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!’


Pope Benedict XVI concludes Part One of "Sacramentum Caritatis (The Eucharist, A Mystery To Be Believed)" by examining the relationship of eucharistic faith to our final destiny and to our devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. His discussion of the two relationships deepens our understanding of all that our Holy Father has presented regarding faith in the Holy Eucharist.It leads us to see more deeply the meaning of our living and our dying.It helps us to view the Mystery of Faith through the eyes of Mary, Mother of Christ and Mother of the Church.

The Holy Eucharist and eschatology

Eschatology is the name given to the study of our final destiny, what we have traditionally called the Last Things: death, judgment, the resurrection of the body, heaven, purgatory and hell.Clearly, the Holy Eucharist is essential to our pilgrimage to our lasting home with God in heaven.Christ pours out His life on Calvary in the sacrifice made sacramentally present in every celebration of the Holy Mass in order that we may enjoy eternal life with Him.The Holy Eucharist is the spiritual food of our earthly pilgrimage which reaches its completion in our passing from this life to the life which is to come.The Real Presence of Christ in the Most Blessed Sacrament permits us, already now, to share in the company of Christ, which we are destined to have with Him perfectly in heaven.

In the Holy Eucharist, we recognize the immeasurable and totally selfless love of God Who desires that we share His friendship and company for all eternity.We know our sins and the ways in which we betray God’s love in our daily living.In the Holy Eucharist, we receive the heavenly Food which heals "our wounded freedom." The Holy Eucharist nourishes the life of the Holy Spirit within us to free us from sin and to free us for the selfless love of God and our neighbor.

The Holy Eucharist opens up to us the deepest reality of our life on earth and of our world itself, namely, our destiny and our world’s destiny in God, the destiny to be realized on the Last Day, when Christ returns in glory.Pope Benedict XVI reminds us that the Holy Eucharist guides us to our final destiny:

"Even though we remain "aliens and exiles" in this world (1 Peter 2:11), through faith we already share in the fullness of risen life.The Eucharistic Banquet, by disclosing its powerful eschatological dimension, comes to the aid of our freedom as we continue our journey" (n.30).

For us, it never makes sense "to live as if there were no tomorrow," for there is an eternal tomorrow that we experience each time we participate in the Holy Mass and pray in the presence of the Most Blessed Sacrament.

Inauguration of the marriage feast of the Lamb

At the Last Supper, our Lord Jesus inaugurated an event for which the people of Israel and, indeed, all of humanity and creation itself look with deepest desire: the fulfillment of God’s promise to bring all mankind into one and to restore our world to the order with which He had created it.Pope Benedict XVI describes for us the eschatological meaning of Christ’s calling of the apostles and His consecration of them, at the Last Supper, to offer the Eucharistic Sacrifice:

"In the calling of the Twelve, which is to be understood in relation to the 12 tribes of Israel, and in the command He gave them at the Last Supper, before His redemptive Passion, to celebrate His memorial, Jesus showed that He wished to transfer to the entire community which He had founded the task of being, within history, the sign and instrument of the eschatological gathering that had its origin in Him" (n. 31).

Each time the Holy Mass is offered, all of mankind is gathered together by the love of Christ and is offered to God the Father, in anticipation of Christ’s coming in glory at the end of time.

At the Holy Eucharist, our Lord gave to all His disciples the mission confided by God the Father to the chosen people, the mission of bringing the Redeemer into the world.The Jewish people retain always the honor and dignity of being the first to be chosen by God as the messengers of His saving work through the coming of the Messiah, the Christ, but the Christ, now in the world, gives to all His disciples a share in the mission of evangelization, of announcing the Gospel to all the nations, of celebrating the Holy Eucharist in every time and place.

When Christ comes on the Last Day, He will inaugurate "a new heaven and a new earth" which are eternal and unchanging (Revelation 21:1).In the "new heaven" and "new earth," the communion of saints celebrates eternally "the marriage supper of the Lamb," the feast of the totally faithful and enduring love of Christ for the Church (Revelation 19:9).St. Thomas Aquinas expressed the deeply eschatological meaning of the Holy Eucharist in his prayerful acclamation: "O Sacred Banquet in which Christ is received, the memory of His Passion is renewed, the mind is filled with grace, and the pledge of future glory is given to us" (OSacrum Convivium).When we join ourselves to Christ in His Eucharistic Sacrifice, we anticipate our perfect communion with Him in love in the kingdom of heaven.

Offering Masses for the dead

Reflecting upon the relationship of the Holy Eucharist to our final destiny and the final destiny of our world reminds us of the importance of praying for the dead and, above all, of having Masses offered for their eternal rest.When Christ comes on the Last Day, our bodies will be raised to share in the glory of His risen Body, and all who have died in Christ will enjoy one another’s company, once again.Pope Benedict XVI declares: "The Eucharistic celebration, in which we proclaim that Christ has died and risen, and will come again, is a pledge of the future glory in which our bodies too will be glorified" (n. 32).

Our love for our brothers and sisters who have died is expressed in our prayers for their final purification of all sin and their eternal joy and peace at the table of the "marriage supper of the Lamb," the "green pastures," the "still waters," the prepared "table," to which our Lord, the Good Shepherd, leads us throughout our earthly pilgrimage (Psalm 23:2,5; and Revelation 19:9).The most loving prayer which we can offer for the dead is the Eucharistic Sacrifice.Through the offering of the Holy Mass for the dead, our deceased brothers and sisters are helped along the way of purification (purgatory) to attain their final destiny, the kingdom of heaven.

Our prayers for the dead and our offering of the Mass for their eternal rest are also an expression of the hope which animates us all along the way of our earthly pilgrimage, that is, the hope of joining them once again in the kingdom of heaven. Our participation in the Holy Mass and our prayer before the Blessed Sacrament keep us strong throughout the pilgrimage and keep before our eyes the goal toward which we strive with sure hope every day.

The Holy Eucharist and the Blessed Virgin Mary

The source and highest expression of our Christian life in the worship of the Holy Eucharist naturally leads us to recognize with deepest devotion and love the Blessed Virgin Mary, who is the first and best of us to live in Christ and to attain, with Him, our final destiny.In a wonderful way, Pope Benedict XVI relates our faith in the Holy Eucharist to our devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary:

"Although we are still journeying toward the complete fulfillment of our hope, this does not mean that we cannot already gratefully acknowledge that God’s gifts to us have found their perfect fulfillment in the Virgin Mary, Mother of God and our Mother.Mary’s Assumption body and soul into heaven is for us a sign of sure hope, for it shows us on our pilgrimage through time, the eschatological goal of which the Sacrament of the Eucharist enables us even now to have a foretaste" (n. 33).

The life of Mary is the pattern of our own life, receiving our Lord into our very being through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and following Him faithfully on the way of the Cross, which leads us, body and soul, to eternal glory.As Pope Benedict XVI observes, the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary uncovers for us our final destiny which we anticipate at each Holy Mass.

