In the Heart of the Church

Homily on the Eucharist
Cardinal Francis Arinze
Given at the 49th International Eucharistic Congress
Quebec City, Canada
June 21, 2008

Our beloved Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, gives us his commandment: "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you" (Jn 15:12).

Today in this International Eucharistic Congress we focus on how we are to be witnesses to our Eucharistic Lord in the midst of the world. Mutual love is the commandment of Jesus. The Holy Eucharist calls us to this love. This love is to be exercised in the concrete situation of life in the world. This universal call to holiness is nourished by the Holy Eucharist. Those will now be the four elements for our reflection.

1. Mutual Love is the Commandment of Jesus

The Gospel just proclaimed tells us clearly that to love one another is the commandment of Jesus. We are to love one another as he has loved us. And he tells us how: "Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends" (Jn 15:13). And Jesus did just that. For love of us and for our salvation he came down from heaven (cf. Credo). For our salvation he was obedient unto death, even the death of the Cross (cf. Phil 2:8). Moreover, he gave us in his Church the Sacrifice and Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist for the supreme act of adoration and for close union with him. Indeed, Jesus has given us a supreme example of love. In the Second Reading at this Mass, Saint Paul sings the praises of love. Love is greater than speaking many languages, or prophecy, or knowledge, or faith or making large donations, or even delivering our body to be burned! Love is patient, kind, not jealous, arrogant or irritable. It rejoices in the right and endures all things (cf. 1 Co 13:1-7).

2. The Eucharistic Celebration calls us to Mutual Love

The Eucharist is not only a mystery to be believed and celebrated, but also a mystery to be lived. At the end of Mass the deacon, or the priest, tells us that we are sent to live the mystery that we have celebrated, meditated and received. The Holy Eucharist sends us to show love and solidarity to our brothers and sisters who are in need. There are first the poor, the hungry, the sick, the prisoners, the handicapped, the old, and the homeless. Works of charity done in their favour are manifestations that we are living the message of our Eucharistic celebration. But we are also sent to console those who are in sorrow, to help to liberate those held in slavery, including the victims of sexual, racial or other forms of oppression, to give hope to street children, and to help underdeveloped peoples rise to an acceptable level of human existence.

Love for our neighbour must not stop here. It has to include the spiritually hungry and needy. People are hungry for the Word of God, for the liberating Gospel of Jesus Christ. Therefore missionary work, catechesis in its many forms and leading people to the Church and to the Sacraments are necessary manifestations of love of neighbour. The Prophet Isaiah speaks of these various ways of bringing good news to the poor in the First Reading of this Mass (cf. Is 61:1-3). The Servant of God, Pope John Paul II, told us that mutual love, especially solicitude for people in need, will show that we are true disciples of Christ and prove the authenticity of our Eucharistic celebration (cf. Mane Nobiscum Domine, 28). And Pope Benedict XVI reminds us that "A Eucharist which does not pass over into the concrete practice of love is intrinsically fragmented" (Deus Caritas Est, 14).

3. In the Midst of the World

There is a relationship between the Eucharistic Celebration and social commitment. By our celebrating the paschal mysteries of Christ and receiving his Body and Blood, we are put in communion also with our brothers and sisters. We are sent to promote and live out that communion in society. We do this especially by promoting justice, peace and harmony in society. The 2005 Assembly of the Synod of Bishops declared: "All who partake of the Eucharist must commit themselves to peacemaking in our world scarred by violence and war, and today in particular, by terrorism, economic corruption and sexual exploitation" (Prop. 48). As Pope Benedict states in the Postsynodal Exhortation, Sacramentum Caritatis, "it is not the proper task of the Church to engage in the political work of bringing about the most just society possible; nonetheless she cannot and must not remain on the sidelines in the struggle for justice" (Sacramentum Caritatis, 89). The Church preaches mutual love and respect for the rights of others, beginning with the right to life, honesty and solidarity. This helps towards the conversion of hearts and the disposition of people to work out political, social, economic, and other needed solutions. In the Votive Mass of the Holy Eucharist the Church prays that "this sacrament of love be for us the sign of unity and the bond of charity," and that "the Body and Blood of Christ join all your people in brotherly love" (Roman Missal: Votive Mass of the Holy Eucharist: Prayer over the Gifts and Prayer after Communion).

4. Following the Example of the Saints

The Second Vatican Council teaches that there is a universal call to holiness: "All the faithful of Christ of whatever rank or status are called to the fullness of the Christian life and to the perfection of charity" (Lumen Gentium, 40). Every Christian witnesses to Christ and becomes holy according to that person's vocation and mission. The Holy Eucharist nourishes this life of Christian witness. Let us give examples of some Saints, many of whom are African, since this day in this Eucharistic Congress is Africa Day. Thanks to the Eucharistic Jesus, we have the martyrs of Abitina in Proconsular Africa who gave their lives rather than forgo Sunday Mass, "We cannot live without the Lord's Supper," they declared. We have Saints Perpetua and Felicitas martyred in the early Church in North Africa. We have witnesses to Christ as martyrs in defence of chastity such as Agnes of Rome, Maria Goretti of Nettuno and Anuarite Nengapeta of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. We have also martyrs in Saint Charles Lwanga and his companions of Uganda, Blessed Isidore Bakanja of Congo and Blessed David Okelo and Gilde Irwa of Uganda.

Valiant witnesses as mothers and spouses are, for example, Saint Monica, mother of Saint Augustine, Saint Gianni Beretta-Molla who preferred to die after childbirth rather than have an abortion, Luigi and Maria Beltrame-Quattrocchi, husband and wife who were beatified together in 2001, and Blessed Victoire Rasoamanarivo of Madagascar who was a model wife, widow and active lay apostle. Among priests on the African continent the world knows the great Saint Augustine and Saint Cyprian in North Africa. But we have also in our times the Blessed Cyprian Michael Tansi of Nigeria who was a model diocesan priest for 13 years and who then became a Cistercian in England for 14 years before his death in 1964.

Time does not allow me to go on listing more witnesses of Christ. These great followers of Jesus were given life by the Holy Eucharist. We are told about the mysterious bread which nourished and strengthened the prophet Elijah: "He arose, and ate and drank, and walked in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God" (1 K 19:8). In the strength of the Holy Eucharist, these witnesses to Christ in the midst of the world walked the forty days and forty nights of their earthly pilgrimage, right up to their meeting with the Lord in life eternal.


Cardinal Francis Arinze is from Nigeria and currently serves as the Prefect of the Congregation of Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments.  He was ordained a priest in 1958, and in 1967 he was ordained bishop of Onitsha, Nigeria.