Reflections on the Apostolic Exhortation of Pope Benedict
by Josť Cardinal Saraiva Martins, C.M.F.
Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints
"Sacramentum caritatis": with this phrase
borrowed from St. Thomas, Benedict XVI emphasizes the intrinsic
relationship between the Eucharist and charity, thus declaring
that the Eucharist is a love story, that is, intimately close to
every believer: "In the Sacrament of the Altar, the Lord meets
us, men and women created in God's image and likeness (cf. Gn.
1:27), and becomes our companion along the way" (n. 2).
In our imagination we can accompany the disciples of Emmaus (cf.
Lk 24:1315) to hear Christ explain the Scriptures once again.
While in the modest home of Cleopas, "he went to stay with them.
When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed
and broke it, and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened
and they recognized him" (Lk 24:29-31).
The Eucharist turns out to be a continuous presence of God's
love which comes to encounter the great expectation of communion
that man needs. With the disciples one can discover how: "The
Eucharist reveals the loving plan that guides all of salvation
history.... There the Deus Trinitatis, 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..., God's whole life
encounters us and is sacramentally shared with us. God is a
perfect communion of love between Father, Son and Holy
Spirit.... But it is in Christ, dead and risen, and in the
outpouring of the Holy Spirit,... that we have become sharers of
God's inmost life" (n. 8).
Divine, human collaboration
In line with this intuition, one can catch a glimpse in the
human work that collaborates with the divine creation of the
bread and the wine in a supremely sacred act. If the Eucharist
is a sign and reality of the interdivine communion, holiness is
also donation, communion, transformation in God-Trinity of Love,
by the work of the Spirit.
This is another way to define the holiness that is thrice Holy
(cf. Is 6:3, cited in Rv 4:8), in which man participates through
the Sacrament of Baptism and nourished by the Eucharist. In
fact, one reads in the Exhortation: "It must never be forgotten
that our reception of Baptism and Confirmation is ordered to the
Eucharist.... The Holy Eucharist, then, brings Christian
initiation to completion and represents the centre and goal of
all sacramental life" (n. 17), therefore of the journey of
The Document emphasizes this relationship between the Eucharist
and holiness: "In Christ, Head of his Body, the Church, all
Christians are 'a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy
nation, a people [God] claims for his own, to declare his
wonderful deeds' (I Pt 2:9).
"The Eucharist, as a mystery to be 'lived', meets each of us as
we are and makes our concrete existence the place where we
experience daily the radical newness of the Christian life.
"The Eucharistic sacrifice nourishes and increases within us all
that we have already received at Baptism with its call to
holiness, and this must be clearly evident from the way
individual Christians live their lives" (n. 79).
In this last passage we can detect the hidden meaning of
Christian holiness, to "become Eucharist", a gift of love for
others, as so many Saint's and Blessed's witness, whose
"holiness has always found its centre in the Sacrament of the
Eucharist" (n. 94).
Hence, the centrality of the Eucharist in the itinerary of
holiness, as the Exhortation affirms: "The Eucharist is at the
root of every form of holiness, and each of us is called to the
fullness of life in the Holy Spirit. How many times Saints have
advanced along the way of perfection thanks to their Eucharistic
Becoming bread for others
This is why every Christian, because he or she is truly
inhabited by Christ like the host after consecration, must allow
his Flesh and Blood to become "nourishment" for his neighbour,
exactly as it happens in the Eucharist.
Men and women of all times and of all social conditions,
canonized or not, have manifested the holiness of the Church in
the fruits of grace that the Spirit has produced in them. In the
unfolding of their lives they have expressed "the perfection of
love" (Lumen Gentium, n. 39) to which all are called,
according to the affirmation of St. Paul: "For this is the will
of God, your sanctification" (I Thes 4:3).
Here is an allusion to the correspondence between the faith
lived in the Sacrament of the Eucharist and the holiness of life
witnessed to in the ordinary events of daily life.
In other words, whoever lives the Eucharist has the duty in life
to communicate the gift of his or her permanent encounter with
the love of God, who made himself life-giving bread, in order to
build a holy and Immaculate Church.
