Reflections on the
Apostolic Exhortation of Pope Benedict XVI
the Eucharist to enter life and change it
by Archbishop Paul Josef
President of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum
The title of the Apostolic
Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis already points to the
mystery that constitutes the heart of the Sacrament of the
Let us remember first of all that we recognize charity — agape — as
the root of this Sacrament. Indeed, it is the memorial of the death
and Resurrection of Christ. It is the constant implementation of the
mystery in which God in his love not only wished to become like us
but also to give himself to us in a form that would extend his
loving presence in every epoch, until it reached us today and every
corner of the earth.
"The Eucharist reveals the loving plan that guides all of salvation
history (cf. Eph 1:10; 3:8-11). There the Deus Trinitas, who is
essentially love (cf. I Jn 4:7-8), becomes fully a part of our human
condition. In the bread and wine, under whose appearances Christ
gives himself to us in the Paschal Meal (cf. Lk 22:14-20; I Cor
11:23-26), the entire divine life encounters us and is sacramentally
shared with us.
"God is a perfect communion of love between Father, Son and Holy
Spirit. At creation itself, man was called to have some share in
God's breath of life (cf. Gn 2:7). But it is in Christ, dead and
risen, and in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, given without
measure (cf. Jn 3:34), that we have become sharers of God's inmost
life" (n. 8).
It is therefore in the Trinitarian life that we must seek the
origins of the Eucharist, the sacrament of charity, hence, of all
charity. We have a true reflection of it in the gift which Christ
made of himself for the world's salvation.
The charity which the Church spreads throughout the world is not
rooted in human good will, neither is it a form of heroism or merely
the result of commitment.
It cannot be understood outside of divine revelation.
In Christ on the Cross, the abyss of divine charity which reveals
and teaches us the true meaning of love is opened to us.
In the celebration of this Sacrament, the believer is enabled to
give himself to his neighbour so that the moral life of the faithful
is extended. Much depends on our readiness to be open to signs.
It is necessary first of all to learn to exercise in the celebration
the whole of our humanity, including the senses which God has given
us, hearing and sight.
Real encounter with God's
The Eucharist is not a rite to be celebrated but rather a place
where God truly manifests himself in signs which our sensibility,
together with our intelligence and our will, is called to accept.
Indeed, even "physical" communion is brought about in it, the real
meeting with his love that is given.
Precisely in this regard I remember the prayer that the priest would
say after Communion in its original form: "Quod ore sumpsimus, mente
capiamus": the mystery celebrated becomes part of life and changes
And this communion is extended in turn to all the brothers and
sisters, to the Body of the Church. This is what the Holy Father
wrote in his Encyclical Deus Caritas Est: "In sacramental
Communion I become one with the Lord, like all the other
communicants. As St. Paul says, 'Because there is one bread, we who
are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread' (I Cor
10:17). Union with Christ is also union with all those to whom he
gives himself" (n. 14).
It is from this intense participation in Christ that brotherly love
Once again, in the words of the Encyclical: "Communion draws me out
of myself towards him, and thus also towards unity with all
Christians. We become 'one body', completely joined in a single
existence. Love of God and love of neighbour are now truly united:
God incarnate draws us all to himself.
"We can thus understand how agape also became a term for the
Eucharist: there God's own agape comes to us bodily in order to
continue his work in us and through us. Only by keeping in mind this
Christological and sacramental basis can we correctly understand
Jesus' teaching on love.
"The transition which he makes from the Law and the Prophets to the
twofold commandment of love of God and of neighbour, and his
grounding the whole life of faith. on this central precept, is not
simply a matter of morality — something that could exist apart from
and alongside faith in Christ and its sacramental re-actualization.
"Faith, worship and ethos are interwoven as a single reality which
takes shape in our encounter with God's agape. Here the usual
contraposition between worship and ethics simply falls apart.
"'Worship' itself, Eucharistic communion, includes the reality both
of being loved and of loving others in turn. A Eucharist which does
not pass over into the concrete practice of love is intrinsically
"Conversely, as we shall have to consider in greater detail below,
the 'commandment' of love is only possible because it is more than a
requirement. Love can be 'commanded' because it has first been
True charity rooted in
It is impossible to ' understand or to establish the charitable
activity of the Church's members outside personal participation in
All this can then be summed up in the recognition that charity is
the experience of love received from God, which qualifies Christians
for a life of love.
In other words, the Eucharist generates in an individual member of
the faithful the power to give life in the measure of Christ whom we
receive in the Sacrament. In this way every faithful person,
nourished by Christ's charity, like the Son of God becomes a gift
for others. And it is precisely this existential implication which
in turn witnesses to the authenticity of the life of faith and its
However, it is in turn its condition, since the Sacrament is
effective to the extent that the human heart is willing to allow the
mystery to be brought about within it.
This personal dynamic was unfolded in the course of the Church's
history and produced an untold number of works that are an
expression of divine charity.
Motivated by this same dynamic, a vast number of lay people,
missionaries, priests and founders of orders and congregations
expressed in practical initiatives the love of God, his closeness to
men and women, his mystery of communion which calls all people to
This is the mission of the Church which she has exercised for the
poor and for the lowliest, perhaps as no other, impressing the
indelible mark of charity upon human civilization.
The Apostolic Exhortation Sacramenturn Caritatis takes up
these points: "'The bread I will give is my flesh, for the life of
the world' (Jn 6:51). In these words the Lord reveals the true
meaning of the gift of his life for all people. These words also
reveal his deep compassion for every man and woman. The Gospels
frequently speak of Jesus' feelings towards others, especially the
suffering and sinners (cf. Mt 20:34; Mk 6:34; Lk 19:41).
"Through a profoundly human sensibility he expresses God's saving
will for all people — that each may have true life. Each celebration
of the Eucharist makes sacramentally present the gift that Jesus
made of his life on the Cross, for us and for the whole world".
At the same time, "in the Eucharist Jesus also makes us witnesses of
God's compassion towards all our brothers and sisters. The
Eucharistic mystery thus gives rise to a service of charity towards
neighbour" (cf. Sacramentum Caritatis, n. 88).
The reality of the sacrament induces the real gift. Without the
Eucharist, there is no ecclesial communio and without the Eucharist
there is likewise no ecclesial charity.
Sacramentum Caritatis presents to the faithful a journey of
the rediscovery of the roots of our commitment to human beings.
We are grateful to the Holy Father who has thus desired to point out
further to all those who work with great merit in the sector of
charity that the Eucharist is a continuous source of vitality for
our work on behalf of humankind.
© Copyright L'Osservatore Romano
October 3, 2007