Profile image
By MONKS AND MERMAIDS (A Benedictine Blog) (Reporter)
Contributor profile | More stories
Story Views

Last Hour:
Last 24 Hours:

Holy Week In East And West: Maundy Thursday, The Day To Celebrate The Sacraments

Monday, April 10, 2017 19:46
% of readers think this story is Fact. Add your two cents.

(Before It's News)

In preparation for Maundy Thursday, or Holy and Great Thursday, I have prepared a small feast for you.  We begin with Fathers Sergei Bulgakov and Alexander Schmemann on Holy Thursday; and there are some videos on the Orthodox feast.  We then go on to a commentary on the Chrism Mass by me, and something on the rules governing the Mass of the Last Supper; and there are contributions from Dom Prosper Gueranger OSB and Cardinal Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI) to enrich our understanding.  Feliz Pascha to you all !!


 Holy Thursday. 


Here is what S. V. Bulgakov writes:

In the divine services for this day the events which preceded the procession of the Savior to his voluntary passion are recalled: the fulfillment of Jesus Christ of the final Passover evening meal with the washing of feet and the establishment of the mystery of the Eucharist and the betrayal of Judas. In the Epistle reading both the establishment of the mystery and its purpose are described and the worthy paradigm of preparation for it and its reception. The Gospel reading tells about the circumstances, which preceded, accompanied and followed the Mystical Supper, and are selected from the passages of the holy Evangelists Matthew, Luke and John. To the various amazing Gospel events remembered on this day there also corresponds an abundant variety of touching feelings and thoughts represented in the church hymns for this day. Beholding the Savior already in the final minutes before His suffering, the Holy Church in its hymns deeply grieves and co-suffers the grief of His spirit with Him in terms so clear to the human heart. But, knowing, who this Sufferer is and for what and for whom He goes to His death, the Holy Church gives no less place and feeling of reverent love to the One going to His voluntary passion and His beneficial glorification. With special power wishing to express indignation for the snares of the Jews and to the perfidy of Judas, on the one hand, and reverent homage for the longsuffering of the Savior, on the other hand, the Holy Church exclaims: “The assembly of the Jews gathers together to deliver the Maker and the Creator of all to Pilate. What lawlessness! What faithlessness! The judge of the living and the dead, they prepare for judgment. The Healer of suffering, they prepare for suffering. O long- suffering Lord! How great is Thy mercy! Glory to thee!” Glorifying the eternal love of the Savior, who took up all the weight of human sins, and His inexpressible humility, the washing of the feet of His servants, the Holy Church reverences before the cup of eternal life offered by the Founder, glorifies the bloody prayer of the Savior in Gethsemane, also giving us a holy and profound lesson: to seek consolation in prayer and confirmation in bearing the cross in our life amidst tribulations and at the time of the approach of death.

Holy Thursday: The Last Supper
by Fathe Alexander Schmemann
my source: Liturgical Explanation

Two events shape the Liturgy of the Great and Holy Thursday: the Last Supper and the betrayal of Jesus by Judas. The Last Supper is the ultimate revelation of God's redeeming love for man. The betrayal by Judas reveals that sin, death and selfdestruction are also due to love, but love directed at that which does not deserve love.
The mystery of this unique day, and its liturgy where light and darkness, joy and sorroware so strangely mixed, challenges us with the choice on which the eternal destiny of each one of us depends. “Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew thatHis hour was come… having loved His own which were in the world, He loved them unto the end… “(John 13:1) To understand the meaning of the Last Supper, we must seeit as the very end of the great movement of Divine Love which began with the creation of the world and is now to be consummated in the death and resurrection of Christ.

Love, Life, Communion

God is love. (1 John 4:8) And the first gift of Love was life. The meaning, the content of life, was communion. To be alive man was to eat and to drink, to partake of the world. The world was thus Divine love made food, made Body of man. And being alive, i.e., partaking of the world, man was to be in communion with God, to have God as the meaning, the content and the end of his life. Communion With the God-given world was indeed communion with God. Man received his food from God and making it his body and his life, he offered the whole world to God, transformed it into life in God and with God. The love of God gave life to man, the love of man for God transformed this life into communion with God. This was the paradise. Life in it was,indeed, Eucharistic. Through man and his love for God the whole creation was to be sanctified and transformed into one all-embracing sacrament of Divine Presence and
man was the priest of this sacrament.
But in sin man lost this Eucharistic life. He lost it because he ceased to see the world as means of Communion with God and his life as eucharist, as adoration and thanksgiving. He loved himself and the world for their own sake; he made himself the content and the end of his life. He thought that his hunger and thirst, i.e., hisdependence of his life on the world, can be satisfied by the world as such, by food as
such. But world and food, once they are deprived of their initial sacramental meaning –as means of Communion with God, once they are not received for God’s sake, and filled with hunger and thirst for God, once, in other words, God is no longer, their real “content,” can give no life, satisfy no hunger, for they have no life in themselves. Thus by putting his love in them, man deviated his love from the only object of all love, of all hunger, of all desires. And he died. For death is the inescapable “decomposition: of life cut from its only source and content. Man thought he would find life in the world and in
food, but he found death. His life became communion with death, for instead of transforming the world by faith, love and adoration into communion with God, hesubmitted himself entirely to the world, ceased to be its priest and became its slave. And by his sin the whole world was made a cemetery, where people condemned to death partook of death and “sat in the region and shadow of death.” (Matthew 4:16) But through sin, if man betrayed, God remained faithful to man. He did not “turn Himself away forever from His creature whom He had made, neither did He forget the works of His hands, but He visited him in diverse manners, through the tender
compassion of His mercy.” (Liturgy of St. Basil) A new Divine work began, that of redemption and salvation. And it was fulfilled in Christ, the Son of God, Who, in order to restore man to his pristine beauty and to restore life as communion with God, became Man, took upon Himself our nature, with its thirst and hunger, with its desire for and love of life. And in Him life was revealed, given, accepted and fulfilled as total and perfect Eucharist, as total and perfect communion with God. He rejected the basic human temptation: to live “by bread alone.” He revealed that God and His kingdom are the real food, the real life of man. And this perfect eucharistic Life, filled with God, and therefore Divine and immortal, He gave to all those who would believe in Him, i.e., find in Him the meaning and the content of their lives. Such is the wonderful meaning of the
Last Supper. He offered Himself as the true food of man, because the life revealed in Him is the true Life. And thus the movement of Divine Love which began in paradise with a Divine “take, eat… ” (for eating is life for man) comes now “unto the end” with the Divine “take, eat, this is My Body…” (for God is life of man…) The Last Supper is the restoration of the paradise of bliss, of life as Eucharist and Communion.
But this hour of ultimate love is also that of the ultimate betrayal. Judas leaves the light of the Upper Room and goes into darkness. “And it was night.”(John 13:30) Why does he leave? Because he loves, answers the Gospel, and his fateful love is stressed again and again in the hymns of Holy Thursday. It does not matter, indeed, that he loves the “silver.” Money stands here for all the deviated and distorted love which leads man  into betraying God. It is, indeed. Love stolen from God and therefore, Judas is the Thief. When he does not love God and in God, man still loves and desires, for he was
created to love and love is his nature, but it is then a dark and self-destroying passion and death is its end. Each year, as we immerse ourselves into the unfathomable light anddepth of Holy Thursday, the same decisive question is addressed to each one of us: do I respond to Christ's love and accept it as my life, or do I follow Judas into the darkness of the night?

