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.

‘Be not afraid!’


On this past Saturday, Aug. 25, we celebrated the feast day of St. Louis of France, principal patron saint of the Archdiocese of St. Louis.The feast day of St. Louis is celebrated as a solemnity in the City of St. Louis and as a feast in the rest of the archdiocese. This year, I transferred the celebration of the solemnity in the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis to Aug. 26, to permit a greater participation of the faithful.

In my homily for the Pontifical Mass for the Solemnity of St. Louis in the cathedral basilica, I reflected on the source of the heroic sanctity of our principal patron, who was a husband and father of 11 children, ruler of a great nation and crusader for the safeguarding of the Christian life in the holy places of our Lord’s redemptive Incarnation. Wanting to share my reflection with all of the faithful of the archdiocese, I have edited the homily for this week’s column.

Becoming whom we receive in Holy Communion

In his post-synodal apostolic exhortation "Sacramentum Caritatis (On the Eucharist as the Source and Summit of the Church’s Life and Mission)," Pope Benedict XVI recalls a passage from the "Confessions" of St. Augustine, regarding the Holy Eucharist.St. Augustine writes about the different effect of consuming the heavenly Bread of the Holy Eucharist in comparison with the effect of eating earthly food.

Earthly food is assimilated into our very being; it becomes a part of us.The Body of Christ, the heavenly Food of our earthly pilgrimage, on the contrary, transforms us into the Food we consume, that is, Christ Whom we receive in Holy Communion.

Through the Eucharistic Sacrifice, our Lord Jesus Christ unites us to Himself, draws our hearts into His glorious Sacred Heart. By so doing, He heals and purifies our poor, fearful and doubting hearts. He gives rest and strength to our hearts. In short, He gives us the grace to live in Him always, to reflect His likeness in every moment of our lives, in everything that we think and say and do. In the glorious pierced Heart of Jesus, we receive the strength to "remove from (our) midst oppression," to "bestow bread on the hungry and satisfy the afflicted," trusting that "the Lord will guide (us) always and give (us) plenty even on the parched land" (Isaiah 58:10-11).In the Heart of Jesus, we find the refreshment and fortitude to become for our neighbor "a spring whose water never fails" (Isaiah 58:11).In the words of St. Paul, our Lord Jesus Christ gives us the grace to offer our bodies "as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is (our) spiritual worship" (Romans 12:1) (Pope Benedict XVI, post-synodal apostolic exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis, Feb. 22, 2007, n. 70).

The intrinsically eucharistic nature of Christian life
Pope Benedict XVI comments on the reflection of St. Augustine with these words:

"Christianity’s new worship includes and transfigures every aspect of life: ‘Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God’ (1 Corinthians 10:31).Christians, in all their actions, are called to offer true worship to God.Here the intrinsically eucharistic nature of Christian life begins to take shape. The Eucharist, since it embraces the concrete, everyday existence of the believer, makes possible, day by day, the progressive transfiguration of all those called by grace to reflect the image of the Son of God (cf. Romans 8:29ff). There is nothing authentically human — our thoughts and affections, our words and deeds — that does not find in the Sacrament of the Eucharist the form it needs to be lived to the full" (Sacramentum Caritatis, n. 71).

The Holy Eucharist is truly the fount and highest expression of the life of the Church. It is, therefore, the fount and highest expression of our personal life in Christ. Having communion with the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist, we are called and given the grace to live in pure and selfless love of God and neighbor, observing always and everywhere the great commandment of love (Matthew 22:37-40).

St. Louis: Holding on to God with faith and good works

St. Louis (King Louis IX) of France, the principal patron of our archdiocese, is a remarkable example of a eucharistic life, of a life in which the reality of the Eucharist formed every element. At the conclusion of his Credo, St. Louis urges to hold on to God with two arms. He explains:

"The two arms with which we must hold God clasped, are firm faith and good works. We need both of these together if we wish to keep hold of God, for either one of them is useless without the other" (John of Joinville, The Life of St. Louis, tr. Ren Hague, New York: Sheed and Ward, 1955, p. 236, n. 846).

The image of clasping or holding on to God underlines for us the intention and the devotion which are needed in our relationship with God, in our response of love to Him Who has first loved us and has loved us "to the end" (John 12:1; 1 John 4:10).

Our holy and noble patron also cautions us about the daily work of Satan and the forces of evil to lead us to give up our hold on one or the other, firm faith or good works, and thus to lose both:

"We see, then, that we must combine firm faith with good works.Daily the devils fight with us to deprive us of one or the other, and on the last day, by which I mean the day of our death, they will strive even harder than they do now. On that day may God and His Mother and all His saints grant us their help!" (The Life of St. Louis, p. 236, n. 848).

St. Louis understood that taking up the Cross with Christ means also entering, with Christ, into the Garden of Gethsemane and resisting, with the help of God’s grace, the temptations to discouragement and despair.

St. Louis heeded the admonition of St. Paul:

"Put on the armor of God so that you may be able to stand firm against the tactics of the Devil ... With all prayer and supplication, pray at every opportunity in the Spirit.

"To that end, be watchful with all perseverance and supplication for all the holy ones" (Ephesians 6:11,18).

St. Paul teaches us what we see embodied in the life of St. Louis, namely, constant vigilance and prayer, so that we, with the help of God’s grace, do whatever God asks of us, at any moment of our life.

St. Louis, man of the Holy Eucharist

As son, husband, father, ruler and crusader, St. Louis strove, in everything, to embody his holding on to God by faith.If we read the account of his daily life, written by Jean de Joinville, who knew the king most personally and fought alongside him in the Crusades, beginning in 1248, we discover the source of the faith and good works by which St. Louis held on to God, steadfastly remaining in the company of our Lord. John of Joinville writes:

"He so arranged the business of governing his country that every day he heard the Hours of the Office sung, and a Requiem Mass without chant, and then a sung Mass of the day or the feast, if there was one. Every day after dinner he rested on his bed, and when he had slept and rested he said the Office of the Dead privately in his room with one of his chaplains, before hearing Vespers.In the evening he heard Compline" (The Life of St. Louis, p. 36, n.54).

Clearly, every day of the life of St. Louis was centered in the Sacred Liturgy, above all, the Holy Eucharist.

When we consider the richness of virtue in the life of St. Louis, for example, his daily and generous provision for the poor, his establishment of institutions to educate the young and to care for the sick and those in need, and his devotion to the sacred places of our Lord unto the giving of his last energies, we ask how it is possible that so many Christlike qualities could be embodied in one man, in one lifetime.

The answer to our wonderment is the Eucharistic Sacrifice in which St. Louis participated daily and which transformed him more and more into Christ’s own likeness. When we consider the complexity of his life as father of a large family and as ruler of a nation, we marvel at his wisdom, truly wisdom from God, by which he formed his every activity in daily Mass and praying of the Liturgy of the Hours.


