Reflections on the Apostolic Exhortation of Pope Benedict
Renewal depends on
faith and Eucharistic worship
by Angelo Cardinal Schola
Patriarch of Venice
1. In the space of love
It is not by chance that among all the names attributed to the
Eucharist down the centuries the Holy Father chose as the title
of this Document one of St. Thomas Aquinas' definitions of the
Eucharistic Mystery: Sacramentum Caritatis. Indeed, for Aquinas,
the memorial of the gift that Christ makes of himself in his
Body and his Blood is the supreme sacrament of divine love.
Thus, the profound magisterium of Deus Caritas Est shines out in
the Apostolic Exhortation. In these past two years of his
Pontificate, the Holy Father's insistence on the truth of love
states clearly that we are facing one of the crucial themes on
which the future of the Church and of humanity is staked. Even
if the Pope had not explicitly affirmed: "I wish to set the
present Exhortation alongside my first Encyclical Letter, Deus
Caritas Est" (Sacramentum Caritatis, n. 5), his frequent
references to the Encyclical would have sufficed to confirm it
(cf. nn. 5, 9, 11, 82, 88, 89).
Jesus' Eucharistic love continues to astound us. It astounded
the Twelve when he knelt to wash their feet, loving them "to the
very end"; it astounded the disciples at Emmaus in the breaking
of the bread. He is the incarnate love of God who by his nature
is always amazing. That "Eucharistic amazement" of which the
Servant of God John Paul II spoke with effective intensity, is
proposed as the main way, accessible to the men and women of our
time, to experience love.
2. A fruit of the Synod
The long, well-structured development of the 11th Ordinary
Assembly of the Synod of Bishops (cf. nn. 3-4) has produced its
most mature fruit in Sacramentum Caritatis, Pope Benedict XVI's
Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation on the Eucharist as the
Source and Summit of the Church's Life and Mission.
It is well known that within the Papal Magisterium, Post-Synodal
Apostolic Exhortations are a specific "literary genre". In them,
the Supreme Pontiff authoritatively gathers, confirms and
deepens what has been communicated, discussed and approved in
the course of the Synod, from the convocation of the Assembly to
Thus, in the text of Sacramentum Caritatis, we hear the implicit
or explicit resonance of the various documents that accompanied
the Synod: from the Lineamenta to the Instrumentum Laboris, from
the two Relationes, ante et post Disceptationem, to the 50
Propositiones drafted by the circuli minores and approved by the
Likewise, in the Synod Hall we could hear the echo of
off-the-cuff interventions — desired for the first time by
Benedict XVI — which, in addition to their doctrinal
contribution frequently offered moving accounts of various
communities and their Pastors. At times even at the risk of
their lives, Christians are spreading Christ's loving charity
which they celebrate in the mystery.
3. New studies
If, on the one hand, the Apostolic Exhortation is the ripe fruit
of a journey completed, on the other it explicitly sets for
itself the goal of paving the way to a further deepening.
Actually, its aim is "to offer some basic directions aimed at a
renewed commitment to Eucharistic enthusiasm and fervor in the
Church" (n. 5).
With this in view, the publication of a Eucharistic Compendium,
as the Synod Fathers suggested (cf. n. 93), will also make a
II. An act of 'receptio'
of the conciliar teaching
1. A well-structured unity
Reading and studying the Exhortation are facilitated by its
layout, as well structured as it is close-knit. It rests on
three inseparable interconnected aspects: Eucharistic Mystery,
liturgical action and new spiritual worship. This is the very
pivot on which is hinged the entire teaching that the Holy
Father has desired to present in the Exhortation.
Indeed, he states: "I wish here to endorse the wishes expressed
by the Synod Fathers by encouraging the Christian people to
deepen their understanding of the relationship between the
Eucharistic Mystery, the liturgical action and the new spiritual
worship which derives from the Eucharist as the sacrament of
charity" (n. 5).
The Exhortation is consequently structured in three parts, each
of which examines in depth one of the three dimensions of the
Eucharist, overcoming any juxtaposition of doctrine, liturgical
praxis and Christian life. The three parts of the text — The
Eucharist, a mystery to be believed; The Eucharist, a mystery to
be celebrated and The Eucharist, a mystery to be lived — are so
closely bound together that the content of each part enlightens
the other two.
