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The Eucharist and Evangelization
by Edouard Cardinal Gagnon, p.s.s.
America, like the Roman Church, has known its martyrs for the Eucharist: John Paul II, in Brazil, recalled the layman, Matias Moreira, who in 1645 was insulted and beaten because he would not deny his faith in the Eucharist. He allowed his heart to be torn out, crying: "Praised be the Most Blessed Sacrament!"
Missionaries have always understood evangelization as the endeavor to establish the Kingdom of Christ and to render it present, not only by spectacular feats - I think of Jacques Cartier planting the Cross next to the flag to take possession of Canada in the name of France - but also by making Him present in the daily existence of all human societies. It was natural, then, for the missionaries to strive to render Him present, on the altar of Sacrifice, in a temple which would be the house of God and also the house of His People. They knew how to communicate their love for the Eucharist to the artists whose works continue to be the most precious treasure of our hemisphere. The magnificent colonial churches, both great and small, are so many books that speak of the Eucharistic faith and devotion of their builders.
John Paul II expressed this truth: "Missionary activity does not fully attain its objective until it gathers ecclesial communities to proclaim their faith in the celebration of the Eucharist" (L' Osservatore Romano, November 7, 1991. Audience with the Pontifical Committee for Eucharistic Congresses and the National Delegates). What has always distinguished a Catholic church from a Protestant one is the presence of Christ in the Tabernacle. As the Pope said, during his 1991 trip to Brazil: "Leaving the Upper Room on Pentecost, the Apostles went throughout the whole world proclaiming that 'Jesus is Lord' (Rom. 10:9); they handed on to us the Gospel and the Eucharist" (October 13, 1991).
Evangelization and the Eucharist: Statements of the Magisterium
The encyclical Evangelii Nuntiandi, a synthesis of the deliberations of the Bishops during the Synod of 1974, continues to be the fundamental document regarding the theme of Evangelization. In this document, Paul VI did not wish to give a definition of evangelization, a reality too complex for such a treatment-but rather a concrete description of the complementary elements of which it is composed. Its goal, he said, is to bring to life a relationship of faith and love between Christ in His redemptive mystery and the person who receives the Gospel. This supposes that, listening to the Word, we recognize with gratitude the gift that the Father bestows on us in Christ; it also implies an inner conversion so as to live by the Spirit of Christ with a renewed conscience. God created man to live in society, and, therefore, Christ came to save us, not only individually, but as members of the Church. Evangelization is realized in communities which remain united in hearing the same Word and sharing in the same sacraments, which are "memorial, actuation, and prophecy" of the same mystery of salvation, and offering to the Holy Trinity the same words of praise.
When the Vatican II Council speaks in various documents about these constitutive elements of Evangelization, it emphasizes constantly their essential connection with the Eucharist. The texts almost form a litany: "The most blessed Eucharist contains the Church's entire spiritual wealth . . . The Eucharist shows itself to be the source and apex of the whole proclamation of the Gospel. The other sacraments, as well as every ministry of the Church and every work of the apostolate, are linked with the Holy Eucharist and are directed toward it (P.O., no. 5). It is in the mystery of the Eucharistic Sacrifice, where the priests fulfill their chief duty, that the work of our redemption is continuously realized" (P.O., no. 13, cf. L.G., no. 28; A.G., no. 39).
"The Eucharistic Sacrifice . . . is the fount and apex of the whole Christian life . . . (L.G., no. 11). It is the center and summit of the celebration of the sacraments because it brings about the presence of Christ, the Author of Salvation (A.G., no. 9). It communicates and nourishes that charity toward God and man which is the soul of the entire apostolate (L.G., no. 33). By the Eucharist the Church constantly lives and grows (L.G., no. 26. cf: U.R., no. 15; D.V., no. 26). By reason of the Eucharistic Sacrifice, the Christian community ceaselessly walks with Christ towards the Father, "in an offering of all that we are (A.G., no. 15, citing L.G., no. 10 & no. 34). Recalling that the most important Good News is that of our calling to eternal life, Lumen Gentium says that celebrating the Eucharistic sacrifice . . . we are most closely united to the worshiping Church in heaven . . ." (L.G., no. 50).