The Services of Thursday

The liturgy of Holy Thursday includes: a) Orthros, b) Vespers and, following Vespers, the Liturgy of St Basil the Great. In the Cathedral Churches the special service of the Washing of Feet takes place after the Liturgy; while the Deacon reads the Gospel, the Bishop washes the feet of twelve Priests, reminding us that Christ’s love is thefoundation of life in the Church and shapes all relations within it. It is also on Holy
Thursday that Holy Chrism is consecrated by the primates of autocephalous Churches, and this also means that the new love of Christ is the gift we receive from the Holy Spirit on the day of our entrance into the Church
At Orthros the Troparion sets the theme of the day: the oppositon between the love of Christ and the “insatiable desire” of Judas. “When the glorious disciples were illumined by washing at the Supper, Then was the impious Judas darkened with the love of silver And to the unjust judges does he betray Thee, the just Judge. Consider, 0 Lover of money, him who hanged himself because of it. Do not follow the insatiable desire which dared this against the Master, 0 Lord, good to all, glory to Thee.”

After the Gospel reading (Luke 12:1-40) we are given the contemplation, the mystical and eternal meaning of the Last Supper in the beautiful canon of St. Cosmas. Its last “irmos,” (Ninth Ode) invites us to share in the hospitality of the Lord's banquet:
“Come, O ye faithful Let us enjoy the hospitality of the Lord and the banquet of immortality In the upper chamber with mindsuplifted….”

At Vespers, the stichira on “Lord, I cry” stress the spiritual anticlimax of Holy Thursday, the betrayal of Judas:

“Judas the servant and deceiver, the disciple and traitor, the friend and devil, was proved by his deeds, for, as he followed the Master, within himself he planned His betrayal….”

After the Entrance, three lessons from the Old Testament:
1) Exodus 19: 10-19. God's descent from Mount Sinai to His people as the imageof God's coming in the Eucharist.
2) Job 38:1-23, 42:1-5, God's conversation with Job and Job's answer: “who willutter to me what I understand not? Things too great and wonderful for me, which I knew not…” – and these “great and wonderful things” are fulfilled in the gift of Christ's Body and Blood.
3) Isaiah 50:4-11. The beginning of the prophecies on the suffering servant of God,
The Epistle reading is from I Corinthians 11:23-32: St Paul's account of the Last Supper and the meaning of communion.
The Gospel reading (the longest of the year is taken from all four Gospels and isthe full story of the Last Supper, the betrayal of Judas and Christ's arrest in the garden.

The Cherubic hymn and the hymn of Communion are replaced by the words of
the prayer before Communion:
“Of Thy Mystical Supper, O Son of God, accept me today as a
communicant, for I will not speak of Thy Mystery to Thine
enemies, neither like Judas will I give Thee a kiss; but like the thief will I confess Thee: Remember me, O Lord, in Thy Kingdom.”


The mediaeval scholastics had one great limitation when it came to their theology of the sacraments: they abstracted the “matter and form” of each sacrament from the liturgy and
studied this in isolation.  This was the way, they believed, to arrive at an adequate understanding of a sacrament.  Nevertheless, however far this method could take them, it ignores so much evidence, and leaves so many questions unanswered.  It will be evident when we look at the meaning of the Maundy Thursday liturgy and see how it expands our understanding of the sacraments.


In the first three centuries, the normal celebrant of the Mass was the bishop, while priests, deacons, and people all participated according to their rank and function. In those early days, if there was a community of twenty families, it would include a bishop, several priests to assist him, a couple of deacon to serve the needs of the community and look after the administration, and a couple of widows dedicated to prayer and helping with female catechumens. When the pastoral realities made it necessary for him to send priests to preside at Mass in his stead in other places, great effort was made to make it clear that the various celebrations were really one celebration in union  with the bishop.  For instance, consecrated hosts from the bishop's Mass were mixed with hosts consecrated at the local Mass.  It was also a custom for hosts from Mass the day before were mixed with hosts of the day.  All this was to show that, however many celebrations there are, there is only one church, and all celebrations are really celebrations of the one Eucharist.  

Today, Maundy Thursday, Mass is not the act of individual priests, but one single liturgical act of bishop, priests, deacons and priests together: the true nature of the Church as a single, eucharistic community, is revealed. Great effort was made in the early Church to indicate that, even when circumstances dictate the celebration of many Masses, there is only one Eucharist, this unity is still maintained.

This is the day when priests renew their commitment in union with the bishop.  It is the special day of the priest, and often they are invited to a meal by the bishop after this Mass. 

After the homily the bishop speaks to the priests in these or similar words:

My brothers, today we celebrate the memory of the first eucharist, at which our Lord Jesus Christ shared with his apostles and with us his call to the priestly service of his Church. Now, in the presence of your bishop and God’s holy people, are you ready to renew your own dedication to Christ as priests of his new covenant?

Priests: I am.

Bishop: At your ordination you accepted the responsibilities of the priesthood out of love for the Lord Jesus and his Church. Are you resolved to unite yourselves more closely to Christ and to try to become more like him by joyfully sacrificing your own pleasure and ambition to bring his peace and love to your brothers and sisters?

Priests: I am
Bishop: Are you resolved to be faithful ministers of the mysteries of God, to celebrate the eucharist and the other liturgical services with sincere devotion? Are you resolved to imitate Jesus Christ, the head and shepherd of the Church, by teaching the Christian faith without thinking of your own profit, solely for the well-being of the people you were sent to serve?

Priests: I am.

Then the bishop addresses the people: My brothers and sisters, pray for your priests. Ask the Lord to bless them with the fullness of his love, to help them be faithful ministers of Christ the High Priest, so that they will be able to lead you to him.

During the procession, the following is sung:
The Blessing of the Oil of the Sick

 Before the bishop says Through Christ our Lord you give us all these gifts in Eucharistic Prayer I, or the doxology Through him in the other eucharistic prayers, the one who carried the vessel for oil of the sick brings it to the altar and holds it in front of the bishop while he blesses the oil. 

Before we look at the prayer of blessing, I think it is significant for our understanding of the sacrament of the sick where in the Mass this blessing takes place.  Remember that, in the early Church, the whole eucharistic prayer was considered consecratory.  This is the only oil to be blessed within the eucharistic prayer, right at the end, before the solemn summary of the whole prayer in the doxology with its great “Amen”.   It is the prayer in which heaven and earth become one in Christ who is the  celebrant in heaven in the presence of his Father (Ep. Hebrews 12) and also the celebrant on earth through his priest.  It is the prayer in which our gifts of bread and wine are lifted up to the altar in heaven as they become the body and blood of Christ (Roman Canon).  It is the prayer in which our offering of ourselves to God becomes identified with Christ's self-offering on Calvary: this means that it can lead to martyrdom, so that both St Polycarp and St Ignatius of Antioch spoke of their coming martyrdoms in  eucharistic terms.   It is also the time when we lay before God in Christ all our sins to be forgiven, all our pains to be healed and all our weaknesses to be healed.   It is in this context that the blessing takes place; and I am sure that, when someone is anointed with it, all these various meanings are taken into account.

We shall now look at the words of the bishop's prayer.  The bishop says or sings:

 Lord God, loving Father, you bring healing to the sick through your Son Jesus Christ.Hear us as we pray to you in faith, and send the Holy Spirit, man’s Helper and Friend,upon this oil, which nature has provided to serve the needs of men. May your blessing + come upon all who are anointed with this oil, that they may be freed from pain and illness and made well again in body, mind, and soul. Father, may this oil be blessed for our use in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 

It is an epiclesis.  The bishop asks God the Father to send the Holy Spirit on the oil so that the sick who are anointed with it may be healed from  illness and pain in body, mind and soul. It shows that the purpose of the sacrament of the sick is to cure the person rather than to prepare him or her for death; though, in certain circumstances, the latter function would be the best thing for the person.  It is also clear that the effect of the blessing is that the oil becomes an instrument of the Holy Spirit who is acting in synergy with the humble obedience of the Church.  It means that the internal logic of the blessing indicates that the sacramental process begins with this prayer within the context of a praying Church under its bishop who are, all together, the manifestation sacramental of the universal Church.  Sacraments are always acts of the whole Church and, in the blessings and consecration of oil at this Mass, this characteristic of all sacraments becomes visible in the blessings and consecration of oils on Maundy Thursday.