Moreover, a significant achievement of the Synod's work has
been, precisely, to overcome some dualism — for example, between
Eucharistic faith and rite, celebration and worship, doctrine
and pastoral care — which at times is still present in the life
of the Ecclesial Community and in theological reflection.
This is by virtue of the innovative affirmation of the
centrality of liturgical action in the Church's life. Indeed, it
is the heart of the whole text.
At the very beginning of Part Two, recalling the classical axiom
lex orandi — lex credendi, Benedict XVI says: "[T]he Eucharist
should be experienced as a mystery of faith, celebrated
authentically and with a clear awareness that 'the intellectus
fidei has a primordial relationship to the Church's liturgical
action'. Theological reflection in this area can never prescind
from the sacramental order instituted by Christ himself. On the
other hand, the liturgical action can never be considered
generically, prescinding from the mystery of faith" (n. 34).
The Holy Father's teaching clearly illustrates how the
Liturgical action (a mystery to celebrate) is that specific
action which makes conformation of Christian life (a mystery to
live, a new devotion) possible to faith (a mystery to believe).
In the Eucharistic rite (cf. nn. 3, 6, 38, 40), the place of
traditio par excellence, the Christian receives (receptio) the
gift of Christ himself to become, by virtue of faith and
sacramental regeneration, a member of his Body which is the
2. 'Ars celebrandi' and 'actuosa participatio'
A second doctrinal innovation of great importance presented by
the Exhortation must be interpreted in the light of this
fundamental achievement. It is a teaching that aspires to foster
a further deepening of liturgical reform and the renewal of
celebratory practices in Christian communities.
I am referring to the importance of the ars celebrandi (art of
celebrating) for an ever more actuosa participatio (active, full
and fruitful participation). In fact, with reference to
celebration, the Document's insistence on the dependence of the
actuosa participatio on the ars celebrandi is particularly
In taking up Propositio 2 approved by the Synodal Assembly,
Benedict XVI asserts that "the ars celebrandi is the best way to
ensure their actuosa participatio. The ars celebrandi is the
fruit of faithful adherence to the liturgical norms in all their
richness; indeed, for 2,000 years this way of celebrating has
sustained the faith life of all believers, called to take part
in the celebration as the People of God, a royal priesthood, a
holy nation (cf. I Pt 2:4-5, 9)" (n. 38).
3. New, creative presentation of 'Sacrosanctum Concilium'
Benedict XVI's teaching on the inseparable unity between faith
professed, liturgical action and new worship thus proves to be a
development of n. 7 of the Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium:
"Every liturgical celebration, because it is an action of Christ
the Priest and of his Body, which is the Church, is a sacred
action surpassing all others. No other action of the Church can
equal its efficacy by the same title and to the same degree".
Benedict XVI's teaching in this regard represents a paradigm of
the reception of the conciliar texts. We are in the presence of
that hermeneutic of continuity which the Holy Father has
explicitly mentioned as the necessary key to understanding and
accepting the Second Vatican Council (cf. n. 3, note 6).
III. Structure and
content of the Exhortation
It is now opportune to sum up the content of the three parts of
the Exhortation, reflecting on certain doctrinal aspects and on
the precious pastoral guidelines presented in them.
In this regard, it is useful to note, incidentally, that
Sacramentum Caritatis offers at least 50 practical liturgical or
pastoral suggestions. By virtue, precisely, of the profoundly
unitary structure of the Exhortation, in presenting the
individual contents of each part it will be impossible not to
highlight the connections with the subjects found in the other
two parts of the Document.
1. Eucharist, mystery to be believed:
The gift of the Trinity
In Part One (nn. 6-33) the mystery of the Eucharist is
illustrated with reference to its Trinitarian origins which
assure the permanent character of the gift (cf. nn. 7-8): "This
is an absolutely free gift, the superabundant fulfillment of
God's promises. The Church receives, celebrates and adores this
gift in faithful obedience" (n. 8).
The deep root of all that the Exhortation teaches on adoration
and its intrinsic relationship with the Eucharistic celebration
(cf. nn. 66-69) is found in this teaching: "Eucharistic
Adoration is simply the natural consequence of the Eucharistic
celebration, which is itself the Church's supreme act of
adoration" (n. 66).
The importance of the practice of Eucharistic Adoration (cf. n.