The General Instruction on the Roman Missal repeats conciliar statements when it says: "The celebration of Mass is the action of Christ and of the people of God hierarchically assembled. For both the universal and the local Church, and for each person, it is the center of the whole Christian life" (G.I.R.M., ch.1.1).
Without engaging in doctrinal considerations, it might be useful to reflect on the present state of Eucharistic worship in its relation to evangelization. It can be done by following an outline-the Eucharist as truth that has to be announced, the Eucharistic worship as the privileged moment for evangelization, and the influence of the Eucharist in the life of Christians.
The Eucharist as Object of Evangelization
The Eucharist is at the center of the Gospel that Christ has revealed and which the Church has never ceased to teach as a synthesis of the Mystery of Christ who lives and works in the Church (Roman Ritual, De Sacra Communione, n. III). The doctrine of the Eucharist has been proclaimed with clarity in many declarations of the Magisterium throughout the centuries. The Credo of Paul VI expressed this doctrine without leaving room for either doubt or error:
We believe that the Mass, which is celebrated by the priest representing the Person of Christ, in virtue of the power received in the Sacrament of Orders, and which is offered by him in the name of Christ and of the members of His Mystical Body, is really the Sacrifice of Calvary, which becomes present sacramentally on our altars. We believe that, as the bread and wine consecrated by the Lord at the Last Supper were changed into His Body and Blood which were offered for us on the Cross, so likewise are the bread and wine consecrated by the priest changed into the Body and Blood of Christ now enthroned in glory in heaven. We believe that the mysterious presence of the Lord under the appearance of those things which, as far as our senses are concerned, remain unchanged, is a true, real, and substantial presence. (cf. S.C., no. 4).
Recent statistics from regions where, officially, there is relatively widespread religious instruction, reveal that comparatively few Catholics appreciate the gift which the Lord gives to us in the Sacrament of the Eucharist. Sunday attendance at Mass continues to diminish. "In a recent survey in a large diocese, seventy-nine percent of the answers agreed in considering private prayer and participation in the Mass as practically equivalent" (Tena, 1992).
It would only be fair to ask ourselves if we have given enough attention to expounding and explaining the doctrine of the Eucharist, at least in its essential elements; if we have helped catechists to situate this doctrine within a serious Christology; and if, on our part-I speak now of bishops and others who hold positions of responsibility-we have watched over the faith of the "poor ones of the Lord," exercising our authority or at least fraternal correction, with regard to those who sow doubt and confusion.
When I was a bishop in Canada, a religious community had invited one of the "Periti" of the Council to direct their spiritual exercises. This man
crossed the chapel, observed by five hundred religious, sat down with his back to the tabernacle, and said, "You will have noted that I did not genuflect or
make any other sign of adoration: this is because I do not believe in the presence of Christ in the Host outside the celebration of the Mass." The Superior General stood up in her place at the back of the chapel and said in a loud voice: "Father, if that is so, the retreat is over."
The doctrine of the Eucharist must be presented in all its parts. As the Pope said before the Congress of Lourdes: "We may not neglect any aspect of the participation in the Eucharist" (1980).
By insisting exclusively on the presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament and giving more solemnity to other forms of devotion than to the Mass itself, we might have failed to relate such presence with the act which renders Christ present, an act in which His painful death and His saving resurrection are renewed.
By emphasizing the Eucharist as the moment of fraternal community, we might have sometimes deserved the accusation of leaving in the dark the Sacrifice itself, with its propitiation and reparation meaning.