Our Lord brought to fullness Mary’s discipleship by assuming her, body and soul, into heaven at her passing from this life to the next.So, too, our Lord will bring our discipleship to fullness at the Resurrection on the Last Day.We believe "in the Holy Spirit, the holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting" (Apostles’ Creed).As we witness the outpouring of the glorious Body and Blood of Christ for our salvation in the Holy Eucharist, we understand that our own body is destined to share in the glory of Christ Who is seated at the right hand of the Father.

Our meditation upon the life of Christ in the life of the Virgin Mary leads us always to the Holy Eucharist, for our Blessed Mother is ever directing us to her Divine Son with the instruction: "Do whatever He tells you" (John 2:5).In the words of the Servant of God Pope John Paul II, our Blessed Mother is the "Woman of the Eucharist."I recall the words of Pope John Paul II in his encyclical letter "Ecclesia de Eucharistia":

"In repeating what Christ did at the Last Supper in obedience to his command: ‘Do this in memory of me!’ we also accept Mary’s invitation to obey Him without hesitation: ‘Do whatever He tells you’ (John 2:5). With the same maternal concern which she showed at the Wedding Feast of Cana, Mary seems to say to us: ‘Do not waver; trust in the words of my Son.If He was able to change water into wine, he can also turn bread and wine into His Body and Blood, and through this mystery bestow on believers the living memorial of His passover, thus becoming "the Bread of Life"’ (Pope John Paul II, encyclical letter Ecclesia de Eucharistia [On the Eucharist in Its Relationship to the Church], April 17, 2003, n. 54).

When we participate in the Eucharistic Sacrifice, our Blessed Mother is one with us, exemplifying faith in Christ and drawing us into ever deeper love of Christ.

The Annunciation and the deposition from the cross

Our Holy Father reflects upon the mystery of God’s love for us, so wonderfully manifested in the mysteries of the life of the Virgin Mary, beginning with her Immaculate Conception. He declares: "From the Annunciation to Pentecost, Mary of Nazareth appears as someone whose freedom is completely open to God’s will" (n. 33).In a true sense, we may describe our entire life as the struggle to express our freedom in the faithful following of Christ, that is, in the doing of God’s will, with and in Christ, in all things.Our whole life is the story of daily conversion to Christ, conversion from the enslavement to sin, which is, at the same time, conversion to the freedom which Christ alone gives us.The struggle reaches its highest expression in our union with Christ in His Eucharistic Sacrifice. In the Eucharistic Sacrifice, we are one with the source of our freedom, our Lord Jesus Christ, in His victory over sin and everlasting death.

Our Blessed Mother both teaches us the way of conversion to Christ, of abandoning ourselves to God’s will, and she, as a loving mother, intercedes constantly for us that we may have the grace to enter ever more deeply, in our thoughts and words and actions, into the mystery of Christ’s suffering, dying and rising from the dead.Both by her example and through her intercession, she leads us to our Lord in the Holy Eucharist.Pope Benedict XVI describes Mary’s way of life, which is also our way:

"A virgin attentive to God’s Word, she lives in complete harmony with His will; she treasures in her heart the words that come to her from God and, piecing them together like a mosaic, she learns to understand them more deeply (cf. Luke 2:19, 51); Mary is the great believer who places herself confidently in God’s hands, abandoning herself to His will" (n. 33).

In the mysteries of the life of Mary, all essentially mysteries of the life of Christ, we see how God calls us, through the sacraments and, most especially, the Holy Eucharist to share with Him in the work of salvation, in the work of preparing daily His Final Coming in glory.

The relationship of the Blessed Virgin Mary to the Holy Eucharist is seen, in a striking way, by placing side by side the Annunciation and the deposition from the cross.At the Annunciation, our Blessed Mother accepted her vocation and mission as Mother of God.Through her obedient response to the announcement of the Archangel Gabriel, Mary received the Redeemer into her womb for the salvation of mankind.God the Son "was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary" (Apostles’ Creed).At the Annunciation, Mary emptied herself of her own will in order to make God’s will her own.

Mary, Mother of Christ, continued to empty herself of her own will in doing God’s will by becoming her Divine Son’s most faithful disciple. She was one with Him throughout His public ministry.Her faithful and altogether excellent discipleship reached its height as she stood at the foot of the cross upon which her Divine Son poured out His life for our eternal salvation and as she received His dead Body into her arms after he had been taken down from the cross (deposition).Our Holy Father comments on the relationship of the Annunciation to the deposition: "From the Annunciation to the Cross, Mary is the one who received the Word, made flesh, within her and then silenced in death.It is she, lastly, who took into her arms the lifeless body of the One who truly loved His own "to the end" (John13:1).

The Blessed Virgin shared, in a most privileged way, in the saving work of Christ.She shows us how we are called to share, with and in Christ, in the salvation of the world.As our Lord was dying on the cross, He gave His Mother to His apostle John, who represents us all in the Church.Mary, the Mother of Christ, is the Mother of the Church who lovingly leads her children to salvation in Christ, above all, through the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist.


Having completed our reflection on Part One of "Sacramentum Caritatis," which treats faith in the Holy Eucharist, we are ready now to begin our reflection on Part Two, which treats the celebration of the Holy Eucharist.Our study of Catholic faith in the Holy Eucharist is the essential preparation for our study of how the Church celebrates the Most Blessed Sacrament.

‘Be not afraid!’


In presenting our Catholic faith in the Holy Eucharist, Pope Benedict XVI gives special attention to the relationship of the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist to the other six sacraments.In last week’s column, I treated Pope Benedict XVI’s discussion of the relationship of the Holy Eucharist to the Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, Penance and the Anointing of the Sick.In this week’s column, I present the relationship of the Holy Eucharist to the two remaining sacraments: the Sacrament of Holy Orders and the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony.

The treatment of Eucharistic faith in Part One of "Sacramentum Caritatis" concludes with a discussion of two topics: the Holy Eucharist and our final destiny (the Last Things), and the Holy Eucharist and the Blessed Virgin Mary.In next week’s column, I will conclude the presentation of Part One by treating these topics.

The Holy Eucharist and Holy Orders

The Holy Eucharist is the reason for the existence of the Sacrament of Holy Orders.At the Last Supper, our Lord Jesus both instituted the Holy Eucharist and consecrated the Apostles as priests for the offering of the Holy Eucharist.The priest is ordained to act in the person of Christ the Shepherd and Head of the Father’s flock.The priest acts in the person of Christ, Shepherd and Head, above all, when he gives his hands and voice to Christ Who consecrates the bread and wine, changing them into His Body and Blood for our spiritual nourishment.

Pope Benedict XVI, inspired by the discussion of the Synod of Bishops, stresses several points regarding the relationship of the Holy Eucharist to Holy Orders.The first point is the truth that the relationship "is seen most clearly at Mass, when the bishop or priest presides in the person of Christ the Head" (n. 23).We understand best the vocation and mission of the priest and bishop when we participate in Holy Mass at our parish church or at the cathedral basilica.

