In our previous reflection on Part III of Sacramentum Caritatis,
"The Eucharist, A Mystery to Be Lived," we saw how the
Eucharist fundamentally reorients our lives. Through communion
with God in the Eucharist, we begin to offer all of our life
in spiritual worship. In whichever vocation God calls us, we find
strength and direction to live it in the Eucharist. In living the
love God has for us in concrete actions toward others, we
approach the fullness of eucharistic communion and more
intrepidly give witness to the presence of Christ we bear within
us. The transformation of self in this way leads to the transformation
of society. And for that transformation to happen, the
individual must become an ever-more conscious member of the
body of Christ.
The transformation the Eucharist effects in us impels us to live the mystery we receive in the sacrament of charity. That begins
with a renewal and reorientation of our lives; a process that
moves us toward greater assimilation into the mystical body of
Christ. Part of how Christ reorients our approach to others
involves our seeing others with the eyes of Christ and sharing Christ's affectivity toward others. Transformed by the Eucharist,
we thus begin to "put on the mind of Christ" (Philippians 2:5)
and act toward others with that mindset.
After discussing these key elements of the "eucharistic
form of the Christian life," Pope Benedict XVI explains the
interconnection our eucharistic communion has with self and
society. This begins in the liturgy, particularly the Sunday liturgy.
The celebration of the Lord's Day, while reordering how we
approach work and leisure in our personal lives, "brings us back
to the intrinsic relationship between Jesus' victory . . . and our
membership in his ecclesial body" (SC, 76).
||On the Lord's Day, each Christian rediscovers the communal
dimension of his life as one who has been redeemed. Taking
part in the liturgy and receiving the Body and Blood of
Christ intensifies and deepens our belonging to the one who
died for us. (SC, 76)
It is essential to our membership in the body of Christ that
we participate in the liturgy, especially the Sunday liturgy.
Since the mystical body of Christ is composed of many
members, our communion with Christ's body must involve how
we live with those who are also members in it. This is exactly
what the Pope conveys next:
||The eucharistic mystery helps us to understand the profound
meaning of the communio sanctorum. Communion
always and inseparably has both a vertical and a horizontal
sense: it is communion with God and communion with our
brothers and sisters. Both dimensions mysteriously converge
in the gift of the Eucharist. (SC, 76)
Pope Benedict leaves no room for ambiguity in how closely
he believes those dimensions are related. The Pope says that one
form of communion is impossible without the other. And so, "Called to be members of Christ and thus members of one another
(cf. 1 Corinthians 12:27), we are a reality grounded ontologically
in Baptism and nourished by the Eucharist, a reality that demands
visible expression in the life of our communities" (SC, 76).
Our membership in the body of Christ, states the Holy
Father, calls us to involvement in each other's lives. The Pope is
not merely using poetic language. To say "we are a reality
grounded ontologically in Baptism . . ." asserts a real, living
unity of all who died and rose with Christ in Baptism. We are one,
and thus the Pope refers to us collectively: "we are a reality . . . " (emphasis added). We can thus no longer simply refer to the
transformation of the individual. The Eucharist transforms us into a society: the society of Christ's mystical body.
Just as there is a "eucharistic form of the Christian life" for
the individual, so too does the Eucharist give a unique form and
way of living to the Christian community. One of its primary
characteristics is being "clearly an ecclesial and communitarian
form" that finds "visible expression" in the territorial structures
of Church (such as parishes, dioceses), as well as in extra-diocesan
groupings, such as "associations, ecclesial movements and new
communities." That means that those who live in a way not
ecclesial and communitarian in character are not living a truly
eucharistic form of life.
Yet, that is the exact opposite of the direction our culture
pulls us. Our culture drives us to live a "non-eucharistic" life.
Pope Benedict XVI, in this context, speaks of the effects of secularism
in our culture, a major theme of his pontificate:
||Secularization, with its inherent emphasis on individualism,
has its most negative effects on individuals who are isolated
and lack a sense of belonging. Christianity, from its
very beginning, has meant fellowship, a network of relationships
constantly strengthened by hearing God's word
and sharing in the Eucharist, and enlivened by the Holy
Spirit. (SC, 76)
So to be authentic to our faith, a faith that not only involves fellowship
but actually means it, we cannot operate out of an individualistic
worldview. This is a radical message in today's culture
What does our eucharistic form of life look like in the midst of
our world overall? What is the eucharistic quality of life that we,
as a whole, are called to live? Above all, the mark of our eucharistic
quality of life as a Church must be charity. In this document
devoted to the sacrament of charity, the Pope stresses the
role charity plays in being a eucharistic people. Charity starts in
our interactions with fellow members of the body of Christ. By
simply living charity toward each other, we give witness to the
sacrament of charity to the world.
The eucharistic sacrifice gives us the mandate to be disciples
of the sacrament of charity. Every time we gather at Mass we
hear the words: "Take this, all of you, and eat it: this is my body
which will be given up for you." After telling us that he is the
bread broken for us, Jesus says, "Do this in memory of me."
