The Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, has called on the universal Church to mark the twelve months from October 2004 till October 2005 as the Year of the Eucharist.
The Year began on the tenth of October with the World Eucharistic Congress in Mexico. It will end with the next Synod of Bishops in Rome from 2-29 October next year. That Synod, which Archbishop John Dew will attend on behalf of the New Zealand Bishops, has as its theme: The Eucharist: Source and Summit of the Life and Mission of the Church.
Why would the Church spend a whole Synod and even a whole year on the Eucharist? The answer is easy: because the Eucharist is the source and summit of the life and mission of the Church.
The Eucharist stands at the centre of the Church's life. This is already clear from the earliest description of the followers of Christ when we read in the Acts of the Apostles:
They devoted themselves to the Apostles teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
At every celebration of the Eucharist we are brought back to the Last Supper when Jesus broke the bread, gave it to his disciples and said: This is my body... Do this in remembrance of me. If from the beginning Christians have celebrated the Eucharist it is because we know ourselves to be bound by this command of Jesus.
The gift of the Eucharist should fill us with profound amazement and gratitude. It is the most precious possession of the Church in her journey through history.
The enormous richness of the Eucharist is expressed in the names we give it. Each name brings forth certain aspects: We call it the Lord's Supper because it recalls the supper Jesus took with his disciples on the eve of his passion. We call it the Breaking of the Bread because Jesus broke the bread and that is how his disciples recognised him after his resurrection (cf Luke 24:30-31). We call it the Holy Sacrifice because it makes present the one sacrifice of Christ and includes the Churchs offering. We call it the Most Blessed Sacrament because it is the most central of all seven sacraments. We call it Holy Communion because we unite ourselves to Christ to form a single body of believers. We call it Holy Mass because we are sent forth (missa in Latin) from the liturgy in which this mystery is celebrated - sent forth so that we may fulfill Gods will in our daily lives, work for the spread of the Gospel and the imbuing of society with Christian values. And above all else, we call it Eucharist from the Greek word for giving thanks because it is an action of thanksgiving to God.
The Church draws her life from the Eucharist in which Christ offers himself to the Father for our sake, making us sharers in his own sacrifice. The Eucharist makes present the sacrifice of the Cross: it does not add to that sacrifice nor does it multiply it. What is repeated is its memorial celebration which makes the one, definitive sacrifice of Christ always present in time. We call it real not as a way of excluding other types of presence: We believe that Christ is present in the Word when we read the Scriptures. We believe he is present in us when we truly live as the community of believers, the one Body of Christ. But the real presence of Christ in the consecrated bread and wine is a presence in the fullest sense, a substantial presence whereby Christ is wholly and entirely present.
This is the mystery which surpasses our understanding and which can only be received in faith, that Christ gives himself to us as the bread of life. He is the only one who can satisfy the hunger of our hearts.
It is not by chance that the Eucharist is also called communion because it consolidates and brings to perfection our unity with God and among ourselves. Those who feed on Christ in the Eucharist need not wait until the hereafter to receive eternal life: they already possess it on earth and the Eucharist can bring us a foretaste of the fullness of joy promised by Christ.
In this Year of the Eucharist we want to rekindle in the hearts of all believers a hunger for this bread, a profound amazement at the mystery of Christs sacrifice, and a deep gratitude for this precious gift.
We want to encourage the practice of Eucharistic adoration, and exposition of the Blessed Sacrament in particular. The worship of the Eucharist outside of the Mass has great value. Because Christ himself is truly present in the sacrament of the altar, he is to be honoured with the worship of adoration.
Whereas every parish once had Rosary, sermon and Benediction each week, many now do not have those devotions regularly. We are in danger of losing something precious. Devotions are a reminder that Catholic worship involves the whole person, our head as well as our heart, ears as well as eyes. If we wish to respond to Gods love for us, how can we not feel a renewed need to spend time in spiritual conversation, in silent adoration, in heartfelt love before Christs real presence in the Most Holy Sacrament?
Such prayer will strengthen us and make us capable of shaping history according to Gods plan. It will give us confidence that Christ will refresh and renew us to go out and bring and be Good News to the world. Our Holy Father, in his Apostolic Letter for the Year of the Eucharist (Mane Nobiscum Domine, Stay with Us Lord, 7 October 2004) makes the point that our communal sharing in the Eucharist should commit us in a practical way to the building of a more just and fraternal society. He writes that we will be recognised as true followers of Christ by our mutual love, and in particular by our concern for those in need - responding to he tragedy of hunger, the loneliness of the elderly, the hardships faced by the unemployed, the struggles of immigrants. This will be the criterion by which the authenticity of our Eucharistic celebrations is judged (MND, n 28).
We call on parishes to make concerted efforts to revive Eucharistic devotions and to celebrate with particular devotion the Feast of Corpus Christi. We encourage parishioners to deepen their understanding and appreciation of the richness of the Eucharist. We urge all to experience the Sunday Eucharist and the Sunday itself as a special day of faith, the day of the Risen Lord and of the gift of the Spirit.
In all this we know that the Risen Jesus accompanies us on our way. The Eucharist is a mystery of presence, the perfect fulfilment of Jesus promise to remain with us until the end of the world. May he find us watchful, ready to recognize his face and run to our brothers and sisters with the Good News: We have seen the Lord (John 20:25).