We are the people of the resurrection
Milena Kindziuk, Piotr Chmielinski
'The Eucharist is at the centre of Christianity; without it there is neither true spiritual nor religious life', says Rev. Prof. Stanislaw Urbanski, who lectures on theology of spirituality at Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski University in Warsaw, referring to the latest Benedict XVI's apostolic exhortation on the Eucharist.
'This document contains the Pope's long-term theological vision and concern for authentic interpretation and implementation of Vatican Council II', adds Rev. Prof. Boguslaw Nadolski, the liturgist and member of the Polish Episcopal Commission for the Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. 'And it is not against Vaticanum II as some theologians claimed after its publication.'
'This exhortation is a document in which the Pope embraced all the most important themes of the Church's teaching on the Eucharist. The most important thing is that it shows the subject of the Eucharist in accurate proportions. Since various mistakes and misinterpretations concerning the understanding of the Eucharist often result from the lack of proportions. For instance, some people focus on one aspect and forget about the other aspects', explains Fr Dariusz Kowalczyk, Provincial of the Jesuits.
Beams reach daily life
The exhortation is entitled 'Sacramentum caritatis', i.e. 'The Sacrament of charity'. Why? The introduction to the exhortation explains that 'the sacrament of charity, the Holy Eucharist, is the gift that Jesus Christ makes of himself, thus revealing to us God's infinite love for every man and woman.'
'The Eucharist refers to love so it should transform our daily lives', says Rev. Prof. Urbanski. 'Its consequences should radiate outside, on our people.'
Fr Kowalczyk adds, 'The first exhortation of Benedict XVI is not accidentally called 'The Sacrament of charity'. In some sense it is the continuation of his encyclical 'God is love'. The Pope can see the need to remind us of this fundamental truth that God is love.'
Resurrection and life
The Pope stresses that Christ reveals in the Eucharist 'the salvific meaning of his death and resurrection.' 'The remembrance of his perfect gift consists not in the mere repetition of the Last Supper, but in the Eucharist itself.' 'This awareness', explains Fr Urbanski, 'is indispensable to true spiritual life, to authentic Christianity. Since the Christian religion is Christ-centred. And the Eucharist does not exist without Christ and Christian life does not exist without sacramental life. The Eucharist is the perfect unity which man can have with God on the earth.' Fr Urbanski also stresses that the Eucharist is the sacrament of the resurrection. And the sacrament of life that is transformed but does not end. 'We are the people of the resurrection; we are living with the Risen Christ. And this is the hope of Christian life.'
'The Eucharist reflects the most important stages of Jesus' life', explains Rev. Prof. Nadolski, 'which means: his Passion, Death and Resurrection. These three realities are really one. And therefore, they are the return to life. The life with God. They are the entrance into communion with the Persons of the Holy Trinity. And this is the ultimate end of man's life. Since death is Passover, passing to resurrection, i.e. to life.'
The liturgy must be beautiful
In his exhortation Benedict XVI turns our attention to the art of celebrating the Eucharist. According to the Pope the Eucharist should be beautifully and carefully celebrated. Everything is important: singing, gestures, colours, movements and objects. The Pope also encouraged 'that Gregorian chant be suitably esteemed and employed as the chant proper to the Roman liturgy.'
'Recently the beauty of the liturgy has been neglected a little bit. The liturgy must be beautiful, i.e. carefully prepared', says Fr Dariusz Kowalczyk. 'It refers to signs, which should be understood. If they are understood they convey their meaning well. The candle, used in the liturgy, can be beautiful, decorated, carried in a solemn way or it can be a candle-end that extinguishes.'
Rev. Prof. Nadolski stresses that a solemn celebration makes people want to participate in the Eucharist and he refers to the theology of aesthetics. 'God is beauty. He is the source of beauty. But when we have chaos, negligence, routine we cannot see beauty. Therefore, the attitude of a priest and his gestures when he celebrates the Eucharist are important. But his gestures should not be in focus. A priest is only an instrument.
