Apostolic letter reflects on Eucharist

By  Cindy Wooden, Catholic News Service
  • March 16, 2007

VATICAN CITY - Catholics must believe in the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, celebrate the liturgy with devotion and live in a way that demonstrates their faith, Pope Benedict XVI said.

“The celebration and worship of the Eucharist enable us to draw near to God’s love and to persevere in that love,” the Pope said in his apostolic exhortation, Sacramentum Caritatis (The Sacrament of Charity).

The 131-page document, a papal reflection on the discussions and suggestions made during the 2005 world Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist, was released March 13 by the Vatican.

When Jesus instituted the Eucharist at the Last Supper, He did not simply thank God for the ways He had acted throughout history to save people, the Pope said. Rather, Jesus revealed that He Himself was the sacrifice that would bring salvation to fulfilment.

“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,” Pope Benedict wrote.

Celebrating the Eucharist, he said, “the church is able to celebrate and adore the mystery of Christ” who is present in the bread and wine through the power of the Holy Spirit.

In addition to offering a spiritual reflection on the meaning of the Eucharist, the liturgy and eucharistic adoration, Pope Benedict made several concrete suggestions for further study and for celebrating the Mass in the Latin rite:

While he encouraged wider knowledge and use of the Mass prayers in Latin and of Gregorian chant, he also repeated the synod’s affirmation of the “beneficial influence” of the liturgical changes made by the Second Vatican Council on the life of the church.

However, he also endorsed the synod’s suggestion that at Masses with a large, international congregation, the liturgy be celebrated in Latin “with the exception of the readings, the homily and the prayer of the faithful.”

He encouraged bishops’ conferences, in collaboration with the Vatican, to examine their practices for the order and timing of the sacraments of Christian initiation: Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist. The three sacraments are administered together for infants and adults in many of the Eastern churches and for adults joining the Latin rite, while children in the Latin rite usually are baptized as infants, receive first Communion around the age of seven and are confirmed several years later.

“It needs to be seen which practice better enables the faithful to put the sacrament of the Eucharist at the centre, as the goal of the whole process of initiation,” the Pope said.

In expressing his concern for the number of Catholics unable to receive Communion because of irregular marital situations, Pope Benedict confirmed church teaching that those who have been divorced and civilly remarried without having obtained an annulment are not to receive Communion.

However, the Pope encouraged bishops to ensure they have fully trained and staffed marriage tribunals to deal with annulment requests “in an expeditious manner.”

Pope Benedict said the sign of peace at Mass “has great value,” especially in demonstrating the church’s responsibility to pray for peace and unity in a world too often troubled by division, violence and hatred. While Catholics at Mass should exchange a sign of peace with those near them, he also called for “greater restraint” to ensure the moment does not become one of irreparable distraction.

In the letter, Pope Benedict also formally reaffirmed the obligation of celibacy for priests in the Latin rite and the fact that, in most cases, Catholics and other Christians should not share the Eucharist, which is a sign of full unity in faith.

He reminded Catholics of the obligation to be in a “state of grace,” free from serious sin, before receiving Communion, and of the fact that by receiving Communion they are publicly proclaiming their unity with the teaching of the church.

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