Recalling the memory of St. Louis, let us ask him to intercede for us so that we may become men and women of the Eucharist. May we imitate St. Louis, finding in the Holy Eucharist the grace to live every moment of our lives in and with Christ for the glory of God the Father and for the good of our neighbor, especially our neighbor who is in most need.

Imitating our beloved patron, St. Louis, let us, each day, lift up our poor, sinful and doubting hearts to the Lord, placing them into His glorious pierced Heart.May we live every moment of our lives in the communion with the Lord, which is ours in the Holy Eucharist.

‘Be not afraid!’


Pope Benedict XVI concludes his post-synodal apostolic exhortation "Sacramentum Caritatis (On the Eucharist as the Source and Summit of the Church’s Life and Mission)," by reminding us that "the Eucharist is at the root of every form of holiness, and each of us is called to the fullness of life in the Holy Eucharist" (No. 94).To illustrate the eucharistic foundation of our life in Christ, he recalls the names of many saints who attained heroic sanctity of life by way of strong eucharistic devotion.The heart of their heroic sanctity was the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist.

Our Holy Father, accordingly, declares that the eucharistic mystery "needs to be firmly believed, devoutly celebrated and intensely lived in the Church" (No. 94).In the Holy Eucharist, we discover that the fulfillment of our life is found in the participation in the life of God — Father, Son and Holy Spirit — which our Lord Jesus, God the Son made man, offers to us.Our religious life is deeply personal. It is a relationship with God the Father in God the Son through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit into our very being. It is through participation in the Eucharistic Sacrifice and through eucharistic devotion that we draw ever closer to our Lord Jesus and receive from Him the gift of divine Trinitarian life.

In the Holy Eucharist, we offer our own lives with Christ, we draw near to Christ with "the whole community of believers" and we express "our solidarity with all men and women" for whom Christ offers up His life in the Eucharistic Sacrifice (No. 94).Pope Benedict XVI asks "all pastors to spare no effort in promoting an authentically Eucharistic Christian spirituality."He expresses confidence that those who are ministers of the Holy Eucharist — priests, deacons and extraordinary ministers — will carry out their service with due preparation and attentive care, and, therefore, find in their eucharistic ministry the inspiration and strength which they need to grow in holiness of life.

Addressing all of the lay faithful and especially families, Pope Benedict XVI urges them to find in the Eucharistic Sacrifice "the energy needed to make their lives an authentic sign of the presence of the risen Lord" (No. 94).Addressing consecrated men and women, he urges them to make the Eucharist the center of their lives and, thereby, to manifest to all the great beauty of a life dedicated totally to Christ.

Intercession of the martyrs and all the saints

Pope Benedict XVI recalls the story of the martyrs of Abitinae in North Africa at the beginning of the fourth century.The Roman emperor had forbidden the celebration of the Holy Mass.Certain Christians in North Africa defied the emperor’s prohibition because they "felt bound to celebrate the Lord’s Day" (No. 95).They stated plainly that they could not live without the Holy Eucharist. As a result, they were martyred at Abitinae.

Our Holy Father asks the intercession of the martyrs of Abitinae and of all the saints. He asks that they teach us to be faithful to our Sunday encounter with the Risen Lord in the Holy Eucharist.He prays that we may imitate the martyrs of Abitinae, so that what we celebrate on the Lord’s Day becomes the pattern of our daily living.

The Blessed Virgin Mary

In a special way, our Holy Father asks that the Blessed Virgin Mary be one with us as we go to meet our Lord each Sunday in the Holy Eucharist.Our Blessed Mother is, in the words of the Servant of God Pope John Paul II, the "Woman of the Eucharist." The Virgin Mary leads us to the Holy Eucharist.She is with us in the Eucharistic Sacrifice, training our eyes to behold, with her, the great mystery of God the Father’s love of us in Jesus Christ.At the Holy Mass, we pray through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary and strive to imitate her in the offering of her whole life in obedience to God the Father and for the good of the Church.

Our Blessed Mother is totally beautiful (tota pulchra); in her, we see the glory of God as it shines forth in a totally virtuous life.Pope Benedict XVI declares: "From Mary we must learn to become men and women of the Eucharist and of the Church, and thus to present ourselves, in the words of St. Paul, ‘holy and blameless’ before the Lord, even as He wished us to be from the beginning (cf. Colossians 1:22; Eph 1:4)" (n. 96).


The Holy Father brings "Sacramentum Caritatis" to a conclusion, asking the intercession of the Mother of God, so that the Holy Spirit will stir up in us anew the fire which the disciples on the road to Emmaus on Easter Sunday experienced when they encountered the Risen Lord in the Holy Eucharist. He notes how the "the splendor and beauty radiating from the liturgical rite" should be for us a sign of the incomprehensible beauty of Christ’s offering of His life for us sacramentally, of God’s immense and ceaseless love of us in our Lord Jesus Christ (No. 97).

The Holy Eucharist makes us realize that our Lord is with us always and, therefore, brings us true and lasting joy. "True joy is found in recognizing that the Lord is still with us, our faithful companion along the way. The Eucharist makes us discover that Christ, risen from the dead, is our contemporary in the mystery of the Church, His Body" (No. 97).

Finally, Pope Benedict XVI expresses the desire that we encourage one another to encounter our Lord in the Holy Eucharist and, therefore, to proclaim the truth which we have discovered in the Holy Eucharist, the truth declared by our Lord before His Ascension to the right hand of the Father: "Lo, I am with you always, until the end of the world" (Matthew 28:20).

It is my fervent prayer that the reflection on "Sacramentum Caritatis," which we have been making in the archdiocese over the past several months, has led us all to a deeper knowledge of our eucharistic Lord and, therefore, to a more ardent love of our Lord in the Most Blessed Sacrament.May our love of the Holy Eucharist flower in a pure and selfless love of one another, especially our brothers and sisters who are in most need.

Solemnity of St. Louis of France

On Saturday, Aug. 25, the Church universal celebrates the memory of our principal patron in the Archdiocese of St. Louis, St. Louis IX, King of France.The patronal feast, which is a solemnity in the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis, will be transferred to Sunday, Aug. 26, so that a greater number of the faithful of the archdiocese may participate in the Solemn Pontifical Mass at 5 p.m.If possible, please participate in the Holy Mass on this coming Sunday to ask the intercession of St. Louis, King of France, for the many needs of the Archdiocese of St. Louis.

I also encourage you to familiarize yourselves again with the life of St. Louis. St. Louis is a model for husbands, fathers, heads of state, for those who carry out the work of charity and for all of us.He was truly a man who gave himself completely to Christ in his vocation and life.He became more and more conformed to Christ, giving his last energies of life to leading a crusade to safeguard the holy places of our Lord’s redemptive Incarnation.

