THE MYSTERY OF THE BLESSED SACRAMENT
THE HOLY EUCHARIST
THE TWENTIETH PASTORAL LETTER OF HIS BEATITUDE AND EMINENCE CARDINAL
MAR NASRALLAH PETER SFEIR
BY THE GRACE OF GOD
PATRIARCH OF ANTIOCH AND ALL THE EAST
TO ALL OUR MARONITE SONS AND DAUGHTERS
CLERGY, RELIGIOUS AND LAITY
ON THE OCCASION OF GREAT LENT 2005
Dear Brethren, Sons and Daughters,
Peace and Apostolic blessing.
With the approach of the blessed Lenten season, it pleases us to address you this year, as we do every year, imparting a greeting of love and appreciation, wherever you may be, in Lebanon or in the countries of the Middle East and those of the expansion. We ask God to bless your efforts and your toil toward providing a dignified living, and the building of a better future, to crown your selfless endeavors with success, and to keep your faith in God, a basis of hope and a plank of salvation, wherever you lay anchor or roam. We also ask God to increase your confidence in yourselves and in your motherland Lebanon, from which you and your parents and grandparents brought forth from its dwellings, this faith in God and those luminous Christian virtues along with a firm determination to struggle through the days and the hardships in order to achieve legitimate dreams on this earth; and to reach what God has apportioned as a final destiny prepared for His holy ones and His saints who have preceded us into His eternal joyful rest.
We have decided this year to talk to you about a subject that is very important to the Church as a whole, and to all its children scattered everywhere under the sun. The subject is the Mystery of the Blessed Sacrament or the Mystery of the Eucharist, a Greek expression meaning “thanksgiving”. The early Christians utilized it to express their own thanks to God for ‘giving us His body as food and His blood as drink, life for our souls, and a first pledge toward eternal life’. As you know His Holiness, Pope John Paul II, has declared this year as the Year of the Eucharist, having commenced last October, and to end October 2005. For that occasion he issued on the seventh of October 2004, an apostolic letter entitled: “Mane Nobiscum Domine”. He had earlier issued an encyclical on the very same subject, actually more than a year before, that is, on the seventeenth of April 2003, entitled “Ecclesia de Eucharistia”. His Holiness indicated in his encyclical that several Supreme Pontiffs had previously dealt with this subject in special encyclicals, such as Pope Leo XIII, who on 28 May 1902, issued an encyclical under the title “Mirae Caritatis”, and Pope Pius XII issued his encyclical, “Mediator Dei” on 20 November 1947, and Pope Paul VI, his encyclical, “Mysterium Fidei”, on 3 September 1965.
In our pastoral letter we will discuss the institution by Jesus Christ, the Son of God, of the Mystery of the Eucharist and its theological and spiritual content, as well as its status in the Catholic Church and the duty of worshiping Him in conformity with Church Tradition well known in the East and in the West. We will also discuss the Eucharist as a bond of charity, citing some examples of this left to us by our devout fathers who were nourished by the mystery of the real presence of our Lord Jesus Christ, a presence that is sacramental, real and effective.
THE INSTITUTION OF THE MYSTERY OF THE EUCHARIST
According to the Catechism Of The Catholic Church, “The command of Jesus to repeat his actions and words ‘until he comes’ does not only ask us to remember Jesus and what he did, it is also directed at the liturgical celebration, by the apostles and their successors, of the memorial of Christ, of his life, of his death, of his resurrection and of his intercession in the presence of the Father. From the beginning the Church has been faithful to the Lord’s command, as stated in the Acts of the Apostles: ‘They (the believers) devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers... Day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they partook of food with glad and generous hearts’ (Acts 2:42 + 46). It was above all on ‘the first day of the week,’ Sunday, the day of Jesus’ resurrection, that Christians met ‘to break bread’ (Acts 7:20). From that time until our own day the celebration of the Eucharist has continued so that today we encounter everywhere in the Church the same fundamental structure. The Eucharist remains the center of the Church’s life. Thus from celebration to celebration, as they proclaim the Paschal Mystery of Jesus “until he comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26) the pilgrim People of God advances ‘following the narrow way of the cross’, toward the heavenly banquet, when all the elect will be seated at the table of the kingdom.”