Communion Antiphon


 21. After the prayer after communion, the ministers place the oils to be blessed on a table suitably located in the center of the sanctuary. The concelebrating priests stand around the bishop on either side, in a semicircle, and the other ministers stand behind him. The bishop then blesses the oil ofcatechumens, if it is to be blessed, and consecrates the chrism.
22. When everything is ready, the bishop faces the people and, with his hands extended, sings or says the following prayer::

 Lord God, protector of all who believe in you, bless + this oil and give wisdom and strength to all who are anointed with it in preparation for their baptism. Bring them to a deeper understanding of the gospel, help them to accept the challenge of Christian living, and lead them to the joy of new birth in the family of your Church. We ask this through Christ our Lord. . Amen.

This does not invoke the Holy Spirit – it is not an epiclesis – because it is not going to be used in a strictly sacramental act, but it does involve a blessing of the whole local Church with its bishop, because Baptism is entrance into the whole Church and is not just a family affair as so often it appears.


23. Then the bishop pours the balsam or perfume in the oil and mixes the chrism in silence, unless this was done beforehand.


24. After this he sings or says the invitation:

Let us pray that God our almighty Father will bless this oil so that all who are anointed with it may be inwardly transformed and come to share in eternal salvation.


25. Then the bishop may breathe over the opening of the vessel of chrism. With his hands extended, he sings or says one of the following consecratory prayers.

God our maker, source of all growth in holiness, accept the joyful thanks and praise we offer in the name of your Church.In the beginning, at your command, the earth produced fruit-bearing trees. From the fruit of the olive tree you have provided us with oil for holy chrism. The prophet David sang of the life and joy that the oil would bring us in the sacraments of your love.  After the avenging flood, the dove returning to Noah with an olive branch announced your gift of peace. This was a sign of a greater gift to come. Now the waters of baptism wash away the sins of men, and by the anointing with olive oil you make us radiant with your joy. At your command, Aaron was washed with water, and your servant Moses, his brother, anointed him priest. This too foreshadowed greater things to come. After your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, asked John for baptism in the waters of Jordan, you sent the Spirit upon him in the form of a dove and by the witness of your own voice you declared him to be your only, well-beloved Son. In this you dearly fulfilled the prophecy of David, that Christ would be anointed with the oil of gladness beyond his fellow men.

All the celebrants extend their right hands toward the chrism, without saying anything, until the end of the prayer.

And so, Father, we ask you to bless + this oil you have created. Fill it with the power of your Holy Spirit through Christ your Son. It is from him that chrism takes its name and with chrism you have anointed for yourself priests and kings, prophets and martyrs. Make this chrism a sign of life and salvation for those who are to be born again in the waters of baptism. Wash away the evil they have inherited from sinful Adam, and when they are anointed with this holy oil make them temples of your glory, radiant with the goodness of life that has its source in you.
Through this sign of chrism grant them royal, priestly, and prophetic honor, and clothe them with incorruption. Let this be indeed the chrism of salvation for those who will be born again of water and the Holy Spirit. May they come to share eternal life in the glory of your kingdom. We ask this through Christ our Lord.  Amen.

As in the Eucharist, thanks are given to God the Father for his great deeds in the past as a  guarantee for a positive response to the present request.   Chrism is used by the Church to make someone or something holy: that is, to set whoever or whatever is anointed apart to fulfil a particular function, a function that leads to joy, to gladness for those who exercise it.  The object of the blessing is to  make sure that the person or object anointed is set apart, not only by man, but also by God: this setting apart makes a real difference.


Father, we thank you for the gifts you have given us in your love: we thank you for life itself and for the sacraments that strengthen it and give it fuller meaning.In the Old Covenant you gave your people a glimpse of the power of this holy oil and when  the fullness of time had come you brought that mystery to perfection in the life of our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son.By his suffering, dying, and rising to life he saved the human race. He sent your Spirit to fill the Church with every gift needed to complete your saving work. From that time forward, through the sign of holy chrism, you dispense your life and love to men. By anointing them with the Spirit, you strengthen all who have been reborn in baptism. Through that anointing you transform them into the likeness of Christ your Son and give them a share in his royal, priestly, and prophetic work.

All the concelebrants extend their right hands toward the chrism without saying anything, until the end of the prayer.

And so, Father, by the power of your love, make this mixture of oil and perfume a sign and source + of your blessing. Pour out the gifts of your Holy Spirit on our brothers and sisters who will be anointed with it. Let the splendor of holiness shine on the world from every place and thing signed with this oil.

Above all, Father, we pray that through this sign of your anointing you will grant increase to your Church until it reaches the eternal glory where you, Father, will be the all in all, together with Christ your Son, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, for ever and ever.  Amen.

This second consecration prayer puts particular emphasis on its effectiveness in calling a positive response from God in this liturgy of Maundy Thursday.  It is mot just an optional extra.  As a result of this prayer, the chrism “becomes a sign and a source of your blessing.”



44. With the celebration of Mass on the evening of Holy Thursday, “the Church begins the Easter Triduum and recalls the Last Supper in which the Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, showing his love for those who were his own in the world, he gave his body and blood under the species of bread and wine offering to his Father and giving them to the Apostles so that they might partake of them, and he commanded them and their successors in the priesthood to perpetuate this offering.” [50]

45. Careful attention should be given to the mysteries that are commemorated in this Mass: the institution of the Eucharist, the institution of the priesthood, and Christ's command of brotherly love; the homily should explain these points.

46. The Mass of the Lord's Supper is celebrated in the evening, at a time that is more convenient for the full participation of the whole local community. All priests may concelebrate, even if on this day they have already concelebrated the Chrism Mass or if, for the good of the faithful, they must celebrate another Mass. [51]

47. Where pastoral considerations require it, the local ordinary may permit another Mass to be celebrated in churches and oratories in the evening and, in the case of true necessity, even in the morning, but only for those faithful who cannot otherwise participate in the evening Mass. Care should nevertheless be taken to ensure that celebrations of this kind do not take place for the benefit of private persons or of small groups, and that they are not to the detriment of the main Mass.

According to the ancient tradition of the Church, all Masses without the participation of the people are forbidden on this day. [52]

48. The tabernacle should be completely empty before the celebration. [53] Hosts for the communion of the faithful should be consecrated during that celebration. A sufficient amount of bread should be consecrated to provide also for communion the following day.

49. For the reservation of the Blessed Sacrament, a place should be prepared and adorned in such a way as to be conducive to prayer and meditation; that sobriety appropriate to the liturgy of these days is enjoined, to the avoidance or suppression of all abuses. [55]

When the tabernacle is in a chapel separated from the central part of the church, it is appropriate to prepare the place of repose and adoration there.

50. During the singing of the hymn “Gloria in excelsis,” in accordance with local custom, the bells may be rung but should thereafter remain silent until the “Gloria in excelsis” of the Easter Vigil, unless the conference of bishops or the local ordinary, for a suitable reason, has decided otherwise. [56] During the same period, the organ and other musical instruments may be used only for the purpose of supporting the singing. [57]

51. The washing of the feet of chosen men which, according to tradition, is performed on this day, represents the service and charity of Christ, who came “not to be served, but to serve.” [58] This tradition should be maintained, and its proper significance explained.