The celebration of the Chrism Mass on the morning of Holy Thursday is a most privileged occasion to witness the bishop — and the priests in union with the bishop — offering the Eucharistic Sacrifice for the whole flock.Fittingly, during the celebration of the Chrism Mass, the priests renew their commitment to priestly service, and the blessing of the holy oils and the consecration of the Sacred Chrism for use throughout the archdiocese takes place.The bishop presides and as many of the priests as possible concelebrate with the bishop.Even as the sacraments and sacramentals, in which the Holy Oils and Sacred Chrism are employed by the bishop and the priests on our behalf, bring us the healing and strength of our Eucharistic Lord, so they are rightly set apart, blessed and consecrated within the solemn celebration of the Holy Eucharist in the cathedral basilica.

The priest, at the Holy Mass, not only acts in the person of Christ the Shepherd and Head of the flock, but he also acts in the name of the Church, offering to God the Father the most perfect prayer of all the faithful."As a result, priests should be conscious of the fact that in their ministry they must never put themselves or their personal opinions in first place, but Jesus Christ."In all things and especially in the offering of the Eucharistic Sacrifice, the priest "must continually work at being a sign pointing to Christ, a docile instrument in the Lord’s hands."

The attentive care of the priest to celebrate the Rite of the Mass as the Church celebrates it and without drawing any attention to his own person manifests his vocation and mission on behalf of the flock he serves.
Our Holy Father encourages priests "to see their eucharistic ministry as a humble service offered to Christ and His Church" (n. 23).

The Holy Eucharist and priestly celibacy

Next, Pope Benedict XVI reflects upon priestly celibacy as complete configuration to Christ in His self-offering on Calvary, the self-offering sacramentally renewed in the Holy Eucharist.The meaning of priestly celibacy is uncovered in the celibacy of Christ Who lived the mystery of His celibate love to the very outpouring of His life on the Cross. Priestly celibacy cannot be fully understood in "functional terms," but rather in terms of the union of the heart of the priest with the glorious pierced Heart of Jesus in love of the flock.The choice of priestly celibacy "has first and foremost a nuptial meaning; it is a profound identification with the Heart of Christ the Bridegroom Who gives His life for His Bride."Our Holy Father affirms that the priest’s celibate love is "an immense blessing for the Church and for society itself" (n. 24).

The Holy Eucharist and the shortage of priests

The discussion of the relationship of the Holy Eucharist and Holy Orders naturally leads to the discussion of the shortage of priests.Pope Benedict XVI, referring to the discussion of the subject at the Synod of Bishops, gives several directives.First, he urges a constant attention to the proper distribution of priests, in order that the Church respond to her needs throughout the world.Secondly, he recommends "pastoral initiatives aimed at promoting, especially among the young, an attitude of interior openness to a priestly calling."In this regard, the Holy Father stresses the importance of vocational discernment, so that candidates admitted to studies for the priesthood will have the requisite qualities of a true shepherd of the flock.He notes, too, the countersign and discouragement which a poorly formed clergy is for those whom Christ is calling to the priesthood.

The apostolate of priestly vocations is the responsibility of the whole Church and, as our Holy Father points out, needs to penetrate into "every area of her life."The family has a particular role in the apostolate of priestly vocations.Pope Benedict XVI expresses concern about families who "are often indifferent or even opposed to the idea of a priestly vocation."In the family, children are brought up with respect for the gift of human life and for the Christian vocation to holiness, to doing God’s will in all things.He reminds us that families "must have the courage to set before young people the radical decision to follow Christ, showing them how deeply rewarding it is" (n.25).

The Holy Father concludes the discussion of the shortage of priests by exhorting us to trust in the Providence of God Who always calls a sufficient number of men to serve His holy people in the ordained priesthood. At the same time, the Holy Father expresses "the gratitude of the whole Church for those bishops and priests who carry out their respective missions with fidelity, devotion and zeal" (n. 26).

At the recommendation of the Synod of Bishops, the Holy Father noted with special gratitude the service of diocesan priests in the missions, in response to the encyclical letter "Fidei Donum" of the Servant of God Pope Pius XII, signed on April 21, 1957.He thanks God "for all those priests who have suffered even to the sacrifice of their lives in order to serve Christ" (n. 26).Last year, we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the sending of priests of the archdiocese to the missions in Latin America by then-Archbishop Joseph Ritter.Thanks be to God, our archdiocese continues to send priests to serve in the missions of Bolivia and Belize.

The Holy Eucharist and the permanent diaconate

The permanent deacons who are ordained "not for priesthood but for service" assist the bishops and priests by their ministry of proclaiming the Word of God, assisting at the altar and administering the Church’s charitable works.Deacons are always united to the bishop and his priests and, therefore, serve by their teaching of eucharistic faith and their promotion of eucharistic life and devotion.Their service of the faithful is always carried out at the direction of the parish priest and the bishop (n. 26).

The Holy Eucharist and Holy Matrimony

The Holy Eucharist is rightly called a nuptial sacrament, for it is the highest expression of the love of Christ the Bridegroom for the Church, His Bride.In the Eucharistic Sacrifice, Christ gives His life, totally and forever, in love of the Church.It is Christ’s love of all mankind which is sealed in the outpouring of His life on Calvary, the outpouring which the Holy Eucharist makes present in every time and place (n. 27).The love of husband and wife in marriage is a most special participation in the nuptial, that is faithful and enduring, love of Christ for the Church and, indeed, for all mankind.

The Holy Eucharist sustains the unity and permanence of the love of man and woman in marriage.In the celebration of the Eucharistic Sacrifice, the married see the true and full image of the love to which they are called. Pope Benedict XVI makes reference to St. Paul’s teaching on married love:

"Indeed, in the theology of St. Paul, conjugal love is a sacramental sign of Christ’s love for His Church, a love culminating in the Cross, the expression of His "marriage" with humanity and at the same time the origin and heart of the Eucharist" (n. 27).

Reflecting on the relationship of the Holy Eucharist to Holy Matrimony, the Holy Father recalls that the family, formed by the union of man and woman in marriage, is the Church at home, the first place in which the life of the Church is realized and experienced.He also underlines "the unique mission of women in the family and in society, a mission that needs to be defended, protected and promoted" (n. 27).

The Holy Eucharist and the unity of marriage

"The indissoluble, exclusive and faithful bond uniting Christ and the Church, which finds sacramental expression in the Eucharist, corresponds to the basic anthropological fact that man is meant to be definitively united to one woman and vice versa" (n. 28).In the context of the exclusive nature of marital love, reflected in the exclusive love of Christ for all mankind in the Holy Eucharist, Pope Benedict XVI addresses the pastoral approach to the practice of polygamy in some cultures.The Church, of course, can never bless a union which is not exclusive, that is, between one man and one woman.

What about the situation of a person in polygamous relationships who is converted to the Catholic faith?Receiving the gift of faith, the person in question also receives the grace to conform his life to Christ.The Church accompanies the catechumen with compassion as he makes "whatever sacrifices are necessary in order to arrive at perfect ecclesial communion" (n. 28).Once the person has understood the mystery of Christ’s love, expressed most perfectly in the Eucharistic Sacrifice, he will want to rectify his marital situation, in accord with the truth of marriage in Christ.

The Holy Eucharist and the indissolubility of marriage

Christ’s love for His Bride, the Church, is forever.The married in Christ are bound in love until they are parted in death.