And this mystery continues in the Church from the era of the apostles without modification or change in essence, because Christ is the One who commanded it of the apostles, who handed it down to their successors until the present. Throughout the ages, the Church has been celebrating the Mystery of the Eucharist, thus continuing the work of the apostles, as expressed by Pope John Paul II in his encyclical “Ecclesia de Eucharistia”. The Church teaches that the ordained priest is the one to celebrate the Mystery of the Eucharist representing the person of Christ, and he offers the sacrifice to God in the name of all the people, as Vatican II specifies. So it is the priest alone who celebrates the sacrifice, and narrates the consecration prayer, while the people participate in this prayer with faith and silence. It is the priest alone who represents Christ in the celebration of the Eucharist, because he has received the Sacrament of Holy Orders. In the above referenced encyclical, the Pope defines the meaning of this expression and says: “The expression repeatedly employed by the Second Vatican Council, according to which ‘the ministerial priest, acting in the person of Christ, brings about the Eucharistic Sacrifice,’ was already firmly rooted in papal teaching”. As the opportunity permits us, His Holiness defines the phrase in persona Christi “means more than offering ‘in the name of’ or ‘in the place of’ Christ. The ministry of priests who have received the sacrament of Holy Orders, in the economy of salvation chosen by Christ, makes clear that the Eucharist which they celebrate is a gift which radically transcends the power of the assembly and is in any event essential for validly linking the Eucharistic consecration to the sacrifice of the Cross and to the Last Supper”.
The Pope stresses this point by saying that no one can celebrate the Holy Sacrifice except the priest, as if he wants to dispel any notion that may find its way into minds of people that someone other than the priest is capable of celebrating this Mystery of the Eucharist. He clarifies matters by saying: “The assembly gathered together for the celebration of the Eucharist, if it is to be a truly Eucharistic assembly, absolutely requires the presence of an ordained priest as its president. On the other hand, the community is by itself incapable of providing an ordained minister. This minister is a gift, which the assembly receives through episcopal succession going back to the Apostles. It is the Bishop who, through the Sacrament of Holy Orders, makes a new presbyter by conferring upon him the power to consecrate the Eucharist. Consequently, “the Eucharistic mystery cannot be celebrated in any community except by an ordained priest, as the Fourth Lateran Council expressly taught”.
The three evangelists, Matthew, Mark and Luke, and additionally, Saint Paul, recounted the narrative of the institution of the Eucharist. Whereas, the evangelist John stated that Christ’s narration in the gathering at the Synagogue in Capernaum were the words that laid the foundation for the institution of the Eucharist: Christ declared himself as the bread of life that comes down from heaven, as was depicted in chapter six of his Gospel. Jesus chose the season of Passover to effect what he declared in Capernaum, thus giving his disciples his body and his blood. (Luke 22:7-20).
By celebrating the Last Supper with his disciples during the Passover meal, he gave the Jewish Passover its definitive meaning. Jesus’ passing over to his Father by his death and resurrection, the new Passover, is thus anticipated in the Last Supper by the celebration of the Eucharist, which fulfills the Jewish Passover, and anticipates the final Passover of the Church into the glory of the Kingdom.
SECONDLY: ITS THEOLOGICAL AND SPIRITUAL CONTENTS
The Mystery of the Eucharist, or the Blessed Sacrament is, to begin with, an act of thanksgiving and praise offered by Christ Jesus to his heavenly Father. And it is, as explained in the Catechism Of The Catholic Church, “the sacrament of our salvation accomplished on the cross. It is also a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving for the work of creation. In the Eucharistic sacrifice the whole of creation, loved by God, is presented to the Father through the death and resurrection of Christ. Through Christ the Church can offer the sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving for all that God has made good, beautiful, and just in creation and in humanity.
The Eucharist is a sacrifice of thanksgiving to the Father, a blessing by which the Church expresses her gratitude to God for all his benefits, for all that he has accomplished through creation, redemption and sanctification. Eucharist means first of all ‘thanksgiving’. The Eucharist is also a sacrifice of praise by which the Church sings the glory of God in the name of all creation. This sacrifice of praise is possible only through Christ: he unites the faithful to his person, to his praise, and to his intercession, so that the sacrifice of praise to the Father is offered through Christ and with him, to be accepted in him”.
When the Church celebrates the Eucharist, the memorial of her Lord’s death and resurrection, this central event of salvation becomes truly present and “the work of our redemption is carried out”. This sacrifice is so decisive for the salvation of the human race that Jesus Christ offered it and returned to the Father only after he had left us a means of sharing in it as if we had been present there. Each member of the faithful can thus take part in it and inexhaustibly gain its fruits. This is the faith from which generations of Christians down the ages have lived. The Church’s Magisterium has constantly reaffirmed this faith with joyful gratitude for its inestimable gift. What more could Jesus have done for us? Truly, in the Eucharist, he shows us a love which goes “to the end” (John 13:1), a love which knows no measure”.
As Christ our Lord explained there is a redemptive value to this sacrifice which, upon its execution on the cross within the following few hours, for the sake of the redemption of all, makes it present in a mysterious way. The Mass is at the same time and inseparably the sacrificial memorial in which the sacrifice of the cross is perpetuated and the sacred banquet of communion is shared with the Lord’s body and blood. But the celebration of the Eucharistic sacrifice is wholly directed toward the intimate union of the faithful with Christ through communion. To receive communion is to receive Christ Himself who has offered Himself for us.