New Metropolitan Cross

At the Solemn Pontifical Mass for the Solemnity of St. Louis on Aug. 26, I will bless and use for the first time a new Metropolitan Cross commissioned by the archdiocese and created by Fratelli Savi ecclesiastical goldsmiths in Rome.Claudio and Piero Savi completed the Metropolitan Cross in these days.It arrived in St. Louis last week.The Metropolitan Cross is truly a work of art, worthy of the great beauty of the Sacred Liturgy and of our cathedral basilica.

The Metropolitan Cross is a symbol of the unity of all of the dioceses in the Province of St. Louis, namely, the Archdiocese of St. Louis and the dioceses of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Jefferson City and Springfield-Cape Girardeau.That unity binds the dioceses of the province to Rome, the see of the bishop of the universal Church.The other symbol of the office of the metropolitan archbishop is the pallium, which is imposed by the Roman pontiff as a sign of the bond of unity between the Church in the province and the universal Church.The Province of St. Louis encompasses the entire territory of the State of Missouri.

The Metropolitan Cross is carried in procession before the archbishop, especially on the occasion of special celebration for the entire Province of St. Louis, for example, the ordination of a new bishop for the province.It is carried in such a way that the image of Christ crucified is facing the archbishop to remind him of his solemn responsibilities as a true shepherd of the flock who, like our Lord, the Master, should lay down his life for the sheep entrusted into this care.

The front of the Metropolitan Cross has the image of Christ crucified at its center.At the extremes of the upright and crossbeams are the symbols of the Apocalyptic Lamb, of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary and of the four evangelists.On the reverse side of the cross are the coats of arms of the Archdiocese of St. Louis (the metropolitan see) and the dioceses of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Jefferson City and Springfield-Cape Girardeau (the suffragan sees).The inside of the Metropolitan Cross is a reliquary containing relics of St. Louis IX, King of France; St. Vincent de Paul, St. Catherine Labour, St. Anthony Mary Claret, St. Pius X, St. Maria Goretti and Blessed Pius IX.

Following the Solemn Pontifical Mass on Aug. 26, it will be possible to view the Metropolitan Cross.More information on the Metropolitan Cross is contained on Page 1 of today’s Review.

May St. Louis of France intercede for us and for the many needs of the Archdiocese of St. Louis.May we follow his example in giving our lives totally to Christ in our vocation in life.

‘Be not afraid!’

Introduction: The Holy Eucharist and the Church’s mission

Pope Benedict XVI, in "Sacramentum Caritatis," reminds us that the love of God, given to us in the Holy Eucharist, is not a gift for us alone but, rather, by its very nature, is to be shared with others, indeed, with all.Even as we recognize how much we need God’s love in our lives and how wonderfully He gives us the gift of His love in the Holy Eucharist, so also we recognize that our whole world needs most the gift of God’s love and that we are the messengers and instruments of Divine Love."What the world needs is God’s love; it needs to encounter Christ and to believe in Him" (n. 84).

The Holy Eucharist is an incomprehensible gift of God’s love which fills us with gratitude and with the desire to make this most wonderful gift, our Lord Jesus Himself, known to all our brothers and sisters. If, as it is true, the Holy Eucharist is the source and summit of the Church’s life, the Holy Eucharist is also the source and summit of the Church’s mission in the world.

The missionary nature of the Holy Eucharist is manifest in the celebration of the Last Supper.Our Lord Jesus, on the night before He died, instituted the Holy Eucharist, so that His Sacrifice on Calvary, which would be consummated on the following day, might be celebrated in every time and place, and for all men.Reflecting upon the Lord’s Supper, Pope Benedict XVI declares: "We cannot approach the eucharistic table without being drawn into the mission which, beginning in the very heart of God, is meant to reach all people" (n. 84).

The first and fundamental mission: To bear witness

The first and fundamental mission which we accept by our participation in the Holy Eucharist is to bear witness to the mystery of God’s love by the manner of our living.What does it mean to bear witness? Pope Benedict XVI provides the answer: "We become witnesses when, through our actions, words and way of being, Another makes Himself present" (n. 85).God depends upon our witness to bring His love to all men, but the gift is His, not ours.We are His messengers and instruments.While God trusts us to be His witnesses, we pray for the grace to honor God’s trust by becoming more and more like His Divine Son Who is "the faithful and true witness (cf. Revelation 1:5; 3:14), the One who came to testify to the truth (cf. John 18:37)" (n. 85).We pray that we may be true witnesses, that is, that Christ may make Himself present to others through all our thoughts and words and deeds.

Pope Benedict XVI reflects upon the great desire of the early Christians to bear the ultimate witness, namely, to offer their lives in martyrdom.In martyrdom, the early Christians rightly saw the most complete obedience to the command of St. Paul that we should offer our bodies in pure spiritual worship (cf. Romans 12:1).By martyrdom, in the words of St. Ignatius of Antioch, we become "Christ’s pure bread." In other words, the martyr unites himself perfectly with Christ in the Eucharistic Sacrifice and, thus, becomes, in Christ, spiritual food for the whole Church.Even as we are called to become the Eucharist we receive, to become more and more like Christ, so the martyr, in a pre-eminent way, becomes the Eucharist which he or she has received.

Our Holy Father reminds us that, also in our time, the Church is blessed with martyrs who offer their lives in faithful witness to God. He also reminds us that, although we do not anticipate being put to death because of our witness to God, "we know that worship pleasing to God demands that we should be inwardly prepared for it."If we are attentive to the call to be faithful in witness, even to the shedding of our blood, then we will offer each day "the joyful and convincing testimony of a consistent Christian life, wherever the Lord calls us to be his witnesses" (n. 85).

Witness to Christ, our only Savior

The more we come to know and love our eucharistic Lord, the more we understand our mission of bringing our Lord to the world. As Pope Benedict XVI reminds us, we do not offer to the world "just a theory or a way of life inspired by Christ, but the gift of His very person" (n. 86).

Today, there is a strong tendency to make our witness acceptable to a world that is marked by a great diversity of peoples and beliefs. The Holy Eucharist reminds us that our testimony must be a clear witness to the person of our Lord Jesus Christ and the salvation which He alone brings to the world.In other words, our witness must be a sound and uncompromising proclamation of the truth about our Lord Jesus Christ.It must be given with the conviction that it is what the world most needs and what will serve most the common good.

In this connection, the Holy Father addresses the situation of those who carry out the Church’s mission "in areas where Christians are a minority or where they are denied religious freedom" (n.87).Pope Benedict XVI calls to mind places in the world, in which fidelity to Sunday Mass is heroic, for it subjects the faithful to the danger of exclusion and violence.He points out that "wherever religious freedom is lacking, people lack the most meaningful freedom of all, since it is through faith that men and women express their deepest decision about the ultimate meaning of their lives" (n. 87). He invites us to pray for religious freedom throughout the world.