67) and the forms of Eucharistic devotion (cf. n. 68) are then
Christological institution, Spirit work
The Holy Father's affirmations on the institution of the
Eucharist in relation to the Jewish Passover meal (cf. n. 10),
which refer to his Discourse in the hall on 6 October 2005, are
particularly meaningful and nourished by a strong ecumenical
inspiration: "By his command to 'do this in remembrance of me' (Lk
22:19; I Cor 11:25), he asks us to respond to his gift and to
make it sacramentally present.
"In these words the Lord expresses, as it were, his expectation
that the Church, born of his sacrifice, will receive this gift,
developing under the guidance of the Holy Spirit the liturgical
form of the Sacrament. The remembrance of his perfect gift
consists not in the mere repetition of the Last Supper, but in
the Eucharist itself, that is, in the radical newness of
Christian worship" (n. 11).
This is a crucial passage for shedding light on the radical
novum brought about by Jesus within the ancient ritual meal.
Indeed, we do not repeat the act of the Last Supper of Jesus
chronologically situated in the rite, but celebrate the
Eucharist as the radical novum of Christian culture. He draws us
into his "hour" itself, the mystery of his death and
Resurrection, the innovative principle of transformation — "a
sort of 'nuclear fission'" — (n. 11) — of all history and of the
In this perspective, moreover, the Document's insistence on the
importance of Sunday as the day on which shines out the
splendour of the Paschal Mystery (cf. nn. 72-75) can be
The Holy Father forcefully indicates the criterion of authentic
liturgical creativity when, in n. 12, he says: "This great
mystery is celebrated in the liturgical forms which the Church,
guided by the Holy Spirit, develops in time and space", that is,
in all the cultures. The fertile role of the Holy Spirit in the
Eucharistic celebration itself (epiclesis) is manifest
"particularly with regard to transubstantiation" (n. 13).
The Eucharist and the Church
The Trinitarian, Christological and Pneumatological root of the
celebration of the Eucharistic Mystery provides the basis for a
deeper exploration in a Eucharistic key of the theological
reality of the Church. The Pope proposes different topics in
First of all, the fact that the Eucharist is the causal
principle of the Church: "We too, at every celebration of the
Eucharist, confess the primacy of Christ's gift. The causal
influence of the Eucharist at the Church's origins definitively
discloses both the chronological and ontological priority of the
fact that it was Christ who loved us 'first'" (n. 14).
While Benedict XVI affirms the circularity between the
Eucharist, which builds the Church, and the Church herself,
which celebrates the Eucharist, he takes a significant
magisterial decision, opting for the primacy of Eucharistic
causality over the causality of the Church (cf. n. 14). This
close examination also highlights an element of doctrinal
newness in Sacramentum Caritatis.
Furthermore, the Church's Eucharistic origins explain why she is
communio (cf. n. 15) and guarantee the sacramental character of
the Church herself (cf. n. 16).
Eucharist and the seven sacraments
From n. 16 to n. 29, the Exhortation examines in depth the
centrality of the Eucharist in the seven sacraments. These pages
are particularly full of pastoral instructions. We mention the
In the first place, recognition of the fact that "[the] Holy
Eucharist, then, brings Christian initiation to completion and
represents the centre and goal of all sacramental life" (n. 17).
This entails the need to ascertain the order in which the
sacraments of Christian initiation are conferred (cf. n. 18).
With regard to the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the Holy Father
insists on the need for "a reinvigorated catechesis on the
conversion born of the Eucharist" (n. 21) through frequent
confession, care for pastoral concerns in the parish (including
the arrangement and use of confessionals) and in the Diocese
(ensuring the presence of the penitentiary), and an adequate
pastoral approach to indulgences.
The Anointing of the Sick and the holy Viaticum will give the
faithful a possibility of being united "with Christ's
self-offering for the salvation of all" (n. 22).
Eucharist and Orders
The relationship between the Eucharist and the Sacraments of
Holy Orders and of Matrimony deserves special attention. This is
both because of the rich exchange that took place on these
topics in the Synod Hall and because of the Holy Father's
authoritative intervention upon them.
These two Sacraments — the sacraments at the service of
communion, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church calls them —
find in the Eucharist their profound raison d'être and most
In many passages of the Exhortation's text, the Pope reflects on
the relationship between Eucharist and the Sacrament of Holy
Orders and priestly spirituality (cf. nn. 23-26, 39, 53, 75 and
80). In this regard, he stresses the irreplaceability of
priestly service for the valid celebration of Holy Mass, which
must never be confused with other assemblies which gather in the
absence of a priest and at which an authorized minister presides
(cf. n. 75).
