10/08/2004, 00.00
Vatican - year of the Eucharist
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"Mane nobiscum Domine": Pope's letter on the Year of the Eucharist

by Bernardo Cervellera

The Eucharist, sign of the real presence of Jesus, wins over "dark shadows of blood" cast by terrorism and laicism, enemy of humanity

Vatican City (AsiaNews) – Pope John Paul II's Apostolic Letter, Mane nobiscum Domine (Stay with us, Lord) is a heartfelt plea to rediscover the wealth of the Eucharist in the life of the Church and of the world.

 Delivered on October 7th, the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, this Letter sets itself to introduce  the Year of the Eucharist which begins this month (October 10 – 17) with the International Eucharistic Congress (Mexico) and will end with next year's Synod of Bishops (October 2 – 29, 2005).  Above all, it is to urge young people to rediscover the Eucharist that the Pope wrote this Letter.

 Personal tone

In his Letter, the Pope speaks of the Eucharist with a profoundly personal tone: the "broken Bread" is what "remains" of Jesus, even when it seems that his face has disappeared.  His mysterious presence is like a light that reawakens hope over the "shadows of the declining day" and "darkness" blanketing the soul (no. 1).

 The story of the disciples of Emmaus – who flee from Jerusalem and come across the Risen Jesus who breaks bread with them – becomes for John Paul II the icon of the latest years of his pontificate, especially those that date from the Jubilee celebration onward.  The Great Jubilee of the Year 2000 was celebrated in its "greatness of grace" (no. 6).  But the new millennium has turned out to be a sort of "crude continuation" of the worst events of the past.  Nazism, Communism, inter-ethnic wars, hunger, social inequality, persecutions have all seeped into the 21 century, outlining "dark shadows of violence and blood that endlessly sadden us".

 Like the disciples at Emmaus, "sad thoughts" are conquered by faith in the presence of Jesus Christ, "centre not only of the Church's history, but also humanity's history".

 The Pope shows that this "return to the contemplation of Christ's face" has been a constant element of these past years, from before the Jubilee, up to his latest encyclical on the Eucharist.  The Year of the Eucharist -- that John Paul II summons with this Apostolic Letter, and which will last from this month to October 2005 – "sets itself as a year for taking stock, a sort of summit of the journey made so far." (no. 10)

 The Pope asks that all Christians rediscover the Eucharist in everyday life, without doing anything out of the ordinary (no. 29), but placing the emphasis on the "Eucharistic dimension" which characterizes Christian community life (no. 5).

 Rediscover the Eucharist

For John Paul II, we need to rediscover the Eucharist as mystery "of light", drawing close once again to the Word of God, depicting it in the homily; rediscovering Mass as a "banquet" and a "memorial" of the "sacrifice carried out once and for all on Golgotha" (no. 15).  But above all, we need to rediscover the "real presence" of Jesus in the Eucharist, with worthy liturgies, silence, adoration, the Rosary, processions: all signs that educate us in the certainty that Jesus has remained "with us to the close of the age" (no. 16).

 Indirectly, the Pope criticizes those who use celebrations to make their own messages triumph, demeaning the sense of this sacrament to a symbolic (and trivial) level: "The temptation is always present in man to reduce the Eucharist to his own dimension, while it is he who must open himself to the dimension of this Mistery.  The Eucharist is too great a gift to tolerate ambiguity and depreciation." (no. 16).

 Another dimension to be discovered is the Eucharist as "source and epiphany of communion".  The intimacy created by the Lord, that satisfies "the hunger for God in this world" (no. 19), also creates intimacy and unity among Christians gathered around their bishop.  For John Paul II, Sunday Mass must increasingly become a "manifestation" of the Church, unity between bishop and faithful, clergy and laity, groups, movements, associations.

 Finally, the Eucharist is "principle and foundation of the Church's mission" (no. 24).  The encounter with Christ – says the Pope – gives rise in the Church to the "urgent need to witness and evangelize", and to the commitment to "spread the Gospel message and to imbue society with Christianity" (no. 24).

 Bear witness to "Christian roots"

The Eucharist is above all a witness of "gratitude" before all humanity.  The Pope puts into question secularized culture "which breathes the oblivion of God and cultivates the vain self-sufficiency of man" and that tends to marginalize the religious dimension of civic life.  Human reality – he states – "cannot justify itself without reference to the Creator".  John Paul II thus urges Christians to "not be afraid of speaking of God in the world and to display signs of the faith proudly" (no. 26).  It would seem that the Pope, in these lines, makes reference to the controversies regarding crucifixes in public places, religious symbols banned from French schools, accusations of proselytism in missionary countries, and the elimination of references to God in many American institutions.  One passage is definitely tied to the question of the "Christian roots of Europe": the Pope reminds us that Eucharistic culture is a culture of dialogue and not of intolerance; that Christians are not rooted in the violence that may have been committed through the course of history, but were betrayed by it.  "Anyone who learns to give thanks in the manner of Christ Crucified can become a martyr, but never a tormentor" (no. 26).

 The Eucharist, for the Pope, is also an instrument for the "promotion of communion, peace, solidarity".  This "great school of peace", a place for educating political and cultural figures, helps Christians to face "the spectre of terrorism and the tragedy of war", but also encourages commitment to "brotherly activity" toward "the numerous forms of poverty in our world" (no. 28).  The Pope asks specifically for efforts in favour of those who suffer hunger, the sick in developing countries, the elderly, the unemployed, and immigrants.  Such activity is the "criteria" for the "authenticity of our Eucharistic celebrations".

 At the end of the Letter, the Pope invites every member of the Church to find "new enthusiasm" in their mission, recognizing "in the Eucharistic source and summit" of all life (no. 31).  He invites especially the young – who are preparing for the World Youth Day of Cologne (16 – 21 August, 2005) – to meet Christ in the Eucharist, bringing along with them "all the enthusiasm of your age, your hope, and your capacity to love" (no. 30).

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