In the context of discussing the indissolubility of marital love, Pope Benedict XVI addresses the painful situation of the divorced and remarried, which sadly is frequently repeated in a culture marked by a high percentage of marriages ending in divorce.The Synod of Bishops set forth again the Church’s discipline, founded on the Word of God, which denies the sacraments to the divorced and remarried "since their state and their condition of life objectively contradict the loving union of Christ and the Church, signified and made present in the Eucharist" (n. 29).

The Holy Father hastens to point out that the divorced and remarried, even though they may not receive the sacraments, remain members of the Church, encouraging them to participate in the Holy Mass without receiving Holy Communion, to take part in eucharistic adoration, to engage in other forms of prayer, and to be active in the life of the parish. He also urges them to be in regular communication with their parish priest for spiritual assistance and to dedicate themselves to works of charity and penance and to the education of their children.

Regarding the situation of a divorced Catholic who believes that his or her marriage is null, that is, that it was not a true marriage from the beginning, Pope Benedict XVI comments on the need of a matrimonial tribunal in each diocese, which operates according to the norms of canon law in service of the truth about the marriage bond, in general and in the specific cases brought before it.As the Holy Father wisely observes, there can be no conflict between the pastoral care of the divorced and the requirements of the law, for both are to serve the truth which is at the foundation of every relationship of love.Repeating words spoken, last year, to the judges of the Roman Rota, which is his own chief matrimonial tribunal, the Holy Father declared that "it is a grave obligation to bring the Church’s institutional activity in her tribunals ever closer to the faithful" (n.29).

If, in a particular case, the tribunal does not find for the nullity of the marriage and the parties involved cannot, for good reason, separate from each other, the couple is urged to live their relationship "in fidelity to the demands of God’s law, as friends, as brother and sister," so that they may once again receive the Holy Eucharist.The decision to live in accord with God’s law will require the knowledge and assistance of the parish priest.In accord with the Church’s practice, all scandal must be avoided, and it must be clear that the relationship is not blessed by the Church as a marital relationship.

Conclusion: The Holy Eucharist and preparation for marriage

Pope Benedict XVI concludes the discussion of the relationship between the Holy Eucharist and Holy Matrimony by urging, in accord with the recommendation of the bishops at the synod, "maximum pastoral attention to training couples preparing for marriage and to ascertaining beforehand their convictions regarding the obligations required for the validity of the Sacrament of Matrimony."The Holy Father calls for the Church’s "full pastoral commitment" to a fitting program of preparation for marriage, reminding us that a lack of care for marriage and the family "is injurious to society itself" (n. 29).

Certainly, marriage preparation should lead young couples to recognize in the Holy Eucharist the source and highest expression of married love.Our preparation of couples for marriage should, in every aspect, center upon the great mystery of Christ the Bridegroom’s love of His Bride, the Church, the Mystery of Faith contained in the Holy Eucharist.

‘Be not afraid!’


Part One of Pope Benedict XVI’s post-synodal apostolic exhortation "Sacramentum Caritatis" treats our faith in the Holy Eucharist.It first examines the Holy Eucharist as the gift of the Holy Trinity to us, examining the participation of each of the persons of the Holy Trinity in the giving. In the Holy Eucharist, God — Father, Son and Holy Spirit — freely choose to share our human condition and thereby to give us a share in their one Divine Life.

Secondly, the Holy Father discusses the relationship of the Holy Eucharist to the Church.The Church is given birth in the Holy Eucharist, in the outpouring of Christ’s life for our eternal salvation.Sharing His Divine Life with us, Christ draws us all together into one, into the unity of the pure and selfless love with which God has first loved us. In the celebration of the Holy Mass, each member of the faithful is made one with every other member of the faithful throughout the world.

The Holy Father concludes Part One of "Sacramentum Caritatis" with a discussion of the relationship of the Holy Eucharist with the other Sacraments, with our final destiny and with the Blessed Virgin Mary. The subject of this week’s column is the relationship of the Holy Eucharist to the other two sacraments of Christian initiation (Baptism and Confirmation), and to the sacraments of Penance and the Anointing of the Sick.In next week’s column, I will complete the study of Part One of "Sacramentum Caritatis" by presenting the relationship of the Holy Eucharist to the sacraments of Holy Orders and Holy Matrimony, to our final destiny (the Last Things) and to our Blessed Mother.

The Holy Eucharist and the other sacraments

All of the sacraments are essentially related to the Holy Eucharist, even as the whole of our Christian life has its source in the Eucharistic Mystery and flows from our participation in the Eucharistic Sacrifice.Pope Benedict XVI observes that we can best understand the central place of the Holy Eucharist in the life of the Church by remembering that the Church herself is a sacrament in the sense that she is a visible and efficacious instrument of our communion with God and with all our brothers and sisters (n. 16).It is through the seven sacraments that the Church is a sacrament.They are the privileged means by which Christ alive in the Church continues to pour out the Holy Spirit into our souls and to nourish and restore the life of the Holy Spirit dwelling within us.The Holy Father observes:

"The Church receives and at the same time expresses what she herself is in the seven sacraments, thanks to which God’s grace concretely influences the lives of the faithful, so that their whole existence, redeemed by Christ, can become an act of worship pleasing to God" (n. 16).

In other words, the Church is an efficacious sign of God’s love in the world through the sacraments and, above all, the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist.

The Holy Eucharist and the sacraments of Christian initiation

There are three sacraments by which we enter fully into the life of Christ: Baptism, Confirmation and the Holy Eucharist.For that reason, they are called the sacraments of Christian initiation.Pope Benedict XVI reminds us that Baptism and Confirmation are directed to the Holy Eucharist by which we have the fullness of communion with Christ in His Church.By Baptism, we are cleansed of original sin and brought to life in Christ and become members of His Mystical Body, the Church.Our baptismal entrance into the Church is brought to perfection with the reception of First Holy Communion."The Holy Eucharist, then, brings Christian initiation to completion and represents the center and goal of all sacramental life" (n. 17).

The Holy Father discusses the order in which the sacraments of initiation are received.In the Eastern Catholic Churches, the relationship of the Holy Eucharist, as the perfection of the gift of the Holy Spirit, which is given in Baptism and is strengthened and increased in Confirmation, is more clearly visible.The practice of the Eastern Churches is to confer the sacrament of Confirmation immediately after baptism.In the Latin Church, the same order is followed when baptizing children who have reached the age of reason and when baptizing adults.

In the Latin Church, there is a diversity of practice in the case of those baptized as infants.In some dioceses, children who were baptized as infants are confirmed before making their First Holy Communion.In other dioceses, like our own, children are confirmed a little later, especially as they are entering into their adolescent years.Regarding the diversity of practice, the Holy Father reminds us that the order of reception of Confirmation and First Holy Communion is a question of good pastoral practice.It does not pertain to the doctrine of the faith. He concludes: "Concretely, it needs to be seen which practice better enables the faithful to put the sacrament of the Eucharist at the center, as the goal of the whole process of initiation" (n. 18).

Regarding the archdiocese’s practice of confirming those baptized as infants when they are in the seventh or eighth grades, I believe that it meets well the criterion of our Holy Father. I believe that the young people understand clearly that Confirmation completes Baptism, giving them the grace to be strong witnesses to Christ in the world, but that the Holy Eucharist is the highest expression of their Christian life.