In the words of the consecration, we bishops and priests say with Jesus that His Body and His Blood are offered for the forgiveness of sins and re-establishment of the covenant between God and the world. However, in our pastoral efforts we are not always coherent. In various audiences with the bishops, both Paul VI and John Paul II insisted that the practice of not admitting children to confession before First Communion should be corrected. They prefer to listen to their specialists who say that a whole year is necessary for catechesis for the Eucharist, and another year for catechesis for the Sacrament of Penance. But how can you speak of the Eucharist for a whole year without explaining the words of the Consecration, with their reference to the forgiveness of sins, and without saying that in our Lord's plan the forgiveness of sins comes through the Sacrament of Penance? And is not the object of our catechesis the Person of Christ, whom we cannot divide in two-the Lord who gives Himself as nourishment and the God who pardons? And then we are surprised that people receive Communion without having asked pardon for their sins and without the dispositions of contrition and good intention.
We also reduce the meaning of the Eucharistic mystery when we follow the Protestants in not giving due importance to adoration during Mass and to the worship of the Consecrated Species. The teaching of the Church has never changed regarding the effect of the words of Consecration, i.e., the transformation of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ, and the Real Presence of Christ under the appearances of bread and wine, both during the holy Mass and after it.
There would be too many texts here to cite, both ancient and modern. It is the tradition of the Church to offer the worship of adoration to the Sacrament of the Eucharist, "guarding the Consecrated Hosts with the greatest care, offering them to adoration of the faithful, carrying them in procession amidst the jubilation of the whole people" (M.F., no. 56). Let us hope we will never again witness the scandal which has occurred in certain large congregations of the faithful, when the Hosts left over after the distribution of Communion were thrown into the trash. Many of the laity in all parts of the world have asked their priests to re-establish Holy Hours, the Forty Hours devotion, First Friday adoration, and perpetual or night adoration. The faithful would like to see their priests in silent (and, I would say, willing) adoration before the Blessed Sacrament, for the priest who spends time in adoration celebrates Mass with more piety and with more edification of the faith of the people. This is seen in the impression made by John Paul II on all who have seen him before Mass, during the celebration of the Mass, and in the long hours he spends at the foot of the Tabernacle, even during his most demanding pilgrimages. As Mysterium Fidei said: "Visits to the Blessed Sacrament are a proof of gratitude, a pledge of love, and an expression of the adoration due to the Lord." (M.F., no. 19).
It is not true that the Council has invited priests to abandon the daily visit to the Blessed Sacrament. It invites them, rather, to "prize daily conversation with Christ the Lord in visits of personal devotion to the most Holy Eucharist" (P.O., no. 18). Bishop J. P. Motte says: "the piety which leads the faithful to the practice of adoration brings them to a deeper participation in the Paschal Mystery" (Acts of the Congress of Lourdes, vol. 4, 11, p. 10, quoted by Poupard, pp. 44-45 and p. 69, citing St. Augustine).
The Eucharistic Celebration Which is Evangelization
Celebrating and adoring the Eucharist is an essential and primary form of evangelization. The texts which we have cited have said this already. However, it would not be fruitless to consider in what sense this statement should be understood and under what conditions it reveals itself to be true.
The Eucharist, both in the celebration of the Sacrifice and, under certain conditions, in the extra missam (outside of Mass) forms of worship, is the Word of God.
The Eucharist evangelizes when we listen to the readings of the Gospel and other parts of the New Testament, but also to the texts of the Old Testament, where the inspired authors testify to how much it cost the Father, Lord of History, to plan the coming of His Son in order to save us. Sacred Scripture reveals to us the plan of love by which God prepares and realizes the great gift of our salvation by Christ and our calling to the heavenly banquet. The Eucharist also evangelizes when the texts of the Ordinary of the Mass teach us in the orations how to praise the Lord and how to ask Him for the help we need to live as His sons and as disciples of Christ.
Indeed, the deepest goals of evangelization are achieved primarily through what occurs mysteriously upon the altar and in the praying community, by means of the words of the priest and their conscious reception by the participant (who in this moment above all fulfills his role as a priestly people). "In the Eucharist the Christian has the experience of being not only a faithful hearer of the Word, but also an active participant in what is the table of the Lord-and capable, therefore, of a witness to the Gospel" (Tena, 1992).