The Church constantly draws her life from the redeeming sacrifice; she approaches it not only through faith-filled remembrance, but also through a real contact, since this sacrifice is made present ever anew, sacramentally perpetuated, in every community, which offers it at the hands of the consecrated minister. The Eucharist thus applies to men and women today the reconciliation once gained for all by Christ for all people in every age. Saint John Chrysostom defined it well: “We always offer the same Lamb, not one today and another tomorrow, but always the same one. For this reason the sacrifice is always only one... Even now we offer that victim who was once offered and who will never be consumed”.
The Mass makes present the sacrifice of the Cross; it does not add to that sacrifice nor does it multiply it. “It is the one and only sacrifice and he himself is the one who offers it at the hands of the priests, and he is the same one who gave himself up that day on the cross. Only the method of its presentation changes.
By virtue of its close relationship to the sacrifice of Golgotha, the Eucharist is a sacrifice in the strict sense, and not only in a general way, as if it were simply a matter of Christ’s offering himself to the faithful as their spiritual food. In fact, the gift of his love and obedience to the point of giving his life (John 10:17-18) is in the first place a gift to his Father. Certainly it is a gift given for our sake, and indeed for all humanity, yet it is first and foremost a gift to the Father, a sacrifice that the Father accepted, giving in return for this total self-giving by his Son, who ‘became obedient unto death’, his own paternal gift, that is the gift of new and eternal life in the resurrection.
With the faithful participating in the Eucharistic Sacrifice, which is the source and summit of the whole Christian life, they offer the Divine Sacrifice to God, and offer themselves along with it. The Eucharistic Sacrifice makes present not only the mystery of the Savior’s passion and death, but also the mystery of the Resurrection, which crowned his sacrifice. It is as the Living and Risen One that Christ can become in the Eucharist the “bread of life” (John 6:35,48), the “living bread” (John 6:51). Saint Ambrose reminded the newly initiated that “Today Christ is yours, yet each day he rises again for you”. Saint Cyril of Alexandria also makes clear that “sharing in the Sacred Mysteries is a true confession and a remembrance that the Lord died and returned to life for us and on our behalf”.
Receiving the body of Christ is nothing other than the participation in the Eucharistic Sacrifice and renewal of the unity with Christ that was brought about by baptism. We can say not only that each of us receives Christ, but also that Christ receives each of us. He enters into friendship with us: “You are my friends” (John 15:14). Indeed, it is because of him that we have life: “He who eats me will live because of me” (John 6:57). Eucharistic communion brings about in a sublime way the mutual “abiding” of Christ and each of his followers: “Abide in me, and I in you” (John 15:4).
Communion does not make the faithful, the People of the New Testament, withdraw into themselves, but rather become the sign and the instrument of the salvation accomplished by Christ, Light of the World, and salt of the earth (Mt. 5:13-16) for the sake of the redemption of all. The mission of the Church continues the mission of Christ: “as the Father has sent me, so I send You” (John 20:21). This is why the Church receives all the necessary spiritual power to fulfill her mission from the sacrifice of the Cross perpetuated in the Eucharist and the receiving of His Body and Blood. Thus, the Mystery of the Eucharist seems to be at the same time, the source of the entire preaching of the Gospel, and its summit, because it aims at having all people in communion with Christ and in Him, with the Father and the Holy Spirit.
The Church receives from the Mystery of the Eucharist all the necessary spiritual powers to fulfill her mission. At the same time the Church is confirmed in her unity as the body of Christ. Thus, Saint Paul was moved to write to the Corinthians: “The bread which we break, is it not a communion in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread” (1 Corinthians 10:16-17).
THE STATUS OF THE EUCHARIST IN THE CATHOLIC CHURCH
The Eucharist, or the Blessed Sacrament, is the Church’s nourishment and life. It occupies first place amongst the seven sacraments, that is, Baptism, Chrismation, Reconciliation, Marriage, Holy Orders, and Anointing of the Sick. This is what most theologians emphasized, among whom were saints such as Saint Thomas Aquinas, rightly called ‘the Angelic Teacher’, who used to resort to the Blessed Sacrament whenever he came across a situation for which he had no solution, and he would write the problem on a piece of paper and place it on the altar in front of the Eucharist, and then go on to pray asking the Eucharistic Lord in the tabernacle to open what has been closed. In most cases, he used to get what he asked for.
