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Before the Cross - Archbishop Robert J. Carlson's Column

'Before The Cross' by Archbishop Robert J. Carlson. Archbishop Carlson is the ninth Archbishop of Saint Louis. Listed below are the most recent columns written by Archbishop Carlson; click on the title to read the column. The Archdiocesan website has more information about Archbishop Robert J. Carlson.

June: Month of the Sacred Heart of Jesus


The Church dedicates the month of June to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.During the days of June, we are urged to grow in our devotion to the Sacred Heart, so that we may remain more faithfully in the company of our Lord Jesus who dwells with us always in the Church, especially in the Holy Eucharist.The devotion flows from communion with our Lord in the Holy Eucharist and fosters the desire of Eucharistic Communion.For that reason, devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus has enjoyed a privileged place in the life of the Church.

Father John Croiset, SJ, spiritual director of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque and authoritative commentator on the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, has described the object of the devotion in clear and striking terms:

"The particular object of this devotion is the immense love of the Son of God, which induced Him to deliver Himself up to death for us and to give Himself entirely to us in the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar (John Croiset, SJ, "The Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Our Lord Jesus Christ," 2nd ed., St. Paul, Minnesota: The Radio Replies Press Society, 1959, p. 43).

Father Croiset’s book on the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus enjoys particular authority, for St. Margaret Mary Alacoque read the manuscript before her death and declared that there was nothing that she would add to or correct in the book.

The image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus evokes devotion to the immeasurable and all-merciful love of God, expressed most perfectly in the outpouring of Christ’s life on the Cross, which is ever new for us in the Eucharistic Sacrifice.In fact, the fundamental image of the Sacred Heart is the crucifix depicting the pierced Heart of Jesus after He had died on the cross.Dom Dominic of Treves, a Carthusian monk who lived from 1384 to 1461, in promoting the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, wrote:

"Place all your sins in the Heart of Jesus.Through that Heart you should ask for grace and pardon, and should praise and bless God, not only for yourself, but for all who are committed to your care and for the whole Catholic Church, whose triumph you desire, invoking from the depth of your misery the depth of God’s mercy.Out of gratitude you will then often kiss a picture of the Heart of Jesus, of this most kind Heart, of this Heart in which are hidden all the treasures of the wisdom and knowledge of God.If you have not a picture of the Sacred Heart, you can make use of one of Jesus on the Cross (Carthusian Monks of the XIV-XVII Centuries, "Ancient Devotions to the Sacred Heart of Jesus," 3rd ed., London: Burns Oates and Washbourne, 1926, pp. 8-9).

The bodily image of the Heart of Jesus helps us to lift our minds and hearts to His glorious Heart from which flow unceasingly the graces of our salvation.

Love and reparation

The devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus has a richness of expressions.All of the expressions have a twofold dimension: 1)our ardent love of God in return for God’s immeasurable love of us; and 2)our reparation for the neglect, ingratitude and contempt which we and others have shown to Christ on the Cross, and on the altars and in the tabernacles of our chapels and churches.The two dimensions constitute a full response to the unceasing love of God for us, notwithstanding our frequent indifference and coldness before the signs of His love, above all, the Holy Eucharist.Father Croiset expressed strikingly the unfailing love of God for us in Christ, God the Son Incarnate:

"(The Son of God) preferred to expose Himself each day to the insults and opprobrium of men rather than be prevented from testifying, by working the greatest of all miracles, to what excess He loved us" (Croiset, p. 43).

It is not by chance that the Church requires that a large crucifix be placed in a clear spatial relationship with the altar of sacrifice and tabernacle, for the fruit of the sacrifice on Calvary is ever new for us when the Holy Mass is offered on the altar of our parish church or of the chapel of our Catholic institutions.The crucifix keeps before our eyes the reality of the action taking place on the altar of sacrifice and the reality contained in the tabernacle, namely the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ poured out for all men and women of every time and place.

The end toward which devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus is always tending is, therefore, also twofold.The devotion strives, first of all, "to recognize and honor ... all the sentiments of tender love which Jesus Christ has for us in the adorable Sacrament of the Blessed Eucharist" and, secondly, "to make reparation, by all possible means, for the indignities and outrages to which His love has exposed Him during the course of His immortal life, and to which this same love exposes Him every day in the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar" (Croiset, p. 44). All too easily, we take the greatest treasure which is ours, namely, the immeasurable love of Christ for us in the Blessed Sacrament, for granted. We grow forgetful of how much and with what tenderness God loves us in His only-begotten Son Jesus Christ.We approach the Blessed Sacrament in a careless and cold manner, or we ignore the Real Presence of Christ with us in the tabernacle.The devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus is a strong antidote to our forgetfulness and lack of proper respect before the Most Blessed Sacrament.

Forms of the devotion

Fundamental to the devotion is the contemplation of the image of the Heart of Jesus, pierced at Christ’s death on the Cross.The pierced Heart of Jesus is the fullest sign of the love of God for us, which is immeasurable and endures forever.Throughout the Christian centuries, the pierced Heart of Jesus has been depicted, especially on crucifixes, to remind us of the mercy and love of God which never cease to flow from the glorious Heart of Jesus.

Thanks to the apparitions of our Lord to St. Margaret Mary, from Dec. 27, 1673, until June 1675, several other expressions of the devotion to the Sacred Heart have developed: the First Friday Mass and Communion of Reparation; the Thursday night Holy Hour in memory of Our Lord’s Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane before the First Friday; the annual celebration of the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus; and the Consecration to the Sacred Heart, with the Enthronement of the image of the Sacred Heart.What must be noted again is that the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus did not begin with the apparitions of Christ to St. Margaret Mary.The devotion is ancient.For instance, a number of texts of Carthusian monks from the 14th to the 17th centuries show a strong devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.Earlier, I referred to a text of Dom Dominic of Treves.I quote a text of Ludolph, a Carthusian monk who lived from 1295 to 1378:

"Let us then bear in mind, Christian souls, the very great love Jesus has shown towards us in allowing His Side to be opened wide in order that we might have easy access to His Heart.Let us hasten to enter into the Heart of Jesus, bringing there all our love, and uniting it to His Divine Love" ("Ancient Devotions to the Sacred Heart of Jesus," pp. 3-4).

Father Croiset devotes a chapter of his book on the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus to discussing some of the saints who had a strong devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus (Croiset, pp. 70-74).

Of course, the beginning of the devotion is found in the presence of the Blessed Mother and St. John the Apostle at the foot of the Cross, when the Roman soldier Longinus pierced the Heart of Jesus who had just expired.It is prefigured in the texts of the Sacred Scriptures, which refer to the Heart of God and His desire to make our hearts like unto His own in love.All who have meditated upon the mystery of God’s unfathomable love of mankind cannot fail to have considered, above all, the pierced Heart of Jesus on the Cross and His glorious pierced Heart at the right hand of the Father.

Enthronement of the Sacred Heart of Jesus

First of all, I reflect upon the Enthronement of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, one of the most fundamental and efficacious expressions of the devotion.By the enthronement the members of a household or an institution declare Christ King and place their hearts completely into His all-loving Heart.Clearly, it is a single and solemn action but involves a whole way of living. The enthronement is not just the appending of an image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus on the wall of the home or institution, or the placing of the statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus on a stand.The physical enthronement in the home or institution is symbolic of the daily spiritual enthronement of Christ the King in the heart by which He reigns with His merciful love in our lives.

In order that the enthronement be properly celebrated, it is important to prepare the members of the household or Catholic institution in advance.Usually, the preparation takes place over some weeks.It becomes particularly intense on the three days before the enthronement takes place.


During the extended preparation, it is important that study be given to the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, especially the form which it takes in the enthronement.Several helpful books are available for study.Last year, the archdiocese published a booklet to help individuals, families and Catholic institutions to prepare for the enthronement. The booklet, titled "The Enthronement of the Sacred Heart of Jesus," is available from the archdiocesan Office of Worship.It contains an excellent summary for study.An offering of $5 is asked.The booklet, however, is supplied to all who request it. If you do not already have a copy of the booklet, I urge you to request one.

The chapters of "The Enthronement of the Sacred Heart of Jesus" provide a brief description of the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, especially the enthronement; a list of the practical arrangements for the enthronement; a description of how to carry out the immediate preparation for the enthronement, including the triduum (three days) of prayer prior to the celebration of the enthronement; the texts of the ceremony of the enthronement for families, for other Catholic groups, and for Catholic schools; a small compendium of prayers to the Sacred Heart of Jesus; and the rite of blessing of the image of the Sacred Heart during Mass. Finally, the booklet also provides a list of resources for further study.

For those who, over time, wish to deepen their understanding and practice of devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Father Croiset’s book, "The Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus: How to Practice the Sacred Heart Devotion," is available in a reprinted form from Tan Books and Publishers of Rockford, Ill.Father Mateo Crawley-Boevey’s "Jesus King of Love" and Father Francis Larkin’s "Enthronement of the Sacred Heart" are available through the archdiocesan Office of Worship.

