This is the Catechesis of His Eminence Jorge Mario Cardinal Bergoglio, SJ at the 49th International Eucharistic Congress in Quebec (all translation is mine, all boldface is His Eminence's, all emphasis and comments are mine):
“The Eucharist: Gift from God for the life of the world.” The theme selected by this Pope for this 49th International Eucharistic Congress comes [to us] from the Gospel of St. John, from the passage in which Jesus our Lord proclaims: “I am the living bread which came down from heaven(…) and the bread that I will give, is my flesh, for the life of the world.” (Jn 6:51-52)
The Eucharist, gift from God, who wishes to give life to all, is a central theme of the Encyclical “Sacramentum Caritatis.” In the first part – “Eucharist, mystery to be believed” -- the Pope exhorts us to the adoration of the Eucharist as a “Free gift of the Most Holy Trinity for the life of the world”. And, at the end, in the third part – “Eucharist, mystery to be lived” -- he exhorts us to offer ourselves eucharistically to others, along with the Lord, given that “the vocation of each one of us consists of being, along with Jesus, bread broken for the life of the world.” The Eucharist, then, gift and task, gift of life that is received and gift of life that is given to all.
This life in Jesus Christ, “that those peoples in Him may have life,” is also what beats in the heart of the Document of Aparecida [the meeting of the Latin American bishops], with a tone of grateful praise and with missionary fervor, given that: “Life is a gift from God, gift and task…”
“The Eucharist is the vital center of the universe, capable of satisfying the hunger for life and happiness: “He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, abideth in me, and I in him.” (Jn 6:57). In this happy banquet we participate in eternal life and, thus, our daily existence becomes a prolonged Mass. (as St Alberto Hurtado, SJ used to say).
In the middle, between the gift and the mission, the Church is the central motive of this catechesis for today: The Eucharist and the Church, mystery of the Covenant.
Simply put, I propose three steps to make this catechesis a “lectio divina.” The first step is a brief meditation on the Covenant. The second step, I wish for it to be a contemplative synthesis in which we remain looking and enjoying with the eyes of our hearts some images of the Virgin, our Lady, “[the] eucharistic woman.” And the third step will consist in drawing some pastoral conclusions that may be of help in our personal and ecclesial life.
1. The ecclesial and nuptial dimension of the Eucharist
“The Eucharist and the Church, mystery of the covenant.” With the term “covenant” is intended to place in [bold] relief the ecclesial and nuptial dimension of the gift of the Eucharist, gift through which the Lord wishes to reach all men. The Eucharist is living bread given for the life of the world and blood of the covenant shed for the pardon of the sins of all men. Having, then, our hearts firmly [grounded] in the gratuitous [i.e., in the sense of "free"] nature of the gift and in its universal missionary dynamism, we pause [to meditate upon] in the mystery of the Covenant.
The Covenant nothing nor anyone can break
“Who then shall separate us from the love of Christ?” (Rm 8:35) The first thing which moves us about the Eucharist is that it deals with a “new and everlasting” Covenant, as the Lord said at the Last Supper. This is expressed by the Liturgy in the Eucharistic Prayer of Reconciliation: “Many times, we men have broken Your covenant, but You, instead of abandoning us, seal it anew with the human family, through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, a compact so solid, that nothing will ever be able to break it.”
The desire for a Covenant that no person or thing could break was something the Lord kneaded through the centuries in the heart of Israel, and Jesus fulfills this desire and perfects it in such a way that there is no room for rupture.
In this solidity of the Covenant a central role is played by its institution prior to the Passion. By preemptively giving Himself at the Last Supper, the Lord transforms the moment and place in which covenants are broken (the moment of the treason by Judas) in the kairos –- of holy time and space -- where this new Covenant is sealed forever.
The eucharistic anticipation
To meditate on this mystery let us take as a guide some of the insights from John Paul II, which will help us to see importance of this Eucharistic “anticipation.” Decia John Paul the most fervent desire of his Encyclical “The Church lives from Eucharist” was to inspire “Eucharistic awe.” That the Lord has instituted the Eucharist prior to the Passion was and is the principal motive for [that] awe. Let us read a few lines “with the eyes of the soul,” as John Paul said:
“Of the paschal mystery the Church is born. Precisely for this [reason] the Eucharist, that is the sacrament par excellence of the paschal mystery, is at the center of ecclesial life...after two thousand years we still reproduce that primordial image of the Church. And, while we do so at the eucharistic celebration, the eyes of the soul are directed towards the paschal Triduum: to that which occurred on the evening of that Holy Thursday, during the Last Supper and after it. The institution of the Eucharist, in effect, anticipated sacramentally the events that would take place later, beginning with the agony in Gethsemane.
