Archbishop's column

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.

The apostolic character of the Holy Eucharist


My fourth reflection upon Pope John Paul II’s encyclical letter Ecclesia de Eucharistia, "On the Eucharist in Its Relationship to the Church," centers on the third chapter of the encyclical letter, "The Apostolicity of the Eucharist and of the Church."In chapter two, Pope John Paul II presented the Holy Eucharist as the source of the strength and the growth of the Church.The relationship between the Church and the Holy Eucharist is, in fact, so intimate that the marks of the Church — one, holy, catholic and apostolic — also describe the Holy Eucharist. In chapter three, our late Holy Father devotes his attention to the apostolic character of the Holy Eucharist, because of its particular importance to our understanding the Holy Eucharist in our time (no. 26).

Apostolic in three senses

Pope John Paul II describes three meanings of the apostolic character or apostolicity of the Church, which are all related to one another.First of all, it means that the Church "was and remains built" upon the foundation of the Apostles.The Holy Eucharist was entrusted by Christ to the Apostles and has come to us through the unbroken succession of the apostolic ministry, from the priestly consecration of the Apostles at the Last Supper to the consecration of the successors to the Apostles today during the celebration of the Holy Mass (no. 27a).

Secondly, apostolicity means that the Church hands on the "deposit of faith," received from the Apostles.In other words, the Church celebrates the Holy Eucharist "in conformity with the faith of the Apostles."Pope John Paul II points out that the teaching authority of the Church has necessarily defined "more precisely" the doctrine on the Holy Eucharist, in order to remain true to the faith of the Apostles.The fuller understanding of the truth of the faith regarding the Holy Eucharist responds, in a particular way, to errors that have crept into the life of the Church from time to time. The Pope reminds us that the truth of the faith does not and cannot change, but the Church is required to develop her understanding and presentation of the truth: "This faith remains unchanged, and it is essential for the Church that it remain unchanged" (no. 27b).

Thirdly, the Church is apostolic because the bishops, the successors to the Apostles, teach, sanctify and guide the Church.They carry out the apostolic ministry in communion with the Roman Pontiff, Successor to St. Peter, Head of the Apostles, and with the assistance of priests who share in their apostolic ministry.

The existence of the Church depends upon the unbroken succession of the apostolic ministry. The Holy Eucharist depends upon the apostolic ministry of the Apostles and their successors, for it is only the ordained priest, acting in the person of Christ, who can offer the Eucharistic Sacrifice on behalf of all the faithful.In truth, it is Christ who offers the sacrifice, by virtue of the grace of priestly ordination.The third sense of the apostolic character of the Holy Eucharist helps us to understand the reason why only the priest recites the Eucharistic Prayer, "while the people participate in faith and in silence" (no. 28b).

In the person of Christ

The ordained priest offers the Eucharistic Sacrifice in virtue of the Sacrament of Holy Orders, by which he is configured to Christ, Shepherd and Head of God’s flock.The ordained priest does not take the place of Christ in the offering of the Holy Eucharist, but Christ acts in him. In other words, the Holy Eucharist remains always the action of Christ.The Holy Eucharist can be offered "in the person of Christ" only in virtue of the sacramental grace of Holy Orders.For that reason, the manner of the priest, in the offering of the Mass, should always point to the person of Christ and not to the person of the priest (no. 29a).

The congregation gathered for the celebration of the Holy Eucharist requires the ministry of the priest, who is a gift from Christ and not a functionary of their choosing and making.The priestly service is necessary, so that the celebration of the Mass is one with the Sacrifice of Calvary and the Last Supper or First Eucharist, for Christ acts in the priest.The congregation by itself, that is without the presence and action of the priest, is incapable of renewing the Eucharistic Sacrifice (no. 29a-b).

The most important responsibility of a bishop, therefore, is to ordain priests, so that they may offer the Eucharistic Sacrifice for God’s holy people.The ordination of a priest by a successor of the Apostles means that the ordained priest is a gift received from Christ Himself (no. 29b).

Ecumenical reflections

The relationship of the ordained priesthood to the Eucharistic Sacrifice points to a significant area of division between the Roman Catholic Church and the Ecclesial Communities which have sprung up in Europe and beyond, beginning with the Protestant Revolt in the 16th century. The Second Vatican Ecumenical Council reminded us that, because the Ecclesial Communities do not have the Sacrament of Holy Orders, they have not preserved the Sacrifice of the Mass in its integrity (no. 30a).

Because of the significant difference of belief regarding the Holy Eucharist among members of the Ecclesial Communities, Catholics are not permitted to receive the communion which they give.Otherwise, a serious question would be raised about the Catholic faith in the Holy Eucharist, causing confusion about a central doctrine of the faith. For the same reason, it is never permissible to substitute participation in an ecumenical prayer service or in the liturgical services of an Ecclesial Community for participation in Sunday Mass. While participation in ecumenical services can help lead us to a fuller unity through prayer together, it cannot replace, in any way, participation in the Eucharistic Sacrifice (no. 30b).

Pope John Paul II points out that the restriction of the power to consecrate the Holy Eucharist to bishops and priests alone "does not represent any belittlement of the rest of the People of God, for, in the communion of the one body of Christ which is the Church, this gift redounds to the benefit of all" (no. 30c).

Center of the priestly ministry

The Holy Eucharist is the heart and the highest expression of the life of the Church. It is, therefore, also "the center and summit of priestly ministry" (no. 31a). The Holy Eucharist, in fact, is the reason for the existence of the priestly vocation and mission which Christ instituted at the Last Supper.

Pope John Paul II sensitively observes that the volume and variety of priestly activities and the fast pace of life in society, in general, could easily cause priests to suffer a loss of focus in their lives.The pastoral charity, which is expressed in every truly pastoral act of the priest, comes chiefly from the Holy Eucharist.For that reason, the priest necessarily seeks in the Eucharistic Sacrifice and in eucharistic worship outside of the Mass the direction and strength for all of his pastoral activity.In his last Letter to Priests for Holy Thursday, given from his room at Gemelli Hospital in Rome on March 13 of this year, Pope John Paul II urged priests to "shape" their priestly ministry according to the Eucharistic Sacrifice and, specifically, to make the words of consecration their "formula of life" (Pope John Paul II, "Letter to Priests for Holy Thursday 2005," no. 1c).

The heart of the priestly ministry in the Eucharistic Sacrifice also explains the Church’s discipline which requires that a priest offer Mass daily, even if he is without a visible congregation, for the Mass is always "an act of Christ and the Church" (no. 31b).As one of my professors of canon law frequently observed, a priest never offers the Mass alone, for the whole company of heaven assists at every offering of the Eucharistic Sacrifice.

The priest who centers his entire priestly life and ministry on the Holy Eucharist will overcome the tendency to lose his focus because of the many demands of his pastoral office. He will not become overwhelmed by the demands of his priestly ministry, for he will be united with Christ in bringing pastoral charity to God’s flock.

Center of seminary formation

Given all of the above, it is clear that the Holy Eucharist must be at the center of the formation of future priests.First of all, the manner in which a priest celebrates the Mass and brings the Holy Eucharist to the faithful outside of Mass will inspire very much those whom God is calling to the ordained priesthood. Personally, I was most deeply inspired as a boy of 8 years of age by the manner in which the parish priest came to visit my father when he was dying at home, hearing his confession and giving Holy Communion to him.

The manner of participation of all of the faithful will also contribute very much in assisting a young man to recognize the call to the priesthood and to respond wholeheartedly.Those called to the priesthood will discover God’s call before the Blessed Sacrament, through frequent and attentive participation in the Holy Mass and through eucharistic devotion.

Absence of a priest

In the context of the place of the Holy Eucharist in the life of the Catholic community and the necessity of the eucharistic ministry of the ordained priest, the Holy Father reflects upon the great distress caused to the Church by situations in which a congregation of the faithful is without a priest.For one thing, it is very difficult for those called to the priesthood to recognize God’s call without the witness of the service of the priest, especially his offering of the Eucharistic Sacrifice (no. 32a).

The Holy Father refers to the various temporary solutions to the situation of a congregation without a priest. In such circumstances, members of the laity and consecrated persons, who have been properly prepared, drawing upon the common grace of Baptism, lead the faithful in prayer on Sunday and may distribute Holy Communion with hosts consecrated at an earlier celebration of the Holy Mass. It is essential to point out to the congregation that the situation is defective and temporary, and to urge the congregation to pray and sacrifice, so that those whom God is calling to the ordained priesthood will respond with a generous and undivided heart. The serious deficiency of the situation should inspire everyone to develop and employ all of the resources needed for an effective apostolate of priestly vocations (no. 32b).

Finally, Pope John Paul II points out that the laity or consecrated persons who share in the pastoral care of the parish are obliged to do all that they can to foster the love of the Holy Eucharist among the faithful and their desire to participate in the Mass celebrated by a validly ordained priest.In this way, as our late Holy Father observed, the congregation will never miss the opportunity to participate in the Eucharistic Sacrifice offered by Christ through the ministry of His priest (no. 33).