Pope Benedict concludes the treatment of the relationship of the Holy Eucharist to Baptism and Confirmation by underlining the relationship of Christian initiation to the family and family life. He stresses the importance of the involvement of the family in the reception of the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and the Holy Eucharist.In a particular way, he underlines the important role of the family at the time of the reception of First Holy Communion: "For many of the faithful, this day continues to be memorable as the moment when, even if in a rudimentary way, they first came to understand the importance of a personal encounter with Jesus" (n. 19).

The Holy Father’s words recalled to my mind the day of my reception of First Holy Communion. I remember so well the care with which my parents, my parish priests and the religious Sisters at St. Mary’s School in Richland Center, Wis., prepared me for the coming of our Eucharistic Lord into my soul.With a child’s understanding, I knew that our Lord was with me in a new and most intimate way, a wonderful way in which He would continue to be with me throughout my lifetime.I can honestly say that the day of my First Holy Communion has been the point of reference for my whole life in the Church.

The Holy Eucharist and the sacrament of Penance or Reconciliation

The more we appreciate the reality of the Holy Eucharist, the more we are led to confess our sins and receive our Lord’s forgiveness in the sacrament of Penance or Reconciliation. The reality of the Blessed Sacrament requires that we be properly disposed to receive the Body and Blood of Christ.Our Holy Father reflects upon the diminished sense of sin in our highly secularized society and the consequent "superficiality in the understanding of God’s love."It is, therefore, important for the Church to pay attention to the "elements within the Rite of the Mass that express consciousness of personal sin and, at the same time, of God’s mercy" (n. 20).Reflecting upon the essential relationship between the sacraments of the Holy Eucharist and Penance, we also become more conscious of the damage which our personal sins inflict upon the communion of the Church.Through the sacrament of Penance, our communion with the Body of Christ, is restored.The fullest expression of the restored communion is participation in the Eucharistic Sacrifice.

Regarding the relationship of the Holy Eucharist and Penance or Reconciliation, Pope Benedict XVI expresses several pastoral concerns, urging priests to "dedicate themselves with generosity, commitment and competency to administering the sacrament of Reconciliation."He gives four practical directives.First of all, confessionals in our churches are to be "clearly visible expressions of the importance of this sacrament."Secondly, great care is to be exercised by the parish priests in the celebration of the sacrament of Penance, keeping in mind that the individual confession of sins and individual absolution "is the only form intended for ordinary use."Thirdly, the Holy Father asks that there be a priest with the responsibility of penitentiary in every diocese to help meet "the need to rediscover sacramental forgiveness" (n. 21).

Lastly, Pope Benedict XVI stresses the important role of "a balanced and sound practice of gaining indulgences, whether for oneself or for the dead" in restoring the right understanding of the relationship of the Holy Eucharist and Penance.Although our sins are forgiven in the sacrament of Penance, they involve a temporal punishment which needs to be remitted.Through the practice of indulgences, the Church draws upon the infinite merits of our Redeemer for the remission of the temporal punishment due to our sins and the sins of our deceased brothers and sisters with whom we are one in the communion of the saints.The seeking of indulgences expresses our deep consciousness "that by our own efforts alone we would be incapable of making reparation for the wrong we have done, and that the sins of each individual harm the whole community" (n. 21).Our Holy Father reminds us that the very conditions for obtaining an indulgence, namely "going to Confession and receiving sacramental Communion," remind us of our constant need of conversion of life and of the "centrality of the Eucharist" in our daily Christian living.

The Eucharist and the Anointing of the Sick

The reality of the Holy Eucharist is expressed in a particular way in the administration of the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick, for it "unites the sick with Christ’s self-offering for the salvation of all, so that they, too, within the mystery of the communion of saints, can participate in the redemption of the world" (n. 32).In a secularized society which views sickness and suffering as completely negative and meaningless, the Holy Eucharist reveals the mystery of love in the acceptance of suffering for the salvation of others.Even as the crucified Body of Christ, now gloriously seated at the right hand of the Father, is the greatest treasure of the Church, so also those who are sick and suffering are to be treasured by all in the Church and are a great source of blessing to all, when they embrace their suffering with and in Christ.The sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick expresses the communion of our Eucharistic Lord with those who are seriously ill (n. 22).

Our Holy Father devotes special attention to Viaticum, the Holy Eucharist given to the dying, for it makes eloquently clear the relationship of the Holy Eucharist to the Anointing of the Sick. When we are dying, we most fully enter with Christ into the mystery of the passover from this life to the eternal life which is to come.The Church fervently desires, therefore, that the dying be fortified with the Bread of Heaven, the Body and Blood of Christ.Regarding the administration of Holy Communion to the dying, Pope Benedict XVI declares:"On their journey to the Father, communion in the Body and Blood of Christ appears as the seed of eternal life and the power of the Resurrection. ...Since Viaticum gives the sick a glimpse of the fullness of the Paschal Mystery, its administration should be readily provided for" (n. 22).

‘Be not afraid!’


Pope Benedict XVI’s post-synodal apostolic exhortation "Sacramentum Caritatis" is divided into three parts: "The Eucharist, A Mystery To Be Believed"; "The Eucharist, A Mystery To Be Celebrated"; and "The Eucharist, A Mystery To Be Lived."The three parts address the Church’s faith in the Holy Eucharist, her manner of celebrating the Eucharist and her new life in Christ which has its source and highest expression in the Holy Eucharist.

Part One, "The Eucharist, A Mystery To Be Believed," begins by reminding us that the Holy Eucharist is the Mystery of Faith, for it contains the entire spiritual good of the Church, the Sacrifice and Real Presence of our Lord Jesus Christ.In the Holy Eucharist, we see the essential relationship between Catholic faith and the sacramental life.Our faith has its highest form of expression in the sacramental life.At the same time, our faith "is nourished and grows in the grace-filled encounter with the Risen Lord which takes place in the sacraments" (n. 6).Throughout the history of the Church, when there has been a strong eucharistic faith and devotion, there has also been a deep commitment to live in Christ, to carry out the mission entrusted by Him into our hands.

Part One treats, in sequence: 1) the Holy Eucharist as the gift of the Holy Trinity; 2) the Holy Eucharist as the new and eternal covenant in the Blood of Christ, the Lamb of God; 3) the work of the Holy Spirit in the Eucharistic Sacrifice; 4) the relationship of the Holy Eucharist with the Church; 5) the relationship of the Holy Eucharist to the other sacraments; 6) the Holy Eucharist and the Last Things, our final destiny; and 7) the Holy Eucharist and the Blessed Virgin Mary.This week, we will look at the first four points.

Holy Eucharist, Gift of the Holy Trinity

In the Holy Eucharist, we know the immeasurable love of God the Father for us.Pope Benedict XVI reminds us:

In the Eucharist Jesus does not give us a "thing," but Himself; he offers His own Body and pours out His own Blood. He thus gives us the totality of His life and reveals the ultimate origin of this love.He is the eternal Son, given to us by the Father (n. 7).