Timothy T. O’Donnell, president of Christendom College in Front Royal, Va., has published a wonderful study of the devotion to the Sacred Heart, titled "Heart of the Redeemer" and published by Ignatius Press.Ignatius Press also has published a study of the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus written by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, now our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI.It is titled "Behold the Pierced One."The May 25 edition of the weekly edition in English of L’Osservatore Romano, the official newspaper of the Holy See, has a fine article on the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus in the theology of Pope Benedict XVI (Mark D. Kirby, O Cist, "The Sacred Heart of Jesus in the Theology of Benedict XVI: ‘We see who Jesus is if we see Him at prayer,’" pp. 10-11).

Also, Our Sunday Visitor Publishing Division has published the meditations on the Litany of the Sacred Heart of Jesus by our late and beloved Pope John Paul II.The book of the meditations is titled "Pope John Paul II Prays the Litany of the Sacred Heart of Jesus."It is a wonderful tool for daily meditation.All of these publications should be available through local Catholic bookstores.

Immediate preparation

The immediate preparation is three days (a triduum) of special prayers.The form of the prayers is found in the booklet published by the archdiocese on pages 7 to 25.Through the three days of special prayers in preparation for the Enthronement of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, we reflect on Christ’s coming into the world at Bethlehem, His life in the home of the Holy Family at Nazareth, and His visits to the home of His friends Martha, Mary and Lazarus at Bethany.

On each day of the triduum, the members of the family or household or institution gather to listen to a reading from the Gospel, and to pray a decade of the rosary, the Litany of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and a specific prayer asking for the grace to prepare well for the enthronement.Given the essential connection between the enthronement and participation in the Holy Eucharist, it is also recommended that, if possible, those who will be enthroning the image of the Sacred Heart take part in Holy Mass and receive Holy Communion on each day of the triduum of preparation and on the day of the enthronement.

The Enthronement

The enthronement may be led by the parish priest or parish deacon, or by a parent or other adult leader.The complete ritual for the enthronement in the home is found in the booklet published by the archdiocese on pages 26 to 35.The ritual to be used for communities, associations and groups of people is found on pages 36 to 45.The ritual to be used for Catholic schools is found on pages 46 to 57.

The ritual begins with an introduction which sets forth the deep meaning of the act of enthronement.It is followed by the praying of the Apostles Creed as an act of faith and reparation.Then a reading from the Holy Scriptures is proclaimed, and a brief homily or reflection given on the Scriptural text.

After the homily or reflection, if the image has not been blessed, it is blessed by the priest.If a priest cannot lead the enthronement, then the image should be blessed by a priest beforehand.The image is then enthroned, and the members of the family or household or institution kneel down and make the Act of Consecration to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.The general intercessions and the praying of the Hail Holy Queen complete the rite of enthronement.If the priest is present, he gives the final blessing. Otherwise, the rite is concluded by everyone present making the Sign of the Cross.


If you have not already enthroned the image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in your home, I urge you to devote the month of June to preparation for the enthronement and the enthronement in your home.A good way to begin the preparation is to obtain the booklet, "The Enthronement of the Sacred Heart of Jesus," from the archdiocesan Office of Worship. If you have any questions about the enthronement, the Office of Worship will be happy to assist you.

The Year of the Eucharist gives a special inspiration for the Act of Enthronement of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Pope John Paul II and now Pope Benedict XVI have expressed the fervent hope that the observance of the Year of the Eucharist would increase our knowledge and love of our Lord Jesus in the Most Blessed Sacrament.One of the most effective ways possible to remain focused on our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, offering Him love and reparation, is the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.A new devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus is an especially appropriate way of observing the Year of the Eucharist.The devotion to the Sacred Heart keeps the great gift of participation in the Eucharistic Sacrifice before our eyes daily and throughout the day.

In the coming weeks, I will discuss the other forms of devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.The next form to be presented is the First Friday Mass and Communion of Reparation, and the Holy Hour on the Thursday before First Friday to commemorate the Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane.

I conclude with words of Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI:

"Thus, in the Heart of Jesus, the center of Christianity is set before us.It expresses everything, all that is genuinely new and revolutionary in the New Covenant.This Heart calls to our heart.It invites us to step forth out of the futile attempt of self-preservation and, by joining in the task of love, by handing ourselves over to Him and with Him, to discover the fullness of love which alone is eternity and which alone sustains the world (Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, "Behold the Pierced One: An Approach to a Spiritual Christology," translated by Graham Harrison, San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986, p. 69).

Our Blessed Mother, ‘Woman of the Eucharist’


Our late and most beloved Pope John Paul II dedicated the last chapter of his encyclical letter "Ecclesia de Eucharistia (On the Eucharist in Its Relationship to the Church)" to the Virgin Mary, our Blessed Mother, and her relationship to the Holy Eucharist.It pleases me that my reflection on Chapter Six, "At the School of Mary, ‘Woman of the Eucharist,’" comes during the month of May, which we lovingly dedicate, in a special way, to our Blessed Mother.

Pope John Paul II reminds us that, if we want to ponder the profound mystery of the Holy Eucharist, especially its relationship with the Church, then we must look to Mary, Mother and model of the Church.In his apostolic letter "Rosarium Virginis Mariae (On the Most Holy Rosary)," Pope John Paul II had already reminded us that our Blessed Mother is our first and best teacher in looking upon the Face of Christ.Recall that the fifth of the Luminous Mysteries of the rosary is the Institution of the Holy Eucharist, for Mary best helps us to look upon the Face of Christ by leading us to the Holy Eucharist, leading us to know our eucharistic Lord more deeply and love Him more ardently.Our late Holy Father observed: "Mary can guide us towards this most holy sacrament, because she herself has a profound relationship with it" (no. 53a).Even as Mary always leads us to Christ, her Son, so she will lead us always to the Blessed Sacrament, the true Body and Blood of her Son.

The Virgin Mary guides us to the Holy Eucharist in two ways.First of all, our Blessed Mother certainly participated in the Holy Mass from the very beginning of the Church’s life, even as she was present with the Apostles in the Cenacle after the Resurrection, praying with them for the Descent of the Holy Spirit.Because of Mary’s essential relationship to the Holy Eucharist, the saintly and extraordinarily gifted Christian artist, Fra Angelico, depicts Mary, mystically present, in the image of the Last Supper which he painted in fresco for cell no. 35 of the famous Convento San Marco in Florence, Italy.

Mary, exercising her maternity of the Church, leads us to Christ, above all, in the Holy Eucharist.
Mary also guides us to Christ in the Blessed Sacrament by the whole manner of her life, which can rightly be described as eucharistic. Mary is a "Woman of the Eucharist."In this way, she is the model of the Church.By her eucharistic manner of life, Mary invites us "to imitate her in her relationship with this most holy mystery" (no. 53c).

Disposition of faith

The Holy Eucharist is a mystery of faith, which goes beyond our capacity to understand and requires us to trust completely in the Word of Christ.Mary teaches us to grow in the theological virtue of faith.Her disposition of faith, which we are called to imitate, is perhaps best expressed in the Gospels in her words to the wine stewards at the Wedding Feast of Cana: "Do whatever He tells you" (John 2:5).Mary shows her maternal care of us by urging us to go to Christ, to put our faith in Him, to trust in His words spoken at the Last Supper.Mary urges us, her children, to believe that the eucharistic species of bread and wine are, in truth, the Body and Blood of Christ (no. 54).

We see Mary’s disposition of faith in her response to the Archangel Gabriel at the Annunciation.At her words, "Let it be done to me as you say," God the Son came into the world by becoming incarnate in her womb through the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit.At the moment of the Incarnation, Mary anticipated what happens for us, the faithful, at every celebration of the eucharistic liturgy: Christ becomes present for us, under the species of bread and wine, so that we may receive Him into our very being.Our Holy Father points out the profound similarity between Mary’s belief in the words of the Archangel Gabriel and our belief in approaching Holy Communion.When the priest announces, "The Body of Christ," we respond "Amen." Our "Amen" is like Mary’s "Fiat (Let it be done)" (no. 55b).

Mary expressed already the Church’s faith in the Holy Eucharist at the moment of the Incarnation.She became, as Pope John Paul II stated, "the first ‘tabernacle’ in history — in which the Son of God, still invisible to our human gaze, allowed Himself to be adored by Elizabeth, radiating His light as it were through the eyes and the voice of Mary" (no. 55c).

Recently, I was given a beautiful book written for the Year of the Eucharist. On the cover of the book is a photograph of a host which has imprinted on it: "In sinu Mariae (In the womb of Mary)."These three words remind us that the Body of Christ we receive in Holy Communion is the same Body of Christ, now gloriously reigning at the right hand of the Father, which Christ received at the Annunciation, in the womb of the Virgin Mary.Reflecting upon the relationship between Mary’s faith at the Annunciation and Birth of our Lord, and our faith in the Holy Eucharist, we are inspired to express more fervent devotion every time we are blessed to be in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament or to receive Holy Communion.