Thus, in the same action, Jesus not only gives himself to us, but
mandates us to do the same for others. We must not let his words
become routine. If they do, we may become immune to the power
of Jesus' mandate. Lest that happen, the Pope reminds us:
||Our communities, when they celebrate the Eucharist, must
become ever more conscious that the sacrifice of Christ is
for all, and that the Eucharist thus compels all who believe
in him to become "bread that is broken" for others, and to
work for the building of a more just and fraternal world.
We thus cannot say "Amen" to the Eucharistic Prayer and
"Amen" when we partake of the consecrated bread and wine and
fail to see that we are being asked to commit ourselves to being
bread broken and wine poured out for others. Any who catch the
radical nature of what they are being asked to do should find the
Mass truly invigorating.
These insights into the Eucharist lie at the heart of the
Church's social apostolate. The image of the servant Christ
washing his disciples' feet at the Last Supper and instructing
them, "I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done
for you, you should also do" (John 13:15), serves as a lens through
which we can penetrate the meaning and social implications of
the eucharistic mystery. This mandate to serve others is not just
addressed to us individually, but to us corporately as we are, in
reality, a community of disciples.
Interestingly, the early liturgical reformers in the United
States in the 1930s, such as Msgr. Reynold Hillenbrand, of
Chicago, and Father Virgil Michel, osb, of St. John's Abbey in
Collegeville, Minnesota, were keenly aware of the link between
the altar and our life in society. Hillenbrand addressed the crowd
at the National Liturgical Week in 1945, saying:
||It is infinitely sad when someone devoted to the liturgy will
minimize an interest in the social doctrine, in rural life, in
the racial problem, in international life, in Catholic action.
We cannot, of course, have a comprehensive knowledge of
all these things, but we must have an interest and a sympathy.
When you find a person who is lacking in that interest
and sympathy, you have found a person who is imperfectly
schooled in the liturgy, who does not understand it in its
completeness, who does not have the vision it is able to
The social dimensions of the liturgical reform fell into the
background immediately following the Second Vatican Council,
because of the pressing need for a response to the Council's
mandate to revise the Church's rites. Preoccupied with the
reform and translation of the liturgical books, many people lost
the social implications of the Eucharist. In the eucharistic writings
of Pope John Paul II, and now that of Pope Benedict XVI,
there is happily a recovery of this social dimension to the
Eucharist. And, in that vein, the concluding paragraphs of
Sacramentum Caritatis challenge us to "transform unjust structures
and to restore respect for the dignity of all men and
women" and to commit ourselves "to peacemaking in our world
scarred by violence and war, and today in particular, by terrorism,
economic corruption and sexual exploitation" (SC, 89).
The bridge from the Lord's table reaches to the poor who
live below the poverty level or are forced to live in makeshift
conditions, to children deprived of a legitimate claim to happiness,
to refugees, to victims of certain forms of globalization
that widen the gap between the wealthy and the poor (SC, 90).
Global issues, such as the huge sums spent on armaments or the
neglect of the environment, expand the implications of the
Eucharist to all creation (SC, 92). What Pope Benedicts calls "the food of truth and human need" (SC, 90) calls us corporately
to live a radically different way of approaching our presence
in this world; it "demands that we denounce inhumane
situations in which people starve to death because of injustice
and exploitation, and it gives us renewed strength and courage to
work tirelessly in the service of the civilization of love" (SC, 90).
"[A]n authentically eucharistic Church is a missionary Church"
(SC, 84), asserts Pope Benedict on the connection between
Eucharist and mission. The heart of this principle is deeply
human. When we experience something grand and powerful,
such as love, there is a natural inclination to tell others about it.
When we hear news that has a significant bearing on our lives,
we feel compelled to share that news. This is the dynamic we see
in the Gospel again and again. After conversing with Jesus at the
well, the Samaritan woman goes into town to tell others (John
4:28 - 29). When the two disciples on the road to Emmaus recognized
Jesus in the breaking of the bread, they ran back to
Jerusalem to tell the other disciples (Luke 24:33 - 35).
Yet, for us, of course, the move to tell others how we have
experienced the Lord is not just left to natural human instinct.
We have a mandate given in Baptism to be missionaries to the
world. Our participation in the Eucharist charges us to go forward
with a responsibility for mission. The Holy Father writes, "We cannot approach the eucharistic table without being drawn
into the mission which, beginning in the very heart of God, is
meant to reach all people. Missionary outreach is thus an essential
part of the eucharistic form of the Christian life" (SC, 84).
Sacramentum Caritatis builds on the eucharistic teachings
of Pope John Paul II, who wrote in On the Mystery and Worship
of the Holy Eucharist, "The authentic sense of the Eucharist
becomes itself the school of active love of neighbor" (SC, 6).