The Holy Eucharist offered to the world

Our Lord Jesus Christ makes it clear that He has come to save all men, without boundary or exclusion.During His public ministry, he showed "His deepest compassion for every man and woman" (n. 88). He revealed fully and perfectly the desire of God the Father that all may have life in Him.In the Eucharistic Sacrifice, our Lord makes always new the outpouring of His life for all, including those who had falsely condemned Him and put Him to death.

One with Christ in the Eucharistic Sacrifice, we accept our mission to love all our brothers and sisters, without boundary or exclusion.Participation in the Holy Eucharist means loving others as God loves them.Pope Benedict XVI quotes a text from his encyclical letter "Deus Caritas Est" to describe the nature of eucharistic charity.He tells us that it "consists in the very fact that, in God and with God, I love even the person whom I do not like or even know" (n. 88).How can we practice such charity?Because we have met our Lord Jesus in Holy Communion, we have received Him into our very being, and, therefore, look upon our brothers and sisters with His eyes, with the eyes of the One Who gave His life for us, loving us all "to the end" (John 13:1).

The body of disciples, gathered at the altar of Christ’s Sacrifice, is also deeply conscious of its responsibility to bring Christ to every local community and to our world.Union with Christ in the Eucharistic Sacrifice commits us "to work for the building of a more just and fraternal world" (n.88).

The Holy Eucharist and Reconciliation

The Holy Eucharist, because it is communion with Christ, has a profound meaning for our social relations.Communion with our eucharistic Lord commits us to work for reconciliation in all our relations.Pope Benedict XVI makes reference to the Sermon on the Mount and the specific command of our Lord regarding the necessity of reconciliation for fitting worship: "So if you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift" (Matthew 5:23-24).

Through our communion with Him in the Holy Eucharist, our Lord urges us to be reconciled, to be committed to both good communication with others and to just relations.Holy Communion is the heavenly food which transforms injustices and serves good order in all our relations and in society, in general.

Pope Benedict XVI raises the question of the involvement of the Church in politics.He acknowledges that "it is not the proper task of the Church to engage in the political work of bringing about the most just society possible," but he also observes that "nonetheless she cannot and must not remain on the sidelines in the struggle for justice" (n. 89).The Church has two specific tasks in promoting the struggle for justice.She must employ reason to argue for a just resolution of every question. She must be a voice of reason.

Secondly, she must be the instrument by which man becomes spiritually strong to make the sacrifices necessary to preserve and foster justice.Pope Benedict XVI calls all the faithful to be agents in the promotion of the respect for the inviolable dignity of human life: "Precisely because of the mystery we celebrate, we must denounce situations contrary to human dignity, since Christ shed His blood for all, and at the same time affirm the inestimable importance of each individual person" (n. 89).

Globalization and stewardship

Our Holy Father notes specific questions of justice, which our participation in the Holy Eucharist inspires and strengthens us to address, for example a globalization which increases "the gap between the rich and the poor worldwide."There is also the failure to practice good stewardship of the earth’s resources, so that they serve the needs of all. He writes also of the "huge camps ... of displaced persons and refugees, who are living in makeshift conditions in order to escape a worse fate, yet are still in dire need."He reflects on the very large sums of money expended worldwide for armaments, while so many are living in poverty.

Our participation in the Holy Eucharist makes us conscious of our "clear and disquieting responsibility" for the situations of injustice in which our brothers and sisters suffer: "The food of truth demands that we denounce inhumane situations in which people starve to death because of injustice and exploitation, and it gives us renewed strength and courage to work tirelessly in the service of the civilization of love" (n. 90).

Calling to mind the concern of the first Christians to place their goods at the service of all, especially those in most need, Pope Benedict XVI underlines the importance of our weekly collections at Sunday Mass.He also highlights the works of the Church’s charitable institutions, like Catholic Charities, which concretely address the needs of the poorest among us.Regarding these institutions, he declares: "Inspired by the Eucharist, the sacrament of charity, they become a concrete expression of that charity; they are to be praised and encouraged for their commitment to solidarity in our world" (n. 90).

The Church’s social teaching

All of us, and, in particular, the lay faithful bear a most heavy responsibility for the economic, political and social conditions in our society.The questions of justice which we confront are complex and do not admit of easy responses. It is, therefore, essential that we receive instruction in the Church’s social doctrine.Pope Benedict XVI reminds us that the Church’s history, from her beginnings, is rich with lessons in social justice.He cautions against "misguided compromises or false utopias," and underlines the "realism and moderation" of the Church’s social teaching.

Treating the relationship of the Holy Eucharist to the Church’s social teaching, Pope Benedict XVI notes, in particular, the implications of the Eucharistic Sacrifice for our approach to creation.The very offering of bread and wine remind us of God’s plan for the world.Pope Benedict XVI corrects false notions of the world in strong terms: "The world is not something indifferent, raw material to be utilized simply as we see fit.Rather, it is part of God’s good plan, in which all of us are called to be sons and daughters in the one Son of God, Jesus Christ (cf. Ephesians 1:4-12)" (n. 92).

Through the Holy Eucharist, we participate already in the new creation which Christ will bring to full realization at His Second Coming.The new creation is not yet; we are called to prepare for it, each day of our lives.We prepare for it by our knowledge of God’s plan for our world and by our respect and obedience before God’s plan.

We await the Final Coming of our Lord.Pope Benedict XVI concludes: "Our Christian life, nourished by the Eucharist, gives us a glimpse of that new world — new heavens and a new earth — where the New Jerusalem comes down from heaven, from God, ‘prepared as a bride adorned for her husband’ (Revelation 21:2)" (n. 92).

Conclusion: Eucharistic compendium

Our Holy Father concludes Part Three of "Sacramentum Caritatis" by announcing his acceptance of a proposal made by the bishops in synod, namely the preparation of a compendium on the Holy Eucharist. According to the mind of the bishops, the compendium is to be "a means of helping the Christian people to believe, celebrate and live ever more fully the mystery of the Eucharist" (n. 93).

The compendium will be prepared by the "competent offices of the Roman Curia" and will contain "texts from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, prayers, explanations of the Eucharistic Prayers of the Roman Missal and other useful aids for a correct understanding, celebration and adoration of the Sacrament of the Altar."Pope Benedict XVI expresses the hope that the compendium will have two effects in the Church and in our individual Christian lives.First, he hopes that it "will help make the memorial of the Passover of the Lord increasingly the source and summit of the Church’s life and mission."Secondly, he hopes that it "will encourage each member of the faithful to make his or her life a true act of spiritual worship" (n. 93).

‘Be not afraid!’

