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The first chapter of Ecclesia de Eucharistia spells out very clearly the nature of the Eucharist as memorial.
When we celebrate the Eucharist, we do not mentally travel back in time and remember what happened on Calgary 2000 years ago. Rather, our recalling the events of the paschal mystery – Christ’s life, death and resurrection – brings this great act of our salvation into the present so that we become part of the story and participate in it.
The Eucharist is the perpetuation of the sacrifice of the cross down through the ages: “When the Church celebrates the Eucharist, the memorial of the Lord’s death and resurrection, this central event of salvation becomes really present and the work of our redemption is carried out.” (# 11)
To counteract a heresy that has arisen at times in the past, the encyclical emphasises that the Eucharist does not repeat, or add to, the unique and perfect sacrifice of Christ.
“The Mass makes present the sacrifice of the Cross; it does not add to the sacrifice nor does it multiply it. What is repeated is its memorial celebration, its ‘commemorative representation’, which makes Christ’s one, redemptive sacrifice always present in time.” (# 12)
We are reminded that the Eucharist makes present not only the mystery of the Saviour’s passion and death but also the mystery of the resurrection, the climax of his sacrifice: “It is as the living and risen One that Christ can become in the Eucharist the ‘bread of life’, the ‘living bread’.” (# 14)
The culmination of the eucharistic celebration is the reception of communion. We are incorporated into Christ through Baptism, a unique ‘once only’ event. This incorporation is constantly renewed and consolidated in the Eucharist, especially by that full sharing that takes place in sacramental communion.
Participation in eucharistic communion also increases within us the gift of the Holy Spirit which is poured out in Baptism and bestowed as a ‘seal’ in the sacrament of Confirmation.
The final section of Chapter 2 repeats a theme introduced earlier in the document and repeated throughout: the unifying nature and power of the Eucharist.
We pray in the Eucharistic Prayer of the Mass that “we who are nourished by his body and blood may be filled with his Holy Spirit, and become one body, one spirit in Christ”.
To underscore this understanding of the Eucharist as a sacrament of unity, John Paul II quotes from the writings of St Paul:
“The bread which we break, is it not a communion in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” (1 Cor 10: 16-17),
and from St John Chrysostom:
“For what is the bread? It is the body of Christ. And what do those who receive it become? The Body of Christ – not many bodies but one body. For as bread is completely one, though made up of many grains of wheat, so too are we mutually joined to one another and together united in Christ.”
In what way does our sharing in the one Body of Christ make us a sign and instrument of unity to our divided world?