The Blessed Sacrament is the medicine of souls for many diseases. Pope Leo XIII in his encyclical on the Eucharist entitled “Mirae Caritatis”, issued on 28 May 1902, says: “But that decay of faith in divine things of which we have spoken is the effect not only of pride, but also of moral corruption. For if it is true that a strict morality improves the quickness of man’s intellectual powers, and if on the other hand, as the maxims of pagan philosophy and the admonitions of divine wisdom” [as it is written in the Book of Wisdom (1:4)] combine to teach us that keenness of the mind is blunted by bodily pleasures, how much more, in the matter of revealed truths, do these same pleasures obscure the light of faith, or even by the just judgment of God, entirely extinguish it. For in these pleasures of the present day an insatiable appetite rages, infecting all classes as with an infectious disease, even from tender years. Yet even for so terrible an evil there is a remedy close at hand in the divine Eucharist. For in the first place it puts a check on lust by increasing charity, according to the words of St. Augustine, who says, speaking of charity, ‘As it grows, lust diminishes; when it reaches perfection, lust is no more’. Moreover, the most-chaste flesh of Jesus keeps down the rebellion of our flesh, as St. Cyril of Alexandria taught, ‘For Christ abiding in us lulls to sleep the law of the flesh which rages in our members’. Then too the special and most pleasant fruit of the Eucharist is that which is signified in the words of the prophet: ‘What is the good thing of Him,’ that is, of Christ, ‘and what is His beautiful thing, but the wheat of the elect and the wine that engendereth virgins’.”
The Litany of the Eucharist enumerates some of the qualities that the Church attributed to Him, indicating the ability to provide spiritual and temporal graces to the Church. St. Thomas Aquinas says, “That in this sacrament the true Body of Christ and his true Blood is something that ‘cannot be apprehended by the senses, but only by faith, which relies on divine authority”. For this reason, in a commentary on Luke 22:19 (‘This is My Body which is given to you.), St. Cyril says: “Do not doubt whether this is true, but rather receive the words of the Savior in faith, for since he is the truth, he cannot lie”.
As the Latin hymn says:
“Godhead here in hiding, whom I do adore Masked by these bare shadows, shape and nothing more,
See, Lord, at thy service low lies here a heart Lost, all lost in wonder at the God thou art.
Seeing, touching, tasting are in thee deceived; How says trusty hearing? That shall be believed;
What God’s Son has told me, take for truth I do; Truth himself speaks truly or there’s nothing true”.
Pope John Paul II feels how much priests, in particular, need to meditate on the Blessed Sacrament, to drink from this fountainhead the strength to persevere in the daily toil against the forces of evil, and how numerous they are; against indifference, and how malicious it is. This is why he says: “Priests are engaged in a wide variety of pastoral activities. If we also consider the social and cultural conditions of the modern world it is easy to understand how priests face the very real risk of losing their focus amid such a great number of different tasks. The Second Vatican Council saw in pastoral charity the bond that gives unity to the priest’s life and work. This, the Council adds, “flows mainly from the Eucharistic Sacrifice, which is therefore the center and foundation of the entire priestly life”. We can understand, then, how important it is for the spiritual life of the priest, as well as for the good of the Church and the world, that priests follow the Council's recommendation to celebrate the Eucharist daily: “for even if the faithful are unable to be present, it is an act of Christ and the Church”. In this way priests will be able to counteract the daily tensions which lead to a lack of focus and they will find in the Eucharistic Sacrifice—the true center of their lives and ministry—the spiritual strength needed to deal with their different pastoral responsibilities. Their daily activity will thus become truly Eucharistic”.
It is highly fitting that Christ should have wanted to remain present to his Church in this unique way. Since Christ was about to take his departure from his own in his visible form, he wanted to give us his sacramental presence; since he offered himself on the cross to save us, he wanted us to have the memorial of the love with which “he loved us to the end” (John 13:1), even to the giving of his life. In his Eucharistic presence he remains mysteriously in our midst as the One who loved us and gave himself for us, and he remains under signs that express and communicate this love. The Church and the world have a great need for Eucharistic worship. Jesus awaits us in this sacrament of love. Let us not refuse the time to go and meet him in adoration, in contemplation full of faith, and open to make amends for the serious offenses and crimes of the world. Let our adoration never cease.”
EUCHARISTIC WORSHIP IS AN EASTERN AND A WESTERN TRADITION
The mode of Christ’s presence under the Eucharistic species is unique. It raises the Eucharist above all the sacraments as “the perfection of the spiritual life, and the end to which all sacraments point.” In the most Blessed Sacrament of the Eucharist the body, and blood, soul and divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ and, therefore, the whole of Christ is truly, really, and substantially present. This presence is called ‘real’, and this is not intended to exclude the other types of presence as if they could not be ‘real’ too, but rather because it is presence in the fullest sense, that is to say it is a substantial presence by which Christ, God and man, makes himself wholly and entirely present.
