Continuing our reflection on Sacramentum Caritatis, let us
remember Pope Benedict's theological assumptions: (1) in Jesus'
life, death, and Resurrection, God reveals self as Trinity, whose
very life is self-giving love; (2) fulfilling the divine plan of salvation
and sanctification, God, through Christ, has given the Holy
Spirit to the Church as sharing source with Christ of our faith
and as the abiding Presence that binds us to Christ; (3) through
Jesus' gift of self in response to God's love, God has established a
new and unbreakable covenant with the human race. This covenant
is renewed when we celebrate the Eucharist.
These themes will remain central in the presentation of the
relationship between the celebration of the Eucharist and the rest
of the life of the Church. The Pope challenges us to live the mystery
The Church, as the universal sacrament of salvation, determines how Christ, through the Spirit, reaches us. The Church receives and expresses herself in the sacraments.
Christ reaches our lives in the sacraments—expressions of
God's self-giving, proclamations of the truth that God is love. In
her sacramental celebrations the Church receives and expresses
its life as gift of God. As we pray together, we can learn to let our
day become an act of worship.
Pope Benedict says that every Catholic should experience
the celebration of the Eucharist as the source and summit of our
prayer and ministry. Do I also find that other prayers draw me to
We must remember that Baptism and Confirmation lead to Eucharist. Our pastoral practice should show a unitive understanding of the sacraments of initiation.
Since the Eucharist is source and summit of the Church's
life and ministry, Christian initiation must be seen as directed
to reception of the sacrament. Is the link among Baptism,
Confirmation, and Eucharist sufficiently recognized? In my experience,
how are these sacraments related to each other? How does
our parish illustrate their connection with each other?
Bishops conferences need to examine the order of the sacraments of initiation, considering the effectiveness of approaches now used to giving lives Eucharistic direction.
In both the Eastern and the Western Church, adults are initiated
through a process that culminates in a celebration of the
sacraments of initiation. The East has preserved that unified celebration
for the initiation of children; the West separates the rites
and, in most places, confirms after the child has received the
Eucharist. This, says the Pope, is a pastoral practical difference,
but there is doctrinal agreement on the proper sequence of the
initiation sacraments. He asks if we might show more clearly the
unity of these sacraments, so that the Eucharist is experienced
as the center of initiation. If more Catholics understood the
Eucharist as the focus of their lives, they could more readily "offer
a reason for the hope within them."
Does our parish often celebrate adult initiation at the Easter
Vigil? Does that celebration speak clearly about the relation of
Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist? How has my understanding
of these sacraments changed since we began celebrating them
Parishes need to remember how essential it is for Christian families to be part of the initiation process.
The entire Church is involved in a process of conversion.
Initiation involves the worshipping community, into which the
newly baptized person is incorporated, through the celebration of
Eucharist with the rest of the community. The family bringing up
baptized children is an agent in the work of God. What elements of
our first Communion celebrations seem most welcoming? How do
I encourage parents and their children in our Sunday celebration?
Catechesis on the Eucharist needs to include our call to penance. The faithful should understand that, in the Mass, consciousness of personal sin is expressed, as well as God's mercy. The sacraments of Eucharist and Reconciliation are related; sin is never just personal.
Celebration of the Eucharist puts us on the path of penance,
as we embrace God's plan for our lives. To accept the grace
of conversion, we must be aware of the reality of our sin. We try
to let this conversion occur in every aspect of our lives. Does our
celebration of the Eucharist put us in touch with the communal
impact of our sins? Does it help us engage in the process of
conversion? Celebration of penitential liturgies and communal
celebrations of the sacrament of Penance can deepen our understanding
of sin and repentance, and help us embrace the conversion
the Eucharist celebrates.
Though we're encouraged to celebrate communally, all
three forms of the Rite of Penance emphasize the ecclesial nature
of the celebration. Every sacramental confession is a liturgy of the
Church. Is it surprising to think of Confession as worship? How
might I prepare better to celebrate this sacrament?
It is important for Bishops to understand the need for the promotion of a catechesis on conversion born of the Eucharist and the value of confession.
We're urged to a deeper catechesis, to study and prayer in
the transformation of our lives. For us to deepen our commitment
to letting God change us, our parish priests are asked to
provide opportunities to celebrate Reconciliation. Confessionals
or reconciliation rooms should be visible and dignified.
To encourage both communal and individual celebration
of the sacrament, and to help the clergy build their skills in presiding
at this prayer of the Church, every bishop is encouraged to
appoint a Penitentiary, a priest who will help the diocese build
the quality of its celebration.
The Pope also encourages us to recover the tradition of
indulgences, of prayer offered for those who have died as well as
for ourselves. This tradition emphasizes that we not only help each
other through our prayer and our works of charity, but that we also
engage in reparation for wrongs committed around the world.