52. Gifts for the poor, especially those collected during Lent as the fruit of penance, may be presented in the offertory procession while the people sing “Ubi caritas est vera.” [59]

53. It is more appropriate that the Eucharist be borne directly from the altar by the deacons or acolytes, or extraordinary ministers, at the moment of communion for the sick and infirm who must communicate at home, so that, in this way, they may be more closely united to the celebrating Church.

54. After the postcommunion prayer, the procession forms with the crossbearer at its head. The Blessed Sacrament, accompanied by lighted candles and incense, is carried through the church to the place of reservation, to the singing of the hymn “Pange lingua” or some other eucharistic song. [60] This rite of transfer of the Blessed Sacrament may not be carried out if the liturgy of the Lord's passion will not be celebrated in that same church on the following day. [61]

55. The Blessed Sacrament should be reserved in a closed tabernacle or pyx. Under no circumstances may it be exposed in a monstrance.

The place where the tabernacle or pyx is situated must not be made to resemble a tomb, and the expression tomb is to be avoided: for the chapel of repose is not prepared so as to represent the Lord's burial but for the custody of the eucharistic bread that will be distributed in communion on Good Friday.

56. After the Mass of the Lord's Supper, the faithful should be encouraged to spend a suitable period of time during the night in the church in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament that has been solemnly reserved. Where appropriate, this prolonged eucharistic adoration may be accompanied by the reading of some part of the gospel of Saint John (ch. 13-17).

From midnight onward, however, the adoration should be made without external solemnity, for the day of the Lord's passion has begun. [62]

57. After Mass, the altar should be stripped. It is fitting that any crosses in the church be covered with a red or purple veil, unless they have already been veiled on the Saturday before the fifth Sunday of Lent. Lamps should not be lit before the images of saints.

Maundy Thursday Mass, Washing of the Feet, and Stripping of the Altars
by Dom Prosper Gueranger

Pope Benedict at the Introit

    The Church intends, on this day, the renew in a most solemn manner the mystery of the last Supper: for our Lord Himself, on this occasion of the institution of the Blessed Sacrament, said to His apostles: 'Do this for a commemoration of Me.' (1)-{St. Luke xxii. 19}

    Jesus speaks these words to His apostles: 'With desire I have desired to eat this Pasch with you, before I suffer.' (1) {St. Luke xxii. 15} In saying this, He does not imply that the Pasch of this year is intrinsically better than those that have preceded it; but that it is dearer to Him inasmuch as it is to give rise to the institution of the new Pasch, which He has prepared for mankind, and which He is not going to give them as His last gift; for, as St. John says, having loved His own, who were in the world, He loved them unto the end.(2)-{St. John xiii. 1}…(pages 366-367)

    …He [Judas] intends to remain with Jesus, until the hour comes for betraying Him. Thus, the august mystery, which is on the point of being celebrated, is to be insulted by his presence!…(page 367)

    …He (Jesus) would teach us, by what He is now doing, how great is the purity wherewith we should approach the holy Table. “He that is washed,' says He, 'needeth not but to wash his feet,' (1) (St. John. xiii. 10} as though he would say” 'The holiness of this Table is such, that those who come to it should not only be free from grievous sins, but they should, moreover, strive to cleanse their souls from those lesser faults, which come from contact with the world, and are like the dust that covers the feet of one that walks on the highway.' We will explain further on the other teachings conveyed by this action of our Lord…(page 369)

    Such is the history of the last Supper, of which we celebrate the anniversary on this day. But there is one circumstance of the deepest interest to us, to which we have, so far, made only an indirect allusion. The institution of the holy Eucharist, both as a Sacrament and a Sacrifice, is followed by another: the institution of a new priesthood. How could our Savior have said: 'Except you eat the Flesh of the Son of man, and drink His Blood, you shall not have life within you,' (3) {St. John vi. 54} unless He had resolved to establish a ministry upon earth, whereby He would renew, even o the end of time, the great mystery He thus commands us to receive? He begins it today, in the cenacle. The twelve apostles are the first to partake of it; but observe what He says to them: 'Do this for a commemoration of Me.' (4) {St. Luke xxii. 19} By these words, He gives them power to change bread into His Body, and wine into His Blood; and this sublime power shall be perpetuated in the Church, by holy Ordination, even to the end of the world. Jesus will continue to operate, by the ministry of mortal and sinful men, the mystery of the Last Supper. By thus enriching His Church with the one and perpetual Sacrifice, He also gives us the means of abiding in Him, for He gives us, as He promised, the Bread of Heaven. Today, then, we keep the anniversary, not only of the institution of the holy Eucharist, but also of the equally wonderful institution of the Christian priesthood…(pages 371-372)

    The Mass of Maundy Thursday is one of the most solemn of the year; and although the feast of Corpus Christi is the day for solemnly honoring the mystery of the holy Eucharist, still, the Church would have the anniversary of the last Supper to be celebrated with all possible splendor. The color of the vestments is white, as it is for Christmas day and Easter Sunday; the decorations of the altar and sanctuary all bespeak joy, and yet, there are several ceremonies during this Mass which show that the holy bride of Christ has not forgotten the Passion of her Jesus, and that this joy is but transient. The priest intones the angelic hymn, Glory be to God in the highest! And the bells ring forth a joyous peal, which continues during the whole of the heavenly canticle; but from that moment they remain silent, and their long silence produces, in every heart, a sentiment of holy mournfulness… Moreover, she (Holy Mother Church) removes the joyous organ music to remind how the apostles (who were the heralds of Christ, and are figured by the bells, whose ringing summons the faithful to the house of God), fled from their divine Master and left Him a prey to His enemies.

    Another rite peculiar to today, is the consecration of two Hosts during the Mass. One of these the priest receives in Communion; the other he reserves, and reverently places it in a chalice, which he covers with a veil. The reason of this is that tomorrow the Church suspends the daily Sacrifice. Such is the impression produced by the anniversary of our Savior's death, that the Church dares not to renew upon her altars the immolation which was then offered on Calvary; or rather, her renewal of it will e by fixing all her thoughts on the terrible scene of that Friday noon. The Host reserved from today's Mass, will be her morrow's participation. This rite is called the Mass of the Presanctified, because, in it, the priest does not consecrate, but only receives the Host consecrated on the previous day. Formerly, as we shall explain more fully on, the holy Sacrifice was not offered up on Holy Saturday, and yet the Mass of the Presanctified was not celebrated as it was on the Friday. (pages 372-374)

    [Comments on the Epistle for Maundy Thursday] …His [St. Paul's] account, [of the Last Supper], which corresponds throughout with that given by the evangelists, rests upon the testimony of our blessed Savior Himself, who deigned to appear to him and instruct him in person, after his conversion. The apostle does not omit to give the words, whereby our Lord empowered His apostles to renew what He Himself had done: he tells us that, as often as the priest consecrates the Body and Blood of Christ, he shows the death of the Lord, thus expressing the oneness that is between the Sacrifice of the cross and that of the altar… The consequence to be drawn from this teaching is evident: it is contained in these words of the apostle: Let a man prove himself, and so let him eat of that bread and drink of the chalice. …'He that eateth My Flesh and drinketh My Blood, abideth in Me, and I in Him,' says our Lord. (1)- {St. John. vi. 57} Could there by a closer union? God and man abiding in each other? Oh! how carefully ought we to purify our soul, and render our will conformable with the will of Jesus, before approaching this divine banquet, to which He invites us! Let us beseech Him to prepare us Himself, as He did His apostles by washing their feet. He will grant us our request, not only today, but as often as we go to Holy Communion, provided we are docile to His grace. (pages 377-378)

[Comments on Gospel for Maundy Thursday]