The Holy Father himself devotes some very eloquent pages of his encyclical Redemptor Hominis to the great reality that occurs in the Eucharistic Sacrifice:
The Eucharist is the sacrament in which our new being is most completely expressed and in which Christ Himself unceasingly and in an ever new manner "bears witness" in the Holy Spirit to our spirit that each of us, as a sharer in the mystery of the Redemption has access to the fruits of the filial reconciliation with God that He Himself actuated and continually actuates among us by means of the Church's ministry.
The Eucharist builds ever anew this community and unity, ever building and regenerating it on the basis of the sacrifice of Christ, since it commemorates His death on the cross, the price by which He redeemed us. Accordingly, in the Eucharist we touch in a way the very mystery of the body and blood of the Lord, as is attested by the very words used at its institution, the words that, because of that institution, have become the words with which those called to this ministry in the Church unceasingly celebrate the Eucharist.
There is much that needs to be done to correct certain omissions or deviations in our conduct with relation to the Eucharist. I was recently sent a letter from a young man to a newspaper in Oregon, in the United States. He had decided not to return to Mass, after having gone to all the churches in his city, hoping to hear and to find the beauties that his parents and his first teachers had recounted to him. Instead, he had seen unconvincing theatrical scenes and had heard sermons which did not show that the purpose of life is to adore the Lord and obey His commandments. What he heard and saw seemed to imply that it is enough to practice love in its horizontal dimension. There was never an allusion to the Eucharist as the free gift of the Father and the pledge of eternal life.
It does not surprise me. Years ago when I went to administer the Sacrament of Confirmation, I would try beforehand to go to the classrooms and speak with the children that I was going to confirm. I would propose to them Jesus' promise at the Last Supper: "If you keep my words, my Father and I will come to you, and will bring you the Holy Spirit." When I proposed to them the question, "Do you know some of the words of Jesus?", almost always, their answer would be, "Love one another." It was a surprise to them that the words of the Our Father and the words of the Consecration were also the words of Jesus. Confirmation had been presented to them not as the act of love of the Father bestowing the gifts of the Holy Spirit, but rather as the confirmation which they themselves gave to the promises made by their parents at the moment of baptism.
In an address given to the clergy of Siena, Archbishop Capovilla, the former secretary of John XXIII, lamented that nothing had been done to substitute the old norms of the ceremonial of the bishop which contributed to creating an atmosphere for the Celebration of the Eucharist: the arrival of the bishop duly clothed, the extended adoration at the altar of the Blessed Sacrament, and so forth; the same for the prayers indicated for the priest before and after Mass. It was thought that norms were not necessary for us to continue to approach the sacred realities with the respect and "admiratio" which they deserve. We arrive in a hurry, we chat, we dress ourselves quickly, and at the end we escape without stopping to thank God. The faithful are attentive to these details, and have a good intuition of the value which we attribute to the Sacrifice and to the presence of the Lord.
The importance of certain things can never be stressed enough to future priests: namely, the way in which they prepare for the Celebration, and the way
in which they offer the Mass in communion of spirit with the Lord and with the community of the faithful. It is certainly of no help to depreciate prayer before the Blessed Sacrament outside of Mass, or Holy Hours, or devotion to the Sacred Heart, or meditation on the mysteries of the Rosary. These are all practices which help us to value more the love which inspired the whole life of Christ and which is summarized in the Eucharist.
Cardinal Poupard has spoken of the danger of trivializing the Eucharist. Do we not fall into this danger when we so easily admit to the Eucharist those who are living in sin? Perhaps we no longer deny church burial and Mass to public sinners. However, it is only counter-evangelization to give a panegyric of such people, or, in the homily, to give the impression that all will be saved; without using the occasion to say that in the Mass Christ dies once again, sacramentally, for our sins, and without indicating the conditions of honest living and contrition that are necessary for participation in Christ's Resurrection.