Furthermore, Benedict XVI, in accepting the Synod Assembly's
proposal, reaffirms and deepens the relationship between
priestly ordination and celibacy: "While respecting the
different practice and tradition of the Eastern Churches, there
is a need to reaffirm the profound meaning of priestly celibacy,
which is rightly considered a priceless treasure.... This choice
on the part of the priest expresses in a special way the
dedication which conforms him to Christ and his exclusive
offering of himself for the Kingdom of God. The fact that Christ
himself, the eternal priest, lived his mission even to the
sacrifice of the Cross in the state of virginity constitutes the
sure point of reference for understanding the meaning of the
tradition of the Latin Church" in this regard (n. 24).
In this way, taking up the Magisterium of his Predecessors and
in particular the Christological, ecclesiological and
eschatological reasoning of Paul VI's Encyclical Sacerdotalis
Caelibatus (1967), Pope Benedict XVI rejects every justification
of celibacy on a purely functional basis. Instead, "this choice
has first and foremost a nuptional meaning; it is a profound
identification with the heart of Christ the Bridegroom who gives
his life for his Bride" (Sacerdotalis Caelibatus, n. 14).
Thus, the Latin practice of obligatory celibacy for priests is
reconfirmed as an inestimable treasure for the entire ecclesial
The dwindling number of clergy currently found on several
continents must be confronted primarily by a witness to the
beauty of priestly life, to show young people how deeply
"re-warding" is the decision to follow Christ radically; and
secondly, by painstaking vocational formation through a careful
presentation of spiritual life and rigorous discernment that
ascertains the authenticity of vocational motivation (cf. n.
25). The Holy Father expresses heartfelt gratitude to priests in
general and to fidei donum priests in particular (cf. n.-26).
Eucharist and Matrimony
The Apostolic Exhortation makes as its own and deepens the
Synod's reflections on the relationship between the divine
Eucharist and the married state.
Benedict XVI recalls that the Eucharist, a nuptial sacrament par
excellence, "inexhaustibly strengthens the indissoluble unity
and love of every Christian marriage. By the power of the
sacrament, the marriage bond is intrinsically linked to the
Eucharistic unity of Christ the Bridegroom and his Bride, the
Church" (n. 27).
One can understand the strong encouragement and closeness,
founded on the Sacrament of Matrimony, of the Church to all
families, which play a lead role in children's Christian
education (cf. n. 19), as well as the attention that Christian
communities must lavish on the careful formation of couples
preparing for marriage (cf. n. 29).
Starting with the nuptial character of the Eucharist, Benedict
XVI reinterprets the topic of the unicity of Christian marriage,
referring to the issue of polygamy (cf. n. 28), and to that of
the indissolubility of the conjugal bond (cf. n. 29). The text
contains important pastoral suggestions for baptized persons in
the lamentable situation of having celebrated the Sacrament of
Matrimony and who have then divorced and remarried.
The Exhortation, after reasserting that despite "their condition
of life... the divorced and remarried continue to belong to the
Church, which accompanies them with special concern" (n. 29),
lists at least nine ways of participating in community life for
these faithful who, albeit without receiving Communion, can thus
adopt a Christian way of life.
The Holy Father also emphasizes the need, when legitimate doubts
arise, to ascertain the possible nullity of the marriage within
a reasonable timeframe through careful investigation by the
ecclesiastical tribunals, carried out in an authentically
pastoral spirit and hence imbued with love for the truth.
Lastly, Benedict XVI also gives a practical form to the Synod
Fathers' suggestion regarding the situation of those whose
marriage has not been annulled and for whom objective
circumstances make it impossible to dissolve the new bond
contracted. He suggests that they commit themselves "to living
their relationship in fidelity to the demands of God's laws, as
friends, as brother and sister" (n. 29), that is, by
transforming their relationship into realistic friendship.
Over and above facile preconceptions, this suggestion outlines a
courageous and realistic proposal. Pastoral experience points
out this way as appropriate for resuming one's journey of faith
and recovering access to the sacraments, "taking care to observe
the Church's established and approved practice in this regard"
(n. 29). With time, these members of the faithful will gradually
be able to reorder their affections in accordance with the
authentic view of love represented by the Sacrament of the
The Eucharist, pledge of eternal life
The anthropological importance of the Eucharistic gift is
highlighted in a fascinating way in the Exhortation when it
dwells on the eschatological dimension of the Eucharist (cf. nn.