Continuing reflection upon the Holy Eucharist leads us to an ever deeper appreciation of the apostolic character of our life in the Church and to safeguard the integrity of eucharistic faith and practice which have been handed down to us from the Apostles. In our relationship with members of Ecclesial Communities, we must be attentive to give a clear and strong witness to the Holy Eucharist, Christ’s greatest gift to us in the Church. Our attentiveness in witness to the truth about the Holy Eucharist will be the sign of our respect and, indeed, our affection for our brothers and sisters of the Ecclesial Communities.

Our deepening understanding of the apostolic character of the Holy Eucharist naturally fosters a deeper love of the ordained priesthood.It helps us, in our relationships with priests, to honor the source and the center of their pastoral charity in the offering of the Eucharistic Sacrifice.At the same time, it inspires us to carry out faithfully our responsibility for the apostolate of priestly vocations.

The evil of so-called euthanasia


On March 31, Terri Schindler Schiavo died from the lack of nutrition and hydration.For her parents, her brother and her sister, Terri’s death was particularly sorrowful, for they were constrained by the courts of our nation to see their daughter and sister die for lack of the food and water which they so much desired to provide for her in their loving care.

The day of Terri Schiavo’s death was most sad for our whole nation.The United States of America, with its great abundance of material goods, would not provide basic food and water to a citizen whose life was heavily burdened but, rather, let her die of hunger and thirst because the "quality" of her life was judged not to merit the protection of the law.Many, especially our fellow citizens whose lives are similarly burdened, have understandably asked where the deadly failure of respect for the dignity of the human life of citizens who are burdened with advanced years, serious illness or special needs will end. All of us have cause to fear for the future of a nation in which a class or group of citizens is set aside and denied the protection of the law, especially in what regards the fundamental right to human life.

The many discussions, both in private conversations and in the media, about the denial of nutrition and hydration to Terri Schiavo raise serious questions about our understanding of the respect for human life, the meaning of human suffering and the care of the sick and dying.The Church, by her very nature, is a guardian and teacher of the natural moral law in our society, for the natural law is written upon our hearts by God.In a society in which the natural moral law, in one of its most fundamental tenets, is violated, the Church must be more diligent than ever in her witness to the dignity of every human life from the moment of its inception to the moment of its natural death.

Respect for human life

The natural moral law teaches us the inviolability of innocent human life.Deliberately taking the life of an innocent person is intrinsically evil and is never justified.Right reason teaches us the good we are to do and the evil we are to avoid. It teaches us that human life is a gift to be accorded the highest respect and care from its beginning until death. It teaches us that we are not the creators of human life and, therefore, we must respect the plan of the Author of Life for us and for our world.Respect for the dignity of human life is the foundation of good order in our individual lives and in society.The "Catechism of the Catholic Church" teaches us:

"The natural law, the Creator’s very good work, provides the solid foundation on which man can build the structure of moral rules to guide his choices. It also provides the indispensable moral foundation for building the human community.Finally, it provides the necessary basis for the civil law with which it is connected, whether by a reflection that draw conclusions from its principles, or by additions of a positive and juridical nature" (n. 1959).

Clearly, without the respect for the dignity of all human life, which the natural law teaches us, our personal lives become profoundly disordered and society soon becomes a theater of violence and death.

In this regard, Pope John Paul II, in an address which he gave to the members of the International Congress on "Life-Sustaining Treatments and Vegetative State: Scientific Advances and Ethical Dilemmas" on March 20, 2004, rightly observed:

"Moreover, to admit that decisions regarding man’s life can be based on the external acknowledgment of its quality, is the same as acknowledging that increasing and decreasing levels of quality of life, and therefore of human dignity, can be attributed from an external perspective to any subject, thus introducing into social relationships a discriminatory and eugenic principle" (Pope John Paul II, "Persons in ‘vegetative state’ deserve proper care," in L’Osservatore Romano, Weekly Edition in English, March 31, 2004, p. 5, n. 5b).

History teaches us the grave injustices, including genocide, committed in a society which takes to itself the judgment of which lives are worthy and which are not.

The essential tenets of the natural moral law are found in the Decalogue or Ten Command-ments. The Fifth Commandment, "Thou shalt not kill," demands respect for the dignity of all human life. Christ brings to fulfillment the teaching of the natural moral law by His Sermon on the Mount, the heart of which is the Beatitudes (cf. Mt 5:1-12). The Beatitudes are the summary of all that Christ teaches us about what is morally good.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Christ teaches the divine and universal charity which is God’s gift to us in Him.
Repeating the Fifth Commandment, He teaches that it forbids not only actual murder but also the anger which wishes evil for a neighbor (Mt 5:22-25).

The teaching of our Lord in the Sermon on the Mount is further exemplified in His Parable of the Last Judgment, in which our Lord makes clear that our goodness, our righteousness, lies in following His way of universal charity by giving food to the hungry, by providing drink to the thirsty, by welcoming the stranger, by clothing the naked, and by visiting the sick and the imprisoned (Mt 25:31-46). The teaching of the parable is summed up in the words of the King:

"Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me" (Mt 25:40).

Our Lord, God-made man, identifies Himself with the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick and the imprisoned.He invites us to recognize Him in our brothers and sisters who are in most need, and to love Him by caring for them.

Respect for human life burdened by suffering
The natural moral law binds us in love, in a particular way, to those who have grown weak under the weight of advanced years, serious illness or special needs.It teaches us that our brothers and sisters who most depend upon us have the first title to our care.We read in the "Catechism of the Catholic Church":

"Those whose lives are diminished or weakened deserve special respect.Sick or handicapped persons should be helped to lead lives as normal as possible" (n. 2276).

Some have argued that, when a person is no longer able to relate to others, as he or she would most wish, then human life no longer has purpose. The gravely ill person may not be able to relate to us as he or she — and we — would most like, but indeed relates to us as a brother or sister.

In his address to the International Congress on "Life-Sustaining Treatments and Vegetative State," Pope John Paul II observes that the clinical term, "vegetative state," is always improperly used in referring to a suffering human being:

"A man, even if seriously ill or disabled in the exercise of his highest functions, is and always will be a man, and he will never become a ‘vegetable’ or an ‘animal’" (Pope John Paul II, "Persons in ‘vegetative state’ deserve proper care," in L’Osservatore Romano, Weekly Edition in English, March 31, 2004, p. 5, n. 3b).

In the long-term care of the suffering person, our relationship with the person continues to develop and can express great, even heroic, respect and love.

The meaning of human suffering

Our culture’s view of human suffering makes it especially difficult to appreciate the good of a life which is heavily burdened.Our culture tells us that our life should be comfortable and convenient, and it devotes itself to forming us in the avoidance of all stress, pain and suffering.Sometimes, the cultural view takes on a spiritual appearance by claiming that our life in the body or physical life has no ultimate meaning, that our ultimate happiness lies in being freed of the body.

Nature, however, teaches us the unity of body and soul in the human person.All our joys and sorrows are both spiritual and physical, for we have one human nature.

The Christian faith teaches us that the soul is the form of the body. Our body, we know, is the temple of the Holy Spirit.It is through our body that we give expression to our love of God and of one another.Even as Christ was raised, body and soul, from the dead, so, when our soul has left the body at death, we await the resurrection of the body on the Last Day. For that reason, we show great respect to our body during our life on earth and, in death, bring the body to reverent burial to await the resurrection when Christ returns in glory.

Human suffering has always a physical and spiritual dimension, even as the suffering of Christ had both a physical and spiritual dimension.We know that the physical and spiritual suffering of Christ, by which He won our salvation, must be realized in our individual lives.Through baptism, we are buried with Christ sacramentally and rise with him to new and eternal life.The grace of the Holy Spirit, given to us in the Sacrament of Baptism, and strengthened and increased within us through the Sacrament of Confirmation, leads us to unite our suffering and dying to the suffering and dying of Christ, pouring out our lives, with Christ, in love of God and our neighbor.Suffering is, in no way, meaningless to us.Rather, it is for us an invitation to be ever more perfectly united to Christ, to be purified of whatever keeps us from loving God and one another, and to be ever more generous in that love.

St. Paul, in his Letter to the Colossians, writes about his own suffering, reminding us that the Church and we, as individual members of the Church, continue Christ’s mission in the world through our share in His suffering. He declares:

"Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of His body, that is, the Church, of which I became a minister according to the divine office which was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now made manifest to his saints" (Col 1:23-26).

It is not that Christ’s redemptive work is, in any way, lacking.Rather, we are called to share in His redemptive work in every time and in every place, and, in that sense, to "complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of ... the Church."