Introduction: The Holy Eucharist and everyday life

When considering the Holy Eucharist as a mystery to be lived, it is important, in our day, to recognize how our totally secularized culture has alienated everyday life from the Christian faith.The Holy Eucharist, however, by its very nature, animates every aspect of our lives.Through the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, Christ is in our midstto bring us to life in the Holy Spirit."Hence the Holy Eucharist, as the source and summit of the Church’s life and mission, must be translated into spirituality, into a life lived ‘according to the Spirit’ (Romans 8:4ff; cf. Galatians 5:16, 25)."Who receives the Body of Christ with faith thinks with Christ and acts as Christ would act. Quoting verse 2 of the 12th chapter of St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans, Pope Benedict XVI declares in "Sacramentum Caritatis": "In this way the Apostle of the Gentiles emphasizes the link between true spiritual worship and the need for anew way of understanding and living one’s life" (No. 77).

Because the Communion with Christ in the Holy Eucharist involves every aspect of daily living, it necessarily involves the commitment to address the Word of Christ to the other cultures we encounter. The Holy Eucharist leads us to evangelize all cultures, for Christ pours out His life for the salvation of all men and women."The Eucharist becomes a criterion for our evaluation of everything that Christianity encounters in different cultures" (No. 78).The Holy Eucharist, for instance, must be our inspiration and strength in evangelizing the Islamic culture that becomes ever more present in our society and the world.Everything in life must be seen in the light of the Holy Eucharist, in order to see each thing in truth and to act in all things with love.

The Holy Eucharist and the spirituality of the lay faithful

Pope Benedict XVI then applies the truth about the relationship of the Holy Eucharist to everyday living to the various states of life. He begins by considering the spirituality of the lay faithful. He reminds us that the Holy Eucharist "meets each of us as we are, and makes our concrete existence the place where we experience daily the radical newness of the Christian life" (No. 79). The Holy Eucharist nourishes the life of Christ, which we have received through Baptism, inspiring and strengthening us to live our baptismal vocation, that is, to do whatever God asks of us, especially in what pertains to our vocation in life.

The vocation of the lay faithful, received at Baptism, is the sanctification and, therefore, transformation of every human activity, the transformation of the world.Through the Sacrament of Confirmation, the grace of Baptism is strengthened and increased for the carrying out of the lay vocation.The Holy Eucharist is the food which sustains the lay apostle in carrying out his or her mission. Pope Benedict XVI urges that the lay faithful "should cultivate a desire that the Eucharist have an ever deeper effect on their daily lives, making them convincing witnesses in the workplace and in society at large" (No. 79).Recognizing the challenge of their vocation and the irreplaceable source of strength to meet the challenge in the Holy Eucharist, the lay faithful rightly treasure the possibility of participating in Holy Mass daily, if possible.

Knowledge and love of the Eucharistic Mystery is especially critical to the vocation of the married and for the family life begun with the exchange of marriage consent. Through participation in the Holy Mass and in Eucharistic devotion, husband and wife come to understand the essential marks of their love of each other. The love of Christ poured out in the Holy Eucharist is the source of their love which, by definition, is total, ever faithful and procreative of new human life.The relationship between parents and children, likewise, finds its form in the purest and most selfless love of Christ in the Eucharistic Sacrifice.

Our Holy Father concludes the discussion of the Holy Eucharist and the spirituality of the laity by urging parish priests to "unfailingly support, guide and encourage the lay faithful to live fully their vocation to holiness within this world which God so loved that He gave His Son to become its salvation (cf. John 3:16)" (No. 79).The principal means by which pastors of souls assist those called to marriage and the family are instruction in the truth regarding the Holy Eucharist and exhortation to love of the Holy Eucharist.

The Holy Eucharist and priestly spirituality

In writing about the relationship of the Holy Eucharist to the spiritual life of the priest, Pope Benedict XVI recalls striking words from the Rite of Ordination of a Priest.After the new priest has been consecrated by the Laying On of Hands and the Prayer of Ordination, he goes before the bishop for the Anointing of Hands and the Handing Over of the Bread and Wine. When the bishop hands over the bread and wine, he declares: "Receive the oblation of the holy people, to be offered to God.Understand what you do, imitate what you celebrate, and conform your life to the mystery of the Lord’s Cross" (No. 80).In other words, the priest is to live the mystery of Christ’s Sacrifice in his daily life.

The priest is to make the Holy Eucharist the center of his priestly life and the source of his priestly ministry.The spiritual life is, therefore, "his highest priority" (No. 80).He is to bring Christ to the people, and, therefore, he must know Christ intimately and have the closest possible communion with Christ.He must experience deeply the love of Christ in the Holy Eucharist, if he is to love the flock in the person of Christ Head and Shepherd, Who lays down His life for the sheep (John 10:11).

Given the inherent eucharistic nature of the priest’s spirituality, Pope Benedict XVI makes his own a recommendation made by the bishops at the Synod of 2005, namely, that the priest should celebrate Mass every day, even if no faithful are present for the celebration. The Holy Father comments: "This recommendation is consistent with the objectively infinite value of every celebration of the Eucharist, and is motivated by the Mass’s unique spiritual fruitfulness" (No. 80).Through the daily celebration of the Holy Eucharist, at which the whole Communion of Saints always assists, the priest identifies ever more clearly his ministry and is strengthened to carry it out.

The Holy Eucharist and the spiritual life of consecrated persons

Those called to the consecrated life are to follow Christ more closely, especially in the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience.Their life consecrated totally to Christ is a source of light and strength for all the faithful in their Christian living. Acknowledging the variety of services which are provided by consecrated persons in the Church, Pope Benedict XVI reminds us that the distinct gift of consecrated persons is not so much what they do but who they are in Christ for the whole Church. "The essential contribution which the Church expects from consecrated persons is much more in the order of being than of doing" (No. 81).

Then the Holy Father addresses at some length "the importance of the witness of virginity, precisely in its relation to the mystery of the Eucharist." Consecrated virginity is a sign of the "Church’s exclusive devotion to Christ, Whom she accepts as her Bridegroom with a radical and fruitful fidelity."For the consecrated virgin, who belongs totally to Christ and is fittingly called the bride of Christ, participation in the Holy Mass and eucharistic devotion is the most elevated and most treasured exercise of her vocation.With regard to her being in the Church, the consecrated virgin finds in the Holy Eucharist "encouragement and strength to be a sign, in our own times too, of God’s gracious and fruitful love for humanity" (No. 81).

The consecrated life, including consecrated virginity, is for all of us a sign of our final destiny, that is, participation in the Wedding Feast of the Lamb, sharing in the indescribable riches of eternal life with Christ. Consecrated life and consecrated virginity, in particular, remind us that everything in our lives should be viewed in the light of heaven, the point of arrival of our earthly pilgrimage.Each time we participate in the Holy Eucharist, that point of arrival is anticipated, and we are reminded, indeed given a pledge, of our ultimate heritage, that is, eternal life with God — Father, Son and Holy Spirit — in the company of the angels and all the saints.