30-32). The Holy Sacrament is in fact a foretaste of eternal
life because "our wounded freedom would go astray were it not
already able to experience something of that future fulfillment"
2. The Eucharist, a mystery to be celebrated
Part Two of the Exhortation (cf. nn. 34-69) illustrates the
procedure of the liturgical action in the celebration, pointing
out the elements that deserve further examination and making
some very important pastoral suggestions.
Benefits of liturgical renewal
The teaching contained in Part Two highlights the benefit of
liturgical reform recommended by the Second Vatican Council. The
difficulties and even the occasional abuses "cannot overshadow
the benefits and the validity of the liturgical renewal, whose
riches are yet to be fully explored" (n. 3).
To the sources of the Eucharistic rite
Faithful to the principle on which the entire proposed teaching
is founded, in Part Two the Exhortation begins by recognizing
that: "Our faith and the Eucharistic liturgy both have their
source in the same event: Christ's gift of himself in the
Paschal Mystery" (n. 34).
This is why it is necessary to recognize forcefully that "the
Eucharistic liturgy is essentially an actio Dei which draws us
into Christ through the Holy Spirit", and that, in this very
way, "[t]he Church celebrates the Eucharistic sacrifice in
obedience to Christ's command, based on her experience of the
Risen Lord and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit" (n. 37). The
Paschal event in Eucharistic action thus coincides with the rite
itself, understood as the root of spiritual worship which
impresses a Eucharistic form on the life of Christians.
Two considerations follow which are both doctrinal and
liturgical and constitute an original contribution of the
In the first place is the emphasis on the "liturgy's intrinsic
beauty" (n. 36), which "is no mere aestheticism but the concrete
way in which the truth of God's love in Christ encounters us,
attracts us and delights us, enabling us to emerge from
ourselves and drawing us towards our true vocation, which is
love" (n. 35).
The Pope's guidelines concerning the richness of the liturgical
signs are founded on this principle (silence, liturgical
vestments, gestures: standing, kneeling... (cf. n. 40); art at
the service of the celebration (cf. n. 41): in this regard, what
has been said about the location of the tabernacle in churches
can also be recalled (cf. n. 69) as well as liturgical song.
All these elements are fundamental to the development of that
mystagogical approach to catechesis, which in the Exhortation,
on the lines of what the Synod Fathers stated, the Pope has
proposed as a way "which would lead the faithful to understand
more deeply the mysteries being celebrated" (n. 64).
'Ars celebrandi - actuosa participatio': practical
The second observation, which makes a considerable contribution
to a deeper doctrinal and liturgical knowledge of the
.Eucharist, concerns the so-called ars celebrandi and its
intrinsic connection with the actuosa participatio. We have
already reflected on this subject, treated specifically in n. 38
of Sacramentum Caritatis. We now urgently need to underline
several guidelines contained in the Exhortation with which it is
intended to encourage this participatio.
The Holy Father affirms that "the active participation called
for by the Council must be understood in more substantial terms,
on the basis of a greater awareness of the mystery being
celebrated and its relationship to daily life" (n. 52).
As can be seen, the reference is once again to the unity
expressed between Eucharistic Mystery, liturgical action and new
spiritual worship. The unity of the three factors appears
obvious when the Holy Father describes the personal conditions
required for an actuosa participatio (cf. n. 55).
Active participation will also be encouraged by a well-ordered
inculturation that must be practiced "in accordance with the
real needs of the Church as she lives and celebrates the one
mystery of Christ in a variety of cultural situations" (n. 54).
The Bishops' Conferences, in agreement with the Holy See, will
take care of this crucial task.
To further encourage a more adequate active participation, the
Holy Father reflects in the Exhortation on certain special
pastoral aspects — the use of the communications media (cf. n.
57); attention to the sick and disabled (cf. n. 58), to
prisoners (cf. n. 59) and to migrants (cf. n. 60); large-scale
concelebrations (cf. n. 61) and Eucharistic celebrations in
small groups (cf. n. 63) — and he proposes that recourse to the
use of Latin in the liturgy should become more usual, especially
in large international celebrations, without neglecting the
importance of Gregorian Chant (cf. n. 62).