Our Holy Father recalls for us the words of our Lord Jesus in His discourse on the Bread of Life in the Gospel according to St. John.Our Lord declared:

"Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven; my Father gives you the true bread from heaven.For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven, and gives life to the world" (John 6:32-33).

As the discourse continues, our Lord Jesus identifies Himself with "the true bread from heaven: "I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh" (John 6:51).Reflecting upon the discourse, Pope Benedict XVI declares: "Jesus thus shows that He is the bread of life which the eternal Father gives to mankind" (n. 7).

The Holy Eucharist is a share in the life of the Triune God.It is a gift which God — Father, Son and Holy Spirit — alone can give.God the Father gives the gift through the Death and Resurrection of God the Son and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.It is a gift given out of pure and selfless love, with total freedom.In the Holy Eucharist, God, the Holy Trinity, "who is essentially love (cf. 1 John 4:7-8), becomes fully a part of our human condition" (n. 8).Sharing in the life of the Holy Trinity, we, in our human condition, share in the communion of love of the three Persons in one God.

Holy Eucharist, the Lamb of God

God the Son Incarnate, our Lord Jesus Christ, fulfilled His vocation and completed His mission in the world by giving up His life for us on the Cross.In the crucified Body of Christ, "God’s freedom and our human freedom met definitively in an inviolable, eternally valid pact" (n.9). Our Holy Father refers to a striking passage from his encyclical letter "Deus Caritas Est," in which he expresses the mystery of God’s love for us, revealed perfectly in the Passion and Death of Christ, and made always new for us in the Holy Eucharist: "Christ’s death on the Cross is the culmination of that turning of God against Himself in which He gives Himself in order to raise man up and save him. This is love in its most radical form" (Deus Caritas Est, n. 12).

Our Lord Jesus is the Paschal Lamb by Whom we are definitively saved from sin and nourished with the gift of God’s love.At the very beginning of our Lord’s public ministry, St. John the Baptist identified Him as the "Lamb of God,Who takes away the sin of the world" (John 1:29).Dying on the Cross, our Lord "freely gave Himself in sacrifice for us, and thus brought about the new and eternal covenant" (n. 9). What our Lord accomplished on the Cross, the fulfillment of God’s promise of salvation, is ever new for us in the Holy Eucharist.

Our Lord instituted the Holy Eucharist at the Last Supper, on the night before His Passion and Death.Celebrating the Passover Meal, in which the People of God not only recalled their past deliverance from slavery but also prayed for "a yet more profound, radical, universal and definitive salvation," our Lord anticipated and made present the salvation from sin and everlasting death which He was to win for us by His death on the Cross and His Resurrection from the dead. The Crucifixion, Death and Resurrection of our Lord are, in fact, only fully understood in the context of the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharistic Sacrifice and Banquet.Our Holy Father declares: "The institution of the Eucharist demonstrates how Jesus’ death, for all its violence and absurdity, became in Him a supreme act of love and mankind’s definitive deliverance from evil" (n. 10).

At the Last Supper, our Lord, the Lamb of God, commanded us: "Do this in remembrance of me" (1 Corinthians 11:24).In other words, our Lord "asks us to respond to His gift and to make it sacramentally present" (n. 11).With the help and guidance of the Holy Spirit, the Church has developed the Rite of the Mass by which the Lord’s Supper is continually renewed in every time and place.By the Rite of the Mass, we are united with our Lord in His Eucharistic Sacrifice.In the words of Pope Benedict XVI, we enter into the "hour" of our Lord Jesus, that is, "(t)he Eucharist draws us into Jesus’ act of self-oblation" (Deus Caritas Est, n. 13).Uniting ourselves to our Lord Jesus, our lives are animated by the total outpouring of self in love. Our Holy Father reminds us that the changing of the bread and the wine into the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharistic Sacrifice is "a change meant to set off a process which transforms reality, a process leading ultimately to the transfiguration of the entire world, to the point where God will be all in all (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:28)" (n. 11).

Holy Eucharist, Work of the Holy Spirit

The Holy Spirit helps and guides the Church in developing the fitting liturgical rites by which the Eucharistic Sacrifice is celebrated each day.Our Holy Father tells us: "We need a renewed awareness of the decisive role played by the Holy Spirit in the evolution of the liturgical form and the deepening understanding of the sacred mysteries" (n. 12).The Holy Spirit, Who was dwelling, in all His fullness, in our Lord Jesus, is poured forth by our Lord into the souls of His disciples, so that they may do all that our Lord asks of them."Thus it is through the working of the Spirit that Christ Himself continues to be present and active in His Church, starting with her vital center which is the Eucharist" (n. 12).

In the Eucharistic Sacrifice, before the words of institution by which our Lord transforms the bread and wine into His true Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity, the priest calls down the Holy Spirit upon the gifts of bread and wine, so that God the Father may change them into the Body and Blood of Christ, His Son and our Lord.The same Holy Spirit makes one the many members of the Body of Christ, uniting them in the outpouring of their lives, with Christ, for the sake of their brothers and sisters (n. 13).

Holy Eucharist, Birth and Life of the Church

The Church, the one Body of Christ, was born from the pierced side of Christ. From the pierced Heart of Jesus on the Cross, water and blood poured out, symbolizing the life of the Church, above all, in the sacraments of Baptism and the Holy Eucharist.As was just recalled, the Church is commanded by our Lord to celebrate the Holy Eucharist, but, at the same time, the Holy Eucharist gives birth to the Church and builds up the Church in unity and peace.In the relationship between the Church and the Holy Eucharist, we see that the celebration of the Holy Eucharist is only possible because Christ has first given Himself to us in the Eucharistic Sacrifice and Banquet.Our Holy Father observes that "the Church is able to celebrate and adore the mystery of Christ present in the Eucharist precisely because Christ first gave Himself to her in the sacrifice of the Cross" (n. 14).In the celebration of the Holy Eucharist, we understand the meaning of the words of St. John in his First Letter: "We love, because He first loved us" (1 John 4:19).

The faithful are all one in the Church through the Holy Eucharist.Through the Holy Eucharist, we share in the communion of the Triune God, which is the source of our communion with each other.Pope Benedict XVI reminds us of the outstanding presentation of the mystery of the Holy Eucharist and communion in the encyclical letter "Ecclesia de Eucharistia" of the Servant of God Pope John Paul II.Our Holy Father reflects on the individuation of each Christian community in the Eucharistic Sacrifice, which also, at the same time, makes each individual Christian community one with the Church universal.Our Holy Father comments: "From this eucharistic perspective, adequately understood, ecclesial communion is seen to be catholic by its very nature" (n. 15).The unity of each Christian community with the one Body of Christ throughout the whole world is reflected in a special way in the celebration of the Holy Mass by the bishop, a successor to the apostles, with the priests, his co-workers, and with the participation of all of the faithful.


Finally, in the discussion of the relationship of the Church and the Holy Eucharist, Pope Benedict XVI underlines the important contribution of eucharistic faith and practice "to the ecumenical dialogue with the Churches and Ecclesial Communities which are not in full communion with the See of Peter" (n. 15). Our Holy Father reminds us that the Holy Eucharist constitutes "a powerful bond of unity between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Churches, which have preserved the authentic and integral nature of the Eucharistic Mystery."He also notes that "the ecclesial character of the Eucharist can become an important element of the dialogue with the communities of the Reformed tradition" (n. 15).