The Holy Eucharist and moral transformation

We all know the challenge of Christlike living in a totally secularized society. It requires supernatural strength to overcome the many temptations to let ourselves be enslaved, to let ourselves "live as if God did not exist," as Pope John Paul II was used to say.The Holy Eucharist is the font of energy to live in freedom, to love as Christ loves, purely and selflessly. Pope Benedict XVI refers us to his encyclical letter "Deus Caritas Est (On Christian Love)," in which he reminded us that participation in the Eucharistic Sacrifice necessarily issues in a daily life marked by "the concrete practice of love" (No. 82).

Our Holy Father goes on to comment that the moral transformation inherent in Eucharistic Communion is not a mere matter of a moral injunction imposed upon us by participation in the Eucharistic Sacrifice. "It is before all else the joy-filled discovery of love at work in the hearts of those who accept the Lord’s gift, abandon themselves to Him and thus find true freedom" (No. 82). It is our intimacy with the Lord in the Holy Eucharist which, at one and the same time, makes us conscious of our own sinfulness and inflames our desire to live always in Christ and, therefore, to love as He loves.

To help us understand the moral transformation which heartfelt participation in the Holy Eucharist brings about, Pope Benedict XVI refers us to the story of Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10). When Zacchaeus met our Lord, he was, at once, moved to confess his sinfulness and to make superabundant restitution for what he had stolen and to provide, from his substance, for the poor.Our Holy Father concludes: "The moral urgency born of welcoming Jesus into our lives is the fruit of gratitude for having experienced the Lord’s unmerited closeness" (No. 82).

Conclusion: Eucharistic consistency

Pope Benedict XVI concludes his presentation on the moral transformation worked by the Holy Eucharist by reflecting on the public nature of our Eucharistic worship, that is, its "consequences for our relationships with others" (No. 82). Receiving Holy Communion is never a merely private act. Because of our public communion with Christ in the Holy Eucharist, others rightly expect Christlike living in us.If we receive Holy Communion and, then, think and speak and act in a way which betrays Christ, then we give scandal to others. We lead them to think that it is all right to receive Christ into our souls and, at the same time, to ignore or contradict His teaching by the way we live. We deceive them regarding the holiness of the Most Blessed Sacrament and its involvement in every aspect of our being and life.

Participation in the Holy Eucharist demands that all of us give witness to the truth and love which Christ teaches us. The responsibility to give public witness to our faith is especially weighty for those "who, by virtue of their social or political position, must make decisions regarding fundamental goods, such as respect for human life, its defense from conception to natural death, the family built upon marriage between a man and a woman, the freedom to educate one’s children and the promotion of the common good in all its forms" (No. 83). The Holy Father addresses, in particular, Catholic politicians who, in virtue of their communion with Christ in the Holy Eucharist, must promote and support laws which respect the natural law written by God on every human heart. In our own country, we are witnesses to the scandal caused by Catholic politicians who present themselves to receive Holy Communion and, at the same time, consistently support legislation which violates the natural moral law, for example, legislation which permits procured abortion, human cloning, embryonic stem-cell research, euthanasia or "assisted suicide," so-called "same-sex marriage" and other violations of fundamental human rights.Regarding such situations, the Holy Father, referring to chapter 11 of St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, declares plainly: "There is an objective connection here with the Eucharist (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:27-29).

The Holy Father reminds bishops of their duty to reaffirm the relationship of the Holy Eucharist to the moral life, especially for those who have responsibility for the common good. For bishops to do less constitutes a failure to shepherd the flock entrusted into their care.

‘Be not afraid!’


In Part Three of the post-synodal apostolic exhortation "Sacramentum Caritatis," Pope Benedict XVI discusses all that the Holy Eucharist means for our daily living.He begins the treatment by quoting a passage from the "Bread of Life Discourse" of our Lord Jesus Christ, recorded in Chapter 6 of the Gospel according to St. John.The passage reads: "As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats Me will live because of Me" (John 6:57).The import of our Lord’s words is clear.His true Body which we receive in the Holy Eucharist, by its very nature, becomes the principle and pattern of our daily living.We not only believe in the Holy Eucharist and celebrate the Holy Eucharist, but we also live by and through the Holy Eucharist.

Our Holy Father recalls words of St. Augustine of Hippo, regarding our living of the eucharistic mystery, which point out the distinct effect of eating the Heavenly Bread of the Holy Eucharist, when compared to our eating of earthly food. Earthly food becomes part of us, is assimilated into us.The Bread of Heaven transforms us more and more into the likeness of Christ. In other words, we become more like our spiritual food, that is, Christ Who gives Himself to us in the Holy Eucharist.

Spiritual worship

The Holy Eucharist "expresses at once both the origin and the fulfillment of the new and definitive worship of God" (No. 70).Participation in the Holy Eucharist is the most perfect action of worship which we can offer to God. It is, in fact, God the Father’s most perfect gift to us in our Lord Jesus Christ. At the same time, it is the fullness of our Christian life, for, in the Eucharistic Sacrifice, we unite our hearts, our lives fully with Christ, pouring out our life in selfless and ever purer love, that is, Christlike love.

Pope Benedict XVI quotes St. Paul’s exhortation that our "spiritual worship" be, indeed the presentation of our "bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God" (Romans 12:1).Our worship of God is never distant from or detached from our bodily existence. In the Eucharistic Sacrifice, rather, we, together with the whole Church, offer our bodies through, with and in our Lord Jesus Christ.Referring to No. 1368 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, our Holy Father reminds us: "Catholic doctrine, in fact, affirms that the Eucharist, as the sacrifice of Christ, is also the sacrifice of the Church, and thus of all the faithful" (No. 70).In the Eucharistic Sacrifice, our whole being is lifted up to the glorious Christ Who pours out His life for us, in order that we be transformed by pouring out our lives.

Transformation of every aspect of life

Our spiritual worship, that is, our participation in the Holy Eucharist, "includes and transfigures every aspect of life." In everything we think and say and do, we are to give glory to God and serve our neighbor.The Holy Eucharist gives us the strength to live a totally Christlike life."There is nothing authentically human — our thoughts and affections, our words and deeds — that does not find in the Sacrament of the Eucharist the form it needs to be lived to the full" (n. 71).

Through our participation in the Eucharistic Sacrifice, we come to understand that we cannot compartmentalize any aspect of our life in order to keep it from the transforming grace of Christ’s Real Presence.The Holy Eucharist, therefore, is always first and most important in our daily living and in our whole life. It must never be seen as detached from or unrelated to any part of our life."Worship pleasing to God thus becomes a new way of living our whole life, each particular moment of which is lifted up, since it is lived as part of a relationship with Christ and as an offering to God" (no. 71).Making visits to the Blessed Sacrament during the day and making a spiritual Communion at various moments throughout the day are true and efficacious devotional expressions of the reality of the Holy Eucharist which transforms every aspect of our lives.