We see Jesus emerge from the Cenacle, descending with the disciples, traversing the stream of Cedron and at the Garden of Olives. In that garden there are, even today, some very ancient olive trees. Perhaps they were witness to what happened under their shade that fateful evening, when Christ, in prayer, experienced a mortal anguish and “And his sweat became as drops of blood, trickling down upon the ground” (Lk 22:44). The blood, that shortly beforehand had been given to the Church as drink of salvation in the eucharistic Sacrament, began to be shed; its effusion would be completed afterwards at Golgotha, becoming an instrument of our redemption.
Further ahead, John Paul reveals how the title of this Encyclical came about:
“‘Mysterium fidei! – Mystery of faith!’ when the priest pronounces or chants these words, those present proclaim: ‘Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.’ With these or similar words, the Church, at the the same time it is referring to Christ in the mystery of His Passion, also reveals its own mystery: Ecclesia de Eucharistia.”
Here it is we find three three spatial-temporal characteristics that make the Eucharist the most intimate nucleus in the life (as gift and task) of the Church:
“If, with the descent [literally “gift”] of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the Church is born and begins to walk the roads of the world, a decisive moment of its foundation is certainly the institution of the Eucharist in the Cenacle. Its foundation and starting point is the whole Paschal Triduum, but this is included, anticipated, and “concentrated” forever in the eucharistic gift. In this gift, Jesus Christ gave to the Church the perennial actualization of the paschal mystery. He instituted a mysterious “contemporaneousness” between that Triduum and the passage of all the centuries.”
John Paul ends this paragraph marveling and surprising us with the “redemptory capacity” (in which “all of history” enters, that is: all the life of the world) of this event:
“This thought brings us to feelings of great awe and gratitude. The paschal event and the Eucharist that actualizes it throughout the centuries have a “truly enormous capacity,” in which all history enters as intended beneficiary of the grace of redemption.”
This insight of John Paul II’s is very original and its formulation consists of a difficult [literally, “straitened”] synthesis. How to derive benefit from it without depleting it? I am thinking we ought attempt to enter through the pedagogical side. The Lord shows a pedagogical intention in the washing of the feet, when He says: “I being your Lord and Master [...] have given you an example …” (Jn 13:13-15). Therefore, we may well ask ourselves what is the pedagogical value contained in “inclusion-anticipation and concentration” of the Paschal Triduum in the Eucharistic gift? I am prompted to say that the intention of the Lord aims to dispose and condition the “recipient” of the Gift: the heart of the disciples to its personal and ecclesial dimension.
In anticipating His self-giving [and] including His friends in the communion of the Last Supper and concentrating all His love in the Eucharistic gift, the Lord succeeds in, when they become aware (each of them in due course) of what He offered in the Passion, likewise realize what they had already received, that they had already been made participants of that redemptive sacrifice. The desire of the Lord for the Covenant, His self-giving without reservation by expiring on the Cross, becomes manifest [to the disciples] not as an isolated and terminal incident, instead flooding their memory of that which they contemplate – of Mary, of John and of the saintly women, and later of the whole Church – with each and all of the acts [literally, “gestures”] of self-giving of the Lord (that spent time doing nothing but good) and, in the most special manner, filling the memory of the faithful with His Eucharistic self-giving at the Last Supper. Otherwise, the final act would have distanced us. It would have been a total, but unilateral, act of God, without there being a recipient worthy of receiving. The new wine would have burst the old wineskins…
But no, the act of total self-giving of the Lord on the Cross enters in the new wineskins of the hearts which had already received and pretasted the Eucharist. A Eucharist that “concentrates” the Passion giving it an “adequate proportion” to our capacity, so to speak. For this the whole Passion could and should be seen as salvific, because those who contemplate it are already “included,” in communion with the saving love that beats within the Lord feeling such. In that sense we are able to contemplate the washing of the feet as an act of purification (writ small) that counterweighs the effusion of redemptive blood on the Cross. The tension between great and small, between the mundane and the exceptional concentrates the Love of the Lord and places it at the disposition of our faith, preventing our understanding from skewing towards the overly extraordinary or being diluted by the overly ordinary.