I recall Pope John Paul II’s extended reflection upon the meaning of human suffering in his Apostolic Letter Salvifici doloris, "On the Christian Meaning of Human Suffering," published on Feb. 11, the Memorial of Our Lady of Lourdes, in 1984. Referring to the passage from the Letter to the Colossians, he wrote:

"The sufferings of Christ created the good of the world’s redemption.This good in itself is inexhaustible and infinite.No man can add anything to it.But at the same time, in the mystery of the Church as His body, Christ has in a sense opened His own redemptive suffering to all human suffering. In so far as man becomes a sharer in Christ’s sufferings — in any part of the world and at any time in history — to that extent he in his own way completes the suffering through which Christ accomplished the Redemption of the world" (n. 24b).

Even as Christ pours out ever new His life for us in the Eucharistic Sacrifice, which is one with the Sacrifice of the Cross, so also those united to Christ in His Sacrifice, unite their sufferings to His for the sake of the salvation of the world.

Our Holy Father expresses this profound truth:

"In this dimension — the dimension of love — the
Redemption which has already been completely accomplished is, in a certain sense, constantly being accomplished.Christ achieved the Redemption completely and to the very limit; but at the same time he did not bring it to a close.In this redemptive suffering, through which the Redemption of the world was accomplished, Christ opened himself from the beginning to every human suffering and constantly does so.Yes, it seems to be part of the very essence of Christ’s redemptive suffering that this suffering requires to be unceasingly completed" (Pope John Paul II, Apostolic Letter Salvifici doloris, n. 24c).

While society may consider human suffering to be useless and a diminishment of our human dignity, we know that just the opposite is true.Human suffering, embraced with the love of Christ, brings immense blessings to the Church and the world, and sheds an ever greater light upon the dignity ofevery human life.

In his "Message for Lent 2005," in which Pope John Paul II reflects upon the great gift of advanced years or old age, he raises the question:

"What would happen if the People of God yielded to a certain current mentality that considers these people [the elderly], our brothers and sisters, as almost useless when they are reduced in their capacities due to the difficulties of age or sickness? Instead, how different the community would be if, beginning with the family, it tries always to remain open and welcoming toward them" (n. 3c).

In the suffering of our brothers and sisters, we see the Face of Christ and are invited to assist them in offering up their sufferings, with Christ, for the needs of the Church and the world.

Care of the sick and the dying

In the case of Terri Schiavo, the question has been raised about appropriate care of the sick and the dying. First of all, we should be clear that, although Terri Schiavo suffered from the effects of a serious medical condition, she was not dying at the time of the withdrawal of food and water from her. It is clear, from the number of days she lived after the withdrawal of nutrition and hydration, that she died slowly from the privation of the most basic human care.

In his address to the International Congress on ‘Life-sustaining Treatments and Vegetative State," Pope John Paul II reminded us that the sick person in the so-called "vegetative state," like any seriously ill person, has "the right to basic health care (nutrition, hydration, cleanliness, warmth, etc.), and to the prevention of complications related to his confinement to bed" (n. 4b). In addition, the Holy Father reminded us, that he or she "has the right to appropriate rehabilitative care and to be monitored for clinical signs of eventual recovery" (n. 4b).

The Holy Father underlined that "the administration of water and food, even when provided by artificial means, always represents a natural means of preserving life, not a medical act" (n. 4c). Recalling the Church’s perennial teaching that we are morally obligated to use ordinary and proportionate measures in our care of the sick, Pope John Paul II made it clear that provision of nutrition and hydration by artificial means constitutes an ordinary and proportionate means. He went on to address the case of a person who remains for a prolonged period in the so-called "vegetative state," reminding us that "waning hopes for recovery" cannot morally justify "the cessation or interruption of minimal care for the patient, including nutrition and hydration" (n. 4e). To cause the death of the patient through starvation or dehydration is truly "euthanasia by omission" (n. 4e).

Euthanasia, which literally means "good death," in fact, cannot be a good death, for it fails to respect God and His plan for us.In a"good death" or "holy death," we embrace our sufferings with faith in Christ and His Resurrection, abandoning ourselves completely to God’s will.We read in the "Catechism of the Catholic Church":

"Whatever its motives and means, direct euthanasia consists in putting an end to the lives of handicapped, sick, or dying persons. It is morally unacceptable" (n. 2277).

To withdraw nutrition and hydration from a person who is not dying to bring about the death of the person "constitutes a murder gravely contrary to the dignity of the human person and to the respect due to the living God, his Creator" ("Catechism of the Catholic Church," n. 2277).

The situation is entirely different when medical procedures are discontinued because they are "burdensome, dangerous, extraordinary, or disproportionate to the expected outcome" ("Catechism of the Catholic Church," n. 2278).In such a case, one does not intend to cause death but one recognizes his "inability to impede death" (n. 2278).One accepts the will of God Who is clearly calling the person home to Himself in death.

Regarding extraordinary and disproportionate measures for the preservation of human life, individuals are encouraged to make known their wishes before they become ill by drawing up and executing a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care.For a Catholic, such a document will respect fully the dignity of human life.Certainly, it will not exclude the administration of food and water, even by artificial means.If you are interested in further information about a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care, please contact the Archdiocesan Pro-Life Office.

What about the so-called "right to die"?No one of us has a right to die, in the sense of a right to cause one’s own death. We have a right to those material and spiritual helps which will prepare us for death, when God calls us home to Himself.Therefore, even if a person will have expressed the desire to die under certain circumstances, his desire can be respected only to the degree that his desire is true to God’s Law.


It is my hope that the above will help you in thinking about the complex issues of death, respect for human life and the care of the sick and dying, with which our nation was confronted in the death of Terri Schindler Schiavo.I also hope that it will lead you to find ways to give a strong witness to the dignity of all of our brothers and sisters, especially when they are experiencing diminishment and serious illness.

Let us be one in praying for the eternal rest of Terri Schiavo and for the consolation of her family and friends.Let us also be fervent in our daily prayers that respect for all human life may be restored in our nation.

Let us treasure those among us who suffer from any form of weakness or infirmity. May the witness of their union with Christ in the mystery of His Passion and Death lead us to deeper faith and a stronger commitment of love.

The Holy Eucharist and the growth of the Church


After having reflected upon the Holy Eucharist as the mystery of faith in the first chapter of his encyclical letter "Ecclesia de Eucharistia (On the Eucharist in Its Relationship to the Church)," Pope John Paul II reflects upon the Holy Eucharist as the source of the strength and the growth of the Church. Our Holy Father is inspired by the perennial teaching of the Church, expressed in the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, "Lumen gentium," of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council.The teaching of the council reminds us that the Church receives its strength and growth from the altar of Christ’s Sacrifice.Even as the individual members of the Body of Christ are strengthened and grow in holiness, most of all, by participation in the Holy Mass, so does the whole Body of Christ receive its life and development from the Eucharistic Sacrifice (no. 21a).The importance of the Holy Eucharist for the life of the Church, from her very beginnings, cannot be emphasized enough.

At the Beginnings of the Church

The celebration of the Holy Mass was, in truth, the source of the life of the Church at her very beginnings.On the night before He died, Christ, in the company of the Apostles, instituted the Holy Eucharist and the ordained priesthood, so that, through the priestly ministry of the Apostles, the faithful might always share in the spiritual fruits of the sacrifice which He was to carry out on Calvary on the following day, Good Friday.The 12 Apostles, symbolically recalling the 12 tribes of Israel, represent the new People of God, embracing all nations.They are "the beginning of the sacred hierarchy" whose mission it is to preserve God’s flock in the unity of Christ.

The new People of God is brought to life from the pierced Heart of Jesus and sustained in life from the glorious Heart of Jesus who is now seated at the right hand of the Father.The Last Supper, which is the first celebration of the Eucharistic Sacrifice, "laid the foundations of the new messianic community, the People of God of the New Covenant," just as the sacrifice at Mount Sinai, in the time of Moses, had sealed the Old Covenant. Our Holy Father states this profound truth in the following words:

"The Apostles, by accepting in the Upper Room Jesus’ invitation: ‘Take, eat,’ ‘Drink of it, all of you’ (Matthew 26:26-27), entered for the first time into sacramental communion with Him.From that time forward, until the end of the age, the Church is built up through sacramental communion with the Son of God who was sacrificed for our sake: ‘Do this in remembrance of Me.
...Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me’ (1 Corinthians 11:24-25; Luke 22:19).

"By the same words, with which Christ instituted the Holy Eucharist, He also consecrated the first bishops and priests to offer the Eucharistic Sacrifice.Rightly, we can say that Christ constituted the Church at her beginnings at the Last Supper" (no. 21b).

Mutual Abiding of Christ and His Disciples

When our Lord transformed the bread and wine of the Last Supper into His true Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity, He made possible our communion with Him through the Most Blessed Sacrament.Through the institution of the Holy Eucharist, our Lord made it possible for us to become one body with Him.Our Lord instructed the Apostles to renew always His Supper, so that the People of God might be built up in every time and place through participation in the Holy Eucharist, especially through communion with Him in His true Body and Blood (no. 21c).