Eucharistic Sacrifice

Mary also anticipated, by her whole life, the Church’s share in the sacrifice of Christ through the Holy Eucharist. Just as we are most perfectly united with Christ through participation in the Holy Eucharist, so Mary, from the moment of the Incarnation, poured out, with her Incarnate Son, her entire life.Simeon had expressed the sacrificial nature of Mary’s divine maternity when Joseph and she presented our Lord in the Temple.Simeon spoke these words to Mary: "A sword of sorrow will pierce your own heart" (Luke 2:35).Mary’s participation in Christ’s Suffering and Dying reached its fullness at the foot of the Cross.

Her share in Christ’s sacrifice, after His Death and Resurrection, was continued through her participation in the Holy Mass.Pope John Paul II exclaimed: "The body given up for us and made present under sacramental signs was the same body which she had conceived in her womb" (no. 56b)!

Who, then, can better teach us to unite our hearts, with her Immaculate Heart, to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, pierced out of perfect love of God and of neighbor.

Eucharistic memorial

Our late Holy Father reminded us that all that Christ accomplished for us on Calvary is made present for us in the Holy Mass.This is the meaning of Christ’s words: "Do this in remembrance of Me" (Luke 22:9) (no. 57a).Therefore, at every Eucharist, Christ once again gives Mary to us as our Mother and gives us to her as her true sons and daughters, as He first did when He died on the cross for us.

Concretely, this means a commitment on our part to be faithful students of the School of Mary, to permit Mary to exercise her maternal care of us, so that we may become more and more like Christ.Our Blessed Mother is always with us at every celebration of the Holy Eucharist.Fra Angelico was right to depict the Virgin Mary mystically present at the Last Supper. The Church never celebrates the Holy Eucharist without remembering our Blessed Mother, present with us and leading us to Christ and to obedience in doing all that He tells us (no. 57b).

Eucharistic disposition

Pope John Paul II invites us to pray the Magnificat, Mary’s prayer at the Visitation, while meditating upon the great gift of the Holy Eucharist.In the Magnificat, we find expressed, in a most wonderful way, Mary’s eucharistic way of being.

The Magnificat is a prayer of praise and thanksgiving, as is every celebration of the Holy Eucharist for us.With Mary, we praise God through Jesus, our Savior, but also we praise God in Jesus and with Jesus.We praise God for all His wonders, but, most of all, for the greatest of His wonders, the Incarnation.

Finally, the Magnificat expresses the hope for and anticipation of "the new heavens" and "the new earth," as Christ promised at His Final Coming.At every celebration of the Holy Eucharist, we experience already now the grace which will be fully ours on the Last Day.We experience the truth about our lives and our world, namely that we are made for final glory, we are made to share fully in Christ’s glory, the glory He won for us on Calvary. The Holy Eucharist is the pledge of our future destiny in and with Christ (no. 58b).

Pope John Paul II’s testimony of faith

Pope John Paul II concluded the encyclical letter "Ecclesia de Eucharistia" with an expression of gratitude to God for the 25 years of his service in the office of St. Peter, bishop of the universal Church.He offers his own testimony of faith in the Most Blessed Sacrament.He tells us of how the Holy Eucharist has been at the heart of his priestly life and ministry.

Before the Holy Eucharist, our senses fail us. Our senses fail to identify the truth of the Holy Eucharist. Faith, however, is sufficient for us to know the truth and to profess the truth of the Eucharist (no. 59b).St. Thomas Aquinas expressed the richness of our faith in the Holy Eucharist with these words taken from his hymn, "Adoro Te Devote":

Visus, tactus, gustus in Te fallitur

Sed auditu solo tuto creditur.

Credo quidquid dixit Dei Filius:

Nil hoc verbo Veritatis verius.

(Sight, touch, taste are all deceived in their judgment of You;

But hearing suffices firmly to believe:

I believe all that the Son of God has spoken:)

There is nothing truer than this word of truth (translation found in "Handbook of Prayers," edited by Father James Socias, Princeton, N.J.: Scepter Publishers, 1992, p. 321).

In the Holy Eucharist, we come to understand the truth about our own earthly journey, our pilgrimage home to God the Father.The truth is that our pilgrimage is with and in Christ.In Him, we live the life of the Holy Trinity and we transform the world, according to God’s plan.Pope John Paul II recalls his insistence, in his apostolic letter "Novo Millennio Ineunte," that the answer to the meaning of our life pilgrimage is not found in some new program but rather in the person of Christ. The perfection of our life is found in knowing, loving and imitating Christ.Where most do we find Christ and come to understand the mystery of His life given up for us?It is the Holy Eucharist.Our late Holy Father writes: "In the Eucharist, we have Jesus, we have His redemptive sacrifice, we have His Resurrection, we have the gift of the Holy Spirit, we have adoration, obedience and love of the Father" (no. 60b).


We cannot redesign the Holy Eucharist or exploit if for our own purposes.The Holy Eucharist is always, at one and the same time, Sacrifice, Banquet and Real Presence.

The Holy Eucharist also expresses most perfectly the ecumenical dimension of our faith, our prayer with Christ, "that all may be one" (John 17:11).The Holy Eucharist increases our desire for full unity with all our brothers and sisters with whom we share baptism.But it also places before our eyes the real demands of "communion in faith" and "apostolic succession," the many hurdles which must be overcome before we are fully one with our Christian brothers and sisters.

Pope John Paul II reminded us that we can never show too much care and reverence for the Holy Eucharist, for in it is contained the grace of our salvation.Our beloved Pope John Paul II invited us once again to contemplate the Face of Christ in the Holy Eucharist through the eyes of Mary, His Mother and our Mother.At the School of Mary, we will never lose any of our wonder before the great mystery of faith, which is the Holy Eucharist.

I conclude my reflections on the encyclical letter "Ecclesia de Eucharistia" with the words of Pope John Paul II:

"In the humble signs of bread and wine, changed into His Body and Blood, Christ walks beside us as our strength and our food for the journey, and He enables us to become, for everyone, witnesses of hope. If, in the presence of this mystery, reason experiences its limits, the heart, enlightened by the grace of the Holy Spirit, clearly sees the response that is demanded, and bows low in adoration and unbounded love" (no. 62b).

May our minds and hearts never fail in wonder and love before the Holy Eucharist, Christ with us now, Christ the pledge of our future glory.May the Virgin Mary, our Mother, lead us always to her Son in the Holy Eucharist.

The dignity of the celebration of the Mass


In Chapter 5 of his encyclical letter "Ecclesia de Eucharistia (On the Eucharist in Its Relationship to the Church)," our late and most beloved Pope John Paul II took up the question of the dignity with which the Holy Mass must necessarily be celebrated.In presenting the model of the celebration of the Holy Eucharist, Pope John Paul II points to the account of the Lord’s Supper, found in the Gospels and in St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians (Matthew 26:26-30; Mark 14:22-26; Luke 22:14-20; John 13:1-17; and 1 Corinthians 11:17-34).Pondering the institution of the Holy Eucharist at the Last Supper, when our Lord Jesus Christ handed over His life to us sacramentally on the eve of handing over His life for us on the Cross, we discover the heart of Sacred Liturgy.

Our Lord’s celebration of the Last Supper or First Eucharist was marked by both simplicity and solemnity.The disposition of Christ at the First Eucharist is the foundation and model for all the liturgical rites, especially the Rite of the Mass, which have developed in the Church over the centuries. Christ commanded the Apostles to renew His Last Supper for the disciples, in every time and place, until the day of His Final Coming. He told them, in simple and direct language: "Do this in remembrance of me" (Luke 22:19; and 1 Corinthians 11:24).By these words, He consecrated the Apostles as priests for the offering of the Eucharistic Sacrifice.These words uncover the reason for the existence of the ordained priesthood, the Holy Eucharist, which, without the ordained ministry of the priest, cannot be celebrated.In a certain sense, the whole history of the Church may be described as the story of the obedience of the Apostles and their successors to our Lord’s commission to them at the Last Supper (no. 47a).

Anointing at Bethany

The attitude and disposition of Christ at the Last Supper is best understood by recalling the account of the Anointing at Bethany.At Bethany, shortly before His Passion and Death, Mary, the sister of Lazarus whom Christ had raised from the dead, anointed Jesus with a most precious oil.Some disciples, most notably the Apostle Judas Iscariot, who betrayed our Lord, objected strongly to Mary’s gesture of great reverence and love.Judas Iscariot and others saw it as a waste of resources which could have been used to provide for the poor.

Our Lord responds to their reaction in what may be, for some, a surprising manner. He teaches them that the anointing by Mary is an act of profound reverence for His body, the instrument by which He was to carry out our redemption. He, in no way, calls into question the responsibility to provide for the poor but indicates what is prior to our care for the poor and inspires it most fully and consistently, namely, our love of Him and our devotion toward Him.

