Summit and Source

Summit and Source

Chapter V of Ecclesia de Eucharistia is entitled ‘The Dignity of the Eucharistic Celebration’. The chapter begins by recalling the preparations that were made for the Last Supper. Similar planning is needed today to ensure that the eucharistic banquet is celebrated with dignity and in a worthy setting. The vestments, vessels and furnishings used in the celebration must be able to ‘bear the weight’ of the eucharistic mystery that they convey.

John Paul II draws on his own experience to affirm the value of inculturation in liturgy: “In my numerous Pastoral Visits I have seen, throughout the world, the great vitality which the celebration of the Eucharist can have when marked by the forms, styles and sensibilities of different cultures. By adaptation to the changing conditions of time and place, the Eucharist offers sustenance not only to individuals but to entire peoples.” (#51)

The chapter ends with a call for all the faithful, priests especially, to observe the liturgical norms set down for the celebration of the Eucharist.

The final chapter of the document, ‘At the School of Mary, Woman of the Eucharist’, is the briefest and, in many ways, the most original. It links Mary, mother of the Church, to the Church’s celebration pf the Eucharist.

Firstly, a parallel is drawn between Mary’s Fiat (‘May it be done to me’) in response to the angel who announced that she was to bear the Son of God for the world, and our Amen (‘May it be so’) at Communion when we give our assent to receive, and be for others, the Body of Christ.

We are also reminded that Mary is present as the Mother of the Church at every celebration of the Eucharist. That is why the commemoration of Mary is always part of the Eucharistic celebrations of the Churches of both East and West.

Finally, a comparison is made between the Canticle of Mary (the Magnificat) and the Eucharistic Prayer. Both are prayers of thanks and praise for the great things God has done, particularly for the gift of our salvation in Christ.

This document about the importance of the Eucharist to the Church comes at a time when the Eucharist is becoming less accessible in many places because of the declining number of priests.

John Paul II acknowledges this reality and pays tribute to those who accept the responsibility of leading the community’s worship: “Those religious and laity who lead their brothers and sisters in prayer exercise in a praiseworthy way the common priesthood of all the faithful based on the grace of Baptism.” (#32)

However, he calls on lay pastoral leaders to keep alive in the community a genuine hunger for the Eucharist and to take advantage of every opportunity for the celebration of Mass, because no Christian community can be built up unless it is centred on the Eucharist.

As the encyclical draws to a close, we are reminded that the Eucharist is the summit of the Church’s activity: “Every commitment to holiness, every activity aimed at carrying out the Church’s mission, every work of pastoral planning … must be directed to the Eucharistic mystery as its culmination” (#60), and the source that enables us to be people of hope in our world: “In the humble signs of bread and wine, changed into his body and blood, Christ walks beside us as our strength and our food for the journey, and he enables us to become, for everyone, witnesses of hope.” (#62)

Elizabeth Harrington