Living the Lord’s Day

The Sunday Mass obligation is the discipline which respects the truth that the origin and the highest expression of our life in Christ is the Holy Eucharist.The obligation is a very ancient discipline of the Church.Our Holy Father quotes St. Ignatius of Antioch, who describes Christians as "those living in accordance with the Lord’s Day" (No. 71).In Pope Benedict XVI’s words: "The Christians’ customary practice of gathering on the first day after the Sabbath to celebrate the resurrection of Christ — according to the account of St. Justin Martyr — is also what defines the form of a life renewed by an encounter with Christ" (no. 72).

The observance of Sunday as the Lord’s Day and as the first day of the week expresses our consciousness of what the Holy Eucharist means in our life. It changes our life completely and gives a new meaning to all time.Each gift of time from our Lord is understood as an invitation to offer ourselves with Christ in love.Keeping the Lord’s Day, in the words of Pope Benedict XVI, "means living in the awareness of the liberation brought by Christ and making our lives a constant self-offering to God, so that his victory may be fully revealed to all humanity through a profoundly renewed existence" (No. 72).

Our Holy Father points out that a carelessness or lack of interest in keeping the Lord’s Day is dangerous for our Christian living."To lose a sense of Sunday as the Lord’s Day, a day to be sanctified, is symptomatic of the loss of an authentic sense of Christian freedom, the freedom of the children of God" (No. 73).Because of who we are in Christ, our conscience demands that we keep the Sunday Mass obligation.At the same time, participation in the Sunday Eucharist forms and strengthens our conscience to know what is good and to avoid what is evil.

Pope Benedict XVI then recalls for us the apostolic letter "Dies Domini" of the Servant of God Pope John Paul II.Pope John Paul II, in fact, called Sunday by four names: the Day of the Lord, the Day of Christ, the Day of the Church and the Day of Man.It is the Day of the Lord because it embraces all of God’s creation. It is the Day of Christ because, in the Holy Eucharist, God gives us the grace of becoming the new creation, of living in Christ.It is the Day of the Church, for the whole body of disciples marks the day by coming together to participate in the Holy Eucharist.Finally, it is the Day of Man, for it brings us "joy, rest and fraternal charity" (No. 73).

Finally, regarding the Lord’s Day, Pope Benedict XVI comments on the fittingness of concentrating parish activities around Sunday Mass.The Holy Father reminds us that, notwithstanding the granting of the indult to celebrate Sunday Mass on the Saturday evening, it is Sunday that is to be made holy.

Sunday and resting from work

Sunday, the Lord’s Day, is to be a day of rest from work.The Holy Father expresses the hope that civil society will recognize the need of the Christian to take Sunday rest and not punish him for it. By taking a rest from work, the Christian, in fact, sees work in its proper perspective, that is, as a means to give glory to God and to serve one’s neighbor.Sunday Mass helps us to recognize always that "work is for man and not man for work" (No. 74).

Sunday rest helps us to avoid what Pope Benedict XVI terms enslavement to work."It is on the day consecrated to God that men and women come to understand the meaning of their lives and also of their work" (No. 74).

Sunday celebrations in the absence of a priest

When there is no priest to offer Sunday Mass, what should an individual Christian and the whole Christian community do?First, we should make a thorough search to know the times of Masses at neighboring churches and should proceed to participate in Mass at a neighboring church.

If the distance to a neighboring church with a priest is so great that it is not possible for the faithful to travel there, the local community is encouraged to gather and to give praise and worship to God, as they are able.Care must be taken, however, that the community understands that its gathering for prayer does not fulfill the Sunday obligation, for it is not the celebration of the Holy Mass.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is to make available the rite to be followed, lest the faithful confuse the celebration of prayer in the absence of a priest and the full Sunday Eucharist.The lay faithful who conduct a Sunday liturgy in the absence of priests are to follow carefully the rite set down by the bishops’ conference.Our Holy Father cautions that care be taken, lest the gathering of the community on the Lord’s Day without the presence of the priest "create confusion about the central role of the priest and the sacraments in the life of the Church" (No. 75).

Given the key part which the Sunday Mass has in our Christian identity,we must be careful to maintain a clear and strong sense of our life in the Church and of the irreplaceable service of the priest who acts in the person of Christ, the Head and Shepherd of the flock.Our Holy Father reminds us that occasions when the faithful gather on Sunday in the absence of a priest "should be privileged moments of prayer for God to send holy priests after his own heart" (No. 75).

Pope Benedict XVI recalled Pope John Paul II’s 1979 "Letter to Priests," in which he recalled a certain practice of the faithful who are deprived of a priest by a "dictatorial regime."The faithful would meet at the church or at a shrine.They would place on the altar a priest’s stole which they had saved.Then, they would recite the prayers of the Mass.When they came to the words of consecration, they halted in silence because these words can only be uttered with efficaciousness by a priest.By keeping silence at the time when the consecration would normally take place the faithful expressed their heartfelt desire for a priest who would offer the Holy Mass for them, once again.

Sunday Mass and membership in the Church

Participation in Sunday Mass keeps before our eyes the reality that Christ’s Eucharistic Sacrifice makes us one community, makes us to live for Christ and, therefore, to live for one another.Pope Benedict XVI comments on what he calls the vertical and horizontal sense of our participation in the Communion of the Saints through the Holy Eucharist.Vertically, we, with all the saints, have communion with God in the Holy Mass.Each time that we are privileged to participate in the Eucharistic Sacrifice, we are joined by the angels and all the saints.Horizontally, we, with all the saints, are made one with each other through the Eucharistic Sacrifice.
When we participate in Holy Mass, we invoke the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary and all the saints.

Through Baptism, we are brought to life in Christ.Baptism cleanses us from all sin, and we become members of the Church, the Mystical Body of Christ.The Holy Eucharist nourishes the life of Christ within us, from the moment of our baptism, and, therefore, draws us more intensely into the life of the Church.

The Holy Father comments on how the individual Christian experiences what the Holy Eucharist means by participation in the life of the diocese and the parish.Referring to a passage from St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans (14:8), Pope Benedict XVI also notes how associations of the faithful, ecclesial movements and institutes of the consecrated all "have a particular responsibility for helping to make the faithful conscious that they belong to the Lord" (No. 76).

The radical secularization of our culture has led many to be isolated from others. It has eroded our sense of belonging to one another in the Church.The diocese and the parish as well as all associations of the faithful, conscious of the effects of secularization, must work to overcome isolation and the loss of a sense of belonging."Christianity, from its very beginning, has meant fellowship, a network of relationships constantly strengthened by hearing God’s Word and sharing in the Eucharist, and enlivened by the Holy Spirit.

‘Be not afraid!’


