St Francis Q&A

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Christ is "our contemporary"

Some recently asked me for my thoughts about Pope Benedict XVI’s document on the Eucharist, “Sacramentum Caritatis”. Unfortunately, I haven’t read it all yet, but hope to do so soon. Archbishop Wuerl, however, has written a beautiful and insightful reflection about it. Here are his thoughts which appeared in last week’s Catholic Standard:As he concludes his first post-synodal apostolic exhortation, Sacramentum Caritatis, our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, calls us to reflect on how "the Eucharist makes us discover that Christ, risen from the dead, is our contemporary in the mystery of the Church, his body" (97).

Here, three of the great mysteries of our faith are woven together. It is in the Eucharist that we not only encounter Christ, but are invited into his death and resurrection, not as something beyond or outside us, but rather as members of his body in which Christ truly is present today - is "our contemporary."

The Church is the enduring presence of Christ in the world today. Through the celebration of the Eucharist in the Church this central event of salvation becomes truly present and the work of our redemption is carried out. The Lord of history and Savior of the world is at work among us now precisely in his Church.

As our Holy Father reflects on the intimate connection of the Eucharist with the Church, he reminds us that "since the Eucharist makes present Christ's redeeming sacrifice, we must start by acknowledging that 'there is a causal influence of the Eucharist at the Church's very origins.' The Eucharist is Christ who gives himself to us and continually builds us up as his body." (14)

As I reflect, once again, on the incredible gift that is the Eucharist, which our Holy Father describes as the sacrament of charity, my thoughts go back to the Synod out of which the threads of this apostolic exhortation emerged. In October of 2005, the pope convoked and presided over a three-week long world Synod of Bishops whose theme was "The Eucharist: Source and Summit of the Life and Mission of the Church." I was a participant for this gathering of bishops.

Two things struck me at the opening of that meeting. The first was the universality of the Catholic Church. Of the slightly more than two hundred bishops gathered, representative of the Church throughout the world, it was clear that the Church was present in Africa, Central and South America, Asia, Oceania as well as in Europe and North America. In fact, the majority of bishops were from Africa, Asia and Latin America.

The second significant phenomenon was the realization, by the end of the second day as bishops spoke and as we discussed the topic of the Synod, that there was absolute unanimity around the core teaching of the Church on the nature and purpose of the Eucharist.

At first, this oneness of faith may not strike us as particularly noteworthy. We expect that bishops would all believe the same thing about the Eucharist. And they do.

Yet when we reflect that twenty centuries separate us today from the Last Supper and that in those two thousand years the faith has been carried to and accepted and lived by people speaking just about every language and reflecting every ethnic background across the face of the earth, the unity of faith manifested in the bishops is truly an indication of the ongoing action of the Holy Spirit. Here we find affirmation of our belief that the Church is the living body of Christ renewing and making present in each and every age the life-giving grace of redemption precisely because it is truly his body at work in the world.

Using the deliberations of the synod as a starting point Pope Benedict XVI, who was a part of the weeks of discussion, issued Sacramentum Caritatis, his first apostolic exhortation. In this exhortation, the Holy Father offers us reflections on what the Eucharist means to us today.

While we may be tempted to think of the Resurrection and its relationship to us in terms of the empty tomb in the Easter garden some twenty centuries ago, Sacramentum Caritatis reminds us that the risen Lord is with us now. Through the Eucharist we transcend the limitations of time and place and participate in the events of our salvation. The risen Christ, who sits at the right hand of the Father, is truly present in a unique sacramental and real manner, so that in his new body, his Church, he is truly "our contemporary."


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