    …Let us prove ourselves; let us sound the depths of our conscience, before approaching the holy Table. Mortal sin, and the affection to mortal sin, would change the Bread of life into a deadly poison for our souls. But if respect for the holiness of God, who is about to enter within us by holy Communion, should make us shudder at the thought of receiving Him in the state of mortal sin which robs the soul of the image of God and gives her that of satan, ought not that same respect to urge us to purify our souls from venial sins, which dim the beauty of grace? He, says our Savior, that is washed needeth not but to wash his feet. The feet are those earthly attachments, which so often lead us to the brink of sin. Let us watch over our senses, and the affections of our hearts. Let us wash away these stains by a sincere confession, by penance, by sorrow, and by humility; that thus we may worthily receive the adorable Sacrament, and derive from it the fullness of its power and grace. (pages 380-381)

    [Comments on the Stripping of the Altars] …He [Jesus] is now in the hands of His enemies the Jews, who are about to strip Him of His garments, just as we strip the altar. He is to be exposed naked to the insults of the rabble; and for this reason, the psalm selected to be recited during this mournful ceremony is the twenty-first, wherein the Messias speaks of the Roman soldiers dividing His garments among them. (pages 391-392)

    What a day is this that we have been spending! How full of Jesus' love! He has given us His Body and Blood to be our food; He has instituted the priesthood of the new Testament; He has poured out upon the world the sublimest instructions of His loving Heart. We have seen Him struggling with the feelings of human weakness, as He beheld the chalice of the Passion that was prepared for Him; but He triumphed over all, in order to save us. We have seen Him betrayed, fettered, and led captive into the holy city, there to consummate His Sacrifice. Let us adore and love for us was not satisfied unless He drank, to the very dregs, the chalice He had accepted from His Father. (page 410)



Sunday 2 June 2002


Dear friends, after preparing for your Eucharistic Congress with prayer, reflection and charitable activities under the guidance of your Pastor, Archbishop Serafino Sprovieri, the Archdiocese of Benevento decided to undertake a two-fold investigation. It began an in-depth exploration of the relationship between the deepest sacramental mystery of the Church – the Holy Eucharist – and the Church's most practical, down-to-earth commitment:  her charitable work of sharing, reconciling and unifying. The diocese proposed this exploration the better to celebrate the sacrament and to live more fruitfully Christ's “new commandment” that we “love one another”.

“Agape, Pax', Orthodoxy, Orthopraxis

Often, in the primitive Church, the Eucharist was called simply “agape”, that is, “love”, or even simply “pax”, that is “peace”. The Christians of that time thus expressed in a dramatic way the unbreakable link between the mystery of the hidden presence of God and the praxis of serving the cause of peace, of Christians being peace. For the early Christians, there was no difference between what today is often distinguished as orthodoxy and orthopraxis, as right doctrine and right action. Indeed, when this distinction is made, there generally is a suggestion that the word orthodoxy is to be disdained: those who hold fast to right doctrine are seen as people of narrow sympathy, rigid, potentially intolerant. In the final analysis, for those holding this rather critical view of orthodoxy everything depends on “right action”, with doctrine regarded as something always open to further discussion. For those holding this view, the chief thing is the fruit doctrine produces, while the way that leads to our just action is a matter of indifference. Such a comparison would have been incomprehensible and unacceptable for those in the ancient Church, for they rightly understood the word “orthodoxy” not to mean “right doctrine” but to mean the authentic adoration and glorification of God.

They were convinced that everything depended on being in the right relationship with God, on knowing what pleases him and what one can do to respond to him in the right way. For this reason, Israel loved the law:  from it, they knew God's will, they knew how to live justly and how to honour God in the right way: by acting in accord with his will, bringing order into the world, opening it to the transcendent.

Christ teaches how God is glorified, the world is made just

This was the new joy Christians discovered: that now, beginning with Christ, they understood how God ought to be glorified and how precisely through this the world would become just. That these two things should go together – how God is glorified and how justice comes – the angels had proclaimed on the holy night: “Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth, goodwill toward men”, they had said (Lk 2,14). God's glory and peace on earth are inseparable. Where God is excluded, there is a breakdown of peace in the world; without God, no orthopraxis can save us. In fact, there does not exist an orthopraxis which is simply just, detached from a knowledge of what is good. The will without knowledge is blind and so action, orthopraxis, without knowledge is blind and leads to the abyss. Marxism's great deception was to tell us that we had reflected on the world long enough, that now it was at last time to change it. But if we do not know in what direction to change it, if we do not understand its meaning and its inner purpose, then change alone becomes destruction – as we have seen and continue to see. But the inverse is also true: doctrine alone, which does not become life and action, becomes idle chatter and so is equally empty. The truth is concrete. Knowledge and action are closely united, as are faith and life. This awareness is precisely what your theme seeks to state, “Eucharist, Communion and Solidarity”. I should like to dwell on the three key words you have chosen for your Eucharistic Congress to clarify them.

1. Eucharist

“Eucharist” is today – and it is entirely right that it be so – the most common name for the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ, which the Lord instituted on the night before his passion. In the early Church there were other names for this sacrament – agape and pax we have already mentioned. Along with these there were, for example, also synaxis – assembly, reunion of the many. Among Protestants this Sacrament is called “Supper”, with the intent – following the lead of Luther for whom Scripture alone was valid – to return totally to the biblical origins. And, in fact, in St Paul, this sacrament is called “the Lord's Supper”. But it is significant that this title very soon disappeared, and from the second century it was used no longer. Why? Was it perhaps a moving away from the New Testament, as Luther thought, or something else?

Certainly the Lord instituted his Sacrament in the context of a meal, more precisely that of the Jewish Passover supper, and so at the beginning it was also linked with a gathering for a meal. But the Lord had not ordered a repetition of the Passover supper, which constituted the framework. That was not his sacrament, his new gift. In any event, the Passover supper could only be celebrated once a year. The celebration of the Eucharist was therefore detached from the gathering for the supper to the degree that the detachment from the Law was beginning to take place, along with the passage to a Church of Jews and Gentiles, but above all, of Gentiles. The link with the supper was thus revealed as extrinsic, indeed, as the occasion for ambiguities and abuses, as Paul amply described in his First Letter to the Corinthians.

Liturgy of Word, Prayer of Thanksgiving, Words of Institution

Thus the Church, assuming her own specific configuration, progressively freed the specific gift of the Lord, which was new and permanent, from the old context and gave it its own form. This took place thanks to the connection with the liturgy of the word, which has its model in the synagogue; and thanks to the fact that the Lord's words of institution formed the culminating point of the great prayer of thanksgiving – that thanksgiving, also derived from the synagogue traditions and so ultimately from the Lord, who clearly had rendered thanks and praise to God in the Jewish tradition. But he had emphatically enriched that prayer of thanksgiving with a unique profundity by means of the gift of his body and his blood.

Through this action, the early Christians had come to understand that the essence of the event of the Last Supper was not the eating of the lamb and the other traditional dishes, but the great prayer of praise that now contained as its centre the very words of Jesus. With these words he had transformed his death into the gift of himself, in such a way that we can now render thanks for this death. Yes, only now is it possible to render thanks to God without reserve, because the most dreadful thing – the death of the Redeemer and the death of all of us – was transformed through an act of love into the gift of life.

Eucharist, Eucharistic Prayer

Accordingly, the Eucharist was recognized as the essential reality of the Last Supper, what we call today the Eucharistic Prayer, which derives directly from the prayer of Jesus on the eve of his passion and is the heart of the new spiritual sacrifice, the motive for which many Fathers designated the Eucharist simply as oratio (prayer), as the “sacrifice of the word”, as a spiritual sacrifice, but which becomes also material and matter transformed: bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ, the new food, which nourishes us for the resurrection, for eternal life. Thus, the whole structure of words and material elements becomes an anticipation of the eternal wedding feast. At the end, we shall return once more to this connection. Here it is important only to understand better why we as Catholic Christians do not call this sacrament “Supper” but “Eucharist”. The infant Church slowly gave to this sacrament its specific form, and precisely in this way, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, she clearly identified and correctly represented in signs the true essence of the sacrament, which the Lord really “instituted” on that night.