And what can be said about those who are indifferent and approach Holy Communion unworthily-those, for example, who come to Mass only on the occasion of weddings or funerals? Once I was present at a wedding where I heard the celebrant, a priest very popular among the youth, invite everyone to receive Communion, saying, "Those who feel the farthest from the Lord are those who most need to come." St. Augustine used different language: "May those who know that I know their sins draw away from Communion, that they may not be thrown out of the sanctuary" (Sermon 293, 5).
It is a serious matter to admit to Holy Communion those who do not see in Communion more than a routine act or a way of becoming united with others, and do not even know that Christ is present in the Host. In his preaching of the Gospel, St. Paul, after transmitting the words themselves that we use in the Consecration, declares unworthy and subject to divine judgment anyone who receives Holy Communion "non dijudicans corpus Domini," that is to say, without understanding the divine gift of the Lord present in the Host (1 Cor. 11:29).
This part of the teaching of the Apostle on the Eucharist has not found a place in the succession of Mass readings for Ordinary Time (weeks twenty-three and twenty-four). However, we cannot pass over in silence such severe admonitions on the unworthy reception of the Sacrament. "That is why many of you are weak and ill, and many have died," the Apostle says (I Cor. 11:29).
Might not the progressive weakening and death of certain communities be a result of the outrages and dubious practices which have been allowed in this field?
The Eucharist, Source of Evangelization
The Eucharist, evangelization in its own right, must also be and indeed is the source of Evangelization. It makes us capable of and compels us to accomplish great things so that the salvific plan may be fulfilled in the lives of men and of society.
Mysterium Fidei affirms that "as long as the Eucharist is kept in our churches and oratories, Christ is truly the Emmanuel, that is, 'God with us.' Day and night He is in our midst, He dwells with us full of grace and truth. He restores morality, nourishes virtues, consoles the afflicted, strengthens the weak. He proposes His own example to those who come to Him that all may learn to be like Himself, meek and humble of heart and to seek not their own interests but the things of God" (M.F., no. 67).
The prayers of the Mass-the postcommunion prayers in particular-inspire us to hope to receive a multitude of graces from our participation in the Eucharistic Celebration, so that we may serve Christ and make Him better known and loved. In one of the postcommunion prayers of Lent, we pray thus:
"Favored with the gift from heaven, we ask You, God Almighty, that the Eucharist become in us a living reality and bring us to salvation." In others we ask for charity, for generosity toward others, and for the courage to profess our faith.
We find the same confidence in the documents of the Council and the beautiful letters of the Pope to the priests on the occasion of Holy Thursday. "For it is through the liturgy," says the constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium," especially the divine Eucharistic Sacrifice, that 'the work of our redemption is exercised.' The liturgy is thus the outstanding means by which the faithful can express in their lives, and manifest to others, the mystery of Christ and the real nature of the true Church" (S.C., no. 2).
The Decree on the Life of Priests also states: "No Christian community... can be built up unless it has basis and center in the celebration of the most Holy Eucharist. Here, therefore, all education in the spirit of community must originate. If this celebration is to be sincere and thorough, it must lead to various works of charity and mutual help, as well as to missionary activity and to the different forms of Christian witness" (P.O., no. 6).
The Constitution on the Church (L.C., no. 33) and the Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity always present the apostolic mission of their respective subjects as flowing from their participation in the Holy Eucharist.
I dedicate myself mostly now to the study of the causes of beatification and canonization. To present a positive recommendation to the Holy Father, we of course look at the exterior works of these servants of God; but much more on what inspired them, and we always find a faith and a love which are deeply rooted in Eucharistic devotion.
The Eucharist, then, is the root and source of all evangelization. Let us look now at how we can extend the Holy Mass in evangelization.
We can do this firstly by listening to the invitation of Sister Faustina Kowalska, who was beatified in 1993. She calls us to offer continually to the Father of Mercy "the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of His Most Beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, and His sorrowful passion, for our sins and those of the whole world."