This Eucharistic coherency, or better said, this fidelity to
"God with us and in us", is to be expressed in all one's
personal life choices and also in public witness, as stated in
n. 82 of the Exhortation:
"In discovering the beauty of the Eucharistic form of the
Christian life, we are also led to reflect on the moral energy
it provides for sustaining the authentic freedom of the children
of God. Here I wish to take up a subject that came up during the
Synod about the connection between the Eucharistic form of life
and moral transformation.
"Pope John Paul II stated that the moral life 'has the value of
a "spiritual worship" (Rom 12:1; cf. Phil 3:3), flowing from and
nourished by that inexhaustible source of holiness and
glorification of God which is found in the sacraments,
especially in the Eucharist: by sharing in the sacrifice of the
Cross, the Christian partakes of Christ's self-giving love and
is equipped and committed to live this same charity in all his
thoughts and deeds'.
"In a word, 'worship' itself, Eucharistic communion, includes
the reality both of being loved and of loving others in turn"
(cf. n. 82).
Moreover, we can still say that there must be a strict
correspondence and reciprocity between the Eucharist as "the
Lord drawing near" and holiness of life that enables the
interior life to transpire and vice-versa.
Interiorize to externalize
The Exhortation clearly states it in these terms: "Today, there
is a need to rediscover that Jesus Christ is not just a private
conviction or an abstract idea, but a real person, whose
becoming part of human history is capable of renewing the life
of every man and woman. Hence, the Eucharist, as the source and
summit of the Church's life and mission, must be translated into
spirituality, into a life lived 'according to the Spirit' (Rom
8:4ff.; cf. Gal 5:16, 25)" (n. 77).
Life according to the Spirit of the Risen One means to live a
"holy Christian life" able to renew and affect human society.
More properly speaking, it concerns the "sanctification of the
world", beginning from the Sacrament of Love given.
This is what the Apostolic Exhortation affirms: "[T]o develop a
profound Eucharistic spirituality that is also capable of
significantly affecting the fabric of society, the Christian
people... should be conscious that they do so in the name of all
creation, aspiring to the sanctification of the world and
working intensely to that end. The Eucharist itself powerfully
illuminates human history and the whole cosmos.... The rite...
leads us to see the world as God's creation, which brings forth
everything we need for our sustenance. The world is not
something indifferent.... Rather, it is part of God's good plan,
in which all of us are called to be sons and daughters in the
one Son of God, Jesus Christ (cf. Eph 1:4-12)" (n. 92).
This is an indirect reminder of the "Eucharistic presence" in
the whole universe and a reminder of the consecrated bread and
wine, more visible and palpable to us every day.
Mystery and Sacrament
These weighty words of the Pontiff form a true and proper
mystagogical catechesis on the central and highest Sacrament of
the Christian life. One is not mistaken to identify mystery as
the category sustaining his Exhortation, which bears a specific
importance if one thinks that the original Greek term mysterion
has been translated into sacramentum; in the reciprocal
recalling of these terms, the ultimate sense of the mystery is
clarified, from which the mystic, understood as one who
experiences the Mystery of God who is Love, lovingly knocks at
the door of the Christian heart to have supper with him (cf. Rv
From this comes the link between mystery-mystic-holiness in
order to help us understand that holiness consists, in practice,
in mystically and sacramentally reliving, but not less really,
the Paschal Mystery or, more precisely, the wedding of the Lamb
(Rv 19:7), or the new and eternal covenant sealed in the Blood
of Christ, as n. 9 of the Exhortation affirms. The ultimate
sense of the Eucharist is that it is a continuous donation which
is never exhausted because in it divine love is active.
Paul was right when he saw a sign of the mystery of Christ in
human love. The term "mystery" in Greek indicates a verbal root
that refers to the contemplative silence typical of the saints
and mystics: this encounter is a sign of a communication of the
Faith in the Eucharistic mystery leads to contemplation of the
Word made flesh, to reach that fullness of dialogue with God
exactly as the one who is before the Eucharist in silence, which
is not the absence of words but fullness of divine intimacy, and
still more an embrace with God Love, which formally constitutes
The urgency for all Christians to make time for silent
contemplation in order to allow themselves to be humbly
enlightened by the Sacrament of Love derives from this.
Thus, the Eucharist leads to discovering the primacy of the
contemplative vocation, which we all need to discover ourselves
in the God of Jesus Christ, together with his Saints.
© Copyright L'Osservatore Romano
August 29, 2007