Our Holy Father makes clear the profound meaning of eucharistic communion for our life in the Church by reminding us that we not only receive Christ in Holy Communion but He also receives us. Christ truly calls us His friends by inviting us to the Eucharistic Sacrifice and Banquet.In other words, Christ deeply desires that we be in His company and that He be in our company.He fulfills His desire, best of all, through the Eucharistic Sacrifice and Banquet (no. 22a).

"Eucharistic communion brings about in a sublime way the mutual ‘abiding’ of Christ and each of His followers: ‘Abide in me, and I in you’" (John 15:4) (no. 22a).

We are never closer to Christ than in the Holy Eucharist.There is no way in which He comes closer to us than in the Eucharistic Sacrifice and in His abiding presence in the consecrated hosts reposed in the tabernacles of our churches and chapels.

Sign of Salvation for the World

Communion with Christ in the Holy Eucharist has enabled the Church, from her very beginnings, to carry out her mission of being a sign of salvation in Christ for all the nations.The Church is constituted to carry out the mission of Christ in the world.Christ alive within the Church continues His saving work through the Church.The Holy Father reminds us of the strong and clear words of our Lord Jesus: "As the Father has sent me, even so I send you" (John 20:21).At the celebration of the Holy Mass, the Church receives her mission, which is to share in the mystery of Christ’s Suffering, Dying and Rising from the Dead. At the same time, at the Mass, she also expresses most fully the same mission of bringing all mankind into communion with God — Father, Son and Holy Spirit (no. 22b).The Holy Father teaches us:

"The Eucharist thus appears as both the source and the summit of all evangelization, since its goal is the communion of mankind with Christ and in Him with the Father and the Holy Spirit" (no. 22b).

To carry out the mission of Christ in the world, His disciples must first know and love Him intimately.We cannot bring Christ to others, if we have not first received Him in Holy Communion and kept company with Him in prayer and, above all, in eucharistic adoration.Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, great missionary to all the nations, insisted the words of Christ, when He was dying on the cross, "I thirst," be placed near the crucifix above the tabernacle of every chapel of the Missionaries of Charity, the religious congregation which she founded, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, for the Christlike love of "the poorest of the poor" (Mother Teresa, A Simple Path, New York: Ballantine Books, 1995).The words of Christ, "I thirst," express His unquenchable thirst for souls, His undying desire that God’s truth and love reach to every man and woman of every time and place.

Confirming the Church in Unity

Participation in the Eucharistic Sacrifice and Banquet sustains the Church in the unity which her members enjoy because of baptism.All of the Church’s members are incorporated into Christ, become truly members of the Body of Christ, through the waters of Baptism.The Holy Eucharist nourishes the life of Christ within us from the moment of our baptism.It is in virtue of our unity with Christ in baptism and in the Eucharist that we are also one with each other.The Holy Eucharist confirms the unity of the many members of Christ’s Body (no. 23a).

The unity of the Church has its source in the "joint and inseparable activity of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" (no. 23b).The Church is called into being through Christ’s Passion, Death and Resurrection, by which He has won the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon us, Her members. The Holy Father comments:

"The argument is compelling: our union with Christ, which is a gift and grace for each of us, makes it possible for us, in Him, to share in the unity of His Body which is the Church.The Eucharist reinforces the incorporation into Christ which took place in baptism through the gift of the Spirit" (1 Corinthians 12:13, 27).

Christ was conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary.Christ became incarnate for our salvation through the action of the Holy Spirit.It is also the Holy Spirit who overshadows our gifts of bread and wine at the Mass, transforming them into the true Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ.The Holy Spirit unceasingly nourishes and strengthens His life within us through the incomparable spiritual food which is the Body and Blood of Christ."The Church is fortified by the divine Paraclete through the sanctification of the faithful in the Eucharist" (no. 23b).

The Holy Eucharist binds brothers and sisters in Christ in the deepest possible unity, far beyond any merely human bond.Participation in the Eucharistic Sacrifice and Banquet is not merely sharing a meal together.Rather, it is sharing in the divine communion of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, which alone can bring mankind to unity and peace (no. 24a).

Desire of Unity and the Seeds of Division

There is in us, at one and the same time, the deepest desire of communion with one another and the tendency to division which is born from what our Holy Father calls the "seeds of disunity." The "seeds of disunity" come from the stain of original sin and our actual sins (no. 24b).

The Holy Eucharist fulfills our desire for unity with one another in a way beyond all our imagining; Holy Communion makes us one with each other in the divine Son of God.Our unity with one another has its origin in God.It cannot be destroyed by any human force and has its eternal fulfillment in the life which is to come.At the same time, the Holy Eucharist strengthens us, so that we may purify ourselves of the seeds of disunity.Communion with Christ strengthens us to overcome, with Christ, the division which sin introduces into our lives.Our Holy Father reminds us:

"The seeds of disunity, which daily experience shows to be so deeply rooted in humanity as a result of sin, are countered by the unifying power of the Body of Christ.The Eucharist, precisely by building up the Church, creates human community" (no. 24b).

Here we see the essential connection of the Holy Eucharist and penance.Through the confession of our sins, which separate us, in varying degrees, from God and from one another, we are prepared to receive the Body and Blood of Christ, uniting us to God and to one another.At the same time, receiving the Body and Blood of Christ enlightens our minds and inflames our hearts to see what keeps us from unity with God and with each other, and to root out from our hearts the seeds of disunity.

Worship of the Holy Eucharist Outside of Mass

In the context of reflecting upon how the celebration of the Holy Eucharist builds up the life of the Church, the Holy Father underlines the importance of worship of the Most Blessed Sacrament outside of the celebration of the Holy Mass.He reminds us that the Real Presence of Christ under the veils of the consecrated bread and wine, from the moment of the Consecration of the Mass, remains as long as the species of the consecrated bread and wine themselves remain, and that, therefore, the Church reserves the Body of Christ in the tabernacle after the distribution of Holy Communion.

The reserved Blessed Sacrament comes directly from the Sacrifice of the Mass and inspires the desire for participation in the Holy Mass and for Holy Communion, also spiritual communion when it is not possible to receive sacramental communion.So important is worship of the Blessed Sacrament that our Holy Father reminds bishops and priests of the responsibility "to encourage, also by their personal witness, the practice of eucharistic adoration, and exposition of the Blessed Sacrament in particular, as well as prayer of adoration before Christ under the Eucharistic species" (no. 25a).

Our Holy Father draws our attention to the profound reality of prayer before the Blessed Sacrament.It is spending time with the Lord.He likens it to the experience of the Beloved Disciple, St. John the Apostle and Evangelist, who rested his head upon the breast of Christ at the Last Supper.Through prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, we experience the intimate and inexhaustible love of the glorious Sacred Heart of Jesus, from which Christ unceasingly pours forth His grace upon us, His gift of His true Body and Blood in the Holy Eucharist.Through Eucharistic Communion and prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, we lift up our poor and sinful hearts to our Lord and He receives our hearts into His Most Sacred Heart, which is all rich in divine mercy and love.

In "Novo millennio ineunte," the Holy Father’s apostolic letter "At the Close of the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000," Pope John Paul II reminded us that our times require, above all, that we be persons of prayer.In other words, he taught us that the new evangelization must be accomplished, first of all, through the power of prayer.Our Holy Father puts a telling question to us:

"If in our time Christians must be distinguished above all by the ‘art of prayer,’ how can we not feel a renewed need to spend time in spiritual converse, in silent adoration, in heartfelt love before Christ present in the Most Blessed Sacrament?" (no. 25b).

As we recognize the need of more intense prayer in our lives, we sense the need to pray in the presence of our Eucharistic Lord.The Holy Father exclaims: "How often, dear brothers and sisters, have I experienced this, and drawn from it strength, consolation and support!" (no. 25b).

Church teaching urges us to pray before the Blessed Sacrament.The example of the saints inspires us to treasure, in a most special way, eucharistic adoration.Our Holy Father quotes St. Alphonsus Liguori: "‘Of all devotions, that of adoring Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament is the greatest after the sacraments, the one dearest to God and the one most helpful to us’" (no. 25c).


Through the Holy Eucharist, first of all by participation in the Sacrifice of the Mass and then by eucharistic worship outside of Mass, we contemplate the Face of Christ as directly and as fully as is possible for us on this earth.From our contemplation of the Face of Christ, we draw the grace to live in Christ each day.It is the Holy Eucharist, above all, which builds up the Church in unity and love.If we truly desire to know Christ, to contemplate His Face, then we will be earnest in promoting eucharistic adoration, "which prolongs and increases the fruits of our communion in the Body and Blood of the Lord" (no. 25c).