Nor are specific instructions lacking on the participation of
non-Catholic Christians in Eucharistic celebrations (cf. n. 56),
and also of people who belong to other religions or who are
nonbelievers (cf. n. 50).
We have already had an opportunity to reflect on how this actuosa participatio is expressed above all in adoration (cf. nn.
66-69) and on how "the ars celebrandi should foster a sense of
the sacred and the use of outward signs which help to cultivate
this sense" (n. 40).
Eucharistic celebration's structure
Part Two of the Exhortation also wishes to make a contribution
to the structure of the Eucharistic celebration (cf. nn. 43-51).
Once again, the important coincidence between liturgical action
and rite comes to the fore. Only an adequate ritual practice can
express that ars celebrandi which makes the actuosa participatio
First of all, the Pope recalls "the inherent unity of the rite
of Mass" (n. 44), which must also be expressed in the manner in
which the Liturgy of the Word is celebrated. In fact, "the word
which we proclaim and accept is the Word made flesh (cf. Jn
1:14); it is inseparably linked to Christ's person and the
sacramental mode of his continued presence" (n. 45).
The homily must also contribute to demonstrating that the Word
of God is closely related "to the sacramental celebration and
the life of the community" (n. 46).
Furthermore, Benedict XVI recalls the significant educational
value for the life of the Church, especially in this historical
period, of the presentation of the gifts (cf. n. 47), of the
exchange of the sign of peace (cf. n. 49) and of the Ite, missa
est (cf. n. 51). The Holy Father entrusts to the competent
Dicasteries the examination of possible modifications to these
two last points.
Finally, Benedict XVI teaches us that "Eucharistic spirituality
and theological reflection are enriched if we contemplate in the
anaphora the profound unity between the invocation of the Holy
Spirit and the institution narrative" (n. 48).
3. The Eucharist, a mystery to be lived
In Part Three, the last part of the Apostolic Exhortation (cf.
nn. 70-93), can be seen the ability of the mystery believed and
celebrated to constitute the ultimate and definitive horizon of
Christian existence: "the mystery 'believed' and 'celebrated'
contains an innate power making it the principle of new life
within us and the form of our Christian existence" (n. 70).
Anthropological importance of the Eucharist
The reflection in Part Three is in fact already anticipated from
the very beginning of the Exhortation where the anthropological
importance of the Eucharist is forcefully reasserted.
With the sober but incisive traits that characterize his
teaching, Benedict XVI reaffirms from the very first lines of
his Exhortation that the gift of the Eucharist is for the human
being and responds to the expectations of the human being,
obviously of every human being of every age, but especially of
our contemporaries: "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. In this
Sacrament, the Lord truly becomes food for us, to satisfy our
hunger for truth and freedom" (n. 2).
The choice of the words — "pilgrim hearts", "truth" and
"freedom" (cf. n. 2) — is certainly not accidental. Christians,
completely foreign to any spiritualistic flight from the world
or from the circumstances in which they are called to live, find
in the Eucharistic celebration the living, true God who can save
their lives. And the conversation partner of this salvation is
The gift of the Eucharist, in fact, initially calls human
freedom into question and makes it an anticipation of definitive
liberation. In recalling such an evocative feature of St
Augustine's anthropology, the Holy Father reminds us that man is
involved in total freedom in his own actions only when he
encounters something desirable: what does the soul long for more
ardently than truth? Therefore, "[precisely] because Christ has
become for us the food of truth, the Church turns to every man
and woman, inviting them freely to accept God's gift" (n. 2).
In addition, in entrusting to his disciples the memorial of the
gift of his Body and Blood, Jesus involved their freedom in his
own thanksgiving to the Father, thereby inaugurating the new
worship of God through which the whole of existence is placed
under the sign of the salvation brought about by the sacrifice
The 'logiké latreía' and the Eucharistic form of Christian
The anthropological importance of the Eucharist emerges with
full force in the new worship characteristic of the Christian.
The paragraphs in the Exhortation on the logiké latreía,
spiritual worship (cf. nn. 70-71) and the Eucharistic form of
Christian life (cf. n. 76), an expression that frequently recurs
in Part Three (cf. nn. 70, 71, 76, 77, 80, 82, 84), are truly
profound and beautiful.
Christian worship shines out in its full power and newness. On
the basis of Eucharistic action, every circumstance of life
becomes, so to speak, "sacramental". There is no longer any
absolute separation between sacred and profane.