It is by the transformation of the bread and wine into Christ’s body and blood that Christ becomes present in this sacrament. The Church Fathers strongly affirmed the faith of the Church in the efficacy of the Word of Christ and the action of the Holy Spirit to bring about this transformation. Thus St. John Chrysostom declares: “It is not man that causes the gifts offered to become the Body and Blood of Christ, but he who was crucified for us, Christ himself. The priest, in the role of Christ, pronounces these words, but their power and grace are God’s. This is my body, he says. This word transforms the gifts offered.”
And St. Ambrose says about this Eucharistic transformation: “Be convinced that this is not what nature has formed, but what the blessing has consecrated. The power of the blessing prevails over that of nature, because by the blessing, nature itself is changed. Could not Christ’s word, which can make from nothing that which did not exist, change existing things into what they were not before? It is no less a feat to give things their original nature than in fact to change their nature”.
The Church Fathers of the East have distinctive sayings concerning the Blessed Sacrament, all of which point to their unwavering faith that Christ is present in the form of bread and wine. Contained in the prayers of the Divine Office of the Maronite Church is corroboration of this faith, when the priest, representing the Church, addresses the Son of God saying:
“O Son of God, you chose the priests to serve you, have mercy on those priests who have gone to rest hoping in you. The hands of the priests, who have presented offerings on behalf of sinners, let them clap among the chorus of those praising you. The fingers that broke your body and touched your living blood let them carry the palms of glory and go out to meet you. The pure mouths that processed you with the chants of glory let them chant the psalms of glory in your kingdom along with your saints. The sweet voices that called you, O Lord singing “Holy, Holy, Holy” let them praise your name on the day of the resurrection along with the spirituals. And the lips, which were pleasing incense, let them shout openly with the angels in heaven. Glory be to the Father who chose the priests to glorify him, adoration to the Son who taught them how to serve his sacraments, and thanksgiving to the Spirit who descended on their offerings, and came to them when they called him: Blessed is his reign”.
What is reported of Saint Sharbel Makhlouf is his fervent worship of the Blessed Sacrament. He used to spend long hours preparing for the celebration of the Eucharist, and long hours in thanksgiving to God for this grace. Often he would visit the Blessed Sacrament during the day and also during the night, where the ground was his bed and a piece of wood, his pillow, sharing in the passion of Christ, prisoner of the Host. And the incident of the water turning into oil, to provide light for the Tabernacle, is well known as part of his biography.
His Holiness Pope John XXIII paused in admiration of St. John Marie Vianney, known as Cure’ d’Ars, in his adoration to the Blessed Sacrament and said: “It is then the priest alone who has received the power to offer the Divine Sacrifice in which Jesus Christ renews the unique immolation which He completed on Calvary for the redemption of mankind and for the glory of His heavenly Father. It is then that the gathered Christians, through the ministry of the priest, present the Divine Sacrifice and learn to offer themselves as a “sacrifice, living, holy, pleasing to God.” (Romans 12:1) There the people of God, enlightened by faith and nourished by the Body of Christ, find their life and their growth and in their need, their broken unity. Now, and in one word, from generation to generation all over the shores of the world, the Mystical Body of Christ, which is the Church, grows with love.
Therefore, St. John Vianney dedicated himself to teach the truths of faith and to cleanse the consciences so that all services were oriented toward the altar, as all his life was based on the priesthood and ministry. Sinners willingly flocked the church in Ars, attracted by the holiness of the pastor, while many other priests experienced great difficultly in bringing together their flock.
This is why the Church commands her children to participate in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, to go to confession and receive sacramental absolution, and to partake of the Body and Blood of the Lord. As for those who partake of the flesh of the Lord unworthily, they bring judgment on themselves, as the Apostle Paul put it: “Therefore whoever eats the bread and drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 11:27).
THE BLESSED SACRAMENT, THE BOND OF CHARITY
The Apostle Paul confirmed the unity of Christians by saying: “For as in one body we have many parts, and all the parts do not have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ and individually parts of one another” (Romans 12:4-5). The bond of this unity is the Blessed Sacrament. The Eucharist is the greatest sacramental manifestation of the unity of the Church. Celebrating it must be done with an atmosphere of respect for the external bonds of communion. Therefore, it is not permissible to approach the table of salvation except in modest attire and respectful bodily demeanor and proper composure. It is written in the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches (CCEO) “Whoever is aware of having committed a grave sin, must receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation, i.e. repentance, before participating in Holy Communion, and those who are publicly unworthy are forbidden to receive the Divine Eucharist”. And the Second Vatican Council says: “They are fully incorporated into the Church who, possessing the Spirit of Christ, accept her whole structure and all the means of salvation established within her, and in her visible framework are united to Christ, who governs her through the Supreme Pontiff and the Bishops, by the bonds of profession of faith, the sacraments, ecclesiastical government and communion”.
The Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians to indicate to them that their divisions, which surface during their Eucharistic gatherings, are in opposition to what they are celebrating, that is, the Lord’s Supper. Consequently, he calls upon them to contemplate the reality of the Eucharist, in order to turn them back to the spirit of brotherly participation (I Corinthians 11:17-34). The Eucharist, as the supreme sacramental manifestation of communion in the Church, demands to be celebrated in a context where the outward bonds of communion are also intact. Furthermore, given the very nature of ecclesial communion and its relation to the sacrament of the Eucharist, it must be remembered that the Eucharistic Sacrifice, while always offered in a particular community, is never a celebration of that community alone. In fact, the community, in receiving the Eucharistic presence of the Lord, receives the entire gift of salvation and shows, even in its lasting visible particular form, the image and true presence of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. From this it follows that a truly Eucharistic community cannot be closed in upon itself, as though it were somehow self-sufficient; rather it must persevere in harmony with every other Catholic community.
The ecclesial communion of the Eucharistic assembly is a communion with its own Bishop and with the Roman Pontiff. The Bishop, in effect, is the visible principle and foundation of unity within his particular Church. It would therefore be a great contradiction if the sacrament par excellence of the Church's unity were celebrated without true communion with the Bishop. As Saint Ignatius of Antioch wrote: “That Eucharist which is celebrated under the Bishop, or under one to whom the Bishop has given this charge may be considered certain”, likewise, since “the Roman Pontiff, as the successor of Peter, is the perpetual and visible source and foundation of the unity of the Bishops and of the multitude of the faithful”, communion with him is intrinsically required for the celebration of the Eucharistic Sacrifice.
Saint Augustine effectively echoed the Apostle's words: “You are the body of Christ and individually members of it” (I Corinthians 12: 27). He brought to our attention: “If you are his body and members of him, then you will find set on the Lord’s table your own mystery. There, you receive your own mystery”. And from this observation he concludes: “Christ the Lord... hallowed at his table the mystery of our peace and unity. Whoever receives the mystery of unity without preserving the bonds of peace receives not a mystery for his benefit but evidence against himself”.
The Eucharist's particular effectiveness in promoting communion is one of the reasons for the importance of Sunday Mass. The faithful have the obligation to attend Mass. Precisely through sharing in the Eucharist, the Lord's Day also becomes the Day of the Church.
Pope John Paul II affirms: “If we are to investigate the reasons of the present evils, we find that they are due to the growing cold of love toward God which reflects coldness of love between people. And if they have made themselves forget that they are children of God and brethren to Christ, they give attention each to their own affairs, and they do not only infringe on the rights of others, rather, they fight and assault them. To these we attribute unrest and strife that arises amongst people of different social strata: pride, cruelty, the deceit of the powerful, the wretchedness of the weak, hate, and the plight of the downtrodden. These maladies hopelessly await the cure through censoring laws, the fear of sanctions, and advice of human intuition. We must therefore, treat these maladies, as we have indicated several times, by reconciling the different social classes with each other through the exchange of services and the good deeds inspired by God which clothe themselves with the spirit of Christ and his love. Christ carried love to the world, and he wanted it to ignite everything. From now on, that alone is capable of bringing some joy, not only to the soul, but also to the body. For love suppresses in man the eroding love of self, and checks the greed for accumulating wealth, ‘the root of all evils’ (1 Timothy 6:10)”. And the best example of this love is Jesus Christ who sacrificed himself in the Sacrament of the Eucharist.
After the Second Vatican Council, perversions took place in some Church circles concerning the Blessed Sacrament and the Lord’s Real Presence in churches, and the way of celebrating the Eucharist, as well as other related matters; but these perversions soon disappeared. And the Christian people realized the importance of the Blessed Sacrament in the spiritual life. We now know that the Blessed Sacrament remains a unifying bond stronger than any, drawing people to their Lord, and therefore, to each other. How utterly wretched is a Church in which the Blessed Sacrament is nowhere to be found; it shivers from frost and drought. How warm is a church in which that dim light flickers, sending its rays into believing hearts, to say to the faithful that God is here with us, watching over us, inspiring us toward what is good for us, and to do all he can to spare us from tripping, totally respecting the will he gave us, where we remain responsible for our actions. There are a number of ecclesiastic and lay societies whose members have dedicated themselves to the worship of the Blessed Sacrament, and have taken upon themselves to provide perpetual adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, hour by hour, night and day. This is what some religious orders used to do, whereby its members would get up at night to chant the Office prayer, as they do at other specified times during the day. Neither St. Sharbel, nor those like him, are distant from us.
We hope that the adoration of the Blessed Sacrament would be revived in our Churches, especially in this Eucharistic Year that ends next October, in conjunction with the Council of Bishops in Rome who would study this noble faith-based doctrine. We urge all the faithful to worship Jesus Christ, the prisoner of the Blessed Sacrament, to beseech him to bring about for us the unity that he mentioned in his prayer to his heavenly Father, when he said: “so that they may be one as we are one, I in them and You in me, that they may be brought to perfection as one” (John 17:22).