Mary’s act of generous respect and love is imitated by us in the care which we take to have only the most fitting place for the celebration of the Holy Eucharist, and to use the best furnishings, vestments, linens and vessels for the Eucharistic Sacrifice.The Holy Father reminds us of our Lord’s command to the disciples to prepare the Upper Room for the Last Supper.The Church’s special care for the celebration of the Holy Eucharist reflects her faith in what takes place at the Mass; it reflects her deep reverence for our Lord Who is both our Priest and Victim in the Eucharistic Sacrifice (no. 47b).

St. Francis of Assisi

St. Francis of Assisi is a model of the consistent regard for the worthy celebration of the Mass and other sacraments.In his instructions, while requiring the strictest simplicity of life for himself and his friars, he urged that nothing should be spared in what is employed for the House of God and for the celebration of the Holy Mass and other Sacraments.In his Letter to All Clerics, St. Francis wrote:

"Those who are in charge of these sacred mysteries, and especially those who are careless about their task, should realize that the chalices, corporals and altar linens where the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ are offered in sacrifice should be completely suitable.And besides, many clerics reserve the Blessed Sacrament in unsuitable places, or carry It about irreverently, or receive It unworthily, or give It to all-comers without distinction.God’s holy name, too, and his written words are sometimes trodden underfoot, because the sensual man does not perceive the things that are of the Spirit of God" (1 Corinthians 2:14); (The Writings of St. Francis of Assisi, translated by Benen Fahy, OFM, Chicago: Franciscan Herald Press, 1964, p. 101).

The clear concern of St. Francis for the sacred places and the various elements of the Eucharistic Sacrifice was inspired by his firm faith that it is Christ Himself who acts through the sacraments and, in a pre-eminent way, in the Eucharistic Sacrifice.The truth which St. Francis expresses has been honored in a long and rich tradition of sacred art and architecture, also in the making of sacred linens, vestments and vessels.

In "The Testament of St. Francis," we read: "Above everything else, I want this most holy Sacrament to be honored and venerated and reserved in places which are richly ornamented.Whenever I find his most holy name or writings containing his words in an improper place, I make a point of picking them up, and I ask that they be picked up and put aside in a suitable place" (The Writings of St. Francis of Assisi, p. 67).

We, too, should spare nothing possible in showing our respect for the sacraments, the divinely inspired Word of God in the Holy Scriptures, and the place and the manner of the celebration of the Sacred Liturgy.

Liturgical faith of our ancestors

In reading the history of parishes in the archdiocese which are celebrating the 100th, 125th and 150th anniversary of their foundation, I am struck by the great sacrifices made by the faithful, most of them immigrants with very few means, to have, as soon as possible, a worthy parish church and worthy materials for the decoration of the Church and the celebration of the Eucharist and the other sacraments.It was not at all uncommon for a farmer to mortgage his farm in order to make a generous pledge toward the building of a fitting parish church or the provision of fitting sacred vessels and vestments.We marvel today at the extraordinary beauty of many of the churches which our ancestors constructed and decorated and furnished with the finest sacred art.Those who have gone before us in the archdiocese certainly had the faith of Mary at Bethany.The beautiful art and architecture which has been associated with our churches and their altars of sacrifice and other furnishings down the centuries inspires us to reflect upon the great mystery of the Eucharist, the Mystery of Faith.

Sacred banquet

The Holy Father rightly asks: "Could there ever be an adequate means of expressing the acceptance of that self-gift which the divine Bridegroom continually makes to his Bride, the Church, by bringing the Sacrifice offered once and for all on the Cross to successive generations of believers and thus becoming nourishment for all the faithful?" (no. 48).The Eucharist is indeed a banquet at which Christ feeds us with the incomparable Food which is His true Body and Blood.Recognition of the heavenly Food of the Holy Eucharist halts any tendency to a familiarity which would fail to recognize, respect and adore the true Body and Blood of Christ.

The Holy Eucharist is not adequately described as a banquet or meal, for it is a sacrificial banquet, a sacred banquet in which we partake of the holiness of God Himself.Pope John Paul II reminds us that the Sacred Host which we receive is truly the Bread of Angels, the Body of Christ, and, therefore, Holy Communion cannot be approached except with a profound sense of humility, the sense of our own unworthiness because of our sins.

During the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, I made a pastoral visitation to all of the Newman university apostolates in the Diocese of La Crosse.Usually, the visit consisted of praying the Evening Prayer of the Liturgy of the Hours, a meal and a time for discussion.At one visit, a student leader, who clearly was most interested in the faith and its practice, asked me the meaning of the prayer we say before Holy Communion, when the priest holds up the Sacred Host, saying: "This is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world."He stated that the prayer, "Lord, I am not worthy to receive you," made no sense to him because, according to his mind, we are worthy to receive Holy Communion.His question made me recognize more than ever the serious need of a thorough catechesis regarding the reality of the Holy Eucharist and our relationship to our Eucharistic Lord.

When we pray at Mass and, most especially, when we come forward to receive Holy Communion, there is at once a sense of God’s great intimacy with us, inviting us to participate in the mystery of His Son’s Suffering, Dying and Rising from the Dead, and a sense of our unworthiness and of great awe before the presence of God Himself.That is the reason why our churches are not built as multi-purpose centers, meeting halls or banquet facilities.It is also the reason why we should be very attentive to the manner of our dress and our comportment in church, especially during the celebration of the Eucharistic Sacrifice and Banquet.

Liturgical law

The outward aspects of the celebration of the Holy Eucharist express our interior disposition, in imitation of Mary at Bethany.For that reason, the Church has developed liturgical laws which both safeguard and promote the fitting disposition or devotion before the greatest treasure of our Catholic faith and practice, the Holy Eucharist.The Church’s liturgical norms, developed over the centuries of her life, safeguard the fitting celebration of the Holy Eucharist.The development of liturgical norms has been accompanied by a parallel development of sacred art, architecture and music to express and strengthen faith in the Holy Eucharist.

Pope John Paul II evokes the rich history of sacred architecture, beginning with the churches in the home. The developments in design of churches and of their altars and tabernacles is not merely a reflection of the great art of the various periods of the Church’s history but, most of all, an expression of the profound faith in the mystery of the Holy Eucharist.The examples of original art and quality craftsmanship in the building of churches, and especially of their altars and tabernacles, from the very first days of the Church, tells a wonderful story of faith in the Holy Eucharist.In visiting beautiful churches, one notes how the various furnishings have been beautifully designed and crafted.Special attention was fittingly given to the confection of beautiful vestments for the celebration of the Holy Eucharist and of fine linens on which to place the sacred species or with which to cleanse the sacred vessels, and to the production of beautiful vessels to contain the Body and Blood of Christ.

In the same way, sacred music has developed down the Christian centuries to help lift the minds and hearts of the faithful to contemplate the great mystery of faith, which is the Holy Eucharist.Gregorian Chant is, of course, the greatest jewel in the body of music written specifically for the celebration of the Holy Mass.As is the case with sacred art, there is a rich history of beautiful music written for the Eucharistic Sacrifice (no. 49).

Pope John Paul II refers to a certain competition in sacred art and architecture between the East and the West.He reminds us especially of the strong sense of the mystery of faith expressed in the sacred art of the East.As he states, it is a call for all of us to make certain the Church is, above all else, "a profoundly Eucharistic Church" (no. 50).


Our late Holy Father also reflected upon the legitimate desire of the Church in new places to employ the "forms, styles and sensibilities of different cultures" in the celebration of the Holy Eucharist, so that it can truly be spiritual food for all peoples (no. 51a).The proper term for the rooting of the Catholic faith and practice in a particular culture is inculturation.Clearly, it is a delicate process because there may be elements of the local culture which need purification and transformation before they can fittingly receive and serve the Eucharistic mystery.

Inculturation must always be secondary to respect for the mystery of the Holy Eucharist, lest the greatest treasure of our faith be obscured or, even worse, betrayed.Any experimentation in inculturation must be reviewed by Church authority with the involvement of the Apostolic See "because the Sacred Liturgy expresses and celebrates the one faith professed by all and, being the heritage of the whole Church, cannot be determined by local Churches in isolation from the universal Church" (no. 51b).

Responsibility of priests

Priests act in the person of Christ at the Holy Eucharist and, therefore, bear an especially weighty responsibility for the worthy celebration of the Mass.They are "to provide a witness to and a service of communion not only for the community taking part in the celebration, but also for the universal Church which is part of every Eucharist" (no. 52a).

Pope John Paul II writes very frankly about abuses
which have entered into the celebration of the Holy Eucharist because of "a misguided sense of creativity and adaptation" (no. 52).He begs that the liturgical law pertaining to the celebration of the Holy Mass be faithfully observed.He reminds us that the Sacred Liturgy is never the private possession of the priest or the community, and speaks of the deep suffering caused to the faithful by abuses introduced into the celebration of the Mass.Our observance of liturgical law is a fundamental expression of love of Christ and of the Church.