‘Be not afraid!’


Pope Benedict XVI opens the 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 Holy Eucharist is the sacrament of charity because it is "the gift that Jesus Christ makes of Himself, thus revealing to us God’s infinite love for every man and woman" (n. 1).Our Lord poured out His life for us on the Cross at Calvary, the supreme sacrifice which He makes ever new for us in the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist.Our Holy Father recalls how our Lord washed the Apostles’ feet at the Last Supper to signify His humble and unfailing love of them.Having washed the apostles’ feet, He instituted the Holy Eucharist, so that He might love them and us — and, indeed, all men and women of every time and place — totally and "to the end" (John 15:13). Referring to the Last Supper, Pope Benedict XVI exclaims:
"What amazement must the apostles have felt in witnessing what the Lord did and said during that Supper!What wonder must the Eucharistic Mystery also awaken in our own hearts!" (n. 1).

The Holy Father’s words remind us that the action of the Holy Mass is one with the Last Supper and the Lord’s Sacrifice on Calvary.

By the Holy Eucharist, our Lord remains with us always. In the words of Pope Benedict XVI, "the Lord meets us, men and women created in God’s image and likeness (cf. Genesis 1:27), and becomes our companion along the way" (n. 2).Our eucharistic Lord is the food of truth and freedom for our earthly pilgrimage, the spiritual nourishment which we most need and desire for our happiness in this life and our eternal happiness in the life to come (eternal salvation).

In the Holy Eucharist, we best and most fully know the love of God for us.The Holy Eucharist unveils the truth about God’s love for us and nourishes, within us, the freedom to love as God loves. If we have lost a sense of wonder and profound gratitude before the Eucharistic Sacrifice and the Real Presence of our Lord Jesus Christ in the consecrated Host, then we do not recognize the truth which is before our eyes.

Development of the eucharistic rites

Our Lord comes to us in the Holy Eucharist through the Rite of the Mass and other eucharistic rites.The rites of the Church, and above all the Rite of the Mass, point to the reality of our Lord’s abiding presence with us.Pope Benedict XVI notes the "richness and variety" of the liturgical rites, both historically in the Latin Church and in the Churches of the East, by which our Lord makes always new His Eucharistic Sacrifice.He reminds us that all of the approved rites, inspired by the Holy Spirit, manifest a unity, that is they are the historical development of the one action of the Mass.

Commenting on the liturgical renewal which "began with the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council," our Holy Father expressed the gratitude of the bishops for the fruits of the renewal.Acknowledging the many benefits of the liturgical renewal, he also acknowledged the "difficulties and even occasional abuses" in the actual carrying out of the renewal.In that regard, he affirmed the conviction of the bishops at the synod that the "riches" of the renewal "are yet to be fully explored" (n. 3).

The Holy Father then addressed a central point regarding the historical development of the liturgical rites in the Latin Church. The changes in the liturgical rites, introduced after the council, could be seen as something entirely new, that is, as having no relationship to the liturgical rites which the changes were adopted to renew.Such a perception is completely false.The changes can only be understood in the context of the organic development of the rites of the Sacred Liturgy, along the Christian centuries, true to the promptings of the Holy Spirit.Pope Benedict XVI states:

"Concretely, the changes which the council called for need to be understood within the overall unity of this historical development of the rite itself, without the introduction of artificial discontinuities" (n. 3).
A change in the Sacred Liturgy, which is not a development of the rites of the Church as they have come down to us, could not be the work of the Holy Spirit.

A concrete example is the rich development of eucharistic adoration in the Middle Ages.After the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, some believed that the development of eucharistic adoration was to be set aside as somehow not essentially related to the action of the Mass.Regarding the question, Pope Benedict XVI refers to an address which he gave to the members of the Roman Curia on Dec. 22, 2005. In the address, he spoke about the whole richness of the teaching and activity of Pope John Paul II, regarding the Most Blessed Sacrament, and also about the Synod of Bishops on the Holy Eucharist, which would have just concluded a month earlier.In particular, he mentioned the false opposition seen by some in our time between the Eucharistic Sacrifice and eucharistic adoration.He concludes:

"Receiving the Eucharist means adoring the One Whom we receive. Precisely in this way and only in this way do we become one with Him.Therefore, the development of eucharistic adoration, as it took shape during the Middle Ages, was the most consistent consequence of the eucharistic mystery itself: Only in adoration can profound and true acceptance develop.And it is precisely this personal act of encounter with the Lord that develops the social mission which is contained in the Eucharist and desires to break down barriers, not only the barriers between the Lord and us but also and above all those that separate us from one another" (Pope Benedict XVI, Christmas Message to the Roman Curia, "Christmas, the Council and conversion in Christ," L’Osservatore Romano, Weekly Edition in English, Jan. 4, 2006, p. 5).
The Holy Father shows how the significant development of eucharistic adoration in the Middle Ages was not in discontinuity with the Sacred Liturgy but, rather, was an organic development in the rites by which the eucharistic mystery has been and is celebrated in the Church.

What is the Synod of Bishops?

Pope Benedict XVI next comments on the work of the 11th Ordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops in the context of the apostolic ministry of his predecessor, Pope John Paul II.In last week’s column, I commented, at some length, on the context of the work of the synod.The Holy Father describes the context of the intense effort of Pope John Paul to foster eucharistic faith and devotion.He also reminds us that the Synod of Bishops, devoted to the Holy Eucharist, concluded with the solemn Mass at which Pope Benedict XVI canonized five saints "particularly distinguished for their eucharistic piety: Bishop J-zef Bilczewski; Fathers Gaetano Catanoso, Zygmunt Gorazdowski and Alberto Hurtado Cruchaga; and the Capuchin Fra Felice da Nicosia" (n. 4).

In order to understand the importance of "Sacramentum Caritatis," it will be helpful to reflect on the nature and purpose of the Synod of Bishops.From her beginnings, the Church has employed the synod or council, a meeting called by the Holy Father or bishop or group of bishops, for the purpose of seeking counsel on how best to provide for the teaching of the faith, also in regard to particular situations in the world, and for the fostering of ecclesiastical discipline.The synod has its foundation in the sevenfold gift of the Holy Spirit, which includes counsel.

At a synod, the members draw upon the gift of counsel, offering practical suggestions to assist the Roman Pontiff, bishop or bishops in the pastoral care and direction of the flock.Not surprisingly, from the earliest times, the synod in the Church has taken place in the context of solemn, public prayer, calling upon the help of the Holy Spirit.Also, when a synod is in preparation and in progress, all of the faithful are asked to pray for the members, so that they speak only what the Holy Spirit inspires in them.

Since the purpose of the synod is to offer counsel, it is not, in itself, deliberative.Rather, the synod offers to the pope or bishop or bishops recommendations which he or they use in giving pastoral care and direction.