The Holy Eucharist: The Mystery of Faith


My second reflection upon the Church’s teaching on the Holy Eucharist centers on the first chapter of Pope John Paul II encyclical letter "Ecclesia de Eucharistia (On the Eucharist in Its Relationship with the Church)," which is titled "The Mystery of Faith."It is a particularly fitting reflection during the holiest days of the Church year, in which the Holy Eucharist was instituted and Christ’s Sacrifice on Calvary, which it makes present, was accomplished.Before I enter into a reflection on the Holy Eucharist as the Mystery of Faith, however, I draw your attention to a most important event in the archdiocese, which is directed toward the richer participation in the Sacred Liturgy, especially the Holy Mass, by all the faithful.

Gateway Liturgical Conference

The Gateway Liturgical Conference will be held at the Adam’s Mark Hotel in Downtown St. Louis from the afternoon of Thursday, April 7, to the afternoon of Friday, April 8.The conference is geared toward priests, deacons, consecrated persons and lay faithful who have responsibility for the Sacred Liturgy in their parishes or who simply desire to deepen their knowledge and love of the Church’s public worship.A number of excellent presenters from the archdiocese and from other parts of our nation will offer sessions, treating a great variety of liturgical matters.

The opening address on Thursday afternoon will be given by Msgr. James P. Moroney, a priest of the Diocese of Worcester and currently executive director of the Secretariat for the Liturgy of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.He will speak on the development and completion of the vernacular edition of the Roman Missal for the United States.Msgr. Moroney serves not only the Conference of Bishops in our nation but also the Holy Father’s Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, to which the Holy Father has named him a consultor.

The archdiocese is most deeply honored by the participation of Cardinal Francis Arinze, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, in the Gateway Liturgical Conference.Cardinal Arinze will give the keynote address on Friday morning, speaking on the topic, "Liturgical Norms and Liturgical Piety."He will follow his address to all of the participants with a workshop on liturgical reform for priests, seminarians, deacons and liturgists. Cardinal Arinze will help participants in the conference to gain a firmer grasp of the liturgical norms in the "General Instruction of the Roman Missal" and in the "Instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum (On Certain Matters To Be Observed or To Be Avoided Regarding the Most Holy Eucharist)."The cardinal is a most engaging presenter who will draw upon his rich knowledge and love of the Sacred Liturgy.

Please consider taking part in all, or at least some, of the Gateway Liturgical Conference.Because of the fundamental importance of the subject matter, I am asking all of the priests of the archdiocese to participate in, at least, the Friday morning sessions with Cardinal Arinze.The seminarians at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary will take part in these sessions.If you wish more information about the conference or need assistance in registering for it, please contact the Office of Worship of the Archdiocese at (314) 792-7230 or hope that you will be able to join me, together with other faithful of the archdiocese, at the Gateway Liturgical Conference.

Eucharistic Sacrifice

After the consecration of the bread and wine at Holy Mass, that is after the bread and wine have become truly and completely the Body and Blood of Christ, and after the priest has shown the sacred species, the Body and Blood of Christ, to the congregation and has adored Christ by genuflecting before the Sacred Host and the Precious Blood, he immediately invites the congregation to proclaim the mystery of faith.The congregation then sings or says: "Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again" or one of the other memorial acclamations which all have the same content: Christ’s Passion and Death, His Resurrection and His return in glory at the end of time.The memorial acclamation reflects the deepest truth about the Holy Eucharist, the inseparability of the Holy Eucharist from the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Christ.

Christ instituted the Holy Eucharist on the night He was betrayed, the night before His cruel Passion and Death.He instituted the Holy Eucharist so that the fruits of His Suffering and Dying on the Cross on the next day would be constantly offered in the Church, to all peoples of every time and place.The Mass, as the Holy Father declares, "is indelibly marked by the event of the Lord’s Passion and Death, of which it is not only a reminder but the sacramental re-presentation" (Ecclesia de Eucharistia, no. 11a).

Christ desired that the sacrifice which He was going to offer on Calvary on Good Friday continue always in the Church, and He fulfills His desire by the most wondrous sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, in which He, acting through His minister, the ordained priest, offers ever anew, now in an unbloody manner, the one sacrifice of His life on the Cross.In a concise and striking manner, our Holy Father describes the inseparability of the Sacrifice of Calvary and the Sacrifice of the Mass:

"This sacrifice (of Calvary) is so decisive for the salvation of the human race that Jesus Christ offered it and returned to the Father only after He had left us a means of sharing in it as if we had been present there. Each member of the faithful can thus take part in it and inexhaustibly gain its fruits" (no. 11c).

The Holy Eucharist is indeed the "inestimable gift" of Christ to us, before which the only fitting response is adoration.The Sacrifice of the Holy Mass truly makes us present at the Sacrifice on Calvary.

The Holy Eucharist is not just one of the many gifts which Christ has left to us in the Church. It is the gift of Christ’s true Body and Blood, the gift of the whole fruit of His saving Passion and Death (no. 11b).All the other gifts of Christ to us are only fully understood in relationship to the gift of the Eucharistic Sacrifice and Banquet.That is why the Holy Father rightly first turns to the teaching on the Holy Eucharist in assisting us to carry out the new evangelization.

Christ’s universal charity

Contemplating the face of Christ at the Lord’s Supper and at every celebration of the Holy Mass, we contemplate His love, the incarnation of Divine Mercy which "knows no measure" (no. 11c).When Christ instituted the Holy Eucharist, He declared the bread to be His Body given for us and the wine to be His Blood poured out for us.The Holy Eucharist is not simply a partaking in the Body and Blood of Christ, not simply a banquet, but is always, at the same time, a sharing in Christ’s sacrifice.The heavenly Bread, which is the Holy Eucharist, is essentially sacrificial, it is the Body and Blood of Christ, offered and poured out for us as He gave up His life for us on the Cross.The sacrifice of the Cross is perpetuated at every celebration of the Mass.Communion with the Body and Blood of Christ is always participation in Christ’s Suffering and Dying.

It is important to understand that the sacrifice of Christ is one."The Eucharist thus applies to men and women today the reconciliation won once for all by Christ for mankind in every age" (no. 12b).This is the great wonder and treasure of the Holy Mass.The Mass is not an additional sacrifice to Calvary.It is not a constant multiplication of the one sacrifice of Calvary.It is the sacrifice of Calvary, it is Calvary’s "commemorative representation," which, by the universal charity of Christ, makes his "one, definitive redemptive sacrifice always present in time" (no. 12c).

In the Sacrifice of the Mass, Christ offers Himself completely to God the Father.God the Father, in response to the total obedience of His Son, gives Christ eternal life by raising Him from the dead.We, the Church, sharing in Christ’s sacrifice — in the love which God the Father and God the Son have shared, in the Holy Spirit, from all eternity — are called to offer ourselves in union with Christ.We are called to share in His universal charity, which "knows no measure."Through the Holy Eucharist, God the Father responds to our sacrifice with the gift of eternal life.

The Real Presence

Pope John Paul II reminds us: "The Eucharistic Sacrifice makes present not only the mystery of the Savior’s Passion and Death, but also the mystery of the Resurrection which crowned his sacrifice" (no. 14). Christ can only become the Bread of Life for us because He is risen from the dead and is alive for us in the Church.We refer to the living presence of Christ with us in the Holy Eucharist as the Real Presence.In order to help us understand more fully the meaning of the Real Presence, our Holy Father recalls for us a text of Pope Paul VI, who explained that the term does not imply that the other presences of Christ in the Church are "not real" but underlines that the eucharistic presence "is a presence in the fullest sense: a substantial presence whereby Christ, the God-Man, is wholly and entirely present" (no. 15a).

The proper term for the change of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ, which takes place during the Holy Mass, at the consecration, is transubstantiation.No other term has been found to be as adequate in pointing to the Eucharistic mystery.Theologians and saints, down the Christian centuries, have desired to plumb more and more the depth of the mystery of the Eucharist, of the profound reality which transubstantiation expresses.Often, too, their love of the Holy Eucharist and desire to express their love has taken poetic form, for example, the hymn of St. Thomas Aquinas, "Adoro Te devote (Devoutly I adore You)," to which our Holy Father refers. Once again, Pope Paul VI underlined the truth which must be reflected in our thinking, speaking and writing about the Holy Eucharist:

"Every theological explanation which seeks some understanding of this mystery, in order to be in accord with Catholic faith, must firmly maintain that in objective reality, independently of our mind, the bread and wine have ceased to exist after the consecration, so that the adorable Body and Blood of the Lord Jesus from that moment on are really before us under the sacramental species of bread and wine" (no. 15c).