There is a profound similarity to this in the formula of the sacrament of Christian matrimony, in that the spouses mutually selfgive and promise each other fidelity embracing – including, anticipating and concentrating to themselves – all that might occur in life: health and infirmity, prosperity and adversity. As an image of the Covenant of Christ that is presaged in the Eucharist, the spouses presage Love and make it inclusive of all, in such a manner that the Covenant is irrevocable.
God is [a] gift. And, in order for [this gift] to be capable of being given, the Lord goes about conforming the vessel [literally, “recipient”] in a manner appropriate to the gift, a vessel that will not break, the new wineskin. A vessel that is the fruit of a Covenant between grace and liberty. From this perspective of the “vessel” we can contemplate “the mystery of the Covenant between the Eucharist and the Church.”
Let us fix, then, our attention on this point: In the Eucharist we are transformed by what we eat, as written in Lumen Gentium quoting St. Leo the Great: “The participation of the body and blood of Christ causes us to pass into becoming that which we receive. In eating the Body of Christ the Lord, although He is made our size, He is not “reduced” The miracle of the Eucharist consists in that the “clay jar” begins to assimilate the “treasure,” instead of what happens in nature. In receiving the Eucharist, we are the ones assimilated to Christ. In this manner, through giving Himself over to be eaten as Bread of life, the Lord starts making the Church. He begins transforming within His Body – in a process of mysterious and hidden assimilation as it is completely given over to the process of nourishment – at the same time, whenever this process can count with the free “yes” of the Church, that assents in faith to the Covenant offered by her Spouse, it transforms into His bride.
2. Views of Mary, Eucharistic woman
To better contemplate this mystery of the Covenant, we must be centered on Mary. Once again, we are aided by the vision of John Paul II, who invites to enter “In the school of Mary, Eucharistic woman.”:
“If we wish to discover, in all its richness, the intimate relationship that unites Church and Eucharist, we cannot forget Mary, Mother and model of the Church [...] Effectively, Mary can guide us towards this Blessed Sacrament because she has a profound relationship with it.”
In the manner of the Russian nesting dolls where the larger figure includes within itself others which are smaller but, essentially identical, let us proceed directly to the “tiniest,” to our Lady, to see how what is manifested within her – the mystery of the Covenant that allows the gift of God to be accepted and communicated for the life of the world – is shown in the universal Church and in each soul. We follow the dictum of the Fathers according to which, with different shadings, “what is said universally of the Church, is said in a special way of Mary and individually of each faithful soul.”
In the relationship between Mary and the Eucharist we can see three images that reveal to us characteristics of the Covenant that we can later apply to the universal Church and to our own soul in particular.
The Covenant as company
The first Eucharistic image of Mary shows her to us as “included” in the Church, which at the same time, mysteriously, she includes in her smallness. The Pope makes a note of the “participation” of Mary in the Eucharists of the first community:
“She was with the Apostles, ‘with one mind in prayer’ (Acts 1:14), in the first community gathered after the Ascension in wait of Pentecost. This presence of hers, certainly, could not be lacking in the Eucharistic celebrations of the faithful of the first Christian generation, assiduous ‘in the breaking of bread’ (Acts 2:42).”
The community of Apostles perseveres in prayer with one spirit “in company” with Mary:
“And when they were come in, they went up into an upper room, where abode Peter and John, James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James of Alpheus, and Simon Zelotes, and Jude the brother of James. 14 All these were persevering with one mind in prayer with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus...” (Acts 1:13-14).
The mystery of the Covenant between God and men is a mystery of “company,” of sharing bread, of “being with” others, in family, at table, mystery of fellowship continued. This company is appropriate to the pedagogy of the Lord, which transforms each person as with the disciples of Emmaus, as He accompanies them on the road.
