see, as in no other place, the deep links to early Christianity, that we feel so close. When we step into the corridors of the catacombs in Rome — as in those cemeteries in our cities and in our towns — it is as though we were crossing an immaterial threshold and entering into communication with those who guard their past, made of joy and sorrow, of loss and of hope there. This happens because death concerns man today just as it did then; and even if many things of the past have become estranged to us, death remains the same.

In the face of this reality, the human being of every age searches for a glimmer of light that brings hope, that still speaks of life, and visiting graves also expresses this desire. But how should we Christians respond to the question of death? We respond with faith in God, with a gaze of firm hope founded on the death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. So, death opens to life, to eternal life, which is not an infinite duplicate of the present time, but something completely new. Faith tells us that the true immortality for which we hope is not an idea, a concept, but a relationship of full communion with the living God: it is resting in his hands, in his love, and becoming in him one with all the brothers and sisters that he has created and redeemed, with all Creation. Our hope, then, lies in the love of God that shines resplendent from the Cross of Christ who lets Jesus’ words to the good thief: “Today you will be with me in Paradise” (Lk 23:43) resound in our heart. This is life in its fullness: life in God; a life of which we now have only a glimpse as one sees blue sky through fog.

In this atmosphere of faith and prayer, dear Brothers, we are gathered around the altar to offer this Eucharistic Sacrifice in suffrage for the Cardinals, Archbishops and Bishops who, during the course of this past year, have ended their earthly existence. In a special way, we recall our beloved Brother Cardinals: John Patrick Foley, Anthony Bevilacqua, José Sánchez, Ignace Moussa Daoud, Luis Aponte Martínez, Rodolfo Quezada Toruňo, Eugênio de Araújo Sales, Paul Shan Kuo-hsi, Carlo Maria Martini, Fortunato Baldelli. We extend our affectionate memory to all the late Archbishops and Bishops, asking the Lord, who is righteous, merciful and just (see Ps 116[114]:5), to grant them the eternal reward promised to the faithful servants of the Gospel.

Thinking of the witness of these our venerated Brothers, we acknowledge them as “mild”, “merciful”, “pure of heart”, “peacemakers” disciples of whom the Lord spoke in the Gospel passage (Mt 5:1-12): friends of the Lord who, trusting in his promise, in times of struggle and persecution, kept the joy of the faith, and now dwell for ever in the house of the Father and enjoy the heavenly reward, filled with happiness and grace. The Pastors we remember today served the Church with fidelity and love, at times facing burdensome trials, in order to reassure the flock entrusted to their care and attention. In the variety of their gifts and tasks, they gave an example of diligent supervision, of wise and zealous dedication to the Kingdom of God, offering a precious contribution to the post-conciliar period, a time of renewal for the whole Church.

The Eucharistic table, to which they drew near, first as faithful and then, daily, as ministers, anticipates in a most eloquent way what the Lord promised in his “Sermon on the Mount”: possession of the Kingdom of Heaven, participation in the meal of the heavenly Jerusalem. Let us pray that this be done for all. Our prayer is nourished by this firm hope that “does not disappoint” (Rom 5:5), for it is guaranteed by Christ who wanted to live in the flesh the experience of death in order to triumph over it with the miraculous event of the Resurrection. “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen” (Lk 24:5-6). This announcement proclaimed by the Angels on Easter morning before the empty tomb, has reached us down the centuries and it offers us, in this liturgical celebration too, the essential reason for our hope. In fact, “if we have died with Christ”, says St Paul alluding to what occurs at Baptism, “we believe that we shall also live with him” (Rom 6:8). It is the same Holy Spirit, through whom the love of God was poured into our hearts, who ensures us that our hope is not in vain (see Rom 5:5). God the Father, rich in mercy, who gave his only Son up unto death when we were still sinners — how will he fail to grant us salvation now that we are justified by his blood (see Rom 5:6-11)? Our justice is based on faith in Christ. He is the “just man”, foretold in all the Scriptures; it is thanks to his Pascal Mystery that, by crossing the threshold of death, our eyes will behold God, contemplate his face (see Job 19:27a).

The singular human existence of the Son of God is accompanied by his Most Holy Mother, who, alone among all creatures, we venerate as Immaculate and full of grace. Our Brother Cardinals and Bishops, whom we remember today, were loved with preference by the Virgin Mary and reciprocated her love with filial devotion. To her motherly intercession today we wish to entrust their souls, that by her they may be led to the eternal Kingdom of the Father, surrounded by so many of their faithful for whom they offered their lives. May Mary, with her loving gaze, watch over them watch over them who now sleep in peace awaiting the blessed resurrection. And we lift up our prayers to God for them, sustained by the hope of meeting again one day, united forever in Paradise. Amen. 

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