Indulgenced prayers are rooted in the community of the Church;
they involve both sacramental Confession and Communion; by
their nature they teach and celebrate the communion of saints.
Indulgenced prayers express the unity of Christ's body and
strengthen the bonds that tie us together in Christ. In this way
they are directly related to the mutual love which is the res or the
deepest meaning of the Eucharist. For whom do I pray? What
departed persons have been most important for my life of faith?
Through the Anointing of the Sick, the ill are united with Christ's self-offering. During serious illness, we can see the relationship of the sacrament of Eucharist to the Anointing of the Sick.
Through the sacrament of the sick, persons are helped to
unite their sufferings with those of Christ, pray for the salvation
of all, and experience the faithfulness of God. Viaticum is the sacrament
of the dying, which the faithful are obliged to receive, if
possible. Priests need to be dedicated to celebrating the Eucharist
in sickrooms, when possible, and to the celebration of Viaticum
outside of Mass.
The Bishop or the priest presides at Mass in the person of Christ the Head. It is during the Mass that we see clearly the relationship between Holy Orders and the Eucharist. It is part of the priest's work to be a sign pointing to Christ.
To understand the ministerial
priesthood, we begin with the one priesthood
of Christ. Christ presides when the
Church gathers to pray; Christ, who
receives life and love from the Father in
the Holy Spirit and offers himself in
response to the Father's love, incorporates
worshippers into his receiving and
responding through their celebration of
the liturgy. The priest draws attention to Christ's action. As the
sacramental presence of Christ the head of the body, the priest's
ministry is one of the humility of Christ and the humility of God,
made tangible in the priest's participation as the ordained presider
in the liturgical celebration.
How do the priests in our parish show Christ's humility as
they help us pray? How can I encourage them in this ministry?
Through ordination, the priest is called to completely configure himself to Christ, who gives his life for his Bride.
Once again, the Pope emphasizes the connection between
the Father and the Incarnate Word, the connection between
Christ and the Church. In the ordination rite we pray for priests'
complete configuration to Christ. We need to keep praying for
them as they exercise their ministry with joy and generosity. Can
I name a few ways that I notice our parish priest's dedication and
generosity? How do we encourage him?
Part of the important work of the Synod was to consider the shortage of priests. This shortage is to be dealt with in more than practical ways; the Church must consider how vocations are nourished.
The Pope expresses his determination, and that of the bishops
at the Synod, to keep the quality of our priests high. Wellformed
priests will attract young people to take up this ministry.
Given the importance of Eucharist for the life of the Church, the
entire Catholic community needs to be engaged in the fostering
of priestly vocations. Are our priests conspicuously happy? Would
you ever suggest that someone consider becoming a priest?
Throughout the Church's life, men have left everything to preach the Gospel, celebrate the sacraments, and minister to the flock. This continues to be so.
The Fidei Donum priests singled
out in the exhortation for praise are on
leave from their dioceses for pastoral
work in developing parts of the world.
How does our parish support the pastoral
activity of the Church in some of the
needier areas of the nation and world?
How do we encourage and support priests
serving in other parts of the world?
It is especially in marriage that people experience the truth that
God is love. By God's grace, Christian marriage becomes a sacrament
of that self-giving love is the nature and life of God.
Christian marriage is a state of intense holiness, a high calling not
given to all the baptized. Those united in marriage both express
and receive divine love as they share their lives. Catholic theologies
of marriage stress the characteristics of God's relationship
with Christ and with the Church: holding nothing back, giving
self absolutely and irrevocably. Both the unicity (involving one
man and one woman) and the indissolubility of Christian marriage
are based in this truth about God.
Not only does the Eucharist strengthen the love in Christian marriage, but it is by the sacrament that the marriage bond is linked to Christ the Bridegroom and his Bride the Church.
In the sacramental life, we celebrate God's commitment to
us and to the world in Jesus Christ. Matrimony expresses that
commitment in the lives of the people who live the sacrament in
the community of the Church. Like the other sacraments, it is
ordered toward the celebration of Eucharist and finds its deepest
fulfillment in the light of that celebration.
Think of a few married couples whose lives bring you joy.
Name a few of the ways that you experience God's self-giving love
as you relate to them. How do you experience the quality of their
commitment to each other?
Several pastoral problems are linked to the relationship among the Eucharist, marriage, and the family. Pastoral practice was examined in cultures in which polygamy is a part.
God gives self in Jesus' receiving and responding, and continues
that self-gift in the Holy Spirit in the life of the Church.
Marriage represents that definitive self-gift through the dedication
of the married persons to each other. Here is the Pope's theological
explanation for the culturally difficult position of the official
Church regarding polygamy or polyandry: however close the multiple
spouses may be, their commitment will not clearly express
the absolute commitment of God to Christ and the Church.