The Church and Apostolic Succession

Our Lord Jesus, from the very beginning of His public ministry, called disciples to follow Him and, from those who became His disciples, He immediately chose the Apostles for an essential service within the community of all the disciples.Throughout His public ministry, He prepared the Apostles to receive a particular grace, the grace of the Sacrament of Holy Priesthood, by which they and their successors would act in His person as Head and Shepherd of the flock in every time and place.When His public ministry had reached its culmination, on the night when He entered upon His Passion and Death, our Lord Jesus instituted the Holy Eucharist and the Holy Priesthood, which is indispensable for the offering of the Holy Eucharist.

The Apostles and their successors, the bishops, with and under the headship of Saint Peter and his successor, the Bishop of Rome — through the celebration of the Holy Eucharist, through their teaching and through their governance — are "the visible source and foundation of unity" in the Church (Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium, "On the Church," Nov. 21, 1964, n. 23a).

Through apostolic succession, effected by the laying on of hands and the prayer of consecration in the Rite of Ordination, Christ remains faithfully and unceasingly the Head and Shepherd of the flock.

Tests of the unity of the Church and ecumenism

From the beginning, the unity of the Church has been severely tested by those who have wanted to form and lead the Church in a direction that suited their ideas and preferences but was not the mind of Christ.Recall, for instance, in the very first days of the Church,the controversy caused by those who insisted that new members of the Church who were not Jewish had to follow certain practices of the Jewish religious law.In order that the unity of the Church not be compromised, the Apostles gathered in Jerusalem, with Saint Peter as their head, and gave a definitive decision in the matter (Acts 15:1-21).

Throughout the Church’s history, her unity has suffered serious threats. Sometimes, most sadly, groups of the faithful have refused to accept the decisions of the Roman Pontiff and the bishops in communion with him, and have broken communion with the Church. In some cases, the apostolic succession was broken and the groups of the faithful were left without the essential priestly service of the Apostles and their successors, and, therefore, without the true Holy Eucharist. Today, there are, for instance, hundreds of different Christian ecclesial Communities without apostolic succession.There are also communities separated from the Roman Catholic Church which have preserved apostolic succession and are thus Churches separated from the Roman Catholic Church.

From the time of the first break with the communion of the Church, the Church has necessarily declared her relationship with the other Churches (with apostolic succession) and the ecclesial Communities (without apostolic succession).At the same time, she is called to work for the restoration of the unity of the Body of Christ.During the years of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, there was a concerted effort to promote Christian unity in response to the prayer of our Lord before entering upon His Passion: "I do not pray for these only, but also for those who believe in me through their word, that they may all be one; even as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me" (John 17:20). The teaching of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council continues to inspire the work of Christian unity or, as it is commonly called, the work of ecumenism.On the same day that the Fathers of the Council promulgated the Dogmatic Constitution Lumen gentium, "On the Church," they also promulgated a document on ecumenism (Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Decree Unitatis redintegratio, "On Ecumenism," 21 November 1964).

Recent document of the Holy See

On this past June 29, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the office of the Holy Father which helps him "to promote and safeguard the doctrine on faith and morals in the whole Catholic world" addressed a number of questions which have been raised in the teaching about the Church, especially in what pertains to ecumenism. In specific, the Congregation responded to five questions about the teaching on the Church. The title of the document is: "Responsa ad quaestiones de aliquibus sententiis ad doctrinam de Ecclesia pertinentibus (Responses to Questions regarding Some Opinions Pertaining to the Teaching on the Church)."The full text of the document can be found on the archdiocesan website or the website of the Holy See: tions/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_20.

Some have characterized the most recent Vatican document as a new teaching which is unfaithful to the teaching of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council.

Some of the faithful of the St. Louis Archdiocese have expressed concern that the recent document represents a weakening of the Church’s commitment to the work of ecumenism.

The document makes it clear that it is only presenting the perennial teaching of the Church in response to certain questions which have been frequently raised in recent theological writings on the Church. The document addresses the questions to remedy possible confusion and doubt. Everything contained in the document is teaching found in the official documents of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council and in subsequent official documents.

The five questions

The first question is: "Did the Second Vatican Council change the Catholic doctrine on the Church?"The response makes clear that the Council "neither changed nor intended to change this doctrine, rather it developed, deepened and more fully explained it."

The second question is: "What is the meaning of the affirmation that the Church of Christ subsists in the Catholic Church?" The response is that our Lord Jesus Christ established one Church which "throughout the centuries has always existed and will always exist, and in which alone are found all the elements that Christ Himself instituted."According to the teaching of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, subsistence means the "perduring, historical continuity and the permanence of all the elements instituted by Christ in the Catholic Church, in which the Church of Christ is concretely found on this earth." The Church of Christ "is present and operative in the Churches and ecclesial Communities not yet fully in communion with the Catholic Church, on account of the elements of sanctification and truth that are present in them," but the one Church of Christ, with all of the elements intended by Christ, subsists in the Catholic Church.

The third question is: "Why was the expression ‘subsists in’ adopted instead of the simple word ‘is’?The particular expression does not change the teaching of the Church but makes it clearer that there are elements "of sanctification and of truth" found in other Churches and ecclesial Communities which, because they belong properly to the Church of Christ, draw Christians to the unity of the one Church of Christ.

The fourth question is: "Why does the Second Vatican Council use the term ‘Church’ in reference to the oriental Churches separated from full communion with the Catholic Church?"The answer, as noted above, is the reality of apostolic succession and, therefore, of the true Holy Eucharist in the oriental Churches. Still, the separated oriental Churches lack full communion with the Catholic Church. "Since communion with the Catholic Church, the visible head of which is the Bishop of Rome and the Successor of Peter, is not, however, some external complement to a particular Church but rather one of its internal constitutive principles, these venerable Christian communities lack something in their condition as particular churches."

The fifth question is: "Why do the texts of the Council and those of the Magisterium since the Council not use the title of ‘Church’ with regard to those Christian Communities born out of the Reformation of the 16th century?"As indicated above, the communities in question lack apostolic succession which is "a constitutive element of the Church" and, therefore, are not properly called by the title, "Church." "These ecclesial Communities which, specifically because of the absence of the sacramental priesthood, have not preserved the genuine and integral substance of the Eucharistic Mystery cannot, according to Catholic doctrine, be called ‘Churches’ in the proper sense."


The recent document of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith does not set forth new teaching on the Church but rather enunciates the Church’s perennial teaching in responding to five questions which are frequently raised. The document also does not draw back from the Church’s responsibility for the work of ecumenism. It, rather, gives clear expression to the Catholic Church’s understanding of herself.The clear statement of the Church’s teaching about herself is indispensable to the work of ecumenism.Such clarity does not discourage ecumenical conversation but, rather, rests it upon the honesty which is necessary for all true conversation.

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