The Covenant as confidence
The second Eucharistic image of Mary shows us the bride who places all her confidence in her Spouse. John Paul II accentuates the “interior Eucharistic attitude” with which Mary lives all her life, attitude that correctly defines “abandoning to the Word.” Mary concentrates within herself all “doing” with respect to the Word. The abandonment implies a “not doing,” appropriate of of someone fully disposed to receive a gift – the “be it done to me according to thy Word.” The abandonment also implies a “doing,” appropiate of someone who gives herself without calculation or measure and exhorts others to do likewise –“...do whatever he tells you.”
For the Church and for each one of us:
“Living in the Eucharist the memorial of the death of Christ implies also receiving continually this gift. It signifies taking with us – following the example of John – she who was given to us a Mother. It also means assuming, at the same time, the committment of conforming ourselves to Christ, learning from His Mother and allowing ourselves to be accompanied by her.”
This total confidence and this obedience in faith makes the Heart of Mary the perfect vessel for the Word to become flesh and to, at its own pace, transform her fully.
The Covenant as hope
The third Eucharistic image of Mary shows us something quite proper to the Covenant that consists in living in anticipation – in hope – what is promise. John Paul makes reference to the mystery of “anticipation,” when he stated:
“Preparing day by day for Calvary, Mary lives a sort of ‘Eucharist anticipation’ one could say, a ‘spiritual comunion’ of desire and offering, that culminates in the union with the Son in the Passion and will manifest itself later in the post-Paschal period, in her participation in the Eucharistic celebration, presided by the Apostles, as ‘memorial’ of the passion.”
Desire and self-offering are the two anticipatory attitudes that convert the Church and also each faithful soul into “new wineskins.” By desire and self-offering we become, like Mary, vessels suitable for the Word to take on flesh within us. The humble and hidden presence of the Lord in Mary, in the Church and in each soul, radiates light and hope to the world. John Paul expresses this beautifully, speaking of the Visitation:
“‘And blessed art thou that hast believed’ (Lk 1:45): Mary has anticipated, in the mystery of the Incarnation, the Eucharistic faith of the Church. When, in the Visitation, she carries within her the Word made flesh, she becomes, in a way, a ‘tabernacle’ – the first ‘tabernacle’ in history – where the Son of God, still invisible to the eyes of men, is offered for the adoration by Elizabeth, as ‘radiating’ light through the eyes and the voice of Mary.”
Mary, therefore, is a model of the Covenant, between the Lord and His bride the Church, between God and each man. Model of a Covenant that is company of Love, confident and fruitful abandonment and fullness of hope that irradiates joy. All of these virtues become music in the Magnificat of which John Paul II gives us a beautiful Eucharistic vision:
“In the Magnificat, after all, is present the eschatological tension of the Eucharist. Each time the Son of God is presented under the ‘poverty’ of the sacramental species, bread and wine, the world has within it the germ of the new history, in which ‘He hath put down the mighty from their seat’ and ‘hath exalted the humble.’ (cf. Lk 1:52). Mary sings of the ‘new heaven’ and the ‘new earth’ that are anticipated in the Eucharist and, in a certain sense, allows a glimpse into its programmed ‘design.’ Given that the Magnificat expresses the spirituality of Mary, nothing helps us live better the Eucharistic Mystery than this spirituality. The Eucharist has been given to us for our life, as that of Mary’s, all one Magnificat!”
John Paul invited us to enter In “the school of Mary, Eucharistic woman.” Now we are shown how within the Magnificat is active and present the “end” or program of this school. End that anticipates – esta is the joyful Good News – the Eucharist, lived as a song of glorification and thankfulness. Thus Mary “anticipates” the “program of God” for history, His plan of salvation, and lives it as a prophetic present. In the joy that inundates her vision of faith; this way also the Eucharist anticipates “in its poverty,” according to John Paul, the creation of the new history.
This very thought has been expressed profoundly by Benedict XVI in his Encyclical on hope, when highlights that Christian hope “gives” something of substance in our present, anticipating the salvation not only proving information about the future but also “performing” our present life:
“Only when the future is certain as a positive reality, does it also carry the present. In this same way, we can now say: Cristianity is not solely some “good news,” a communication of contents unknown until that time. In our language we might say: the Christian message is not only “informative,” but also “performative.” This means the Gospels are not solely a communication of things that se can be known, but also a communication that shapes events and changes one’s life. The obscure doorway of time, of the future, has been opened wide. He who has hope lives in a different manner; he has been given a new life.”