Secondly, we can do this by letting Christ manifest Himself thorough our actions, always uniting our work to that of Christ, the first and greatest Evangelizer (M.F., no. 7). It is He who evangelizes in and through us. "The world asks from those who evangelize that they speak of a God which they themselves know and have familiarity with, as if they were seeing the Invisible" (ibid., 76).
We can extend the Mass to evangelization by putting Christ at the center of our pastoral activity. Expressing his expectations for the meeting of the CELAM in Santo Domingo, the Holy Father said to the Plenary Assembly of the C.A.L., "Christology must be the foundation of the assembly so that its first fruit will be that the name of Christ, Savior and Redeemer, remain on the lips and heart of all Latin Americans" (July 13, 1991). The mouth speaks from the fullness of the heart, and only Christ, present today on the altar and in the tabernacle, can fill the heart.
To evangelize starting from the Eucharist is to make oneself the visible instrument of Christ's charity. During the Eucharistic Congress of Bogota, Paul VI said to the peasants: "We have come to honor Jesus in the mystery of the Eucharist; you yourself are a sacrament, that is, the sacred image of the Lord among us, like the reflection which represents and does not hide His human and divine face ... you are Christ for us, and we bow before you and want to recognize Christ in you, living and suffering" (Insegnamenti, 1969, p. 372).
These convictions are the same as those which the sisters of Mother Teresa live by. Writing recently to the promoters of a new work of Eucharistic adoration, Mother Teresa said:
When we look at the Cross we understand how much Jesus loves us today. Jesus still keeps close to us in the Bread of Life. If we recognize Him there, we would be able to recognize Him in the distressing disguise of those we work with and be able to restore them to their lost dignity as children of God-our Brothers and Sisters. What gives us the faith to be able to do this is receiving Jesus in the Bread of Life and spending time with Him in the Holy Eucharist, in silent prayer and in praying the Rosary. Daily Adoration of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament is the beautiful gift of God to all our 450 houses- a sign of His tender love for us. Since we decided to have the Holy Hour daily in 1963, something beautiful happened in our Society - our love for Jesus has become more intimate; our love for one another more understanding; and our love for the poor more compassionate; and we have also doubled the number of vocations!" (Eternal Life, Bardstown, KY, June, 1991).
A priest in Canada has had a similar experience. When he was named the pastor of a parish, he found very few people at the Sunday Celebrations: he invited them to establish Perpetual Adoration, himself setting the example, and in a year his church was full. Some other priests joined him, and the Archbishop entrusted them with three more parishes. Many generous young men approached these priests and fifteen of them are now in the seminary preparing for the priesthood (more than the total of seminarians in many large dioceses).
Conclusion: The Eucharistic Congresses
The first Eucharistic Congresses, with all their initial fervor, did much to dispel the last traces of Jansenism and to gain acceptance for the pastoral directives of St. Pius X on frequent Communion, on the reception of Communion by children, and on liturgical reform. The more recent Congresses have inspired some important initiatives of charitable works, giving to all proof of the influence of the Eucharist.
Let us also hope that the upcoming Eucharistic Congress may arouse new initiatives to render God the honor which is due to Him, and to satisfy the hunger and thirst which so many experience for the Bread of Life and the Cup of Salvation. May it sustain and confirm the renewed fervor with which many of the faithful, religious, and priests, want to give back to Eucharistic devotion its central role.
Paul VI expressed his great expectations for the Congress of Melbourne, saying: "... by making alive again devotion to the Real Presence of Christ, you can revive the generosity, the effort, and the heroism of discovering Christ in the suffering of those in need, of the immigrants, of the sick and the dying. You can serve Him with love in these persons, being sustained by the strength which can only come from familiarity with Him and from meditation" (Insegnamenti, 1972, p. 206).
The Lord said, "Without me you can do nothing." He also said: "Proclaim the Gospel ... I will be with you always and everywhere, until the end of the world." The place where Christ is present for us today is, as it is for Mother Teresa, the altar of Sacrifice.
Cardinal Gagnon is the President of the Pontifical Committee for International Eucharistic