Eucharistic banquet

Christ makes Himself substantially present to us through the Holy Eucharist with one only end in view, namely that we may receive Him in Holy Communion."The Eucharistic Sacrifice is intrinsically directed to the inward union of the faithful with Christ through communion ..." (no. 16).The Holy Eucharist is true spiritual food, Christ nourishing the life of the Holy Spirit within us through the reception of His glorious Body and Blood.The sixth chapter of the Gospel of St. John helps us very much to understand the Eucharistic Banquet.Christ made it clear that only by eating His Body and drinking His Blood can we have life within us.The disciples understood the true import of His teaching, for, from that day, some refused to believe in Him and left His company.

Holy Communion, participation in the Eucharistic Banquet, is Christ’s way of sustaining His life within us, poured out in us at the moment of our baptism, and strengthened and increased within us from the moment of our confirmation.The Sacraments of Initiation —Baptism, Confirmation and the Holy Eucharist — are essentially related to one another. "Thus by the gift of His Body and Blood Christ increases within us the gift of His Spirit, already poured out in Baptism and bestowed as a ‘seal’ in the sacrament of Confirmation" (no. 17).


Communion in the Body and Blood of Christ is already now a participation in the fullness of communion with God, which will be ours, God willing, in the Kingdom of Heaven.The Holy Eucharist is likewise the spiritual Food to sustain us along life’s pilgrimage home to God the Father.In the wonderful words of St. Ignatius of Antioch, Holy Communion is "a medicine of immortality, an antidote to death" (quoted in no. 18).That is why the Church so much desires that the dying receive Holy Communion and calls the Holy Communion of the dying by a special name, Viaticum, "food for the journey" from this life to the life which is to come.

The fact that Holy Communion is an anticipation of the life to come also means that it commits us to preparing the day of Christ’s final coming during each moment of our lives.The account of the institution of the Holy Eucharist in the Gospel according to St. John underlines the mandate which the Holy Eucharist is for us.It is a sharing in the outpouring of Christ’s life for the love of all; it contains the command to wash the feet of our brothers and sisters, without distinction or exception.I conclude my reflection with the inspiring words of our Holy Father:

"Proclaiming the death of the Lord ‘until He comes’ (1 Cor 11:26) entails that all who take part in the Eucharist be committed to changing their lives and making them in a certain way completely ‘Eucharistic’" (no. 20c).

May you have a blessed celebration of the Sacred Triduum and of the Easter Octave. During these holiest of days, may you receive strong grace to make your life "completely Eucharistic."

The Paschal Mystery


This year, the date of the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord coincides with Good Friday (March 25). In the Latin Rite, when the Annunciation falls within the Sacred Triduum, it is transferred to the first available date, when it can be celebrated as its own solemnity.In the Byzantine Rite, when this happens, the celebration of the Annunciation and of Good Friday or Holy Saturday are held on the same day.While it is easy enough to understand why the Solemnity of the Annunciation is transferred in the Latin Rite to a day on which it can be celebrated alone, we may wonder why the Byzantine Rite does not transfer the Solemnity, especially when it falls on Good Friday or Holy Saturday.The answer to the question uncovers the profound truth about the Paschal Mystery which we will be celebrating during the Sacred Triduum and throughout the Easter Octave.

An ancient tradition in the Church holds that Christ died on the cross on the same date as He was conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary, that is, March 25.The liturgical practice of the Byzantine Rite respects the inseparable connection of the Incarnation and the Crucifixion.To quote a great theologian of our time, the late Hans Urs von Balthasar: "To say Incarnation is to say Cross" (quoted in John Saward, The Mysteries of March, Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1990, page 3). The whole reason of the Incarnation is the Redemption of man on the Cross.God the Son’s total outpouring of self by taking our human nature in the womb of the Virgin Mary reached its fullest expression when He died on the cross for us.

When Christ expired on the Cross, His human heart, the Most Sacred Heart, which He took under the Immaculate Heart of Mary, was pierced by the Roman centurion.The blood and water which flowed from His pierced Heart are signs of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the Church, into our hearts.From His glorious Sacred Heart, there never ceases to flow the grace of our Redemption, the gift of His own life given up for us, so that we might always share in the life which He has shared with God the Father, in the Holy Spirit, from all eternity.The two mysteries of the Incarnation and Redemption are inseparably united.

Our Holy Father is fond of referring to them as one great mystery which he calls the Redemptive Incarnation.For that reason, when the Solemnity of the Incarnation and Good Friday or Holy Saturday fall on the same day, the Byzantine Rite keeps the two celebrations on the same day, even if it makes the liturgical rites a bit more complicated.

Holy Week and the Sacred Triduum

There is one week of the whole Church year which we call "holy" by a special title, for during Holy Week we commemorate the events by which Christ saved us from sin and everlasting death, and won for us eternal life.The Mass prayers during Lent frequently remind us that our Lenten observance is to prepare us for Holy Week, so that we can celebrate the mystery of the Redemptive Incarnation with full mind and heart.

Within Holy Week, there are three days which are the holiest of all days: Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday.These days are known as the Sacred Triduum.The Sacred Triduum begins with the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday and concludes with the First Mass of Easter during the Easter Vigil.As devout Catholics, we should observe these days with the greatest possible attention, making every necessary sacrifice in order to participate in the Sacred Liturgy on each of these three holiest days.

Accompanying Christ, through prayer and worship, during the days of His Passion and Death, we come to understand more fully the mystery of His Life within us.During the days of Holy Week, and especially of the Sacred Triduum, Christ reveals to us the deepest truth about our life in Him.Through our Lenten penance of prayer, fasting and almsgiving, we have come to recognize more fully that our life is a pilgrimage with Christ, which leads us home to God the Father.The Sacred Liturgy during Holy Week, especially the Sacred Triduum, draws us to the source of our life in Christ, in His Suffering, Dying and Rising from the Dead.Through the Sacred Liturgy of Holy Week and the Sacred Triduum, we become more deeply conscious of Christ’s life within us through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.During the Sacred Triduum, we receive especially strong grace to place our poor and sinful hearts into the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the fountain of our salvation.

Passion or Palm Sunday

We begin Holy Week by participating in the Mass on Passion or Palm Sunday.The Mass begins with the blessing and distribution of palms, and the procession which recalls Christ’s final entry into Jerusalem, in obedience to the will of the Father, to suffer the cruelest form of passion and death known at the time.Mel Gibson’s film, "The Passion of the Christ," is a wonderful help to us in understanding better how much Christ suffered for love of us, in His thirst for our souls.At the Gospel, the account of the Passion and Death of our Lord is proclaimed to us in its fullness, so that we may understand the significance of the holy time into which we are entering.

In truth, we will never understand fully the depth of Christ’s love, what His suffering and dying meant for Him.As we recall Christ’s triumphal entrance into Jerusalem, with the crowds hailing Him as King, we also the repeated cry of the people: "Let Him be crucified" (Matthew 27:22-23).We meditate upon the obedience of Christ in carrying out the mission which the Father had entrusted to Him from the moment of His Incarnation in the womb of the Virgin Mary.Christ prays in the Garden of Gethsemane: "My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, Thy will be done"
(Matthew 26:42).In the celebration of the Eucharistic Sacrifice, we participate in the fruit of Christ’s perfect obedience, His perfect union with the Father.In the Holy Eucharist, Christ pours out anew, now in an unbloody manner, His life for us.

Once we have begun Holy Week with the celebration of Palm Sunday, we make every effort to accompany our Lord during the days which led up to His Passion and Death.Participation in Holy Mass on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of Holy Week would be a wonderful way of accompanying Christ during these days.If participation in Mass is not possible, it would be good to make a visit to the Blessed Sacrament each day.For all, some time in quiet prayer each day will keep us united to Christ during these holiest of days. Praying the rosary is especially helpful for our meditation upon the mystery of the Redemptive Incarnation.

Chrism Mass

On Holy Thursday at 10 a.m. in the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis, I, together with the priests of the archdiocese, will offer the Chrism Mass, during which the Sacred Chrism will be consecrated and the holy oils will be blessed for use in the celebration of the sacraments and other sacred rites during the coming year.The word chrism comes from the same root as Christ, the word for the anointed.Throughout the Chrism Mass, we recall how Christ was anointed by God the Father with the fullness of the Holy Spirit, so that He might win for us the gift of the Holy Spirit by His Suffering, Dying and Rising from the Dead.

Holy Thursday is a most special day for priests, for Christ instituted the ordained priesthood on Holy Thursday at the Last Supper.Also, the priests, united around the bishop at the Chrism Mass, are reminded that they, by their ordination, have been constituted the ministers of the sanctifying and healing Sacred Chrism, oil of the catechumens and oil of the sick.Before the consecration of the Sacred Chrism and the blessing of the holy oils, the priests of the archdiocese renew their commitment to priestly service.After the priests have renewed their commitment, all of the faithful present pray for the priests and archbishop.

The Chrism Mass is one of the most beautiful liturgical celebrations.All of the faithful of the archdiocese are most welcome to take part in the celebration of the Chrism Mass.