Because of the importance of the fitting and dignified celebration of the Holy Eucharist, Pope John Paul II, at the conclusion of Chapter 5, announced the preparation of a special document "to bring out more clearly this deeper meaning of liturgical norms" (no. 52b).On March 19, 2004, Pope John Paul II approved the document in question, prepared by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments and entitled "Instruction on Certain Matters To Be Observed or To Be Avoided regarding the Most Holy Eucharist (Redemptionis Sacramentum)." The document was published on the following March 25, the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord.As we continue our observance of the Year of the Eucharist, I will also be writing reflections on "Redemptionis Sacramentum."

I conclude with the words with which Pope John Paul II concluded Chapter 5 of "Ecclesia de Eucharistia":
"No one is permitted to undervalue the mystery entrusted to our hands: it is too great for anyone to feel free to treat it lightly and with disregard for its sacredness and its universality" (no. 52).

May the special graces of the Year of the Eucharist lead us to an ever greater appreciation of the great mystery of the Eucharist, the Mystery of Faith, and to the expression of reverence for the Holy Eucharist by our care to celebrate the Holy Mass with the greatest care for its incomparable dignity.

Sacrament of Communion


Having interrupted my reflections upon Pope John Paul II’s encyclical letter "Ecclesia de Eucharistia (On the Eucharist in Its Relationship to the Church)," to address the historic events of the death of Pope John Paul II and the election of Pope Benedict XVI, and to urge your participation in the Annual Catholic Appeal for the support of the Church’s many apostolates, I return to the consideration of the encyclical letter as an aid to your participation in the Year of the Eucharist.Today, I write about the fourth chapter, "The Eucharist and Ecclesial Communion."

The principal image with which the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council described the nature of the Church was communion.The Church is the instrument of our communion with God and with one another.It is her mission to safeguard and foster our communion with God — Father, Son and Holy Spirit — and our communion with all the faithful.

The celebration of the Holy Eucharist is the highest expression of the Church’s identity as communion.Through the celebration of the Holy Eucharist, the Church best carries out her mission of maintaining and promoting "communion with the Triune God and communion among the faithful" (no. 34).It is not surprising to us, therefore, that one of our most common ways of naming the Holy Eucharist is Holy Communion.

Desire for Holy Communion

There can be no fuller communion with God than the Holy Eucharist, in which we receive the Body of Christ, God the Son made man for our salvation.For the person of faith, all other goods in life are seen always in relationship to the Holy Eucharist, our greatest good.The measure of the depth of our Catholic faith is clearly the strength of our desire to receive Holy Communion.

Our late Holy Father reminded us that the practice of making a "spiritual communion" comes from our deep desire to receive the Body of Christ."Spiritual communion" is the expression of our profound and enduring desire to receive the Body of Christ.The act of spiritual communion prepares us fittingly for the time when we are able to receive Holy Communion.

Whenever we experience a period of time during which we may not receive Holy Communion because we are guilty of a mortal sin which we have not confessed in the Sacrament of Penance or because we are, in some other way, not properly disposed to receive, then we unite ourselves to Christ in the best possible way by expressing, in prayer, our desire to receive Him.God always responds to our act of spiritual communion with the help of His grace.Regarding spiritual communion, Pope John Paul II quotes St. Teresa of Avila, doctor of the Church:

"When you do not receive communion and you do not attend Mass, you can make a spiritual communion, which is a most beneficial practice; by it the love of God will be greatly impressed on you" (no. 34b).

Too easily, receiving Holy Communion can become rote for us.Whenever we are at Mass, we simply receive Holy Communion without reflecting upon the reality of the sacrament and our disposition to receive the Body of Christ.

The temptation to receive Holy Communion without recognizing the sacrament has beset the Church from her very beginnings.St. Paul addressed the situation of Christians at Corinth who were receiving Holy Communion while, at the same time, engaging publicly in activities which offended Christ and contradicted true communion with Him (1 Corinthians 11:17-29).The practice of making "spiritual communion" helps us to avoid approaching the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist routinely, that is, without due reflection.

Invisible dimension of communion

Pope John Paul II points out that the Holy Eucharist sustains and develops a certain communion which necessarily must precede it and which it expresses.The communion which participation in the Holy Eucharist presupposes has both invisible and visible dimensions.

The invisible dimension of communion is the life of grace within us.It is only by God’s grace that we have communion with Him and with one another.God, for His part, gives us the virtues of faith, hope and love — our reason for calling them the theological virtues — and we, for our part, cultivate these virtues and the moral virtues by which we, with the help and under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, become more like Christ.

The invisible dimension of communion, which is the presupposition of Eucharistic Communion, demands that we examine ourselves before approaching to receive the Body of Christ and that, if we are conscious of having committed a mortal sin, we seek the forgiveness of God in the Sacrament of Penance before approaching to receive Holy Communion (no. 36).

The Sacraments of the Holy Eucharist and Penance are intimately related to each other.Communion in the Body of Christ necessarily inspires daily conversion of life, which is greatly helped through frequent confession.With the ardent desire of the Holy Eucharist comes also a deep sorrow for the ways in which we have offended God and our neighbor.The response to sorrow for sin, even venial sin, is the reconciliation with God and with the Church, which is God’s gift to us in the Sacrament of Penance.Grave or mortal sin prohibits our reception of Holy Communion, until we have received God’s forgiveness of our sin in the Sacrament of Penance.Eucharistic Communion, moreover, will inspire within us the desire to confess also our venial sins, lest we grow complacent and lukewarm in our love of Christ in the Holy Eucharist.

Each of us must examine his conscience regarding the state of grace, which is required to receive Holy Communion, each time we approach the sacrament.The Holy Father also mentions the case of public conduct which is "seriously, clearly and steadfastly contrary to the moral norm."If a person is guilty of such conduct, then the Church must deny Holy Communion to him (canon 915 of the Code of Canon Law).If the person guilty of such conduct does not examine his conscious and refrain from approaching to receive Holy Communion, then the Church herself is required to refuse Holy Communion to the person.Such action of the Church is required to safeguard the sanctity of the Most Blessed Sacrament and to avoid confusion and scandal in the community of faith (no. 37).

Visible dimension of communion

The visible dimension of the communion which is the precondition for Eucharistic Communion is oneness in the doctrine of the faith, in the sacraments and in Church governance (nos. 35a and 38a). Reception of the Body of Christ is the manifestation of fullness of communion in the Church and, therefore, demands that the visible bonds of communion be present.It is, therefore, never permitted to give Holy Communion to someone who dissents from the truth of the faith regarding the Holy Eucharist or who is not baptized (no. 38b).

Eucharistic Communion is also communion with one’s own bishop and with the Roman pontiff, for the celebration of the Holy Eucharist in the local community is the celebration of the one Church throughout the whole world.The bishop is "the visible principle and the foundation of unity within his particular Church."It is a contradiction to speak of the celebration of the Church’s great sacrament of unity when communion with the bishop is lacking.Likewise, the Holy Eucharist must be celebrated in communion with the Roman pontiff, the successor of St. Peter, who, in the words of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, is "the perpetual and visible source and foundation of the unity of the bishops and of the multitude of the faithful" (no. 39b).

Fostering communion

Participation in Holy Communion, when it is sincere, leads us to examine anything which separates us from one another, and to seek reconciliation.Holy Communion fosters harmony among the members of the Body of Christ.

The obligation of participation in Sunday Mass follows from the importance of the Holy Eucharist in fostering communion among all the members of the Church.In the Holy Eucharist, the community of disciples finds its true identity, and also the inspiration and strength to conform itself more and more to that identity by overcoming any element of division.Pope John Paul II recalled his apostolic letter "Dies Domini (Day of the Lord)," in which he presented the rich significance of the Sunday Mass obligation.

"All of us have responsibility for the fostering of communion in the Church and, therefore, must give special care to the Holy Eucharist.Those who have pastoral authority in the Church are especially bound to make known and to apply faithfully the Church’s "norms aimed both at fostering frequent and fruitful access of the faithful to the eucharistic table and at determining the objective conditions under which Communion may not be given" (no. 42).

The Holy Eucharist fosters unity among Christians through the prayer, which it naturally inspires, that all may be one in Christ.At the same time, because Eucharistic Communion requires full communion in the faith, in the sacraments and in Church governance, it is not possible to celebrate the Holy Eucharist when those bonds do not fully exist.To attempt the celebration of the Holy Eucharist with those who are not in full communion with the Church is not a means of fostering unity and, in fact, becomes an obstacle to unity because it ignores what yet divides us and causes confusion about fundamental truths of the faith (no. 44).

Our late Holy Father reviewed the Church’s discipline regarding the administration of the Sacraments of the Holy Eucharist, Penance and Anointing of the Sick to Christians who are not in full communion with the Catholic Church.They may receive these sacraments under the following conditions, to be verified in the case of each individual who request the sacraments: 1) the individual cannot approach his own minister; 2) he seeks the sacraments spontaneously; 3) he manifests Catholic faith in the sacraments; and 4) he is properly disposed (canon 844, paragraphs 3-4).Pope John Paul II made clear that the just-mentioned discipline respects "a grave spiritual need for the eternal salvation of an individual believer."It is not an attempt "to bring about an intercommunion which remains impossible until the visible bonds of ecclesial communion are fully re-established" (no. 45a).