Precisely by examining the process by which the Eucharistic sacrament progressively took on its form, one understands in a beautiful way the profound connection between Scripture and tradition. The Bible considered solely in the historical context does not communicate sufficiently to us the vision of what is essential. That insight only comes through the living practice of the Church who lived Scripture, grasped its deepest intention and made it accessible to us.

2. “Communio'

The second word in the title of your Eucharistic congress – Communion – has become fashionable these days. It is, in fact, one of the most profound and characteristic words of the Christian tradition. Precisely for this reason it is very important to understand it in the whole depth and breadth of its meaning. Perhaps I may make an entirely personal observation here. When with a few friends – in particular Henri de Lubac, Hans Urs von Balthasar, Louis Bouyer, Jorge Medina – I had the idea of founding a magazine in which we intended to deepen and develop the inheritance of the Council, we looked for an appropriate name, a single word, which could fully convey the purpose of this publication. Already, in the last year of the Second Vatican Council, 1965, a review was begun, to serve as the permanent voice of the Council and its spirit, called Concilium. Hans Küng thought he had discovered an equivalence between the words ekklesia (Church) and concilium. The root of both terms was the Greek word kalein (to call) the first word, ekklesia, meaning to convoke, the second word, concilium, to summon together. Therefore both words essentially signify the same thing. From such an etymological relationship one could say the terms Church and Council were something synonymous and see the Church by her very nature as the continuing Council of God in the world. Therefore, the Church was to be conceived of in this “conciliar” sense and “actualized” in the form of a Council; and, vice versa, the Council was seen as the most intense possible realization of “Church”, namely, the Church in her highest form.

In the years following the Council, for a time, I followed this concept – the Church as the permanent council of God in the world – which seemed at first glance rather enlightening. The practical consequences of this conception should not be overlooked and its attractiveness is immediate. Still, though I came to the conclusion that the vision of Hans Küng certainly contained something true and serious; I also saw that it needed considerable correction. I would very briefly like to try to summarize the result of my studies at that time. My philological and theological research into the understanding of the words “church” and “council” in ancient times showed that a council can certainly be an important, vital manifestation of the Church, but that in reality the Church is something more, that her essence goes deeper.

“Koinonia' lives the Word of life

The council is something that the Church holds, but the Church is not a council. The Church does not exist primarily to deliberate, but to live the Word that has been given to us. I decided that the word that best expressed this fundamental concept, which conveyed the very essence of the Church itself, was koinonia – communion. Her structure, therefore, is not to be described by the term “concilial”, but rather with the word “communional”. When I proposed these ideas publicly in 1969 in my book, The New People of God, the concept of communion was not yet very widespread in public theological and ecclesial discussions. As a result my ideas on this matter were also given little consideration. These ideas, however, were decisive for me in the search for a title for the new journal, and led to our later calling the journal Communio (communion).

The concept itself received wide public recognition only with the Synod of Bishops in 1985. Until then the phrase “People of God” had prevailed as the chief new concept of the Church, and was widely believed to synthesize the intentions of Vatican II itself. This belief might well have been true, if the words had been used in the full profundity of their biblical meaning and in the broad, accurate context in which the Council had used them. When, however the main word becomes a slogan, its meaning is inevitably diminished; indeed, it is trivialized.

Synod of 1985

As a consequence, the Synod of 1985 sought a new beginning by focusing on the word “communion”, which refers first of all to the Eucharistic centre of the Church, and so again returns to the understanding of the Church as the most intimate place of the encounter between Jesus and mankind, in his act of giving himself to us.

It was unavoidable that this great fundamental word of the New Testament, isolated and employed as a slogan, would also suffer diminishment, indeed, might even be trivialized. Those who speak today of an “ecclesiology of communion” generally tend to mean two things: (1) they support a “pluralist” ecclesiology, almost a “federative” sense of union, opposing what they see as a centralist conception of the Church; (2) they want to stress, in the exchanges of giving and receiving among local Churches, their culturally pluralistic forms of worship in the liturgy, in discipline and in doctrine.

Even where these tendencies are not developed in detail, “communion” is nonetheless generally understood in a horizontal sense – communion is seen as emerging from a network of multiple communities. This conception of the communal structure of Church is barely distinguishable from the conciliar vision mentioned above. The horizontal dominates. The emphasis is on the idea of self-determination within a vast community of churches.

Naturally, there is here much that is true. However, fundamentally the approach is not correct, and in this way the true depth of what the New Testament and Vatican II and also the Synod of 1985 wanted to say would be lost. To clarify the central meaning of the concept of “communio”, I would like briefly to turn to two great texts on communio from the New Testament. The first is found in I Corinthians 10,16 ff, where Paul tells us: “The chalice of blessing, which we bless, is it not a participation ["communion" in the Italian text] in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is but one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread”.

Vertical dimension in Eucharist

The concept of communion is above all anchored in the holy Sacrament of the Eucharist, the reason why we still today in the language of the Church rightly designate the reception of this sacrament simply as “to communicate”. In this way, the very practical social significance of this sacramental event also immediately becomes evident, and this in a radical way that cannot be achieved in exclusively horizontal perspectives. Here we are told that by means of the sacrament we enter in a certain way into a communion with the blood of Jesus Christ, where blood according to the Hebrew perspective stands for “life”. Thus, what is being affirmed is a commingling of Christ's life with our own.

“Blood” in the context of the Eucharist clearly stands also for “gift”, for an existence that pours itself out, gives itself for us and to us. Thus the communion of blood is also insertion into the dynamic of this life, into this “blood poured out”. Our existence is “dynamized” in such a way that each of us can become a being for others, as we see obviously happening in the open Heart of Christ.

From a certain point of view, the words over the bread are even more stunning. They tell of a “communion” with the body of Christ which Paul compares to the union of a man and a woman (cf. I Cor 6,17ff; Eph 5,26-32). Paul also expresses this from another perspective when he says: it is one and the same bread, which all of us now receive. This is true in a startling way: the “bread” – the new manna, which God gives to us – is for all the one and the same Christ.

The Lord unites us with himself

It is truly the one, identical Lord, whom we receive in the Eucharist, or better, the Lord who receives us and assumes us into himself. St Augustine expressed this in a short passage which he perceived as a sort of vision:  eat the bread of the strong; you will not transform me into yourself, but I will transform you into me. In other words, when we consume bodily nourishment, it is assimilated by the body, becoming itself a part of ourselves. But this bread is of another type. It is greater and higher than we are. It is not we who assimilate it, but it assimilates us to itself, so that we become in a certain way “conformed to Christ”, as Paul says, members of his body, one in him.

We all “eat” the same person, not only the same thing; we all are in this way taken out of our closed individual persons and placed inside another, greater one. We all are assimilated into Christ and so by means of communion with Christ, united among ourselves, rendered the same, one sole thing in him, members of one another.

To communicate with Christ is essentially also to communicate with one another. We are no longer each alone, each separate from the other; we are now each part of the other; each of those who receive communion is “bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh” (Gn 2,23).

Social universal union

A true spirituality of communion seen in its Christological profundity, therefore, necessarily has a social character, as Henri de Lubac brilliantly described more than a half century ago in his book, Catholicism.