How do you give thanks for the ministry of married couples
who bring God's faithfulness into your life?
Attention must be paid to the divorced and remarried who continue to belong to the Church. The Church needs to accompany them as they strive to live the Christian life.
This paragraph addresses the painful realities of irregular
marriages while holding firmly that God's commitment to Christ
and to the Church is lifelong and irrevocable. The Pope insists
that both the Church's marriage law and her pastoral care is love
for the truth. The truth we celebrate has its ramifications for our
pastoral care of Christians whose marriages have fallen apart. We
must, he tells us, be lavish in our care even as we emphasize the
indissolubility of sacramental marriage.
Here Pope Benedict tells us not to forget what a high calling
marriage is! Help engaged people prepare well! Help married
people keep discovering the mystery of God in each other and in
their love for their family! Help us consider marriage as one of
God's greatest blessings, and reverence those who live it!
How does our parish celebrate the married people in our
midst? Have we ever celebrated a wedding at the Sunday Mass? If
we were engaged, what sort of preparation and catechesis for
marriage would be helpful?
It is true both that the sacraments are part of the Church's pilgrimage through history and that they give a foretaste of eschatological fulfillment.
The celebration of the Eucharist puts us in touch with our
destiny. We join our voices with the angels and saints; we join our
prayers with the one prayer of Christ and his saints; we receive
the bread of angels and drink the cup of salvation. Our celebration
of the sacrament, by God's grace, with the help of the people with
whom we pray, helps us express and accept the meaning of our
lives in Christ and strengthens us for the entirety of the Christian
life. Our Sunday celebration speaks to the whole of our lives and
to our final destiny in God.
Can I name a way in which the Sunday Mass helps keep me
faithful during the week? Do parts of the celebration help me
look forward to the life of heaven?
Jesus' self-gift inaugurated the eschatological age.
He wished to transfer to the entire community that he had
founded the task of being, within history, the sign and instrument
of the eschatological gathering that had its origin in him.
Consequently, every eucharistic celebration sacramentally accomplishes
the eschatological gathering of the People of God.
Our reformed sacramental rites often speak of the assembly
as Christ's gift to the Father, and praise God for the unity we
experience as we act as the body of Christ. Our song and prayer,
our listening and responding, our offering of self, and especially
our Communion procession are described as ways to experience
the communion of the saints and the unity of our prayer with the
prayer of Christ, the angels, and the saints in heaven. The Pope
calls us to see God at work in our celebration and to be grateful
for the transformation taking place as we pray.
Can I name a few ways in which I am changing as we celebrate
the Eucharist in our parish? Can I see any progress in patience,
humility, reverence for my fellow parishioners? Will these changes
make it easier for me to join in the heavenly banquet?
In the eucharistic celebration, we see a pledge of how our bodies one day will be glorified.
This consideration of eschatology ends with a reminder of
the importance of prayer for the dead. We are all united in God's
work of self-giving in Christ; we all need to keep praying for each
other. Just as we assist each other in our liturgical celebration and
in our works of charity, so we help each other through our prayer.
As we rediscover the eschatological dimension inherent in our
celebration of the Eucharist, God will give us strength for our
journey and comfort us in the hope of glory.
At Mass we pray for our dead brothers and sisters in the
faith and for all the dead. For whom am I accustomed to praying
in the Mass? Do I hold faces, names, or images in my mind when
we're praying for the dead?
The Christian life emerges from the relationship among the Eucharist, the individual sacraments, and the eschatological significance of the sacred mysteries.
Part I of this exhortation, "A Mystery to be Believed," concludes with the certainty of God's triumph over our sins. The self-giving of God has already found its perfect response in Jesus, whose Spirit abides in us. God has already brought this great work to its completion in Jesus' glorification, which according to ancient tradition includes the raising of the saints of the Old Testament. In Mary, we see God's work accomplished in the great disciple of the New Testament. Mary's response to God's call was made in the same Holy Spirit who abides in us, and who moves us to cooperation with God's plan. Mary's Assumption seals God's promise of faithfulness; God, who glorified Jesus, the perfect expression of his self-giving love, has brought Mary into the glory of the angels and saints. As the Word became Incarnate through Mary's body, so the Word, in the Holy Spirit is taking flesh in our lives. We see that enfleshment of Christ in our lives as we celebrate the Eucharist. The eucharistic liturgy is the indication of God's plan for us and the pledge that God will be faithful in accomplishing that great work. Mary's Assumption strengthens our faith and helps us remain faithful.
Has my image of Mary changed as I've considered this section on the celebration of the Eucharist? In what ways is she a helpful model? Are there "growing edges" where I could become more comfortable with her company?