Without this unity, there is no opportunity to realize what we aim for: hopes that are very dear to all of us, on the social, economic and national levels. We do not wish to enumerate what has befallen us as a result of divisions, disbandment and artificial disputes. This state of affairs lies right in front of our eyes, and is represented by the high national debt that is placing a heavy burden on people, wide spread immigration that is resulting in a devouring brain drain, social hardships causing recurring complaints, and a depressing political climate that has far reaching consequences on the patriotic health of the nation. But, despite all this, we are in better shape than some of our neighbors whose people are being painted with blood, every day, and under the eyes of the world. Because of that we pray asking all of you to join us in prayer that God may be generous in bringing about a just and comprehensive peace throughout our region.
We place this hope of ours in the hands of our mother, Our Lady the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God and our mother, whom his Holiness Pope John Paul II, described as “The Eucharistic Woman, because the Church considered her as an example to imitate, because of her connection to this most sacred sacrament”.
In the hope that this year would be a Eucharistic year par excellence, in which the faithful will flock to worship the Blessed Sacrament with sincerity, and to practice the duty of fasting so as to tame desires, and to perform whatever possible acts of alms-giving and good deeds that draw us close to God, being charitable to his worshipers, we wish you all, residents and those of the expansion, health and prosperity, and it pleases us to bestow upon you our fatherly blessing.
Issued from our See in Bkerke, the first day of February, 2005
A Letter from Bishop Shaheen on the Eucharist
September 30, 2004
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
His Holiness Pope John Paul II has announced on June 10, at the homily during the feast of Corpus Christi (the Body and Blood
of Christ) a special Year of the Eucharist. It will begin in October 2004 with the World Eucharistic Congress in Mexico (October
10-17) and will end with the next Ordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops (October 2-29, 2005) and whose theme will be:
"The Eucharist: source and summit of the life and mission of the Church." At this occasion, I would like to share with you some
1. The Eucharist as a Sacrament:
The Eucharist is the sacrament of Christ's presence par excellence. The signs of bread and wine become, in a way surpassing
understanding, the Body and Blood of Christ. Thus, Christ comes and dwells in us, in our midst uniting us to the divine life that
we are called to. "By the consecration, the transubstantiation of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ is brought
about. Under the consecrated species of bread and wine Christ himself, living and glorious, is present in a true, real and
substantial manner: his Body and his Blood, with his soul and his divinity." (Catechism of the Catholic Church, Para. 1413) This
presence of Christ is real, not symbolic as others think. It gives us really and truly Christ in the Divine Liturgy through the
priesthood. That indicated the closeness of the two sacraments: Holy Orders and Eucharist which were constituted by Christ
himself at the Last Supper when he made his apostles priests and bishops, and transformed the bread and wine into his Body
and Blood. From that point, the Church makes the Eucharist and the Eucharist makes the Church. Christ then becomes our
spiritual nourishment bringing us closer to the union with the Trinity. We need to open our heart for Christ so that he can remain
in us. As the Pope says: "This miraculous sign is the symbol of the greatest mystery of love which is renewed every day at Holy
Mass; through the ordained ministers, Christ gives his Body and his Blood for the life of humanity. And all those who partake of
his Banquet with dignity become living instruments of his presence of love, mercy and peace."
2. The Eucharist as a Sacrifice:
At the time of Jesus, lambs for the Passover were slaughtered at the Temple; their blood was shed and their flesh was eaten
with unleavened bread. In this ritual, the Israelites were recalling the Exodus from Egypt when they marked their doorposts with
the blood of the lambs to spare their eldest sons. It is also a reminder of their covenant with the Lord: that He will be their God,
and they will be His people. At the Last Supper, Christ anticipating his own death on the Cross, celebrated the Passover. He
linked it to his own death as he said: "This is my body, which will be given for you" (Luke 22:19) and "This is my blood of the
covenant which will be shed on behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins. From now on, I tell you, I shall never again drink wine
until the day I drink the new wine with you in the Kingdom of my Father." (Matthew 26: 28-29). Then he went to tell his disciples
"do this in remembrance of me." (Luke 22:19) As Catholics, we believe that the Eucharist makes present the death of Jesus who
dies once and for all. There is no more need to offer lambs and bulls but just sincere participation in the Divine Liturgy of
Consecration: "And Christ has entered the sanctuary once and for all, taking with him not the blood of goats and bull calves,
but his own blood, having won an eternal redemption." (Hebrews 9:12) Pope John Paul II in his homily of June 10 quotes St. Paul:
"as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes" (1 Corinthians 11:26). He goes
further to say "with these words St. Paul reminds the Christians of Corinth that the 'Lord's Supper' is not only a convivial meeting
but also, and above all, the memorial of the redeeming sacrifice of Christ." In this sacrifice, Jesus gave the Jewish Passover its
definitive meaning, completion and perfection. Christ laid down his life for all of us out of his infinite love for all of us: "There is no
greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends." (John 15:13)
3. The Eucharist as a Banquet:
The Eucharist is a meal, for Christ gave us the Eucharist at the Last Supper as he celebrated the Passover meal. Jesus shared
this meal with his disciples around him. He washed their feet one by one, and then he consecrated the natural elements of bread
and wine into his Body and Blood: "If I, then, the Lord and Master, have washed your feet, you must wash each other's feet.