For this reason, in my prayer at communion, I must look totally toward Christ, allowing myself to be transformed by him, even to be burned by his enveloping fire. But, precisely for this reason, I must always keep clearly in mind that in this way he unites me organically with every other person receiving him – with the one next to me, whom I may not like very much; but also with those who are far away, in Asia, Africa, America or in any other place.

Becoming one with them, I must learn to open myself toward them and to involve myself in their situations. This is the proof of the authenticity of my love for Christ. If I am united with Christ, I am together with my neighbour, and this unity is not limited to the moment of communion, but only begins here. It becomes life, becomes flesh and blood, in the everyday experience of sharing life with my neighbour. Thus, the individual realities of my communicating and being part of the life of the Church are inseparably linked to one another.

The Church is not born as a simple federation of communities. Her birth begins with the one bread, with the one Lord and from him from the beginning and everywhere, the one body which derives from the one bread. She becomes one not through a centralized government but through a common centre open to all, because it constantly draws its origin from a single Lord, who forms her by means of the one bread into one body. Because of this, her unity has a greater depth than that which any other human union could ever achieve. Precisely when the Eucharist is understood in the intimacy of the union of each person with the Lord, it becomes also a social sacrament to the highest degree.

Martin de Porres, Mother Teresa

The great social saints were in reality always the great Eucharistic saints. I would like to mention just two examples chosen entirely at random.

First of all, the beloved figure of St Martin de Porres, who was born in 1569 in Lima, Peru, the son of an Afro-American mother and a Spanish nobleman. Martin lived from the adoration of the Lord present in the Eucharist, passing entire nights in prayer before the crucified Lord in the tabernacle, while during the day he tirelessly cared for the sick and assisted the socially outcast and despised, with whom he, as a mulatto, identified because of his origins. The encounter with the Lord, who gives himself to us from the cross, makes all of us members of the one body by means of the one bread, which when responded to fully moves us to serve the suffering, to care for the weak and the forgotten.

In our time, we can recall the person of Mother Teresa of Calcutta. Wherever she opened the houses of her sisters to the service of the dying and outcast, the first thing she asked for was a place for the tabernacle, because she knew that only beginning from there, would come the strength for such service.

Whoever recognizes the Lord in the tabernacle, recognizes him in the suffering and the needy; they are among those to whom the world's judge will say: “I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me drink; I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me” (Mt 25,35).

Briefly, I would like to recall a second important New Testament text concerning the word “communion” (koinonia). It is found right at the beginning of the first Letter of John (1,3-7), where he speaks of the encounter granted him with the Word made flesh. John says that he is transmitting what he has seen with his own eyes and touched with his own hands. This encounter has given him the gift of koinonia – communion – with the Father and his Son, Jesus Christ. It has become a true “communion” with the living God. As John expresses it, the communion has opened his eyes and he now lives in the light, that is, in the truth of God, which is expressed in the unique, new commandment, which encompasses everything – the commandment to love. And so the communion with the “Word of life” becomes the just life, becomes love. In this way it also becomes reciprocal communion:  ”If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we are in communion one with another” (I Jn 1,6).

The text shows the same logic of communio that we already found in Paul:  communion with Jesus becomes communion with God himself, communion with the light and with love; it becomes in this way an upright life, and all of this unites us with one another in the truth. Only when we regard communion in this depth and breadth do we have something to say to the world.

3. Solidarity

We arrive finally at the third key world, “solidarity”. While the first two words come from the Bible and from Christian tradition, this word comes to us from outside. The concept of “solidarity” – as Archbishop Paul Cordes has shown – was developed initially among the early socialists by P. Lerou (died 1871) in contraposition to the Christian idea of love, as the new, rational and effective response to social problems.

Without Christ there are no solutions

Karl Marx held that Christianity had had a millennium and a half to demonstrate its capacity to deal with poverty, inequality and injustice, and had only succeeded in proving its incapacity to do so.

Therefore, Marx claimed, new ways had to be employed. And for decades many were convinced that the Marxist socialist system, centred around the concept of “solidarity”, was now the way finally to achieve human equality, to eliminate poverty and to bring peace to the world. Today, we can see what horrors and massacres were left behind by a social theory and policies that took no account of God.

It is undeniable that the liberal model of the market economy, especially as moderated and corrected under the influence of Christian social ideas, has in some parts of the world led to great success. All the sadder are the results, especially in places like Africa, where clashing power blocs and economic interests have been at work. Behind the apparent beneficial models of development there has all too often been hidden the desire to expand the reach of particular powers and ideologies in order to dominate the market. In this situation, ancient social structures and spiritual and moral forces have been destroyed, with consequences that echo in our ears like a single great cry of sorrow.

No, without God things cannot go well. And because only in Christ has God shown us his face, spoken his name, entered into communion with us; without Christ there is no ultimate hope.

Christians have exemplified solutions despite terrible failures

It is clear that Christians in past centuries have been stained with serious sins. Slavery and the slave trade remain a dark chapter that show how few Christians were truly Christian and how far many Christians were from the faith and message of the Gospel, from true communion with Jesus Christ.

On the other hand, lives full of faith and love, as seen in the humble willingness of so many priests and sisters to sacrifice themselves, have provided a positive counterweight and left an inheritance of love, which even if it cannot eliminate the horror of exploitation, can help to lessen it. On this witness we can build; along this path we can proceed farther.

It was in this situation, in recent decades, that the understanding of the concept of solidarity – thanks above all to the ethical studies of the Holy Father – has been slowly transformed and Christianized, so that now we can justly place it next to the two key Christian words, “Eucharist” and “Communion”. Solidarity in this context signifies people who feel responsible for one another, the healthy for the sick, the rich for the poor, the countries of the North for those of the South. It means a sense of individual awareness, of reciprocal responsibility; it means we are conscious that when we give we receive, and that we can always give only what has been given to us and that what we have been given never belongs to us for ourselves alone.

Spirituality has to accompany scientific and technical formation

Today we see that it is not enough to transmit technical skills, scientific knowledge and theories, nor the praxis of certain political structures. Those things not only do not help, but even end up causing harm, if the spiritual forces which give meaning to these technologies and structures are not also re-awakened, so as to make their responsible use possible. It was easy to destroy with our rationality the traditional religions, which now survive as subcultures, remnants of superstition, which have been deprived of their better elements and now are practices that can harm people in mind and body. It would have been better to expose their healthy nucleus to the light of Christ and so lead them to the fulfillment of the tacit expectations within them. Through such a process of purification and development, continuity and progress would have been united in a fruitful way.

Where missions were successful, they generally followed this path and so helped to develop those forces of faith which are so urgently needed today.

In the crisis of the 1960s and 1970s, many missionaries came to the conclusion that missionary work, that is, the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, was no longer appropriate today.

They thought the only thing that still made sense was to offer help in social development. But how can positive social development be carried out if we become illiterate with regard to God?

Gospel and social advancement go together

The fundamental idea tacitly agreed upon, that the peoples or tribes needed to preserve their own religions and not concern themselves with ours, shows only that the faith in the hearts of such men had grown cold despite their great good will; it shows that communion with the Lord was no longer seen as vital. Otherwise how could they have thought that it was a good thing to exclude others from these things?

Basically it is a matter here – often without realizing it – of thinking poorly of religion in general and of not esteeming other religions. A person's religion is considered an archaic relic to be left alone because, ultimately it is thought to have nothing to do with the true greatness of progress. What religions say and do, appears to be totally irrelevant; they are not even a part of the world of rationality; their contents ultimately count for nothing. The “orthopraxis”, which we then look forward to, will be truly built on sand.

It is high time to abandon this erroneous way of thinking. We need faith in Jesus Christ if for no other reason than for the fact that it brings together reason and religion. It offers us in this way the criteria of responsibility and releases the strength necessary to live according to this responsibility. Sharing on all levels, spiritual, ethical and religious, is part of solidarity between peoples and nations.