The Synod of Bishops was instituted by Pope Paul VI, on Sept. 15, 1965, during the final year of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, so that the fruits of the meeting of bishops from throughout the world with the Roman pontiff, experienced at the council, could continue to be reaped.The Synod of Bishops is a solemn meeting of the Roman pontiff with representative bishops from throughout the world to receive their consultation on questions of concern for the Church.The Synod of Bishops takes one of three forms: ordinary, extraordinary and special.

Ordinary assembly of the Synod of Bishops
An "ordinary" assembly of the Synod of Bishops is convoked by the Holy Father "to foster closer unity between the Roman pontiff and bishops, to assist the Roman pontiff with their counsel in the preservation and growth of faith and morals and in the observance and strengthening of ecclesiastical discipline, and to consider questions pertaining to the activity of the Church in the world" (Code of Canon Law, 342).Pope John Paul II had convoked the Ordinary Assembly on the Holy Eucharist.

A meeting of the Synod of Bishops is "extraordinary" when it is called "to treat affairs which require a speedy solution" (can. 346, 2).For example, an extraordinary assembly of the Synod of Bishops was called by Pope John Paul II in 1985 on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the closing of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council to address the reception of the teaching of the Council. One of the great fruits of that extraordinary assembly was the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

A meeting of the Synod of Bishops is "special," if it is made up of members of a particular portion of the Church. For example, a special assembly of the Synod of Bishops for America was held from Nov. 16 to Dec. 12, 1997. Pope John Paul II promulgated the post-synodal apostolic exhortation "Ecclesia in America," the fruit of the special assembly, on Jan. 22, 1999, in Mexico City, after which he made his pastoral visit to St. Louis.Similar special assemblies of the Synod of Bishops were convoked by Pope John Paul II for Africa, Asia, Europe and Oceania.

Fittingly, Pope John Paul II convoked an ordinary assembly, the 11th Ordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops to assist him in promoting knowledge and love of the Most Blessed Sacrament.The text of the post-synodal apostolic exhortation carries with it a special weight, for it is the fruit of a consultation of representative bishops from every portion of the universal Church.It should also be noted that, according to the usual practice of the Roman pontiff, prior to the actual celebration of the synod, all bishops were consulted and had the opportunity to submit their counsel in writing.


Pope Benedict XVI concludes the introductory chapter of "Sacramentum Caritatis" by describing the purpose of the document, namely, "to take up the richness and variety of the recent Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops ... and to offer some basic directions aimed at a renewed commitment to eucharistic enthusiasm and fervor in the Church" (n. 5).Basing himself on the desires expressed by the bishops at the synod, the Holy Father further specifies the purpose of the document as an encouragement of the faithful "to deepen their understanding of the relationship between the eucharistic mystery, the liturgical action, and the new spiritual worship which derives from the Eucharist as the sacrament of charity."

Finally, the Holy Father relates "Sacramentum Caritatis" to his encyclical letter "Deus Caritas Est (God is Love)."Referring to the stress that he placed upon the Blessed Sacrament in "Deus Caritas Est," Pope Benedict XVI reminds us that God expresses His love of us in bodily form, the Body and Blood of God the Son Incarnate, in the Holy Eucharist, so that He may spread His love "in us and through us" (Deus Caritas Est, n. 14).

‘Be not afraid!’


On this past Feb. 22, the Feast of the Chair of Peter, our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, published his post-synodal apostolic exhortation "Sacramentum Caritatis (On the Eucharist as the Source and Summit of the Church’s Life and Mission).""Sacramentum Caritatis" is the fruit of the 11th Ordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, which was celebrated from Oct. 2-23, 2005.

Because the Holy Eucharist is the source of our life in the Church and its highest expression, I will devote the next weeks to a commentary on "Sacramentum Caritatis."It is my hope that you will obtain a copy of the apostolic exhortation.It is available at our Catholic religious goods stores and bookstores.It also is available online at the website of the Apostolic See,, and at the website of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, If you have any difficulty obtaining the document, please contact the Office of the Archbishop.

Context of the Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist

The 11th Ordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops was convoked by Pope Benedict XVI’s predecessor, Pope John Paul II, as part of his extraordinary effort at the end of his pontificate to promote the knowledge and love of the Most Blessed Sacrament. On Holy Thursday of 2003, Pope John Paul II published his encyclical letter "Ecclesia de Eucharistia (On the Eucharist in Its Relationship to the Church)," a complete and remarkably striking presentation of the Church’s teaching on the Holy Eucharist.In "Ecclesia de Eucharistia," he announced a forthcoming "more specific document" on the care to be taken in observing the norms of the Sacred Liturgy (Ecclesia de Eucharistia, n. 52b).

By mandate of Pope John Paul II, the instruction "Redemptionis Sacramentum (On Certain Matters To Be Observed or To Be Avoided Regarding the Most Holy Eucharist)" was prepared by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments with the help of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, at the head of which the future Pope Benedict XVI was then serving. Pope John Paul II approved the instruction and "ordered it to be published and to be observed immediately by all concerned" on March 19, 2004 (Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum, n. 186).

Year of the Eucharist

Pope John Paul II then announced the Year of the Eucharist to be observed from October 2004 to October 2005.The inspiration for the Year of the Eucharist, he explained, "came from two events" that served "to mark its beginning and end," that is, the International Eucharistic Congress, which took place from Oct. 10-17, 2004, in Guadalajara, Mexico, and the Ordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, which was held in the Vatican from Oct. 2-23, 2005, on the subject of the Holy Eucharist (Pope John Paul II, apostolic letter "Mane nobiscum Domine (For the Year of the Eucharist)," Oct. 7, 2004, n. 4).Pope John Paul II also asked that World Youth Day, celebrated in Cologne, Germany, from Aug. 16-21, 2005, be centered on the Holy Eucharist.Regarding World Youth Day 2005, he wrote: "I would like the young people to gather around the Eucharist as the vital source which nourishes their faith and enthusiasm" (Mane nobiscum Domine, n. 4).


The context of the Synod of Bishops was nothing less than the Holy Spirit at work through the Shepherd of the Universal Church to help us all to grow in our knowledge and love of the greatest gift which is ours in the Church, the Holy Eucharist.Pope John Paul II did not live to celebrate either World Youth Day 2005 or to preside at the Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist.His successor, Pope Benedict XVI, who had worked so closely with Pope John Paul II during most of his pontificate, carried forward his extraordinary work on the Holy Eucharist.

In reading "Sacramentum Caritatis," we should keep in 0mind the great love of the Church, of us, the living members of the Church, which inspired Pope John Paul II to convoke and Pope Benedict XVI to conduct the Synod of Bishops for the purpose of promotingeucharistic faith and practice.At the conclusion of "Ecclesia de Eucharistia," Pope John Paul II wrote these words to us:

"In the humble signs of bread and wine, changed into His Body and Blood, Christ walks beside us as our strength and our food for the journey, and He enables us to become, for everyone, witnesses of hope.If, in the presence of this mystery, reason experiences its limits, the heart, enlightened by the grace of the Holy Spirit, clearly sees the response that is demanded, and bows low in adoration and unbounded love (Ecclesia de Eucharistia, n. 62b).

May these words of the most beloved and great Pope John Paul II inspire our reading of "Sacramentum Caritatis."

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