What the Eucharist accomplishes – in its sacramental poverty – Mary sings in the Magnificat and as she sings it, the Church – and each one of us in it – we are made “contemporaneous” with our Lady and we live of her spirituality, that is life in the Spirit:
The Eucharist, as source and summit of the life and the mission of the Church, must be translated in spiritual terms, in life ‘according the Spirit’ (cf. Rm 8:4 s.; Ga 5:16, 5:25).”
I conclude [this section] with a quote from the homily of John Paul II on the occasion of the 150 years of the proclamation of the dogma of the Immaculate, in which Mary is qualified as an “Eschatological icon of the Church,” as the one who pronounces the first “yes” of the Covenant between God and humanity and precedes the people of God in the path to Heaven, and the Church sees in her its salvation “anticipated”:
“She, the first one redeemed by her Son, fully participates in His sanctity, already becoming what the whole Church wishes and hopes to be. She is the Eschatological icon of the Church. For this the Immaculate, is “the source and image of the Church, the bride of Christ, filled with youth and of limpid beauty” (Preface), precedes always the people of God in the pilgrimage of the faith towards the kingdom of Heaven. In the immaculate conception of Mary the Church sees itself projected, anticipated in its most noble member, the salvific grace of Easter. In the event of the Incarnation we find, indissolubly united the Son and Mother: ‘He that is its Lord and its head and she who, pronouncing the first yes of the new Covenant, prefigures its condition of bride and Mother’.”
3. Concrete pastoral consequences
Throughout this catechesis, as we contemplate in Mary the mystery of the Covenant, it has been gradually revealed to us the riches of the Eucharist and of the Church. In our Mother all becomes concrete and “possible.” In her school the ineffable mysteries of God are given a maternal face and tone and they become comprehensible to the faith filled with Love which, as God’s faithful people, we profess to Mary. The conclusions to be drawn for the personal spiritual life, I believe, each of us must select from among those in which one finds the greatest joy, as Saint Ignatius asserted in the Spiritual Exercises. Uniting the Eucharist and the sacramental communion with Mary is something that we do intuitively, and deepening our understanding of this is something which does us all good.
For this we might ask the Grace of receiving Communion as Mary received the Word and allow it to take on flesh anew in me; the grace to receive the Eucharist from the hands of the Church using ours as a paten (meaning “manger”), aware it is our Lady who places it there and entrusts us with same; the grace of singing with Mary the Magnificat in that moment of silence that follows Communion; the grace of anticipating in the Eucharist all that will be our day or week, with all the good and positive offered jointly with the bread, and all that suffering and passion offered jointly with the wine; the grace of believing and placing with Love all our hope in that premise and token of salvation we already have in each Eucharist, to later conform our life in the image of that which we receive. Thus, each of may derive benefit from that upon which we have meditated.
Notwithstanding, it might do us good to draw several conclusions, in light of the riches we have seen, that these may be helpful in our ecclesial life. The affection and veneration we all feel, almost “spontaneously,” for the Virgin and before the Eucharist we must cultivate for the Church. These must be the same, given that as we have seen, Mary and Church are “vessels” transformed at the core for He who desired to “dwell” in them. The effect of of such an incarnation comes from the fact that these “wineskins” are transformed fully in the highest reality that includes them. Just as the Word in taking flesh from Mary sanctifies her totally (including prior to the Eucharist, in the Immaculate Conception), so is the Church holy and sanctifying due to the Covenant the Lord desired to make with her.
Therefore the Christian, when looking at the Church, sees her as holy, spotless and without blemish, as [he would] Mary, bride and Mother. The Christian sees the Church as the Body of Christ, as the vessel that guards with absolute integrity the deposit of faith, as the faithful Spouse who communicates without addition or subtraction all that Christ entrusted. In the Sacraments the Church communicates to us the fullness of life the Lord came to bring us. Although as sons we sometimes/often break our Covenant with the Lord at an individual level, the Church is the place where that Covenant – which we are given for ever in Baptism – remains intact and we might recover it with the [Sacrament of] Reconciliation.