Globalization means seeking the welfare of all the continents

It is clear that we must develop our economy further in a way that it no longer operates only in favour of the interests of a certain country or group of countries, but for the welfare of all the continents. This is difficult and is never fully realized. It requires that we make sacrifices. But if a spirit of solidarity truly nourished by faith is born, then this could become possible, even if only in an imperfect way.

The theme of globalization arises in this context, but here I am unable to address it. It is clear today that we all depend on each other. But there is a globalization that is conceived of unilaterally in terms of personal interests. There ought to exist a globalization which requires nations to be responsible for one another and to bear one another's burdens. All of this cannot be realized in a neutral way, with reference only to market mechanisms. For decisions about market value are determined by many presuppositions. Thus, our religious and moral horizon is always decisive. If globalization in technology and economy is not accompanied by a new opening of the conscience to God, before whom all of us have a responsibility, then there will be a catastrophe. This is the great responsibility which weighs today on Christians.

Christianity, from the one Lord, the one bread, which seeks to make of us one body, has from the beginning aimed at the unification of humanity. If we, precisely at the moment when the exterior unification of humanity, previously unthinkable, becomes possible, withdraw ourselves as Christians, believing we cannot or should not give anything further, we would burden ourselves with a serious sin. In fact, a unity that is built without God or indeed against him, ends up like the experiment of Babylon: in total confusion and total destruction, in hatred and total chaos of all against all.


The Eucharist as the Sacrament of Transformation

Let us return to the Holy Eucharist. What really happened on the night when Christ was betrayed? Let us listen to the Roman Canon – the heart of the “Eucharist” of the Church in Rome: “The day before he suffered, he took bread into his sacred hands, and looking up to heaven, to you, his almighty Father, he gave you thanks and praise, broke the bread, gave it to his disciples and said: “Take this all of you, and eat it. This is my body which will be given up for you'. When supper was ended, he took the cup, again he gave you thanks and praise, gave the cup to his disciples and said: “Take, all of you, and drink from it. This is the cup of my blood the blood of the new and everlasting covenant, it will be shed for you and for all so that sins may be forgiven. Do this in memory of me' ” (ICEL Translation).


What is happening in these words?

In the first place we are confronted by the word “transubstantion”. The bread becomes the body, his body. The bread of the earth becomes the bread of God, the “manna” of heaven, with which God nourishes men not only in their earthly life but also in the prospect of the resurrection – which prepares for the resurrection, or rather, already makes it begin. The Lord, who would have been able to transform stones into bread, who was able to raise up from rocks the sons of Abraham, wishes to transform the bread into a body, his body. Is this possible? How can it happen?

Body given, Blood poured out

We cannot avoid the questions that the people posed in the synagogue of Capernaum. He is there before his disciples, with his body; how can he say over the bread: this is my body? It is important to pay close attention to what the Lord really said. He does not say only: “This is my body”, but: “This is my body, which is given up for you”. It can become gift, because it is given. By means of the act of giving it becomes “capable of communicating”, has transformed itself into a gift. We may observe the same thing in the words over the cup. Christ does not say simply: “This is my blood”, but, “This is my blood, which is shed for you”. Because it is shed, inasmuch as it is shed, it can be given.

Real transformation of violence into an act of love

But now a new question emerges: what do “it is given” and “it is shed” mean? In truth, Jesus is killed; he is nailed to a cross and dies amid torment. His blood is poured out, first in the Garden of Olives due to his interior suffering for his mission, then in the flagellation, the crowning with thorns, the crucifixion, and after his death in the piercing of his Heart. What occurs is above all an act of violence, of hatred, torture and destruction.

At this point we run into a second, more profound level of transformation: he transforms, from within, the act of violent men against him into an act of giving on behalf of these men – into an act of love. This is dramatically recognizable in the scene of the Garden of Olives. What he teaches in the Sermon on the Mount, he now does: he does not offer violence against violence, as he might have done, but puts an end to violence by transforming it into love. The act of killing, of death, is changed into an act of love; violence is defeated by love. This is the fundamental transformation upon which all the rest is based. It is the true transformation which the world needs and which alone can redeem the world. Since Christ in an act of love has transformed and defeated violence from within, death itself is transformed: love is stronger than death. It remains forever.

Transformation of death into life

And so in this transformation is contained the broader transformation of death into resurrection, of the dead body into the risen body. If the first man was a living being, as St Paul says, the new Adam, Christ, will become by this spiritual event the giver of life (I Cor 15, 45). The risen one is gift, is spirit who gives his life, “communicates”, indeed, is communication. This means that there is no farewell here to material existence; rather, in this way material existence achieves its goal: without the actual event of death (with its interior transcendence) all this complex transformation of material things would not be possible. And so in the transformation of the resurrection all the fullness of Christ continues to subsist, but now transformed in this way; now being a body and the gift of self are no longer mutually exclusive, but are implicit in each other.

Before going on, let us first seek to sum this up once more in order to understand this whole complex reality. At the moment of the Last Supper, Jesus has already anticipated the event of Calvary. He accepts the death on the cross and with his acceptance transforms the act of violence into an act of giving, of self-giving poured forth, “Even if I am to be poured out as a libation on the sacrificial offering of your faith”, St Paul says on the basis of this and in regard to his own imminent martyrdom in Philippians 2,17. At the Last Supper the cross is already present, accepted and transformed by Jesus.

This first and fundamental transformation draws to itself all the others – the mortal body is transformed into the resurrected body: it is “the spirit which gives life”.

Transformation of bread and wine

On the basis of this the third transformation becomes possible: the gifts of bread and wine, that are the gifts of creation and at the same time fruit of human labour and the “transformation” of the creation, are transformed so that in them the Lord himself who gives himself becomes present, in his gift of self-giving. His gift, himself – since he is gift. The act of self giving is not something from him, but it is himself.

And on this basis the prospect opens onto two further transformations, that are essential to the Eucharist, from the instant of its institution: the transformed bread, the transformed wine.

Through them the Lord himself gives himself as spirit that gives life, to transform us men, so that we become one bread with him and then one body with him. The transformation of the gifts, which is only the continuation of the fundamental transformations of the cross and of the resurrection, is not the final point, but in its turn only a beginning.

Transformation of communicants into one body

The purpose of the Eucharist is the transformation of those who receive it in authentic communion. And so the end is unity, that peace which we, as separate individuals who live beside one another or in conflict with one another, become with Christ and in him, as one organism of self-giving, to live in view of the resurrection and the new world.

Transformation of creation into dwelling place for God

The fifth and final transformation which characterizes this sacrament becomes thus visible: by means of us, the transformed, who have become one body, one spirit which gives life, the entire creation must be transformed. The entire creation must become a “new city”, a new paradise, the living dwelling-place of God: “God all in all” (I Cor 15,28) – thus Paul describes the end of creation, which must be conformed to the Eucharist.

Thus the Eucharist is a process of transformations, drawing on God's power to transform hatred and violence, on his power to transform the world. We must therefore pray that the Lord will help us to celebrate and to live the Eucharist in this way. We pray that he transform us, and together with us the world, into the new Jerusalem.


Report abuse


Your Comments
Question   Razz  Sad   Evil  Exclaim  Smile  Redface  Biggrin  Surprised  Eek   Confused   Cool  LOL   Mad   Twisted  Rolleyes   Wink  Idea  Arrow  Neutral  Cry   Mr. Green

Top Stories
Recent Stories



Email this story
Email this story

If you really want to ban this commenter, please write down the reason:

If you really want to disable all recommended stories, click on OK button. After that, you will be redirect to your options page.