03/13/2007, 00.00
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Pope's letter following the synod on the Eucharist

by Franco Pisano
Entitled “Sacramentum caritatis” Benedict XVI’s first post synodal apostolic exhortation is almost a vademecum, a systematic exposition of Church teachings on the Eucharist, “source and summit of the life of the Church”. It speaks of the need to defend the family, the indissolubility of marriage, catholic politician’s responsibility, freedom of worship and peace

Vatican City (AsiaNews) – “Primary cause” of the Church’s existence, the principal manifestation of God’s love, which anticipates His full participation, the Eucharist gives substance to every aspect of the life of the Church and forms the faithful’s existence and behaviour.  Meaningfully entitled “Sacramentum caritatis” Benedict XVI’s first post synodal apostolic exhortation, made public today is almost a vademecum, a systematic exposition of Church teachings on the Eucharist, an anticipation of the Compendium which it announces in its concluding pages.

Calling it the “source and summit of the life of the Church”, the Pope underlines that it is “a gift from Jesus” and as such brings consequences to bear on the Church as a whole and on the individual behaviour of the faithful.  These are the concrete aspects which will grab the attention of the vast majority, such as the impossibility of  divorced couplet to receive communion, the necessity of  priests presence for the celebration of mass, the choice of priestly celibacy, the awareness that Christian politicians “grave responsibility before society” when faced with “non negotiable principals”, the “respect for human life, its defence from conception to natural death, the family built on marriage between a man and a woman, the freedom to educate one's childrenand the promotion of the common good in all its forms (n. 83)”.

The study of all questions linked to the Eucharist even encompasses recommendations on the visibility of confessionals and the location of tabernacles, absolutely central, as well as touches on the transfer of the sign of peace to the offertory procession. (n. 49).

“The first element of Eucharistic faith – writes Benedict XVI – is the mystery of God Himself, Trinitarian love (n. 7)”. A “free gift”, in which “the loving plan that guides all of salvation history is revealed (n. 8)”. “It therefore constitutes the very being and action of the Church”, it represents the unity of the Church and it is the basis of communion between believers. Better still, the Eucharist is the “supreme sacramental manifestation of the communion of the Church”. At the same time, “the love that we celebrate in the sacrament is not something that we can keep for ourselves. (n. 84)”. “An authentically Eucharistic Church is a missionary Church”.

The family at the centre

In the footsteps of the synod, the conclusions from which have been drawn together in the exhortation, Benedict XVI highlights the inseparable relationship between the Eucharist and the life of the Church and believers.  “Receiving Baptism, Confirmation and First Holy communion are key moments not only for the individual receiving them but also for the entire family, which should be supported in its educational role by the various elements of the ecclesial community (n. 19)”. The displays one of the documents constants: concern for the centrality of the family. “Marriage and the family are institutions which must be promoted and defended from every possible misrepresentation of their true nature, since whatever is injurious to them is injurious to society itself (n. 29)”. Starting from marriage “intrinsically linked to the Eucharistic unity of Christ the Bridegroom and his bride the Church (n. 27)”. In so far as it is an expression of this “irreversibility” marriage implies “that indissolubility to which all true love aspires”. Derived from these reflections are answers to questions regarding the sacrament to divorced couples, “this represents a complex and troubling pastoral problem, a real scourge for contemporary society and one which increasingly affects the Catholic community as well (n. 29)”. Along with confirmation of denied participation in the sacrament however is also a request for “special attention” to be paid to make these people feel – as they are – part of the Church.

The correct celebration of the sacrament is central to Benedict XVI’S analyses of the Eucharistic theme.  “Like the rest of Christian Revelation, the liturgy is inherently linked to beauty: it is veritatis splendor (n. 35)”. From this he proceeds to call for greater attention to be paid to the ”ars celebrandi” and “all artistic expressions at the service of the celebration”, from church architecture to music, with a recommendation to “avoid generic improvisations or the introduction of musical genres which fail to respect the meaning of the liturgy (n. 42)”. The importance of the celebration necessitates that priest “carefully” (n. 46) prepare the homily and that “Eucharistic celebration in small groups” (n. 63)” do not provoke a fragmentation of the community.  Opposite problems are linked to the celebration of mass for special events, such as weddings or funerals, at which non practising Catholics or Christians of other denominations may be present. In these cases “confusion” over the meaning of the Eucharist must be avoided.  The same concerns should prohibit the participation of non Catholics – apart from exceptional cases – in the Eucharistic.

A “mystery to be lived”  

Because it “embraces every aspect of human existence”, the Eucharist is a “mystery to be lived”.  It should form the life of believers.  Starting with the day of its celebration, that is Sunday.  The Pope writes “the day of the Lord is also a day of rest from work.  It is greatly hoped that this fact will be recognised by civil society, so that individuals can be permitted to refrain from work without being penalized”. “This is highly significant for it relativizes work and directs it to the person: work is for man and not man for work (n. 74)”.

The celebration of “the Lord’s day” naturally requires the presence of the celebrant  The document refers to this by underlining that the absence of priest due to scarcity should not engender confusion on occasions such as, for example, prayer meetings.  The scarcity of clergy must not provoke less attention to the quality of candidates to the priesthood.  Reaffirming the Churches choice for priestly celibacy, the document in fact recommends that bishops pay increased attention to the quality of candidates in order to avoid that bishops, concerned for the lack of clergy react by “admitting to seminary formation and ordination candidates who lack the necessary qualities for priestly ministry (n. 25)”.

Valid instead for both religious and lay believers is the principal that “the first and fundamental mission that we receive from the sacred mysteries we celebrate is that of bearing witness by our lives (n. 85)”. And if “today too the Church does not lack martyrs”, all of us are required to show witness to our faith.  Not just a theory or a way of life inspired by Christ but the gift of his very person.  Anyone who has not shared the truth of love with his brothers and sisters has not yet given enough (n. 86)”.

The “communication” of “Christ’s unity and of His salvation” brings the document to touch on the theme of Freedom of worship. “In not a few parts of the world, simply going to Church represents a heroic witness that can result in marginalization and violence (n. 87)”, writes Benedict XVI. “Let u spray – he adds - for greater religious freedom in every nation so that Christians as well as the followers of other religions can freely express their convictions both as individuals and as communities (n. 87)”.

A peaceful life that the Eucharist “sacrament of communion” promotes.  Through the memorial of his sacrifice, Christ “strengthens our fraternal communion and in a particular way, urges those in conflict to hasten their reconciliation by opening themselves to dialogue and a commitment to justice.  Certainly the restoration of justice, reconciliation and forgiveness are the conditions for building true peace.  The recognition of this fact leads to a determination to transform  unjust structures and to restore respect for the dignity of all men and women, created in Gods’ image and likeness (n. 89)”. Although not strictly the task of the Church, through its social doctrine the Church offers indications and launches an appeal “all the faithful to be true promoters of peace and justice (n. 89)”.

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