Mass of the Lord’s Supper

The Sacred Triduum begins with the celebration of the Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper. During the Eucharistic Sacrifice, we recall how Christ instituted the Holy Eucharist on the night before He died, in order that the fruits of His suffering and dying might be available to us always in the Church.At the Last Supper, on the night before He died, Christ anticipated the outpouring of His life on the Cross, giving to the Apostles the Sacrament of His true Body and Blood.For that reason, the Mass of the Lord’s Supper is central to the celebration of the mysteries of our Redemption.At the Gloria, all of the bells of the church are rung with exultant joy and then remain silent until they are even more exultantly rung at the Gloria of the First Mass of Easter during the Easter Vigil.

After the Gospel and homily, the priest carries out the Washing of the Feet.This rite recalls what our Lord Himself did during the Last Supper, and His command that His disciples do likewise.The love of Christ which we receive in the Holy Eucharist is expressed in our humble service of our brothers and sisters, especially those in most need.

At the conclusion of the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, the Blessed Sacrament is carried in solemn procession throughout the church and is then reposed in a fittingly decorated chapel.The faithful are invited to make a holy hour in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament during this holy night of its institution.After the Mass, the altar is stripped.Mass will not be celebrated at the altar again until the Easter Vigil.

Celebration of the Lord’s Passion

Around three p.m. on Good Friday, we solemnly celebrate our Lord’s Passion and Death.We call this Friday good because it is the day on which Christ won for us our salvation.

The celebration begins with the Liturgy of the Word, the heart of which is the proclamation of the Passion from the Gospels. After the homily, the Liturgy of the Word concludes with the general intercessions for the needs of the universal Church and of the world.

The second part of the celebration is the Veneration of the Cross.A large crucifix is carried in procession to honor the Cross on which Christ won for us our salvation.We, then, venerate the crucifix, recognizing the Cross of Christ as our only hope of salvation.Looking upon the Cross, we cannot fail to deepen our knowledge of God’s love for us and to respond with love, in return.

The celebration concludes with Holy Communion.The hosts consecrated at the Mass of the Lord’s Supper are brought to the altar and distributed to the faithful.Any hosts remaining are reposed in a place outside the main body of the church, so that the church building remains without the Real Presence as the Church waits at the tomb of Christ for the celebration of His glorious Resurrection at the Easter Vigil.

I remind you that Good Friday is a day of abstinence and fasting.In our homes, we should make a special effort to foster silence on Good Friday to honor our Lord in His Suffering and Dying.

The Easter Vigil

The Sacred Triduum concludes and the Easter Season begins with the celebration of the Easter Vigil.The Easter Vigil marks the holiest night of the year.The liturgical rites of the Easter Vigil are rightly the most ample and rich of all the liturgical rites.

The Easter Vigil begins with the Blessing of the Fire and the Lighting of the Easter Candle, signifying Christ the Light, dispelling the darkness of our sins and restoring life in us by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.The Easter Proclamation (Exsultet) sung before the Easter Candle is a hymn of praise of the great mystery of the Redemptive Incarnation.

The Liturgy of the Word is very ample.Nine readings, seven from the Old Testament and two from the New Testament, are provided, in order that we may have the fullest instruction from the Word of God regarding the events of the Redemptive Incarnation.After the last reading from the Old Testament has been proclaimed, the candles on the altar are lighted and the Gloria is sung with the joy-filled ringing of all the church bells which have been silent since the celebration of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday.

The third part of the Easter Vigil is the Liturgy of Baptism, during which we witness the lasting fruit of Christ’s Passion, Death and Resurrection in the baptism of catechumens, and in the conferral of Confirmation and the reception of First Holy Communion for the newly baptized.In many churches, this is also the time for the conferral of Confirmation and the reception of First Holy Communion for those being received into the full communion of the Catholic Church or for those who were baptized Catholic but not catechized.During the Liturgy of Baptism, we return mystically to our own baptism and confirmation, and give praise to God for Christ’s life within us through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

The final part of the Easter Vigil is the Liturgy of the Eucharist.Christ renews His paschal sacrifice, so that we may be healed and nourished with His true Body and Blood. Every aspect of the liturgical observance of the Sacred Triduum finds its fullest expression in the celebration of the First Mass of our Lord’s Resurrection.


As archbishop, as your shepherd, I urge you to plan now your full participation in the sacred liturgies of Holy Week and, especially, of the Sacred Triduum.If you have not yet confessed your sins and received our Lord’s forgiveness in the Sacrament of Penance in preparation for your participation, please do so in these days.

Be assured that you and your intentions will be constantly in my prayers during the coming holiest of days.May our celebration of Holy Week lead us into a fuller knowledge of the mystery of God’s love for us in Jesus Christ, to a fuller knowledge of the mystery of the Redemptive Incarnation, and to a more ardent love of our Divine Savior.

The Church and Holy Eucharist


In presenting the Church’s pastoral plan at the beginning of the Third Christian Millennium, our Holy Father Pope John Paul II reminded us strongly that it is not a question of some "new program," which we must invent, but rather "the plan found in the Gospel and in the living Tradition" of the Church.In short, the Church’s pastoral plan is Christ Himself dwelling with us through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit into our souls.The plan is our life in Christ or holiness of life through daily conversion.It is the "larger and more demanding normal pastoral activity," which helps each of us and the whole Church to meet the "high standard of ordinary Christian living" (Pope John Paul II, Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio ineunte, "At the Close of the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000," Jan. 6, 2001, nos. 29-31).

Clearly, life in Christ or holiness of life is sought and attained, most perfectly, through prayer and, above all, the public prayer of the Church or Sacred Liturgy.Our Holy Father reminds us that it is only by opening our hearts completely to Christ through prayer that we are able to open our hearts in love to our brothers and sisters, and to shape "history according to God’s plan."The highest expression of our life of prayer, devotion and worship is participation in the Holy Mass, especially Sunday Mass.Sunday of each week is set aside as the Day of the Lord, the day on which Christ rose from the dead, conquering sin and everlasting death in our human nature, and anticipating the day of His Final Coming.Through participation in the Holy Eucharist, we stand at the very center of our life in Christ, the very center of all human lives, of all history.Faithful participation in the Holy Eucharist inspires and strengthens us for a holier life, a life given more completely in love to Christ and, therefore, to our neighbor.Our Holy Father observes that it is obvious "that our principal attention must be given to liturgy, ‘the summit toward which the Church’s action tends and at the same time the source from which comes all her strength’" (Novo millennio ineunte, nos. 32-36).

Recent papal eucharistic initiatives

It, therefore, comes as no surprise to us that the subject of our Holy Father’s first encyclical at the beginning of the Third Christian Millennium is devoted to the Holy Eucharist.On Holy Thursday in 2003, our Holy Father published the Encyclical Letter "Ecclesia de Eucharistia (On the Eucharist in Its Relationship to the Church)" (April, 17, 2003) to underline the principal source of the new evangelization and to express gratitude to almighty God for 25 years of service as successor of St. Peter. In the "Ecclesia de Eucharistia," our Holy Father called for "a more specific document," to be prepared by his offices, on the norms for the worthy celebration of the Sacred Liturgy (n. 52b).That document, titled "Redemptionis Sacramentum (Instruction on Certain Matters To Be Observed or To Be Avoided Regarding the Most Holy Eucharist)," was issued by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments on March 25, 2004.

On Oct. 7, 2004, our Holy Father issued his Apostolic Letter"Mane nobiscum Domine (For the Year of the Eucharist)," declaring a Year of the Eucharist from October 2004 to October of this year, a time of special grace for the universal Church, so that her members may grow in knowledge and love of the Eucharistic mystery.The Year of the Eucharist is framed by two great events, the International Eucharistic Congress held in Guadalajara, Mexico, from Oct. 10-17 of last year, and the Ordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, to be held at the Vatican from Oct. 2-29 of this year, with the theme: "The Eucharist: Source and Summit of the Life and Mission of the Church" (Mane nobiscum Domine, no. 4).Also, the Holy Father has expressed his desire that the Catholic youth from around the world, who will participate in World Youth Day in Cologne, Germany, from Aug. 16-21 of this year, direct their attention and activities to the Eucharist "which nourishes their faith and enthusiasm" (Mane nobiscum Domine, no. 4).

In order to foster as much as possible our growth in the knowledge and love of the Holy Eucharist during the Year of the Eucharist, our Holy Father has established the plenary indulgence to be gained through "certain specific acts of worship and devotion to the Most Blessed Sacrament."The decree of the Apostolic Penitentiary, "On the Gift of an Indulgence during the ‘Year of the Eucharist,’" sets forth, in accord with our Holy Father’s wishes, very generous conditions for gaining the plenary indulgence.The conditions make it possible for the infirm and the homebound to obtain the plenary indulgence frequently on their own behalf and on behalf of the souls in purgatory.

