The Eucharist sanctifies the institution of the Church

  • June 18, 2008

{mosimage}QUEBEC CITY - Human beings may be fallible but the Catholic Church as an institution remains sanctified through the Eucharist, says Argentinian Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, S.J.

And it is this sanctified institution that always deserves defending, even if its individual members err, the archbishop of Buenos Aires and primate of Argentina explained in a large catechesis session here at the 49th International Eucharistic Congress June 18.

“The assurance of sanctity of the life of the church is not a question of personal or social privilege,” he said. “It is ordained for service.” Bergoglio noted that the “world really has the impression the church is always trying to defend its own power.”

However, though individuals have abused their power, the sanctity of the church — through the gift of God in the Eucharist — remains intact.

The cardinal's talk was one of five major lectures being presented at the June 15-22 congress. In it, he urged Catholics to look to the example of Mary as a guide to their own attitude toward Eucharist. Bergoglio also used the metaphor of the marriage nuptials to explain the nature of the covenant between God and His people.

He explained that the Eucharist is a gift that transforms those who receive it. It is both “sanctified and sanctifying,” he said.

He used the analogy of the marriage ceremony, with its anticipation of a life-long commitment in love, as a parallel to the Eucharist. The church, in this sense, is the bride and her reception of God's gift allows her “to share the life the Lord has given to her for the life of the world.”

Bergoglio also reflected on the life of Mary, Mother of God, as an example of perfect submission to the will of God. She is, he explained, a role model of one who accompanies Christ, trusts the Lord completely and lives in hope.

“We find in the Magnificat (Mary's affirmation of her role in the birth of Christ) the very program of what she is teaching us,” he said.

Mary’s deep relationship with the Eucharist can guide us and allow us to get closer to God. She is the “model of the bond between the Lord and his bride, the church, between God and each man,” the Cardinal said.

He compared Mary to a set of Russian dolls “in the same way that a set of Russian dolls includes others that are smaller, but essentially identical, our Lady is the smallest of the Russian dolls. Because we see in her the mystery of the bond that allows the gift of God to be accepted and communicated for the life of the world.”

Catholics can ask for the grace to receive Communion in the same way as Mary received the Word. And Catholics must venerate the Church in the same way that they do the Virgin Mary and the Eucharist, he said.

The cardinal’s theological reflections presented a of the church that is sharply at odds with those of fellow Jesuit Guy Paiement, who published an article earlier on in the year on the web site Journees Sociales du Quebec criticizing the focus on the Eucharist of the Eucharistic Congress.

“The Eucharistic Congress proposes a ceremony centred on the adoration of the consecrated bread,” Paiement wrote in the article that was quoted on 14 June in Le Devoir, a French daily newspaper based in Montreal.

“We believe that the Christian identity cannot be restricted to such a devotion.” Paiement wrote that Christians today should take action to show “solidarity and commitment towards equality between men and women, democratic life, international justice and saving the planet.”

For Bergoglio, the Eucharist must be at the centre of the church. Describing the Eucharist as the “source and at the same time the summit of all evangelization,” and a force that purifies and sanctifies the church, the cardinal said that the bond between the Eucharist and the church is one that cannot be broken.

(With files from Mary Durran/CNS)

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