Appeal for homilies spoken in concrete terms
Benedict XVI writes about the necessity to improve the quality of homilies that should be prepared carefully. First of all, homilies must be based on Sacred Scripture, on the basis of the three-year lectionary. 'Generic and abstract homilies should be avoided. In particular, I ask these ministers to preach in such a way that the homily closely relates the proclamation of the word of God to the sacramental celebration and the life of the community, so that the word of God truly becomes the Church's vital nourishment and support.'
'This is a very important chapter of the exhortation since today we see some tendencies to preach sermons', says Fr Nadolski. 'But one should not 'escape' from preaching the word of God to one's opinions and thoughts that separated from the Bible.'
'The Pope reminds us that homilies must be concrete and existential', adds Fr Kowalczyk. 'They must show the relation between the Eucharist and man's concrete life. Abstract or moralising homilies are too many.'
The Eucharist and marriage
The new element of this exhortation is the connection of the Eucharist with other sacraments, first of all with the sacrament of matrimony. 'The Eucharist has a nuptial dimension', Fr Nadolski says. 'It is a call to love to the end, and it can motivate to authentic marital life'.
Benedict XVI writes that many people are in the so-called non-sacramental relationships and he reminds us of the practice of the Church based on Sacred Scripture that the divorced and remarried should not be admitted to the sacraments 'since their state and their condition of life objectively contradict the loving union of Christ and the Church signified and made present in the Eucharist. Yet the divorced and remarried continue to belong to the Church, which accompanies them with special concern and encourages them to live as fully as possible the Christian life through regular participation at Mass, albeit without receiving communion, listening to the word of God, eucharistic adoration, prayer, participation in the life of the community.' However, the Holy Father stresses that 'even in cases where it is not possible to receive sacramental communion, participation at Mass remains necessary, important, meaningful and fruitful.'
'One can see how much the Pope emphasizes that participation in the Eucharist is not full if believers do not participate in all aspects of ecclesiastical life', says Fr Nadolski.
Priests: hear confessions!
Benedict discusses the connection between the Eucharist and the sacrament of Reconciliation. This relation is strict because mortal sin does not allow people to receive the sacrament of the Eucharist. Confession and absolution make people receive the Eucharist again. That's why the Holy Father calls priests to 'dedicate themselves with generosity, commitment and competency to administering the sacrament of Reconciliation.' 'It is important that the confessionals in our churches should be clearly visible expressions of the importance of this sacrament. I ask pastors to be vigilant with regard to the celebration of the sacrament of Reconciliation', writes Benedict XVI.
'The Pope stresses the question of confession and its relation to the Eucharist', says Fr Kowalczyk. In his opinion this aspect is very important since, for example, the West experiences a big crisis of the sacrament of Reconciliation. Very few people go to confession; confessionals have been removed from churches. Even priests themselves give up hearing confessions. 'It is dramatic that today's culture weakens a feeling of being sinful, weakens the concept of the truth, responsibility, fault and mistake. The fruits of such a culture will be very poor.'
When Mass through radio does not suffice
Another issue that the exhortation speaks about is the participation in Mass through the communications media. The Pope stresses that 'those who hear or view these broadcasts should be aware that, under normal circumstances, they do not fulfil the obligation of attending Mass'. Only if they are seriously sick they can participate in Mass through radio or television. 'Visual images can represent reality, but they do not actually reproduce it', Benedict XVI explains.
The Holy Father is not in favour of 'large-scale celebrations held on special occasions and involving not only a great number of the lay faithful, but also many concelebrating priests.' Such celebrations should be limited to extraordinary situations. The document also deals with Sunday's celebration. The Eucharist should be at the centre of this celebration. The Pope encourages the faithful that 'On the Lord's Day, then, it is fitting that Church groups should organize, around Sunday Mass, the activities of the Christian community: social gatherings, programmes for the faith formation of children, young people and adults, pilgrimages, charitable works, and different moments of prayer.'
We can clearly see that although the exhortation does not present new contents it is very important. Since Benedict XVI reminds us that there is no Christianity without the Eucharist. And the Eucharist is the source of life and summit of the Church's mission.