In order to contribute my part to the realization of the most noble goals of the Year of the Eucharist, I offer a series of reflections on the Encyclical Letter "Ecclesia de Eucharistia."By opening up the richness of the Holy Father’s teaching on the Holy Eucharist, I hope to increase both our knowledge of the Holy Eucharist and our fervent love of the Holy Eucharist, expressed through our participation in the Holy Mass and our eucharistic devotions, especially prayer before the Blessed Sacrament exposed in the monstrance.

Context of the encyclical letter

The Holy Father places "Ecclesia de Eucharistia" within the context of the new evangelization to be carried out at the beginning of the new Christian millennium and, more specifically, within the context of the Year of the Rosary, observed from October 2002 to October 2003 to promote the praying of the Holy Rosary as a privileged means of the new evangelization.Announcing the Year of the Rosary in his Apostolic Letter "Rosarium Virginis Mariae (On the Most Holy Rosary)," the Holy Father urged us to take up anew the ancient devotion of praying the rosary, that is, of contemplating the face of Christ through the eyes of His Mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary, so that we may live more closely united to Christ.By means of "Ecclesia de Eucharistia," which rightly may be called the crown of all of the Holy Father’s rich teaching, Pope John Paul II helps us to bring to fullness our contemplation of the face of Christ by meeting Christ in the Holy Eucharist.In a true sense, praying the rosary deepens in us the desire to meet Christ in the Holy Eucharist and keeps before our eyes always that most privileged meeting in the Blessed Sacrament.

Our Holy Father makes clear the intimate connection of the observance of the Year of the Rosary and the teaching on the Holy Eucharist:

"From the time I began my ministry as the successor of Peter, I have always marked Holy Thursday, the day of the Eucharist and of the priesthood, by sending a letter to all the priests of the world.This year, the 25th of my pontificate, I wish to involve the whole Church more fully in this eucharistic reflection, also as a way of thanking the Lord for the gift of the Eucharist and the priesthood:

‘Gift and Mystery.’ By proclaiming the Year of the Rosary, I wish to put this, my 25th anniversary, under the aegis of the contemplation of Christ at the school of Mary.Consequently, I cannot let his Holy Thursday 2003 pass without halting before the ‘Eucharistic face’ of Christ and pointing out with new force to the Church the centrality of the Eucharist" (Ecclesia de Eucharistia, no. 7a).

The Holy Father expresses the desire to enkindle anew our wonder before the Most Blessed Sacrament, in which we most perfectly contemplate the face of Christ and from which we draw our life in Him.
His Holiness clearly relates the Encyclical Letter to the pastoral plan of the Church, relating the praying of rosary to the Holy Eucharist in the work of the new evangelization.He teaches us:

"To contemplate the face of Christ, and to contemplate it with Mary, is the ‘program’ which I have set before the Church at the dawn of the third millennium, summoning her to put out into the deep on the sea of history with the enthusiasm of the new evangelization.To contemplate Christ involves being able to recognize Him wherever He manifests Himself, in His many forms of presence, but above all in the living sacrament of His Body and His Body" (no. 6).
Contemplation of Christ in the Most Blessed Sacrament is the unfailing source of the enthusiasm and energy needed to carry out Christ’s work of evangelization in our time.

The Holy Father reflects upon the natural and "lively concern" which the Church always has for the eucharistic mystery, because "in the most blessed Eucharist is contained whole spiritual good of the Church, namely Christ Himself our Pasch and the living bread which gives life to men through His flesh — that flesh which is given life and gives life through the Holy Spirit" (Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, "Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests" Presbyterorum ordinis, no. 5b). The encyclical letter is a wonderful expression of his concern, as shepherd of the Universal Church, for our eucharistic faith and practice.

Eucharist and the Paschal Mystery

By way of introduction to the contents of "Ecclesia de Eucharistia," our Holy Father underlines the truth that the Holy Eucharist is "in an outstanding way the sacrament of the paschal mystery" (no. 3a).He reminds us that participation in the Holy Mass really unites us to the beginning of our salvation in the Passion, Death and Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.At the Last Supper, Christ carried out sacramentally what He was to accomplish on the following day on Calvary: He gave up His life for our salvation.Referring to Christ’s agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, after the Last Supper and at the beginning of His Passion, our Holy Father writes:

"The blood which shortly before He had given to the Church as the drink of salvation in the Sacrament of the Eucharist, began to be shed; its outpouring would then be completed on Golgotha to become the means of our redemption... " (no. 3).

In the Holy Eucharist, the Sacrifice of Calvary is made new in an unbloody manner, the hour of our salvation is made present.Our Holy Father writes: "Every priest who celebrates Holy Mass, together with the Christian community which takes part in it, is led back in spirit to that place and that hour" (no. 4a).

Reflecting upon the reality of the Holy Eucharist, the oneness of the Eucharistic Sacrifice with the Sacrifice of Calvary, we are filled with wonder at the great mystery of God’s love for us in Jesus Christ.Our Holy Father reminds us of the unfathomable greatness of the Holy Eucharist, its "capacity" which "embraces all of history as the recipient of the grace of the redemption" (no. 5b).Each time we are privileged to participate in the Holy Eucharist or to pray in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament, the reality of the Holy Mass should fill us with Eucharistic wonder or, to use the Holy Father’s phrase, Eucharistic "amazement."The wonder is, at the same time, deepest gratitude.In a striking description of the ministry of the priest at the Holy Mass, our Holy Father captures the reason for our "profound amazement and gratitude":

"‘This is My Body which will be given up for you.This is the cup of My Blood, poured out for you....’The priest says these words, or rather he puts his voice at the disposal of the One who spoke these words in the Upper Room and who desires that they should be repeated in every generation by all those who in the Church ministerially share in His priesthood" (no. 5c).

By the great mystery of God’s love for us, Christ, God the Son made man, gives up His Body and pours out His Blood for us in the Eucharistic Sacrifice.One readily understands, therefore, the great care of the Church for the celebration of the Holy Mass, the worship of the Most Blessed Sacrament, eucharistic prayer and devotion, and the worthy custody of the Most Blessed Sacrament.

Lights and Ssadows of eucharistic practice

The Holy Father points out a contrasting situation regarding the care of the Blessed Sacrament in our day.On the one hand, the form of the Sacred Liturgy today, in accord with the teaching of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, "has greatly contributed to a more conscious, active and fruitful participation in the Holy Sacrifice of the Altar on the part of the faithful" (no. 10a).The new Order of the Mass, which may be celebrated in the vernacular, makes it possible for us to enter ever more consciously into the Eucharistic Sacrifice.To the degree that we prepare ourselves well for participation in the Holy Mass and, then, give our full attention to the words and actions of the Mass, the conciliar reform of the Sacred Liturgy achieves its most noble end.

Among what the Holy Father calls the "lights" of the liturgical reform are the increase in eucharistic devotion and of worship of the Most Blessed Sacrament outside of the Mass.He mentions, in particular, the "devout participation of the faithful in the eucharistic procession on the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ" (no. 10a).We cannot count the blessings which come to the Church and to the world by way of the never-ceasing prayer offered by so many of the faithful in the presence of our eucharistic Lord.

On the other hand, the Holy Father points out "shadows" in our eucharistic faith and practice.He points out the abandonment of eucharistic devotion and adoration in some places of the Church.He also notes the liturgical abuses which have occurred through a mistaken or incomplete understanding of the reforms mandated by the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council.Liturgical abuses have caused and cause confusion about the Church’s faith in the Most Blessed Sacrament.

The Holy Father notes "an extremely reductive understanding of the Eucharistic mystery," which is expressed in an exaggerated emphasis upon the Holy Eucharist as banquet, without a proper understanding of the Eucharist’s "sacrificial meaning" (no. 10c).The Holy Eucharist is indeed a banquet, but the heavenly Food of the banquet is the Body and Blood of Christ offered and poured out for us on the altar which is one with the Cross of Calvary.

The Holy Father also mentions a tendency to obscure the necessity of the ordained priesthood, which comes through apostolic succession from Christ Himself, for the celebration of the Holy Eucharist.Such a tendency indicates a failure to understand the institution of the Holy Eucharist at the Last Supper, at which our Lord also instituted the ordained priesthood, so that He Himself might renew His Sacrifice on Calvary in every time and place (no. 10c).


The "lights" and the "shadows" in our eucharistic faith and practice indicate the need to treasure anew the greatest gift which Christ gives to us in the Church, the Holy Eucharist.New enthusiasm and new energy in studying and living our Catholic faith leads, first of all, to new enthusiasm and energy in contemplating the "eucharistic face" of Christ.Through the new evangelization, the "lights" of our eucharistic faith and practice will be enhanced and the "shadows" will be eliminated.May reflection upon the mystery of Christ’s abiding presence with us in the Eucharistic Sacrifice and banquet be at the heart of our work to carry out the new evangelization of our world.

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