Then, in Mane Nobiscum Domine, John Paul II said:
||. . . entering into communion with Christ in the memorial
of his Pasch also means sensing the duty to be a missionary
of the event made present in that rite. The dismissal at the
end of Mass is a charge given to Christians, inviting them to
work for the spread of the Gospel and the imbuing of society
with Christian values. (SC, 25)
But how is it that so many Catholics neither seem to have
the natural inclination to share what they experienced at
Eucharist nor feel any sacramental accountability to be a messenger
of God's good news? Could it be that we have allowed our
consumer-oriented culture to affect our relationship to the
Eucharist, making the sacrament more of a personal commodity
and less of a responsibility? The Pope says we need to challenge
||. . . it is clear that the eucharistic mystery puts us in dialogue
with various cultures, but also in some way challenges
them. . . . The presence of Jesus Christ and the outpouring
of the Holy Spirit are events capable of engaging every
cultural reality and bringing to it the leaven of the Gospel."
The missionary vocation of a eucharistic community flows
naturally from its transformation by Christ in the Eucharist into
a people who "stand forth in a world torn by strife and discord
as a sign of oneness and peace" (Eucharistic Prayer for Masses
for Various Needs and Occasions). Parish communities need to
find their inspiration and motivation for mission more directly
from their participation in the sacrament of charity and learn to
carry back to the Eucharist what they have experienced in their
service to others. In this way, the Eucharist truly becomes "the
source and summit not only of the Church's life, but also of her
mission" (SC, 84).
Pope Benedict makes it clear that the ultimate content of
our proclamation as Eucharist-bound missionaries is not merely
to pass on information about the faith, but "to bring Christ to
others" (SC, 86). We witness by our words and actions and our
way of being. Through these humble means, says the Pope,
"Another makes himself present" (SC, 85).
This applies, above all, to the Church as sacrament in the
world. To be an effective sacrament requires that we are transformed
personally and communally in surrendering our lives to
God through the sacrifice of Christ. This means that we must be
willing to offer our lives to God, to empty ourselves as Christ
emptied himself in sacrifice to the Father. This is what we are
challenged to do at Mass when we "give thanks to God and offer
the spotless Victim not only through the hands of the priest but
also together with him, and so that they may learn to offer themselves" (General Instruction of the Roman Missal, #95). We cannot
expect to be transformed if we have not participated in the
Eucharist fully and consciously in this manner.
Pope Benedict XVI observes that secularization has "relegated
the Christian faith to the margins of life as if it were irrelevant to
everyday affairs" (SC, 77). Research studies and popular polls
appear to confirm the disconnect between faith and life.
Catholics are reported to be drifting away from participation in
the liturgy. Some see little relevance in liturgy for our life today.
Others are persuaded by the culture to make Sunday worship
optional, especially when it conflicts with athletic, shopping, or
recreational pursuits. There is an urgency to break through the
barriers that keep our ecclesial communities from experiencing
the heart of the mystery and the hope and meaning it offers.
For the Christian community that is firmly rooted in the
Eucharist, the whole world becomes the fertile field "in which
God plants his children as good seed" (SC, 79). How do we
transform the whole world? This presents an overwhelming
challenge. However, Christians simply have to begin wherever
they find themselves; be it the workplace, in the voting booth, or
in the neighborhoods we call home. Wherever we are participating
in the Eucharist, we enliven and strengthen our communion
with the body of Christ.
The influence of a eucharistic community should extend
to every segment of our culture. There can be a tension between
the culture's influence on the Church and the Church's influence
on culture. While incorporating the unique gifts of every culture,
the Eucharist also gives us a mandate to form a "Eucharistic
culture" in the midst of our society, here and now. "The
Eucharist becomes a criterion for our evaluation of everything
that Christianity encounters in different cultures" (SC, 78),
affirms the Pope. This implies drawing from our experience of
the Eucharist the values, beliefs, and graces that can shape the
culture in which we live.
Our participation in the Eucharist is essential for this to
happen. We cannot expect to spread the power and grace of the
Eucharist if we are not participating actively and consciously in
the Eucharist on the Lord's Day. Likewise, we cannot expect a
community to have a well-developed sense of how the Eucharist
sends them into society to proclaim the eucharistic mystery if
they have not had the benefit of an effective mystagogy on the
sacrament of charity. This mystagogy, in turn, needs to be followed
by pastoral counsel and direction for how we can shape
life and society as individuals and as a community grounded in
our encounter with Christ in the Eucharist.
The social and missionary implications of the Eucharist
present a challenge to every Catholic community that shares in
the sacrament of Christ's love. Beginning with the transformation
of the individual, who is incorporated into a transformed
community, the Eucharist prepares us for mission. "Formed at
the school of the Eucharist" (SC, 91), we enter into the world as
messengers of hope and a people who proclaim the mystery we
1. How can the Eucharist help us recover faith from the margins
2. What are some values in society that are contrary to the values
we find in the Eucharist?
3. How is our participation in the Eucharist a radical call to
imitate Christ's self-emptying love?
4. What in our society awaits to be transformed by what we
celebrate at the altar?
5. What is the hope you see rising from the eucharistic mystery?
6. How can we foster, in our eucharistic communities, a deeper
appreciation for the missionary dimensions of the Eucharist?
7. How would you sum up Pope Benedict XVI's teaching on the
effects of the Eucharist on us as individuals and on us as a community
of faith in the world?