In this regard, our late and beloved Holy Father reminded us that an essential part of faith in the sacraments is "the truth regarding the need of the ministerial priesthood for their validity."If the person requesting the sacraments does not hold to this truth, then he or she does not manifest Catholic faith in the sacraments and may not receive them.This also explains the discipline by which a Catholic, under certain conditions, may approach a non-Catholic minister to receive the Sacraments of the Holy Eucharist, Penance and the Anointing of the Sick, as long as the sacraments are validly celebrated in the Church of the non-Catholic minister (canon 844, paragraph 2) (nos. 45-46).


The careful study of the relationship of Holy Communion to the communion of the Church inspires in us an ever deeper knowledge and love of our Eucharistic Lord.Such study also helps us to give faithful witness to the sacred truth regarding the Holy Eucharist, our greatest treasure of faith, so that the Blessed Sacrament may foster our communion with God — Father, Son and Holy Spirit — and our communion with our fellow members of the Church and with all Christians.

Mary's month


We, in the Church, dedicate the month of May to the honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In our families, we give special attention to the praying of the rosary and to making a May Altar.In our parishes, Catholic schools and other Catholic institutions, it is also the month for the celebration of public devotions to the Mother of God, including the May Crowning, the crowning of the statue of the Blessed Mother with beautiful flowers as a sign of her honor and our devoted love.

May is a fitting time to give attention to our relationship with the Virgin Mary and to grow in our love of her.In May, the earth becomes fresh with new growth.The many flowers and flowering trees, especially the fruit trees, are a sign of the beauty and fruitfulness of the earth.Farmers plow the fields and plant the seeds which soon sprout, giving hope of an abundant harvest to feed and clothe us.Gardens are hoed and sown with seeds of flowers and vegetables.

Spiritually, we consider the unimaginable spiritual fruitfulness of Mary who conceived our Lord in her womb, through the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit, and brought him into the world at Bethlehem. Mary is indeed the Mother of our Redeemer.Her spiritual motherhood is fully expressed in a life totally dedicated to our Lord, her Divine Son.She was not only His mother but also His best disciple.We see Mary’s discipleship powerfully reflected in her standing at the foot of the cross, assisting her Divine Son at His dying, and in her care for our Lord’s burial.Perhaps the words which describe best the life and vocation of Mary are the last of her words to be recorded in the holy Gospels.At the Wedding feast at Cana, she said to the wine stewards who came to seek her help: "Do whatever He tells you" (John 2:5).Her help was to send those in need to Christ. Surely, we want to do whatever Christ tells us, and it is Mary who will never fail to bring us to her Son, to know His will and to do it with a pure heart, like her own Immaculate Heart.

Devotions in the home and parish

As a child, I always looked forward to May as a time to show special love to our Blessed Mother. Especially in Wisconsin, where I grew up and where the winter months are long, May is most welcome.

In my home, the May Altar was placed in a prominent place.A special table was designated and covered with a beautiful cloth. The statue of the Blessed Mother was placed on the table.A candle and vase with fresh flowers was placed near the statue.We children took care to gather the fresh flowers, lilacs and other flowers which bloomed in May for our heavenly Mother.Daily prayers venerating our Blessed Mother and asking her intercession were offered before her enthroned image.
The family rosary gave special joy and inspiration during May.With the new growth of the springtime, there was also a new spiritual growth in appreciation of the depth and power of the Church’s favorite prayer to Mary.The Memorare also became a favorite prayer.It expresses so well our filial relationship with the Mother of Christ, whom, in the moment of His greatest act of love for us, He gave to us as our mother.

Public praying of the rosary in the parish and Catholic school, processions in honor of the Mother of God and the crowning of her statue all helped me to become a more loving and obedient son of Mary.The beautiful hymns to the honor of Mary — "The Lourdes Hymn"; "Hail Holy Queen, Enthroned Above"; "Daily, Daily Sing to Mary";"Sing of Mary"; "O Sanctissima"; "Be Joyful, Mary"; "Ave Maria"; "Salve, Mater Misericordiae," to name a few — expressed a son’s fervent love and helped inspire a more fervent devotion to our Blessed Mother.
The special prayers, hymns and devotions are, of course, also the occasion for parents to speak with their children about the Virgin Mary and her place in our spiritual life.In Catholic school and in the Parish School of Religion, May is also a time for lessons in Marian devotion, the study of the classical Church teaching regarding our Blessed Mother and familiar conversation about her.

Cardinal Carberry’s plan

Cardinal John Joseph Carberry, the sixth bishop and fifth archbishop of St. Louis, proposed an excellent plan for the observance of Mary’s month.It is described in his book, "Mary, Queen and Mother: Marian Pastoral Reflections," published by the Daughters of St. Paul in 1979, from page 26 through page 32.Cardinal Carberry reminded us of how easy it is take a relationship for granted, even our relationship with our Blessed Mother.He urged us to make May a time to reconnect or to connect more strongly with our Mother in Heaven.He wrote:

"For the month of May we would ask you to do the following: think of Mary; pray to Mary; speak of Mary; and read about Mary.It is hardly asking too much, for everyone, young and old, if they will, (to) have the name of Mary in their minds. They can whisper it in daily prayer, they can pronounce it in conversations with their companions, and lastly they can constantly read the beautiful praises that are written to the honor and glory of Mary" (p. 27).

May devotions give the occasion to carry out the excellent program of Cardinal Carberry.

Thinking of Mary leads us to a realization of how close she is to us, how much she cares for us, how warmly she welcomes our prayers for her intercession.The wine stewards at the wedding feast of Cana, in a moment of potentially great embarrassment, immediately thought of going to Mary for help.By looking daily upon the image of our Blessed Mother and considering her deep maternal care, we will go to Mary in all things, trusting that she will lead us to Christ.Cardinal Carberry cautions us about the result of negligence in thinking daily of Mary, as we think daily of all those we most love:

"(I)f we never think of her, if we forget that she is a real person, as real as your parents, or your children, we will reach the stage when we rarely ever think of her — and the opposite is true — if we think of Mary, understand who she was and is, know how much she loves us, and intercedes for us, if we can learn what she has done for thousands of her devoted children ... if these facts are constantly in our minds ... then, we will never forget, we will always be thinking of her!" (p. 28).
Daily, we should simply repeat the name of Mary, thinking of all that she meant to our Lord and all that she means to us, then we will grow in our devotion to the Mother of God and experience her powerful help in our daily living.

When we think of Mary, we spontaneously speak to her, pray to her.Two of my favorite prayers to Mary are the Memorare and the rosary.Both prayers are simple and yet most profound.They lead us to a deeper love of our Blessed Mother and a surer trust in her never-failing intercession.Often, we think that we do not have the time to pray the rosary.As Cardinal Carberry points out, the praying of the rosary takes 10 to 15 minutes, a relatively short time to spend with someone we love so much (p. 30).As we grow in love of our Blessed Mother, we will look forward to the praying of the rosary, which draws us to her side in contemplating the great mystery of our Redemption in her Divine Son.

Our closeness to our Blessed Mother makes us want to speak with others about her.It is especially important that parents speak with their children about their relationship with Mary and the help which they have received in asking her intercession. Our witness to the place of Mary in our lives will help others to discover or grow in their relationship with Mary.In this regard, it is especially important that we be prepared to give an account of our Marian devotion to those who would question it or consider it to detract somehow from our relationship with Christ Who alone is our salvation.We should never be ashamed to acknowledge our love of Christ’s Mother, for she brought Christ into the world and He entrusted us to her and her to us, as he was dying on the cross (John 19:26-27).

Lastly, Cardinal Carberry urges us to read about Mary.There are many wonderful texts of the Church’s teaching, of our Holy Fathers and of theologians, which help us to understand more fully Mary’s irreplaceable service in Christ’s saving work.I recommend to you especially Pope John PaulII’s apostolic letter "Rosarium Virginis Mariae (On the Most Holy Rosary)," published on Oct. 16, 2002, the beginning of our late Holy Father’s 25h year of service as bishop of the universal Church. It is readily available through the Daughters of St. Paul.

Three other books which I recommend are Father Benedict J. Groeschel’s meditations on the mysteries of the rosary in his book, "The Rosary: Chain of Hope," published by Ignatius Press; and Fulton J. Sheen’s "The World’s First Love: Mary, Mother of God," originally published in 1952 and reprinted in 1996 by Ignatius Press.Another helpful book for growing in an appreciation of all that the Mother of God has done and does for us is John Martin’s "Roses, Fountains and Gold: The Virgin Mary in History, Art and Apparition."It is also published by Ignatius Press.