The Eucharistic Mystery is the dynamic factor that transfigures
life. Regenerated by Baptism and incorporated eucharistically in
the Church, the human being can at last fulfill himself
completely, learning to offer his "own body", that is, the whole
of himself as a living sacrifice holy and acceptable to God (cf.
"There is nothing authentically human — our thoughts and
affections, our words and deeds — that does not find in the
Sacrament of the Eucharist the form it needs to be lived to the
full. Here we can see the full human import of the radical
newness brought by Christ in the Eucharist: the worship of God
in our lives cannot be relegated to something private and
individual, but tends by its nature to permeate every aspect of
"Worship pleasing to God thus becomes a new way of living our
whole life, each particular moment of which is lifted up, since
it is lived as part of a relationship with Christ and as an
offering to God. The glory of God is the living man (cf. I Cor
10:31). And the life of man is the vision of God" (n. 71).
Ecclesial belonging, evangelization of cultures and life
as a vocation
"The Eucharistic form of Christian life is clearly an ecclesial
and communitarian form" (n. 76).
It implies, moreover, the possibility of a new culture, that is,
of that "new way of thinking" (n. 77) that is "capable of
engaging every cultural reality and bringing to it the leaven of
the Gospel" (n. 78).
This relationship with human cultures is born from the fact that
"[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" (n.
79). This is also the reason why the Holy Father speaks of
"living our lives as a vocation" (n. 79).
All the Christian faithful are called to live their lives as a
vocation on the solid foundation of the Eucharist: the lay
faithful (cf. n. 79), priests (cf. n. 80) and those called to
the consecrated life (cf. n. 81). Every Christian's existence is
seen by Sacramentum Caritatis as a humble and glad response to
the Father's exalting call.
Moral transformation and Eucharistic consistency
Every member of the faithful is therefore called to a profound
transformation of his or her existence. The Holy Father affirms:
"The moral transformation implicit in the new worship instituted
by Christ is a heartfelt yearning to respond to the Lord's love
with one's whole being, while remaining ever conscious of one's
own weakness" (n. 82).
In this perspective the responsibility of Christians in public
and political positions assumes particular importance, who: "by
virtue of their social or political position, must make
decisions regarding fundamental values, such as respect for
human life, its defense from conception to natural death, the
family built upon marriage between a man and a woman, the
freedom to educate one's children and the promotion of the
common good in all its forms. These values are not negotiable.
Consequently, Catholic politicians and legislators, conscious of
their grave responsibility before society, must feel
particularly bound, on the basis of a properly formed
conscience, to introduce and support laws inspired by values
grounded in human nature. There is an objective connection here
with the Eucharist (cf. I Cor 11:27-29). Bishops are bound to
reaffirm constantly these values as part of their responsibility
to the flock entrusted to them" (n. 83).
Witness as a form of mission
In offering one's life one can identify the permanent source of
witness. Living the Eucharistic Mystery also means being
introduced to a new knowledge of reality and a new awareness of
This is why Benedict XVI examines the relationship between
Eucharist and mission (cf. n. 84) in terms of witness: "The
first and fundamental mission that we receive from the sacred
mysteries we celebrate is that of bearing witness by our lives.
The wonder we experience at the gift God has made to us in
Christ gives new impulse to our lives and commits us to becoming
witnesses of his love" (n. 85).
Witness and mission — whose sole intention is to "bring Christ
to others" (n. 86) — thereby becomes the way in which the
mystery of the Eucharist documents the fruitfulness of lived
Benedict XVI reminds us that "we become witnesses when, through
our actions, words and way of being, Another makes himself
present. Witness could be described as the means by which the
truth of God's love comes to men and women in history, inviting
them to accept freely this radical newness. Through witness, God
lays himself open, one might say, to the risk of human freedom"
The emblem and archetype of this dynamic is the witness of
martyrdom, the crowning point of the new spiritual worship
pleasing to God. In martyrdom, life is forfeited in order to
witness to the truth of love as the exhaustive meaning of one's
own life, and the Eucharist is displayed in the full brightness
of its truth. In this regard, a reference to freedom of worship
and to religious freedom has not been omitted (cf. n. 87).