I have given you an example so that you may copy what I have done to you." (John 13: 14-15) Meals, in general, bring people
together in an atmosphere of mutual love, respect and friendship. The Eucharistic meal joins us not only to Christ but also to
one another. We become united into the Body of Christ; "And as there is one loaf, so we, although there are many of us, are
one single body, for we all share in the one loaf" (1 Corinthians 10:17). So then, "if you are bringing your offering to the altar
and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar, go and be reconciled
with your brother first, and then come back and present your offering" (Matthew 5: 23-24). The Eucharist reconciles us with one
another, brings us together as we are all members of the same Body of Christ, which is the Church. The Eucharist is the
sacrament of the Church's unity and holiness. The Church, along the years, has been steadfast in manifesting Christ to the world
through the Body and Blood of Christ. The Eucharistic celebration engenders the whole community as the priests and faithful pray
for the salvation of all people. The Second Vatican Council has stated that the Church grows through the redemption at work in
the Sacrament of the Altar. The Eucharist is not brought about by the community from within, but is given to the community
from above. St. John Chrysostom says: "It is not man that causes the things offered to become the Body and Blood of Christ,
but he who was crucified for us, Christ himself. The priest, in the role of Christ, pronounces these words, but their power and
grace are God's. This is my body, he says. This word transformed the things offered." It is a perfect gift from Christ that we
receive with fervor, love and gratefulness. We need to gradually discover this infinite richness of God's grace. The Eucharist as
a meal brings us together in the Divine Liturgy to partake of the same Body and Blood of Christ. We are all equal in his sight: men
and women, old and young, rich and poor… We are all His children and all of us are invited to participate in the celebration of the
Mystery of our Salvation.
4. The Eucharist in Christian Life:
The Eucharist is the center and summit of Christianity. It summarizes the Mystery of Salvation and it anticipates our own
salvation as well. It is an act of thanksgiving for all of God's graces and gifts. It is our spiritual nourishment, "whoever eats my
flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him." (John 6: 56) It is a "medicine for immortality," as St. Ignatius of Antioch
said, echoing Christ's words: "I am the living bread which has come down from heaven. Anyone who eats this bread will live for
ever; and the bread I shall give is my flesh for the life of the world." (John 6: 51) In our perspective, there is no holiness outside
the Eucharist. It is the perfect mean to sanctify our life as it brings us closer to Christ, in communion with him. Thus, we need
to model our life after his, to let his Body and Blood make of our hearts a palace for the Trinity, a temple of the Holy Spirit.
Saints, along the years, spent hours daily in front of the Blessed Sacrament in communication and communion with our Lord. The
tabernacle, the tent of the presence, takes first place in our churches to signify the importance of the Eucharist. Therefore,
I hope this year would draw us closer to the Eucharist. Let us plan to spend more time with the Lord such as participating in an
hour of adoration weekly, coming early to Church and preparing with special fervor to receive the Eucharist, engaging ourselves
in reading the Church's teachings and the spiritual writings of the fathers, visiting the Blessed Sacrament in the Church from time
to time. I would like to see all our Churches actively involved in spreading the devotion to the Blessed Sacraments. Our world is
tormented and God's presence would make our life more peaceful and enjoyable.
This "Year of the Eucharist" is a beautiful reminder of the essentials of our Catholic faith. It should create an awareness of the
importance of Christ's presence in our hearts, in our lives, in our churches, in the whole world. May this year help us to become
"Eucharistic" people, always eager to welcome Christ into our lives, always ready to love others and lay down our lives for others,
always thankful for all of God's graces and blessings. May we follow the example of the Virgin Mary, our patroness, in her
faithfulness to Christ every moment of her life. "Looking at Mary, we will understand better the transforming power that the
Eucharist possesses. Listening to her, we will find in the eucharistic mystery the courage and energy to follow Christ, the Good
Shepherd, and to serve him in the brethren" (Pope John Paul II). May God's presence in the Eucharist bless us and accompany us
With prayerful best wishes, I remain
Sincerely yours in Christ
+Most Reverend Robert J. Shaheen
Bishop of the Eparchy of Our Lady of Lebanon