Mary, Woman of the Eucharist

Our May devotions to Mary have a most special meaning in the context of our observance of the Year of the Eucharist, as our late Pope John Paul II asked us to do from October of last year to October of this year.Already, in his first address to the cardinals after his election to the See of Peter, Pope Benedict XVI asked "everyone to intensify in coming months love and devotion to the Eucharistic Jesus and to express in a courageous and clear way the Real Presence of the Lord, above all through the solemnity and correctness of the celebrations."

Chapter Six of Pope John Paul II’s encyclical letter "Ecclesia de Eucharistia (On the Eucharist in Its Relationship to the Church)," is titled: "At the School of Mary, ‘Woman of the Eucharist.’"In it, the Holy Father reminded us that it is Mary who draws us to Christ in the Holy Eucharist.This truth is reflected in the last of the new Luminous Mysteries of the rosary, the Institution of the Holy Eucharist.

Our Holy Father reminded us that the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ, given to us in the Most Blessed Sacrament, was first given to us in the womb of the Virgin Mary through the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit.Just as Mary trusted that God’s promises to her would be fulfilled and so responded to her vocation of Mother of God, so, too, we trust that God’s promises to us will be fulfilled, especially through the Eucharistic Sacrifice, and we respond to our vocation of bringing Christ to the world, as married persons, dedicated single persons, consecrated persons and priests.

As Pope John Paul II pointed out, Mary anticipated each day the Sacrifice of Calvary, which is ever new for us in the Eucharistic Sacrifice. The Holy Father wrote:
"In her daily preparation for Calvary, Mary experienced a kind of ‘anticipated Eucharist’ — one might say a ‘spiritual communion’ — of desire and of oblation, which would culminate in her union with her Son in His passion, and then find expression after Easter by her partaking in the Eucharist which the Apostles celebrated as the memorial of that passion (Ecclesia de Eucharistia, no. 56a).

It is Mary who best teaches us what it means to have communion with our Lord, to share in His Passion in order to share also in His Resurrection.It is Mary who leads us to an ever greater wonder before the mystery of the Holy Eucharist and an ever more fruitful participation in the Eucharistic Sacrifice.We have seen the truth of Pope John Paul II’s teaching in his own life.He gave his life entirely to Mary (Totus Tuus), so that, with Mary, he could be totally in Christ and for Christ.

Truly, as Pope John Paul II wrote, "[i]n the Eucharist the Church is completely united to Christ and His sacrifice, and makes her own the spirit of Mary" (no. 58a). Our growth in devotion to Mary during the month of May will be the occasion for us to grow in love of our Eucharistic Lord.


For Catholics of the continent of America, love of Mary has a most special focus, for the Mother of God has appeared on Tepeyac Hill, in today’s Mexico City, in 1531, to express her maternal love for her children of our continent and of the whole world.She appeared to St. Juan Diego, a devout Native American and to his uncle, Juan Bernardino. In a most remarkable sign of love, she left her image for us on the tilma or mantle of St. Juan Diego.Bishop Juan de Zumrraga, first bishop of Mexico, witnessed directly the miracle of the image. It was to Juan Bernardino that she revealed her special title in coming to our continent: the Perfect Virgin Holy Mary of Guadalupe (A Handbook on Guadalupe, New Bedford, Mass.: Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate, 1997, p. 204).

Sadly, many of our continent, especially of North America, know very little of the apparitions at Tepeyac.They are, perhaps, the most wonderful of all our Blessed Mother’s many apparitions.Pope Benedict XIV, in 1754, when he was presented with an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe and was told the story of her apparitions, exclaimed in the words of Psalm 147:20, "God has not dealt thus with any other nation," "Non fecit taliter omni nationi."Pope Benedict XIV made the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Dec. 12, a holy day of obligation with an octave of the first class for the Church in Mexico.The message of Our Lady of Guadalupe and her miraculous image, which can be venerated today in the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City, are a testimony to God’s all-merciful love of us.Our Lady of Guadalupe draws us to her Son, in order that we may know God’s mercy and love in our lives.Since the time of Pope Benedict XIV, a number of Roman Pontiffs have given special honor to Our Lady of Guadalupe and commended to her intercession the good of our continent.I think especially of Pope Pius VII, Pope Leo XIII, Pope St. Pius X, Pope Pius XI, Pope Pius XII, Pope John XXIII and Pope Paul VI (A Handbook on Guadalupe, pp. 174-176).

Our late Pope John Paul II showed a special love of Our Lady of Guadalupe, visiting her in Mexico City on several occasions, beginning in 1979.In his post-synodal apostolic exhortation "Ecclesia in America (On the Encounter with the Living Jesus Christ: The Way to Conversion, Communion and Solidarity in America)," published at the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City on Jan. 22, 1999 (just days before his pastoral visit to St. Louis), Pope John Paul II gave his blessing to two special titles for Our Lady of Guadalupe, namely, Mother of America and Star of the New Evangelization, and he established Dec. 12 as the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe for all of America. He wrote:

"With the passage of time, pastors and faithful alike have grown increasingly conscious of the role of the Virgin Mary in the evangelization of America.In the prayer composed for the Special Assembly for America of the Synod of Bishops, Holy Mary of Guadalupe is invoked as ‘Patroness of all America and Star of the first and new evangelization.’ In view of this, I welcome with joy the proposal of the Synod Fathers that the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mother and Evangelizer of America, be celebrated throughout the continent on Dec. 12.It is my heartfelt hope that she, whose intercession was responsible for strengthening the faith of the first disciples (John 2:11), will by her maternal intercession guide the Church in America, obtaining the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, as she once did for the early Church (Acts 1:14), so that the new evangelization may yield a splendid flowering of Christian life" (no. 11e).

In a special way, I urge you to observe the month of May, the month of Mary, by growing in devotion to the Mother of God under her title, Our Lady of Guadalupe.As you grow in your knowledge of the Mother of America, she will also be the Star of the New Evangelization for you, leading you to Christ, so that you may lead others and our world to Christ.

Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mother of America and Star of the New Evangelization, pray for us!

Pope Benedict XVI: Christ’s humble servant


Our Lord has blessed us with a new shepherd for the universal Church, Pope Benedict XVI.Having enjoyed the extraordinary service of Pope John Paul II, we prayed fervently for a worthy successor to St. Peter as Vicar of Christ on earth.Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger worked intimately with our late Holy Father for practically his entire pontificate.His words at the Mass of Christian Burial for Pope John Paul II and since the time of his election make clear the profound esteem which he has for the late Holy Father and his desire to continue Pope John Paul II’s work of the new evangelization.

On April 23 I offered the Holy Mass, with the participation of priests, consecrated persons and laity from throughout the archdiocese, for the intentions of Pope Benedict XVI.We cannot imagine the heaviness of the burdens of his office.We want to lighten those burdens with our prayers, our affectionate love and our obedience.The Mass offered for his intentions was the best way that the faithful of the Archdiocese of St. Louis could assist our new Holy Father at the beginning of his service as successor of St. Peter.What follows is an adaptation of the homily which I gave at the Mass.
Christ always provides for the Church

Throughout the Easter Season, we hear readings from the Acts of the Apostles, which testify to the living presence of the Risen Christ in the Church.Hearing the accounts of the first days of the life of the Church, we marvel at how Christ is always providing for the needs of His Bride.In tonight’s First Reading, we have heard how our Risen Lord provided for the ordination of deacons to carry out the ministry of charity, in union with the bishops and priests.

We see in the events recounted in the Acts of the Apostles the fulfillment of Christ’s promise made to the disciples during His last conversation with them before His Passion and Death.He urged them to put aside their fears at His return to God the Father, for the very purpose of His Passion and Death was to be the Resurrection and the Sending of the Holy Spirit.Christ rose from the dead and ascended to the right hand of the Father to pour forth into our souls the gift of the Holy Spirit.The Risen Christ returned to the Father, so that He might always work, through us, in the world.He told the disciples:

"[W]hoever believes in Me will do the works I do, and will do greater ones than these, because I am going to the Father (Gospel)."

Reflecting upon the life of the Church in her earliest days, we consider our own life in the Church, united, by an unbroken line of apostolic ministry, to the life of the first disciples.We recognize our great dignity.We have been called "out of darkness into (Christ’s) wonderful light" to be "living stones" which make up the spiritual house of the Church (Reading II).

Christ provides a new shepherd

Our reflection upon the living presence of the Risen Christ in the Church, from her very beginning until the present, is most fitting as we gather tonight to pray for Pope Benedict XVI, our new shepherd in the universal Church.Within a few hours, God willing, our Holy Father will offer the Eucharistic Sacrifice to begin his service as successor of St. Peter, vicar of Christ on earth.We see in the election of our new pope a most comforting sign of Christ’s faithful presence in the Church, providing for all her needs.

In these days, we have experienced directly how Christ, through the action of the Holy Spirit, always provides a shepherd for the universal Church, as He first did through the call and consecration of St. Peter.In the words of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, "[t]he Roman Pontiff, as the successor of Peter, is the perpetual and visible source and foundation of the unity both of the bishops and of the whole company of the faithful" (Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen gentium, no. 23a).St. Peter and his successors guard and foster the unity of our Catholic faith and practice and, thereby, guard and foster our communion with Christ who alone is our salvation.