From this holistic view – catholic in the fullest sense (“concretely universal”) – that considers the Church as a vessel whose quality and magnitude are measured from Him who inhabits and maintains forever His Covenant with her, surge other aspects, that might attempt to better or to correct or to express more explicitly aspects (be these partial, tangential, historical and/or cultural) of the Church. But always with this Spirit of Covenant that cannot be broken, as in a good matrimony in which all can be discussed and improved so long as it moves in the direction of the vital Love that mantains the Covenant.
Confessing that Christ has come in the flesh is confessing that all human reality has been “saved” and sanctified in Christ. For this the Lord even wished to remain dead three days and, beyond that, descend to Hell, the place furthest from God that human existence can achieve. The Church as a fully “sanctified” reality and capable of receiving and of comunicating – without error or defect, from its own poverty and even with its own sins –the full sanctity of God, is not a “complement” or an “institutional addition” to Jesus Christ, but a full participation of his Incarnation, of His Life, of His Passion, death and Resurrection. Without these are the “new wineskins” that are the Church and Mary – a concrete universality sin parallel, whose relation is paradigmatic of all else – the coming of the eternal Word into the world and assuming flesh, the Word in our ears and His life in our history, could not be received adequately.
To contemplate the mystery of the Covenant between God and humanity – Covenant that comes from the Old Testament and that is to be extended to all men of good will – the first thing is to situate the Church in the midst of this mystery as the “vessel fully sanctified and santifying,” just like Mary, from where springs the gift of God for the life of the world. As the Pope said, citing Vatican II.
Let us consider, then, the Church-Mary that have their center in the Eucharist: the Church-Mary that lives of the Eucharist and we makes us live thans to the Eucharist. Let us consider the Church-Mary that receive from their spouse the totality of the gift of the Bread of life along with the mission of distribuiting it to all, for the life of the world.
In them the Covenant of God with the humanity is give and is received and comunicated without fissures or defect. The selfgiving to the end, by the bridegroom makes the bride –Mary/Church – all holy, purifies and always creates anew in faith and in charity and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against her.
I finish by saying that this reassurance of the sanctity of the Church, is not a question of personal or social privilege, but rather that the Church is ordained to service. Let me explain. As the Church always defends its integrity – as always there have been and are those who take evil advantage of the strength of an institution (which is pathetic for how reductive it is to use something so beneficent as eternal life for the pleasures of transitory life), world has the impression the Church always defends its power and it is not so. In defending its purity, its indefectibility, its sanctity as the bride, the Church is defending the “place” through which the gift of the life of God passes on to the world and the gift of the life of the world to God. This gift – the fullest expression of which is the Eucharist –is not another gift among ourselves but the supreme gift of the most intimate life of the Trinity that poured forth for the life of the world and the life of the world assumed by the Son that is offered to the Father.
As Balthasar stated:
“The act of giving, by which the Father pours out the Son through all space and time of creation, is the definitive aperture of the Trinitarian act in that the “Persons” are “relationships” of God, forms, we might say, of giving and absolute self-giving and of Loving fluidity.”
It is the incommensurable, unreturnable nature of the gift that has been transmitted to us which compels the Lord to sanctify the Church in an indefectible manner, as He did with His Mother, in such a way that it is assured this gift can be both received and transmitted “for the life of the world.” the mystery of the Covenant that makes the Church all-holy is a mystery of [both] service and of Life.
It should never cease to amaze us this definite aperture to the Trinitarian life itself is given and is poured forth not just for some but for the life of the world. This is the case even if not all know it or take advantage of the fruit of the incomprehensible Liberty of the Uno and Triune God whose self-giving is total and for all.
“In uniting to Christ, instead of sealing itself off, the People of the new Covenant are converted into a “sacrament” for all humanity, sign and instrument of salvation, in a work of Christ, into a light of the world and salt of the earth (cf. Mt 5:13-16), for the redemption of all. The mission of the Church continues that of Christ: “As the Father hath sent me, I also send you.” (Jn 20:21). Therefore, the Church receives the spiritual strength necessary to accomplish its mission of perpetuating in the Eucharist the sacrifice of the Cross and being in communion with the body and the blood of Christ. So, the Eucharist is the source and, at the same time, the summit of all evangelization, given that its objective is the communion of men with Christ and, in Him, with the Father and with the Holy Spirit.”