Eucharistic Heart: Cardinal George Pell
Eucharist: Heart Of Our Faith
By Cardinal George Pell
Archbishop of Sydney, Australia
15 May 2005
Easter, the Catholic Church has received unusual press coverage;
unusual in its volume and in its tone.
death and funeral of Pope John Paul II and the election of Pope
Benedict XVI were celebrated by two Masses in St. Peter’s Square,
Rome. The funeral brought mixed emotions; sadness at the death of a
great pope, relief that his suffering was ended, hope because of our
belief in life after death. Pope Benedict’s inaugural Mass was a
joyful occasion as we prayed that God will bless the new pope and
Peter's Square provided a grand setting. There were hundreds of
thousands of worshippers, many national leaders and representatives
of other Christian churches; but at the centre of it all was the
same simple rite of the Mass, the same celebration of the Eucharist
which we have in our parish churches.
WHAT IS THE MASS?
Eucharist is the heart of our faith. It is an act of worship, of
prayer to the one true God through Jesus Christ, His Son. It is a
memorial to the death and resurrection of Jesus, a sacrament of
love, a sign of world-wide unity, a bond of charity, and an
anticipation of eternal life.
Outsiders, those without Christian faith, can admire this ancient
ritual, but only those who believe can understand fully and be said
to participate. We will always be disappointed if we think of the
Mass as a concert or performance, where we regularly need a fresh
angle or a new act. The Mass draws its strength from tradition,
repetition, and familiarity.
can be difficult, especially for young people, busy with study,
sport, work, family and friends, to believe in the reality of an
unseen God worthy of our worship; or even to believe that love is of
first importance, that it will prevail over evil and suffering.
These pressures can distort our understanding of the Eucharist and
our willingness to give it proper time.
pressure against Christian faith can sometimes seem relentless,
urging us that God is too distant, that Christian teachings are too
demanding, too old fashioned. To give in to these pressures is a
So too it is a mistake to believe that by abandoning Christ or
redefining sinfulness we escape from feeling guilty.
who feels no guilt or shame is not fully human, but a psychopath.
We all make mistakes and should regret this. The only true escape
from guilt is to repent of our sins, to believe through faith that
God forgives us, and to begin again on the right path.
Eucharist we rejoice in the availability of God’s forgiveness,
because we commemorate the liberation achieved by Christ’s suffering
and death on the cross. Eucharist means to give thanks, especially
SYMBOLS AND REALITY
Jesus Christ was born, the Son of God took on a human nature. God
became more accessible to us, so that in Jesus we see God the
respects and loves the universe that He has created, especially man
and woman who are the centre piece of this immense masterpiece.
creation is not second rate and certainly not sinful. Matter is
good and important. So we can understand why God’s Spirit in the
sacraments always requires material creation.
Therefore it comes as no surprise that in all the sacraments Christ
and the Church have decreed that symbols should be used. Water and
oil are used at baptism and confirmation, while bread and wine are
used at Mass and turned into the Body and Blood of Christ.
another deeper level to this symbolism when we eat the bread and
drink the wine which the priest has consecrated to become the Body
and Blood of Christ.
Jews left Jesus when He told them they would have to eat his Body
and drink his Blood. They were scandalized (John 6: 48-66).
Similarly today even good Christians can be surprised to hear
Catholic teaching that the bread and wine are not just symbols, but
become the Body and Blood, the soul and divinity of Jesus Christ Our
Lord. So we speak of the “real presence” of Jesus in the host.
receive Jesus into our hearts at Communion spiritually and into our
bodies actually as we consume the host. So women of faith have
explained that after communion they feel like a princess, like Our
Lady herself at the Annunciation when Jesus was conceived and
present in her body.
BACKWARDS AND FORWARDS
origins of the Eucharistic prayers and actions derive of course from
Jesus’ Last Supper, celebrated with the apostles on the night before
ritual in turn was rooted in Jewish customs from the Old Testament.