The burdens of the Roman pontiff

We are deeply conscious of the challenges of following Christ in our time and what these mean for the shepherd of the universal Church.Our late and beloved Pope John Paul II wrote in his last testament: "The times we are living in are unspeakably difficult and disturbing.The Church’s journey has also become difficult and stressful, ... " (The testament of John Paul II: Totus tuus ego sum, L’Osservatore Romano, weekly edition in English, April, 13, 2005, page 4).

Then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, as dean of the College of Cardinals, in his homily at the Mass for the Election of the Pope on the morning of the opening of the conclave, reflected upon the same difficulty of teaching the unchanging word of Christ in a world in which "a dictatorship of relativism is being formed" (Ratzinger: Let us ask God for a pastor to lead us to Christ, Vatican Information Service, April 18, 2005, page 2).We live in a world in which the teaching of Christ, handed down faithfully in the Church, is viewed, even most sadly by some Catholics, as just one more opinion, when, in fact, it is the divinely revealed and abiding truth about God, ourselves and our world.
Considering the burdens which Pope Benedict XVI has accepted for the sake of the Church throughout the world, one recalls the words of our Risen Lord to St. Peter on the occasion of the miraculous catch of fish at the Sea of Tiberias.After our Risen Lord had served breakfast to the Apostles, he asked St. Peter three times: "Simon, son of John, do you love me?" (John 21:15, 16, 17).Peter, with sorrow, surely recalling how he had three times denied that he even knew our Lord during His Passion, fervently confessed his love of Christ.When, for a third time, he confessed his love of our Lord, our Lord spoke words to St. Peter, which indicated the full import of that love:

"Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young you girded yourself and walked where you would; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish to go" (John 21:18).

The Gospel comments that these words were intended to show the death by which St. Peter would give glory to God.Our Lord then said to St. Peter: "Follow me" (John 21:19).

Surely, our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, has obediently responded to our Lord’s invitation to follow Him and understands the immolation of self, which such obedience entails.As he reminded us in his homily before the beginning of the conclave:

"The mercy of Christ is not cut-rate grace, it does not presuppose that evil is something banal.Jesus bears all the weight of evil, all its destructive force, in His Body and upon His Soul (Ratzinger: Let us ask God for a pastor to lead us to Christ, Vatican Information Service, April 18, 2005, page 1).

Following Christ necessarily means carrying the cross with Him and engaging with Him in the spiritual warfare through which He overcomes sin and death in our individual lives and transforms our world into a civilization of His divine love and mercy.

Abandonment to Divine Providence

Surely, Pope Benedict XVI, at 78 years of age, may well have thought that his service of Christ would now permit him to have some relief from the burdens of pastoral office, the heavy burdens of his outstanding and yet most difficult service as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith.Our Lord, however, through the work of the Holy Spirit, has called him to go where he perhaps would not wish, to serve even more fully the universal Church, now as its Supreme Pastor.In his first address to the College of Cardinals, on the day after his election, our Holy Father stated:

"Surprising every prevision I had, Divine Providence, through the will of the venerable cardinal fathers, called me to succeed this great Pope ....I undertake this special ministry, the "Petrine" ministry at the service of the universal Church, with humble abandon to the hands of the Providence of God.And it is to Christ in the first place that I renew my total and trustworthy adhesion" (Benedict XVI, a pope of Christ, communion, collegiality, Vatican Information Service, April 20, 2005, pages 1-2).

In his memoirs published in 1997, then-Cardinal Ratzinger commented on his life as a bishop, reflecting upon the image of the bear of St. Corbinian, founding bishop of Freising, the ancient see which is now the Archdiocese of Munich and Freising, to which Cardinal Ratzinger was called to serve as archbishop.He relates the story to a meditation of St. Augustine on the text of verses 22 and 23 of Psalm 73 (72).

St. Corbinian’s bear: Christ’s donkey

As the story goes, St. Corbinian was on his way to Rome when a bear attacked and killed his pack animal, his donkey.St. Corbinian rebuked the bear and placed the load of the donkey upon his back to carry to Rome.The story of the bear of St. Corbinian reminded the cardinal of St. Augustine’s meditation on the verses of Psalm 73 which he translates thusly:

"A draft animal am I before you, for you, and this is precisely how I abide with you" (Psalm 73:22-23; Joseph Ratzinger, Milestones: Memoirs 1927-1977, San Francisco: Ignatius Press, page 155).

The cardinal, like St. Augustine, had chosen the life of a scholar, but God called him to take up the burdens of the episcopal office, eventually serving the Holy Father as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.He comments on the frustrations which St. Augustine experienced in dealing with the many practical concerns of a pastor of souls, when he had in mind to carry out great intellectual and spiritual works.

The text of the psalm reminded the saint and reminded Cardinal Ratzinger that God chose to keep them close to Him by having them serve as His "draft animals," carrying out the humble tasks of the pastoral office, rather than the exalted service which they had in mind for themselves.Relating the meditation of St. Augustine to the story of St. Corbinian’s bear, Cardinal Ratzinger comments:

"Just as the draft animal is closest to the farmer, doing his work for him, so is Augustine closest to God precisely through such humble service, completely within God’s hand, completely His instrument.He could not be closer to his Lord or be more important to Him.The laden bear that took the place of St. Corbinian’s horse, or rather donkey — the bear that became his donkey against its will: Is this not an image of what I should do and of what I am?"A beast of burden have I become for you, and this is just the way for me to remain wholly yours and always abide with you" (Milestones, pages 156-157).

Tonight, we thank God for Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, who has found his happiness in serving as Christ’s "donkey," His "draft animal," who has given his entire self to working humbly and steadfastly with Christ in the vineyard of the Father.When we see the image of the bear of St. Corbinian on his coat-of-arms, may we be reminded of how he has given and gives his life in service to Christ and His Church.

Assisting our Holy Father with his burdens

Conscious of the many and heavy burdens which our Holy Father carries, with Christ, for us, let us assist him, offering him the joy of our faithful prayers, loyal affection and unfailing obedience.Our Holy Father, in continuity with the teaching and direction of his much beloved predecessor Pope John Paul II, has already given us an indication of his desires for our growth in holiness of life.In his first address to the College of Cardinals on the day after his election, Pope Benedict XVI stated that the Holy Eucharist "cannot but be the permanent center and the source of the petrine service entrusted to [him]" (Benedict XVI, a pope of Christ, communion, collegiality, Vatican Information Service, April 20, 2005, page 2).

Reflecting upon Divine Providence, which called him to the office of St. Peter during the Year of the Eucharist, he has asked that the Solemnity of Corpus Christi "be celebrated in a particularly special way."He reminded us that the celebration of World Youth Day in Cologne in August will center on the Holy Eucharist, and that the Ordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, to be held this coming October, will devote itself to the theme:

"The Eucharist, Source and Summit of the Life and Mission of the Church."He concluded with a solemn request addressed to us all:

"I ask everyone to intensify in coming months love and devotion to the Eucharistic Jesus and to express in a courageous and clear way the real presence of the Lord, above all through the solemnity and the correctness of the celebrations" (Benedict XVI, a pope of Christ, communion, collegiality, Vatican Information Service, April 20, 2005, page 3).

As we thank God tonight for the gift of Pope Benedict XVI, let us help him shoulder his heavy burdens by deepening and strengthening our knowledge and love of the Holy Eucharist, above all by the piety with which we participate in Holy Mass, and adore and worship the Blessed Sacrament outside of Mass.

As we are now united sacramentally to the Sacrifice of Christ on Calvary, let us lift up to His glorious and open Heart the intentions of our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI. Placing our Holy Father and his intentions into the all-merciful and all-loving Heart of Jesus, we trust that no grace will be lacking to our Holy Father as he pours out his life, with Christ, as Christ’s "donkey"for our salvation and the salvation of our world.

We ask the Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church, and the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul to pray with us for our Holy Father:

"The Lord preserve him and give him life, and make him blessed upon the earth, and deliver him not up to the will of his enemies" (Enchiridion of Indulgences, June 29, 1968, no. 39).


I hope that the text of my homily has helped you in some way to understand the office of St. Peter and the deep trust in Divine Providence with which Pope Benedict XVI has accepted the office from our Lord.He is the humble worker in the vineyard, Christ’s "draft animal" who seeks only to do God’s will.

Let us continue to assist our Holy Father by our daily prayers.I ask especially that you remember the intentions of our Holy Father when you pray the rosary.The indulgenced prayer with which I conclude my homily is also a good way to pray for our Holy Father every day, gaining a partial indulgence.

In a most special way, let us heed his call for a deeper knowledge and more arduous love of the Most Blessed Sacrament.Let us make every effort to intensify our observance of the Year of the Eucharist, so that we, as members of Christ’s Mystical Body, may grow in holiness of life, building up the whole Church in unity and love.

Long live Pope Benedict XVI!

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