Social, cosmological implications of Eucharistic form of
The Eucharistic form of Christian existence concerns every
baptized member of the faithful, independently of the state of
life to which he or she is called. This is why the Exhortation
strongly recommends to all but particularly to the lay faithful
that they "cultivate a desire that the Eucharist have an ever
deeper effect on their daily lives, making them convincing
witnesses in the workplace and in society at large" (n. 79).
An integral part of the Eucharistic form of Christian existence
is the ability of the Sacrament that commemorates our salvation
to make us see history and the whole world with new eyes. In
fact, as Benedict XVI recalls, "the Eucharist reveals the loving
plan that guides all of salvation history (cf. Eph 1:10;
3:8-11)" (n. 8).
The numerous and precise social implications of the Eucharistic
Mystery believed in, celebrated and lived which the Pope lists
can be understood precisely in the light of the mission to
witness to the faith (cf. nn. 88-91).
The Exhortation does not hesitate to affirm that "the Eucharist
thus compels all who believe... to become 'bread that is broken'
for others, and to work for the building of a more just and
fraternal world" (n. 88).
Indeed, "through the concrete fulfillment of this responsibility,
the Eucharist becomes in life what it signifies in its
celebration" (n. 89).
Even stronger are Benedict XVI's words on the situations of
social injustice, violence and wars, terrorism, corruption and
exploitation (cf. n. 89), and on human neediness (cf. n. 90).
The Church, which lives on the Eucharist especially through the
responsibility of her lay faithful, must be present in history
and society on every person's side, and especially on the side
of those who, due to the injustice and selfishness of many,
suffer destitution, hunger and endemic situations of illness by
being barred from access to the most elementary food and
Jesus, "the food of truth", the Apostolic Exhortation says,
"demands that we denounce inhumane situations in which people
starve to death because of injustice and exploitation, and it
gives us renewed strength and courage to work tirelessly in the
service of the civilization of love" (n. 90). The Church's
social doctrine is a precious means for teaching justice and
charity (cf. n. 91).
In the eyes of Eucharistic faith, the connection between the
Eucharist and the cosmos is certainly not optional. Moreover,
the Eucharistic celebration itself implies the offering of the
bread and wine, fruit of the earth and of peoples' life and
work: "The relationship between the Eucharist and the cosmos
helps us to see the unity of God's plan and to grasp the
profound relationship between creation and the 'new creation'
inaugurated in the Resurrection of Christ, the new Adam" (n.
The theme of the safeguard of creation is developed and deepened
in relation to God's good plan for all creation. Reality is not
a merely neutral matter at the mercy of technical and scientific
manipulation, but is desired by God with a view to the
recapitulation in Christ of all things. From this comes the
responsibility to safeguard creation that is proper to the
Christian nourished with the Eucharist.
IV. The Eucharistic
To conclude this invitation to read the Apostolic Exhortation
Sacramentum Caritatis, I would like to take up a precious
indication of the method contained in the teaching of Benedict
I am referring to the conviction that the secret of a recovery
of Christian life that can regenerate the People of God lies in
authenticity of faith and Eucharistic worship. The doors to the
reality of God who is love are flung open in the mystery of the
divine Eucharist. The true understanding of reality is revealed.
In this perspective, "The Eucharist itself powerfully
illuminates human history and the whole cosmos" (n. 92). We find
ourselves facing a profound sacramental perspective — which
explicitly takes up the teaching of the Servant of God John Paul
II in his Encyclical Fides et Ratio, n. 13 (cf. n. 45) — in
which "we learn, day by day, that every ecclesial event is a
kind of sign by which God makes himself known and challenges us.
The Eucharistic form of life can thus help foster a real change
in the way we approach history and the world" (n. 92).
Where is it possible to contemplate the truth of these
Benedict XVI tells us clearly in Part One and in the Conclusion
of the Apostolic Exhortation: in "Mary Most Holy, we also see
perfectly fulfilled the 'sacramental' way that God comes down to
meet his creatures and involves them in his saving work" (n.
"From Mary we must learn to become men and women of the
Eucharist and of the Church" (n. 96).
Thus, the Eucharistic Mystery allows us to discover that every
circumstance of life is inscribed on the sacramental horizon.
Christ never ceases to knock at the door of our freedom so that
we may welcome him and allow ourselves to be transformed by his
"True love is Jesus and he gives salvation to those who follow
virtue". Indeed, Jesus truly loves because he loved us first
without expecting anything in exchange, and he loves at every
moment as though it were the last.
© Copyright L'Osservatore Romano
August 1, 2007