The unleavened bread eaten each Passover feast commemorates the
Jewish exodus from Egypt. We also remember the manna they received
to sustain them in the desert. We recall too the priest Melchisedec
from the first book of the Bible offering bread and wine (Genesis
there would have been no point to the Last Supper on Holy Thursday
without Jesus’ death on Good Friday.
not having another restrained and old fashioned community
celebration at the Eucharist. It is not a quaint party, often with
unusual readings and music. In faith we are celebrating the death
of the Lord until He comes again. The power of the universe has
acted through His Son, the sacrificial Lamb of God who takes away
the sins of the world. It is this gaining of salvation through
Jesus’ unique sacrifice that we commemorate in every Mass.
also look forward because Holy Communion is what St. Ignatius of
Antioch, who martyred in the Colosseum in 107AD, called “the
medicine of immortality”. Holy Communion in particular, and all the
sacraments, give us the spiritual energy or grace to enjoy happiness
after death. In fact the Eucharist is a foretaste of the heavenly
banquet to come.
the Mass is such an important event we need to work to participate
properly. Mass is not an opportunity to relax and daydream, to let
our minds wander wherever they might. We are called to participate,
with our hearts, minds and bodies. Such participation must be
internal and spiritual; it requires periods of silence and
listening, but above all it requires prayer.
is only a “good Mass” when it is prayerful.
THE EUCHARIST AND THE WORLD
always tension between good and evil and sometimes there is open and
even terrible conflict. We have only to look at the world around
us, at the terrorism, the wars, the activities of drug rings, the
waves of pornography.
Testament times marriage imagery has been used to describe the
relationship between God and His chosen people. So too theologians
speak of Christ as the bridegroom and the whole Catholic community
as His bride.
accurately speak of Jesus facing death to save his bride, the
Church, just as we speak of Christ as a warrior dedicated to
defeating the power of evil. The Eucharist is a kind of celebration
of this marriage and of this total giving unto death.
Eucharist in particular should give us the strength and energy to
take God’s love into the world. But for this to be effective every
lover must be a fighter.
cannot follow Christ without a struggle, without fighting and
battling to control and purify our selfish instincts.
called to fight and battle against evil in its many forms. We know
that evil will triumph if enough people do nothing.
parents will battle to protect their children. People will even
give their lives for great causes, to defend their country.
think a Christian can say “I’m a lover, not a fighter”. The
Eucharist gives us energy for this essential struggle. It is no
coincidence that Catholic people pray the Mass at important times;
for marriages, deaths, at times of tragedy and times of challenge.
There were many more people at Mass after September 11 and the Bali
the last ten years or so, there has been a revival of the ancient
medieval practice of prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. An
increased number of parishes now has a weekly period of such
adoration. There is a hunger in our busy, distracted society for
silence and contemplation, and an encouraging number of young people
feel that the celebration of Benediction and quiet prayer meet this
need. Such devotions enrich us personally and prepare us better for
participation at Mass.
Attendance at Mass is not an optional extra for Catholics but part
of the obligations we assume by being followers of Christ.
Power of the universe is made available to us through the
sacraments, and especially the Mass, we have to realise that going
to Mass is not like visiting a distribution point for tea and
Participation requires a level of faith and understanding, a serious
effort to repent of our sins so that we are in a worthy state, able
to participate truly and honestly, rather than making a show. Those
in serious unrepented sin should not go to receive communion,
although all are welcome in Church to pray.
about the Eucharist highlights the debt of the Catholic community
towards their priests, and as archbishop I gratefully acknowledge
the wonderful support the Catholic community gives to them, as I
acknowledge the faith and fidelity of the priests themselves.
the Catholics of Sydney to continue to pray for their priests and to
pray for more seminarians and priests. The Eucharist is the heart
of our faith and for the Eucharist to be celebrated we need more
priests and people.
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